"Good evening, Princess."

She opened her eyes abruptly at the sound of that voice. There was only darkness around her, not a single trace of the moonlight that always filtered through her window. Effectively blind, she groped in the dark for the edge of her bed—and found that there was no bed.

She was standing, somehow, but felt nothing beneath her feet. She cast about wildly with her arms, trying to get her bearings. A second later she forced herself to calm down, reminded of the voice that had jarred her awake. The sight of her flailing around helplessly would only serve to amuse him.

"What do you want?" she said guardedly. Her voice sounded small, pressed in on all sides by the expansive silence.

"An old friend isn't welcome to pay a visit?" The false hurt in his voice was evident. She whirled around, trying to sense where it was coming from. Her shoulder brushed against a solid form covered in smooth cloth. Before she could move away, cold leather-covered fingers encircled her wrist.

"Watch your step," he said nonchalantly.

"Don't touch me," she snapped in disgust, jerking her hand away. At least he was wearing the glove—she shuddered at the thought of skeletal fingers caressing her skin.

"I'm hurt, Princess." The honeyed falsity of his voice grated on her nerves.

"What do you want, Mozenrath? Let me out of this place, or I swear you'll pay."

"Hmm, I've heard that one before—don't you heroic types ever tire of repeating the same old threats?"

"Don't you evil villain types ever tire of trying the same old tricks?" she retorted, her eyes darting blindly around the darkness.

"I don't believe I have ever tried this before…have I?" She tensed; the silken voice was no longer in front of her. She jumped at the brief touch of a hand on her shoulder.

"Don't touch me!" she seethed. "Tell me what you want."

A sigh in the darkness. "I suppose royal orders are meant to be obeyed." A brief pause. "There is actually very little I want…nothing that you might expect, Princess."

"Get on with it—"

"Thirty days." The words followed her command seamlessly. "In thirty days everything will be mine—everything that you hold dear. There is nothing that anyone can do to stop me this time. Not even your beloved street rat or his pet genie."

She curled her lip, expecting he could see her scornful expression in the dark. "You've had the same foolish confidence in every one of your plans, and they've all failed. What makes this one any different?"

"Ah, now that is for you to find out," he said smoothly. "True, my past attempts have not gone as I wished. But this time I will not fail. Beyond any measure of a doubt."

"I'm not convinced," she said flatly. "Since when could anyone take you at your word?"

"Since now," he said, his voice cordial and cold. "This is no lie or farce, no hopeful exaggeration. In thirty days I will have everything under my power. My plan is foolproof."

She folded her arms. "If it is true, then why are you telling me about it?"

"Why not tell you about it?" His soft laugh echoed around her.

She gritted her teeth. "You're just doing this to taunt me?"

The whisper came from close behind her. "To challenge you."

She instinctively moved away. "How do you intend to do that?"

"I've decided to make this a bit more interesting. If you can figure out what my plan is within the next thirty days, then I will not carry it out."

She opened her mouth to speak and he cut her off. "If you tell any of your friends about this little game between us, I will carry it out at that very moment. And I don't believe you are foolish enough to attempt to kill me on your own, but the same consequences apply."

She was witnessing depths of his mind that she did not know existed, realizing he was even more twisted than she had thought before. "What do you have to gain by this, Mozenrath?"

"I've realized something about invincible plans—when an outcome is absolutely predictable, there is little fun in pursuing it. So if I can't make the plan any less predictable, I'll toss some variables into the process leading up to its implementation."

"Why did you choose me for this sick game? Why not Aladdin?"

A chuckle. "Ah, I knew the questions would never end. That is why, Princess. You never stop questioning, never stop trying to get your way. If I drop a wall in front of you, I know you'll keep hitting your head against it until it breaks or you pass out. Unlike your thieving little street rat, you'd never try going around an obstacle—not that you can in this case—but my point is…you are the most persistent opponent I know. Take that as a compliment if you wish. Your stubbornness gives you more entertainment value."

"You're despicable. But I still don't believe you," she said defiantly.

"I'm afraid you have little choice in the matter. Consider this: if I am telling the truth—which I am—how would it feel to know you alone had the chance to stop me, but because of your disbelief you failed to act?"

Her fists slowly clenched and unclenched at her sides. She turned over the implications in her mind, checking for flaws, loopholes in his proposal—and found none.

"Thirty days," she stated. "And how will I let you know once I've figured it out?"

He laughed—perhaps at her rather quick acquiescence to the game, perhaps at her bold assumption that she would be able to stop him. "Before you sleep, you may call for me."

The thought of seeing him in her dreams again sickened her. "You disgust me. Get out. Get out of my head now."

"As you wish, Your Highness. I look forward to our next meeting—"

"I don't. Get out."

Somehow she could see the image of his wicked smile in her mind before his presence faded.

"Goodnight, Princess."