The knife plunged deep into the beating heart of the Lavi prince. His blood swirled around the wound, gushing onto Vigo's hand as it held the hilt in place. He twisted the handle of the knife, but there was no look of pleasure on the Serpentis' face as he reduced the numbers of his enemy by one more.
His eyes were shut, and his head was turned away.
Khalaf dug his lion's claws into Vigo's arm, and still the young snake held fast to the knife. If he was going to do this, he was going to make certain it was done.
"Leave him to die," Rashida offered, seeing the claws making their mark in Vigo's skin. "Even with help he will not survive that wound."
Vigo exhaled sharply. "We will see this through or not at all. What *if* he lived? What then?"
The woman fell silent, her dark lips pursing together tightly with some form of twisted anger. It was often that Vigo would irritate her with his intelligence. Sometimes, she wondered why she loved him so much when half the time he was trying to prove her wrong.
Rashida moved behind the fallen prince with harsh, pointed steps, her eyes set on Vigo's. With one swift move of her hand, Khalaf's turban was knocked to the floor.
"What are you doing?" Vigo demanded.
Rashida drew out her dagger, which had yet to taste Lavi blood on that night. Curling her fingers into the sweaty, matted hair, Rashida yanked the prince's head backwards.
Khalaf coughed and sputtered, blood gurgling within his mouth.
"This is your kill, Vigo-syh," Rashida promised, bringing the sharp edge of her dagger to the lion's exposed throat. "The wound *will* kill him. Now let me end this."
There was only a moment of silence between the two, their gazes locked in a battle that was fought for nothing. Finally, Vigo withdrew his knife from Khalaf's chest and stood.
As Vigo moved away, Rashida pressed hard into the soft flesh of the young man's neck. She dragged her blade across his throat hard and fast, almost with emphasis.
The thick red liquid spurted from the wound and down the prince's shirt. More gagging noises were emitted from his mouth, but at last his eyes rolled into his head.
Rashida released her grip on the Lavi prince's hair, letting his body collapse. His head hit the ground with a quick wet snapping sound.
Then all was silent.
Making their way back to the Sultan's reception room, Rashida and Vigo listened for the sounds of anyone who might have played witness to the murder of the royal son.
But not so much as a beetle scampered across their path, and at last they met up with the others.
Jurandir was fine, perhaps even more so than when everything had begun. Over his shoulder, he had the limp body of a rather bloodied lion.
The older Kosaru explained in short, "The guard who had been dumbfounded by our attack had come to and shifted. He had died almost immediately, for Thana had made short work of him."
Thana smiled at the praise of her leader, but Vigo noticed the long pair of scratches running down her right arm; battle scars, she would call them.
Her husband, on the other hand, looked to be unharmed. A first for him.
Jurandir glanced around the shadowy cooridoors, half expecting to hear a dozen guards charging up the stairs to shackle them and bring them before the mercy of the Sultan's will.
He was satisfied after a silent moment and turned back to his friends. "We are all accounted for, and there are no guards in sight. Let us make haste to the west wall."
They agreed with Jurandir and began their sneak out to where their horses would be waiting.
Each one slipped cautiously down the rope that hanging out the window. As Quruz, the final of their compliment to leave the palace, was climbing down the rope, a guard wandered around the corner.
At first he did not seem to notice Quruz, dangling ten feet above the ground and his sword ready to dance. However, after looking at the intruder a second, the Lavi guard shouted for Quruz to halt, put down his weapon.
Quruz jumped the rest of the way down, landing solidly. He waited as the guard rushed at him, his arms folded across his chest. Among the Serpentis people, his posture was a sign of disrespect, but the Lavi held to no such manners.
The guard lunged at Quruz's gut, still demanding that the sword be laid down and that Quruz go peacefully with him to the dungeon.
As the tip of the blade came closer to his body, Quruz measured his time. He knew that behind the tall, pruned shrubs, which were cut into the shapes of proud lions, his friends were prepared to help should his training fail him.
With no more time to spare, Quruz shifted his weight to one side and then threw it back to the other. His legs spiraled upwards, catching on the wall for a few steps, and then landing him behind the stunned guard.
The guard turned around and was met by a fist in his throat.
"Humph," Quruz snickered. "Pathetic."
The Serpentis kicked the guard, who clutched at his neck as he lay on the ground dying, and continued on his way.
No further incident barred the way to the horses.
Once Jurandir's prize cadaver was lashed to the back of his horse, the party was set to move back to camp, where they could begin to regale their friends and neighbors with the grand news of Prince Khalaf's recent demise.
The group rode in silence, as was their way, but Vigo would have been silent even if the others had made to talk. His mind was too occupied with the events that had unfolded beneath his very hand, or at the tip of his blade.
He would need time to sort out... things. Yes, there were many things left for the young serpent to deal with. When the camp was reached, he would play the part of the elated new master of the death art. He would give the Serpentis the strong, smiling heir of Kosaru that they had come to know and respect. And that some even loved.
Inside, he was no longer any of those. With Khalaf's last breath, much had changed, and not just among the Lavi.
*Enough of this,* Vigo scolded himself. *I shall think later tonight, when the celebration has calmed down, and the pain is no longer so close to my soul.*
As the five breached the top of a dune, they saw the wide stretch of the night sky, which on that night looked of a rich and dark blue velvet with sparkling diamonds strewn across it at random. Beneath the picturesque view, nestled between low dunes and a barren craggy mountainside, was their camp down below. The others in their camp had made ready with bonfires and dancing. The low pulse of drums could be heard even at that distance.
They hadn't been ambushed on their way to the center of the Lavi city. They hadn't been captured or killed inside the palace. They had made it home.
The Baturess was complete.
***A/N- I am changing this chapter a bit. Before Quruz's encounter with the guard, the group is going to their rope and a woman and her child come out of the kitchen area to head to their room. Jurandir slaughters these two. Vigo sees them as innocents. Hopefully this will explain more why Vigo has such feelings of being torn. Anyway, now that you've read, you BEST comment.***