Hitokag glided downwards in arc with me hanging naked below him. By the time he had banked all the way around to face the castle again, we were level with what I hoped was my room. Entering a stranger’s room dressed like this could only end badly.
As the window rushed towards me, Hitokag let go and I shot through the gap at a speed I was not comfortable with. Since Hitokag didn’t follow me in, and there was no splat! of him hitting the stonework, I assumed he had flown off to ruin someone else’s night.
I landed on the ground running and barely managed to stay on my feet, the cloak billowing out behind me.
Jenny sat up in the bed not quite believing the sight in front of her.
“Bloody hell,” she said. “Sleep with a guy a couple of times and he thinks he’s a superhero.”
I undid the clasp that held the cloak around my neck and crawled back under the furs and threw myself on top of her. I sucked the warmth from Jenny’s body and it quickly spread through mine.
“You’re freezing,” she complained, but she didn’t try to get away. Instead, she wrapped herself around me tighter. “Where did you get the cloak?”
I told her about my little excursion and the audience with Cheng.
“Do you think his father really ate his mother?” she asked when I had finished.
“I don’t know. I can’t see why he would lie about something like that. It’s a different culture though, isn’t it? We shouldn’t judge. We’re having dinner with him later. I’ll probably stick with the vegetarian option.”
Jenny pushed me off her, which was probably for the best. Now that my blood had thawed, it was rushing into various extremities. Outside was almost completely dark and the only light came from the fire.
“At least he realises you’re important. Might keep us off the menu.”
“He thinks the prophecy is going to make everything alright. It’s ridiculous. Nobody even knows what it means but they’re willing to do whatever they can to make it come true.”
“You really don’t see it, do you?” said Jenny.
“It isn’t the prophecy. It’s you. He can see what the rest of us can see, but you can’t. That you have something other people don’t have.”
“I guess you’d call it charisma.”
“Shut up,” I scoffed. “People have called me a lot of things, but no one’s ever accused me of being charismatic.”
“Do you even know what charisma is?”
“Yeah. Of course I do.”
She rolled onto her front and propped herself up on her elbows. “What is it then?”
The flickering light played across her hanging boobs, but with inhuman effort I resisted the urge to bury my face in them. “It’s when people like you and do what you tell them?”
“Why? Why would someone do what you tell them?”
“Because you’re charming and likeable and all alpha.”
“No,” said Jenny. “That’s not charisma. You don’t have to persuade people to do what you want. It’s more than that. There’s this movie, Fight Club, have you seen it?”
It was difficult to see her face clearly in the firelight, so I couldn’t tell if she was taking the piss. “Yes, I am aware of the movie Fight Club. What about it?”
“The guy in that movie has a friend called Tyler Durden.”
“I know I said I wouldn’t slap you again, but you’re pushing it.”
Jenny ignored my threat. “Everyone listens to what Tyler tells them because he’s buff and he has great hair and he looks like Brad Pitt. Who wouldn’t listen to a guy like that, right?”
“But it turns out Tyler doesn’t exist. The only person who thinks Tyler looks like Brad Pitt is the guy.”
“Edward Norton,” I said.
“That’s the other guy in the movie.”
Jenny paused. “No. I don’t think that was his name.”
“That’s the actor’s name.”
Jenny shook her head. “No. I don’t think so.”
Not this again. “Well, he doesn’t have a name in the movie so just call him Ed.”
“Okay. So when Ed looks at Tyler he sees Brad Pitt. But whenever anyone else looks at Tyler, they see Ed. Right?”
“So then why do they do what he says. He doesn’t have a fit body or a cool haircut. He doesn’t have Brad’s face.”
It was an interesting point. “I guess they believe in what he tells them.”
“He tells them to do a lot of stupid shit. They do it because he has charisma. Not charm or good looks or white teeth. Charisma is a gift from God that makes others follow you, believe in you. Saints and prophets had it.”
I still wasn’t buying it. “Sounds great, but if I have this God given ability, why didn’t anyone ever listen to me back home?”
“Because in our world there are people who want to be in charge who don’t have charisma, so they put all these filters in front of people to confuse them. They convince them leaders are people who are handsome and tall and from the right background. And if someone with real charisma ever turns up, the people with good hair have him killed.”
That part certainly rang true.
“People with charisma, the real thing, hold a lot of power that can be used for good and bad. Gandhi or Hitler. Neither of whom looked like Brad Pitt, by the way.”
My head was beginning to hurt. “I really wish what you’re saying was true, but I don’t feel it, Jenny. I don’t feel like I’m special.”
“You’re not supposed to. Other people feel it when they look at you. I bet Cheng does.”
“Okay, but I think you’re forgetting one minor detail. Fight Club wasn’t a documentary. It’s just a story. Maybe that’s how things should be, but they’re not. And I’m not whatever you think I am. No one’s going to follow me into battle or rally around me as I save the world.”
Not really much you can say to that. Especially when the person then climbs on top of you, naked.
“Would you mind not doing that, please?” said Noreen.
We jumped apart and turned towards Noreen, who was standing over us, glaring disapprovingly.
“We weren’t going to do anything,” said Jenny. “And we don’t make much noise, anyway.” Kind of contradictory.
“It’s not the noise that upsets the children, it’s the smell.” She flared the nostrils at the end of her snout and then turned around and walked out without even saying why she was there in the first place.
“Er, guys?” came Flossie’s voice from the doorway. “You ready to go? We’re all fookin’ starving.”
I was a bit peckish myself. We quickly got dressed and found the others waiting for us in the passageway. Noreen was standing with them, weaving impatience into her disapproval.
Thankfully we took the stairs this time. I filled in the others with a shorter version of what I’d told Jenny. I also prepared them for what Cheng looked like.
“So he changed from small boy to giant demon?” said Maurice. “Was it like the Incredible Hulk?”
“I don’t know, I wasn’t looking when it happened.”
“So maybe he distracted you and someone else switched places with him.”
That was actually possible, but looking into his eyes had felt very familiar. “I’m pretty sure it was him.”
“Oh, ah,” said Flossie. “Ah don’t know if I want to meet a demon.”
“He’s actually not that bad.” I decided not to tell her about what happened to his mother.
Somewhere around the eighteenth floor (I lost count but I’m pretty sure we were in the high teens) we were led into a large room with a circular table. There were six chairs and a throne. It wasn’t a fancy throne, but it was definitely plus-sized.
I had assumed the feast would be hundreds of people, but this was a more intimate affair which I preferred.
We took our seats and waited, nervously looking around and sipped from the cups of water which were the only thing on the table. Noreen stood by the doorway. She had her eye on me like she’d caught me taking a dump in her living room and wanted to make sure I didn’t do it again. I may have been imagining it, though.
After a few minutes, ripples appeared in the water suggesting either a T-rex was approaching or Cheng was. Everyone turned towards the doorway and their mouths fell open as Cheng walked in.
Even though I had gone to great lengths to describe his appearance, it still wasn’t enough to prepare them for the sight of an actual demon. Jenny, whose hand was on top of mine on the table, squeezed me so hard I felt I had a good case for calling it even between us.
Claire and Maurice shuffled their chairs closer together, and Flossie jumped out of her chair straight onto Dudley’s lap.
“Hello,” said Cheng. He sat down on the throne, ignoring the abject terror surrounding the table. He turned to Noreen who had followed him to the table. “I could eat a bear. Do we have any?”
Noreen nodded and left the room.
Since nobody else seemed like they were going to say anything, it was left to me to kick things off. No change there, then. “You said you would answer any questions we had.”
“If I can, I will.”
Here was my chance to find out all the things I’d been wondering since I got to this world. Start at the top and work my way down.
“What exactly do you expect from us? What do you want us to do?”
A deep, guttural croak rolled out of Cheng’s throat. “Hmmm. In many ways you are already doing what I would want from you. The Worm King has been born thanks to you, and from what I have been told, you—” he turned his gaze on Flossie “—are the Dragonrider. I look forward to seeing you in action.”
Flossie made a strange yeep! sound and pushed herself deeper into Dudley’s chest.
“Is there something wrong with your chair?” Cheng asked her. “Would you like a different one?”
Flossie shook her head.
Cheng shrugged and spread his wings out. His throne had obviously been designed with this in mind; gaps in the frame allowed the wings to extend out the back.
“With the first two parts of the prophecy taken care of, it only leaves the final part. I want you to find me a bride. Ah, the food is here. Excellent.”
Noreen returned with a number of other Mezzik females. They had an endless series of platters piled high with food which they placed on the table. Wooden plates for us, and a large wooden board for Cheng. Slices of red meat and an assortment of vegetables were served to us. Cheng’s meal was more singular—it looked like the entire leg of a bear.
“How do you know we’re supposed to find you a bride? How do you even know the prophecy refers to you? Maybe it’s my bride it’s talking about. Or someone else’s.”
Cheng picked up the bear leg, which looked like a drumstick in his hands, and bit out a large mouthful. He didn’t so much chew the meat as massacre it.
“True,” he said with chunks falling out of his mouth, “the prophecy is open to interpretation, but the original wording is quite clear, in my estimation, as to whose bride it will be. I can show you a copy later and you can see for yourself. Maybe you will interpret it differently.” More flesh was ripped off the bone.
“And where do you expect us to find this bride?” I asked him.
“Well, that at least is fairly straightforward. She is to be a Visitor, and a virgin.”
I guess Cheng wanted a girl just like dear old Mother. Although apparently he wasn’t all that familiar with the women of 21st century Earth. Where the fuck was I going to find a virgin?
Claire suddenly decided to join the conversation. “Why does she have to be a virgin? Why? Tell me.”
I don’t think Cheng was expecting a grilling on this point and for the first time since I’d seen him in this form he looked a bit uncomfortable. “Um, it’s traditional?”
“It’s always a virgin, isn’t it,” said Maurice. “I mean, in these sorts of situations.”
“But why?” Claire insisted.
Maurice shrugged. “Because a virgin is pure and untouched. Right?” He looked to Cheng for confirmation. Cheng didn’t have time to respond.
“What has being untouched got to do with anything? Are you saying a woman who’s had a cock inside her is unclean? Is she tainted?”
“I’m not saying that,” said Maurice, regretting his words and possibly his entire existence.
“What then? Is a virgin worth more than woman who’s had sex?” Claire had more or less forgotten the demon at the table. Her focus was on Maurice.
“No,” said Maurice very quietly. “I’m not saying that either.”
It had been a while since Claire had let her rage off the leash. I’d forgotten what a maniac she could be once her insecurities took over. “Is it really so important to be able to go ‘First!’ and run around high-fiving your mates?”
“Claire,” I said, trying to curtail the rant before Cheng had second thoughts about not eating us. “I think Maurice is saying—”
“What? What is he saying that makes it alright to treat women like soiled goods?”
“I think he’s fine with it being a virgin because if it isn’t, then that would make you eligible. And he doesn’t want it to be you. He’s a selfish prick who wants to keep you for himself.”
“Oh,” said Claire. Her truculence evaporated. She leaned towards Maurice and rested her forehead on the corner of his shoulder. “Sorry.” Then she lifted her head and turned her attention back to Cheng. “There’s no way I’m going to be your bride.”
“I accept your decision,” said Cheng very quickly.
“She does have a point, though,” I said. “If it doesn’t specifically say the bride has to be a virgin in the prophecy, you’re just being an ass. No offence. I mean, if it’s that important, why not just marry a thirteen-year-old and hav—” I stopped mid-sentence as a thought struck me. “You know, I take that back. I have the perfect girl for you.”
Jenny jumped to her feet. “Yes!” I’d never seen her so fired up. “We’ll find you a bride.”
“You don’t even know who I’m thinking of,” I said.
“I know exactly who you’re thinking of and it’s the best idea you’ve ever had.” She turned back to Cheng and slammed the table with her fist. “Trust me, I will make sure he brings you a bride that will satisfy your needs. I fucking guarantee it.”
Well, at least she was supportive. She just had a really big problem when it came to princesses.
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