Ilrune and I landed slap-bang in the middle of a heated argument between my guards. Well, we landed off to the side, hidden a little by the shadows of the room. Kaleb seemed to be doing most of the shouting which, if the faces of the rest of the guard unit was anything to go by, one of the scariest things they had ever seen. Then again, if I was the one being shouted at by the Would Be King, a creature powerful enough to destroy an entire dimension in the blink of an eye, I would be close to wetting myself as well.
"For the love of the gods, does no one plan anything using a calendar?! It should have been obvious that her trip to Rathol coincided with her vulnerable period! On top of that, no one has been able to find her! Has no one ever thought to try and memorise her human energy signature?! Don't look at me like that, I know you're capable of doing it, even if I can't!" He started pacing the line of demons. "How would you lot like to have to tell the people that welosttheprincesswhen she was defenceless!? I can tell you now that it would not be a fun job! Just be glad that I haven't had any messengers coming here and asking me why the hell the Princess of Darkness turned up in my realms! Not to mention that, but we lost the demonengagedto the bloody princess! And do any of you know how to find or contact the first in line?!"
Just to toy with the Would Be King, I spoke up. "I do."
"Well thank the gods that... Princess!" Kaleb took a moment to regain his composure and retrieve his jaw from the ground. "Where have you been? We have been scouring Aspheri, Rathol and were about to try Alena, searching for you!"
"I misdirected myself to Earth. Friends of mine there found me and kept me safe until Ilrune managed to track me. Worry not, Would Be King. There has been no harm done. Now, if you would, I think I should retire to the safe room and wait until I turn back into a demon again."
Two days later, I teleported out of the safe room, relishing the feeling of the warmth of my magic coursing through my veins. It felt good to be back in control, back in power. Nodding to my guards, I wove my way through the corridors, heading for my private chambers. With less than a month to go before my wedding to Ilrune, there was still so much to do to plan it. A small part of me wriggled in joy. I never thought I was ever going to be married. When the prophecy came into my life, that pretty much ended all thoughts I ever had of spending the rest of my life with anyone. Not much point when you knew exactly when and how you were going to die. Now that it was actually happening, I wanted to squirm in happiness like a hyper puppy.
At least, I thought I was going to join Aleth to plan my wedding. Fate, on the other hand, seemed to have other plans. Just as I was about to walk into the reception room, invisible hands grabbed hold of me and my surroundings vanished.
I had no idea where I was. I had no idea what had even happened. I considered this from my position lying face down on a very hard surface. A wooden floor, if my sense of smell was any judge and at that proximity, it should be. Groaning, I pushed myself up on my hands, shaking my head. That had not been a comfortable landing. I got to my feet, putting my hands on my hips and looking around. Well, it looked like Earth. To be exact, it looked like a geek's bedroom. Itsmelledlike a geek's bedroom. Strange diagrams lined the walls, figures of people, or people-like creatures, labelled in very careful handwriting. I stepped forwards to take a closer look, but found myself thrown back by some sort of force field. Sighing, I tried to teleport. It left me standing in the same spot with a large headache. Growling in frustration, I pulled my mask off to take a closer look. Drawn very neatly on the wooden floor were symbols in what I recognised as an ancient Angelic language. Unfortunately, my knowledge of the runes didn't extend to being able to read the damned things. A pathetic squeak echoed behind me. Turning on my heel, careful not to overstep the Angelic writing, my gaze fell upon a terrified-looking young man. Well, I say young man. He was probably in his thirties, but still had all the hallmarks of a high-school geek. I curled my lip up. Who the hell was this?
"Ok, who are you and why am I here? I've got a lot of things I need to be doing, and standing here isn't one of them!"
"Be silent, Temptress of the Night!" He squeaked. I rolled my eyes, stepping forwards again, straight into the force field. Snarling in anger, I launched a bolt of magic at it. It broke on the shield, curving back around me before fading. My vision flashed red. Taking a deep breath to steady myself, I tried again.
"Ok, let's try this one more time. Who are you?"
The geek puffed out his chest in something that I guessed was pride. Seriously, I had seen children with better chests than that. Ok, they were demonic children, but still. "I am your summoner, foul demon of the underworld!"
"You're a demon summoner."
"Yes." Goddess, the chest's being stuck out again. He'sproudof being an idiot who tried to summon demons? He's lucky he got landed with me in that respect and not someone like Kaleb or Karthragan.
"Well, I'm afraid you got short changed in that one. I'm only half a demon."
He looked at me suspiciously through glasses that must have been about half an inch thick. He squinted down at the pile of papers in his arms, glancing at me then back down again.
"Can you prove that?"
I wanted to bang my head against the wall. Goddess, this was frustrating. "No, I can't. I wasn't exactly issued with a birth certificate declaring that my dad was a demon!"
"You are trying to rick me with words, foul demoness!"
"Listen to me, pipsqueak," I warned. "If you don't let me go,right now, then you are in some serious trouble."
"You cannot threaten me, demoness! You are a lowly example of demonhood and easily contained by the angel's spells!" Oops, too late. There was a dark mist starting to form behind the geek, taking Kaleb's shape. And he was not pleased.
"Lowly demon?" I clarified. The demon summoner nodded vigorously. "You have no idea, do you?" He stopped nodding his head, looking a little confused. I smiled slightly, folding my arms. "You managed to summon the Princess of Darkness."
"And her guards are not pleased," Kaleb growled in his ear. A puddle appeared at the summoner's feet as he stood, frozen to the spot by the sound of Kaleb's voice. The Would Be King smirked, stepping away from the human and crouching to have a good look at the runes. He rubbed out a few lines here and there, his eyes reading the symbols over and over again. Eventually, he stepped back. Warily, I took a couple of paces forwards, over the concentric circles of runes. I breathed out a sigh of relief as I crossed the last one. Kaleb proffered his hand, probably not trusting me to teleport on my own after the last few instances. I turned briefly to the summoner.
"I'd give up demon summoning and try something a little more suited to reality and keeping your head attached to your shoulders, like IT or something."
Ilrune was anxiously pacing my reception room when Kaleb appeared with me in tow. He gabbled something to Kaleb, wrapping me in his arms. I pulled a face.
"I wasn't gone that long," I protested.
"I swear you go looking for trouble," he muttered against my hair, unwilling to let me go.
"Worry not, Wingless. It is an uncommon occurrence, although not dangerous. A human attempting to summon a demon inadvertently snared the princess," Kaleb explained. "I shall leave you to plan your nuptials."
And we did. Ilrune kept very quiet unless asked for his opinion, happy to let Aleth and I talk about colour schemes and invitation lists how to go about the ball traditionally held one week before the marriage. Aleth, ever the prepared one, had already sketches several possible designs for a dress, talking about colour and fabric. I kept glancing at Ilrune, as if I was scared that if I just blinked, everything would vanish. How did I become so lucky?
I might have recalled that statement three weeks later, when I found myself standing in my dressing room with a fretting Aleth, trying to get ready for the ball. Aleth slapped my hands down as I tried, one more, to help her fix blood-stones into my black hair. Despite her angry wielding of hairpins, the stones did not want to sit properly, or what Aleth deemed to be properly. The stiff formal dress was already beginning to get uncomfortable as I tried to sit as still as possible, listening to my lady's maid swear in all manner of demonic dialects that were definitely not suited to her station and sounded very odd coming out of her mouth. Throwing her hands up, she abandoned the gems, her eyes flickering red. I patted her hand, grabbing a brush and a comb inlaid with the dark red bloodstones. I dragged the brush through my hair, attempting to get it to lie flat before sweeping a section of it up to secure with the comb. I glanced at Aleth for approval. She looked relieved certainly. Setting my circlet on my head, I stood up. Time for Cinderdemon to go to the ball.
By the time I got to the double doors, Ilrune was already there, waiting. He jokingly shook his head, tapping his wrist in the universal gesture for 'what happened to you to be so late?'. I felt a blush creep over my cheeks, thankfully hidden by my mask. I shrugged at him, linking my arm through his. It was time to meet about one hundred high class demons and dignitaries from other dimensions for an entire evening. Whoopee.
"Having second thoughts?" Ilrune asked jokingly.
"Only about the ball. Nothing's going to stop me marrying you."
"Then let's get it over with." Ilrune squeezed my arm gently as a footman announced our arrival, the doors opening before us. I knew that there were only about a hundred people in there. It looked more like a thousand. My courage suddenly decided to turn tail and run screaming for the hills. Only Ilrune's arm through mine kept me on the course, sweeping into the ballroom that hadn't been used for years. In the centre of the room, three demons played drums accompanied by a lone demon with what sounded like a flute crossed with bagpipes. Despite the reference, it wasn't unpleasant to listen to. A voice suddenly spoke in my ear:
"I hope you realise just how much I am not enjoying this, Shad."
I smiled at that. There was only one person I knew who would say that. "Hello, Amarath," I said, turning to her. "Glad you could make it."
My sister glowered at me. Her short purple bob had sections of it braided with sparkling red gems, matching the deep red dress she was wearing. I couldn't help but smile. Amarath was definitely one of the tomboys, but there was no way she could have gotten away with the demonic male formal dress, which was composed of a pair of loose trousers, a sword and a cloak. Although, knowing Amarath, she was probably carrying more weapons than Captain Nergal.
"At least you don't have to put up with the mask, Amarath," I countered. She rolled her eyes at me, shaking her head.
"Yeah, well, don't expect me to dance with anyone. Vrael's already threatened me with pretty much everything possible to have at least one. Seriously, is there anyone here under the age of a hundred?"
"How can you tell? Most of them have at least stopped aging between twenty and thirty. I'm the youngest looking person here! I mean, you look twenty, I'm your twin and I look fifteen! By the way," I dropped my voice, "I think you'd get on really well with the captain of my guards. Demon called Captain Nergal. He'll be around here somewhere. Listen out for the clanking of his weaponary."
Amarath sniffed in disapproval, but given the glint in her eye and the careful positioning of her head to listen more carefully, she was actually going to track this guy down, perhaps for nothing more than comparing notes on swords. I shrugged mentally. She might as well have a go with him. They'd get on like a house on fire.
Ilrune lead me to the centre of the dance floor, taking my hands in his. I prayed that I would remember the dance steps Aleth had painstakingly repeated with me over the last three weeks and not stand on his toes. Out of the corner of my eye, I spotted both my brothers with demonesses, and a flash of red dress approaching a trying-to-look-as-if-not-on-duty Nergal. I grinned to myself. The poor captain wouldn't know what hit him.
The evening flowed as easily as the Styan, an alcoholic version of Stykka similar to wine, which I avoided. I may be part demon, but that didn't mean I could handle their alcohol. It was about ten times as potent as human wine. I wasn't going to touch the stuff for fear of what it would do to me, both in appearance and in terms of a hangover the next morning. Instead, I spent most of the night dancing. With Ilrune, with Shaeman, Vrael, even Kaleb at one point. In a week, I would be happily married. Amarath seemed to be hitting it off with Nergal. Vrael was dancing with a pretty, golden-haired demoness with a look of longing on his face. Shaeman was sitting at the side, talking to another demoness, who was flirting with all she had. Yes, things were good.
The night before the wedding, I couldn't sleep. I was too excited. I turned over, curling up under my blankets. In a corner, trying to be as discreet as possible, a guard shifted position. I made a mental note to talk to Captain Nergal about that. There was no way I wanted a guard standing in the room during the wedding night. No flipping way. I sighed, staring at the ceiling. At least, that's what I thought until distant sounds of crashes reached my ears, gradually getting closer. Sitting up, I focused my ears on the noise. I could distinguish voices now. One of the voices was Ilrune's, the other was Kaleb's. I got out of bed, pulling a cloak around my shoulders, peeking out of the door.
"Bart, you cannot simply burst into the bed chamber of a princess!" Ilrune growled, trying to hold back a desperate looking Kraferr.
"I've got to get Shadow! I've got to!"
"What's happening? I asked, rubbing my eyes. All three demons froze, staring at me. I raised one eyebrow, daring one of them to speak. Bart was the one to break the silence.
"Dominique's giving birth!"
"What, now?" I asked. It had only been a month! It took a moment for my brain to process the situation, notably the difference in dimensions, and also that time passed faster on Earth than it did here. "You know what? Forget I said anything. Let's go!"
Bart obviously wasn't wasting any time at all. He grabbed my hand, teleporting immediately. For what I think was the first time since I've met him, he managed to teleport exactly where he wanted to the first time. He pretty much dragged me through the flat to Dominique's room, where the door was opened before Bart could touch the handle. Dominique stood, clad in only an overlarge shirt, doubled over in pain over her swollen stomach, tears streaming down her face.
"Dominique! You shouldn't be up!" Bart exclaimed, quickly moving to support the Kraferrin, half-carrying her to the bed.
"Don't ever leave me like that again, you damn idiot," Dominique growled. I followed them, crouching next the bed,, taking Dominique's hand. Ilrune appeared behind me with a satchel in his hand, handing it to me. I could recognise it as the one used by the healers to transport their equipment. He must have commandeered it off one. I had a quick rummage, pulling out a painkiller as Dominique started swearing at Bart. I could see the contractions starting to run through her stomach. Bart sat next to her, allowing the Kraferrin to crush his hand. I prepared an injection, trying to think of what I knew that could help her. I stabbed the needle into her arm, injecting the serum into her bloodstream. There was not a lot else I could do. I had to leave it up to nature unless something went horribly wrong.
After several hours of agonising labour for Dominique and for Bart's hand, the Kraferring held two tiny babies. The pair of them sighed happily, Bart shaking his hand in an effort to regain some feeling.
"A boy and a girl," Bart murmured, "somehow, just like we planned."
"Then it will be Phoebe for the girl," Dominique whispered.
"And Thade for the boy."
I smiled at the pair, stepping back to give them some space to bond with their children. Ilrune, who had been lurking in the shadows, stepped forwards, wrapping his arms around my waist, leaning his head down to rest his chin on my shoulder.
"In a few months, we could have a pair of our own," he murmured in my ear. I snorted softly.
"If you have your way tomorrow night, that could well be true." He gently kissed my neck, chuckling quietly to himself. Dominique sighed quietly, sagging back against the pillows, her eyelids drooping. Bart leant forwards, taking Phoebe from her arms as she yawned widely.
"I'm sorry," she said, "I'm so tired."
I patted her hand in what I hoped was a reassuring manner. "Don't worry, you've earned a good night's sleep after that, trust me."
"But won't they be hungry?"
"New," squeaked one of the babies. Bart stared at them with wide eyes. I rubbed the back of my neck.
"Yeah, I should have told you that they're able to speak from birth. Trust me, this is as easy as it's going to get."
"Is there anything else they have up their sleeve?" Bart asked, "I mean, I survived Dominique's demonic crisis, but what will happen to these two?"
Their growth will be accelerated until the age of about 10, and then their growth slows down until they stop aging, but apart from that, I don't think there's anything else you need to know."
"Well, we'd better go and let you get on with your two new protegees." Ilrune said, nodding to the Kraferrs.
"All I can say is good luck, because looking at them now is probably as easy as it's going to get," I added. "Give me a call if ever you need me here. I'll come as soon as I can."
Aleth was fretting by the time Ilrune and I reappeared in my quarters. I yawned before I could hide it from her, gaining a few tuts from her. I rolled my eyes, pushing an uncomplaining Ilrune out of the door and curling up under my blankets once more, deciding that if anyone else tried to break my sleep they could spend the rest of the night in another dimension.
For a moment, I couldn't remember why today seemed to be a very important day. It didn't dawn on me until Aleth darted into the room, jabbering something about people already starting to turn up. I was getting married today! I sat bolt upright, leaping out of bed and running towards the bathroom. Today was the day that nearly every girl dreamed of. I tugged off my pajamas, diving into the bathing pool that Aleth had filled with boiling hot water. I didn't care. I surfaced, shaking my hair out of my eyes. Aleth, in a manner perfected by time and repetition, threw me a bottle of shampoo. I raised a hand in thanks, dunking my head back under.
Only once I had washed my hair into submission did I drag myself out of the water. Morphing into my wolf form, I shook myself before changing back. Aleth cast a glare at me. She never approved of me doing that. Something about it not being very princess-like. To be honest, I didn't care. She got me to sit in front of the mirror, starting to dry my hair properly with her magic. I tried hard not to squirm under her attentions, which took a lot of my self restraint. It was still hard to believe that I was actually going to get married, let alone to someone I had fallen in love with. Aleth carefully mixed up a paint that acted as make up, starting to apply it to my face. This was the only official occasion where I was not required to wear a mask, and she wanted to make the most of it. She heavily outlined my eyes in black with a touch of red before dragging a brush through my hair. I glanced behind her in the mirror, looking at the dress hanging up there. The pale grey fabric shimmered a little in the torchlight. It would hug my shoulders, widening out into bell sleeves, one side of the skirt slit up to the hip to show a pair of darker grey, skintight leggings. Black and red beading adorned the bodice, sparkling in the light.
I hesitated outside the door into the ballroom, playing with the sleeve of my dress. Nerves were starting to get to me again. I don't think I'd been this nervous since I had to face Karthragan. That hadn't really ended very well. Vrael slipped out of the doors, looking t me with a puzzled expression on his face.
"Shadow? Is everything ok?" He asked. I smiled briefly at him, taking a deep breath. Vrael shook his head slightly, holding his hand out to me. "I believe that in human culture, the father gives away the bride. It would be best if our father didn't turn up. Will you allow me?" Gratefully, I took his hand. Raising our hands up and folding his other arm behind his back, he used his magic to open the double doors. Arranged in a circle around a raised circular dais were all the wedding guests, not a lot of whom I recognised. Diplomacy dictated that I had to invite a lot of people from other dimensions that I didn't actually know, and Ilrune had invited a lot of the Careen. Not to mention a lot of the people of my own dimension that I had to invite. I could spot Kaleb lurking in a corner of the room, and Captain Nergal was standing next to Amarath. Vrael walked me slowly to the dais where Ilrune stood, waiting for me. I smiled nervously at him, taking in his tawny skin. Vrael passed my hand to Ilrune, bowing to both of us before melting back into the crowd. I bowed low to Ilrune, who returned the gesture. We both turned to face the council elder, starting the process.
I wasn't really listening to the ceremony. It doesn't really differ from human marriage vows, although there was less about the wife having to obey the husband. Trying to get a demoness to bow down to a demon was one of the hardest things to do. Instead, I gazed at Ilrune. He glanced down at me, squeezing my hand comfortingly. After nearly an hour of pointless talking, Lucas bowed low to us. Ilrune turned fully to me, wrapping his arms around my waist. He stepped behind me and, his hands still in mine, folded our arms across my stomach. The council elder produced two ribbons from apparently nowhere, but I was guessing that he pulled them from his pockets, tying our wrists together.
"May your magicks stay strong," he intoned, ending the marriage and pronouncing us as man and wife. I felt Ilrune's breath tickle my ear as he laughed quietly.
"Wait until the reception's over. I believe we have business that may not require untying these."
Although the ceremony may have lasted an hour, having to sit through the congratulations of the guests took quite a while longer. Thankfully, it was over dinner. That was a little awkward. It was hard to manipulate a fork with your arms tied to someone else's. I laughed alongside my family for the first time in years, teasing Amarath about her apparent affections for the captain of my guards. Vrael turned a delicate shade of grey when asked about his continuing relationship with Alba, with most of the questions being answered by Shaeman, much to the vampire's horror.
Before long, the party ended and the guests bade their leave. I yawned as discreetly as I could, tired from the day's events. Ilrune leant down to rest his chin on my shoulder.
"The party may be over, my dear Shadow, but the night is far from it." I smiled a little to myself, turning my head to look at him out of the corner of my eye.
"Why, Ilrune, I believe that is the kind of remark made before the dashing hero makes off with his girl." Ilrune didn't respond to that, verbally at least. Using an impressive mastery of flexibility, he swept me off my feet, into his arms. I gasped in surprise. He smiled, carrying me to what was now our private quarters.
He didn't put me down again until we stood in our bedroom, where he took my hands, holding them in the small of my back, still forced to stand behind me with the ribbons binding our arms. I could feel my limbs trembling, although whether in anticipation or apprehension I couldn't tell. Despite having brothers and kids, I had never actually seen male equipment, let alone have proper intercourse. What strange creatures demons be. Ilrune must have sensed my worries, starting to murmur reassuring words in my ear.
Well, I think you can guess what we did all night, I needn't go into detail. All I knew was that there were two satisfied part demons that night, and two more on the way.