Cinderflute

A Violinist of Hameln fanfic by Amber Gordon

Characters © Watanabe Michiaki

Once upon a time on a continent that apparently is Europe — but obviously Europe after modern times since this time is medieval and the names of Bach, Beethoven, and Tchaikovsky (etc) are well-known and respected — there was a country called Sforzando. It was ruled by the good demon King Chestra and his beautiful wife Pandora.

In a wealthy district of Sforzando, there lived a beautiful healer-woman named Horn, mother of two children, thirteen-year-old Lute and baby Flute. They lived in peace and prosperity, wanting nothing, for Horn's healing powers were prized highly and the King and Queen paid her monthly from their treasury for her service to their people.

It just so happened that there lived a very nasty, cantankerous old demon named Bass in the deep dank depths of the Sforzando sewer, in the undercity where the criminals lived. He was fond of murdering and torturing, and he enjoyed raising the corpses of his victims to be his slaves in his sprawling, undercity domain. For this reason he was known as the Hell King of Sforzando.

When Horn's children were seventeen and five, Bass paid the healer a visit. It was a beautiful day, and far too many of the city's Magic Corps and City Guard were out escorting Chestra and Pandora as they took their nine-year old twins, Hamel and Sizer, for a ride through the Sforzando countryside.

Bass knocked politely on Horn's door. When she opened the door, he leaped into the front hall of the mansion.

"Horn!" shouted he, "You have taken too many victims from me and given them health they did not deserve! I, Hell King Bass of the Sforzando Undercity, will not tolerate this impudence! Die, foolish woman!" And with that he blasted a blue fireball at the surprised Horn.

Lute raced down the grand staircase, holding five-year-old Flute's hand. "Mother!" he cried, as the fireball exploded into her. The golden cross she always wore on her neck was broken from its chain, and it skidded away across the floor, unnoticed.

"You bastard," snarled Lute. He pushed the crying Flute away to protect her, and leveled his own destructive magic — for Lute had powerful, inherent offensive magics — at Bass. A shining white sickle blade sliced through Bass' neck, and the head flew up, up, up…

…And landed into Lute's lap. Lute grabbed the head with his hands, but this was a mistake, for with his last magics, Bass took control of Lute's body…

The sun rose over the kingdom of Sforzando, slowly reaching shining, golden beams across the land. The eastward-facing attic window of the former healer Horn's mansion caught the first rays of sunlight. They illuminated the peaceful face of the sleeping, brown-haired girl.

Her eyes fluttered open. "Oh!" murmured fifteen-year-old Flute. "Sun's up!" In a flurry of garments she was up and changed. Her long hair she twisted and bound into braids that hung down over her shoulders, ending in soft puffballs. Down the rickety attic stairs she ran, through the carpeted and tiled floors, down to the kitchen.

"Must… serve… Bass," she told herself, gasping the words. She brewed tea and made porridge and bread and jam. She placed the breakfast meal on a tray, and ran up two flights of stairs to Bass' room. She didn't knock, but entered silently and placed the tray on the night-table. Then she turned and regarded the sleeping form of her brother's body.

"Oh, Lute," she said softly. Lute lay curled around his pillow, beside the sheet-covered, white lump that was Bass' head. "If only Bass had not come," she said miserably. "You might still be my brother, instead of my jailer and my tormentor. Life has been nothing but true Hell since mother died." With a trembling hand, she reached over to stroke her brother's shiny, short-cropped black hair.

Lute's eyes opened, and he smiled sweetly at Flute, and for a moment Flute's spirits rose. Perhaps Lute could overcome Bass' Marionette spell, the last bit of magic Bass had cast in a desperate attempt to live!

But no, the smile faded, and the tender look in Lute's eyes was gone. Instead was the cold blankness that Flute was so accustomed to.

"Get back to your kitchen, girl," ordered Bass, his harsh voice in eerie harmony with Lute's. Flute curtseyed, turned around, and fled.

Flute's days passed on in a blur. Bass had lost all his magical abilities, and ironically could only access Lute's healing abilities, those he had inherited Horn. The City Guard, alerted by Horn's violent death, had infiltrated Bass' undercity home, and, with his strong will to live, Bass remained in the body of Lute, living in the luxury of Horn's home. Using Lute's healing powers, he earned money from Chestra the same way Horn had. Enraged by his inability to be truly evil anymore, Bass took all his rage out on Flute, forcing her to wear ugly clothes, sleep in the attic, and have barely a moment for herself. Were it not for the brief moments when Lute was in control of his body, like in the morning, Flute would have run away long ago.

Flute cleaned the house and scrubbed the windows and dusted the bookshelves. She cooked for Bass/Lute, and scraped leftovers for herself. She fed the dog, though the cat she left to feast on the pantry mice. She combed and fed the white horse Melody, and paid the boy that came to exercise the mare. She ran errands for Bass and sometime came along when he went out to heal someone as an assistant. The work kept her from feeling too unhappy, and since Lute was, if still captive, at least alive and healthy (she made sure of that), Flute still was able to feel cheery. She whistled at her work and sang quietly to herself, songs Horn used to sing, so many years ago.

She was washing the floor of the entranceway when a rap-tap-tap came on the door. Flute looked up in surprise. Bass was reading in the study, and they rarely had visitors at this time of day!

She stood and wiped at the soot and dirt on her skirt ineffectually. Curious, she ran over to the door and opened it. An elderly Palace Messenger, clothed in the royal colours of red and gold, stood at the door, holding a very official looking document in his hand.

"Ah, yes, this is the house of Lute, son of the late Healer Horn?" the messenger inquired.

"Yes it is, sir," Flute said, curtseying deeply. "Lord Lute is busy at the moment, but I shall take any message to him as soon as I may."

The Messenger peered down at her, obviously mistaking her for a servant. "Hmm, yes. There is to be a series of royal balls in two weeks, in celebration of Prince Hamel and Princess Sizer's nineteenth birthday, as you know." Did Flute ever! Sforzando had been talking of nothing else for months.

"Lord Lute is invited to attend, or more accurately required. All of noble descent who can be there must be, and there will be other people besides. Here is the formal invitation. Do see that your Lord gets it." With that, the Messenger turned smartly on his heel and descended the stairs of the manor to an awaiting carriage.

Clutching the thick vellum invitation, Flute closed the door with a trembling hand. Oh! To attend a royal ball and forget for just a little the pains of her life. To see the Prince and Princess! Or even King Chestra and Queen Pandora! It would be such a wondrous thing to attend!

Bubbling in excitement, she raced up the stairs to Bass' study. "M'lord, you must attend the royal celebrations!" She handed the envelope to Bass, who ripped it apart and produced the heavy invite.

"Hrrumph."

"Please, sir, might I go too? Just for one ball, at the very least? I promise I'll get all my work done on time—"

"Absolutely not. Servant girls do not attend balls!" Bass exclaimed gruffly. "Foolish child!"

Flute wilted. Dropping her head and gazing at her beaten, battered, sooty shoes, she whispered, "Yes, sir."

"Bring me some tea."

Flute could not stop thinking of the royal balls. She imagined the dresses the ladies would wear, the handsome men that surely would be there. She wondered if Chestra and Pandora were as breathtakingly beautiful as the people said. It was said that the Princess and Prince were just as beautiful as their parents, and that Sizer had feathered wings of an astonishing golden-white hue. Flute wished that she could see all these things, just once.

The two weeks to the birthday celebrations passed in foggy, dreamlike haze. Although Flute knew Bass would never let her go, and she had no choice, she could still dream, and dream she did. All day thoughts of how wonderful and amazing the celebrations would be kept her from sorrow.

The day of the first ball arrived. Bass dressed in Lute's fine flowing blue silken robes, and at one o'clock, when a summons arrived — Lute was both noble and an honorary member of the Magic Corps, and would be with Hamel and Sizer's escort as they paraded through the streets in the prelude to the ball — he mounted the white horse Melody and trotted off to the palace. As soon as Bass was gone, Flute collapsed on a sofa in the sitting room and burst into tears. How she wanted to go!

"There, there," came a soft, melodious male voice, from the doorway. Thinking she was imagining things, Flute sobbed harder into a black tasseled pillow.

"It's alright, you can go to the ball!" chimed a high-pitched, feminine voice.

Flute bawled into the pillow.

A hand descended on her shoulder in a comforting, brotherly gesture. Flute yelped and sat up, her eyes pink-rimmed and filled with large, salty tears. "Wh-who are you?" she asked, shrugging away from the hand.

The owner of the hand smiled gently. He — although it was hard to tell, this person was a male — possessed very long yellow hair that fell to his ankles. Some hair was gathered and tied over his shoulder. He was dressed in a beautiful robe of blue, belted with white, with a white cross on the front.

"I am Clarinet," he said gently, "and this is—"

"My name's Cornet!" piped the short-haired, blonde girl at his side. She was dressed in a matching robe, only her colour was green. "Clari is my brother!"

"We're here to help you go to the ball," Clarinet said to Flute.

Flute's eyes widened. "But I can't go! I have no fine dresses, and if Bass saw me…"

"Bass won't even recognize you!" Cornet said.

"And why would you want to help me anyway?"

Clarinet smiled sadly. "Your mother, Horn, saved me from a death-wound when I was a child. She helped bring Cornet into this world." His face darkened. "I could not stop Bass from killing her. But I can help her daughter and that way repay my debt."

"As to what to wear," Cornet cried, holding up a large, bulging bag, "I have everything you need right here! Where is your bathing room?"

Flute mutely pointed out the door, taken aback by Clarinet's somber voice and Cornet's excitability.

Cornet dropped the bag and grabbed Flute's arm, half dragging her to the door. "Stay here, brother dear!" she called to Clari, "We don't need you in the bathing room!"

Some time later a towel-wrapped Flute, her hair unbound and falling in a twisted tangle to her waist, was returned to the sitting room. Cornet forced her down, rummaged in the bag and produced an ivory comb, and tossed it to Clari, who caught it easily.

"Clari can do you hair," Cornet told the bemused Flute. "He knows all that hair-stuff. Me, I don't have patience for it."

With deft hands, Clari went to work on Flute's hair. In a surprisingly short amount of time, with Flute's screams of pain still echoing in the room, the ratty tangle had transformed into a shining chocolate waterfall.

"Ow," Cornet said, impressed. "You scream loud."

"The dress, Cornet," Clari said. "I'll be on the other side of the door — call when you're ready."

"Sure, Clari!"

There was a tall, body-sized mirror in one corner of the room. Cornet made Flute stand in front of it, and she proceeded to dress Flute up like Flute was an oversized doll.

The dress was a deep royal blue. A red cross was emblazoned over the front. The satin skirt reached to the floor, red stripes running down the sides. The sleeves puffed at the shoulders, then ran down to Flute's hands, clinging tight to her arms.

"Oh, wow, you're so pretty," Cornet bubbled, and Flute blushed, staring at her reflection in the mirror.

"That's not … me."

"Yes it is," Clari said from the door. "It's Lady Flute dressed as she should be, had Horn been alive."

Clari walked over to Flute and regarded her carefully. "Yes, yes, very nice. But something's missing."

He produced a pair of tiny golden crosses from somewhere in his robe, and fastened them to Flute's ears. Then Clari reached into a pocket in his robe and held up a larger golden cross on a silver chain. "Your mother wore this," Clari told Flute, as he fastened it about her neck. It began to glow bluish-white. "Take good care of it."

"Th-thank you," Flute said, touching the gold cross reverently. "Oh, how can I ever thank you two?"

"Enjoy your night!" grinned Cornet. "That's all the thanks we need! …Unless you know where Bass keeps his money…?"

Prince Hamel, son of King Chestra and Queen Pandora, was bored out of his mind. He sat on a small throne on a dais at the end of the long dancing gallery. Nobles, peasants, and all social classes in between milled about below the dais, nibbling on delicacies on tables which lined the walls, and drinking wine. Some danced, some talked, and some watched. Chestra and Pandora stood with a small group of nobles to one side.

Hamel looked over at Sizer, who sat on what was more of a pedestal than a throne. Sizer refused to sit on any sort of chair, since the high backs meant her wings would get squished. It appeared his sister was as bored as he was. She sat primly on her chair (a most unSizerlike pose), fiddling with her white silk skirts. The blue bird Ocarina sat on her shoulder, preening her golden hair.

"Oboe," Hamel said to the black crow who sat on his knee, "I'm bored."

"You could always go down and mingle. You know your parents want you to meet a girl…" Oboe replied.

Hamel rolled his eyes, and adjusted his black, conical hat. "They might want me and Sizer to marry, but we are not going to," he said stubbornly. "Imagine Sizer in love! And there are no girls here I like. They might be pretty, but they have no brains, no idea of life. And certainly if they saw my other form, they'd be frightened."

Oboe shrugged his wings. "You may yet change. You are still young."

Hamel shook his head, and left it at that.

Pandora, resplendent in shining golden jewelry and a red-trimmed gold ball-gown of unsurpassable beauty, stepped up to the dais to speak to her children.

"Hamel, Sizer," she said, her melodic, riveting voice catching the twins' attention. "Why don't you two step down and talk to some of the guests? And you two haven't eaten anything since lunch; you must eat. And dance!" At this last, Sizer groaned.

"I'd rather dance with my scythe," she informed Pandora, who smiled warmly.

"I'm sure you would, however, there are different dances for different occasions. It would be most beneficial if you learned which dances are appropriate at which occasion."

"You might even enjoy dancing with some of the handsome young men," added Chestra, stepping up beside his wife. Sizer hrrumphed in disbelief, but bobbed her wings in the shrug Hamel knew meant acquiescence.

Hamel stood up, shooing Oboe away, and as he did so, he caught a glimpse of a blue-gowned girl he had never seen before.

"Excuse me," he said softly to his parents and Sizer, and swiftly dismounted the stairs, his black cape swirling behind him. Purposefully he walked across the hall, dodging and weaving through the throng. Those who were not so deeply immersed in their own activities recognized him and stepped aside for him.

Hamel had thought he'd known all the nobles and nobles' children, but obviously not, and the shy brunette loitering by a food table was obviously a noble by the fine material of her gown. That, or new money — she didn't quite have the bearing of a noble.

"Hello," he said, and she turned to him with a small gasp. At the sight of him — in his favoured clothes of black and white, the massive red jewels on his hat, mantle, and knees sparkling in the torch- and- magic-light — her already-large eyes enlarged further. She dipped into an automatic curtsey.

"Who do I have the honour of addressing?" inquired Hamel, looking curiously at the softly glowing cross around her neck, and then at her face. Tendrils of chocolate hair fell across one of her expressive eyes. Hamel had never seen anyone more beautiful.

"Er… ah…" she muttered. "I… I am Lyric." Her voice was sweet and clear.

Hamel reached out to take her hand. It was trembling, he noticed with some surprise, and rather cold. He pressed a courtly kiss to it, and, releasing it, bowed to her. "Lady Lyric, welcome to the Sforzando palace. I am Hamel."

Lyric — if that was her name; Hamel suspected, by her hasty, unconvincing answer, that Lyric was not her true name — gasped (loudly, this time), and dipped into another curtsey, this one deeper. "My lord prince," she murmured.

"Please," Hamel said, trying very hard not to roll his eyes at the title — Hamel and Sizer had always considered themselves to be just people, not anyone particularly special. And the twins were certainly too much trouble and far too mischievous to have such grand titles. "Tonight, let me be merely 'Hamel' to you." He outstretched a hand. "Would you care to dance?"

Lyric, though obviously absolutely intimidated by Hamel, inclined her head gracefully. "I would love to," she replied softly, taking his hand.

Dance! Flute tried not to panic. Apart from Clari's impromptu lessons back at the mansion, Flute had never danced in her life. And Clari's lessons had been fairly disastrous. Flute could still hear Cornet's high-pitched giggles ringing in her ears. It would be simply awful if she stepped on Hamel's feet!

Hamel… He was as beautiful as the rumours said. She couldn't take her eyes from him, his shining gold hair, his fascinating red eyes, his elegant clothing.

Hamel put a hand on her waist, and Flute remembered Clari's voice: My hand on your waist, yours on my shoulder. Hold your other hand out. Like this. Now, put your feet just so and move like this.

Following Clari's instructions, she placed a timid hand on Hamel's shoulder, gripping slightly at the mass of ebony cape.

"Never done this before, have you?" whispered Hamel, as she stared down at their feet and at the other dancers, trying to figure out what she should do.

"Is it so obvious?" she whispered, flushing.

Hamel smiled at her. Flute nearly melted into the floor — Hamel's smile was the most beautiful thing she had ever seen. "Yes, it is so obvious. New money, hmm?"

"Pardon?"

"Well, you're not a noble, are you? You don't walk like one, I've never seen you in the palace, and I certainly have never heard of anyone named Lyric before. And yours hands are calloused, not soft like a nobles'. So you must be new money."

"I am a noble!" Flute shot back, and then flushed a deeper hue. "I mean. No, I'm not."

Hamel arched a golden eyebrow and said nothing. He pulled her into a shadowy alcove. "Here, no one's watching us too closely. I'll teach you to dance."

"Well, look at that," Sizer said to Ocarina. The princess stood at the corner of the dais, watching the people for some sight of a handsome young man Chestra had promised would be there.

"Eh?" replied Ocarina, who had been eyeing a very handsome young man that Sizer had rejected (his eyes were too narrow, apparently).

"Hamel. Look at Hamel. He's dancing."

"Hamel? Dancing? With what? A guard?"

Sizer snorted. "Hardly. Can't you see him? He's dancing with a girl. Never seen her before … must be new money."

"Heavens, you're right," Ocarina said in surprise, peering closely at the dancing pair by a dark alcove.

"I suppose this means I should go dance with someone," Sizer said, then shrugged her shoulders. "Oh well. I'm not going to."

"At least some things never change," Ocarina said, and returned to eyeing the man.

Flute discovered she liked dancing. She seemed to have a knack for it — certainly Hamel had said so — and she hadn't stepped on his feet yet. She also enjoyed Hamel's company. As they danced, he related silly stories of his childhood, of the pranks he and Sizer had pulled on their parents and the Palace Guard.

"And then Sizer decided we would put some dye into the lotion Clarinet used on his hair—"

"Clarinet!" exclaimed Flute softly in surprise, turning her gaze from Hamel's shoulder to his face.

"Oh, do you know Clari? He's the head of the Sforzando Magic Corps. Very powerful. Has the longest, nicest hair of anyone I know save Father and Sizer. He should be here, actually, but he left the palace with his sister Cornet on some 'urgent business' of some sort or other."

"I've … heard of him," Flute said smoothly. "Pray, go on with your story."

"Yes, as I was saying, Sizer decided to turn Clari's hair pink…"

The clocks chimed out midnight just as Flute spotted Clari in among the guests. He gave her a grave nod, and gestured swiftly towards the door. Flute looked and saw Bass was starting to leave.

"Oh, Hamel!" she exclaimed.

"Hmm?" he asked.

"I'm sorry," she told him, shrugging away from him. "I have to go."

And before Hamel could react, she raced off towards the door. With Hamel in hot pursuit, she sped through the gallery, bursting through the doors and running down the stairs.

Someone has readied the black gelding Lyrical — whose name was the origin of 'Lyric'— that Clari had lent her with a bridle and sidesaddle.

Flute leaped onto Lyrical and flapped the reins urgently. Leaving Hamel standing helpless on the stairs, she galloped off into the cold night.

When she got home, she met Cornet at the door. The young girl was wearing one of Flute's ugliest off-white aprons, and her sleeves were rolled up. Grit and soot smudged her face.

"Thank Heavens, you came before Bass did," Cornet said, her voice serious. "Come, let's get you free of that dress."

As Cornet tried to turn her back into the sooty kitchen girl, Flute sighed unhappily. "I was enjoying being clean, for once."

Her hair retuned to its previous less attractive state, wearing the ripped, tattered dress with matching shoes, and her arms and face covered with ash Cornet had artfully dabbed on her. "This must be a form of magic," Flute told Cornet. "One minute I am ready to go to a ball, the next I am just a household slave."

Cornet smiled. "I would think that housework is a form of magic — I tried to get your chores done, but… there's so much to do! How do you get it done?"

"The term the baker's wife uses is 'elbow grease'," Flute replied. "Hard work."

Cornet shrugged. "Guess I'm not used to it. I mean, not in this form."

"No, you're not used to work, period," Clari said from the door. His hair was windblown and struggling from its ties, and there was mud on his otherwise shiny boots. To Flute, he asked, "So, did you enjoy dancing with Prince Hamel?"

"Hamel danced?" broke in Cornet, wide-eyed. "He never dances with anyone! But… Flute… you don't even know how to dance! I mean… those lessons with Clari don't count…"

Flute smiled dreamily. "He pulled me into a corner and taught me the basics," she said. "Oh, what a night. How ever can I repay you both? Perhaps I shall hunt down Bass' treasury."

"That was a joke," Cornet said. "The greatest reward is having the honour of knowing the first lady Hamel ever danced with. Trust me, it's more than enough!"

"So you don't know anyone named Lyric?" Hamel asked Percuss, the steward of the royal family. The prince and the steward stood in the middle of a marble hall. Portraits, suits of armour and doors marched down the walls. Candles in wall-sconces and hovering magic lights flickered.

"High Priest Clarinet's horse is named Lyrical. But I doubt horses turn into people, much less switch genders while doing so. But tell, you danced with a lady?"

Hamel reddened, and looked down. "Will people stop harping on about this?" he asked plaintively.

"You must really like her," Percuss commented, and turned smartly on his heel and left the hallway, turning into a side corridor.

Hamel, having heard the same comment from everyone he had met, except Sizer (oddly enough, he'd thought she'd be the first to ask questions), was fairly tired of hearing it. "I just want to find out who she is. I don't like mysteries," he told the empty hall.

Flute worked very hard the day following the first ball. Cornet had done a surprisingly thorough job in organizing and cleaning the kitchen, as well as Bass' bedroom, but the rest of the house required work, and Flute was busy dusting, washing, and sweeping to perfection. Even when Bass gave her a few minutes to herself, as he did from time-to-time when he was pleased, Flute worked anyway. She was afraid her happiness and joy would be too obvious and make Bass suspicious.

As it was, her happiness and light heart made the work pass smoothly and swiftly. Soon Bass left again for the parade (and after, the ball), and again Clarinet and Cornet arrived.

This time the dress was deep cream, with a high collar and silver ribbons lacing down the front. The bodice was embroidered with wild flowers, and the sleeves were nothing more than long, wide pale-green ribbons that hung slightly past her waist. Clari did something to her hair that made it shimmer and shine, and he braided parts of it near her face, which kept the majority of it from falling into her eyes. Cornet put some rouge on her lips, and gave her satin dancing slippers for her feet. Clarinet again made her wear the cross that glowed when she put it on, with the admonition to not lose it under any circumstance.

Again Flute robe on Clari's Lyrical to the ball, leaving Clarinet to his own devices and Cornet to attempt at Flute's chores again.

This time when she entered she knew where to go (she'd had to question a guard for directions the first time she'd come) and halted her horse at the stairs to the dancing gallery. Servants came to silently take the horse away, calling him by name.

Flute, not quite as nervous as the previous night but still apprehensive, walked into the warm, lit room, filled with dancing bodies.

Princess Sizer was telling jokes over the orchestra in a loud, crystalline, ringing voice, and that was the first thing Flute heard. The princess was wearing a flowing red dress, and her hair was intricately twisted in loose ringlets down to her waist. Her avid crowd was a group of very handsome young men that the blue bird on Sizer's shoulders watched closely. Flute smiled at one of Sizer's jokes (which were all narrative and usually had something to do with princesses making fools of lusty young men, not that the young men these were aimed at paid much attention to the subject matter), and gazed around. Hamel was nowhere to be seen, and she felt somewhat disappointed as she wandered through the crowds, picking up along the way some food and a glass of watered-down nectar wine.

As she drifted near the outskirts of the dancing group, a hand descended on her waist and spun her around. Hamel was dressed all in black, with festive ribbons of bright red — which matched his eyes — winding their way down his arms and legs, around his waist, and banding about his conical hat.

"You seemed rather lonely, my lady," he said softly, "I'm sure you would not mind a dance?"

"Would one dance be hardly adequate?" she replied, and then flushed. "I mean, unless you have other ladies waiting—"

Hamel's eyes sparkled and a smile tugged his lips. "None other, save you," he said.

Flute again lost all sense of time, as she lost herself in the ruby of Hamel's eyes, the wondrous feeling of the satin dress on her body, the music that wrapped her in it and refused to let her go. The rest of the world blurred, and all she could think of was the moment. Hamel did not tell her any stories, and she revealed nothing of her past, but there was no need for words. A gaze, a movement, that was all that was needed for 'conversation.'

It seemed as if no time had passed when Clari — how did he get here when Flute had his horse? — caught her eye and nodded sharply. Flute sighed, and disengaged herself from Hamel, and ran, trusting in the element of surprise to keep him from her.

Across the gallery she ran, deftly dodging people and tables, running out into the cold air, into the black night, and onto a black horse. She tapped Lyrical sharply with her heels and they were off, leaving Hamel standing as before on the stairway, listening to the last of Lyrical's hoofbeats.

"The servants confirmed it," Hamel said to Clari, as they stood watching over the city on a battlement. "The black horse the girl who calls herself Lyric rides here is your Lyrical. What do you know of this?"

Clari looked out over the city, his long hair whipping around him in the wind. He ignored Hamel's smouldering, garnet gaze.

"You know who she is. Tell me!"

"I would expect a prince to be polite and say 'please'," Clarinet said, and cut off Hamel's stuttering reply with, "The girl wears a golden cross which glows blue, does she not?"

Hamel started. "Yes."

Clari finally turned to Hamel. "That cross will only glow for her, and that is how you will find who she is. Tonight is the last of the festivities. Take the cross from her before she leaves. Use it to find her."

With a curt nod, the High Priest turned and left Hamel standing bemusedly on the battlement.

The dress Cornet brought this time was crimson. The v-shaped neckline dipped down teasingly, and it was belted tight with a gem-encrusted belt of silver. The sleeves were loose and sheer, and were tied tight to her arm at equal intervals. The long satin skirt was clung more to her than the previous skirts, and the silvery shoes Cornet gave her had more heel to them than Flute was used to. Clari piled pinned some of Flute's hair to her head and left the rest to tumble down. Again Flute wore the golden cross earrings and matching glowing cross. The warning that Clari usually gave her concerning the cross was not given, however.

However, Clari did say, "Leave at midnight, or risk the chance of being caught. If Bass has found out you have been going to the balls, he will no doubt hurt you terribly."

Once more Flute rode Clari's black gelding Lyrical to the palace. Once more she climbed the stairs and entered the gallery. She stood upon the threshold, gazing at the splendour wistfully for a moment. After this night, there would be no more grand balls for her. She would return to the life of a kitchen drudge, until someone could free Lute from Bass.

Straightening her posture and walking into the throng, Flute resolved to enjoy herself as much as she possibly could.

She found Hamel skulking behind an ornamental pillar. He didn't see her, busy as he was trying not be seen himself. He was wearing black again, a tight-fitting tunic, swishy ebon cape, and high shiny black boots, with the faintest trim of silver.

"Hamel?" she said softly, and he gave a jump and turned around. Upon seeing her, his eyes lit up. He took her hand and bowed deeply over it.

"My lady."

"F-Lyric, please," Flute said.

"Lyric," nodded Hamel. "Well, now that you're here, I can be seen. This dumpy noble's daughter — her name is Concerta — insists on chasing me. When I'm dancing with you, I can avoid her."

"And that's why you dance with me?" asked Flute, "So you can avoid the dumpy girl?"

"No! It's just the reason I'm lurking here. She's very mean-spirited. She gossips as often as she can, and she rarely has anything nice to say about anyone."

"Like Bass," Flute murmured.

"Pardon?"

Flute smiled into Hamel's eyes. "Nothing. Shall we dance? I daresay I'm getting better."

"You are," Hamel said, taking her hand and leading her out into the whirling mass of dancers. The night passed as wondrously as the previous nights.

Time flies swiftly by when one is enjoying themselves, and all too soon the clock was chiming midnight. Flute's gaze grew wistful as she looked at Hamel. She'd never see him again, no doubt. After all, she was but a slave in her household, and he was the prince of Sforzando.

"I must go," Flute said, slipping free of Hamel's arms. "I'm sorry." And she grabbed her skirt and ran.

"Oboe!" called Hamel softly, and the crow, which had been hovering nearby, flew after Flute. Hamel followed.

Just as she ran out the door, Oboe dived and ripped the cross from her neck. Its light went out, and it fell to the floor with a small ringing sound. Flute did not look back, but instead clambered onto Lyrical's back, and galloped into the night.

"I lost my cross," Flute said to Cornet, as she jumped off Lyrical and ran into her house. Cornet smiled and shrugged.

"It's alright. You'll find it again."

Flute shook her head and sighed. "I can only hope."

Hamel studied the cross closely. Pure gold with a strip of silver in the interior, it was a very lovely thing. He wondered why it glowed when it was on Flute, but would glow for no other. No other

"Percuss!" he shouted, jumping up from the chair he had been seated on. He dashed out of his rooms, into a thin hallway. "Oboe," he said to the crow on his shoulder. "Go find Percuss!" Oboe nodded and flapped away.

It took little time for Percuss to appear in front of Hamel. "My lord prince?" he asked, bowing deeply.

"I want every noble girl in all of Sforzando to try this necklace on," Hamel said to Percuss, dangling the cross in front of the steward's eyes. "When it is around the neck of the girl I danced with, it will glow blue. I want to know who that girl is."

Percuss nodded and bowed again. "It will be as you have said. I shall start immediately."

"One more thing."

Percuss looked up.

"I'm coming with you."

Lord Bass was in good temper in the aftermath of the balls. Flute decided it had something to do with her own downcast eyes and slumped shoulders and altogether gloomy mood. She missed the company of Cornet and Clarinet, who had departed right before Lord Bass had arrived from the last ball and had not reappeared since, and above all, she missed dancing with Hamel.

It was the latter that hurt the worst. She moved around the house slowly, her eyes lacklustre, constantly thinking about Hamel. He was such terribly good company, telling amusing jokes and telling her stories of his life, and oh, did she ever miss those nights when they'd dance and dance and Flute would forget she was a mere kitchen slave.

"I should be happy," she told herself as she dusted the library shelves. "I got the chance of a lifetime. I danced with Prince Hamel. But I'll never see Hamel again, Mother is dead, Lute is all but dead, and I am still a housemaid." A large, shining tear welled up in her eye and fell, tracking a clean line through the grit on her face.

Four days had passed, and during the fifth, there came a knock-knock-knocking on the door. For once, Bass (his head hid in a pack on Lute's back, where it normally stayed) was closer to the door than Flute (who was sweeping the floor), and he opened it. In stepped Percuss, holding the cross on a blue velvet pillow.

Flute gasped in disbelief, for behind Percuss was Hamel, dressed in a plainer version of the attire he wore on the first night. Instead of black velvet, his tunic was leather, and there was no shiny silver trim and gem encrusted jewelry to be seen. On his back was a violin the size of a double bass.

"You are which lord?" Percuss asked, peering at Lute closely.

"Lord Lute, Healer Horn's son. I trained in the Magic Corps. If it pleases your Highness, lord steward," Lute bowed.

"I see… Lord Lute…" Percuss thought for a moment. "Ah, Horn. I remember her well. The Prince and Princess' midwife. She was a favourite of Queen Pandora's. And you are said to carry on her practice? Very good. I believe you have a sister, one Flute by name?"

Before Lute could reply, Flute ran up to the group at the door. Surely with the lord steward and Hamel here, she would be safe from Bass! "I am Flute," she said, staying clear of Bass.

Then she remembered her manners, and curtsied deeply. When she looked up, she stared straight into Hamel's eyes. Remembering that she was dressed in the filthy rags of a scullion slave, she blushed and averted her gaze.

"Is that so?" Percuss asked disbelieving.

"Hardly. She is a mere kitchen slave, with delusions of grandeur," Bass said in Lute's voice, firmly. Flute studied her worn shoes.

"Let her try on the cross, Percuss." Hamel finally spoke, looking intently at Flute, who started at the mention of Horn's pendant.

"Cross, my lords?" inquired Bass, but Percuss ignored him. Picking the cross up carefully, he clasped it around Flute's neck.

It glowed a brilliant white-blue, so bright Percuss and Bass had to throw up their arms to shield their eyes. Hamel stared, wide-eyed.

"You are Lyric?" he asked, amazed.

Flute, gaining strength from the blazing amulet, looked Hamel in the eye. "I am Lady Flute, daughter of Healer Horn. With the help of Lord Clari and Lady Cornet, I was able to attend the ball, where I took the name Lyric to prevent that man from finding me. That man," she pointed at Bass, "Is Hell King Bass of the Sforzando undercity who has taken control of my dear brother Lute's body!"

Bass rushed over and ripped the cross from Flute's neck. In his hand, the glow turned to a fierce electric blue. Fierce-eyed, he pointed at Percuss and blasted the man out into the street. Percuss hit the ground with a smack.

"You filthy wench," snarled Bass to Flute, his voice harsh. He grabbed her arm, and threw her behind him. He turned to Hamel, who stared with enlarged eyes, startled and frozen in shock. "Prince Hamel, I do believe I have you on the threshold of my home and at my mercy." Bass pointed at the doorway, and a magical barrier erected itself in the doorframe.

"I must thank you for bringing that cross to me. If I do not miss my guess, it has reawakened all my offensive magic." The cruel smile did not fit Lute's face. "Foolish prince. I would be king of this country if it were not for the efforts of that bastard Chestra and that Healer-bitch Horn! As it is, now I can take my revenge out on both Chestra's whelp and Horn's brat."

As he spoke, Bass conjured magical chains about Hamel's body. Flute he aimed small blue fireflashes at. She dodged them as best she could, rolling and crawling and scrambling to get away.

Not all of the blue fireflashes missed. Flute screamed in pure agony as they burned and cut through her skin on her arms, legs, face. Blood dripped onto the floor.

"STOP!" screamed Hamel, struggling against the blue-glowing chains. His hat fell off, revealing a shiny horn emerging from its nest of gold. It grew, and Hamel's pale skin began to redden. His teeth elongated. His form grew, and more horns sprouted over his body. Wings burst from his shoulder blades. Bass, so busy on Flute, failed to notice the change.

Flute struggled to her feet and tried to run away, but a flash seared her ankle, and she crumpled to the floor. About her ankle was an ever-enlarging pool of crimson. Bass smiled triumphantly and was about to throw a large ball of crackling energy at her when he was thrown to the ground by a massive hand.

Flute stared in disbelief at the demon that stood, stooped under the ceiling. His skin was the red of his eyes, and his pale hair flowed to his ankles. Elongated teeth brought to mind the legends of vampires.

"Hamel?" she whispered. The demon looked at her, his eyes bloodred and rage-filled.

"Don't kill Lute," Flute begged the monstrous creature. "Kill the head!"

Hamel stared blankly at her.

"Oh, I hope you can understand me," Flute said. "Kill the head in Lute's back-pouch!"

The conversation took too much time. The crackling ball of energy meant for Flute was thrown at Hamel, and it hit him in the leg. He fell to his knees, roaring in pain. His claw-tipped hand reached to Lute, and he ripped the back-pouch from Flute's brother. Bass's head rolled free.

"Too… rusty," Bass managed, apparently as an excuse to himself, as Hamel picked the head up with two hands and squished it together. Flute was horrified to realize that she found much pleasure in the ensuing squelch.

The breaking of the marionette spell set Lute free. He got to his feet, but stumbled. "Flute," he whispered, as he fell over. "I'm sorry."

"Lute!" Flute scrambled to her brother, ignoring the pain this action brought to her sore ankle.

"He's alright, just exhausted. The marionette spell does that to people. He'll be asleep for awhile, but he'll be fine." Flute looked over to catch the last of Hamel's transformation back to human.

Flute stared at Hamel. He didn't look evil, but surely if he could turn into that creature — nonsense, Flute told herself. Chestra had demon blood and surely had a similar form, and he was a good king.

Hamel was on his knees. He tried to get up, but the leg the energy ball had hit was unable to move. With a soft cry of pain, he fell back down.

"You're hurt!" Flute gasped, and crawled to Hamel, dragging her ankle. When she reached him, there was an awkward silence. Flute didn't know what to do. She looked up at Hamel, who was tight-lipped and white with pain.

Upon seeing Hamel's pain-taught face, her mind halted. Calmly, something else within her in charge of her body, she knelt down beside Hamel and put her hands over his hurt leg. She stared at it fiercely, and her hands began to glow a soothing blue, quite unlike the electric blue of Bass/Lute's combined magics. The blue reached into Hamel's leg, and he gasped, tensing his body, sweat drops glistening on his forehead. But he remained still, watching Flute avidly.

It took some time, but soon the blue faded away, and Hamel's leg was healed. Flute was exhausted, and she fell over sleepily.

"Flute," whispered Hamel. He sat up and took her into his arms. "Are you alright?"

She smiled at him and nodded, and then blacked out as her exhaustion and wounds got the better of her.

Percuss had brought Chestra, Pandora, and Clarinet. Cornet had followed her brother. The grand entrance way of Horn's home was crowded with so many people.

"Hamel!" exclaimed Pandora on sight of her son. She rushed to him, and fell to her knees, wrapping an arm about him. "What happened? Percuss only told us that the Hell King was wrecking havoc here."

Hamel, arms tight around Flute, relaxed into his mother's embrace, stifling a yawn. "Hell King Bass had taken control of Lute." Hamel pointed to Lute's fallen figure. "Lute must've caught Bass' head right before Bass died, so Bass cast a marionette spell upon him. I took Bass' head," Hamel gestured as the oozing red mess by Lute's body, "From Lute and er… destroyed it."

"While in your other form? I see." Chestra studied the ugly mess that once was Bass' head.

"And who is this child?" asked Pandora, looking closely at Flute.

Before Hamel could reply, Clari answered, stepping closer to the three. "That is Healer Horn's daughter, Lady Flute, Lute's sister. Bass had turned her into the house maid, in his own spiteful cruelty. I discovered this the day before the ceremonies in honour of Hamel and Sizer's birthday."

"She's wounded," added Hamel, who looked at the ribbons of blood racing from the myriad slashes and burns and cuts upon Flute's body. "Mother, Father, this is the girl whom I danced with at the balls!"

"Of course she is! I got her some dresses and Clari fixed up her hair!" Cornet chimed. "Horn's old cross glows for her."

"Does it really?" murmured Pandora. "Let us return to the palace. We shall take Horn's children; they must be healed."

And so it was that Flute became a fine lady in the Sforzando palace. Hamel and she fell deeper and deeper in love with every passing day and eventually it was that the two were wed.

The wedding was a magnificent affair. Flute wore a dress as silver as the moon, and Hamel wore silver-trimmed black velvet. Clari bound them together, as was his right as High Priest.

And they all lived Happily Ever After.

-fin-