The Queen hurried down the long castle corridor, pulling her young son along with her by the hand. Following them was an older knight whom was meant to protect them. His armor was dusty and dented from battle; a torn red cape marked his station as knight. Windows lined the walls of the corridor on their left, through which a clouded red sky could be seen. The sounds of shouts and clashing steel could be heard from the grounds below. The air smelled faintly of smoke. Behind them, from within the castle, a woman’s scream and a crash rang out. Queen Reyna’s pulse quickened at the sound, but she did not stop.
“They’ve reached the servant’s quarters. We must hurry to the tunnel, Milady.” Ulric, the knight, said in a rush. Reyna sped ahead. She imagined longingly a creature, huge and powerful, smashing through the castle and killing the invaders, ending all of the chaos, making her family safe. She wished she and Eli had a better escort than the knight who led them now. Knights excelled in battle, even singlehandedly, but this knight was old and she feared he would not be up to the task if they ran into trouble. Her husband didn’t anticipate they would actually need the protection. The dagger strapped to her thigh itched in that moment, as if reminding her it was there when she needed it.
Ahead was their salvation, through two heavy wooden doors. They lead to the castle tower, where the oldest relics of the kingdom and the secrets of magic were stored away. It also held their last escape route, where Ulric attempted to lead them through. Reyna kept her shoulders straight and stride confident, determined to keep her composure. If she was going to fall with her kingdom, she would fall with dignity, not in hysterics.
“Mama, where’s Father?” Eli said, his voice high with fear. He struggled to keep in pace with his mother and stumbled over his own feet.
“He is fighting to keep us safe, darling.” Reyna replied. She wanted to reassure her son, but in her heart she knew that her husband was dead. She touched the rose shaped ruby pinned to her collarbone, the one she had received from the king as a wedding gift when she had become betrothed to him years ago.
“Mama, we have to get him! We can’t leave without him!” Eli cried and tugged his mother’s hand, slowing her advance.
“No, Eli. It’s─”
“I know the sword, Mother! I can help him!” He pushed at her while he tugged his arm away in attempt to escape her grip.
“Eli,” Reyna said. She pulled the boy roughly to make him listen. “It’s too dangerous. We need you alive at all costs.”
“Your mother is right, young prince. Without you, the kingdom is lost. Now, we should hurry before they know where we went.” Ulric said, staring off down the corridor where the sounds of clanging and hooting could be heard. Eli ceased his struggle and kept his eyes to the ground to hide his tears. Reyna quickly made the last strides to the tower doors and pulled them open.
They entered a large rectangular room that had once been a solar where wizards studied magic before it became forbidden by the overruling church. Stained glass windows with the shapes of mythological creatures decorating them lined a wall and the rest had shelves overflowing with old, yellowing, books and tools of academia and alchemy. Through the windows came in the dull light of a fading day, discolored blue and purple from the glass. This part of the castle went unused and unkempt. Only Reyna knew the secrets it held, and she immediately went to bookshelf where she knew they were. “Eli, find us some light, please.” She told her son. Eli darted away to search for a tinderbox amongst the shelves.
Ulric pushed the double doors shut behind them with a wooden thud. The motion instantly snuffed the sounds of war from behind it. Eli leaned on the table in the center of the room breathing heavily. Ulric pulled the giant wooden latch that would serve as a barricade. The sudden lack of the chaotic noise outside seemed to resonate through Reyna’s mind. As she pulled down a large battered tome from the shelves, the events of the day caught up to her, in a wave of crashing anxiety.
The weight of the situation made Reyna want to crumble into herself and disappear, but so long as the Prince was alive and still within the castle, the kingdom and her family could be saved. She took deep careful breaths to keep herself calm. She had a plan. One that would most likely end in her death, but was the only thing left that could rescue everything she held dear.
Eli watched Reyna flip through the pages of the black dirty tome and tapped his fingers anxiously. He glimpsed odd shaped written in red flicker on the pages.
“Mother…?” Eli began, skeptically.
“Sh, don’t worry darling.” And Eli kept quiet, though watched her curiously. As Reyna searched the pages, Ulric had shoved a bookshelf to the side to reveal a small crumbling wooden door. He turned to his Queen and Prince and frowned at what he saw Reyna doing.
“Milady, we must flee. What are you doing?” He peered at the mysterious scrawling within the tome.
“I will not be fleeing the castle, Sir Knight…” She said without looking at him.
“But, the kingdom is fallen! If you and the prince do not make it out alive─!” Sir Ulric replied, astonished and suspicious.
“If we fled now, the kingdom will be lost and we might as well be dead. Please, take Eli and escape.” Reyna said bluntly. She found the page she was looking for and went for a box of chalk.
“But, Milady…” Ulric shifted on his feet, conflicted. His armor rattled as he moved. He watched as Reyna began to draw a large circle on the stone floor, then fill it with lines and symbols. “Is this…witchcraft, Milady?” She did not look up from her work. “This…this is forbidden! You will be executed, queen or no!” Ulric cried. Eli gasped at the word ‘witchcraft’ and stared at his mother.
“This is the only way.” Reyna stood up and analyzed the symbols, making sure they matched the ones in the tome. “Now, please, take Eli far from here.” She turned to her son, but as she did so the double doors jolted toward them suddenly and crashed against the barricade that held them closed. Reyna and Eli jumped. Muffled shouts could be heard beyond. Reyna felt panic in her heart again.
“They’re here. Let’s escape now and muster allies to take back the castle another day.”
“You escape, Sir Ulric. I am staying.” The Queen muttered. Ulric was too hopeful. They no longer had allies to muster. They were all bleeding or dead somewhere in the city. And another day could mean decades from now. The doors crashed against the barricade again. Reyna hurried back to the tome. …With the gift of blood, a demons power will be borrowed…She turned to the chalk drawing on the floor and imagined a monster emerging from the center. She turned to her son, whom was looking up at her with big scared eyes. She knelt down before him. “Eli, my darling, I want you to escape through the tunnel.”
“No, Mother. I can help!” The boy cried and clung to her arms. Reyna drew a hand through his hair and put her forehead to his. She tried to savor the warmth of him, just in case.
“I know, my dear, and one day you will be the one who keeps the entire kingdom safe from harm. But today you must keep safe, or else everything is lost.” She kissed his head and then hurried him to the tunnel. Reyna opened the door, and a wall of darkness looked back at her. She pushed Eli gently in the entry. “Go, run, darling, and don’t stop.”
“No, Mama…” Eli tried to stifle his tears.
“Milady, this is madness. I won’t leave you here alone.” Ulric said more frantically.
“No. Take my son to safety.” Reyna was tired of trying to convince the knight. She stared into Eli’s face. “Run, and don’t stop.” Eli stared back at her silently. “Go!” He turned and disappeared into the darkness. Ulric approached her.
“This is not the way to do this. How can you condone witchcraft? What will the prince think of you? What will the kingdom?”
Reyna ignored him and pulled out her knife. “Go with Eli. Protect him!” Another crash jolted the doors, this time with more force. The barricade splintered in the center. Reyna quickly pushed up her sleeve, stood in the center of her chalk circle and held the knife to her wrist. As the blood began to bead on her skin, a gauntleted hand fiercely grabbed her by the arm.
“No, Milady. I will not let the kingdom fall this way!” He moved to pick her up. As she felt the force of his grip an intense fury flashed through her. “No!” she yelled and suddenly Ulric was falling away backwards. He looked up at her from the floor, bewildered. Reyna had no time to be surprised. She hurried to let her blood drip onto the circle, and drew another cut for more.
“Hurry! Get after Eli!” Reyna cried, her voice cracked.
When the doors were struck again, the barricade flew apart and splinters of wood flew across the room. Voices could be heard through the crack. Ulric stood up and drew his sword, then quickly closed the door to the tunnel. When shut, he positioned himself near the Queen. Reyna looked at the blood in the circle and squeezed her wrist to allow more to fall onto the white dust. How much…?
The doors pushed open and figures appeared. Men dressed in dented and burned armor, helmets removed. Behind them a small battering ram and bags of loot sat on the floor in the corridor.
“Look what we found.” The man in the lead smirked at the queen then looked around the room as his men filed around him, about eight in total, their weapons drawn. The crest of a serpent etched into their armor represented the kingdom where they hailed. The man leading them wore a green cloak. “But where’s the little one?” Ulric stood ready for a fight but refused to make the first move. His eyes darted to each man and kept check on their movements. They were all simple soldiers, but a group of soldiers can bring down a single knight with enough effort. They slowly separated to surround the knight to bring him down with ease. Reyna’s heart pounded harder as she frantically analyzed the chalk symbols, the tome and the small puddle of blood at her feet. Why? What did I do wrong? One of the soldiers finally saw what she was looking at.
“Look what the bitch is doing!”
“What is this? Trying to raise the dead were you?” The leader of the group laughed, and the others joined in.
Panic was beginning to engulf her. Her mind was racing. No. I have to succeed. What’s wrong? Gift of blood, gift of blood, gift of blood…She looked amongst the men in front of her. She noticed the blood on some of them, seeping from wounds or splattered over their armor. She wondered if some of it was her husband’s. Gift of blood… Then suddenly, she realized. She looked up at Ulric. She knew what she had to do.
“Make it easy on yourself, knight, and just lie down. We only want the queen and her brat.”
Reyna whispered, “I’m sorry,” then with all of her force, shoved her knife into the back of Sir Ulric’s head, shoving it as deep as she could. He flailed his arms upward and dropped his sword as Reyna yanked the dagger from his skull. The room erupted in movement. Blood splattered over her arms and dress. The soldiers began to shout. Ulric fell backwards onto the circle and Reyna quickly prepared to fend off the soldiers who were beginning to converge on her, dagger in hand. Ulric managed to release one last, blood choked gasp before he died.
Suddenly a red flame erupted from the ground around her, and an unknown force leaped from them into her body, piercing her with a burning pain she had never imagined. The world around her disappeared. She screamed.
Something clawed its way into her body, she could feel its fingers tug on the threads of her soul. As the creature fought for control, it pushed Reyna to the back of her own mind, cutting off her connection to her body. She could feel a new consciousness within her head. It was laughing, it was intelligent; it was ecstatic and had a craving for blood. No, this is not what I wanted! she screamed within herself, and heard the creature laugh maniacally. At the same time, it felt as though her muscles were ripped to shreds as they grew larger. Everything was stretching and changing. She felt her clothing grow tight and rip away. Seconds later she found herself on the ground and stared at two red, clawed arms that held her body up from the floor. What…is this?
Heat and pain flooded her mind in a blur of red, and all she could do was watch through the window of her eyes as her demonic hands and legs pushed her body to its feet. There was a lull for a moment as the creature searched Reyna’s mind to gauge the situation. It chuckled in amusement. Her body then turned toward the soldiers. Two of them stood flat against the bookshelves and the room was now splattered, floor to ceiling, with blood and pieces of wet masses tissue. The rest of the soldiers, along with Ulric’s body, were now splattered on the walls. Bone shards littered the floor. Parts were still smoldering from demon fire. The soldiers who survived were pressed against the bookshelves, their mouths agape and eyes wide, drenched in blood. The Queen loomed over the room, seeing her massive shadow flicker along the bloodied ground from the flames. This is me. How? She made a slow, sweeping step toward the traumatized soldiers.
Her eyes looked down at them, and then a deep, vicious, voice shook from her body, “This…castle…is…MINE!” The soldiers began to howl and one of them stumbled along the wall to the door. The Queen roared; a force that started down in her chest and quaked through the ground and walls as it left her throat. The stain-glass windows and bottles on the shelves exploded. She took two big steps and reached the petrified soldier still hugging the shelves. She grabbed him with huge, clawed hands that were as big as the man’s torso, squeezing until his head burst in a splash of red and pink, then used the same hand to crush the other soldier with a drop of her fist. Reyna could feel the bones snapping and crumbling under the force of her giant hands and the warm, sticky, organs through her fingers. Though this is not how she had intended it to happen, the beast was doing its job, and Reyna did not feel compelled to stop it.
Her head made a sweep around the room, searching and sniffing for any survivors. Her senses had become sharper; she could hear more soldiers further in the castle and found the smell of burning corpses in the air. She could hear a heart pounding behind her. When she turned to the sound, her heart stopped. There, standing between the darkness of the tunnel and it’s door, was her son, his face splattered with blood.. His eyes stared wide at her and she could see him shaking. Guilt swam through her heart, but she knew it was too late. Her giant body moved toward him, and she became alert. No! DO NOT TOUCH HIM! she screamed within her own mind. The demon snarled back at her, but she knew it understood. Without the boy, these efforts would be for naught. She would be executed as soon as any priest found out what she had done. The kingdom’s future rested on Eli’s shoulders. The demon moved back to the pentagram, bent down and picked up the rose shaped pin that was still attached to a shred of clothing. It was a pebble between her large fingers. As her body moved toward her shock still son, she was swarmed with anxiety. She was terrified though she knew the beasts intentions. When it reached the boy it dropped the pin at his feet and said “Stay here, or mommy will be very mad,” then chuckled deeply. Reyna stared at her son, his expression unchanging as he watched the demon. Seeing his small fingers shake made her heart break. She knew he would never think of her the same again.
With that, the demon turned to the corridor forcing her stare away from the boy.
Her next moments after her first step were a blur of movement and massacre. Her monstrous body charged down corridors, hunting down every enemy invader it could sniff out. It barged into rooms where maids had been raped and her households belongings had been thrown into packs. She could feel the demon’s bloodlust as it carved a path of blood and destruction through the castle. It reeked of fire and death, and the beast reveled in the chaos. The familiar rooms of her home were overturned, and familiar faces lied on the floor. The sight only served to stoke the fury inside her. She felt her fingers dig into the armor and flesh of soldiers who couldn’t do anything but blink as she came down upon them. The excitement overcame Reyna, and she found herself absorbing the madness.
Finally, Reyna found herself in the throne room. The large group of soldiers within had been expecting her, having heard her rampage through the castle. Their swords were drawn and pointed at her, though all of them were astonished and terrified. Reyna snarled. As she took a step toward them she noticed what they were standing around. Upon the raised platform, the soldiers had displayed the king’s corpse upon his throne, hands on the armrests, feet clumsily spread, and stripped of his armor. Stab wounds released trails of blood over his body. One of the lowly soldiers was wearing his crown. The sight of her beloved husband in such a way filled Reyna with a fury so great that the roar from her throat was more her own than the demons. She mindlessly advanced onto the soldiers.
She slashed and clawed the ones who tried to run away, and grabbed those who were too petrified to move. She ripped off their limbs, bit into their heads, and crushed them with her feet. Near the end, as her whole being begun to wan and every soldier had their bodies spread throughout the room, she gazed at her husband’s body before her world went black.
Much later, the Queen woke up in the throne room naked and covered in crusted blood. She was once again in her own form. She pushed herself to sitting position, feeling heavy and dizzy. She looked around the blood-soaked room and was startled to see Eli sitting on the floor near her. His face was swollen from crying. As his wide eyes stared at his mother, he trembled.
“Mama?” came a choked whisper.
“Darling,” Reyna held out his arms to him, relief and love flooding her, but he didn’t move. Just stared at her. Analyzing her. Her heart dropped. She noticed that he clutched her rose pin in one of his hands and his father’s crown in the other. He slowly looked up at the throne where his father still sat and gazed for a moment. The scene was almost too much for Reyna to bear.
“Will I end up like him?” He asked softly.
“No, darling,” She gently took the crown from his hands. Eli jumped from the movement. She placed the crown upon his head. “You will never see war again.”
“But, they are going to kill you too.” Eli murmured. He referred to the church and that as soon as the priests heard the news of how their kingdom was saved, they were going to send men to execute her for demon summoning.
“No, I won’t allow it.” She smiled warmly at him and he looked at her skeptically. “I need to stay here to protect you, and so I will.” She ran her hand over his forehead and cheek. Eli conceded to her and finally sunk into her arms for an embrace.
“Don’t leave me, Mama.” Eli said and held onto her tight, still trembling.
Reyna stroked his hair and whispered “Never.” She allowed herself to enjoy for the moment the comfort of her son’s warmth as the demon’s laughter echoed in the back of her mind.