- The castle is swarming with people and guards. - Luna panicked.
Reeva looked around the storage room. There was absolutely nowhere to hide. The shelves were filled with food and giant sacks of wheat.
- Phase us into the next room. We'll take a longer route to the dungeons.
- But we don't know who might be in there! What if its full of guards?
- The cooks are coming here, stupid girl. Do as I say! I know this castle like the back of my hand.
Luna took her by the elbow and sunk together into a wall. The room next to it was still in the dark. It was the servants dining room and they only eat after the masters were served.
- Now take us west from here. - Reeva instructed.
They jumped through the west wall into a simple servants bathroom, then several empty hallways, until they reached servants rooms.
- Dungeons should be somewhere below. - Luna warned.
Reeva raised her hand as a sign to be quiet. Two eloquent voices were coming from a room next to them. They moved closer and peeked through the partially opened door.
- I am sick and tired of meeting you like this. - princess Joy whispered in frustration.
- It's a small price for seeing each other, my love. - duke Bravery responded.
- We are stealing moments of happiness, sneaking around these dirty rooms like common thugs!
- Don't be upset, my golden daisy. It won't be like this forever.
- You can't know that. You don't know my mother. Strengthening the alliances by marrying us is all that matters to her! We are her tools! Her weapons. And considering what my other sisters look like, I'm quite possibly going to be the first to marry some disgusting old fool.
- No, don't wound my heart with such words, dearest. I'm sure she will find it in her heart to support our love and happiness. If not, we'll escape!
- We'd die before our feet even step close to the gates, Bravery. Oh what horrible life this is!
Sobbing followed. Reeva gave Luna a significant glance, but the girl didn't seem like she caught her silent point.
- Never mind. - Reeva shook her head. - Let's head back to the dungeons.
In the meantime, Dalibor opened his eyes and found himself on the cold floor. The pain on the back of his head was pulsating. Quickly remembering the last thing before everything went black, he got up and looked at the mysterious bell in the glass container. It seemed intact. Reeva was gone, and so was whoever knocked him off.
Someone was coming. He waved his hand and disappeared.
A long row of people waited in the line in front of the queen's cabinet. Ministers, scientists, deputes, and Bernard. The line was moving slowly: people would go in and stay there for an hour. Some would come out sooner; typically the scientists with their discoveries, asking for funding from the queen, which she would mostly deny. Her majesty was not a fan of technological progress. They'd leave the cabinet with sweaty forehead and ears red from anger and stress. When chancellor Order passed by the line, everyone looked at him with begging eyes, knowing that only he may urge the queen to invite them in before someone else.
- Chancellor Order. - Bernard stopped him in on his way.
- Master Bernard.
- I don't think I need to stress out the importance of the business that led me here with lord Zachary. I need to speak with her Majesty.
- You and all these people as well, master Bernard. Your quest may be of great importance, but tell that to others who've been waiting for the queen to accept them since 6 am. The world is in peril, but so would be the democracy if we change the rules. We still have a kingdom to run, with or without the dangers out there.
Ranting to his beard, Bernard returned to the line. He waited for hours. An angel with a pointy blonde beard in front of him turned around to take a better look at him.
- You are one of the Triad. Bernard? - he said, unimpressed.
- Indeed I am, and you will address me as Master Bernard.
- I never voted for you on that position.
- Yet I'm on it, so you will show me respect.
- With all due respect, the Seer Janaduri was profound in her position, even with her mental incapability. And that says a lot.
- It sure says a lot about how poorly informed you are.
The queen's cabinet opened and the pointy beard angel was invited in. He gave Bernard one last glance of intolerance before going inside. After almost two hours, Bernard was called next.
He found the queen inscribing on a pile of documents. Her wings were elegantly closed behind her, reflecting the sun on the desk. Bernard cleared his throat and lightly bowed.
- Your Majesty.
- Ah, lord Bernard. - she put away her feather and smiled. When she got up, three sparrows landed on her golden hair. - I haven't seen you on my theatrical fiesta. Where have you disappeared, hm?
- I had urgent matters to attend to. With the Triad there are never idle moments.
- There are none with queens as well, yet I make them anyway. But never mind that, you will have a chance to attend another party. I am organizing a ball tonight and I expect you to be there.
- Your Majesty honors me, but I'm afraid our time is running short, which is why I am here today.
- I am listening.
- Your majesty is well informed about the reason lord Zachary and I are here. We were more than happy to oblige your requests and properly earn your allowance to proceed into the Unknown. But I'm afraid the time for pleasantries and decorum has run out. I am here to ask you to release lord Zachary from his service, and his companions from the dungeons, so that we may proceed with our task.
She took a deep breath, but remained calm and smiled.
- Must I remind you that my sweet protege himself had offered us the Dragon Belt for safe keeping as his word of loyalty? He agreed to keep proving it, and he almost had it, until his so called companions barged into my castle like it's a local tavern, after putting my personal guard under a spell.
- Lord Zachary's husband was very worried-
- Nothing gave them the right to do that. It is unacceptable. - she made a sharp turn and walked up to the window.
- Your Majesty, excuse my dare to ask, but where is his Majesty?
Her frowned glance whipped him.
- Why? Are my decisions topped by his in your eyes, master Bernard?
- Not at all, your Majesty, I was only-
- The king is in great sorrow. He mourns.
- I'm glad to see your Majesty is holding much better.
She was unsure whether that was ironic or not.
- Either way, I have no intention of letting anyone go. Not yet.
Bernard stood silent for a few moments. His face was losing its pleasant expression of politeness.
- Your Majesty, I'm afraid I'll have to insist. - his voice became deeper and tone less friendly. - As a Triad.
- Is that a threat? - she turned around, unimpressed. - We had quarrels with the Seer and the Six Muses themselves, yet here we are.
- And with your own deities, who locked themselves into the house of Golden Triad up in that wheat field. You have a history of quarrels with authorities indeed.
- You are NOT my authority, Bernard of the Triad. - her wings opened up, making her look threatening. - Not one angel wanted you in that council, yet we've welcomed you in here like an honored guest. You will respect your stay, or get out of my sight.
- My stay in here is tolerated only because you clearly want something from young Zachary, Love. May gods save him and anyone whom you shower with attention.
He went for the door, but paused:
- This isn't over yet.
Reeva and Luna phased through the dungeon wall. There were no guards in the sight. They still had to use the walls like a hallway to pass by the other cells without being seen by other prisoners.
- We need to find a way to speak with princess Joy. - said Reeva.
- Why didn't we do it before coming back to the cell?
- Don't be stupid. They'd wonder how we got out. No, we need her to call us to herself.
- I don't know yet, obviously. Stop asking me stupid questions.
They finally phased into their cell. Amadeus and Bruno were sitting alone.
- Dalibor is still not here. - whispered Luna with relief.
Demon and the child tilted their heads to look behind them.
- You two came back alone? - Amadeus asked. - Where is Dalibor?
- He... He stayed outside. Said he needs to do something.
- Do what?
- I DON'T KNOW OKAY, WHAT'S UP WITH ALL THESE QUESTIONS TODAY!?
Amadeus wanted to say something, but the guards were coming.
- They will notice that he's not here. - he said and looked at the two of them interrogatively. - Dalibor wouldn't forget that.
- Well, maybe he did.
- You dirty hags. - he slowly got up, not looking away from them. - You did something to him.
- What? - Luna squealed.
He grabbed Reeva by the shoulders and raised her up, slamming her back against the wall.
- What have you done to him!? Speak!
- I didn't do anything, I demand that you release me this inst-
- I asked you something. - his eyes were turning red again. Reeva could see her own fear in them.
- Papa, what happened to uncle Dali? - Bruno feared, hugging his teddy.
- We are about to discover, son. - he pressed her tighter against the wall.
- I didn't do anything to him, I-
His hand started closing around her neck.
- By the gods, you're choking her! - Luna screamed. - The child is watching!
Hearing that, he flinched, as if he was awoken from a nightmare. His hand released Reeva, who slid to the ground, coughing.
- Bruno, I...
The boy was curled in the corner of the cell, hiding behind his teddy.
- Son. I'm so... so sorry. I did not mean to scare you...
- I'm not scared of you, papa... I'm scared for uncle Dali.
Amadeus picked him up from the cold corner and placed him on his lap.
- He is fine. We'll find out where he is. He can take care of himself, you know uncle Dali better than that.
Demon looked at Luna and Reeva over Bruno's head. Though he was speaking softly to his son and cuddled him, there was nothing soft in the eyes that darted the two of them.
The guards stopped in front of the cell.
- What's all this racket? Come on, you're free.
- Free? - Reeva got up, holding her neck.
- The queen wants you out. You will attend her ball tonight.
The girls exchanged significant glances.
- A ball?
- Yes a ball, why are you staring at me like goddamn idiots? Let's get moving.
- Wait. - the second guardsman said and peeked inside the cell. - Where's the other one? The mage.
Amadeus looked at Reeva and Luna.
- He was released last night by the night shift. Their Majesties needed his services. - he said to spare Dalibor from troubles.
- Is that so? Well you better get going then too. Come on. Out.
They were taken to the guest wing of the castle, where Amadeus hoped to stumble upon his husband. But that didn't happen. Rooms were quickly given to them and they were presented with formal clothes, without being explained how and why are they suddenly attending a royal ball.
Zach too was in the middle of dressing up, when the maids started arguing about what would suit him best. They became so loud, that Zach decided just to leave the room, since they didn't care about his opinion anyway. He walked to the room across his and knocked on the door.
- Who is it? - came quietly from inside.
- It's Zachary, your Majesty.
- Oh Zach, come in!
He opened the door and found the princess Truth on the window, looking at the passing clouds. He feared about how dangerously close to the edge she's sitting, but she seemed careless.
- Your Majesty, why don't you come to the ball tonight with me?
- You are kind, but they don't want me there. And I really don't want to go anyway.
- Majesty, you shouldn't be closed in here all the time.
- Why not? I like it here.
- Come, let's have a walk around the garden.
- Oh, no I'm fine, please...
- You will love it, Majesty. The garden is blooming with flowers!
She sighed and gently nodded.
- Alright, Zachary...
- You won't regret it! I'll let you dress up.
- I don't have anything to wear.
- But... Surely their Majesties have provided you with- he opened the closet, only to find night gowns. - Oh... This is...
- I told you. They don't want me out...
Her bony wings scratched against the stone wall.
- Hold on, princess.
Zach left her room and returned to his own. The maids were still arguing and pulling on a piece of silk.
- Ladies. Ladies!!!
- Yes, Lord Zachary? - they paused.
- I need a light dress for a walk. Nothing too flashy.
The maids looked at each other.
- Oh, we didn't know you were into such things, my lord. We would've brought dresses...
- Not for me. For her Majesty, princess Truth.
- Oh no, no, we can't my lord! Their Majesties wouldn't allow, no, no.
- Bring me the dress or I'll put on something blue for tonight's ball and blame it on you.
The maids squealed and ran out to get the dress. Shortly after, they were carrying a white dress with lacy sleeves.
- That will do wonderfully. Thank you, girls.
They looked at him as he left the room.
- We are so dead. - said one of them.
After princess Truth put the dress on, Zach gathered her hair into a Victorian updo. During the whole process of dressing up, she refused to look herself in the mirror. Her eyes were bowed, looking down in sadness.
- We are done. You look so lovely, oh will you just look once, princess?
She did it and she felt nothing. The pretty dress, hairstyle, nothing could erase the burnt face and featherless wings.
- Let's just go...
When they left the room and walked down the castle, everyone looked at her in confusion, as if they just remembered that she exists. Their expressions were a variety of pity or mockery, which angered Zach.
Warm sun rays greeted them on the back exit of the castle. A curvy path led to a garden of yellow roses. They walked slowly and Zach talked vividly, making the princess to talk too and think about good things; to see the world around them and beauty in simple things that are too far to look at from a window. After a while, she seemed to have started enjoying herself, smelling flowers and watching birds surrounding her and wanting attention. They didn't care about her face, or wings.
Prince Honor has just returned from his morning horse riding, getting off a noble, white steed, when he heard a laughter coming from the garden.
- Is that princess Truth I hear? - he asked in surprise.
- Yes, your Majesty. - said a lackey, taking his horse away. - She went for a walk with lord Zachary.
The prince took a turn around the castle to find them. There he stopped near a tree, looking at his sister laughing with her whole heart, as the birds literally surrounded her from every side, covering her almost completely. Zach was trying to get them off from her head cause they were ruining her hairstyle, but the princess laughed even more each time they'd pull out a strand from its place and let it fall on her face. Honor chuckled and went their way.
- The day glows twice brighter now that I see my dear sister enjoying in it. - he said, approaching.
- Your Majesty. - Zach bowed.
- Lord Zachary, I heard it's you I need to thank for putting a smile on my sister's face.
- We've only went for a walk, Majesty. We both needed some air.
- I've been trying to get hour out for so long. I suppose I'm not a good company as you. Which I must agree on.
- All you ever do is inviting me to horse riding, brother.
- I admit, I'm in a desperate need of a companion in horse riding. All people ever do around here is gossip.
- Perhaps lord Zachary could join you once?
- That sounds like a great idea, sister, if lord Zachary doesn't mind me boring him to death.
- If it pleases your Majesty.
- You're so formal Zachary, - the princess said. - just say ''no''. All he ever talks about is philosophy.
- Why you little. - the prince picked her up, making the birds fly away. The whole garden echoed with laughter.
Two purple eyes looked down on them from a window, longingly stopping at Zach, then slowly moving to prince, turning red.
In the meantime, Reeva and Luna were also getting ready for the sudden ball invitation. While Luna was certain that something bad will come out of it, since they invited a bunch of convicts to the party, Reeva was silent, while her lips grinned at the opportunity.
- What if Dalibor appears there? - said Luna for the tenth time.
- Stop stressing me out. I don't care. All we need is to find an excuse to talk to princess Joy. And this ball is our chance.
Typically, any sort of festivities would be announced days or even weeks sooner. Now, the angelic nobles were alarmed by the suddenness of the event, and spent the entire day in preparations. Words flew from mouth to mouth. Everyone wondered what could be the occasion.
That evening, the golden palace was full. The doors of the grand ballroom were opened. The famous royal chandelier was an attraction of its own; like a massive, crystal hive, it hosted thousands of candles, throwing symmetrical shapes all over the chamber.
Angels mingle in rich gowns and suits. Silk, brocade and lace rustled all over the place. Angels stood in groups, showing off their perfectly groomed, long wings. Columns and walls are covered in mirrors, making the entire ballroom look even bigger. Young nobles hide in the shadows of baldachins, swearing on an eternal love to each other. Several fountains are spreading the scent of oranges.
The nobles are splitting on two sides of the ballroom, forming a long passage for the stepping figures. The melancholic king leads his ever smiling wife. His robes are darker, stripped off of any luxury, except the golden crown, filled with amethysts. The queen walks proudly behind him. Her dress is covered in diamonds, and so were her wings. Prince Honor walks behind them with his typical expression of apathy. His wide, strong body is enforced by silver armor. Sisters Kind and Vigilance smiled widely behind him, trying to fish out at least one lustful glance from the surrounding gentlemen.
Their Majesties stopped near their throne, welcoming and shortly chatting with their guests. Soon, princess Joy arrived to the ballroom, intentionally late. Her eyes met her mother's across the chamber. The queen was displeased, even though she smiled. The princess wore a sky blue dress, to which every living soul in present gasped and looked at the queen.
- She's wearing... blue. - the queen squeezed through her teeth at her husband.
- Just ignore it. - he said absently, sighing.
- She's provoking me to act in front of all these people.
- Which is why you should ignore her. You are making her entry powerful.
Joy smirked at her mother from afar. She moved through the crowd with the sea of blue silk, rocking the boats around her. Duke Bravery stood leaned against a column, looking at her with a wide smile. She went towards him.
- I know that look. You bit someone, Joy. Judging by the dress, it's your mother? - he said, still smiling.
- I am yet to bite, honey. - she smiled back and hid her face behind a fan.
A commission stirred among the guests. Gasps filled up the golden chamber like a rising wind. People split once again, as if another royalty was about to pass by. Amadeus walked into the room.
Ladies and gentlemen, unaware of their partially opened mouths, widened their towards unearthly beauty. They were breathless, disarmed, and almost outraged that his very appearance exposed all their weaknesses and stunned them in place. As if every sinful desire was reflecting from his face and body, arriving to convert their moral compasses and point them at him, no matter how much they wish to look away. He wore a burgundy tailcoat that flattered his skin tone and body shape, completed by black pants in which the length of his legs was fully realized.
Princess Joy unwarily squeezed duke Bravery's arm. She looked like someone poured a warm water around her. In a different scenario, she would hate that the scandal of her blue dress was so short lived. But now, her mind was elsewhere. Quietly, just for her own ears, she released a moan.
Amadeus did not dignify anyone around him with a look. He approached their Majesties as decorum orders, bowed and left as far as he could, searching for solitude. Occasionally, his eyes would fly around, desperately searching for someone. In that moment, everyone would try to catch that glance, but he'd quickly look elsewhere.
- Is that... the human's husband? - Joy whispered. - The demon.
- Joy you're hurting my arm. - Bravery complained.
She slightly pushed him and squeezed her fan instead.
- So that's him.
Reeva and Luna, who also walked in after Amadeus, remained unnoticed.
- Did you see the way princess Joy looks at Amadeus? - Reeva said, grinning.
- I believe the same way as everyone in the ballroom. - Luna replied innocently.
- You are so clueless, Luna. Look at her eyes, her movement. That's a behavior of silent plotting.
- You would know...
Soon, Zach arrived, leading princess Truth. A new wave of shock hit the crowd. The king and the queen were out of their mind. Princess Joy burst into laughter.
- And I thought I was over the top with my dress. Oh this is too much, look at mother and father. They would pluck Zachary's eyes now if they could.
The queen didn't know what to do with herself out of the embarrassment. The princess walked slowly, unaccustomed to long dresses. Her bony wings were gathered by several diamond bows. Zach was helping her.
- Why did he bring her here? - the queen sunk into her throne, trying to smile. - Scandal after scandal!
- It's our child, dear. - said the king, though he too couldn't watch as Truth advanced through the ballroom, reminding him of a newborn calf that is trying to stand on ice.
- Duke of Golden Shores refused the hand of Vigilance when he saw Truth, fearing that their kids may inherit her looks. He ran like a devil from a cross. We cannot afford such an image!
Prince Honor walked to his sister and took her by the arm, helping Zach. When they reached the king and the queen, Zach bowed, but the princess remained still.
- Ah, my dear protege has arrived. - the queen smiled. - And you brought my daughter. How very... kind of you.
- Oh please, you don't even want me here. - said the princess.
The queen made a nervous gesture in her chair, scoping around to see if anyone heard that.
- Don't be rude, young lady.
- You shouldn't have named me ''Truth'' then, mother. - she said carelessly and turned around, leaving.
- Zachary will hear me about this. - Love whispered to her husband.
Upon seeing Zach, Amadeus almost ran to him. They hugged before the eyes of the entire ballroom. Envious looks flew at them, as the demon made sure everyone sees that Zach belongs to him. He pressed a long, passionate kiss on his husband's lips, then took his hand and led him to one of the baldachins, where they could finally be at peace.
- There goes our wingless angel. - ones sighed, missing the opportunity to talk to Zach.
- And that sinfully gorgeous demon. - sighed the others.
Princess Joy stood not far away. She was able to see the couple talking and smiling at each other under the lacy curtain.
- Gorgeous, isn't he. - spoke a voice behind her.
The princess turned around and noticed Reeva.
- Who are you to approach me like that, human? Know your place.
- I can help you, princess. There's a way to get what you want. An escape from here. Your duke. Or perhaps... - she looked at Amadeus. - Something else?
The princess looked at her questioningly.
- Leave me before I call the guards.
- If you change your mind...
- I said leave me!
Reeva bowed with a grin and left.
- Dear friends. - queen's voice rose above the full room like a tweet of a bird. - Before we dance ourselves to death, I would like you to give a big applause for my dear son Honor and my wonderful protégé Zachary, as they open this evening with a dance.
Amadeus and Zach looked at each other.
Heads turned at confused Zach, but his eyes were fixed on Amadeus's sudden expression.
- I didn't know this, Amadeus.
- I believe you. And it's just a dance, don't explain yourself to me.
The prince waited in the middle of the clearing, surrounded by angels. Zach got up and walked to him. Amadeus watched him leaving.
All eyes were now directed at the heir of throne and Zach, as they stood facing each other. They shortly bowed to the king and the queen. Violins and harps stared playing. Honor placed his hand around Zach's waist and started graciously leading him across the floor, as if they were floating instead of dancing. His wings opened and spread, always denying those behind his back to look at Zach's face, shaped by discomfort.
- I apologize, lord Zachary. This dance was not my idea.
- I know, your Majesty.
Amadeus observed from the dark, as all the surrounding lights dimmed down, leaving the giant chandelier to toss all its light bellow on the dancers. Suddenly, princess Joy jumped into his baldachin, all smiled and entertained.
- Is this seat taken? - she asked and, without waiting for his answer, sat next to him, panting and fanning herself. - Oh I'm exhausted! But how rude of me, I'm princess Joy. But you probably already knew that.
- I didn't.
- Well. And you are?
The princess pretended to be caught by surprise, blinking at him.
- Amadeus? THE Amadeus? That famous husband of our lord Zachary. What an honor! I will have to scold lord, Zachary, you know? He never told us about you. Not one word.
He looked at her briefly, then looked back at Zach dancing with Honor and said nothing.
- You have to admit, they look good. - she continued. - My brother never dances with anyone. Lord Zachary must be special.
Her eyes discretely examined his face.
- He is. Unlike anyone else in this room.
The princess bit on her tongue, letting that subtle remark slide.
- And I'll make sure to remind my husband of that, when I visit him tonight.
Joy shivered. She was unaware of the excitement by which she got off the sofa, dropping the fan. Amadeus picked it up and handed it to her:
- Why, you are burning princess. Take your fan, you look like you need it.
She took it and forcefully smiled, investing great effort to keep it on the face.
- Well, we had a nice chat, didn't we. Unfortunately, I need to head out there so they don't wonder where am I.
- I'm sure they are already sending scouts after you, princess.
That one had to slide as well.
- I'm glad we had the chance to meet, lord Amadeus. All kind of scum gathers at our balls lately, you never know whose baldachin you may fall into.
- Such always fall into mine.
The princess's smile crumbled completely.
- Manners on the rank of a mere goose. - she hissed.
- Only one of us has wings, your Majesty. - he got up and politely bowed.
She stormed outside, just when Zach's and Honor's dance was over. She almost collided with Zach, as he walked back to his husband. He was about to bow, but she just gave him a poisonous look and passed him by. As she rushed through the ballroom, the queen's voice echoed again:
- Weren't they just lovely? Many thought they are actually a couple! But tonight, we are here to talk about another couple. Today's ball is made in their name. I would like you all to welcome the prince Charles of Human world.
A young human with curved mustache approached the throne and bowed.
- We are honored to have our human ally here with us tonight. And I am even more honored to grant you the hand of my daughter, princess Joy.
The princess almost tripped over her own dress. She stopped walking as everyone looked at her. Fire and lava rose from her chest and went to her face. The queen smiled at her.
- Well come, dear daughter. Oh, she's so shy.
The crowd chuckled. Duke Bravery collapsed on a bench, with his eyes glowing from tears. The princess approached her mother and father.
- I'm afraid I haven't... heard that well. Mother.
- Oh don't be silly, child. Please, be so kind and take his Excellency to the dance. He's dying to meet you.
The prince bowed and kissed her hand. As they walked to the dance floor, she turned around and looked at her mother. ''You'll pay for this...''
During the entire dance, she was stiff and did not bother to hide her disgust, which was so obvious, that everyone felt uncomfortable, but not more than the prince himself.
- Look at her. She acts as if I'm marrying her to a feces! That girl will drive me crazy.
When the dance was over, the prince bowed, but she turned around and left the floor.
- Another scandal!
Joy approached Reeva and grabbed her by the elbow.
- You. Come with me.
Reeva winked at Luna and left the ballroom with the princess.
- Was the princess here? - Zach asked, sitting next to his husband.
- She was. But never mind that. I just want to take you from here.
- I am still beyond happy that the queen have let you all go. I can't wait to see my boy.
- I wouldn't celebrate to early. That's one cunning snake of a queen...
- Good point. Where is Bruno, anyway? I wish to see him.
- He is in his room. I didn't want to bring him to this disaster.
- You did well. - he looked around. - I'm also not seeing Dali?
- There's something you need to know. Dalibor-
- Oh, there he is! - Zach pointed.
Dalibor came into the ballroom with an expression utter seriousness. Curious eyes flew his way, as he sunk into the mass in his formal mage outfit, decorated with silver strings. He looked like he was searching for someone. Zach waved him to come over. When he noticed that, he rushed to him.
- Dalibor, I was just wondering wher-
- No time. Reeva is on to something. But that's not all. Zach, something moves on the East. I just noticed an unusual cloud and-
The ceiling shook. People poured drinks over their clothes. The chandelier rang and started swinging left and right.
- What was that? - the king looked up.
Another quake made most of the guest to fall. The music stopped. Yet, the violin kept playing on its own. Zach slowly stood up, listening. His eyes met Dalibor's. That music was well familiar.
A black cloud covered the ceiling and the candles died out.
- Everybody. Leave the ballroom. - said Dalibor, but no one moved. - NOW!
The guests started running for the door. The guards led the king and the queen to safety. The entire palace was shivering, as if it could fall any minute. Then a crackling, malicious voice spoke out of thin air:
YOU CANNOT SAVE ALL.
- Amadeus, take Zach to safety!
- What!? Dalibor, we need to leave! Come!
- He will kill you and Bruno and then everyone else in this entire plain! Don't argue with me, go! I can hold him off!
- Are you mad!? He will kill you!
- He won't kill me, Zachary. I need you to trust me and leave immediately!
The smoke filled the air. A deformed silhouette appeared on the throne, playing flute.
- LEAVE! - Dalibor shouted and waved his hand, tossing both Amadeus and Zach out. The door of the ballroom slammed behind them.
An appearance slowly began to gain a shape of a rotting corpse playing a flute.
- I'm surprised you decided to show your face here, Unity.
The creature tilted its head unnaturally, lowering the flute, but its music did not stop.
When the earth thirst after a flood,
it seeks no water, it demands blood.
Dalibor's hand quickly moved through the air, sending away a beam of green energy, only to face a red one in the middle of the ballroom. Their magic pulsated with power, sending sparks on the tapestries, breaking mirrors and marble floor. A column snapped in half and crumbled on the floor. The beams pushed each other back and forth, trying to overcome one another. The creature howled, breaking the spell and sending it into a wild explosion. The enormous chandelier broke off and started falling on Dalibor, but he quickly shattered it above his head, wrapped its sharp pieces into a raging wind and sent them straight at the abomination. It smiled, as the crystal blades carved their way into his flesh. The flute was again where his lips should be, and a different tune, even more malicious than the first, swayed around Dalibor like a snake ready to bite. Dalibor quickly took out Andromeda's goblet.
- Return to nothingness!
The music stopped. The abomination froze in its place. Then disappeared in smoke. Dalibor moved his hand and the windows opened one by one. The smoke was clearing out. His power stopped holding the entrance door and Zach burst in.
- Dalibor! Are you alright!?
- I am unharmed.
- What happened!? You defeated Defiler!?
- That would've been a good news if that actually was him. - Dalibor said seriously.
- What do you mean?
- Zach, I'm not sure what we are dealing with, but it's much bigger...
Their Majesties also came in, followed by the guards.
- I demand to know what happened here! - the queen said.
- I believe, your Majesties, that a much needed argument for our release was finally represented itself to you. - said Dalibor. - We'll be on our way, first thing in the morning. With or without your permission.
- I'm listening. - princess Joy looked at Reeva from the shadow of her cabinet.
- I said I can help you, your Majesty.
- You can do anything I want? What are you, some type of wizard? I hate blasphemy.
- No. I can't. - she reached into her pocket and handed over a paper. - But she can.
Princess quickly read through the lines, frowning.
- What is this rubbish?
- It's a ritual. It will summon a Contract demon who can grand all your wishes.
- A Contract demon!? How dare you suggest me something like this? How desperate do you think I am?
- Depends. How desperate you are to marry that human prince?
The princess remained silent.
- It's fast. It's easy. And you can demand almost anything, your Majesty.
The princess turned around.
- And... I could, for instance, leave this place? Have fortunes, but not this horrible title?
- Anything, your Majesty.
- Call her.
Reeva quickly took out a piece of chalk before she changes her mind, and started drawing the circle and the runes. Joy watched all that with a hidden aversion.
- Naamah, Naamah, your master calls you!
These words were repeated several times, until the a ball of flame made the princess shriek and hide behind a curtain.
- She won't harm you, Majesty. Come, make your dreams come true.
- Wh... Why are you not asking your wishes, if it's so safe? Why are you not a queen of the entire universe or whatever you peasants dream about?
- I've already asked my wishes. Sadly, the ability to leave this place was not one of them. I need that from you.
The demoness stepped out from the fire and aimed her beautiful eyes at Reeva.
- Oh, you again. Sorry honey, but you've spent your wishes. Your soul already belongs to me.
- It's not me I called you for.
Naamah turned to princess.
- My, my. Why is it that royalty calls me more than the starving and the dying? What a desperate folk you are.
The princess immediately forgot all about her fear. She tossed the curtain aside and stepped forward.
- How dare you speak to me like that!? Bow before the princess of Heaven!
- Why, do you need something licked?
Joy clutched her chest under such perversion, as Naamah laughed at her face.
- I've changed my mind. I don't want your wishes!
- This is not how it goes, sweetheart. Make your wishes or don't, that's fine by me. But I will take my share.
She started floating around Joy, touching her shoulders.
- Come now, surely a lonely flower like yourself has wishes, locked deeply inside. Dark fantasies, hidden behind moral and decorum. Hmmm?
Her scent reminded her of Amadeus, making her breath heavier.
- I want.. Amadeus...
Naamah grinned and pat her cheek.
- Awh... Poor princess, charmed by that stud like so many before her. He really is something, isn't he?
- He is... what I want. Can you give him to me?
Demoness sighed and moved away from her a bit.
- Alas, no. He is bound to Zachary.
- Bound? Don't tell me it's ''love'' cause I'm going to puke!
- Perhaps it is, perhaps it's not. But the bond I'm talking about is the bond made by the summoning circle Zachary created to summon him. You see, my dear princess, Amadeus was already summoned by someone before Zachary did it. An old wizard called upon him, but never got to ask his wishes before his death. The problem is, he died after Zachary summoned him. Now the Contract demon is stuck with him for the eternity.
- I see... - the princess looked aside. Her eyes were slowly widening.
- I see a scheme knitting in the dark of your eye, princess. You are planning something baaaaaad.
- Can you summon the spirit of that wizard?
The demoness smiled again, showing her pearl white teeth.
- Now, there's an idea.
Her thin arm moved through the air, as if she was about to dance.
- Remember, princess Joy, this counts as your first wish.
A soft, blue light illuminated the room. Vision of an elderly man stood before them; transparent and confused.
What is this? Who summons me?
- I summoned you, wizard. - Joy moved to him.
Who in the Nine Circles are you? What do you want!?
- Are you the wizard who summoned a Contract demon and died before asking anything?
How do you know about that?
- It doesn't matter. I want you to call your demon now and demand the wishes.
Huh? And why would I do that? I'm dead and he can't bring me back.
- You will not ask for anything for you. You will ask for me.
The ghost was unsure if she's being serious or not.
Don't be ridiculous, stupid girl. Why would I ask for anything for you? Summon your own demon and sell your damn soul. Mine's already doomed!
- I already did. - she pointed at Naamah.
Congratulations, you are damned for eternity. Why do you need ''my '' demon then?
- That's none of your concern, wizard. Do this and I will ask from Naamah here to replace your soul with mine and my firstborn child.
Even Naamah looked at her in surprise.
- Oh, honey, you will love it in the fiery pits.
You'll replace my soul? How can I trust you?
- You can't. Your choices are to do this and be possibly free or tricked, or to returned to the eternal damnation right now, without that first possibility.
Zach, Amadeus and Dalibor were on their way to their rooms, ready to pack and leave, when Amadeus stopped.
- My love?
- What's wrong?
He vanished in flames, leaving a burnt trail on the ground.
- Amadeus!?!?! Amadeus!!!
Princess Joy's room flashed in orange once again, as Amadeus came through the fire. He looked around him, trying to understand what's going on.
- Hi, gorgeous. Duty calls. - she caressed his cheek. - Mmm, I forgot how smooth your skin is. They did such a fine job...
- What's happening here...? How did I...
His eyes finally fell upon the transparent figure in the corner.
The ghost looked at princess Joy, who nodded at him.
-Demon I call you to fulfill your last duty before being completely unchained by the summoning circles. I want you to forget Zachary. I want you to cast him out of your head. Out of your life. Out of your heart.
Reeva, Naamah, the wizard, Joy, they all looked at him in anticipation, as he replied with silence and confusion. Suddenly, he burst into laughter.
- Are you all serious? Because I see four races in one room, working together to make some scheme happen, and you fail so miserably!
His laughter upset Joy.
- Why is it not working!?
- Because he loves Zachary after all. - said Naamah carelessly. - He is bound by love after all. Boooring!
- Then UNBIND HIM.
- This went from funny to sad in a blink of an eye. - said Amadeus. - Oh princess, if I haven't met your sister Justice, you would be the confirmation of all my stereotypes about angels. You know nothing about love. But I will tell you something, so you could at least dream of it happening to you: when your bones turn to dust. When Heaven and Hell crumble and their fractured pieces merge into nothingness. When the Sun goes cold and the stars turn black. I will still love Zachary.
No one spoke. His words stood there in the air for quite some time. Then, queen Joy moved closer to him.
- In that case. I change my wish. Wizard, I want this demon to use his magic; his own infernal fire from his own hands, to disfigure Zachary's face, until not even he can recognize him.
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