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Today's my birthday, and I'm in such a good mood, I'm going to give you a real treat! The longest chapter yet!

When Gilder's memories finally released him, it was well after midnight. Looking at the palace, he could tell that the party was still going strong, but he didn't feel like returning. Slipping out into the quiet streets, the blue rogue kept to the shadows as he went back to the palace, not wanting to be seen or recognized.

He easily evaded the gazes of the guards as he entered, seeking the room that he was staying in that night. Walking down the corridors and ascending two sets of stairs, he reached the suite. Entering quietly, he changed into a crimson robe draped over a nearby chair. He got into bed, pulled the sheets over his tired form, then turned off the lights and fell asleep.

Almost a year had passed since Clara and I had met. She was now nine, and I was ten. I hadn't tried any more suicide attempts, knowing that she would have managed to stop me. I'd sort of befriended her; we wouldn't talk much, but I'd put up with her chattiness, and she would respect the fact that I talked very little. She was my favorite person in the house, and her father was second during the rare times that he was home.

She'd go to lessons, and would teach me when we knew that her mother wouldn't catch her. I have several scars from a leather whip from the time that we were caught. I was her only friend, because aside from her father and I, nobody else in upper Valua shared her opinions.

Earlier that day, some noble had come to try to arrange a marriage between his son and Clara. Marriages were arranged young, without the consent of the children. The "potential groom" was a real shit-head; he was stupid, arrogant and was convinced that those that didn't have purely noble blood were not worth his time.

Clara's mother was all for the marriage; the family was the only one wealthier than her in Valua, not counting the royal family. Her father flat- out refused, saying that when Clara married, it would be for love, not money. Clara's mother and the visiting nobles looked murderous, because to them, love and happiness had nothing to do with marriage. If you had enough wealth, then you could buy happiness. They didn't give a damn about love.

The visiting nobles and Clara's mother tried to convince her father otherwise, but he wouldn't budge. Clara looked relieved. I was listening outside the door, and I barely managed to conceal myself in time as it swung open. The visitors stomped out in a rage, and I was the only one who heard their words.

"Dad, if I can't have her, then nobody else can, right?"

"Of course, son. I'll have it arranged immediately."

I wanted to tell Clara as soon as possible, but either her mother or one of the other servants was always present. The other servants were all loyal to her mother. Telling Clara around any of them would mean a severe punishment for me, as I wasn't well liked by the mistress of the house. I would have told her father, but he had to leave on another mission, being an admiral in the armada. Even though my friendship with Clara wasn't very strong, I was still worried. She was my only friend that I could rely on to be there all the time, and I didn't want to know what would happen to me if she left for any reason. After all, it was only her favor that allowed me to stay here.

Two nights later, I was washing the kitchen floor, I still hadn't had a chance to talk to Clara alone, and I was the only servant awake at that point. Clara's father was supposed to come home that night, so I had purposefully dawdled while doing my chores in hopes of meeting him as soon as possible. I heard the door open and shut, and thinking that it was him, I dropped the cleaning rag and ran quietly to the entrance hall.

When I got there, I saw a tall, thin figure that I didn't recognize walking up the stairs. Curiosity and a sense of something being wrong urged me to follow him, so I did.

I'd always been good at sneaking around, so the person didn't notice me. On the way there, I noticed that there was a nearby gun case, and that the man was picking the lock. The glass door swung open, and he grabbed a small sniper, perfect for assassination. After a moment's consideration, I grabbed one as well. The gun that I chose was more generic, but very well-balanced.

I caught up to the figure again, and as he walked into the moonlight caused by undraped windows, I could tell that this man wasn't Clara's father, and that he was a skilled assassin by the smooth, silent way that he walked. He was headed towards the area where Clara's family slept.

I heard the front door open and shut again. The assassin whirled, and I ducked behind a nearby column, praying that he hadn't seen me. I didn't have time to think about who had entered the manor now, as I heard the assassin start moving again.

Continuing to follow him, I paused again as he reached the door to Clara's room. I flattened myself behind a statue of Clara's mother as he looked around, then picked the lock and pushed the door open.

I moved until I was standing in the shadows just outside the door. The assassin was speaking softly to Clara, and had one hand over her mouth, the other pressing the sniper to her forehead.

Then it hit me; this guy had been sent by those nobles that had visited two days ago. Rage built up inside me. I leveled my gun at the back of the assassin's head, and fired.

He slumped on top of Clara, blood oozing out of the deadly wound. Clara climbed out from under him, with no trace of fear or remorse in her eyes. She simply walked up to me and said, "Thanks"

Footsteps sounded behind us, and we both froze. Clara's father entered the room, and said nothing, just looking around. When he spoke, he asked us what had happened, and why. Clara told her half of the story, and I told mine, including what the other nobles had said while leaving. Her father nodded, and told us to meet him in his library the next day after breakfast.
/end flashback/

Gilder slowly opened, his eyes, cursing his subconscious for giving his a dream about his past. Sitting up, he looked out the window, and saw by the pink edge of the moon that it was about half an hour before sunrise. Sighing, he stood up.

--I have to get out of Valua. There are just too many painful memories.--

He went to take a shower and get dressed, intending to wake up his crew and leave the city after that.