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The sharp click of stiletto heels bounces up and down the mirrored halls. Every step explodes like a small SP rifle before the maze catches it and amplifies the click-click-pop into a tiny, furious thunderstorm raging across the labyrinth. The walls howl with pain; Bella is coming. A dozen different Bellas with their dozen tails wrapped tight around their legs come slowly down the hallway from a dozen different angles. Some stretch impossibly tall and thin, while others splinter where they pass through a web of cracking glass. Another few are perfect, and even more terrifying for it.

Every Bella wears the same expression, which could only be described as pure, incandescent rage. It certainly could not be pain; she would need to care to be able to feel that, and she doesn't. She doesn't. So it can only be anger that clenches her jaw so tightly she can barely move it, or that presses her lips together thin enough to make them disappear, or that makes her trembling eyes shrink to angry pinpricks. It's adrenaline that's making them wet. She pauses. When she turns her head toward some spot around a corner, darkness swallows the features of her face and transform her into one of the erinyes.

The scream that comes from her belongs to a wounded animal. It lodges in the spine and shivers there long after even the echoes of the noise itself have faded. There's another sound of rending claws and shattered mirrors and crumbling wall as though it were crushed by the Spear of Civilization, and the various Bellas crumble to the floor in pieces. The path forward is dark, and ripples with the heaving breaths of a hunting beast.

"...Friends?" Bella's voice is trembling, "Friends?! You think you've got friends?"

Laughter dribbles out of her with the burbling drip drip of saliva on the ground. She's close. Close enough that the sense of heat coming from her body is palpable. Close enough to feel the way her body is shaking. Close enough... to know she's not guarding the way out.

"That's just like you, Princess. Does it hurt being that stupid? Those... mercenaries aren't your friends. You're just a meal ticket for the likes of them, when are you gonna wake up and realize it? Oh, but maybe you meant Alexa? Well I'm sure she's your friend. After all, besties aaalllllways keep leashes or command seals on hand. Just in case, right?"

Bella's teeth flash in every pile of broken glass. Her tail cracks like a whip, close enough to touch.

"Did you think you could hide from me? I could smell you from the other side of the planet you fucking moron."

[Redana, damage your Wisdom or roll to Overcome]
The shadows cast their mask over Bella's face. Her eyes glow like torches as she watches Redana back toward the door and finally find the courage to spin around and run through it in earnest. Even after Redana disappears, she doesn't move a muscle. She sits there on the ground, legs sprawled in front of her, one hand on her stomach, as rigid as steel.

When she finally moves, it's to turn her head a quarter and check Omn. The machine glitters as brightly as ever, as if it didn't care how completely it had just been ignored and spared no thought toward what might happen now that its use as a gift had been wasted. It simply shines on and whirs with the inscrutable logic of a machine intelligence, readying a map of the area before its praetor can even ask for it. Bella glares in silence, and slowly nods her head.

Her tongue darts out across her lips; she brings her thumb up to flick it dry a moment after. Moron. Absolute dumbass, what do you think you're trying to pull? Bella chuckles darkly as her face splits into a manic grin. She stands and makes a show of dusting herself off before she slowly and deliberately reapplies her talons.

"...It is not blasphemy what we do here today."

She's not asking a question. Bella reaches behind her and slices the ties in her hair in half, shaking her head to loose the delicate braids to send her hair cascading down her neck in a wild, blue-back wave.

"Stand and wait. When I flush her out again, grab her properly this time and we can finish getting her ready to come back to Tellus where she belongs. She's got so many lessons to learn before she's ready to see her mother again, it's our sacred duty to the Empire to be her tutors."

She doesn't run after the princess. There's no need, where could she get to in the dead end she just flung herself into without thinking? Typical Redana, always assuming. She's never gone a moment without thinking she's destined to win, has she? Never thought for a second she wasn't among lesser beings. That's why she doesn't listen. She doesn't care. She's never cared about anyone in her entire life.

Bella rakes her claws against the darkened corridors as she walks, grinning from ear to ear at the tortured squealing noise they make as she passes. Her every step radiates power. Control. Her eyes gleam in the dark, sharp enough not to need a magic eye laying out every step on her path to keep her from tripping.

"Oh Princess~" she croons, "Where do you think you're going, princess? That's not the way out! Is locking yourself in a maze your idea of showing me? You're pathetic. You're outmatched. You're alone. None of your stupid little friends are coming to save you!"

She stops moving. The sound of Bella's snarling breath echoes through the halls before it's suddenly swallowed by furious yowls and the sounds of destruction as she tears her claws through whole chunks of wall just to prove she can. In the silence that follows, her burbling laughter seems to swallow the entire maze.

"Oh Redaaaaaanaaaaaaa! Come out and play, Redana! I thought you loved the stories where the brave heroes fought and killed the big, scary monsters?" the sound of footsteps starts again, accompanied by the wailing song of stone yielding under claw, "What part of this isn't living up to your expectations? You have to speak up, or 'your Bella' can't fix it!"
There are no defenses against the fury building in Redana's eyes. It pierces Bella like a spear and turns her intestines to ice and writhing serpents somehow at the same time. All of her senses go numb one by one: her ears press flat against her skull and refuse even to listen to the sound of her own beating heart, her fingers tingle curiously and deny her the sensation of Redana's skin against her own. Her lungs are so startled they won't take in air, denying her the world of scents that's always given her the secret leg up in any room she's entered. The lingering taste of wine is nothing but ash in her mouth. Her eyes shrink to unseeing, frightened slits.

For the first time, Bella knows fear in a way that whips and beatings could never teach her. Zeus herself couldn't freeze her heart like this. Her hand recoils from Redana's face as though she'd been burned as she jerks away with her entire body to put as much distance between herself and the source of her fear as she can. If her legs hadn't turned to quivering, useless jelly that single look might have been enough to send her racing to the shadows by itself.

But she's held fast. Her body betrays her desires as surely as her face betrays her emotions. The look of shock draws itself across her face in an instant. It's not disappointment in her eyes, neither disbelief, but primal terror. Inside her heart, she's suddenly half the size of the princess on the floor beneath her. The titan named Redana has only to sit up and in the space of that motion she'll shatter Bella into a thousand tiny pieces that can never be put together again.

It's Hera who saves her. Hera who turns the quivering of her legs into the trembling of hot fury. Fingers ensconced with rings the colors of nebulae and wrapped in peacock feathers gently take her jaw and twist it to a sharp and powerful snarl. She lights the fire in Bella's heart that burns through her with a power that could rival the core of Tellus itself. The world fills with colors, sounds, and smells all at once, and chasing after them comes the effortless sense of invincibility that anger brings.

She was never recoiling in fear, after all. She was merely drawing back to make sure her strike had the power to contain a child of Zeus. Bella lunges forward again with astonishing swiftness and power. Her claw tips pierce the ground on either side of Redana's throat as she squeezes and leans close enough to touch their foreheads together. The stench of her breath washes over the princess like poison, but all she does is sneer with feral glee.

"You think I give a single fuck if you're upset? Don't make me laugh, Your Highness." even as she says it she's shaking with the effort of not melting into cruel guffaws, "It doesn't matter what you want. I'm here to do a job and there's not a damn thing I'm gonna let you do to stop me."

The rush of blood through her veins is euphoria. There! There, there, there! Hera points to a spark of hesitation creeping into Redana's heart, and Bella pounces on it to lap it up with savage hunger. She can't keep the deranged giggles out of her throat anymore. Her tail wags luxuriously as she presses her weight down, down, down and crushes the princess against the floor.

"Oh? You thought I was doing this for you? Poor, stupid princess! Didn't anybody tell you? This is nothing but a mission for me. HA! Who the fuck would chase a worthless traitor like you into this barren shitheap unless they were getting paid?"

Bella's heartbeats quicken. Her smile spreads wider with every word, growing nastier and uglier the further it splits her face. Her teeth glint like daggers. More, cries the rush of power in her veins! Give me more! Her fingers stop squeezing Redana so that she can stroke her cheek instead.

"You thought I was useless. You thought I was stupid! I'm so much more than your dumb little pet, Redana! I'm a praetor, you moron! I shot you down, I brought you here! And now I'm going to bring you home because those are my orders, and there is not a fucking thing you can do to stop me!"
Bella can feel the weight of nothing in her outstretched hand. It's clutched about her wrist and squeezing her like a serpent, forcing her fingers to curl atop of and crush the empty air between them. It pulls on her arm like lead so that even holding it out for inspection is enough to make her muscles start burning.

She's frozen in the moment. Her smile is still painted onto her face, not quite able to melt into the disbelief one lonely corner of her mind knows she should be wearing right now. Her tail has forgotten how to so much as wiggle, and her feet are caught in an awkward half step. It feels like she's being crushed. Her moment, her princess, her triumph... all of it's caught in her throat and she's choking to death on it. She can't move. She can't move.

Her nose is failing her: it takes in all the signals that had filled her with such elation, but now it only returns the sterilized aroma of the Kaeri. Her skin crawls with shameful goosepimples brought on by a sudden bone deep chill that even for all its awful power can't force her to properly shiver. Her ears no longer bend to search for sounds; the rushing of blood in her head pounds with the fury of one of Zeus' storms. She couldn't hear herself speak even if her tongue hadn't turned to stone in her mouth. Only her eyes seem up to moving, and then simply so that they can turn their wet fury on anything that's not the Princess.

Her world is filled with Athena. The wroth, the prideful, the untouchable, the judgmental. The single face in all its infinite aspects stare back at her without relief, and Bella's lungs fill themselves with knives. This is a new Box. That's what this is, what else could it even be? This is a new trap even more devious than the one that caught her as a child. Who could have set it? The list of patrons who can borrow Nero's ear are endless, and the list of people infuriated by her victory at the Olympics stretches twice as long. It's so clever. It's so devious. To make her think... to send her out... so dangerous, so ugly, so terrible, so endless... to send her out here and make her think... and then... and then! The Princess! With her, Bella is useless. With her, Bella is not worth keeping. They'll throw her away in the garbage.

All at once she comes unfrozen. Her eyes burn as they shrink to furious slits, her fingers squeeze deep into her palms, and her skirts and sleeves flutter dramatically as she whips about on the spot to turn her back to the entire disgusting farce happening in front of her. Is that what they think? Is that it? Not her. Bella's a Good Girl. A fucking Praetor! She stalks through the room in silence and grabs the belt herself.

They're not difficult to find. Redana would never actually think to hide anything, unless it was a secret plan to stuff her best friend in a closet and disappear forever and abandon her to the wrath of the Empire. The pocket is large and obvious, and Bella's fingers have hardly slipped inside before they find the pair of smallish, rock hard capsules she's looking for. She snatches them out with enough force to slice the belt to useless ribbons.

She is much more careful as she gingerly slides the talons off of her fingers to reveal the pair of blunted, broken claws she hides behind them. What comes next requires... delicacy.

Nobody sees the kick coming in time. Bella's foot connects with such ferocity that if her pointed heel had been aimed even a centimeter to the right she might have killed the Giatros attending to Redana outright. Her hand shoves another out of the way with no less savagery, and then suddenly it's Bella looming over the princess with a twisted smile on her face. Only Bella. Her tail flicks behind her with irritation.

"Out of my way, you inbred Athena rejects! Are you stupid? Do you only read about princesses or something, what are you doing? You're gonna ask for her opinion? Dipshits, what do you think she's gonna do? Look at these! Look!"

Bella stops barking long enough to hold the nanite capsules aloft before she slides down onto her hands and knees in a motion made with much more curve than strictly necessary. She loses several more buttons from her shirt as her chest slides along Redana's body until she's chest to chest and face to face with her princess. Her Princess. Only hers. She laughs shakily and splits her face in a drunken grin. The stench of imperial grape is heavy on her breath.

"This is not just some princess," she breathily intones, never taking her wild eyes off her quarry, "This isn't even merely Her Imperial Majesty's only daughter. She is Redana Claudius: you can't ask her if she wants to take her medicine. Noooo, no, this little idiot will have you saving it all until her last breath. You have to hold her still and make her be a good girl. Isn't that right, Your Highness?"

Bella presses her hand tight against Redana's lips and forces the nanite capsules into her mouth. Her hand stays clamped tight to keep her from spitting anything out as she brings her two clawless fingers to the princess' neck and slowly, softly caresses the length of her throat, trying to make her swallow.

"There we go, theeerrre we go," she soothes, "Just let the gods do their good work, Princess. Swallow! Swaaaaalooow, yes, there we go. No more adventures, right princess? No more hard and scary choices. Just leave it all to me. Your Bella will take care of everything..."

Her tail weaves behind her in a languid, serpentine pattern as she stays on all fours pinned atop Redana. Sharp and golden eyes do their level best to eat her best friend whole, even as her smile widens to show her perfect sharpened teeth.
Redana never wears her hair down. Even in the baths she's always insisted on tying it back or wrapping it into some little bun or hiding it under a towel. Every time that Bella's ever brushed it she's stood behind her princess with her gaze tastefully averted, even though Redana only ever had her hair tended or styled while wearing soft, clean robes or gowns worth more than nations. And she always, always complained about it.

But it's loose now, tumbling every which way down her imperial shoulders and so perfectly, lusciously golden that even soaked with terror sweat it shines like a treasure from the deepest reaches of the vaults of Olympus. And this is the detail that catches her by such surprise that her defenses all come crumbling down at once. Aphrodite takes, and takes, and takes, and gives nothing back except Redana.

He steals the strength from her legs so that she's trapped lounging on her throne with a princess sprawled on the ground in front of her. He steals sense and humility from her until nothing holds her back from draining her glass of rich sweet wine with the gluttony of an Empress. As if she believed she deserved it and had no need to revere it. He fills the liquid raining down her throat with curses that fill Bella's body with heat. He steals her words from her so that she can't offer up her gift or advance her plan or even say hello. He takes her lips and peels them up until her smile shows teeth. He takes and he takes and he takes until her eyes are hollow and hungry. And she stares.

Redana. Redana, Redana, Redana. The line of her legs, taut like a bowstring. The luster of her skin that's so smooth that looking is enough to know how it feels to touch it, how fingers would brush across it like an ocean of cream in a bowl so strong it may as well be the true Aegis itself. The twitching of those exhausted muscles that whisper of training and dedication and Olympic glory, up now, further and further and further up, Redana, Redana, Redana, Redana, to the subtle curve of her waist and the perfect bones in her hips. To the washboard across her stomach that counts up all the way to her ribs, unburdened by the merest scrap of clothing until Bella's golden eyes meet the gentle, nearly invisible rise of the tiny mounds on her chest.

That golden hair is on those breasts. Nothing is more lovely, except perhaps the grace of her neck that extends to her jaw. Her unpainted lips, the cheeks that she wants to... no. No. Fuck off, old man, Bella is good. She is a Good Girl. So she doesn't meet the eyes that even glazed over with exhaustion sparkle like jewels atop the most perfect crown ever created. She does not dare look there. She forces her gaze lower again, back across the perfection of Redana's body to drink in the loveliness and all the places where the Princess was too brave, too bright, too foolish, too stupid to keep herself from being marred even in spite of the divine miracle that flits through her blood. Little idiot, how dare you do this to yourself? Don't you realize who you are?

Bella rises.

Bella rises like a rushing tide.

Bella rises with the inexorability of a mountain.

Bella rises, and she sways as she walks slowly forward. There's hardly any space between them, but it takes eternity to cross. Her tail swishes, her hips swing seductively. There's a purring in her chest as she reaches out across the infinite space between them that's shrunken down to nothing. At last. At last.

And she reaches past her princess, as she casts her shadow over Redana with her arm outstretched with unreadable intensity drawn across her face. Her nose is full of the scents of sweat and fear... and the perfume that means everything is exactly as it should be.

"Bring me her belt!" she calls out in a voice on the verge of song, "The large one, where she keeps the pills."
The wave of pressure builds up behind her eyelids so slowly she doesn't even notice it until it's too late. That moment when elation turns to raw stress. Now that she feels it, it's too late. Much too late. She squeezes her eyes shut in pain and scowls, but even the sensation of her claws against her skin isn't enough to relieve the tension. This must be fixed.


With a viper-quick snap of her wrist, Bella lashes her claws across Omn's space. For a brief moment there's nothing but the sparks between them and the echoes of her exertion. And then the chain-veil drops to the ground in shreds with a series of dull clinks.

"Moron. A cage is useless as long as she's got the Auspex. Though maybe if... hrrrgh, don't distract me. Just, just send for a plasma grinder. And as much solvent and cleaning chemicals as you've got on this stupid planet. We're running out of time, and you need to be presentable for the Princess before she gets here."

The tension ripples up Bella's arms and then across her back. Bile rises in her throat, and her tongue feels drier than an oven, but she sets her wine delicately on a table next to her still half finished. There is Work to be done, and she's the only one talented enough to be trusted with it.

"...Bring pillows, too. And more wine. And a strong strip of clean linen. And... and I want a good chair!"

Bella growls the entire time she's working. The bitter stench of cleaning supplies makes her heart race and her tail lash uncontrollably. Her ears ring with the sound of the grinder as it tears away bits of corroded metal from Omn's body. Her fingers stroke the smoothness that remains, catching sparks with her claws wherever she picks away a spare fleck too delicate to reach with tools.

The twisting feeling inside her stomach is confusing. Good girls do their chores, bad girls miss a spot. Bad girls are punished. The spark of fear that thought recalls is as ridiculous as it is potent. It's not her handlers she imagines in this moment, but the Empress herself. One green eye, one blue, the same as her daughter. Only... the sharpness in both of those eyes could cut a servitor to ribbons even faster than Bella's claws. Redana has none of that. And she mustn't. She mustn't ever. Bella swallows despite the dryness in her throat, and works faster.

Omn is starting to shine, surely restored to the point of glory it hasn't reached since Molech's stupidity turned his empire into a history lesson. Hera's hand is upon hers, Hera's miracle is the motion of Bella's arms as they become more rhythmic and less flustered. It's the way that her tail shifts from agitated lashing to playful swishing. The miracle of song is in the air that turns frustrated growling into the soft humming of lullabies and hymns that used to captivate a certain little princess when nothing else would hold her focus.

Bella steps away and observes her good work. The sigh that escapes her lips feels like unwinding several weeks' worth of tension in a single motion. She reaches automatically for her wine, and allows herself to lounge in the chair the machines brought for her just as she'd asked. She is a Good Girl.

In the dark surface of the wine, Bella's smile ripples back at her. She drinks the air around her with the same savor as she drinks the rich, sweet liquid. It is impossible that Redana won't see how hard she's worked. It's impossible that Redana won't realize where she belongs. Simply impossible. She's done everything right. Everything. Now the only thing left to do is open her arms in the offer of comfort for the silliest of princesses, and let that motion carry them both to the only place they belong.

It's time to go Home.
"I want that, yes. That's exactly what I want. Take me there, now!"

Bella's lips are plastered in a permanent smirk that almost hides the twitching of her claws. She crosses her legs with liquid smoothness, but makes no motion to stand. Behind her back, her tail is curling close against her body. She clamps her hand on the armrest of her throne and squeezes until the stone splinters.

Why? She's already given the order. She should be standing, striding, sauntering leisurely to the end of the rainbow to collect her treasure and take it home. But she doesn't move. But her throat is dry in a way that doesn't call for more wine. But her head is buzzing and her eyes are carving out the lines that would reduce Omn from a model advisor to a pile of ribboned scrap metal. It's told her nothing that doesn't make sense. It's suggested nothing that displeases her.

But the overwhelming urge is there anyway: pounce. Now. Do it fast and tear it down before it's too late, Bella. Return your power structure back down to yourself and no one else. What does she need with an advisor anyway? She sniffs the air as though hubris or divine punishment were things with scents that could be plucked out of her surroundings and carried home in a jar. That would make a lovely perfume, wouldn't it? Essence of Athena's Wrath.

Bella tears her gaze away and watches the battlefield below. Redana has already fled. Her Kaeri have already melted into the shadows and stalked after her, she can just see their path by the trail of machine corpses that got too swept up in their Dance to know when to get their heads down. There's nothing of interest left down there except the divine proxy-skirmish between Alexa and the crazy piece of shit. So sorry to cost you such a nice toy, Princess. She sneers.

There is a trap here, she can feel it. Closing around her neck and choking off her air, she can feel it. Why can't she see it? Which god has she offended? Which cruel Fate is planning to snatch all the good things away from her that she's had so little time to... ah.

Her eyes narrow, briefly. The flick over Omn with new appreciation and appraisal. Ah, but it's you, isn't it? You're the bridge too far. You're where humble servitude crosses over into arrogance. You're far too nice a toy for a lowly servitor to keep, aren't you? Ah! But isn't this convenient? Redana's about to be down her own little doll. Wouldn't this one make the perfect gift? Not an... no, not an apology. A peace offering. Yes. She'll love it!

Bella lifts off her seat like a shadow melting into the spaces a probing light leaves for it. Her smile comes easily, now. She even allows herself another sip of wine. She's such a good girl. She's so good to her princess. But there is ground that must be traveled and work that must be done. Oh! But it feels good to serve!
"HA! Tell me something I don't know, why don't you? As if I trusted that stapled together piece of shit in the first place."

Bella's laughter is rippling and wine soaked, despite all of her restraint. Her whole body is filling with hot, shivering pressure that crashes across her like a wave. And just like a wave, it leaves wetness and longing in its wake. Still dripping laughter, she turns eyes suddenly sharper than her claws to the stage beneath her.

She drinks in every detail this time. Not just the pleasure and the spectacle, but everything it means to be part of the Dance. The stomp of every foot. The crashing, crumbling, crushing surge of machines and the way they tear themselves to pieces or fly into a frenzy that would rival the Ceronians in the name of their Praetor, their Bella, and the Imperial authority that she wields. The way they flood around Redana and sweep her gifts into the furthest reaches of the background, turning her from destined princess to the merest stagehand.

See it? See that? The most beautiful, most perfect person in the entire universe and just this second she isn't fit to be background music. Her role in the unfathomable game the gods are playing is less than the merest pawn. She was music! Lightning! Power! She's helpless against these mass produced shadows of a third-rate emperor. Even the legendary Pallas Rex is just a dancer in the hall, part of the game, part of the show, no nightmare of steel and inexorable death this. Molech probably didn't even know this Cavel-whatever unit existed, and look! Look! This entire stage is nothing but a testament to the crippling inferiority of space and the inexorable glory of Tellus. Nothing here could match the perfection of Nero. Nothing was... worth her love, was... nothing...

"I am in command here," she snaps across her own reverie, "And if anyone here is stupid enough to think otherwise, they won't live to see the next dawn. The only reason they've got room to be so fucking stupid in the first place is because their delusion suits my purposes right now. See what happens the second that it doesn't!"

Bella's heart is beating like it's being squeezed. She breathes as though a dark clawed demon is ripping the oxygen from her lungs as quickly as she can pull it in. Her eyes flash wild and predatory, the flexing of her claws dares her own Kaeri to speak up and try getting off the script. The wineglass in her hand sits with delicate primness in the middle of the storm, unbothered by the noise and fury because it knows that it alone is cared for. The moment passes. Bella lifts her free hand to smooth down her hair and adjust her braid as she eyes Omn with artificial coolness.

"...But you're right. I promised my Kaeri glory and here I am making them watch this farce of a play run itself out in front of them. Thank you. It feels... hmmmmmmnnnnn, good to hear some sane council. For once. Hear that, boys and girls? You've sat on your asses long enough! It's time to hunt. Get down there and show the... ehehahahaha, "Pallas Rex" how obsolete she is. Hunt the Princess, drive her from her precious guardian's side. Push her into every crack, rip her stupid clothes to bits on her back! Push her back to me, and I'll finish the job."

Bella takes a long sip of wine with a distant, unfocused look etched across her face. The taste is more sour than she remembers it, even from just minutes ago.

"Oh! And... remember to show restraint, would you? The Princess hates blood, so don't spill any. Fuck this up and I'll carve you in half. Understand?!"
Bella is lounging.

She stretches across her throne with the lazy disinterest of a predator who's already eaten her fill. Only the flicking of her tail and the sharp smile inching across her face betray the true intensity of her interest as she alternates between sipping her wine and brushing her thumb across the surface of the cracked stem.

There's so much pleasure in the feeling of broken things. The slick smoothness of the glass gives way to veins of jagged splits that grind against her skin like a rough pebble she might have plucked out of the gardens. Up and down, up and down, tracing the lines where this perfectly crafted and beautiful piece of a fallen empire turned to ruin in her hands. Up and down, up and down. It bites at her skin, it excites her blood, and scratches an itch she only feels inside her heart. Better than a vibrator, ha! Better than the wine. She takes another sip and swishes it in her mouth before adjusting her weight.

An Empress would have stood up by now. Her Imperial Highness would have strewn from her box and leapt into the stadium below to take up challenge and crush the opposition with all the grace and majesty required by her office. A great hero would have sounded her horn or grabbed the microphone and dropped a growly song in ode to the glory of honor and closeness to her opponent as though to a lover before turning the mic stand over to reveal it as a spear and driving it through Alexa's breast. But Bella sits, and watches, and she waits.

Do you see, O Holy Empress, who watches every star in the sky and knows their songs better than they know themselves? Do you see? Your Bella knows her place. Your Bella knows what she is not. Your Bella will watch and wait for the right moment to act, because unlike everybody else on this gods forsaken hovel she has not forgotten her true mission. She is not distracted or moved to some stupid, passionate act because she is a Good Girl.

She grins, and bites back a laugh. Oh Redana, why do you reduce yourself to this level? Your talents were made for a grander stage than this. You deserve a better partner. But it's alright. Just you wait: Bella will clean everything up for you and make things right again. Just like she always has.

She raises her empty hand to the sky. Her Regalia burns with baneful crimson light as it pulses in the air atop her head, its leaf-blades seeming even sharper as it pushes her will across the planet with the invisible power of a tidal wave.

"The Betrayer has refused the offer of the Dance. The Usurper has made mockery." Her voice is like a whip, every word cracking with specific intent for the benefit of these stupid, broken machines, "They must dance. Make them."

[Bella is making a Cut: Separate Them]
In her time as Lady's handmaiden, √Čtoile has explored the hearts of almost every member of the household. It was her job, you know? The Resistance needed information, Marianne needed targets, and... and just... she needed to know. Who she could trust, who to be afraid of. If it was even right in the first place.

Her Lady's heart was so beautiful it almost broke her resolve on the spot when she saw it. Inside her was the most wondrous garden, filled with fountains spraying water so clear it felt like she could dip her hand in it and not even feel it, and the most amazing flowers in soothing blues and dazzling yellows and brilliant whites, each one with such delicate crystalline petals she hardly dared to breath for fear of breaking them. The breeze there was gentle and fragrant, and somehow even the storm clouds that hung overhead everywhere she'd wandered had exuded a gentle softness that could turn the clap of thunder into the purring of a cat.

None of the rest of them had been like that. Jezcha's heart was a thing of rot and darkness and broken dolls, and the Seneschal's was a frankly terrifying and claustrophobic maze of walls that echoed constantly with stomping boots and furious shouting. But there wasn't anybody that worried √Čtoile more than Tirzah. Her heart was... an enigma. The only one she couldn't slip inside of, not even with Marianne's full focus and cooperation. How was that even possible? This is exactly why you couldn't trust spies!

And that was exactly why Lamassie wasn't going to do anything silly like let Lady get her perfect evening ruined by that mysterious, brooding, black-boxed, jerky... stupid face! Hmph!

But what to do? Lamassie isn't a brave phantom thief or a superhero! She can't swoop Lady out of here without ruining everything, and if she goes running around and makes the guards think she's trying to escape it'll be trouble, oh goshies yes. Not to mention if she tugs too hard, she might hurt Lady! Oh no oh no! What's she supposed to do? She's not fast or strong or brave or even very clever, no she's not, no she's not! All she's got is heart, and if she tries real hard, maybe it can even be as pretty as Lady's!

"It's soooooooo pretty here, isn't it? Isn't it? Isn't it, Lady?"

Pap pap pap go her silly mitten-paws on Lady's shoulders! Jingle jingle goes her good girl collar! Her silly triangles go flippy-flopsie as she drapes herself over and squishes her body so, soooooo gently against Lady's! Uhuh, there we go, eyes on your good girl, Lady. See her silly hip wiggles to make her tail go all waggy? See the happy sparkle in her eyes?

"...Is Lamassie a good girl? Can she have a treat? Pretty pretty pleaaase?"

She smiles through her pretty sparkle veil. All she needs to do is be all silly-shameless-distracting for a just a little bit longer, and everything will be perfect and safe again, probably forever. But, you know what? She could do this all day.
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