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The Soul of a Queen

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Cabanela woke with a start. He, Kamila, and Jowd were in a muddled pile next to the vast bed where they had laid Alma’s body. He wasn’t sure why, but something felt off. There was an emptiness somewhere, a void that had, somehow been filled before he went to sleep. He scrambled to his feet, ignoring the pang as he lifted his head away from the warmth of Jowd’s chest, trying to forget how long it had been. Blinking hard, he bent down and shook Jowd as hard as possible.

“Jowd, get up. I think we’ve got trouble.”

Jowd stared sleepily at him from below. “Why are we on the floor?”

“I’d looooove to know that myself, but I think that can wait.” Cabanela gently patted Kamila on the cheeks. “Wake up, princess.”

“Aww, five more minutes, Dad…” Her eyes shot open in shock. “I mean, U-uncle Cabs? You know what, never mind…?” She lay still for a second. “Why are we on the floor?”

Cabanela threw his hands up. “I don’t knooow, baby, why don’t you tell me?” These royals were going to be the death of him. Why were they always asking him the questions? Shouldn’t someone else have to answer every once in a while?

Jowd, meanwhile, had gotten to his knees and shuffled over to Alma’s bedside. “Where is she?” The naked fear in his voice whipped Cabanela’s head around. The bed was completely untouched, pristine and clean.

“She was here, wasn’t she?” Cabanela raised his shaking hands to his head. He felt as if he’d gone on the worst bender in the history of the world. This feeling was even worse than—he shook his head to ward off the memory, and immediately winced. That had been a mistake.

Kamila had gotten to her feet, looking around. “Does anyone remember what happened last night?” She looked at Jowd, eyes round. “Uncle Cabs and I made doughnuts and we came looking for you… and then there were those three creepy kids… and I have no idea what happened after that.” She peered at Cabanela. “Uncle Cabs, did we jump onto Mama’s head?”

Jowd blinked at her. “That sounds painful. Where was I?”

“You were asleep, I think…?” She pursed her lips. “I guess we all were.”

Jowd got to his feet. “We all know it doesn’t matter what I was doing anyway,” he said with finality. “Where is Alma?”

Cabanela eyed Jowd. That had been a little too explicitly self-loathing, and right in front of Kamila, too. He resolved to bring that issue up later, when Alma could speak to him as well. “I guess we’ll need to explore,” Cabanela shrugged. “Laaaay on, baby.”

As they left the bedroom, the air around them turned cold. Kamila watched her breath form vapor in the air. “This is weird. It’s summer out.”

“It has been pretty cold since the whole ‘end of the world’, though,” said Jowd, contemplating the frost forming on the metal decorations on his coat.

Cabanela shrugged. “I only just woke up, baby, I wouldn’t know what the prevaaaailing weather patterns are.”

Kamila rolled her eyes. “Come on, when we walked in here yesterday it was definitely a lot warmer than this, and there wasn’t any kind of storm coming in.”

Cabanela sighed. “Of cooooourse it’s magical in nature, can’t you both feel it?” He held a finger up. Sparks crackled at the tip. “I almost feel like a lightning rod in here, there’s so much wild magic flying around.”

Jowd said, “Well, it’s just a distraction. We need to find Alma.”

“Agreed, baby, so let’s stop talking and goooo.” Cabanela strode on long legs through the door into the entry hall.

“I think we should start in the throne room,” said Kamila. The men looked over at her. “It’s just a feeling, though.”

Jowd shrugged. “It’s as good a place to start as any.”

Cabanela swiveled on his heel and headed up the short flight of steps to the throne room entrance. He took a deep breath before opening the door.

Kamila stepped to his side. “You OK, Uncle Cabs?”

Cabanela looked down at her. “Of course, it’s just—” he stopped. Speaking adult fears to a child, even a child he trusted to be mature as completely as he trusted Kamila, was irresponsible. “No, it’s nothing.”

“Come on then!” Kamila reached out and pushed the door open, letting it swing inward to reveal the grand throne room brightened only by the dull glimmer of candles in the wall sconces. “Mama? Are you here?”

The lights, with a fine sense of drama, brightened and burned with an eerie lilac light, revealing the figure seated on the throne. No queen ever sat as proudly, not a hair or stray bit of clothing out of place. Her face was cold and blank as she stared down at the three daring to enter the room with no sense of protocol or royal fanfare.

“You are most unwelcome to my castle,” the figure said. “I am Queen Alma of Doma. Who dares to intrude on my grief?”

Kamila hesitated, looking back at the two men. Both were staring at her mother with identical shocked, longing faces. She shook her head and sighed. It was clearly up to her to snap her mother out of the strange hallucination. She ran forward, intending to catch her mother in a hug. “Mama, it’s us. Papa and Uncle Cabs and me!”

“Stay back. How dare you, child?” the queen spat, standing and drawing her sword. “Come no closer if you value your head.”

Kamila skidded to a stop, inches away from entering sword range. “Mama…?”

In a blink, Jowd and Cabanela stepped to her side, ready to draw her back.

“Alma, please.” Jowd spoke, gentle and low. “Let’s go home to Figaro.”

“Figaro is no more. Kamila and Jowd, Cabanela, all the world is gone, lost to that thing the Empire created. Only this place is left, and I will die with it before I see it fall to strangers.” The queen raised a hand. “It is cruel of you to intrude on the last days of Doma, interlopers. I’ll see you dead as well if you don’t leave here at once.” She stepped into fighting stance, steps clean and precise even though her face was haggard and grey with ill health and too long a time spent still and cold. “Go, now.”

Her family stood frozen, ranged in front of the throne at a loss. They wouldn’t, couldn’t leave her, but how could they fight her?

The mask formed from nothing in her hand and she smiled for the first time, “Ah. I see my friend has come to help me rid myself of my unwanted guests. Many thanks, my lord Wrexsoul.”

She slipped it on and it fit snugly to her face. Flames rose around her as her petite form disappeared, leaving only a purple-shrouded figure in her place. Three more flames, with three small blonde children floating inside, arose to guard her. The castle shook as Wrexsoul laughed.

“Oh, this has been fun. The Queen has been just the most wonderful dinner guest but, sadly, her meal has almost run its course. Whom shall I invite next?”