_"Bow to your Emperor, and I promise you unity. I promise you peace."_
At the palace of the XinUe clan, there crept a young princess. Hair dark as night, eyes glinting green as emeralds. Her gold, pink and white dress fluttered against her hurried footsteps. She narrowed her eyes at the light towards an unclosed sliding door. Feet light as air, they carried her to it, and she soundlessly put her back against the door.
"..AongLu clan are mobilising their forces again. They have already taken over the South. It is not long before they reach us."
"I understand, advisor Fong. But the fact is our troops are not ready. I am not going to send young unprepared men into a suicide mission!"
"Emperor Courteau, if I may?"
"Go on, advisor Chiu."
"What I am proposing is a peace offering of a sort. Send princess Katarina. She is a beauty, she can fight, she is quick on her feet. Princess Katarina is not an offer Emperor Azir can refuse."
"Are you suggesting I marry off my only daughter?"
"If I may, Emperor Courteau. We don't seem to have another choice."
The princess widened her eyes in horror. _That won’t work._ She thought, as she found her feet carrying her into the war room.
Princess Katarina bowed for a beat, straightened, and gracefully folded her hands behind her.
"Father. Emperor Azir will attack us anyway. Do not forget his ultimate goal is to unify the Kingdoms. He means to attack us all to achieve that. You know he will not care for alliances."
"It appears I am out of options. I know you can handle yourself. This is your duty to your clan."
The princess hid her frustration. Her father not pointing out the fact she eavesdropped was already calling her lucky. She did not want to test his patience.
She bowed again, golden headpiece sounding soft_ clinks_ , and dismissed herself out the room.
Princess Katarina entered her room and let out a growl. The maids yelped and quickly went to work.
Emperor Azir will attack. Peace offering or not.
As her hair was let loose from the multiple hair pins and clips, she dismissed her maids and strolled to her mahogany table, where a war map identical to the one in the war room lay.
Katarina studied the map for the thousandth time that day.
How long until the clan of XinUe fall to the mercy of Emperor Azir?
_"your duty to your clan."_
But is it really?
_My duty is to protect my clan. Not standby while they get trampled over._
She flung a dagger to a nearby wooden pillar. She felt as if she was cornered. Out of options.
No, she wasn't.
The princess slowly smiled to herself as she saw the beginnings of a plan formulating.
The princess stepped out of her red and gold sedan chair, the morning light giving her skin a soft glow, the gold rims of her dress glinting magnificently. She walked into the palace of AongLu with grace and meaning, her strides and stance radiating power.
"Princess Katarina of the XinUe clan." Garen greeted, stopping to bow.
"Please. This way."
Katarina briefly studied Garen before following him in.
They continued on into the throne room, golden pillars with jade dragon designs lining the sides, a dome of glass situated at the top of it, giving the room the warmth and beauty of natural light.
Sitting on a high gold and white throne, was the man she came to meet.
"Emperor Azir." Katarina greeted, bowing, hands lifting the sides of her dress.
"Princess Katarina. I believe we have matters to discuss, regarding the letters of your father."
"Come, let's speak over tea."
The emperor stood and strolled out of the room, his brilliant white feathered robe dragging the floor.
"Emperor Azir. You wished to speak to me in private?" Garen said, as he entered the emperor's quarters.
"Garen. I wish to discuss Emperor Courteau's offer."
"What do you think of it?"
"I think it's a good idea. She is skilled. Princess Katarina can prove to be an asset. Besides, we may learn some of her clan's secrets."
Emperor Azir paused, head raised in thought, hands behind his back.
"Do you find attraction to her?"
"Do you find her attractive."
"..." Garen's mind stopped. _Yes! _ He internally screamed. He could not help but think back to their initial meeting earlier that day. Her beautiful curves. Her smart eyes, soft black hair, rosy lips...
"Because you see, a marriage would secure her loyalty to us. As a servant, we may not be able to get her 'secrets'. She needs to trust us." Azir studied Garen's lovestruck face. "If you favor her.. well, I can accept it. Her hand in marriage for you. When you learn her plans, we can advance on her clan."
Garen slowly nodded his head in understanding.
"If we accept, they will not expect an attack from us. Their guard will be down. They will be vulnerable."
"Then I will marry her as my duty to you, Emperor."
Katarina settled into her new quarters. She returns to XinUe for the last time tomorrow, before moving in. Or so they think.
Garen enters, smiling as he sees his new wife.
"What are you smiling at?" Katarina snaps, brushing her hair and looking away.
"Nothing. You're beautiful."
Katarina looks back at him and studies his expression. Under that adorable face, what is he planning? What is Azir planning?
Her mind remained unfocused as Garen leaned over to help her remove a hairpin she left on.
"Here." He says, putting it down.
"Thanks.." She replies, attention turned towards his intimate touch.
"I-I'm going to sleep. You should too." She said, abruptly standing, cheeks crimson as she walked towards the bed.
Hearing the gentle snores of her new husband, Katarina soundlessly left the room, creeping through the palace, a shadow in the night.
Katarina finds the war room and studied the map. Her brows knit together as she recognised her clan and the soldier figurines stationed on it.
_I knew it._
With one last look, she retreated to her quarters.
Katarina ripped straight through her father's throne room the next day.
"They are planning an invasion. 5 days from now. We must attack while they are not ready! I will return and kill their horses. I will kill their men. Then we will stand a chance."
"Father! Innocents will die if you wait any longer!"
"WE ARE NOT READY. And that is final! You will return tomorrow, and you will _stall them_ ."
Katarina was livid. She turned on her heels and stomped out of the room.
If her father won’t take action, she will.
Katarina arrived at the palace of AongLu in the dead of night.
First, she must kill Azir's best man.
She crept into what was her new quarters.
Strolling to her husband's sleeping body, she raised her dagger.
_Just do it._
_He means nothing to you._
_..You still have Azir to kill._
She closed her eyes. Why was this suddenly so hard?
To her surprise, firm hands gripped her wrists and stopped them.
Her husband was awake.
"Because.." Garen replied, jumping out of his bed and twisting her arms behind her. “..I’m the best.”
"I'm better." Katarina says, bringing her head back on his, making him release his grip.
"We could have a lovely life together you know." Garen says, chopping Katarina's wrist, grabbing her dagger.
"Perhaps. But my loyalty is to my clan." She says, lunging and flipping herself over Garen, feet firmly kicking him down.
Balance lost, Garen fell but quickly rolled and got up.
"Are you saying you agree that we could’ve had a life together?" Garen says, smirking. "Are you saying you could.. love me?"
A dagger misses his southern regions by an inch below him.
"That’s love." She says, before kicking at his face, him anticipating it and catching her.
"I love you." He whispers, expression going serious, hand gripping behind her waist, pulling her into a kiss.
Katarina grew numb. Her mind is so out of focus she can’t think straight, but can only feel the flickering fires of lust and desire from his lips. Her eyes close for a beat before refocusing again.
She pushed him away with all her strength, and looks at him.
This man is her weakness.
"I-I'm sorry." She whispers, almost painfully, as she slowly steps back from him.
He watched as she turned and dived out the window.
She was gone.
Garen's heart pounded against his chest. It pained her to leave…...right?
And oh man... they kissed! He couldn't help but feel giddy inside.
He walked to the window and smiled as he saw a figure bounding off in the shadows of the night.
He had a feeling she would come back.