Her full blood-red lips quivered as his thumb gently traced small circles on them. His pupils were dilated, filled with an indescribable lust as he looked at her. Her raven locks fell like waterfalls behind her back and her olive skin glowed a brilliant bronze by the candlelight. Her large dove grey eyes brimmed with innocence and fear; she didn't like the way he was looking at her with his eyes roaming up and down her body like as if she was his object of desire.
He leaned in and she stood still, too stunned to react, his hot breath tickling her ear. “You're mine, now.”
It was impossible for her to refuse the emperor like that but... Why her? Out of all the women in the country, why her? Whispers flew around in the imperial court like wind that she, Hoshiko, a lowly peasant sent to work as a serving wench for the empress, had captured the emperor's eye and was now his new toy. Every corner she turned, the courtiers always looked at her with such unmasked contempt that she could barely keep herself from breaking down.
She denied it, knowing deep in heart that the rumours were false. But now, she didn't know what to think; after all, she had known for awhile that he'd been secretly staring at her and sending servants to present her with gifts at the dead of night.
But it was Empress Ai who she feared most. She was inarguably amongst one of the most beautiful women and she knew it well with glossy black hair pinned up tightly with golden pins to reveal a perfectly heart-shaped face. Deep-set almond eyes, arched eyebrows, full lips and a perfect posture, she was a goddess sent from the heavens. Well at least she looked it. Underneath the stunning exterior, she was a smart and cunning woman. Her eagle sharp almond eyes always demanded immaculacy in everything and could easily spot flaws from a mile away.
From the first day they met in the marketplace, despite Hoshiko's imperfections and their four year age difference, they could feel an invisible bond between one another. Even though, it was just an exchange of glances, this was enough. Ai pitied her and took her into her noble household as a servant. She gave her a new meaning to life. They became friends after a year and were almost sisters within seven. They confided in each other – every little secret they harboured and thus, their trust of each other grew.
That was, until the day they found out that Ai was to be the emperor's son's betrothed and was forbidden to talk to anyone who held a lower status in society. Their strong friendship started to lose its strength and within a few months, they only exchanged small greetings and after a few years, they had forgotten about one another's existence until the late emperor passed away. That was when Ai was able to speak to her and within months, they were just like the siblings they had used to be.
Hoshiko smiled bitterly at the irony of the situation. Instead of her, it should have been the empress with her husband right now. It should have been the elegant and stunning woman who had captured the emperor's heart long ago, not the wild, untamed peasant girl who would rather spend her days picking flowers than being confined to the palace walls.
The guilt had torn in overnight. She knew she'd betrayed her best friend in the worst way possible. It was every girl's dream to become the empress, or a concubine at least, if they were fortunate. The empress had put so much trust in her and she'd thrown away their valuable friendship for a man.
On the previous night, the Emperor had announced to the whole court that she would his concubine. His first concubine. The courtiers stared on in disgust; now she couldn't deny it anymore. But it was the empress' expression that held her attention. Her eyes had flickered with pain and her face was stricken; ash white, as if all the blood had drained out.
A sudden knock shook her out of her reverie. He waved at her in dismissal. Hastily, she gathered up her skirts and hid behind an ivory table.
“Your Imperial Majesty!” yelled a voice of a servant, filled with desperation, outside the Emperor's private bedchambers. “An assassin has infiltrated-” His voice was suddenly cut off.
The Emperor stood up and smoothed down his golden silk robes to investigate the matter. Just then, the doors slid open. A stranger, clothed in black entered the room, holding a blood-covered blade. Their face was completely covered except for the eyes. The Emperor and the stranger's eyes met for a split second and a sense of uncertain familiarity fell over them.
“Who-” Before the Emperor could finish his sentence, the assassin raced with superhuman speed towards him and thrust the katana through his heart without hesitation. Redness bloomed on his robes and he crumpled onto the ground, meeting his doom.
Hoshiko looked on from her hiding place, fear consuming her senses. She had witnessed the murder of the Emperor and now feared for her own life.
She silently prayed that the assassin could not see her, but it was to no avail. In less than a second, the assassin was in front of her, the tip of the katana a few inches from Hoshiko's neck. She squeezed her eyes closed, waiting for her life to be prematurely ended with a swift stroke.
But it never came.
Instead, the most unexpected event occurred... the assassin removed his ask to reveal a face fairer than any other. The face of... Empress Ai.
Hoshiko felt her blood freeze.
“Ai?” She whispered, not hiding any shock.
The Empress' face shone a deadly pale against the moonlight.
“Hoshiko,” she acknowledged in a monotone, with the katana still pointed at her neck.
“...Why?” Hoshiko managed to rasp out.
The Empress' lips curled into a wan smile.
“I loved him very much,” she stated, tears brimming in her eyes as she stared at Hoshiko. Her strong face had never seemed so vulnerable. “You, out of all people should have known that.”
A still silence fell upon as Hoshiko nodded guiltily. Her betrayal of their friendship had almost killed her.
“Don't be.” Empress Ai cut her off. “I think I've known for years. The way he looked t you and how his eyes followed you wherever you went. I kept telling myself that nothing was going to happen, but deep down inside, I think I already knew what to expect. I was just fooling myself.” She let out a bitter laugh as the tears fell like waterfalls. “Oh, Hoshiko! I loved him so much! Do you know how much it pained me to see him with another woman?... And it was none other than my confidante, my childhood friend... my sister. You, of all people had to take him away from me!”
Hoshiko's heart shattered as the Empress pushed the sword closer to her neck.
“Farewell Hoshiko.” The tip of the blade was almost prickling her neck when right at the final second, it was twisted towards its owner and was thrust into her own heart. Blood gushed out like a spreading river and she collapsed on the floor into a lifeless heap.
Hoshiko let out an anguished cry at the turn of events and fell onto her knees. Her dreams were shattered in just one night and the single, most important person to her was gone.
There could not have possibly been a much crueller fate than what she had to suffer. What had brought her perfect world crashing down before her was none other than fatal attraction.
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