Chapter XXXV

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"What...?"

"Merry Meet, Tenebris Pandora. It's a delight to finally meet you," said the skull with a somber voice. I looked around to realize the place was barely illumianted with some candles, and couldn't help but wonder who would have place them in such a place.

"Who are you and how do you know my name?"

"One of the many vigilantes of this realm, that answers both your questions, right?"

"What does he mean, Pandora?" Asked Wiese.

"The vigilantes ar guardians, keepers of the realms they guard, and they know it all about the creatures under their jurisdiction." She explained standing from the ground. "But don't let their elegant words have any effect, they can also be trickers and liars as they only care about their land. Nothing more."

"I can see you have read about us, maybe in that book you are so fond of?"

"And in many more as well, vigilante. What is it that you want?" Pandora took a step forward, putting her hands on Wiese and Gail, each at her side, and looking at me, how floated to be with her.

"Watch your tone, witch," the skull changed his as well to a more threatening one, "we are known as liars and trickers as you say, but we also favor those who mean no harm for us or our lands."

"I prefer to believe in the later. I haven't heard a single story with a happy ending that involves you or your kind, you cannot deny that."

"I certainly cannot," despite it sounded disgusting, the skull laughed, "but I've been watching you since you rescued that little girl, Gail Gramina." She trembled after hearing her name being pronounced by the creature. "You have all surprised me, such a curious group, especially your Majesty, Princess Alynne Briar-Rose." This time, the vigilante showed some respect and admiration on his voice. "I would like to offer you a favor in exchange of something."

"We are doing just fine, thank you." Pandora spat as soon as he finished speaking.

"Listen to your own words, witch, and tell me if you would walk through the very fires of Hell for their veracity." Pandora straightened, nervous, trying to keep her composure. In the distance, we could hear the sounds of a large group running above us. "Do not lie to me, you know we only speak the truth."

"Okay, we are in a dead end, we're tired, with no place to eat, sleep or recover, I've almost used all of my magic, Alynne has been thorned in three pieces and we have to protect Wiese and Gail, but we can do it without your help."

"Do you really think so, Tenebris Pandora?" Again, the sound of steps came to us. "Those vampires are gifted by The Tenth, they know you are all here and will come to hunt you."

"He's right, Pandora. We have to listen to him." Said Wiese, but not covering the fear in their voice.

"Jackalope, do you really trust me?" Asked the skull.

"I don't know. Trust is something you earn, not something you ask for."

"How so?" The vigilante asked interested. Despite I wasn't sure Wiese should keep talking, and Pandora seemed to think the same, we let them keep on it.

"Alynne and Pandora didn't know me when we first met, but they promised me they would be in there for me and that nothing would happen to me, and so it has been since then. They have helped me, protected me, they teached me how to fight and do magic. Trust is something they have earned, and so you should do, Sir."

"There is wisdom in your words, young jackalope, and so I agree. You cannot ask for trust, but what about a chance to prove myself trustworthy?"

"Wiese, don't let him fool you," Pandora said looking at them, "I know it all sounds pretty good, but you never know how they'll twist their words for their own gain."

"How do I know, Sir, you mean no harm to us?" After Wiese spoke, Pandora lost all of her colors and seemed to stumble for a fraction of a second.

"You are brave, jackalope!" The skull laughed out loud, making me fear that the vampires would listen. "Tenebris Pandora, you know I have enough powers to turn you all into ashes at this moment if I feel offended, is not it?" She barely nodded. "Then that, and that alone, should be the proof you need, jackalope, that I mean no harm to you or those who are with you." Still dazed, Pandora nodded again.

"What is it that you want, Sir?" Asked Wiese.

"I offer you a barter: this palace for you to inhabit for as long as you wish in exchange of the first child Princess Alynne will give birth to."

"You are insane, you are totally insane if you think..."

"It is not you I was speaking to, witch, it was to the one who will have to make the sacrifice. Princess Alynne, I wait for your response. I know you can speak no words, but tell me with your head and it will suffice."

I did not have any time to think. As soon as he finished speaking, a dark arrow pierced Pandora's chest, knocking her to the ground. Wiese was paralyzed and Gail gave a cry that only a specter could provoke, shaking the entire structure.

I looked back terrified. The vampires had entered the crypt, and were accompanied by armed dark elves. Pandora was convulsing on the ground, prey of the arrow's evil energy. We could see that there were more shots to come, but I wasn't able to react, I couldn't make anything at all. All I could see was Pandora, lay like a broken doll.

Out of the corner of my eye I could see Gail denying with her head, still hypnotized by the vision of those who came to execute us.

"This is not it. No." She mumbled. And flied right to the army.

"GAIL!!"

"This shall be interesting." I heard the skull, but my whole being was spinning around.

"GAIL!!" Shouted Wiese with tears running wildly down their cheecks, taking my body.

The ghost girl let out an impossible squeal, louder, sharper and more squeaky than before, just as she collided with the group, devouring them in the act and creating a barrier just like I had done seconds before.

"YOU WILL NOT HAVE ME AGAIN! NEVER AGAIN!" There was a murderous rage in her voice that I did not know, a wild and unseasoned tone but that left to see a wound throbbing deep inside her.

"Impressive, really impressive comming from such a little girl." I shot a furious look at the skull, but he spoke to me instantly. "Majesty, make your choice. I am in no hurry, but I'm sure you are for sure." There it was the laughter again.

"Only my first born?" I shuddered at the very thought, as if that was something I could trade, as if it were something as banal as a fish or a piece of meat.

"I will ask for no more and no less than that." Beneath me, still convulsing, Pandora managed to shake her head, trying to persuade me. An arrow flew away, piercing Gail right in the throat, and cutting Wiese's cheek. The poison made them both stagger, and like Pandora, the infected flesh began to color in black.

"Tell me how to heal them once we have the castle."

"Is that a deal then, Majesty?" There was a gluttony in his voice. I knew perfectly well that it was a mistake I would regret my whole life, but with tears in my eyes, ignoring the desperate look of Pandora, the cries of Gail and the tears of Wiese, I nodded once, sealing the neonatal life that one day it would come from me. "Deal then!"He exclaimed victoriously.

I closed my eyes, letting the guilt eat me whole, seeing only the smoke that came raging from the walls of the place, enveloping the vampires and elves, making them scream in pain.

In a corner of my mind, something was cracking.

In a corner of my mind, something was cracking

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