Echoes of Midnight

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Nine

"Daemeon,” Amaris called out as she walked faster and stood in front of the veiled warlock. “If the hermit left us insane and cursed for eternity, you know what to do,” she commanded, ever cautious to any threat.

Daemeon sauntered past her and remarked, “Amaris, you’re the matron. You would sense it if that ever happens.”

They both led their trek through the forest, with Branwen and Isa following closely behind. Bellevedere basked in another night without the moon. Equipped with oil lamps only to lead their way, they thought it best to take on the dark and seek the hermit an hour away from sunrise.

Amaris didn’t retort any longer for a crumbling cottage came into view. Moss and mildew covered it in thick layers. Its facade was an intricate patchwork of wood and carved symbols, a fitting home for a hermit rumored as a senile devout of witchcraft.

They all approached the dilapidated door with caution. Daemeon readied himself to knock when a high-pitched cawing made him turn around.

A raven landed on a tree branch not far from where they stood. Ebony feathers as dark as the night covered it in layers. Time stood still for a moment before the bird stopped its deafening cry and exploded in a myriad of sparkling colors.

Awe etched the faces of the fates, lighting their eyes with electric hues of blue, cerise, and honey. Each grew animated with the transformation, a newfound magick where the bird turned into a frail old man.

Dressed in crumpled cotton robes, he clutched a tome to his chest. A heavy weight muscle pressed him down like a dwarf squashed by a giant and left an ugly lump in his back. A hunchback, the villagers who sought for his services centuries past always whispered.

“Allgyll,” nodded Daemeon as the elderly folded his tattered robes to himself.

“Young man, I already told you. I can no longer do anything. The princess’ soul might have evanesce by now.”

With the mention of the princess, the fates whirled to Daemeon and threw him accusatory glances. He only shrugged his shoulders and widen his eyes as if he had more audacity to frighten them.

“Allgyll, we need a retelling – these witches did a prognostication and-“

“As I’ve said before, Lord Daemeon, I don’t want to involve myself anymore with your meddling-“

“A lost female lasted a night in Mudwick,” Daemeon interrupted with a hopeful hint. “You and I both know it’s a sign to seek answers from the Cauldron.”

“Young man, the prophecies are stronger than you might think. They are impregnable to changes in circumstances. Time and war have already proved that we cannot overpower Mudwick and rule over the mortals unless we have the moon,” the hermit stammered, infuriated with Daemeon’s tasteless pleas. “And where is it now, pray tell? The skies no longer have it.”

“Please, Allgyll,” Daemeon pleaded. “The witches and I need your help.”

The hermit stared back at Daemeon and the fates, assessing them for hidden evil intent. “If you thought of a retelling as a reward freely given, then you are mistaken. It demands a price – an offering to appease the Cauldron.”

“Then…take my soul instead.”

Allgyll flinched in repulse at the idea while the fates gaped in surprise. “You…” Allgyll began, as if berating his own son. “…have a soul?”

“I believe it is the only way. So, why mustn’t we tarry? If we left the High Lord to his own devices, we won’t be able to call upon my father for help before the feast began.”

“It is to my understanding that you, Prince of Demons, wanted to bargain your soul to be able to reach the underworld? Heavens! Are revenge and hatred what you’ve been only harboring all this time?”

“I won’t make the same offer again,” Daemeon appraised the hermit with scorching eyes – menace hinted beneath them.

Allgyll sighed in affirmation and pushed the door to his cottage, no longer intent in provocations.

“It was foretold that a child of the Underworld would soon arrive in my cottage. I knew so many but never expected it would be you, Lord Daemeon,” Allgyll mumbled in quivering breaths.

As he spoke in endless qualms, Daemeon and the fates were led to a chamber adjacent to the cottage. The Cauldron appeared before them, lost among the countless trinkets and rusty pots and jars decorated with herbs, giving the entire place a pungent smell of dried blood and wilted leaves.

They all stood by the archway except for Allgyll who busied himself in lighting the fire needed to awaken the Cauldron.

“Come, young man. You need to seek the eye of the Cauldron for the prophecy to work,” demanded the hermit.

“How would I know where in the Cauldron’s bottom is the eye?” Daemeon inquired sarcastically, but he didn’t have time to rebut further.

Allgyll already seized Daemeon’s head and slammed it to the Cauldron’s sizzling contents.

The snarkiest of the fates, Isa, almost laughed at the sight, amused with Daemeon’s failed attempt at sarcasm. They all knew that he was a prince – not an ordinary male born out of a king’s dalliance with a maid – but a demon and the only son of the King of the Underworld, the Devil.

“I seek the key to the Underworld and the princess. We need these passages to retrieve the moon,” commanded Daemeon, his voice muffled and unafraid of the Cauldron.

Flames engulfed the chamber, or so the fates thought. Their eyes squinted from the blinding light – not of an ordinary fire, but embers enveloping the room in a tangerine, ethereal glow.

The Cauldron unleashed a magickal force in the form of mists and smoke, ejecting Daemeon’s head and flinging him backwards to the hermit’s worktables.

Allgyll stood a feet away in anticipation as the Cauldron started to spill its contents. A viscous, gurgling liquid bubbled its way out of it. Moments of unquiet passed before the fates realized a familiar sight. It was blood, a true symbol of a sacrifice made to the Cauldron.

And it can only mean one thing.

Daemeon’s soul was now entangled with the vessel, and no amount of witchcraft could breach that bargain.

Allgyll did not intrude any further, for the Cauldron’s magick melted his flesh. It turned into blood, leaving his robes to fall to the ground. The liquid crawled the grounds, and slowly seeped back inside the Cauldron.

Silence emanated the room as they all witnessed how the liquid collided with the vessel. Puffs of smoke went out of it and shaped itself to a skull, a terrifying manifest of the Cauldron with a prophecy to tell.

Teeming with curiosity, Daemeon regained his strength and quickly stood up while the fates held their breaths in excitement and fear alike.

The Cauldron surprised them all when it spoke in rough-hewn, foreign voices of an ancient being, “Threes of goddesses and a demon seek the soul of the lost Princess Gwydion, born during the War of Glamour and Swords, daughter of Her Majesty Queen Morrigan. Gwydion the Princess who missed the arrow of death.”

The fates drew back upon the mention of the latter and gasped in surprise, except for Daemeon who found himself the courage to ask, “Is she alive, Cauldron? The Underworld did not turn over her soul, we have no contact with her for centuries. Tell us...tell me.”

He pleaded with such vehemence, a deep-rooted affection for the princess etched in his face. The Cauldron sensed his distress, and continued with a chant, chilling and dubious.

Death and love will cleave Bellevedere in two.

The Cauldron sees the arrival of a mortal,

A woman made of steel and iron,

Pure-hearted as snow,

Unlike any other who came before,

She who will bring light and darkness,

She who will choose between death and love.

If the mortal dies,

Princess Gwydion will come back,

Armed with the ability to defeat the High Lord,

And take Mudwick as the rightful heir,

Love is as delicate as death.

If the mortal falls in love,

A High Lord will stand in one’s way,

Affections will put an end to a curse,

Bested by the Devil, King of the Underworld,

A curse forewarns of a darkness,

So permanent that Bellevedere will never see light again.

Harbinger of light and dark, death and love,

A paradox of triumph and defeat,

One victor will rise upon the end.

The chamber turned into an unquiet silence as the Cauldron stopped its chanting. The fates buzzed with excitement and fear like, and wondered if they would be able to kill Greta before the feast or the High Lord would protect her from them.

Daemeon stood still, obnoxious and unwavering in his attempts to find more answers. “How do we find the moon then?” he cried. “Would it be as simple as killing the mortal before the feast?”

The skull floated again above the Cauldron’s mouth and replied, “Prince of Demons, I know what you seek. The Cauldron knows nothing on how the moon disappeared. If you’re bound for it, you must seek a heirloom once owned by the Princess Gwydion. It was known as the Silver Tear, a gift from the moon itself, one that will make it come out from hiding.”

The fates murmured to one another, exchanging guesses of which of the princess’ heirlooms held the most power to her heart.

“Where would she keep it?” asked Isa.

Amaris and Branwen didn’t spare any details further, Daemeon already made up his mind about the heirloom. He whirled and faced the fates with his silent, challenging ruby eyes.

“Ladies, it pains me to admit how my dearest Isa did so well with her conjectures. I suppose you are now all aware of our next move to find the moon and the princess.”

No one, even the sly Isa, entertained him. The three goddesses were already preoccupied by what happened next.

The floating skull submerged in the Cauldron as embers emanated from it. Short bursts of heat and smoke all tangled up and spilled from its mouth, and Allgyll stood in front of them again.

“Lord Daemeon,” the hermit acknowledged with a hunch of his dwarfed back. He turned to the fates and greeted them the same and declared, “I trust that my Cauldron satisfied what you seek for so long?”

Scorched eyes stared back as Daemeon stepped forward and challenged the hermit with venom, “If you ever take advantage of my soul, you’ll know that when we kill the mortal and unleash the curse upon Bellevedere, you’ll need more power other than the Cauldron. It surely cannot defeat Father and his troops from the Underworld. You walk with caution, old man.”

“Ah, a Demon Prince threatening me after he traded his soul? I was wrong when I thought of you as brave and regal, Lord Daemeon. No matter, my prince,” gritted Allgyll as he retorted and tilted his chin as a way of accepting Daemeon’s challenge. “The feast will arrive soon, better move quickly or the High Lord will have the mortal in his palms in no time.”

Upon mentioning the latter, Allgyll raised his hand, put a thumb and a forefinger together and snapped.

Tschk!

Walls cracked and tumbled. The Cauldron melted to the ground and ceramics tumbled from their cabinets and smashed together.

The chaos stole the fates’ control of their bodies, Isa and Branwen lose their footing and fell to the ground as Amaris tried to reach them through outstretched arms.

A hand’s span away from the fates, Daemeon stood unbothered from the magick, his body remaining rigid and thick and metallic.

Eyes blinked and muscles recovered from all the mayhem.

A familiar sight greeted them with wonder next. They were on top of a cliff overlooking the Mudwick castle, a tawny glow surrounding them.

Sunrise loomed in the distance, in time with the pain that shot up through the fates. They gripped their skulls, moaning and whimpering from the splitting sensation as the early rays of the sun crawled through them.

The pain stopped, and from the buzz came another sensation.

Palms reached outwards to clutch their backs as each goddess felt something grew. A bone, a feather, and colors.

“No wonder you always blush, Branwen,” Isa commented. “Your wings are a shade of blush, pink as unripe berries.”

“Oh Isa, I know you always hated this color because you said it’s so female to you, but now I know why you changed. Yours is too blue and Amaris…” Branwen stuttered as the matron of the fates slowly got up.

“And I am a temple of gold, to complete Isa’s painting of our wings,” Amaris beamed as she fluttered her feathered back. Branwen and Isa did the same as they turned around and peered at Daemeon’s body sprawled in the ground.

“The sun will be with him soon. Let us go lest the High Lord will know where we come from last night,” commanded Amaris.

The fates tucked and spread their glorious wings, readying for a flight. It fluttered with the breeze and they flew together, Bellevedere growing smaller in their eyes.

Light inched through the village, slowly reaching out as flesh burned and Daemeon’s body twitched as if a serpent was choking him into its clutches. Smoke rose up from his body and left Daemeon like a still statue, an unnamed figure alone on top of a cliff.

The magick flew with the wind and joined the sun with its ascent to the skies. No one witnessed the turning of the flesh, no one saw how the figure transformed from a veiled warlock to a man.

He sat up, and a High Lord rose up from the ashes of the night.

Not Daemeon anymore, but Stefan.

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