Chapter One                 Chapter Two                  Chapter Three             Chapter Four                Chapter Five            Chapter Six
Chapter Seven             Chapter Eight            Chapter Nine 


                Willow froze in place like a block of ice.
                The young man went on.  “I strongly suggest you stay perfectly still while I talk, Princess, or a sword with sadly impale you in the back, and that would be such a shame.  Willow, is it?”  His voice was beautiful—the most beautiful voice Willow had ever heard.
                When Willow failed to respond, he laughed softly; not spitefully, but a genuine, friendly laugh.  “Oh, I’m sorry.  I can’t hold up this performance any longer.  You don’t need to be afraid; I’m not actually going to run a lady through with my sword.  Turn around, if you please.”
                Willow turned slowly, keeping her gaze somewhat low, and found she was standing before a tall slender gentleman dressed all in black, with a sweeping black silk cloak that pooled around his feet, and a black hood that almost completely obscured his face except for a few strands of dark brown hair that glinted in the moonlight.  He did have a sword, though it was sheathed at his side, but the most striking thing about him was his concupiscible beauty.  Even without seeing his face, Willow’s breath was taken away.
                “I’m not that absurd, honestly,” he said.  “The things people think of me—ghastly! I trust you know who I am, Princess Willow?”
                “Yes,” Willow replied meekly.  Then, remembering she was speaking with a king—no matter how dark her we—she curtsied low and added, “Er, Your Majesty.”
                “Please,” he said, as though he were annoyed by such little gestures, “There’ll be no need for that, Miss Willow.”
                The Shadow King, the one who Willow had cursed about after the New Year’s Festival, the one everyone feared—he was here! In front of her! As though he were pleased to make her acquaintance, no less. It astounded Willow that he was so casual. But yet she was not afraid, either.
                How was it?
                “What is your purpose?” Willow asked shyly, taking a small step away from him.  “Why have you come here, and why for me?”
                “I came in search of a certain sister of yours who I rather need to meet, and I should not disclose the reason to you, a fine lady though you are,” the Shadow King said, as though conversing about the weather.  His posture was easy and relaxed. Willow, on the other hand, was still somewhat tense. “I have reason to believe that you are the slightly older sister of a Miss Wednesday?”
                A startle went through Willow.  “Wednesday?”  Of all people, her fragile sister?
                “Oh, so you are. That is correct.”  The Shadow King absently took out a silver pocketwatch, which contrasted interestingly against his black dress, and started clicking it open and closed, the movements seemingly automatic.  “Please tell her to come to the front lawn and meet me there at the third hour past midnight, precisely. I have a matter to discuss.  Do you care for tea?”
                “Er, no thank you.”  Willow raised her eyebrows as she suddenly realized he was holding a teacup and was calmly stirring it up with a black spoon.  “I’m rather particular about my tea, myself.”
                “I thought so,” he said, taking a sip.  “You seem that sort.”
                “Oh, nothing.”  He dropped his teacup and Willow jumped back, but she realized it was gone.  Where had it vanished to?  “What are you doing out so late at night, with nobody with you?”
                “There are people around,” Willow said cautiously.  She paused.  “Have you been watching me?” she accused.
                “I would love to say yes,” he admitted, “but no, I actually haven’t.  But I came by and noticed you were by yourself, so I thought it fitting to ask you.”
                “Oh.”  Willow glanced back behind her.  The black rose had vanished.  It had been a trick of the mind, she was sure.  “Well, if you have no more need of me, then I should be on my way, thank you.”
                “But of course.”  He stood back.  “I do hope you deliver my message, Miss Willow.”
                Willow walked past him until she made past the thick of willow trees.  Then she hiked up her skirts and ran.

“Gyelle, do you care for a dance?”
                The King saw the long-haired Goddess start as he materialized out of nowhere into the Shadow Kingdom, right in front of her.
                “My king.”  Gyelle raised her eyebrows, twirling a lock of her long loose hair idly around one finger.  “A dance? Are you in a good mood?”
                “I ran into that beautiful lady,” he said, smiling under his hood as he offered Gyelle his arm.  “The one I met on New Year’s. Where are your sisters?”
                “I believe Esme and Fylecia are in their quarters,” Gyelle said, her skirts sweeping the ground silently over the black abyss as they moved in a senseless direction.  “Bliss, Jewel, and Isterielle are somewhere else together, I suppose…and I do not know of the others. Mirabel does not seem to be in a good mood.”
                “Oh, you have seen her?”  The Shadow King shook his hood off, smoothing down the spikes of feuillemorte hair that swept up when the hood came off his head.  “Excellent. I would like to speak with her, if possible.”
                Gyelle shook her head, her sheets of golden-white hair swirling around her. “I’m sorry, but I haven’t seen her for a while now. She came by for a cup of tea, then whirled off in quite a huff.  I’m afraid she’s gone to do something rash….”
                “A pity.”  The King dropped Gyelle’s arm gently, and pulled a black cup of black tea from the abyss around them.  He offered her the cup, but she turned it away.  “And where have you been, my little butterfly?”
                Gyelle lowered her chin.  “It sounds an unforgivable sin, but I have been to see the Sunlight Queen, my king. Please forgive me.”
                The King pursed his lips, twisting the knot of his cloak with his free hand.  “…Understandable, Gyelle. You do have ties with her, after all.  Unlike me. It isn’t your fault.”
                Gyelle stepped back, her dark green skirts billowing in front.  “You need not be angry, my king! I am sure that she still misses you…I mean, she…she may seem to act heartless towards you, but…”
                “When you want to sounds convincing, don’t fumble your words,” the King advised.  He sat down, the Shadows conforming to his thoughts and forming a solid shadow chair under him.  “I am tired and need Aurelia. Would you mind finding her, love? The Goddess of love and compassion does have her uses.”

Aurelia knelt at the Sunlight Queen’s feet. “Lady.”
                “Hmm.”  The queen folded her porcelain hands on her lap, waterfalls of gold ribbons woven through her hair.  “Since when have you called me ‘lady,’ dear Aurelia?”
                “It seemed appropriate, as I must distance myself from you,” Aurelia said, looking at the hem of her dress. Fringes of elegant white lace gleamed in the light under the equally white trim of her dress. The color, even washed out, was a sight for her eyes under the warm golden light that bathed the entire queen’s realm.  “I’ve been with the King, of course. He openly declared to me that you broke his heart.”
                “His heart?”  The queen laid one hand over her chest.  “What heart does that scoundrel have? A disgrace to my kind…worthless of my love, the hours I spent,—ah, but he did have a heart before.” She looked at Aurelia coolly.  “But surely that is not what you have come for.”
                “No, my lady.”  Aurelia rose at the queen’s hand, which was ornamented with sparkling trails of citrines and rubies and pearls all flowing from her fingers.  “I mean, yes, my lady. I suppose—to put it so—mildly—that he does still have a soul. A soul that is still intact and pure.”
                “Hm.”  The queen studied a ruby ring on her finger.  “Well, he was always a charmer. And he broke my heart first, you know—fairy of love, you would know. Shattered it like fragile glass, tore it apart with wicked claws, ripped it out of my chest and clawed it, raking it to shreds, and blood poured forth—oh, you’ll just upset me. My diamond heart, left in shards by the only one who could break it.”
                Aurelia paused. “I heard—though—that you have a fiancé now, my lady.”
                “Oh, yes. He’s quite skilled.”  The queen was too busy absently inspecting the long strings of flowers adorning her hair.  “Quite the gentleman, though he’s not as powerful as I am.  And skilled at swordplay, very. But ah. Here comes your lovely sister. No doubt she was important matters to discuss, hm?”
                Aurelia turned her head, seeing the flash of long, carelessly unpinned gold hair, and the dark green dress that bounced as her sister ran. “It’s Gyelle,” she said, hoping dearly that her sister had come with something good. It was times like this that she wished she was still the queen’s companion, laughing away eternity in the gleaming gold sun that never set, that never burned, that never turned her skin red. Dancing on clouds.
                Hair streaming in shiny rivulets around her shoulders, skirts an exquisite, rich mess of ruffled lace and swoops of trailing, luxurious silks all in dark green, Gyelle arrived, and immediately sank down in a deep curtsy to the queen, then knelt. “My queen.”
                “Ah, you see, Gyelle still calls me ‘queen,’” the queen said to Aurelia, motioning for Gyelle to rise. “Lovely Gyelle, the prosperous July. Hair still beautiful as ever, as irritatingly long as ever. What have for me, or for your sister?”  She turned her hand over and ran her fingers over the bracelets encircling her wrists.
                Gyelle stood slowly, smoothing down the plumes of dark green lace that still attempting to fluff up. In the slants of light that fanned soft stripes of mellow light through the glassy foyer of the queen’s hall, she looked like some sort of great blooming plant, growing rich in the deep light.  “Forgive me, queen, but it’s for Aurelia. The King requests her presence.”
                “Does he now?”  For the first time, the queen lifted her eyes up to the two sisters standing there, face smooth and white, expression impassive as a doll. “Hurry off, then. Taking into consideration the position you two hold along with the rest of your sisters, his needs are far more imminent than mine; and I have no desperate need of you two right now, as charming as you are. He is desperate, and so it is expected of you to go to him. Leave me for a while, and come when you have time to chat over tea, yes?”
                “Yes, and thank you,” Aurelia said, smiling half-apologetically. She and Gyelle both curtsied, then hurried off, leaving the warm sun and lovely, gentle caress of the glittering light.