Glowing black lava oozed down from blood-red rocks, giving the night a sinister glow. A grey centaur skipped around the black blood of the earth and nervously cantered up to a cave where oily smoke drifted out on stale air.
“Malignancy, I have a message for Queen Harmony.”
A deep, rumbling voice that sounded like rocks being crushed together deep under the earth seemed to come from all directions. “Suspicion, you know the queen will not like being disturbed.”
Suspicion looked down. “But this is urgent! Straight from our spies near the Royal Plaza.”
Malignancy snorted with bone chilling laughter. “That graveyard no longer holds court to any save the ghosts of the past that still linger. And now what could be so important as to warrant my disturbing of Queen Harmony?”
“Melody is back.”
Malignancy growled, and Suspicion skittered back a few feet. “Suspicion, if you lie about this…”
“I don’t, Malignancy, I don’t! Nightshade saw Melody.”
Malignancy was silent. “Nightshade saw Melody, with her own eyes?”
Suspicion nodded. “She did. And she also heard…well, I won’t tell it to you.”
Malignancy’s voice grew harder. “And why not, you miserable miscreation?”
Suspicion’s eyes glittered. “It’s only for the Queen’s ears. But I could tell you…for a price.”
“You greedy conniving jackal! That I’ve already let you live this long is more than enough of a reward for you, you cur!”
Suspicion started to turn away. “Okay. Then I guess I’ll just tell the Queen later and have you punished for denying me to see her.”
Malignancy growled and a black jet of flame circled around Suspicion like a lasso. “I will give you your life, wretch, and then we shall see who gets punished by Harmony.”
Suspicion whinnied a kicked away the black flaming lasso, singeing his hooves.
Malignancy laughed. “See? You may look like a man, but you are still more horse than anything else, and a horse can be hurt with anything. Not even Harmony can protect you from me, centaur. Keep that in mind next time you bargain for more than you’re worth.”
“Malignancy? Who’s there?” a female voice called out.
“It’s only a centaur with a message for you, Queen Harmony.”
A woman appeared from the shadows within the cave. “What is this message, centaur?”
Suspicion looked around frantically for the black flames, but found they were gone.
“I’m waiting, Suspicion. And I’m not a patient woman.” Harmony’s voice dropped and turned to venom.
Suspicion bowed. “My apologies, milady. This is a message from Nightshade.”
Suspicion nodded. “She reports that she has seen your sister, and that Colleen and Rhuest have found her.”
Harmony’s tan skin turned paler and seemed to glow with a sable light. “Melody is here? How did she come back? When? Who brought her back?”
Suspicion took a step back from the angry queen. “I know not, your majesty. All I know is what Nightshade sent on in her report.”
“Give it to me.”
Malignancy grinned, revealing serrated ivory teeth. “Go on, centaur. Give Queen Harmony the report.”
Suspicion’s face paled. “But I…”
Harmony’s voice immediately softened. “You don’t have it?”
Suspicion slowly shook his head. “No. It disappeared last night.”
“What a pity,” Malignancy said.
Harmony shook her head. “Suspicion, who is currently queen of Paradisica?”
“You are, milady.”
Harmony smiled. “And how did I get to be queen?”
“By building up an army and attacking your parents so they would send away your sister so she would never come back,” Suspicion said, ignorant of his fate.
Malignancy’s grin widened as he laughed to himself.
Harmony leaned closer to Suspicion and whispered in his ear. “Exactly. And now without this report, I am blind to the details about my sister. Do you know what this means, centaur?” Harmony’s sweet voice became colder and dripped with poison-coated anger. “It means that you will be sitting in a cell until you remember what happened to that report!”
Suspicion fell to his knees and grabbed Harmony’s hand. “Milady, please, don’t!”
Harmony kicked him away. “Then tell me where it is.”
“I don’t know, milady! I swear I don’t!”
Harmony’s purple-red lips curved into a dark smile. “Then enjoy your time in Rheadar Hainsthrae.”