Velvet was alone in the cave. Rusty metal chains kept her wrists shackled above her head. Her captors had stripped her of her equipment and abandoned her a moment earlier, leaving her for dead in the nest the dragon king. No one had come to rescue her.
The cavern remained silent until she noticed the eyes. It began with a pair of enormous rubies growing out of the stone wall in front of her. When they loomed closer and slithered out of the shadows, she saw they were part of the dragon's reptilian face rather than any of the rock formations surrounding her.
Wagner slowly inched forward until his nose was roughly even with Velvet's. When he breathed, warm air brushed against the toned skin of her arms, thighs, and midriff. The noble reds and golds that loosely clothed her curved frame must have made her a finely wrapped delicacy for the creature. As he slowly inspected her, his snout remained in the shape of a perpetual grin.
Velvet rolled her eyes, speaking to her tormentor in barely more than a grumble. She failed to show the slightest sign of fear.
"Cute. Now will you just get on with it?"
Wagner's head turned slightly clockwise on its serpentine neck. His low speaking voice echoed throughout the cavern with the same power as a human's shout.
"Oh? And what exactly is it I should be getting on with?"
Velvet was clearly becoming impatient with this game. She jingled and pulled at her bindings out of angry impulse.
"Devour me, tear me limb from limb, whatever the bloody hell you monsters do to helpless young girls! Your followers seemed to think I'd make a pretty nice sacrifice for you."
The leader of the dragons suddenly coiled back and unfolded his wings. His head rolled upwards as he shook the cave with a loud clucking sound that must have been his race's idea of laughter. When he finally leaned forward again and locked his gaze with hers, he still sounded amused.
"You're as brave as your father was when he came to see me. Let's hope you're better at solving the world's problems then he turned out to be."
He paused to shake the last hints of humor off of his face.
"As delicious as you look, my dear, there appears to be a bit of a misunderstanding. There will be a sacrifice, but it won't be you. You'll be the one who delivers it."
Velvet stopped and blinked, caught off guard by the dragon's riddle.
"What do you mean?"
"You'll find your answer in the mists of time."
Before she could question his rambling answers further, Wagner exhaled. Two streams of smoke hissed from his nostrils and filled the underground chamber. It smelled more of gentle incense than smoldering ash to Velvet, and it had an almost soothing quality when it first began mingling with the air, but it quickly left her feeling dizzy as she was bathed in an overwhelming volume. It was doubtful she would have been able to escape it even if she hadn't been restrained.
The mist swirled around her torso like a ghostly arm, leading her to raise her head and arch her back. She felt herself drifting to sleep as some of the vapor funneled into her nose and past her parted lips and began filling her lungs. Her body melted away when everything went black, allowing her mind to fall further into the fog.
When Velvet awoke, she was a child. Her twin brother Ingway was there beside her, looking just as terrified as she was. They watched as their mother was strangled to death by their grandfather. King Valentine screamed hysterically as he crushed Princess Ariel's throat, endlessly berating her as a whore and a traitor her own family for falling in love with Odin and spawning his children. Velvet was powerless to do anything but watch the murder transpire just as she remembered it, as if it were happening all over again.
Time shifted forward, and it was no longer Princess Ariel being strangled by her father. Now it was Princess Velvet being strangled by her father, King Odin. She could feel the gauntlets around her neck, pinning her down, sealing her windpipe, and forcing her to choke for dear life. The most disturbing part was what she experienced wasn't far from the truth. He had already all but killed her with his own hands when he condemned her to be Wagner's sacrifice.
As mortality got the better of her, a dark instinct sprung from somewhere within Velvet. Maybe it was the old man's blood flowing through her veins, filling her with the same ambitions that had blackened his heart long ago. Whatever it was, it gave her the strength to reverse the situation and leave King Odin as the one gasping for air, clawing at the slender fingers around his throat and the polished nails digging into his flesh as she regained her own breath through clenched teeth. The life faded from him when his head buckled under his daughter's grip, bending to side with a sickening snap.
Velvet breathed more of the mist as she sighed in relief. At the next clearing, she glimpsed upon herself as the Queen of Erion, crowned with a tiara of stars that matched the design of her gypsy hood. When it came to her court, however, all she saw were vague patches of nothing. Her entirely throne room was only partially formed, like a page from a book that was still being written. She could still see enough of this future to know she had ended the war and brought a lasting peace to the land, but it came with a heavy loss. A loss that could not be avoided.
Her increasingly bizarre vision led her a few steps backward, to the final moments of Armageddon. In the center of the carnage, she watched herself using her Graveryl chains to butcher Valkyries and Berserkers from Ragnanival, golden sentries from Titania, fairies from Ringford, and whatever remained of the previous King Valentine's forces. The style of her attacks and the provocative fashion of her dress made it appear as if she were dancing in the same exotic rhythm as the flames that engulfed the battlefield. She had allies of her own, but the flickering shadows and the constant spray of gore made them impossible to detail.
When the princess drifted out of her trance, she realized Wagner was gone and her arms had fallen freely to her sides. Stranger still, the rusted old chain that had been keeping her hostage now draped over her hands as a strand of long, silver links that were studded with jewels at each end and sparkled as if they were brand new. She had been gifted with her familiar Psypher, or at least an exact replica of it.
Velvet looped most of the length of the chain around her sash while leaving enough slack to dangle from her wrists. Without another moment of hesitation, she then began her journey toward freedom and found the entire lair empty. The wyrm's breath still clouded her mind, warping her perception and leading her thoughts in circles. Perhaps a deluge of blood would be enough to wash it away.
As she trekked out of the cavern, she thought about what she had learned and what she must do. If there was one thing she was certain of, it was that her enemies had been at least partially right. Armageddon could only be stopped with a sacrifice.
The belated rescue party arrived just as Velvet stepped out of the mouth of the dragon's den and back into sunlight. The team was comprised of the Valkyrie Gwendolyn, her Shadow Knight husband, Oswald, and Velvet's own twin brother, Ingway. She was glad to see them.
Their arrival made her plan that much easier.
Gwendolyn and Oswald didn't even have a chance to wipe the relieved looks from their faces before Velvet attacked. She launched her chains from her wrists in two separate directions, causing one end to find its way around Gwendolyn's throat and yank her forward. The abrupt movement wrenched the spear from her hands.
Although Velvet took her half-sibling by surprise, her brother-in-law had just enough time to react. He frantically sidestepped the jeweled end of the chain that was aiming for him, then answered with an impulsive charge. Velvet dodged his sword with a nimble backflip and landed back on her feet, all while coordinating her arm to keep Gwendolyn on her makeshift leash. She then took the fight out of him by planting the raised heel of her shoe in his gut, causing him to stagger and allowing the lonely end of her chain to find its target. She hopped backwards to distance herself from her opponents once they were both collared. Her weapon seemed to stretch as far as she wanted.
Oswald was the first to speak as he came down from his bewildered rage.
"Velvet, what are you doing?"
His wife tried to pry herself out her bindings with all of her desperate, frightened might.
"Let us go!"
Velvet allowed her eyelids to fall. Her response came with an eerie coldness.
"As you wish."
She sharply pulled the chains inward and folded her arms across her chest, causing the links to cut through her captives' necks like serrated blades. Gwendolyn and Oswald were free to collapse to the ground, minus their heads.
Velvet calmly whipped the blood off of Graveryl before setting it back around her hips. Her eyes then turned to her brother, who stood stationary with a look of horror on his face. Ever since their mother was murdered, it was said Odin's twin bastards were a curse upon the world. It was time to show the world how dangerous that curse could be.
Velvet waited patiently while her twin finally gathered enough of his senses to speak.
"...Why? They were your own kin!"
She explained her brutal actions in a tone as soft as her name.
"It was inevitable. It's better to deal with father's other heirs before we claim his throne."
As Velvet became more humble, Ingway only became more anxious. His voice grew shrill as he inquired further.
"What are you talking about? Do you really think he's just going to surrender it to us?"
Velvet casually brushed a curtain of golden hair away from her eyes as she provided her blunt response.
She lifted a hand in front of her face before she continued. One of the gems at the end of her chain glowed with a violet aura as it floated just above her palm, seemingly controlled by her will. A greedy smirk crossed the witch princess's lips.
"That's why we're going to kill him, too, along with anyone who defies us."
Ingway's eyes widened into white saucers as a new wave of fear and confusion washed over him. He knew there was only one explanation for his sister's mysterious change in personality.
"Velvet, what did they do to you in there? You've lost your mind."
Velvet briefly narrowed her eyes and puffed her cheeks, annoyed by the obliviousness of his question. She then gathered herself and answered with a more supporting gaze.
"You're the one who's lost, sweet brother, but I'm sure you'll find your way soon enough. You're living in a fantasy as long as you think the separate kingdoms can exist in harmony. The world will only truly be safe when things are as they were, when people respected the Valentines. Feared the Valentines. We'll make grandfather look like a minor nuisance by comparison."
Fire grew in her eyes as she spoke those last few words, then died down when she continued.
"I'll wait for you until you're ready to share the crown with me. If you think things over and decide you still want no part of this, please find somewhere safe to live and distance yourself from my affairs."
The two siblings had grown up as prisoners of war in their own castle after their heritage was discovered, resulting in constant torture at the hands of the mad King Valentine. Their mere existence was a crime, they were told, and they would spend the rest of their lives paying for the sins of their mother. The fact they always supported each other through their misery was probably the only reason they had survived long enough to escape.
Ingway hopelessly contemplated for a while before speaking again. It was the only thing he could think of that could possibly reach whatever sanity she had left.
"What are you going to do about Cornelius?"
Velvet's eyes shied away in deep meditation. It was the first time since meeting the dragon that she had thought about that name, and determining the fate of her devoted lover was not an easy task.
But ruling the world was never easy.
"I'll see who he truly loves when I tell him my intentions."
Her attention turned back to her brother as sadness began lingering behind her words.
"Consider your options carefully, Ingway, and remember everything we've been through since mother's death. If we become enemies, your life is one sacrifice I'm not sure I can bear to make."
Ingway could no longer find the voice to make any kind of response. He watched as his twin sister calmly brushed passed him and continued on her way, marking each stride with the grace of a queen.