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She had no invitation, but the footmen made no move to stop her as she swept past them into the ballroom. The gold badge pinned to the collar of her dress had a lot to do with that; no one in the Empire would dare risk the consequences of angering the School.

She paused at the top of the steps and surveyed the ballroom. A hundred or more dancers moved as one, dipping and gliding across the floor, but she was only interested in one.

A few brave young gallants approached her as she crossed the dancefloor, trying their chances, risking their arm for a dance. She turned them down with the ease of a diplomat, barely pausing yet leaving no wounded feelings behind.

The prince stood at the far end of the room, at ease with his hands clasped behind his back as he chatted to a high priest. He was seemingly oblivious to the gaggle of noble young women who stood nearby fluttering their fans.

Prince Bardhren may have been second in line to the throne, but he was seen as a far better prospect by many. His easy and apparently unthinking largesse, his willingness to both speak and listen to the people made him far more popular than his strict, severe elder brother.

Still, the girl thought as she stopped a few feet away from him, that won’t be an issue for long.

She had no fan to flutter, and her dress was far plainer than those worn by the noble gaggle, but the glint of her gold badge was once again all she needed. The prince excused himself to the priest and came straight over to her.

“I did not expect the School to attend my humble gathering,” he said with a smile, “To what do we owe the pleasure?”

The girl held her hand out daintily. “The School recognises the importance of pleasure as well as duty,” she said softly.

He took her hand and she had to restrain herself from cursing out loud. He was wearing gloves! She lowered her gaze in a feigned shyness to make a closer assessment of his outfit. It was a tightly fitted, perfectly tailored suit, with not the slightest hint of bare flesh anywhere below his ruffled high collar.

“Then may I have the pleasure of a dance?”

Just like the other gallants, the prince could not resist the dangerous allure of the School, and suddenly his gloves made no difference.

“Your highness, the pleasure would be mine.”

The orchestra played Li Tarandulla, and the prince drew her close for its slow, sensual motions. He danced perfectly, and as she brushed her fingertips across his cheek she almost felt sorry for him.

“Farewell, my dear prince,” she whispered.

He smiled at her, blissfully ignorant of what had occurred between them. “So soon? I could dance with you all night.”

She lowered her eyes for a moment; a moment too long, perhaps. “I would dance with you forever, if it were in my power,” she told him as she left.

She hurried from the dance back to the towering halls of the School. Her teacher was waiting in the garden, just inside the gate.

“Teacher,” she said, catching her breath and sinking to her knees before him. “The task is done. The prince will die in less than two hours.”

He smiled. “It is well done,” he said, taking a small vial from his pocket. “Take your reward.”

She took the vial from his hand, uncorked it and swallowed the antidote in one gulp.

“Now rise a Daughter of Fate. Your lessons are done, and you are a pupil no more.”

© Kari Fay

(Author’s Note: A continuation from Wednesday’s story; clearing up some of those questions I hope!)