The Student Publishing House of Townsend Harris High School

The Starling Press

The Student Publishing House of Townsend Harris High School

The Starling Press

The Student Publishing House of Townsend Harris High School

The Starling Press

February 13, 2024

Tale of a Single Rose



     Cassandra Zhanshi, only nineteen years old, had lived the remaining years of her short life locked away in a dark, barren room with barely any company. Her snowy-white hair grew to her torso, her tattered nightgown remained the same through the miserable years, and her pitiful face always had hints of the child she wished to be. She couldn’t remember anything beyond waking up and finding herself locked in the room. The only fragments of her memory told her she had two older sisters.  Her parents were constantly away, constantly occupied with the external affairs of foreign nations and anything else besides tending to their daughters. 


     The servants paid no attention to the girl, only taking time to bring her food or tidy her room. 


     The rusting iron door near the back of her room was perhaps the only thing entertaining, but her chamber was still as lifeless and cold as the barren fields in a fierce winter. But during one snowy night, the servants had left Cassandra her usual share of stale bread and water, and for once, she scolded them to get out. The desire to open that door made her have sleepless nights, constantly questioning what was beyond the cracking, dull walls. During a snowstorm, she got up and walked toward the door: the only thing blocking her from what she believed to be her happiness. She scavenged the area near the doorframe and found a thin metal rod. She then proceeded to pick the lock. And after several minutes of failed attempts. 




     She swung the door open and ran barefoot out to the snow. Her face glowed as she felt the cold surrounding her. The beautiful sight of the snow amazed Cassandra so much that she even went as far as running into the snow-covered forest. But despite the overwhelming happiness, she knew her time was ending fast. She ran into a clearing, gasping for breath. Before she knew it, her vision rapidly grew hazy, her fingers and toes becoming numb, and she eventually collapsed onto the snow-covered floor. Exhausted, she smiled while buried in the snow. She finally tasted the freedom she was dying to experience. She saw her last breath become a fading mist in the air. Cassandra closed her eyes as she passed. She finally got her wish of freedom.



     Just as the girl assumed she was done for, like her life ultimately finished, she realized that the light that everyone eternally feared when someone was on their deathbed- wasn’t there. But instead, a trail of snowflakes danced around her, slowly changing to cherry blossom petals in a graceful pattern following the snowflakes. They circled the amazed girl as she followed them farther and farther into the darkness. Soon in a flash, the girl saw images flying past her eyes, and before she knew she was falling into the lives of her ancestors.


A brave, noble warrior forsaken by her army rules with a heart filled with vengeance.


A tyrannical empress whose ice-cold heart finally melted after meeting her true love.


A crumbling king whose heart has only fragments of his dearest friends and companions.


A studious queen whose end was as great as herself. 


A mysterious emperor whose life was shrouded in darkness and secrets. 


A cold-hearted queen whose heir was destined to eternal glory. 


A forgotten princess, born to be the future queen of her land.


     Cassandra floated around the abyss filled with glorious portraits of the people before her. But as the girl tripped and fell deeper into the endless rabbit hole, she didn’t know she had been reborn, given another chance at life, except in a different book. 


    Cassandra woke up in a grand princess bed as she realized- this wasn’t her room- but someone else’s. 


“Princess- You’re awake?!” 


What is happening….”

Stolen Moment


     It took several weeks for Cassandra to adjust to her new life. Her old memories were suddenly poured back into her head, but they were all foggy or shattered. Was she dead? Dreaming? Hallucinating? Or did she slip into her eldest sister’s life after her own life ended? 


     Cassandra’s eldest sister, Ash Zhanshi, was the supposed heir to the throne, but after a chaotic and, concerningly, staged-like accident in which Ash fell into the pond and nearly drowned, she eventually slipped into a coma and hadn’t woken up for a year. Cassandra’s older sister- Wait- older sister… Midnight Zhanshi…?


     From what she could recall from being locked away in a dingy cell, she remembered overhearing that her older sister Midnight would marry Ash’s fiance and take over the title as the heir to the throne… and she was unusually celebratory while the eldest sister was on the verge of death- Oh. 


Ah, so it was you….”


     Bitterness seeped into Cassandra’s heart as she finally realized what the puzzle pieces displayed. 


     “Midnight… you were the one who pushed Ash… into the pond… and you were the one that ordered me to be locked away…. just to take what we had. Mother and father were too busy….”


     She clenched the edges of her blanket as she muttered, “I’ll. Kill. You-“


“Sister! My goodness- Thank God you’re alright!”




     Midnight, who appeared to be recovering from the shock of Ash being awake, walked over to her bed and placed Cassandra’s hand in hers, tears flowing from her eyes. Cassandra noticed the diamond ring on her finger, and more resentment fell into her heart. 


“Get away from me.” 




     Cassandra immediately regretted her words as Midnight looked surprised, startled at her sister’s words.


“Forgive me- I’m feeling a bit disoriented… It’s best if you leave me be for a while…” 


Before I strangle you with my bare hands.



     Cassandra hadn’t even realized how miserable Ash was, not like she could remember if she had a chance to talk with her eldest sister, but she still mutually understood her suffering. Midnight was always flaunting her expensive diamond ring in front of her, and Cassandra was constantly restraining herself from ordering a guard to chop off Midnight’s ring finger. Not to mention, it was always awkward whenever Cassandra (who’s now Ash) saw her “ex-fiance” wandering around the palace. The workload, suitors, and pestering nuisances followed Cassandra everywhere she went, and she still had to put on an “everything is fine” look. 


     A month had passed after her reincarnation; before she knew it, Cassandra was being prepped to attend her supposed funeral. 


“It’s such a shame to lose such a wonderful princess. Unfortunately, her health was always deteriorating. Good thing Princess Midnight never stopped ordering her guards to find the princess.” Her talkative maid, Annabelle, gossiped. 


     “What do you mean deteriorating? Last I heard, you servants starved her in her room. And I believe that her room wasn’t even a room, just a makeshift cell.” Cassandra glared at the maid with a never-ending fury and snappy tone.


     “N-no! You misunderstood the purpose, princess! Princess Midnight had provided her that room- to keep her health in check! Without her, young Princess Cassandra would be dead much more quickly! Princess Midnight saved Cassandra! We must thank her for her work!” 


     Cassandra’s blood steadily boiled as the maid continued complimenting Midnight for her various nasty cover-ups and deeds any sane person would know would be wrong and even criminalized. But she was willing to keep quiet only until the maid returned to talking about Cassandra.


“And you know, Princess Midnight was always fond of the little princess- ever since you were unconscious! Thank heavens the Princess watched over the young girl when her health began to fail. You know, you should perhaps thank your sister for at least keeping Princess Cassandra alive longer-” 


     Cassandra slammed her fist on her vanity in pure rage as she turned to the stupidly surprised maid. “YOU INSOLENT WRETCH. IF YOU PRAISE PRINCESS MIDNIGHT SO MUCH. WHY DO YOU BOTHER SERVING ME?” 


     The maid immediately fell to her knees, begging Cassandra for forgiveness. “P- Please, your Highness- F- Forgive me!” 


     Midnight suddenly entered the room and saw the maid cowering before Ash. 


“Sister! What’s the meaning of this?! You shouldn’t treat your servant like this!-“


“Be quiet, Midnight. This wretch chose to praise you to the highest degree and discuss Cassandra’s pitiful life in front of me-” 


“But you shouldn’t treat her like this! She’s a delicate soul, for goodness sake! And what’s wrong with talking about Cassandra?” 


     Cassandra snapped her finger and demanded, “GUARDS! Bring this vermin out of my chamber and escort the princess back to her chamber.”


“NO- PLEASE- SPARE ME!” The maid cried harder, and Cassandra looked down at her in disgust. 


     The guards entered Cassandra’s chamber and began advancing toward the maid before Midnight stepped between them. 


“No! Guards, as your princess, I demand that you leave the maid be!”


     The guards did not stop and pushed Midnight aside as they dragged the screaming maid out of the room. “Ugh! Ash! Why are you doing such things? I thought you were the benevolent ruler everyone could respect without fear of losing their lives!” 


     Cassandra sighed loudly as the remaining guards stood beside Midnight, waiting for her to move. “Look, we have a funeral to attend, and I would rather not be involved with some disloyal and ignorant servant.”


     But Midnight still chose to pick up a fight. “But you still need the poor girl! She was the only one willing to help dress you! And what do you mean by disloyal and ignorant?! She is the only maid available to you!”


     Cassandra smirked as she stared at Midnight with a cold stare. “Fetch me the twins who were placed in the dungeons. I’d say they’d be perfect servants.” 


     “What?! A-are you requesting that you have the fourteen-year-old servants who tried to poison me- be placed in your hands?! I will not stand for this-“


     Cassandra glared at Midnight, and that’s when Midnight received the cue to leave the room. As Cassandra waited for her new maid staff while another maid brushed her hair with trembling hands, she couldn’t help but feel content with her actions. The upper hand Midnight had over the palace was now slowly being destroyed. 


Greetings, your Highness….” 


     Cassandra looked at her chamber’s entrance and saw two pale-looking twins kneeling on the ground. She gestured for the current maid to leave, and the servant promptly fled the room, nearly tripping on her feet. 


“So I presume you two are wondering why I chose the both of you to be my servants.”


“No, your Highness,” said the girl. 


“What are your names, again?” Cassandra asked as she looked down at the two. 






     Cassandra noticed how they wouldn’t dare to meet her eyes but; instead stared at the carpeted floor in utter silence. Before Cassandra could say anything, Michelle politely added, “We hope we didn’t keep you waiting too long, your Highness. The matrons were particularly fond of keeping us waiting.”


     Cassandra chuckled softly. Despite her premature death, she was already as mature as her parents and knew the palace by heart. 


     She ordered her new servants to carry out their jobs, and no more than half an hour later, she was dressed for her funeral. 


   After an hour of waiting in the courtyard, the service finally began. Everyone was tearing up, and Midnight was full-on sobbing, attracting all the attention toward her as everyone attempted to console her. As Cassandra stared at her supposed coffin, she couldn’t help but smile under the veil hiding her face. Her past was finally destroyed. 



     It has been officially a year since Cassandra’s reincarnation, and through the chaos and surprises it brought, Cassandra was still focused on taking down her sister once and for all. Her servants had done quite a lot, updating her with what Midnight was up to and other news. 


     During a rainy night, as everyone in the palace slept soundly, Cassandra wandered around the halls like a meaningless ghost, lost and filled with no purpose. She stumbled into the portrait hall, filled with delicate paintings and tapestries of her ancestors. As she walked along the never-ending corridor, Cassandra eventually arrived at the portrait of her eldest sister.


     [A tall, cunning woman of remarkable abilities. She was fair and kind-hearted to those who deserved it. Her marvelous snowy white hair, red amber-like eyes, and place skin made her a gem in anyone’s heart. She was destined to rule the kingdom in her righteous grace. But her light was taken by the witch behind her.]


     Cassandra glanced at Midnight’s painting. The artist: clearly entranced by her, took the extra effort to paint the witch but ironically met a bloody end at her hands. 


    [A beautiful lady whose black hair represented the black starry sky, her fair skin shined brighter than the moon, and her eyes twinkled like they reflected the stars. But nothing could hide the monsters inside the witch’s rotten heart.]


     Cassandra was about to leave before she stopped at her portrait. 


     [A pretty girl, sitting on an elegant seat like a little porcelain doll. Her amber eyes were like the precious rock itself, her white hair mimicked her benevolent eldest sister, and her charming smile was bound to charm everyone who laid eyes on her. But she met a brutal end herself.]


     Only then did Cassandra accept, “I’m not my sister. But someone else. My sister is… dead.”



     “Sister! Why did you invite the Blackwoods to the banquet today? I thought you weren’t on good terms with them!”


     Cassandra casually sipped her tea, watching Midnight continue crying and ranting over her guest list.


“A little incident between you and the eldest son of that family doesn’t give a reason for me not to politely invite them for a small celebration. Of course, maybe this time, you should watch how much wine you drink and your feelings toward charming men you just met.” 


     Midnight, of course, took offense to the response and promptly stormed out of the garden, disturbing the nearby preached birds. Micheal eyed Midnight leaving with relief, given that the entire maid staff under Cassandra’s care were bound to have their ears bleeding from how much Midnight ranted and yelled. 




     He immediately straightened himself up. “Once the Blackwood family arrives, escort them to the banquet hall,” Cassandra ordered as she got up to leave, carelessly smoothing her emerald green ballgown.  


“Yes, your Highness.”


     Once Micheal scurried off, Cassandra took notice of the small patch of wilting roses. If she remembered correctly, those roses were a gift from the Blackwood family, but Cassandra couldn’t remember who it was, given that Ash was the one who told her about it. 


“She should have described them, at least….”


     “Your Highness?” Michelle addressed, “Yes, dear?” Cassandra swiftly turned around and noticed Michelle looking surprised. 


“Was there something you wanted to say?”


“U- um. The- Blackwoods have arrived….” Michelle’s face turned a slight pink. 


     Cassandra smiled warmly and walked off, gently patting Michelle on the head before heading toward the banquet hall. Upon entering through the doors, Cassandra was greeted with a room full of high-class people, dukes, archduchess, and even some people from distant royal families. She walked towards the drinks section and didn’t bother socializing with the guests since Ash never plucked up the courage to interact with people outside her circle. Cassandra stared out the window displaying the beautiful snow covering the little white drooping flowers.


“Great heavens! Crowned Princess Ash? Is that truly you?” 


     A smooth voice brought Cassandra out of her thoughts. She realized the man standing before her was the youngest son of the Blackwood family.


“Ah, Archduke Marcus. How are you?”


     His windswept blonde hair highlighted his lifelong hobby of horse riding. And his vibrant blue eyes, along with his charming smile, made him quite popular among the ladies. His tailored white suit reminded Cassandra of the uniforms the generals would wear. 


“Nothing too exciting. How are you these days?- You haven’t seen my brother have you?” His voice sounded anxious near the end as he glanced around for any sign of his brother.


     “Oh- um. Well, I’m doing quite better, and no. I haven’t seen your brother. Why are you asking?” Cassandra asked out of curiosity. Marcus wasn’t the type to be anxious. In fact, he was the most outspoken person Cassandra had ever witnessed. Before she was reincarnated, she remembered Marcus even announcing his pleasant remarks on Ash’s beauty in front of her fiance and venomous sister. 


“I might have dueled him right before we departed for the banquet, and I might have made a dent in his ego, especially since my servant is praising how I’ve beaten him every time we duel actually-” 


     Cassandra loudly gasped as someone approached Marcus from behind. 


Archduke Marcus.” 


     Marcus practically jumped a few meters away from his brother, shielding himself behind Cassandra as he nervously greeted, “Archduke- Xavier- G- Greetings… brother-” Xavier had a menacing look chiseled into his face as he glared at his younger brother. He immediately dropped the threatening aura as he turned to Cassandra and bowed. 


“Greetings, Your Royal Highness,” 


Cassandra smiled softly. “You may rise.” 


     Her reddish-amber eyes locked in with Xavier’s stormy gray eyes as Cassandra anxiously held her breath. A moment of silence passed before Cassandra sheepishly glanced away, sorely embarrassed by the tense eye contact. Perhaps the silver suit, sleek black hair, and menacing aura were too flattering or horrifying to look at for long.


“Haha- Brother! Um- how are you?” Marcus nervously asked as he cowered behind Cassandra even more as Xavier stepped forward. 


     “I was wondering where you were… I didn’t expect you to be talking with the crowned princess, brother.” His condescending tone gave Cassandra a slight chill while Marcus trembled uncontrollably in fear. Before the two could react, Marcus dramatically collapsed in front of the two and started making a scene in a much signature childish manner. “I guess some things just don’t change.” Cassandra thought as she walked away from the staring crowd with a fit of small chuckles. 


“Sister!” A familiar voice cried out behind her. 


     “Oh heavens- not now….” Cassandra spun around and saw Midnight heading towards her with a gleeful smile. “Ah, sister… What can I do for you?” She asked with a strained smile, immediately losing sight of the hilarious scene behind where her sister stood. Midnight giggled loudly and pointed toward the stage near the front of the banquet hall. Cassandra then realized Daniel, her ex-fiance, was walking on stage, appearing to be preparing to make a speech. 


“My dear guests. I’m honored for all of you to grace us with your presence. As a custom of this palace, a dance will be hosted by the prince, but for now, let us applaud the princess of this land, my future fiance.” 


     Daniel gestured for Midnight to join him on stage, and before Cassandra knew it, he was making a speech about how much he loved Midnight, and even people in the audience began tearing up. “Such embarrassment. Does your sister or her fiance have any shame or self-respect?” Marcus whispered behind Cassandra, startling her.”My- goodness. Marcus, stop sneaking up behind me!” She whispered, swatting a hysterical Marcus on his head to shut him up. As the two comically quarrel with each other, they fail to notice the grand dance already starting. Cassandra immediately retreated to the champagne table once Marcus was swept away by a crowd of excited women. 


     Boredom settled into Cassandra’s mind. But before she could even doze off, someone tapped her on the shoulder. “Hm- Oh! Archduke Xavier! How can I help you?” Xavier awkwardly sipped his wine before asking, “Why are you not dancing? I thought someone would have asked you to dance already….” Cassandra chuckled out of sadness. “No, I don’t know how to dance, and I’d be too awkward to answer a request anyways.” A moment of silence swiftly passed before Cassandra plucked up the courage to ask, “So, why aren’t you dancing? I’m sure many ladies would be honored to be in your presence.” Xavier cleared his throat before answering, 


“Well… I did have someone in mind to ask to dance.” 


“Oh, well. May I ask who it is?” 


     Before Xavier could answer, the Duchess of  Astoria, Madison Vesper, suddenly appeared.


“Greetings, your Grace!” 


“Oh, Madison,” 


     Cassandra awkwardly looked at the conversation from afar and scooted away slowly. But Xavier suddenly grabbed her hand and pulled her onto the dance floor, gliding gracefully across and attracting much attention.


     “Y- your- Xavier- what are you doing?” She whispered while glaring at Xavier. Cassandra tried to release herself from Xavier’s iron grasp but continuously failed as he dragged her across the dance floor. “Forgive me, Ash, but your sister was about to hound me to ask me to dance. I didn’t quite wish to, and I’m sure you know the rest.”


“Fine then. But make this dance quick.” 


“As you wish.” 


     The two danced for another two minutes before Xavier immediately spun Cassandra and finished the dance with a swift bow, not meeting her eyes. Cassandra curtsied and immediately left the banquet hall. 


     The snow crunched under her heels as Cassandra swept past the cluster of wilting roses tucked away in the garden, overthinking the sudden dance, making her way toward the lonesome bench that wasn’t touched by the glimmering snow. 


     “What has gotten into that man?” She sighed. Only a few hours ago, Xavier was glaring at her, almost as if he wanted to kill her. The next thing she knew, he willingly dragged her onto the dance floor because of her sister and even took several minutes to end the supposedly brief dance. She sat on the bench and stared at the ground, drowning in her thoughts. The sounds of rustling appeared near her. Glancing around, she saw a sparrow landing on the clump of roses.


“Those roses… Why do they seem to taunt me… Wait… Ah, that’s right….” 


      An image of a black-haired man dressed like royalty, giving a princess of the royal family a wondrous bouquet of roses in hopes of winning her over. But the youngest sister was upset about this gesture and suggested that the eldest sister stay away from the man, given that the eldest sister already had a fiance, and the roses could inevitably turn into a scandal. The eldest sister obliged and sent a letter to the man, respectfully rejecting his advances. The sister was sad to turn down such a kind-hearted man, but she couldn’t risk a scandal leaking into the public. She ordered a maid to plant these roses as a last reminder of the brief spark between the two….


“Greetings, Ash. Why so down?” 


“Oh- Marcus! I didn’t expect you to be here….” 


“I guess I show up unexpectedly- pardon me, your Royal Highness.” 


     Cassandra chuckled softly. “You’re pardoned. I just didn’t expect someone to be out so late.” 


“Now is late? Oh please, it isn’t even midnight yet.” 


“It isn’t? Oh, well, I suppose the moon is up early then. What brings you out here on this cold night, Marcus?” 


     Marcus held silent a few moments, glancing up at the stars in the sky before mumbling, “I just wished to have someone to talk to.” 


“Well, I’m here. So, what is it?” 


“It’s just that- palace life is quite exhausting, all while also being boring at the same time. It’s all just rules you must obey. Then you curtsy, bow, and lord knows what else.” Marcus let out a big sigh as he glanced at Cassandra. “And you know- as a child, you expect slightly more out of this life. But in the end, you’re bound to be dead in front of people you don’t even know.” 


“Well, time does reveal reality to us. I always tried to be content with my life.”


     The two carried on with the pleasantry exchanges, not caring about the world amid their conversation. Cassandra expressed her suspicions about Xavier, but Marcus revealed that Xavier had always fancied her. “My brother had always been terrible at his words and even worse at his gestures. Ever since you turned him down, he was always looking a bit depressed.”


    Cassandra laughed and smiled up at the twinkling stars. As Marcus continued talking, Cassandra was lost in her own world. 


So Xavier always fancied my sister… even till this day. I’m impressed. I suppose he wasn’t so bad.” 


     Cassandra suddenly got up. “Please excuse me, Marcus. But I’d say it’s getting quite late. I must return to my chamber to rest.” 


      “Oh– Well, that’s alright. You may go.” He responded while trying to hide his shock and subtle disappointment. Cassandra smiled at him before setting off for the room. While she walked through the corridor of portraits, she couldn’t help but feel resentment toward herself. 


Get yourself together. This isn’t your life, but your sister’s life. You’re only here for revenge.” Her mind spat. 


Let the show go on then.

Seek the Light






     The voice echoed through the pitch black. Cassandra looked around, trying to find the mysterious person. The sound with the unfamiliar familiarity. 




“A-Ash? Where are you?!”


     Cassandra frantically glanced around. “W- Where are you- AH-” A rotting, disturbing ghost appeared before her. 


The ghost of her dead sister.


“W- what do you want?!” She cried out.


What are you doing…?” The eerie voice sent freezing chills down Cassnandra’s spine.


“I-I don’t-“


     The screams of banshees echoed through her ears as the ghost began screeching.




“T-That wasn’t my fault! Sister- please!”


    The screams became louder, almost deafening, as Cassandra cowered in horrified shock and guilt. Tears mixed with fear and resentment flowed down Cassandra’s face as her mind and heart raced. Until–


     The screams stopped, and only a gust of wind began filling the silence. Cassandra looked up and saw Ash’s ghost standing over a puddle.


I still remember the day. Where it all ended.


” …W- What?” 


      The ghost spun around and pointed her crooked finger at Cassandra, sending her into an endless ocean of dismembered corpses. 




     Haunted singing filled the ocean as the water became a blood-colored pool. The bodies drowning in the blood now looked familiar- Those were the people that Midnight had killed in her pursuit of power. The corpse of her eldest sister was only a few feet away. Cassandra tried swimming towards it, but she felt something pulling her back. She turned around and was petrified in fear.


     The dismembered corpse of her eldest sister opened its void-like mouth open, slowly like a snake. But before Cassandra could even scream, the corpse swallowed her whole-


     Blood-curdling screaming echoed through the halls as the twins rushed to their mistress’s chamber in a panicky frenzy. 


“Y- your Highness?! Is everything alright?!” Micheal asked as he swung open the door with great force.


“WHERE’S THE THIEF- WHERE ARE THEY-” Michelle yelled as she brandished a makeshift dagger, ready to wage war. 


     Cassandra sat up on her bed, horrified by the vivid nightmare. 


Seek the truth before you perish for good.” 


“No- NO! Leave me alone! PLEASE!”


     The invisible voice continued to torment Cassandra as Micheal began calling for the royal physician, and Michelle rushed over to comfort Cassandra, who was crying hysterically and screaming as if she was being tortured.

Clearing The Fog


“How did this happen….”


     Cassandra was sitting in front of her vanity, contemplating her next task. The physicians had declared her safe and just had a stressful breakdown. But people in her palace were still careful around her, not wanting to trigger another episode. 


     But besides the palace affairs, another thing was troubling her. A dreary sensation constantly surrounded Cassandra ever since her nightmare, almost as if her time was fading quickly. And not to mention, her sister’s reddish-amber eyes suddenly became a vivid amber, almost like Cassandra’s old eyes. She worried that someone in the palace might notice the color change, but since no one in her court was a color chemist, Cassandra could breathe a sigh of relief.


     Inside the grand library, Cassandra was glancing around for any books on family history, or better, scandals to take Midnight down with. But unbeknownst to her, while Cassandra was glancing through a pile of dusty books, she nearly crashed into Archduke Xavier, who apparently was also scouting the library for a book. 


“Oh- my! Um, greetings, Archduke Xavier. Pardon me- for nearly crashing into you-“


     “Perhaps, you should watch where you’re going before you end up drowning in a pile of books, your Highness.” He muttered while glaring at Cassandra. Unfazed by the cold response, Cassandra promptly excused herself. But before she could take another step, Xavier suddenly commented, “Your eyes look different today, your Highness.” 


“P- Pardon?” 


“… Nevermind. Have a good day.” 


     Exceptionally confused, Cassandra rushed out of the library. Once outside the menacing aura that overwhelmed the library’s usual mysterious air, Cassandra finally realized what Xavier had muttered. 


“Does- he know…?” 


     But something else stood out to Cassandra. Was Xavier’s eyes ever charcoal black? Remembering her rushed dance with him, she still vividly recalled his eyes being a stormy gray. 


“Maybe it was just the lighting… Don’t overthink this….”


“Your Highness?”


     More horror settled into Cassandra’s mind and expression when she met eyes with Xavier once again. “Oh! Archduke Xavier… I- see you finished picking out your book!” 


“Oh, this?” He gestured toward the history book he carried in his arm. “This is nothing. I was just going through my family history, and I was curious what your land had to say about my family.” 


“Oh, well. You know how we are toward your family! It’s- just the usual famous tasks your father, brother, mother, and other relatives have done!” 


     Xavier glared at her again, adding, “So there’s nothing about me then?” 


“What- Of course there is? What kind of silly question is that?” Cassandra nervously answered. Her laughing off the question certainly added to the unsettling tension between the two. And not to mention, she was impressed by his boldness to ask a question that would crush his ego to a degree. 


“Oh, well. I was just curious about me not being in the family photo- On the cover.” 


“Uh- About that….” 


     Trying to think of a solid excuse for the unfortunate artist, a reason for the cover, while under severe pressure, was certainly giving Cassandra a headache. “Why did the artist forget him again- Oh wait….” 


“Well, I suppose the artist had issues drawing- ever since you cut off his finger….” Cassandra casually brushed the comment off, hoping Xavier would take the joke and laugh. 


     But- Xavier looked surprised, taken aback by the sudden comment. 


“You knew it was me- that ordered the guard to do so?” 


     As the two looked at each other in shock, clearly confused by each other words. Two minutes crawled by before someone even said anything.


“How about we just steer away from the conversation….” Xavier suggested, the awkward silence putting him in a terrible position.


“Understood that…. Um. How about we just gloss through the book together before we go?” 


“Oh? Um- sure?” 


     For once, Cassandra heard him sound unsure of his actions and regret speaking. From her past interactions with him, Xavier always had an ego he was proud of, promptly making Cassandra disapprove of him immediately. But she never knew he ordered to have an author’s finger cut off. 


     Xavier led the way to the garden as Cassandra followed him, holding their silence until they stepped out into the courtyard. After settling down at a nearby table, Cassandra watched as Xavier opened up again, with the two glancing at the photos and short stories in the book. 


“You know, my father never really traveled the world for his maps and art. He only got fame from his ability to draw incredibly detailed art based on photos from people who traveled to those places. And my mother never owned the Ruby of Roses, just a copy.”


“So, are you just exposing your family to me?” Cassandra laughed as Xavier sheepishly glanced around him to hide his embarrassed face.


“Well, I suppose it’s better if you knew the truth….”


“Oh, wait! The author did include you in the book. You’re clearly there in that family photo- so I suppose there was no need to cut the author’s finger off-“


“Let’s. Not- talk about that…” 


“Of course, of course. I suppose the Archduke hates to have fingers pointed at him-“


“Jokes are included, your Highness.”


“I’m well aware, but a little teasing never hurts. But may I ask who’s the young man standing beside you?”


     Xavier went dead silent. And Cassandra immediately assumed she had said something sensitive.


“Oh, um. Forgive my words- how about we move on–”


“No- it’s fine. It’s just- that was my youngest brother, Vincent… and- he passed from his illness just a few months ago. I assume you never received word of this because our parents wanted to keep it hushed up. But that was only to cover bad publicity….”


“Oh- um… well, this may be a little too late, but I’m sorry for your loss.”


“… Thank you….”


     The two continued their conversation, occasionally cracking jokes and so on. It remained professional and quiet until,


“Oh my! Isn’t that the Archduke?” A girlish voice giggled.


“Yes, yes, it is! Oh, your Grace!”


     The pair looked up and saw a small crowd of young ladies standing just a couple of feet away from them. Most of the ladies were trying to get the Archduke’s attention, but he didn’t give them a single second. 


“Now, ladies, let’s not disturb his Grace. He’s obviously busy with my sister, so let’s not meddle with that.” A familiar voice announced in the background. 


     Cassandra looked up and realized it was Midnight and her usual group of gossiping ladies. 


“I suppose your sister is trying to do something… You may leave for your sake, your Highness.”


     Xavier stood up and offered a hand to Cassandra. But she only got up by herself and left, knowing if she did take his hand, the chance of a scandal will most definitely be inevitable. 


     But Cassandra also took the book before she left. Something in that photo was just unsettling to her. Could it be?

Judgment Day 


     Two years were now gone. Cassandra was finding it easier to work in Ash’s life, and things were looking up. The Blackwood family was staying for quite a period for political affairs regarding Cassandra’s family, and she bonded with the Blackwood brothers even more than ever, especially with Xavier.


     But the obvious trouble was that Midnight was found losing her patience every single day that passed. Michelle was always bringing tea to Cassandra, clearly being ordered to do so, and always said that Midnight was the one who brewed it. But the twins were aware of what Midnight could pull off, and once Cassandra declined the tea, they promptly dumped it in a nearby plant to see what would happen. Surprisingly, the plants haven’t died yet, so the two eventually stopped doing so.


     One night, Midnight came into Cassandra’s chamber, smiling. “Sister! How are you this fine evening?” 


Something is off.” 


     “I’m quite alright, sister. What brings you here?” Midnight stepped closer as Cassandra got up from her vanity. “Why nothing- of course! Can’t I just visit my sister out of my own time?”


Her hands are empty….


    “Of course. Anyways, is there anything you need? Cause I’m afraid I have to leave soon.” Cassandra took half a step back on reflex.


Midnight stepped closer. 


“Well, yes. Actually…”


your life.


“What-” Cassandra froze in horror.


    Midnight wretched the dagger out she was hiding in her sleeve and violently stabbed Cassandra in the stomach.


Drip. Drip. Drip.


     Cassandra fell to the floor in agony as Midnight slowly grinned and laughed like the true psychopath she was. 


“I’m sorry- sister! But I want the title- Everything!… if it’s the last thing I’ll do…


     Yet despite the agonized pain Cassandra was drowning in, the blood dripping from her mouth, and the open wound in her stomach, she still smiled, almost as if she was the victorious one.


“You just condemned- yourself to hell… you witch….


      Midnight laughed louder, the manic glint shining ever so brightly in her eyes. Her black dress was now coated in blood after she stabbed Cassandra another time. By then, Cassandra was only clinging on for dear life. God, was she going to die at her sister’s hand again? Everything fell into darkness as the indescribable pain flowed through Cassandra’s body, only making her wish she was dead. And Midnight’s shrill laughs were ringing in her ears, and she taunted Cassandra-






     Muffled screams were coming from beyond somewhere as Cassandra lapsed in and out of consciousness.


     She could barely see Midnight screaming and begging for mercy as she was being tackled and carried away by guards. While Michelle and Micheal were trying to save Cassandra, she could see someone else beside her. Marcus was standing above her, petrified in horror. But someone else was holding her. 


     Those mysterious black eyes.


     Cassandra forced her eyes open to get a good final look at the people she loved. As her beloved servants were blinded with tears, and her devoted companion was searching for her despicable sister in a never-ending fury. She looked at the man who was cradling her dying body– that she finally recognized at last. She slowly reached out her bloody arm, holding his teary-eyed face, as he held her hand with a trembling one.


“N- NO! PLEASE DONT LEAVE US-” He sobbed, warm tears flowing down his face.


“…Thank you… Vincent….” 


     Everything. Fell into the dark abyss. 




[Sunlight poured into the empty room as the Archduke slept beside the bedside of the unconscious Crowned Princess. He held her hand as a letter laid on a nearby bed stand, written by the Archduke himself.]




[“Dear Cassandra, 


     I had always assumed you were gone from this world and we would never meet again and that I would never love you again, see you again. And that I was condemned in this world for another several years. But I suppose fate had other plans. 


When I died, I was reborn as Xavier.


When you died, I see you were reborn as Ash.


     I knew it wasn’t your sister when we met once again. But. I couldn’t bring myself to ask for quite some time. It wasn’t until we met again in the library. I had finally found you. I wanted to confess. But I was too much of a coward to do so. I always loved you from afar, even in my past life, but I couldn’t move any closer.


     At last, you recognized me, and now, I finally dare to say I love you. Forgive me for arriving too late. But if you ever have to leave again. I won’t be far behind now.


From, Vincent.”]


[The younger sister was found guilty of attempting to assassinate the heir. At the execution site, she tried proclaiming her innocence to no avail. When she saw who the executioner was, the Crowned Princess’s most devoted companion, she desperately begged for mercy. But the prince showed no mercy and slit the princess’s throat before decapitating her in front of a cheering crowd. Midnight’s fiance was exiled along with his family, for being acquainted with the crime, the dagger which Midnight used, was his family heirloom.


The Crowned Princess eventually woke up and went on to rule the kingdom in her benevolent grace and marry the eldest son of the Blackwood family. The two had a daughter in which named after the youngest sister. The kingdom’s engraved in history, with many scholars crediting it as the source of magic.]

May this story come to an end.

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