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Zenobia and Aldornia
were watering the orchids
in the Temple of Golden Light
when something went crash
in the altar room.
The two priestesses ran to the altar room
to see what had happened.
There they found Damarion Pearl,
who was in charge of tending the altar today,
sitting on the floor with an armful of hysterical young man
swathed in loops of shining golden chain.
Zenobia and Aldornia hurried over
to offer what comfort they could.
Zenobia cast Blessed Peace,
whereupon silence descended for two seconds
before the recipient howled "Get it off! Get it off!"
and burst into tears all over again.
Zenobia and Aldornia looked at each other.
You couldn't take off a blessing,
any more than you could undress a salad.
"Maybe I'm not so good at being good after all,"
"No, no, you're fine," Aldornia assured her.
"He must just be ... really stressed."
At the sound of her voice,
the sobbing young man lifted his face
from Damarion's shoulder.
"Aldornia?" he exclaimed.
"Saph?" said Aldornia.
"Dark Prince Saphrax,"
"Not anymore!" he wailed,
and threw himself into his cousin's arms.
Aldornia patted him awkwardly on the back.
"Saph, what happened to you?" she asked.
"After Zenobia Ravenne ran away
rather than stay betrothed to me--"
"It's Zenobia Goldencloud now,"
she corrected gently,
"and I'm with Aldornia."
She flashed her golden ring at him.
"After you dumped me,"
Saphrax continued through his teeth,
"my parents offered my hand
to the Harridan of Dusky Holt.
Needless to say, I objected.
Mother decided that I just needed ...
a bit of encouragement."
Both women winced.
They were all too familiar
with the Thornstele brand of encouragement.
"You know the spell, Villanous Ardor...?"
"It's supposed to empower a man
with enough lust to conquer any woman."
Zenobia added, "I can't cast it though."
"Apparently neither can my mother,"
Saphrax said grimly.
"Something went wrong with the incantation."
He gave his chains an ominous shake.
"Just look at the ferrous aurum --
it's turned to pure gold!
And of course I wound up here,
wherever here is."
Damarion cleared his throat.
"Welcome to the Temple of Golden Light,"
he said to Saphrax.
"If I've read the signs correctly,
that spell sounds like Heroic Splendor."
"I am utterly doomed,"
thumping his head repeatedly
against Aldornia's shoulder.
"No, that's a totally different spell,"
Damarion assured him.
"Close enough," Saphrax said.
"Let me up so I can go
put myself out of my misery."
Aldornia didn't let him up,
but a faint frown crossed her face.
"Saph, are you wearing your knife ... that knife?"
she asked her cousin.
"I always wear it," he said,
and slipped it from its boot sheath.
Then he stared in horror at the diamond blade.
The unicorn-horn hilt had also bleached from onyx to pearl.
"Doomed," Saphrax whimpered.
"Congratulations, you're officially a hero,"
Aldornia said. "You've just saved the world
from the Thornsteles' centennial
Ritual of Corruption next year.
Now we don't have to worry about that ever again!"
"I think your former family might take offense at that,"
Zenobia said to them.
"Good point," Aldornia said.
"Saph, did you lock the portal as you came through?"
"No," he said,
sniffling into her white silk robes.
"I didn't mean to activate the stupid thing at all.
It just happened, and then I landed here."
"That means trouble," Aldornia said.
"The Thornstele portal can only be locked from inside.
I'll have to go through and do it myself
or else we'll have a horde of Thornsteles here
as soon as they can arm up and activate the portal."
"You're not going without me,"
Zenobia said stoutly.
"I won't leave you trapped
in a house full of deranged relatives."
"Not trapped," said Aldornia.
"I'll just touch down there,
then jump back here
and lock the portal behind me."
"I'm still going with you,"
"I'll watch over Saphrax,"
gathering the distraught man
into a sympathetic embrace.
So the two women prepared for battle,
just in case, and stepped up to the altar.
Aldornia muttered the old familiar spell
to access her family's enchanted portal
and they stepped through.
No sooner did their booted feet touch the black marble floor
than the the spells began to fly. The portal slammed shut.
Zenobia and Aldornia pressed their backs together
and fought for their lives. Hexes seared the air.
Swords clanged and screeched against each other.
"Explain to me again," Zenobia panted
as they crouched under a sparking shield,
"how this is a good idea."
"We're saving the Temple," Aldornia replied,
"from my batshit relatives."
"Right," Zenobia said grimly.
She fired off blessings left and right
but they had little effect
beyond pissing off their opponents.
"I'll get you, Zenobia Ravenne!"
shouted Saphrax's mother.
"You undutiful little slut!"
Zenobia's temper finally snapped.
"Stop trying to ruin everyone's life!"
And for the first time, Dominion
blazed into scarlet glory around a target.
Amaia Thornstele dropped to the floor,
silent and motionless.
Then Aldornia's brother, Brandeis Thornstele,
managed to rupture the floor under their feet.
Aldornia went down with a shriek,
one ankle snapping underneath her weight.
Zenobia grabbed her lover and said,
"Open the portal!"
Then she ripped her hand through the air
and cast Thundering Victory.
Thornstele Fortress trembled
and began to tear itself apart.
Aldornia wrenched open the portal
and the two women staggered through it,
locking it fast as they fell out the other end.
The altar room stood empty and quiet around them.
"Well," Aldornia said brightly,
"that didn't go too badly after all."
She stood on one foot,
leaning heavily against the altar.
Zenobia rolled her eyes at her lover.
She cast healing spells, cleaning spells, mending spells.
Truth be told, though, it could have gone worse --
especially considering their luck.
She looked down at her own hands,
remembering black ink, imagining blood,
and she wondered how it was that now, of all times,
she finally managed to cast dark spells correctly.
Then her ring glinted gold and Zenobia realized
how fierce a thing love can be.
They headed to their bedroom, arm in arm.
Along the way, they passed Damarion's room,
the door pushed not-quite-closed.
"Do you think Saph will be all right?"
Aldornia murmured as they walked past.
Zenobia smiled at the sight she had glimpsed,
two bodies twined in comfort atop the sky-blue bedspread.
"He'll be fine," she said.