Lute knelt to the disembodied voice of a woman while Matthew continued to look around in curiosity. Lute slapped his leg from his kneeling stance.
“Have the decency to kneel before a queen.” Lute harshly commanded. “This is Queen Serene III we’re talking about!”
“I don’t see a queen.” Matthew said.
All of a sudden, the waterfall in the middle of the room started pouring upwards, creating a giant pillar of water that cascaded outwards like a fountain. As the pillar of water began to die down again, Matthew spotted the figure of a woman inside.
“I am humbled to finally have you both here before me.” the woman cheered with bliss.
“There is no need to feel humble before us, Your Majesty.” Lute said, still kneeling with his head down.
“Please, there is no need for this ‘Your Majesty’ business. Queen Serene shall work just fine.”Matthew finally saw the woman behind the curtain of water.
The woman looked about in her early 30s to Matthew. Her hair was corn yellow and flowed down to her feet as it waved through the air. Her eyes were an unnatural color of pink and her clothing was majorly of what appeared to be a long light blue nightgown. The queen wore slippers and flew with the giant, beautiful butterfly-like wings on her back. Upon seeing her, Matthew too knelt down with Lute.
“Please, there’s no need for everyone to kneel.” the queen asked. “We are here to talk in earnest about the end of the world!”
“With all due respect, your majesty, is that something to be excited about?” Lute asked in disbelief, still not getting up.
“Oh. Maybe that was a bit inappropriate.” she apologized. “But please stand up, both of you.” she commanded. She waved her hands and both Lute and Matthew were suddenly on their own two feet. The effect left Matthew slightly nauseous.
“I am afraid that the end of the world is upon us though.” Lute admitted. At this time, Matthew wasn’t quite up to speed on what the two were talking about.
“Pardon me for not understanding the conversation piece, but I wish to know why I am here and why the world is ending.” Matthew asked.
“Lute, you had a guest and you didn’t tell him the universe was ending?” The queen asked in exaggerated surprise.
“It must have slipped my mind, my lady.”
“Do try to not let it happen again.”
“Of course, my lady.”
“Now then, let us get down to business.” The queen said, floating down to the ground and waving her hand at the ground. A portion of the wood-tiled flooring was suddenly ripped out as a plethora of tree roots slithered their way out of the ground and formed a throne for the queen to sit in. Matthew looked at the discarded wooden tiles.
I wonder if she has to replace those often. Matthew thought.
“I want to know what you are doing here.” the queen asked with great interest, pointing at Matthew. He tilted his head.
“Me?” he asked.
“Yes. I want to hear what you’ve seen.”
“Your majesty,” Lute interjected. “If I may, I can-”
“No you may not, Lute.” the queen politely said. “I want to hear it from Matthew himself.”
“How do you know my name?” the swordsman asked.
“I know a lot of things.” she said simply. “I only need you to fill in my gaps in knowledge.”
And so, Matthew went to work telling the queen about his confusing adventure of going through the woods, finding the knight, waking up in Lute’s lab, and making their way to her castle.
“It’s interesting to hear some of those parts from another's perspective.” the queen pondered. “But now that you’ve gotten your story out, you had best listen to this one.”
“Milady, is it that story again?” Lute asked, almost in dread.
“Yes Lute, it is.” she said, narrowing her eyes a bit. “Do you have a problem with you having to listen to it again?”
“No, my lady.” Lute said nervously.
“That’s what I thought.” she smiled. Then, she looked around and yawned, blinking really hard. “Lute, what was I getting ready to tell?”
“The story, my lady.”
“Oh, yes! The story.” she said, excited. “All the way back when the world was very young, the Earth was made up only of people, plants, and animals. One day though, something inexplicable happened. Overnight, magical creatures began popping up all across the planet, with random appearances everywhere. Beasts and races tripled and the world was full of magic; the fundamental rules and notions of the realm were changed that night.”
“Many people were disturbed by this.” she continued. “A few tried to kill all the magical creatures to return the world to the way it was, but many wanted to save them and work alongside them. In the end, dozens of mythical races were erased before they could even be noted. Most of us mythical creatures took refuge here: the Serena Woods. Here, we live in peace and protected by magic; away from all the hunters and humans.”
“What about Lute?” Matthew interjected curiously.
“Lute is… one of the few interesting exceptions.” she pondered.
“Exceptions?” Matthew questioned further.
“We shan’t have to get into that right now, my lady!” Lute desperately interjected, almost shouting to get her to stop. Queen Serene gave a gentle laugh.
“No, I suppose not.” she teased. “What matters is that because of the magic barrier around the forest doesn’t allow for any non-magical creatures to enter, ensuring our safety. Of course, humans these days seem to be a lot less hostile than thousands of years ago. There are some races that live in peace with people. Dwarves, elves, even some demons are occasionally accepted.”
“Not to seem ungrateful, but what is the purpose of this tale?” Matthew asked. Lute suddenly smacked him in the back of the head.
“Just wait and you’ll see her purpose.” he passionately insisted.
“Lute, there’s no need for that.” Queen Serene said harshly. “Our guest hasn’t even tried killing anyone yet. No hitting until.”
“If you insist, Your Majesty.”
“Now then, though many of the new magical creatures were not seeking to go to war, there were a few dark creatures who wished to rain fire down upon all living things. One very dark, very powerful demon in particular: Dementia. This one was far more powerful than all the others and had a mind more twisted than them as well. He saw killing everything and everyone as a sort of game; a leisure to him.”
“That’s… twisted.” Matthew whispered. Queen Serene nodded.
“Indeed. He would have certainly succeeded in doing it as well, if not for the 12 warriors that appeared to drive him back. With cosmic power given to them by the stars and heavens above, they banished Dementia into a space between realities using the power of their zodiac stones.”
“What is a space between realities…?” Matthew asked, not quite knowing what she was talking about.
“Imagine a very small prison that doesn’t exist in our world.” Lute said. “It’s basically that.”
“In any case, the heroes sealed him away.” the Queen continued. “Since then, we’ve lived in relative peace.”
“But what’s happened then?” Matthew inquired. “Surely you wouldn’t tell me that story if you didn’t have a meaning behind it.”
“Right you are.” she complemented. They all waited there in silence; she was waiting for him to figure it out.
“Does it… have to do with the universe ending?” Matthew asked, unnerved.
“Ah, yes!” Queen Serena cheered, flying down on her back. “A truly one-in-a-lifetime experience, isn’t it?!” she said dreamily.
“Milady, it would be a once-in-a-universe experience, wouldn’t it?” Lute asked nervously.
“Oh, I guess so.” the Queen sighed, seemingly in a pouty tone. “But to cut our talk short, the chaos demon Dementia has escaped his prison between realms and wants to end the known universe.
“Not to try and defy any of your expectations,” Matthew said sadly. “But I am not even a full adult as of yet. I don’t believe that I am as fit to stop any threat that you’ve described. It seems like a job for these warriors to come back for.” Queen Serene sighed and wearily fluttered down to her floral chair.
“Only a little over an hour ago, I just wanted to go home.” Matthew continued. “My position still stands firm. There is nothing I could do to add to your forces as I am now. I have friends and family to protect back home as well.” Queen Serene looked at Matthew’s face, her eyes stained with the pain of prominent disappointment.
“Is there nothing I can do to keep you from going home?” she asked hesitantly.
“I’m afraid not.”
“Fine then.” she said, standing up. Her eyes were completely closed, but tears streamed down her face. Matthew took a step back and Lute looked surprised.
“Are you alright, Your Majesty?!” Lute panicked.
“Yes, I… am.” she said as if lamenting something. Her eyes popped open and for just a second, Matthew could see that her eyes were totally white. She looked over at Matthew like he was the most pitiful creature on the planet.
“Did I do something?” he asked.
“No, it’s nothing… Just… You won’t like what you see.” Queen Serene conjured up a circle of vines to form in the air; then the circle started to glow unnaturally. Slowly, an image began to materialize. Matthew recognised the landscape as that of his home town. How excited he was a second; but indeed only lasted a second before the rest of the picture came into view.
Matthew’s town was burning. Even through the projection, Matthew could smell the smoke and ash. The heat from the flames radiated in all directions, as if trying to spread their influence as much as possible. Fire danced from one thatched roof to the next; burning down the entire residency. That wasn’t the worst sight of it though.
Littered across the ground were the remains of the townspeople. Men, women, children, elderly; they were all scattered about. Some had horrendous burn scars while others had gory stab wounds; some looked like they met a swift end while others looked like theirs was slow, painful, and deliberate. Parts of the ground had been turned to mud from the blood staining the earth.
Matthew wasted no time jumping through the portal. He ran and leapt, not thinking about either Lute or Queen Serene. There was only one person he needed at that moment.
“Rebecca!” he madly shouted, looking in every direction. Now that he was there, the smell of smoke and ash was much more intense when mixed with the sickening copper smell of blood in the air. He drew his sword and looked around again. “REBECCA!” he shouted again.
“Don’t shout; start looking!” Lute said, jumping through the portal. He put his hands to the ground and the earth formed stone gauntlets on his hands and up his arms. “Let’s go!” he insisted.
Running through the village, neither of the men saw any survivors; most of the bodies had been mutilated beyond any hope of recognition. This only strengthened Matthew’s anger as he searched for the one responsible.
“REBECCA!” Matthew screamed one last time.
“Huh, I thought we killed everyone.” Matthew and Lute turned around to see the knight that Lute had been fighting in the forest. His red eyes shone from under a dark helm.
“We did, my lord.” he said. “These two appear to be fresh for the hunt.”
The person he was talking to looked at Lute and Matthew with a wide, unsettling grin. He was hovering a couple feet off the ground and had the eyes of a madman. The right side of his body was entirely back while the left side was entirely white. To compliment that, the entire right side of his body was decorated in white stars while the left had black ones.
He wore a sharp suit that followed the same theme as his body. The right side was white while the left side was black. To contrast, the ride side of his tie was black while the left side was white. He was quite the confusing set piece to look at. His eyes shone a bright green and his hair, black as nightmares, stretched down to past his feet and floated out at odd angles, as if it was underwater.
“Fresh meat, huh?” he pondered. “Wait; those are the ones you lost to, right?!”
“Regrettably so, my lord.” the knight said humbly. “Quite the embarrassment that I let one of them get the drop on me.”
“No need to beat yourself up, Bruno.” he reassured, patting the knight’s head. “After we take what we need from them, they can parade through the streets chanting words of my return while clawing their own intestines out!” he cackled like the embodiment of insanity itself.
“Who are you?!” Matthew furiously asked, gritting his teeth and holding his sword up.
“That’s him.” Lute said grimly. “It’s the all-powerful demon of insanity, chaos, and mischief. This marks the official return of Dementia.”
“Ahaha! This boy’s been reading up on me, hasn’t he?!”
“It appears so, my lord.”
“What do we do to those who stick their noses where they don’t belong?!”
“We kill them.”
“No no no!” Dementia said impatiently. “That’s too boring. We should take their noses off and make them eat the others’.”
“You monster!” Matthew screamed.
“I’m flattered.” Dementia said with a wide smirk.
“You won’t win!” Lute said. “You’re fated to lose in the end!”“As far as I’m concerned, I’m fated to watch the world burn. This small town is just the first spark. All the people are just fuel. Each man, woman,” he gave Matthew a mad smile. “Even every little sister…” Matthew leaped towards Dementia, sword aiming directly for the demon’s heart.