“Now would be a good time to leave,” I said. The six of them scrambled for the exit. The other succubus chased after them a moment and Ann flew down to me.
“Friend of yours?” I casually inquired.
“Her name is Brandi and she’s no friend. She goes by the name Nightcrawler but to the rest of the horde she is called The Betrayer.”
“She broke one of the Succubus Prime Rules and was barred from The Horde. She basically works as a rogue.” The other succubus then returned to the dining hall.
“So this is the puny mortal that fathered Venesa. I’m surprised it’s still alive.”
“Forget the small talk, Brandi! Why are you here in Saydens’ tower?” Ann demanded.
“Still haven’t figured that out?” Brandi said in a child-like manner. “I’m using his tower to lure adventurers here to take their souls. I added the princess to interest seasoned warriors and instead got you two.”
“And what of Saydens?”
“Don’t know. He hasn’t been seen for a couple of years. They say he’s traveled to Terra Realm and can’t get back. I’ve used his persona to run his apprentices and keep his reign alive. But now that I’m found out, it’s time to go.”
“YOU CAN’T ESCAPE ME!” Ann declared. “I’LL HUNT YOU TO THE EDGE OF THE WORLD AND BACK!”
“Oh really? And while you’re doing that, who will save the mortal?” With lightning speed Brandi grabbed me and chucked me out the window. I looked down and saw the ground rush up at me at an alarming speed. I closed my eyes and prayed to Erica for help.
When I opened my eyes I was inches from the ground but not moving anymore. I could feel a pair of arms around me.
“Thank you, Erica. Thank you for sparring my life.”
“You’re welcome,” said Ann and she dropped me. I turned over to see Ann floating above me. “You might want to look at who saved you before thanking the gods.” She pulled me up.
“But I thought you would have gone after Brandi.”
“She’s of no consequence right now. She’s still inexperienced and besides I would need permission from The Horde to go after her. For now I’ll report her current actions and let them decide what to do next.”
“Well thank you for saving my life,” I said happily.
“Not a problem. Now go get the princess. She’s on the top level.”
“What will you do?” I asked.
“First I need to speak to those gibbering wizards over there and then report to The Horde.”
“Will I see you again?”
“Of course,” she replied in an obvious tone. Then she studied my face. “Did you think you wouldn’t see me again?”
“Well. Yeah. Isn’t it always that way? You come to my aid and only stay as long as necessary and then disappear for a long time.”
“Hasn’t these past couple of days not changed anything for you? Can’t you understand that I now see more in you than before?” She inquired.
“No. I find it difficult to care for something that can control my emotions. I’ve tried to, the gods know I have, but I’m never sure if it’s me or simply you manipulating me.”
“Well believe it Darryl! I care for you and you care for me and no power that any god or I have can change that. Face it, you’re stuck with me.”
I smiled in response, not sure of what to say. Ann broke the uneasiness.
“Now go rescue the princess!” She turned her attention to the group of wizards. I returned back inside the tower making my way to the top.
As I reached the uppermost level, I stood on the landing before a solitary metal door. There was no window in it and I was struck with the notion that perhaps it was too late. Either she had died or Brandi took her soul already. Either way I knocked on the door.
“Your Highness,” I called out. “Are you in there?” The silence I got as a reply was deafening and felt like an eternity. Finally a meek voice called out.
“You’re not Saydens. Who are you?”
“My name is Dingle, Your Highness. I am a bard from Tsangu. I have come to rescue you on behalf of your parents.” Again I was met with silence. She was seemingly digesting everything I have said.
“Saydens has been vanquished,” I added, “You are free to go!” I had hoped this extra bit of information would convince her of the truth.
“I believe you, Dingle. But how are you going to unlock the door? Do you have the keys?”
“The keys!” I thought. “How could I have forgotten about the keys?” I frantically looked around when a ring of keys appeared in my hand just like the short sword did. In my head I heard Ann’s voice.
“Do I have to think of everything?”
I opened all the locks and then turned the handle. The small landing was flooded with sunlight from the inner chamber. This room was definitely a far cry from any dungeon or prison I’ve seen. As my eyes adjusted to the light I could see the entire room was designed for a royal guest. A four-poster canopy bed and wardrobe took up most of the space. In between them sat a small vanity table containing brushes, combs and other hair apparel. Lace curtains adorned the window with iron bars and the floor was covered with a deep blue rug. The only thing not in the room was the princess.
“Your Highness?” I looked all around then entered further. Whoomp! I was attacked from behind with a…pillow?
“Your highness should have chosen a better weapon than a pillow,” I said. Then I got a good look at the princess. Her dark eyes pierced my soul, her young face was flawless and untouched, and her hair, although brown, had sun-kissed highlights throughout. Her body was athletic and well developed and she held herself in the highest of royalty.
“I am so sorry!” She exclaimed. “I was afraid it was a trick by Saydens.”
“No, Your highness. I’m the real thing. My name is Darryl Dingle and I’m here to take you home.” As soon as I finished my sentence she flung herself into my arms. I hugged back not sure what to do. All I heard in my head was King Erik saying, “Do not kiss her! It is forbidden!”
“Your highness, please!” I said as I broke our hug. She seemed taken aback at my sudden outburst. I quickly changed my tone.
“Let’s get you out of this tower. We have a long trip home.” She smiled and nodded. I turned to lead the way out.
“Aren’t you going to kiss me, Darryl?” She asked sweetly.
“Uh…err…huh?” Not exactly ‘Mister Suave’ am I?
“Isn’t the hero supposed to kiss the girl?”
“I was told not to kiss you, Your Highness.”
“Do not kiss her,” said King Erik’s voice. “It is forbidden!”
“Please call me Elizabeth. And couldn’t you just kiss me on the cheek?” She asked. Ding! Have I found a loophole? I assumed they didn’t want me to kiss her on the mouth. A kiss on the cheek couldn’t hurt. Could it?
“I guess I could kiss you on the cheek, Your High—Elizabeth.” I slowly approached her and then carefully kissed her on the cheek. Her skin was smooth and warm to the touch.
“There!” She said satisfied. “That didn’t hurt did it?” Suddenly she was engulfed in a blinding light. I covered my eyes as an ear-piercing wail filled my ears. I dropped to the floor into a fetal position trying to keep out the light and noise. Then just as quickly as it appeared, it was gone.
I opened my eyes slowly allowing time for them to readjust. As I stood up I looked over to the princess to see if she was all right but she was not there. Instead there was a horse! I got a chill down my spine, my hands started to sweat and my throat went numb.
“What have I done?” I asked aloud. The horse simply looked at me. I looked toward the sky. “Damn you, Erica! This is all your fault!” From behind me came a female voice.
“Why is it my fault?” The voice asked. I turned to find Erica, The Goddess of Heroes standing before me.
“Erica!” I exclaimed seethingly.
“Who else? You’ve been hounding me ever since you left your home.”
“But you’re the protector of adventurers,” I said.
“Wrong, Song Boy! I am the Goddess of Heroes. You are a bard; therefore you are a sidekick. I do not tend to sidekicks and even if I did, not one with your fashion sense.”
“So whose fault is this?” I said pointing to the horse.
“Let’s see, you kissed her and you were told not too on several occasions. I would say—and this is just a guess—I would say…YOU!”
“Actually it’s my fault.” Ann’s voice came from the window. Both Erica and I turned to see her hovering outside the window.
“Well, well. The Temptress,” Erica said coldly.
“The one and only,” replied Ann and she magically passed through the iron bars and stood next to the horse.
“I should have figured this was your handiwork, Ann,” commented Erica.
“It is. But thank you so much for making an appearance, Erica,” Ann said sarcastically.
“No problem. Just make sure Bard Boy there knows that I will never protect him in the future.” With that said, Erica left. I turned to Ann in utter shock.
“So this is your fault. And you knew that I would kiss her and yet you said nothing.”
“That’s right,” Ann replied a little too casually.
“Would you care to explain before I do something incredibly stupid?”
“I know you’re furious and you have every right to be. I also know that you would try to kill me and you would lose. I can explain this to you.”
“Good, because I want to know why you tricked me.”
“I didn’t trick you. As Erica pointed out you were told not to kiss her and you did anyway so get over it; what’s done is done. Now, my explanation is this: Queen Christine and King Erik couldn’t have children of their own but they needed an heir to the throne. The king approached me with a request for a child. Naturally I’m not in the baby-making business but I agreed to help. I told him that one of his horses was to give birth at midnight on the night of the next full moon. At that point I would transfigure the foal into a human baby for them to raise as their own child. The drawback was the child could never be kissed lest the spell be broken. King Erik quickly agreed but I told him that I wanted something in return. Should the spell be broken and the child be returned to its original state, I would come to the Kingdom to claim the souls of both him and his wife. Again King Erik quickly agreed but I’m not totally sure he fully understood. Either that or he would try to come up with an alternative way to bypass me.”
“So she has been a horse all along?” I asked.
“Yes, and she is now your horse.” Ann replied.
“Great!” I said sarcastically. “And just how long do I keep her before she’s eaten or sacrificed?”
“That will never happen because the horse is under my protection always.”
“Really?” I said.
“That’s why I let you kiss her. It seems to me you would care more for a horse than a princess anyway. I know how depressed you’ve been in recent years because of Rachel’s Pride. This is my way of saying I truly care for you and look out for you.” She then smiled at me. I smiled in return, happy to have a horse again.
“Now then, let’s get you two out of here. I have a deal I need to close.”
“That reminds me. Now that Elizabeth is unable to ascend the throne it will go to Princess Michelle won’t it?”
“Yes it will. I know about her accosting you in the hallway. Don’t worry, she will make a fine queen and run Rhee Davil as it should.”
“I’m glad to hear that.” The horse moved towards me and kissed me on the cheek. “How did she know I was thinking that?” I asked.
“She is completely in tune to your thoughts and feelings. You have a special mental link with her. Now let’s go home.”
“So this horse was once a princess?” asked Sir Talbot.
“Yep! She was incredibly beautiful as a princess but as a horse, she’s all mine,” Dingle replied happily.
“I must say that’s some story. Was Janbar upset that his horse was sacrificed?”
“At first he was but once I’m told him our plan to keep the Hooded Heroes alive he seemed happy. Besides Ann told me if he was still upset to tell him that Tania and Tamara send their regards.”
“Tania and Tamara?” asked the knight.
“Two succubi in Janbar’s enslavement for a time when he was playing medicine man.”
“Just how many of these succubi are there?”
“I believe around five hundred or so,” Dingle replied casually. “Anyway a few months later when I helped reform the Hooded Heroes, I had to use their names to persuade Janbar.”
“Reform the Hooded Heroes?” Sir Talbot asked.
“Yes, but that’s another story to tell later.” Just then a young red-haired woman walked into the area where the knight and bard were. The two of them looked up as she approached. She was very beautiful and yet they could both tell that she was not totally human. It seemed to them that she looked a little bit like an ogre but lacked the height.
She looked at them both, smiled and said, “Hello Father.”