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The Beginning of Alone

Once upon a time in a dark, forbidding forest, there lived an evil Queen. She lived alone in the hollow of a giant, gnarled elm tree, and ruled the creatures of the dark forest.

On the night of a full moon, a snake god crawled into her womb while she slept and impregnated her. Nine months later, she gave birth to twins, a boy and a girl.

The Queen hated the twins from the moment they were born and could not stand to look at them. She sold the boy, a gray stone-faced thing, to the trolls who lived in the mountains. 

No one would buy the girl, for she was small and feeble, with greenish skin, red eyes, and sharp rows of teeth. She looked more like a demon than a child, so that is what the Queen called her.

“Ingrate demon,” she said, lip curling in disgust. “I will find a use for you yet.”

The Queen had an infected cyst growing over her heart that oozed pus and was painful to the touch. In a fit of inspiration, she carved it out with a dagger and stuffed it into a walnut shell. 

The Queen lifted the demon child from her crib, pinned her to the table and sliced a deep gash into her stomach, just below the belly button. She thrust the walnut shell inside and stitched up the screaming child.

“Now you have a purpose,” the Queen announced.

The Queen banished the demon child to a dungeon buried far beneath the earth and trees of the forest. The child was chained in a dark, slimy corner and ate nothing but the insects and rats she could catch with her sharp claws and teeth. 

The toxic cyst in its walnut shell festered deep within the child’s belly as she grew in the dank dungeon. The demon child knew neither light nor love. It scuttled along the ground like a beast filled with only hatred and hunger.

Finding the Forgotten Exile

Years went by and the Queen forgot her unwanted children.

On the eve of the twins’ sixteenth birthday, a handsome knight was riding through the dark forest. Sir Benedict was his name, and he rode a horse of the purest white. Though the forest was treacherous, the knight was not afraid. He had come to explore the edges of his father’s vast kingdom, and the dark forest was last on his list.

“Needs a bit of sprucing up,” Sir Benedict said, appraising the eerie trees overhead, the rotten leaves underfoot. “Wouldn’t be so bad if we let some light in here.”

He bent over to examine a mushroom oozing red slime at the base of a tree, and jumped back in fright. It seemed the tree’s root had moved!

Sir Benedict went back to his horse to retrieve his ax (the knight was always prepared with everything he needed wherever he went) and chopped furiously at the root. There was nothing there, but Sir Benedict was overtaken by a strange compulsion to chop deeper and deeper into the earth until — CLUNK!

He hit the solid rock of the dungeon wall buried deep beneath the forest.

Sir Benedict went back to his horse to retrieve a jackhammer and his excavating gear (the knight never left home without them) and set to work.

He drilled and dug, dug and drilled, until he’d exposed fifty feet of dungeon wall and a stone door.

“What a curious development,” he said to himself, scratching his chin.

Of course, doors to mysterious dungeons buried beneath the earth must be opened, and so that’s exactly what he did.

It was dark inside the dungeon, damp and cold. It smelled of mold and decaying things.

Sir Benedict wrinkled his nose and hefted the legs of his embroidered trousers as he stepped inside.

“Hello?” His voice echoed in the dark.

Sir Benedict went back to his horse to fetch a torch (one never knew when a torch would come in handy) and explored the most stenchful, disgusting prison he’d ever seen. Cockroaches and rats scurried away from the light.

His gaze fell on the skeletons of what must have been prisoners still chained to the walls, and the blood stained platforms of empty cells.

Sir Benedict shivered with something like fear, though he wasn’t afraid. He was never afraid.

“This is no self respecting dungeon,” he said. “My father’s dungeons are swept daily and the cockroaches aren’t half so big.”

“Screeeeeee!” came a faint sound from the dark.

“Ahoy there!” Sir Benedict tipped his head. “Who goes?”

The sound did not repeat, but Sir Benedict had perfect hearing and was able to pinpoint the source of the sound coming from a cell off to the right.

He brought the torch forward.

“Screeeee!”

The sound ripped through him. It was wild and despairing, halfway between the cry of a hawk and the squeal of a dying pig.

He flashed the torch into the darkest corner of the cell. There, huddled on the floor, was the most hideous, pitiful demon thing he’d ever seen. (Though he’d never seen a demon before, Sir Benedict was certain that’s what it was.)

It had green-tinged skin, red eyes that flinched at the light, dark tangled hair and long black claws. It strained at its chains and gnashed its teeth at him.

Sir Benedict drew back in disgust. “Who keeps ye? Where is thy dungeon master, foul criminal?”

The demon launched into a fit of shrieking squeals, lunging towards him so violently that the knight jumped back.

“I don’t care what you did. This is no way to treat a living being. What is your name?”

“Screeee!” the demon thing cried, for it had never learned to speak.

“Don’t care for that name. Is it Finnish? I’ll call you Oliver.”

Sir Benedict knelt at a safe distance in front of Oliver and peered at the shivering, snarling demon. “What are we going to do with you?”

Sir Benedict paced the demon’s cell. Every once in awhile, he stopped to look at the demon and shook his head.

And every other once in awhile, the demon stopped snarling long enough to gaze back at the knight when he was dusting off his poet’s shirt or furiously pacing. 

It was well past lunchtime — Sir Benedict could tell because his stomach was growling almost as loudly as the demon — so he determined it was time to eat.

“I am famished!” Sir Benedict announced. “You must be hungry, too, Oliver. I’ll be right back.”

The demon screeched as he crossed the threshold of the cell.

“Don’t worry. I’ll be back.”

Sir Benedict went back to his horse to retrieve his portable grill and a can of gourmet cocktail weiners (his favorite that he would only eat freshly grilled) and brought it back to the cell. 

“Screeee!” the demon thing cried, scratching its claws against the floor.

“That’s right, Oliver. It’s lunchtime.”

Sir Benedict assembled the grill, lit it with the torch and arranged the cocktail weiners neatly over the grating. “These are the best cocktail weiners in the Kingdom, Oliver. You’re going to love them.”

The demon’s cries turned to whimpers as the smell of roasting meat filled the cell. Long strings of drool dripped from its mouth.

When the weiners were grilled just to his liking, Sir Benedict tossed a few in front of the demon. It pounced with claws extended and devoured them within seconds.

“That’s quite the appetite you have there, Oliver!” Sir Benedict chuckled. He tucked a napkin carefully over his shirt and skewered a weiner with his pewter fork. He tossed a few more weiners into the corner and watched with pleasure as the demon ate.

When they were done eating, Sir Benedict felt much better and the demon went to sleep. He found it much easier to think without stomach grumbles and demon snarls in his ears.

“I should be getting back to camp,” Sir Benedict said to himself, “but I can’t just leave you here, can I, Oliver?”

He stared at the sleeping demon curled up in the dark corner. With its eyes closed and its claws tucked in, it looked almost cute.

Sir Benedict drew his sword. “I will not leave you here in misery.”

He approached the sleeping demon and swiftly cut its chains from the wall. The demon jumped back, snarling and spitting.

“Never fear, Oliver, my friend. You are freed!” Sir Benedict stepped back and gestured at the broken chains. “Understand? Freed.”

The demon’s eyes flitted across the cell and noticed the empty cuffs dangling from its legs. It stretched its legs tentatively, growled, and withdrew back into the corner.

“I can’t make you leave,” Sir Benedict said. “But if you come along nicely, I may just have some cherry bon bons waiting back at my horse.”

(He always had cherry bon bons.)

Sir Benedict stepped out of the cell and without looking back called out, “The best cherry bon bons in the Kingdom, I tell you.”

The demon stared.

Sir Benedict stepped carefully across the dingy dungeon floor, listening for sounds behind him. A loud “Screeee!” came from the cell, followed by the scrabbling of claws against the floor.

The knight exited the dungeon into the cool of the early evening. It was already dark in the thick woods, and there was an ominous howling of dogs (or wolves) in the distance.

Sir Benedict wasn’t afraid, of course.

“Oliver,” he announced. “We’re going to have to ride hard to make it back to camp before dark.”

He turned to address the demon, who was hanging back in the shadows of the dungeon entrance.

“Now, I don’t like the idea of your slimy paws on my ridiculously fashionable outfit, either,” he said, “but a knight’s gotta do what a knight’s got to do. On with it now.” He mounted his horse and gestured for the demon to follow. 

It blinked its red eyes at him. “Screeee!”

“I did promise you some cherry bon bons.” The knight shuffled in his pack and withdrew the shiniest, juiciest, most chocolaty delicious cherry bon bon you’ve ever seen. “Guess what good little demons who ride horses get to eat?”

Sir Benedict proffered the bon bon to the demon and gestured for it to hop behind him on the horse. The demon began to drool and snarl, fixing its gaze on the bon bon.

“Up, up. That’s it.”

The demon launched itself onto the back of the horse which, being quite unused to demon riders, neighed and bucked in protest. It snatched the bon bon so ferociously that Sir Benedict nearly lost his fingers in the process.

“Wipe your mouth, Oliver. There’s more where that came from.”

And so the demon consented to ride behind Sir Benedict, Screeeeing! every few minutes or so to demand another cherry bon bon. They made it back to the knight’s camp just as the last rays of the sun disappeared from the sky. Sir Benedict made a nest of leaves and pine needles for the demon, tossed a bon bon on top and pantomimed “Sleep” by resting his head in his hands and snoring, before settling into his sleeping bag by the fire.

Before long both Sir Benedict and the demon were fast asleep.

But the Dark Forest was not.

Journey Into the Darkness

The Dark Forest was disturbed by the knight and demon sleeping beside the fire. And it stirred.

The leaves whispered to the bats, the luna moths, the creeping, crawling creatures of the night.

“The Queen’s spawn has escaped from the dungeon. Beware! Beware!”

Before long, the whispers reached the evil Queen. She had forgotten her children, almost, but the mention of the dungeon set her black heart beating faster.

“I must see to these intruders,” she said. “No one enters the Dark Forest without my permission.”

So while Sir Benedict and the demon slept, the Queen sent her spies to their camp, for she could see through their eyes. The bats swooped low over their heads, silently screaming, and the coyotes lurked in the shadows. She watched and waited with them as they circled the sleeping pair. 

“Let us kill them!” they begged the Queen. “We wants to kill them.”

Something unfamiliar stirred in the evil Queen’s bosom. It made her stomach queasy.

“No,” she said. “Let us watch. I have a plan.”

While the evil Queen didn’t have a plan, she thought that she certainly would by morning. She was deeply troubled by these intruders, but she didn’t want them dead. At least, not yet.

When Sir Benedict awoke in the morning, he was startled to see the demon squatting to relieve itself almost daintily at the edge of camp. It occurred to him that Oliver was a girl.

He coughed and turned his back. 

“Uh, get cleaned up, Oliver. We have places to be.”

They packed up camp, the demon keeping its distance and needing to be bribed onto the horse with seven cherry bon bons this time, and they rode off across the Dark Forest.

The night creatures hid in the shadows and followed.

Sir Benedict rode through the dim of the Dark Forest all day, stopping only once for a lunch of cocktail weiners and the Finest Cream Soda in the land. (He never left home without cream soda because it went so nicely with everything.)

The knight was increasingly troubled by the demon — demon GIRL, he corrected himself — who clung awkwardly to the back of his cape and whipped drool into his face when he pantomimed lunch. 

Where had she come from and who had locked her in the dungeon? And was it wrong that he found her red eyes kind of…charming?

“Oliver,” he said, pacing under the shade of a decrepit elm, “It has come to our attention that you are a, uh, a girl.”

The demon blinked her red eyes at him.

“You ought to be cared for by a woman who can teach you how to be a lady. Not someone like me. Although it is true that I have better manners that most of the women at court and I can embroider with the best of them…”

The demon nudged his hand with her head. It was a trick she had learned to get him to feed her a bon bon.

“Oh, for goodness’ sake, Oliver.” He flipped two cherry bon bons into the air and the demon caught them, swallowed and showed her teeth in her version of a smile. “You don’t understand a word. What am I going to do with you?”

As if in answer, the demon nudged his hand again. Sir Benedict handed her another bon bon and absent-mindedly scratched her head.

“I’ve got it!” Sir Benedict jumped to his feet. “I shall call on the Queen of these woods and ask her to take you in. Certainly she’ll know what is to be done with you.”

The knight went back to his horse to get the Mirror of Mercies. (It was an oracle to be called on in times of deepest distress and he never left the castle without it.)

“The answer to your prayers, Oliver.” He brandished a full-length mirror and the demon crept close. She squinted with suspicion at her reflection in the mirror, sniffed it, bared her teeth. Her reflection did the same and she growled.

“It’s a mirror, you silly goose,” Sir Benedict explained. He stood beside the demon and pointed at their reflections. “This is me. And that’s you. Oliver.”

The demon looked at the knight and back at the mirror. She extended her forked tongue and watched as her reflection did the same. She hopped up and down on one foot. So did her reflection. She looked at the knight again and then down at the ground. Brown liquid began to pool in her eyes.

The demon was crying.

“There, there, Oliver. Don’t cry.” Sir Benedict sat down beside the demon. He patted her shoulder akwardly. “Want a bon bon?”

The demon shrugged his hand away and began to sob, a hideous sound like a cross between a pig squeal and a hyena cry.

Sir Benedict ran to his horse for his juggling kit — one never knew when it would come in handy — and curtsied in front of the demon. He juggled first two, then three, then six giant rubies. The demon didn’t even look up. 

He added a tennis racket, a mop, and a step stool. Still no reaction.

“Oliver!” he cried in frustration, letting the items fall down in a heap.

The demon looked up and wiped at the brown streaks running down her face. She pointed at Sir Benedict and then the mirror. Then she pointed at herself and contorted her face into a grimace of disgust.

“Oh.” Sir Benedict sat a respectful distance away from the demon. “Where is an ancient wise woman when you need one? Too bad I can’t fit that in my pack.” He chuckled feebly.

“I don’t think you’re ugly,” he said. “Look.”

Sir Benedict pointed at the demon, then at the mirror and smiled, flashing his meticulously clean white teeth. “I like the way you look.”

The demon shook her head and looked at the ground shyly.

“In fact,” Sir Benedict said, “I only share my favorite cherry bon bons with beautiful ladies. And guess who gets a bon bon?”

The demon looked up and flashed a demonic grin, and pointed to herself.

“That’s right!” 

Sir Benedict tossed three bon bons into the air simultaneously. The demon clapped them in her claws and held them to her chest briefly before swallowing them whole.

“Screee!” she cried happily.

“Now let’s see with that Mirror of Mercies has to say.”

Sir Benedict pushed the Mirror into the ground and stood before it. He brushed his hair 10 times with his favorite horse hair comb (he had an entire set in his pack) and gazed at his reflection.

“Mirror, Mirror, in the dirt, how can we heal Oliver’s hurt?”

The demon gazed at Sir Benedict who stared intently at the mirror. His reflection began to swirl, as if in a fine mist, until it was dark gray storm clouds.

“Pretty cool, right?” Sir Benedict said. “Now watch what happens.”

Sir Benedict extended his hand into the swirling storm cloud inside the mirror and reached through it. The demon blinked in amazement, looking behind the mirror at where his hand should be.

The knight just smiled and waited, humming a little tune while the mirror continued to swirl.

“Oh!” he said, startled. “I wonder what we have here?”

Sir Benedict retrieved his hand from the mirror and the mirrored surface returned to a normal state. In his hand was a bright red apple.

He put his hand to his chin. “Apple sauce? Apple pie? Do we eat it? Plant the seeds? Oh, help me, Oliver. Mirror, you can’t just tell us what to do, can you?”

He tossed the apple in the air, caught it and examined it closely. It was evenly red and shiny. He sniffed the scent of apple blossoms.

The demon came close. She began to jump up and down, reaching for the apple.

“Screee!” she cried.

“Not so fast, Oliver. We don’t know what it might do.”

Sir Benedict clutched the apple to his chest and the demon flailed her arms and fell to the ground, as if she was pouting.

“I asked how we can heal Oliver’s hurt. We get an apple. Maybe it’s something inside the apple!”

Sir Benedict jumped up and ran to his horse to retrieve his favorite apple carving knife. (He’d brought his entire knife set because it would never do to not have a proper, sharp knife for eating cocktail weenies and bon bons.) He placed the apple on a pewter plate and cut the apple in two.

“Ugh!” he cried. “What is that?”

The halves of the apple fell apart to reveal a black oozing worm. It took up most of the apple’s core and pulsed, consuming the rest as they watched.

Sir Benedict jumped back in disgust. The demon snatched the apple, plunked out the black worm and tossed it into her mouth. She chewed happily.

The knight stifled his urge to vomit.

“I am not eating your leftovers,” he said.

Sir Benedict sent a message by carrier pigeon back to his father at the castle (he always brought at one carrier pigeon and a backup on his adventures) to get instructions for contacting the Queen of the Dark Forest. Within twenty four hours, the pigeon was back with a response.

“‘Find a creature of the dark,’” Sir Benedict read aloud, squinting at his father’s messy handwriting, “‘and ask to see its mistress. It will take you to the Queen.’ Well, that’s simple enough.”

The demon girl nodded her head at the knight without understanding. A fly landed on her shoulder and she whipped out her forked tongue to capture and eat it.

Sir Benedict pretended not to notice. It was dusk, so he looked around for a night creature to accost. A few bats were swooping overhead, but the thought of talking to a bat seemed quite uncivilized.

“Do you think earthworms count, Oliver?” he asked, digging in the dirt with one well-turned heel. Then he remembered the demon’s fondness for worms and thought better of it.

“There!” He pointed to a giant luna moth flying overhead. It’s silvery wings reflected the rays of the setting sun. “Take us to your mistress.”

The moth did a double flip and changed direction. Sir Benedict hopped on his steed and gestured for Oliver to follow.

The pair followed the luna moth deeper into the woods.

The luna moth darted between branches in the darkness, illuminated by the full moon, as Sir Benedict and the demon girl followed on horseback. After a few hours, the moth settled on the bark of a moss-covered sycamore tree.

The tree was by far the tallest of the surrounding trees in the forest. Its top branches extended upwards so far that they weren’t visible.

“Guess this is it.” Sir Benedict hopped off his steed and offered his arm to the demon girl. Without seeming to notice, she launched off the back of the horse, digging her claws in such a way that the horse bucked in pain.

“Oliver, we need to teach you how to dismount,” the knight said, shaking his head.

The demon girl inspected the ground, flipping over rocks and digging through piles of leaves looking for a snack.

“And we need to teach you some English so you can help me figure things out. Talking to myself is getting old.”

Sir Benedict munched cherry bon bons while he thought. (Dark chocolate is good for the brain, and thinking took a great degree of effort.)

He remembered the dungeon beneath the tree where he had found the demon girl. Perhaps this tree also had a dwelling underneath it?

“Oliver, help me look for an entrance.” He gestured to the demon girl indicating that she should explore the base of the tree, and she moved her inspection to that area, seeming to understand. 

“We need to find a door,” Sir Benedict opened an imaginary door in explanation. The demon flashed her sharp teeth at him.

The pair poked and prodded at the base of the tree and the ground beneath it.

Nothing.

The demon girl leapt at the moss dangling from the branches, trying to snatch it. She finally caught and swung herself up to one of the lower branches.

“Be careful, Oliver!” Sir Benedict called. She was only eight feet off the ground, but heights made him extremely nervous. 

“Screee!” the demon girl cried as she grabbed a string of moss and swung to a higher branch.

“I think I’m going to be sick,” Sir Benedict moaned.

“Screee!” she cried in the tone Sir Benedict had learned meant, “Look at this!” and sometimes, “This worm tastes especially good!”

The demon girl disappeared into a hole in the trunk, popped her head out with a shriek and disappeared completely into the tree. Her screes echoed from inside the hollow.

Sir Benedict clutched his stomach and went back to his horse to retrieve his extendable safety ladder. (He always brought it with him because you never knew when you’d be required to climb a tree without proper footholds.)

He set the ladder against the tree and began to climb.

“Oliver?” Sir Benedict called into the hole in the tree. It was far too dark for him to see inside, but it smelled of moss, rotting leaves and stale earth.

He lit a torch and a million crawling worms, beetles and creatures he couldn’t identify with glowing eyes scuttled away from the light. He shivered.

“Oliver?” 

The demon girl materialized out of the darkness and took his hand, pulling him downwards. She jumped up and down with excitement.

“I know, lots of delicious creepy crawlies down here.” Sir Benedict found to his surprise that the demon girl’s scaley hand was warm and somehow comforting.

She pulled his arm again and led the way. The knight tried not to look too closely at the walls, the strange fluid oozing out of them, and the night creatures darting away at their approach.

“We need to sing,” he announced loudly. “This tree needs a song.”

He began to whistle the introduction to his favorite tune, “My Love Is a Cherry Bon Bon,” and burst into the chorus.

“Her lips as sweet as candy. She makes me feel so dandy. My love, a cherry bon bon, and I shall be her Don Juan.”

The demon girl covered his mouth with her hand and grunted.

“Fine,” he whispered. “I bet you don’t sing so well, either.”

The demon girl led the knight down, down, down into the depths of the tree, much deeper than any tree had a right to be, beneath the earth, down into the roots, for what felt to like hours.

Finally, they came to the bottom and stopped. The demon girl dropped Sir Benedict’s hand. He thrust his torch forward and stepped into the darkness, exploring what appeared to be a giant cavern with an earthen floor and chairs of stone arranged in rows facing a raised dias, upon which sat a sharp iron throne.

The knight gasped.

The Dark Queen

A figure rose from the throne, a tall woman with thick, dark hair. Her lips were red as blood, her brows arched cruelly and her amber eyes reflected the light.

“I’ve been expecting you, trespassers,” the Dark Queen said.

Sir Benedict stepped in front of the demon girl. “This is my father’s forest, acquired legally and with all the binding paperwork through the marriage of Iliayna Frogensbane to Daryl Moldenthorpe–”

“Silence!” the Queen hissed. “This is my domain, and if you wish to leave it alive you will not speak except to answer my questions.”

Sir Benedict knew when it was time to shut up. He took a step backwards and stared at the Queen.

“Who are you and why are you in my forest?”

The knight gestured to the demon girl. “My father send me exploring the bounds of our — I mean, your — Dark Forest and I accidentally found a dungeon hidden beneath a tree, and fortunately I had my torches, so I went inside and found this demon girl. So I fed her cocktail weenies and cherry bons bons because she looked really hungry, and we left because a dungeon is no place for a lady, and she was crying so I consulted the Mirror of Mercies and it sent us here,” Sir Benedict said all in one breath. 

A shadow passed over the Dark Queen’s face as she looked at the demon girl.

“This is all about that thing?” she demanded.

Sir Benedict nodded his head. The demon girl crouched behind the knight, peeking out from behind him at the Queen.

“Something is wrong with her,” he said. “Inside. I think something is broken.”

The Queen walked over to the demon girl and sneered down at her. “Of course, it’s broken. Look at it.”

The demon girl cowered behind the knight.

“Now wait just a second,” Sir Benedict said. “There is nothing wrong with Oliver. She’s perfect, the sharpest teeth I’ve ever seen and the most fetching red eyes in the entire Kingdom. She managed to survive in a dungeon for goodness knows how long without anyone, and she still learned how to ride a horse! She’s the best creepy-crawly catcher I’ve ever met and she loves cherry bon bons almost as much as me. And she needs your help.”

The Queen laughed. “What makes you think I would help anyone?”

The knight stood there helplessly.

The demon girl crept out from behind Sir Benedict and approached the Dark Queen. She raised her head and looked into the Dark Queen’s eyes.

“Screee,” she whispered.

The Dark Queen stepped back and trembled. Memories of her forgotten children flooded her mind. The twins. The demon girl. The dungeon.

A single blood-soaked tear rolled down the Queen’s cheek. “I made you and I will unmake you!” she cried.

The Queen raised her hand as if to strike down the demon girl with a powerful spell. She shook with terrible anger.

Sir Benedict stepped forward, but the Dark Queen stopped him with a flick of her wrist that sent him flying back into the darkness.

The demon girl stared up at the Queen, waiting.

The Queen dropped her arm. “I know who you are,” she said to the demon girl. “You’ve come to punish me for what I’ve done.”

The Queen pulled herself up to her full height, fighting back tears. “I never even gave you a name.”

The demon girl crept towards the Queen, watching her carefully. She took the Queen’s hand and flashed a tentative, sharp-toothed grin.

“Her name is Oliver!” Sir Benedict called from the darkness. 

And so it was that the Dark Queen was reunited with her demon daughter. “If I ever did anything to hurt you, I’m sorry,” she said. (It was the best apology she could manage.)

Since the demon girl didn’t speak English anyway, her apology made little difference. The girl had already forgiven her.

The Becoming

The Dark Queen cast a spell that put the demon girl into a deep sleep. She removed the walnut shell containing the putrid cyst from the girl’s abdomen and replaced it with a beautiful, apple-shaped gem.

When the demon girl awoke, the world was completely different. The colors were brighter, the sounds clearer, and her skin felt open and sensitive to everything. She remembered everything that her mother, the Dark Queen, had done. And she forgave.

When Sir Benedict told the demon girl it was time to go, she understood him and replied with perfect English, “Not until I get my cherry bon bons and a nail trim.” (Fortunately, the knight kept a full manicure set in his pack, so this wasn’t an issue.)

The demon girl made one more demand. “We must find my brother,” she said. “My twin has been sold to the mountain trolls.”

“Whatever you say, m’lady,” Sir Benedict smiled and tossed a bon bon into her well-manicured claws.

The two set off on an adventure to rescue the stone-faced boy, and vowed to be impossible playmates forever.

THE END