"No! This cannot be! This will not be! I will not let a von Zerbst, of all people, be my downfall! Well know this, Abraham! You could have saved her! But you chose to pursue me even when I damn well gave you the chance to rescue your wife! She was a bitch to the end… but now it's more true than ever! You heard that howling, did you not? Viktoria von Zerbst… show yourself and kill your fool of a husband! Ah ha ha ha ha!"

Louis de la Vallière, the Bloody Duke



The sunlight of the new day's dawn washed across the forsaken swamp and the ruined tower within like molten gold.

Of course, an ancestor of the nominal owner of aforementioned ruined tower had once attempted to cover a particularly ugly village which had annoyed him in molten gold. However, the cost had been prohibitive, and he had been forced to resort to iron. As a result, he had discovered while the ways in which sunlight was like molten gold were beyond his fiscal capabilities to measure, sunlight was pretty much nothing like molten iron, which typically had a lot more screaming, burning, toxic fumes, foul steams and other such things than sunlight. His diary for the day had mourned how the iron didn't look as good as he would have liked and that next time he should probably use bronze, before going into a paranoid rant about how his daughter was planning to murder him.

Incidentally, he was proven right when she pushed him into one of his own smelters.

But because the thing which was washing across the landscape was only sunlight and not molten metal, what woke Louise de la Vallière from her slumber was not searing heat, but instead only mildly uncomfortable brightness from the light shining through her shutters.

The dark overlady of vile darkness groaned, and tried to stuff her head under her pillow. Wretched light! For hundreds of years, had not man dreamed of destroying the sun? Well, she would show it!

Eventually, though, she was forced to concede that her considerable and malevolent willpower would not succeed where the anti-pope Obteneratus III had failed, and dragged herself out of bed. She was aching all over. She still felt grimy, despite her bath last night, and raising her nightdress she could see that the bruise she had noticed all the way down her left thigh was turning a nasty shade of purple. Limping, she dressed herself with stiff fingers, putting on what armour she could manage and then throwing a robe over the top of it - and went off to find herself breakfast.

There was a minor miracle waiting for her. Admittedly, it was the kind of miracle which one had to prepare for oneself, and hence was not particularly miraculous, but still, there was plenty of food from her shopping trip the day before yesterday. And... well, at least there would be wheat flour because the minions had looted a few warehouses that she hadn't told them to.

Surely it wasn't that hard to make bread? After all, peasants managed it. And failing that, she could probably get a minion to steal a baker's clothes and it would probably turn out tolerably bad. God only knew how minions seemed to acquire skills from the things they stole. Well, maybe God only suspected. But the Abyss almost certainly knew.

But still, there was bread and there was butter made from nice reliable horse milk and there was bacon and there was even fried mushroom because the minions had made her some in the same pan as the bacon. She was hungry, and the mushrooms tasted of overdone pork fat, rather than mushroom. There was however no rat. So everything was good.

She was just finishing her second helping when a red-skinned minion wearing a long heavy apron and smelling of gunpowder skidded up beside her. "Overlady!" he said. "Gnarl say..." and he frowned for a moment. "He say lots of words, but he then say that in easy-peasy version that he want to see you in map room. You have to give orders about what to do with ship."

"I see," Louise said, with her mouth full.

"Also, what to do with drunken sailor. We find him early in morning. Being sick in cabin."

The dark lady put her knife down with a sigh, and laid her head down upon her hands. Nothing ever went the easy way, did it?

"Maggat want to shave his belly with rusty razor, but Scyl say no, we feed him to hungry rats for dinner. It probably good idea, because ratties are large and hungry and we needs to get our milky from them so we can make tasty cheeses. And then Maxy grin and say that that sound good and then we all get very worried because that what he do when he getting poet-ical on us and then he went looking for that lyre that he steal from pub," the minion continued mercilessly. "And that very bad indeed. When Maxy get poet-ical, we has to listen to him until we manages to take his music thing and break it. And even then he sing."

Louise groaned into her hands. It was too early in the morning for minions. Of course, it was often also too late in the evening for minions, or too middle of the day in the middle of the day, but she was feeling this most acutely. "I'll go see him," she said, hoping to fend off any other minion stories along the way.

She was unsuccessful.


...


"... and then Snot say to Pyre, 'but I not on fire', and Pyre say 'not yet!' and we all laugh! It even funnier because then Pyre set him on fire!"

"Gnarl!" Louise said as soon as she stepped into the map room... which, uh, seemed to be rather devoid of maps. It was part of the underground parts of the tower which had not yet been whitewashed, and rotting curtains hung heavy on the walls. At least the lighting here was somewhat better than in other similar rooms; several bright magical crystals hung from the ceiling, casting pools of light onto areas of the floor and revealing that it had been haphazardly swept. There were minions lounging around here, as well as her advisor waiting for her. "You said you had news for me?"

The elderly minion straightened up, the light over his head bobbing around. "Indeed, your evilness," he said, putting down the silvery mechanism he had been examining. "Firstly, the matter of the drunken sailor. I propose we..."

Louise had time to think about this on the way here, as she tried to ignore the babbling of the red-skinned minion. "Tie him in a sack, and throw him out somewhere," she said, impatiently, ignoring the squeal of glee from the floppy-hatted brown-skinned minion to one side who started writing something down before Maggat hit him in the head with a club. "But make sure he's as drunk as... a very drunk sailor beforehand. On that beer the greens drink, the one I don't trust."

Gnarl smirked. "Ah, excellent plan, your evilness. That beer contains wormwood, you know. Well, it certainly contains worms and wood, and the greens go for wormwood whenever they can. He'll not know whether it's the day of Evil or breakfast time."

"Actually, I was thinking," Louise lied – this was actually just a good idea she'd had on the spot – "that what we should do is transport him somewhere else and then get... like, some of the smarter minions to brag in front of him about their 'hidden base' and then when he gets found, they'll look for the ship wherever we left him. Maybe closer to the capital, as the portal allowed us to get there, but not too close because we don't want to let them find out where that stone circle was. You see, I read it in a book by the Iberian general..."

"Most exquisitely evil, your darkness," her chief minion agreed. "Such a masterly deception. Trick and confound the annoyingly tenacious forces of good. Of course…" he added, "you could always sacrifice him to…"

"No!" the overlady blurted out. She took a breath. "That would be… short-sighted! Anything that could be… um… could gained from a sacrifice would be lost if they… they didn't have a false lead from the sailor! The fact that I have a secret base is really, really, really… vital for my… uh, plans." Well, that was certainly true. "And I know from history that once the forces of Good find out where a dark lord's tower is, they'll end up defeating them. And that would be bad. Good. A thing we don't want." At least until she planned to be defeated, at least.

Gnarl stroked his goatee. "There is wisdom there, my lady," he said. "Very well. We will get the drunken sailor even more drunken, and then he will be tied in a sack and thrown through the tower heart. And then he will be dragged over to a town and village, and possibly left near a cesspit. I will give the orders."

Louise brushed a lock of hair back, internally relaxing. That had been a close one. She wasn't about to be responsible for the death of a probably-mostly-innocent sailor if she could avoid it. And she had been rather cunning to use it to cover her tracks, she thought smugly. "Now," she said, moving on, "the ship?"

"Oh, indeed, indeed." The elderly minion hobbled over to the balcony, and it was at that point that Louise realised that the map room was in fact more akin to… to some kind of viewing pit, with a circular arena down on the ground. What it appeared to lack was any maps, however. "It took us a while to find this again and get all the machinery working," Gnarl said conversationally. "The bloody vampire had been using this as a dumping pit for corpses, and also – worse! – amateur dramatics."

"It take us long time to get rid of costumes crammed down into gears," Igni added. "They very bad costumes! Barely good enough to give to new minions! So we give them to them as punishment, say 'when you loot better costume, you no have to wear this rubbish'." The red-skinned minion focussed. "Maggat say it 'moe-tea-vay-shun-all'. Of course, then Maxy ask him what that means, and Maggat explain that it all about not letting them have tea. That bad punishment. Tea is good. Especially with rum added."

"Indeed, the little darlings are great tea drinkers," Gnarl said. "We had an Albionese overlord once, and they picked up the habit from him, especially when he tried to invade Cathay and the rest of the Mystic East to control the world supplies of it. He died, of course; my lady, be careful around the warriors of the Mystic East. They fight in strange ways quite unlike the Heroes around here."

"Analogue pirate!" the jester contributed to the discussion.

Louise blinked at the… unconnected nature of the statement. Well, she had come into a possession of a ship. Which had been sort of stolen. By things which worked for her. And even if she hadn't exactly told them to do it, she had still kept possession of it. So it was sort of piracy.

She didn't get where the 'analogue' came in. Maybe it was an analogy.

To get away from this madness and minonly illogic, she quickly asked, "So, the ship?"

"Indeed, indeed. Deploy the maps," Gnarl commanded.

"Deploy map!" a rather shrill minion yelled from somewhere up in the rafters.

Slowly, with a grinding of unseen clockwork gears, the floor below began to morph and deform. Model buildings, structures, cities, even the tower in its ruined state; all rose up from the floor even as the terrain shifted to imitate the world. There were minions humming something in the background, for some reason. Louise did not feel it would be a productive use of her time to ask them why and would only lead to further confusion so instead she marvelled at the mechanical complexity of this thing before her. This must have been at least eighty years old – because the vampire hadn't put it in – and yet the clockwork involved must have been... well, frankly astonishing.

There! Down there she could see the northern coast taking shape! And... yes, that must have been the tower before it was ruined, a spiky pinnacle slowly rising up. And lesser buildings too; oversized to the scale of the map, but clearly connected to the tower! And...

... then it all ground to a halt, with a clanking and a noise which could only be described as 'cloing'.

Gnarl sighed. "Sadly, your evilness, it appears that everything is not quite as repaired as I might have liked. Oh well." He pointed down at a half-emerged model city. "You see that there? That is Bruxelles, the capital. "And that bit here, and here, and here," he jabbed his finger towards three spikes, "... those are three of the relay towers I have been able to ascertain still exist."

"Mistress of Mott's painful separation!" contributed the jester.

Well, that was fair enough, she had to admit. The joker was probably right there. "Relay... oh, yes, the things which increase how far the Tower Heart can reach!"

"And which do things like spawn new minions and generally enable your dark reign, yes," Gnarl agreed. "Sadly, they have a pronounced tendency to be destroyed by Heroes as a prelude to your attempted murder, as well as to be used as bases by small-minded fools who think that they are a full-scale tower, rather than merely a tool in the conquest of Evil. Still, I have found that there are three left which are within range; one to the east, one to the south, and one to the west. There is one more to the north, but it appears to be flooded. Perhaps the darkness of Doggerland has been drowned by the ocean once more."

"... I see," Louise said, who didn't. "I don't see how that's relevant to the thing of where to put my new ship, though." She paused. "Where is the ship?"

"We park it safely! Scyl know how to park ship!" Maggat said helpfully, thumbs hooked into his belt.

"Ah, well..."

"We not knock down any trees by accident at all!"

Ah. So they had knocked down some trees deliberately. Well, she couldn't bring herself to care right now. "Gnarl! Where is the ship!"

The elderly minion looked hurt. "Why, your evilness, it is docked in the Pit of Despair. Where else would it be?"

"I have a pit of despair? When did I get one of those?"

Gnarl shifted slightly uncomfortably. "Well," he admitted, "it is a little flooded, so it is currently a lake of despair. But once it is dried out – and right now, there are minion bucket chains there – we will be able to hide it from prying eyes in the tunnels in the side of the Pit!"

Louise exhaled, nostrils flaring. "They why did you send for me if you already knew about what to do with the ship?" she asked, the pitch of her voice rising. She jabbed her finger at Igni. "That one told me that you want to talk about what to do with the ship!"

"Oh, that was a mere formality," her advisor said dismissively. "We are going to talk about the repair work to the tower and what to prioritise. I had hoped to use the map room to explain it, but... ah, it is one of the things which is damaged. Igni, why did you lie to the overlady?"

The red-skinned minion pursed its lips. "I want to keep it a surprise for her! Tower work excite a lot of overlords and make them happy!" it replied. "It like prezzie!"

It was true, Louise was no more than mildly peeved; something which was quickly fading as she started to look forwards to the prospect of no longer living in a ruin. "So..." she began, gesturing for Gnarl to continue.

"Ah, indeed, indeed. Well, we can get down to the detailed cost calculations later, my lady, but as for the current state of affairs, you now have construction equipment – so generously donated by that town – and money as well as your minion workforce. As a result, we can begin repairs. You could focus on rebuilding the main tower, on the lower dungeons – you know, removing the holes in the floor and cleaning the place up – or even try to reclaim some of the exterior buildings. I would not recommend the latter, but the choice is up to you."

"Rebuild the tower?" Louise echoed.

"Ah, yes, your evilness," Gnarl said, rubbing his hands together, "why, many an evil overlord has chosen to build a larger tower to overcome any disrespect directed at him! With enough height – and girth, that's important too – you can hold others in contempt from your superior position! They're just jealous of your tower!"

Louise wrinkled her nose. "Aren't they a little... over the top?" she asked. "I mean, not only are they top heavy, but my father said that the towers of various dark lords are very susceptible to cannon fire. The least impact, and they start sagging or listing, and once they do that they're very hard to get upright again." She pursed her lips. "Wouldn't... like, something much shorter, but inside a protective layer of high walls make a much better seat of power?"

She got the distinct feeling Gnarl was not exactly pleased. "Your evilness, please, think of tradition. All overlords have a tower, and they are often judged on its size."

"I'm an overlady," the girl said tetchily.

"Oh, that's even more true of the distaff forces of darkness," the minion said. "To get ahead in the world, queens of darkness have an uphill battle, and having a big tower helps in that."

It was tempting, Louise did have to admit. Standing on top of the battlements, cackling, throwing fire down at fools who had come to steal her power... no! That was bad! She didn't want to be found out, and building a giant tower... was not subtle.

But it was so tempting.

Well, she could put it off for now. "I think we should focus on the lower areas first, on the dungeons and the hidden passageways," she said. "I think that is better suited for my personal plans."

"Very well, my lady," Gnarl said. "I will need to consult with you more, and might I recommend that you prioritise the map room in repairs. It allows me to dynamically show you the floor plans of such things and generally makes the bureaucratic process more efficient and functional. Why, it is quite beyond compare there."

"... I'll think about it," Louise said diplomatically. "But in the mean time..."

"Defiler of pure maidens!"

Louise spun, and kicked the jester in the face. "I never!" she screamed, panting. Steel boots clattering against the floor, she marched over and pressed one of her pointy heels into its chest. "Listen to me, you repugnant, stupid little creature," she hissed. "Firstly, I did nothing of the sort! All I did was take her clothing and her wand! I did nothing like that and I do not want my name connected with such vile acts. She was a girl!" She ground the heel against the minion. "And secondly, there was no way whatsoever that she was pure! Or a maiden! Pure maidens wouldn't try to seduce their evil captor! Certainly not so enthusiastically! Do I make myself clear?"

There was a squealing and a bubbling noise from the jester, which it might – in certain lights – be possible to read as agreement. Just to be sure, Louise kicked it a few more times, picked it up by an ear, dropped it and punted it as hard as she could. Breathing heavily, she made her way back to Gnarl. "Where were we?" she asked, brushing a lock of hair away from her eyes.

Gnarl cleared his throat. "A little more followthrough on the kicks, my lady, if you really wish for the jester to go as far as possible," he said, drily. "And as for everything else, well, I do believe that..." he paused, his eyes widening, and at the same moment Louise felt her gauntlet feel uncomfortably warm and chime like a bell.

"What's happening?" she asked, voice rising in pitch.

"That would be a message from... yes, that would be Scarron's incantation, and an attempt by someone not permitted to do so to pass through the tower heart," Gnarl said, voice low. "Your ladyship, it would be best to get down there right now with all the minions you can. And put your helmet on; it protects your head. We'll see what that old man-botherer wants."


...


Things never seemed to change down in the tower heart room. Although Gnarl had actually explained to her how one of the things she could spend time and money doing was cleaning the place up, he had also – in his way – hinted that she probably had better things to be doing with it.

Privately, it annoyed her a little bit to have the heart of her power looking like this, but he probably was right.

So instead she stood here in her full armour, army of minions behind her, feeling like a bit of a fool as she waited for something to happen.

"You need to invite them in," Gnarl prompted. "Only one person, though. It's common sense."

"Oh," Louise said, blushing pinkly. "Come in. One person," she tried.

Light flared from the tower heart, and when her vision cleared, a familiar-looking, dashingly handsome man was standing before her. The gentlemen, quite apart from being knee-weakenly gorgeous was also grinning from ear to ear with a pure joy which left her mouth dry. She swooned as he threw himself at her, sweeping her up in his manly embrace, mashing his breasts against her, kissing her full on the lips. It was every dream come true! It was every woman's fantasy! It was...

Wait a moment. Breasts?

Louise squirmed free – something which took more effort than she would have liked – and slapped herself in the side of her head, squinting. The man... with the long, manly... no! With the long hair and... and the curves and soft skin... and... she gritted her teeth. The man was in fact not a man! She had to keep herself thinking clear! Even if the sheer aura of manliness was leaving her weak at the knees and dry-mouthed. It was... very handsome... no! "Jessica," she grated out; yes, that was the m... the m... the person's name. "The... thing. And you... you kissed me!"

"We did it!" the m... Jessica exclaimed, delight clear in her voice. In one hand, she... yes, the rage seemed to be burning off the illusion... but in one hand, she had what looked to be a coverless book, with... Louise squinted. A picture of herself? Dressed in full armour? Hanging from a rope suspended from a windship?

A picture from her last night was... in a book?

"What's going on?" she protested.

"We made headlines! Well, you did, and so my armour did!"

"Who has a line on whose head?"

"We're going to be so massive!"

"What's size going to do with anything? Why aren't you making sense? And please, stop making me think of you in masculine ways!"

The two of them retreated to one of the more pleasant rooms in the ruined tower – which was rather like talking about one of the more clean areas of a pigsty – and over tea, Louise got Jessica to expand.

It didn't help much.

"So let me get this straight," Louise said, after Jessica gave an extended explanation. Hand gestures were involved. And sketches. "The Abyss... this is the place where the demons come from and wicked souls burn?"

"Mmm hmm."

"The Abyss has demons who go around collecting stories of what happen in the world above and in the Abyss itself, and write them down, and even draw pictures of them. And they keep them in their journals, which are wicked enchanted tomes which store the secrets of the world above and dark and forbidden magics and that sort of thing."

"Yep!"

"And then at some point, they started publishing their journals, using demonic magic to copy the text into other books. And demons pay for this to happen, like a town crier but in written form. And... and there are journals which are mostly accurate and which get used by the lords of the Abyss to plan their invasions of the world above, and there are ones which just... just draw wicked and licentious pictures and just make up stories to amuse their readers?"

"That's why demons who do it are called 'journalists'," Jessica confirmed. "And there are even journals which aren't in books any more, but where the demons might read through a crystal ball or something and you can scry on plays and stuff. I've got one of those in my bedroom, usually tuned to one of the concert hall locations."

Louise shook her head sadly. "The Abyss is a very strange and wicked place," she said, "and to think that it has so much knowledge of the world above... it's scary."

Jessica grinned broadly, eyebrows arching up. "Wait until I tell you about the enchanted walls where the short prayers of cultists are displayed in burning runes!"

"Please don't," Louise said, her voice dry. "But... okay. The fact that I made them draw a line on my head is a good... a bad... a... a word-which-means-I-have-done-well thing?"

The dark-haired girl bounced up and down on her toes. "Oh yes! It's wonderful! Not only are you doing well, but look!" She jabbed a finger at the picture on the front. "Right in plain sight, for everyone to see! It's my work! Someone wearing something I designed and forged is headline news! And..." Jessica ruffled through the pages, "... we also made the fashion chapter! Eemogene... you wouldn't know her, but she's a really well-respected journalist who specialises in talking about such things... says that it's a daring fashion statement which crosses gender boundaries and imposes a quasi-feminine mystique on the harsh damn'd steel lines of the classically male fallen knight archetype! And that its 'ferrous feminist' style rejects heteronormative clichés and opens up whole new vistas of pansexual dominion with the gynocratic statement eminently clear!"

"Uh," Louise began, the strange forbidden words of the Abyss confusing her. She had just thought she was getting armour which protected her, and sort of looked like an evil version of Mother's. And didn't mean she was dressed in a slatternly way.

Jessica squealed in glee. "Oh, this is wonderful!" she said. "It's exactly what I was going for! Listen to this. 'In its unconventional colour choice which draws to mind male conquerors, the gender stereotypes are utterly violated. It is shameless in the way it flouts every proper standard of history; it is frankly antinomian in its deliberate refutation of thousands of years of overlady dress. I was actually shocked when I saw it, and applauded its provoctativeness! Indeed, the deliberate elements incorporated from the armour of no less than detested figure of Good Karina de la Vallière (49) is no less than a wake-up call that Evil is more than just the fripperies and tradition; it's about Dark Style. And this armour radiates it in hellish majesty. This is certainly one to watch; I'll be fascinated to see its effects on the Erberus Fashion show six months from now!'" The girl sagged down, fanning herself. "She... Eemogene actually thinks that my work might start a trend! It's... it's more than I could ever have hoped for! I... I think I'm feeling faint!"

Louise strongly suspected that the real reason the other girl was feeling faint was that she was forgetting to breathe, but... well, it was nice to see that she was enjoying herself. Even if she was using arcane words which Louise didn't understand, and wasn't exactly sure she wanted to know. She sent a minion to get some water, and refilled the tea cup in front of her guest, barely spilling anything at all.

Also, Jessica was looking decidedly handsome again, and so Louise felt it would probably be best to busy herself by seeing what the demons had actually said about her rather than staring at the dashingly handsome m... woman with the stubby horns protruding from her brow.

The words at the top, 'A New Power is Rising In The North' were pleasing, but the rest of the journal was... strange. It was like reading a story about herself, only... the details were wrong. She was pretty sure she hadn't duelled the comte de Mott on top of a burning building. She would have remembered doing so. And the speculation that she was one of his jilted lovers and that 'the comte's long and amorous past has caught up with him' was not pleasing at all.

"I'm technically not just here about this... oh, it's so amazing!" Jessica said, breathing deeply. "But I had to talk Dad into letting me do this. I also do have other things to do here, while seeing you. Firstly... oh yes, Dad gave me..." she rummaged in a pocket, passing a pamphlet to Louise. "It's our catalogue, of things that we've got in stock. It's enchanted to update; it's pretty cool!"

"Cursed blade of Aldama," Louise read out loud, "... the services of a succubus (nightly), an elven revolver (bullets not included)... Founder that's expensive... oooh, tomes of sorcery!" Eagerly, she began to scan down the list of magic books.

"We deliver straight to your tower of darkness," Jessica added, "for no additional charge as you're on our favoured client list."

"Lightning or more fire?" Louise said, not really listening. "On one hand, lightning. On the other, more fire."

"We also have bulk orders of things like sea-tarnished gold, obsidian, black marble, basalt and the like, though delivery may take up to twenty eight working days depending on order size and nature."

"Do I feel like a lightning person? That treacherous dog is famous for lightning, so maybe I should learn to beat him at his own game. But do I want to do that?"

Jessica cleared her throat, bringing Louise back from her happy lightning-and-fire-filled world. "And one more thing which Dad told me to tell you personally, and then also tell your funny goblin adviser person," she said. "He says he thinks he may be on the trail of one of the fragments of your tower heart, and he'll tell you as soon as he finds out. And he does expect to be compensated for his services, at his normal rate."

Compensated for his services. Oh. Yes. That bought Louise up short. Suddenly, all those ecús she had stolen from the corrupt and wicked Council who were totally embezzling the taxes didn't seem like enough. Some of these things alone... no! She also had to fund rebuilding the tower and... she'd need to have money for bribes and who knew about what kinds of expenses there were out there which she didn't know about yet!

Never had being rich felt so poor.

"Anyway," Jessica continued, "they've got even more pictures of you inside! And more commentary! And considering what it said... maybe you'd like to consider getting some dresses too! I mean, it's likely you'll start getting invites to infernal gatherings too as a young new black star of Evil, and presumably you don't want to go in full armour to all of them?"

Yes, Louise decided. This was going to be a very expensive period of her life.

It was early autumn, and the trees from the windows were losing their green luster and – this being a stinking swamp – falling off the boughs to rot, when Scarron came through. By now, areas of the interior of the tower had been resheathed, and there were far fewer holes in the floor. This had been paid for by several more raids against tax collectors and other such symbols of the authority of the Council, especially the properties of the late comte de Mott – which had been appropriated by the state.

In fact, there had been more than enough left over for a few rooms to be bought back into better operation. Her bedroom now no longer smelt of mould and had heating and a fire and proper wardrobes - with Jessica-made dresses in - and cushions and... it was wonderful! And the tower now had a bathroom very nearly as splendid as the one back at the Academy. The steaming pool within it which could have seated ten people. And only blue minions could bother her when she was in the baths, because other minions could – and did – drown when they fell in.

She was just wrapping herself in one of the fluffy blood-red towels when Gnarl barged in, carrying the message from the prince of the Incubi. "He's found where one of fragments of the tower heart, your evilness! We should seek to collect it as soon as possible."

Louise smirked. She already had worked out where it was going to be. It was obvious, in its own way. The Madam de Montespan had a reputation. Louise knew that, and had picked up even more from her oldest sister's rants about her rival which implied that she dabbled in... dubious territory. Yes, that might just be Eleanore's rivalry, but she was a horrible fiancé-stealing bi... witch. So put those things together, and logically she would be drawn to the fragments of the tower heart which had been stolen. For her sinister and treacherous experiments.

"So I'll prepare for a little trip eastwards," she said casually, trying not to grin too smugly at the prospect of revenge against Françoise Athénaïs de Mortemart.

"Quite so," Gnarl said. "Scarron has concrete proof that – as it seems you already suspected – the fragment was purchased around ten years ago by agents working for the Duke de la Vallière. Your father."

Louise blinked.

Louise opened her mouth.

Louise closed her mouth.

She finally managed a strangled, "What."


...