Chapter 36- The Ball
Leila and Lucius slipped out of the cellar through the internal door and into the palace, dodging servants and footmen who hurried back and forth with trays of food and drinks for the noble guests. The two half-wolves were very out of place in their travel-stained, rather scruffy clothing and they were careful not to be seen by anyone who may take offence at their presence. Above them the night sky exploded into fireworks to mark midnight.
A great chorus of voices rang through the hall ways.
"To ever lasting peace, and all the bones we can gnaw!"
"What the?" Leila asked. Lucius just shrugged.
They followed the sound, keeping to the shadows, until they started hearing people gagging and retching, and bodies hitting the ground.
"Oh no," Leila murmured.
Throwing caution to the wind the wolves ran through the hall, skidding to a halt on the gallery above the ball room. Below was a horrifying scene. The ball room floor was covered with bodies dressed in silks, satins, glowing colours and bright jewels and in the middle stood a footman, dark haired and holding a silver platter, staring around him in consternation. An imperious looking woman dressed in a plum cloak gloated over the corpses.
"Anyone for seconds?" she asked jovially. No one answered, the dead could not speak. "No?" She strolled through the littered bodies as though through a flower bed.
Leila started forward, but Lucius pulled her back into the shelter of a swath of curtain. All she could do was to stare at the scene. He was there, her brother. She couldn't deny he was her brother, even after all these years she recognised him instantly. She was there too, the witch she had fought on and off for years, dressed in the body of the wicked Queen who smelled of poison and magic.
"Warren, what have you done?" Leila asked softly. "We're too late, the Queen has won." She turned into Lucius' embrace. There was nothing for them now. Warren, her own dear brother had sold his soul to evil, the royalty of all the 9 Kingdoms lay dead at his feet. There was no where for them to run, no where for them to hide. It was over. The wolves stood there, half-hidden, despairing.
"We will die together, my love," Lucius said softly. "We will get out of here and we will fight her to the bitter end."
"What's the point?" Leila asked. "She will win, no matter what we do."
"She will, but her victory doesn't have to be easy, does it? We will find Sirius and Marina and organise a resistance. We won't go down without a fight."
Leila shook her head. "You're right, we will exact vengeance for all those she has slaughtered."
"Come on," Lucius said, and pulled her gently away.
Leila looked down into the throne room one last time at her brother who had become her enemy. "Wait!" she said, pulling Lucius back. "Look!"
The Huntsman was there, pushing a girl into the midst of the carnage.
"You certainly are persistent," the Queen said.
"Are you going to kill me as well?" the girl asked, her voice wavering as she tried to stand up to the Queen.
"I was going to let you go," the Queen said, a strange note of care, almost affection in her voice. "I don't know why."
"You know why!" the girl insisted.
"Go, leave me, get out while you can," the Queen said.
"She's fighting the witch," Leila said, "The witch has control of her, but she's fighting. Why?"
"No." The girl's voice was firm.
There was a long pause. The Queen gathered herself. "You were nothing bus an accident. You should have been killed at birth," she said harshly, but the wolves recognised what she was trying to do, she was trying to push the girl away, fuel her hatred, make her leave, save her.
"I don't understand," Lucius said, "Who is she?"
"They know each other, but how?"
The girl took three steps forward and lashed out, striking the Queen across the face. "How dare you! How dare you speak to me like that!"
The witch gained control of the Queen, the person fighting to get out was drowned, extinguished, vanished like the mist in the sun. "Kill her now! Kill her, or I will do it myself."
The Huntsman gave an indifferent shrug and levelled the cross bow at the girl. Both the half-wolves sprang forward to the rail, ready to throw themselves over the save the innocent girl who had stood so bravely against the darkness. They were not quick enough, Warren beat them to it. He threw himself onto the Huntsman, forcing his arm up just as the trigged was pulled, sending the deadly bolt straight up.
"Wolf!" the girl cried out in fear. Fear of Warren, or fear for Warren?
Warren wrestled with the Huntsman, forcing him back onto a table, scattering platters of food and pitchers of wine as they struggled, locked in combat. At the same time the Queen stepped forward and wrapped her hands around the girl's throat, strangling her. The two wolves ran for the staircase, but they were too far away, they weren't going to make it.
It all happened so quickly. The Huntsman wrestled Warren over so he was on top, pinning the half-wolf to the table as he drew a knife. Before he could strike the bolt he had fired straight up came straight down and plunged into the Huntsman's back. The bolt never missed its mark. The Huntsman looked surprised for a moment, then collapsed on top of Warren.
At the same time the girl reached out and pulled something out of the Queen's hair, slashing it across her neck. The Queen staggered back, clutching at the shallow scratches on her neck. She brought her hand to her eyes, her white glove stained with her blood.
"You've drawn blood," she whispered, horrified.
Leila and Lucius tumbled down the stairs, but there was little left for them to do, the fight was over. The Queen walked away, a few stately paces before she collapsed. The girl ran to her side, cradling her tenderly.
"No, please don't die," she sobbed, "Don't die. Just remember who you are."
"It's too late," the Queen said, her voice growing weaker. "Don't cry, my little girl. I gave away my soul."
"Her daughter?" Leila asked rhetorically as she and Lucius watched, spellbound, at the bottom of the stairs.
The girl sobbed and screamed as the Queen slowly closed her eyes and gave herself up to death.
As the Queen died an invisible darkness rose from her still body, and a scream of pure psychic force tore through the room, sending Leila and Lucius reeling and falling to their knees as the shriek pounded their minds like mighty waves driven before a great storm. The two wolves fought against the mental tempest, blinded and deafened by the rage and groped towards each other. They found each other and held on tightly, building a protective wall around themselves using bricks built with love and trust, giving each other total access to their minds, hearts and souls to build that shield and protect themselves from the enraged might of the Witch.
With the fury pushed back, Leila was able to see again. Beyond the shimmering barrier of their shield, visible only to the eyes of those sensitive enough, was a dark cloud, boiling and writhing almost like a living creature in the throes of agony. It coiled around the two wolves, then streamed back towards the girl, enveloping her and seeping into her mind and body.
"No!" Leila screamed, the Witch had lost one host, but she was determined to take another. She shook her head helplessly, "Now what do I do?" she asked no one in particular.
There is a way, a gentle voice sounded in her mind. She hasn't won yet.
Around them, people started to stir. The Prince sat up, clutching his head.
"I think I had too much champagne," he moaned.
Lucius grabbed Leila and pulled into an alcove, out of site of the throng of reviving guests. If they were found there, he reasoned, they may well be blamed for the poisoning, if that was what it truly was. Together they crouched, hiding and watching, trying to figure out what had happened.
"Why aren't your all dead?" the girl asked as the guests revived around her. Warren was there, leading a lovely golden retriever, unbuckling its collar. "Didn't you poison everybody?"
"No," Warren said, "Troll dust, I swapped the poison for a pinch of troll dust." He finished unbuckling the collar and gave the dog a pat. "Go for it, Wendy."
The golden retriever threw itself at the Prince and in a moment of confusion and magic, the dog and Prince swapped places. The ball room was suddenly full of cheering people. The two half-wolves didn't really understand what was going on, but everyone seemed so happy.
"He didn't kill them," Leila said, "He isn't an ally of the Witch. I hope."
An elf was standing there, not cheering, but looking around with fear and confusion. She studied the ball room and her eyes fixed firmly on the alcove where the wolves were hiding. She marched over to them. "Who are you?" she demanded. "Guards!"
A pair of guards, still recovering from the effects of the troll dust quickly pulled themselves together and marched over. Lucius tried to shield Leila, but they were both hauled out into the open and frog marched towards the King. The crowd parted for them, two scruffy people in the midst of slightly mussed splendour. The two wolves were forced to their knees before the King.
"Who are you?" Wendell asked, perplexed at the sudden events, "And what's been going on here? Leaffall?"
"There has been a magical disruption, your Majesty," the Elf Queen said firmly, "Evil is at work here, and these two stink of it."
"Your Majesty, please, there is more going on here than you know," Lucius said.
"Leila?" Warren stared at the two wolves. "Leila, is that? Can it really be?"
"Wolf? You know theses people?" Wendell asked.
"That's... that's my sister. Leila?"
Leila stared at her confused brother. "Warren, please tell me you didn't make a pact with the Witch. I don't want to lose you after I've just found you."
"A pact with the Witch, no! Leila, how... when... Are you real?"
Leila climbed to her feet. "I could ask you the same. Are you really Warren Wolfson, my brother?"
"Yes, oh YES!" Warren laughed and cried and grabbed her around the waist and lifted her, spinning her around and hugging her. "Leila, I've been looking for you for 10 years!"
"I know," Leila said, "And I've been looking for you, my brother."
"Would you kindly explain what is going on!" Wendell commanded sternly.
Leila untangled herself from her brother's embrace. "Your Majesty, Leaffall is right, there is evil here, an ancient evil, older than the Queen, older than the Five Great Women of History, an evil which has sought to dominate our land across the ages. The Witch, as I know this evil, has lost her host, the Queen, your Step-mother, and found a new one."
"You?" Wendell asked, drawing away from her.
"No, but someone innocent, someone who has no idea the damage that the evil can do."
"Your Majesty," Lucius broke in, "We need to talk, somewhere private."
"Virginia?" Warren was bending over the girl, collapsed by the Queen, her mother's side. "Virginia, wake up! Virginia!" His voice was rising to scream.