Meredith was lost in thought in front of her book. Her duties as a Queen kept her busy most of the time, with opportunities to sit down and read being few and far between. She could hardly recall the last time a novel had properly engaged her. And although now was far from the time for relaxation, she took a bit of solace in the bliss of their tranquillity.
Folk tales had always been a topic of interest. While many of them were just wild stories, an equal number were based on true events. Figuring out which was which could separate the novice researchers from the most experienced scholars. And Meredith considered herself to be among the best of them. She had a strong theory for who Zenith was, and it caused a stir of feelings to well up inside of her. She wanted to be certain before explaining the theory to Bellwyn and her daughter as well.
Although if she was being honest with herself, Meredith wanted to enjoy the tranquillity for a little while longer. So much of her life was spent rushing from one responsibility to another, cleaning up the messes left behind by others and being the bigger person in any form of conflict. To be blunt, she found it exhausting. Bellwyn hadn’t spoken a word in quite some time, so evidently she was enjoying the respite as well.
“If my theory is correct, it’s going to be interesting when Zenith finally does confront us.” Meredith spoke, and Bellwyn didn’t respond. “So far she’s mostly been playing games, but that’s not going to last forever. Eventually she’ll get serious about taking us down. Who knows how her attitude will change once that happens?” Meredith didn’t know how long they’d spent like this, but she felt safe and calm. Bellwyn was an excellent listener and a better guard. And quite a cute one at that.
The Queen silently chided herself. Bellwyn was her daughter’s companion, and Meredith herself was an old maid by comparison. Still, she was able to recognize beauty where she saw it. Although she also knew a big part of her thoughts were due to how pent up she was. It had been years since she’d had a proper intimate partner. Yet another sacrifice she had to make to run the Kingdom was finding time for a consort. At best, most of her relief came in the form of either her hands or “the royal nightstick,” as she’d taken to calling it. Perhaps that’s why she was so vulnerable to Zenith’s perverse spellcasting.
She turned the page of her book, her mind hardly reading the words and instead imagining the possibilities. “Zenith could use her powers to make us forget we were ever fighting. She could make us believe that we’d always been her obedient puppets, and that we were happier serving her every whim. She could even-”
“What all could I do?” The chilling voice pierced through Meredith’s foggy brain like a knife. Her mind started to clear, and the horrid realization began to sink in. “By all means, keep talking. Give me some more ideas.” There was no mistaking it, she had heard Zenith’s voice. Which meant the sorceress was here. And she hadn’t even noticed her entering, so either she’d suddenly teleported in… or she had already fallen victim to a spell.
Meredith’s eyes widened as she forced herself awake. She lightly slapped her cheeks, dispelling what remained of the idyllic peace and quiet from before. Sure enough, standing before her was their adversary, in the flesh. Energy was cackling at her fingertips. But much more striking than Zenith herself was Bellwyn. She saw her companion in her current distress, thoroughly encased in thick layers of bondage and chained to the floor beneath her. Meredith could see the pleading desperation in her eyes, her frantic attempts to wiggle away from the sorceress. A fresh wave of guilt overcame the Queen. The whole time she’d been happily dozing off in her fantasy realm, not even realising the situation that had unfolded right in front of her.
“I’ll do everything I can to keep you safe, Lady Bellwyn. I promise.” Meredith rose to her feet, letting her own magical spells begin to swirl in her hands. As much as she wanted to free Bellwyn, she couldn’t afford to let her guard down even for a second. Besides, as horrible as the ranger’s predicament was, at least she was perfectly safe for the moment. Instead she turned her focus towards Zenith. “I suppose you’ll be wanting a proper duel now.”
Zenith chuckled at the statement. “Well I did come here expecting a fight. I was ready to get into a heavy two-on-one session with the both of you. But what did I find when I arrived?” She broadly gestured towards the two of them. “Sure, I set a few traps around the castle. I wanted to make things spicy for you, to cause some inconvenience. I only intended to slow you down. But you were completely lost in mesmerisation. And this?” She prodded Bellwyn with her foot, drawing a light groan from behind her gag. “This is just sad.”
Meredith’s cheeks began to flush. They had already been bested, and the fight hadn’t even started. “Then why did you wake me up? You could’ve pressed the advantage and done… whatever it is you plan to do with me.”
“Honestly? I just felt bad for you. You’re supposed to be the big strong Momma bear, the one who solves everyone else's problems. But you couldn’t even protect your daughter’s girlfriend.” Zenith made her way towards Meredith, extending her palm and gently caressing the side of her body. The mage flinched, but she didn’t recoil from the touch. “Besides, who’s to say I didn’t? For all you know, you could already be fully enthralled.”
There was a dark truth to her words. Bellwyn began screaming into her gag, thrashing furiously in place, but she wasn’t able to help from her latex prison. Meredith had no idea if this reaction was because her opponent was bluffing, or because it was the truth. She couldn’t even trust her own mind. And if she couldn’t trust her mind, what was even the point of fighting?
Zenith moved in close, pressing her body against the Queen. Her impressive stature meant she would’ve been towering over her even without the shiny heels. “You look like you’ve done some impressive research. Care to tell me what you’ve found? I’d love to hear all about your precious theories about who I am.”
Although every signal in her body was screaming at her to back away, Meredith remained close within the sorceress’s grasp. “There was a particular legend that caught my interest, from a few hundred years ago.” She felt the heat rising in her body as she spoke. “It told the story of a mischievous spirit who ruled over the land. One who had dominion over the people and the world surrounding it.”
Zenith nodded in approval. “Sounds interesting. But you’re talking about the stuff of fairy tales, while I can assure you that I am very real.”
“Unfortunately I am perfectly aware of just how real you are.” Meredith grabbed Zenith’s hands and moved them away from her body, she felt a lingering touch in their absence. “The legend goes that this spirit channelled its perverse energy through a rare and powerful stone that was bound to the land. It sounds awfully similar to the Seraph’s Tear.” She shook her head, trying her best to remain focused. “This wasn’t just an ordinary spirit though. It was a child born from two of the primal sins. A perfect offspring of Pride and Lust.”
She raised her head, meeting Zenith in the eye for the first time. “Zenith, you’re a mixture of two of the deadliest sins. Your sense of pride is why it’s not enough for you to win, you want to see us suffer. And if you get your way, you’ll fill Seraph’s Tear with your corrupt desires to warp our entire Kingdom.”
There was a moment of silence. Meredith knew it was a bit of a longshot, but the evidence pointed towards this theory. Finally, Zenith let out a low whistle. “Quite the clever little brain you’ve got in that pretty head of yours. It’d almost be a shame to melt it down and reduce your mind to putty. Almost.”
The knowledge that she was right was bittersweet. On the one hand, Meredith loved the rush that came with pouring her soul into a hypothesis only to be proven correct. However, the fact that she was right meant they were dealing with a cruel and powerful foe that was far beyond any of their reasonable abilities.
“You know what this means,” Zenith continued. “You don’t have a chance of winning. Sure your spells are powerful, and I don’t doubt you could do some more annoying tricks. But you’re only delaying the inevitable.” She gestured towards Bellwyn with her head. “Come on, are these girls really worth protecting? If you know I’m going to win eventually, you might as well speed up the process.”
Meredith’s initial maternal instinct was to fight back with all her might. Her entire Kingdom as well as her family was in danger, far more danger than they had expected. But despite her efforts to muster up another defence, she just couldn’t bring herself to do it. “I have to,” she replied in a meek voice. “It’s my duty as a Queen. What sort of ruler would I be if I just rolled over at the first sign of trouble?”
Zenith shook her head. “You’re being too hard on yourself, as always. All these years you’ve let others take advantage of your generosity, whether they knew it or not. Now look where it’s got you.” She began caressing the Queen’s cheek with her hand. “Want to know a secret? I’m not targeting you by random chance. I went to your daughter first, the brave Princess of the realm. I asked her who should face me first. Want to take a guess who she picked?”
A chill ran down Meredith’s spine. She couldn’t really blame Cherry - when facing high level magic, it made sense for another mage to stand the best chance. But she felt a prick in the back of her mind. A prick of annoyance, of having to pull more than her fair share of the weight. It was something she felt far more often than she wanted to admit, not to anyone. “I… I’m her mother, and the Queen. It’s only natural she would look to me for protection.”
“But you can’t protect her, can you. Cherry wants to be independent, but she still goes to Mommy to save her if things go tits up.” Meredith could feel her willpower slipping away by the minute. Zenith was making sense, far more than she had the right to. “It gets so much worse though. There’s a reason I was never able to strike before, and why I appeared when I did. That little ritual of yours? Somebody in that room sabotaged it. Someone invited me in.”
There was a deafening silence between them. Surprisingly, Bellwyn was the first one to break it. She began screaming at the top of her lungs into her gag, but after a moment they turned from muffled anger to moans of lust. Meredith didn’t know what was happening under the layers of bondage, but she had a fairly good idea. However, she was more preoccupied at the thought of a traitor among their crew. “You’re… you’re lying. This is all some elaborate ploy to get into my head.”
Zenith merely shrugged her shoulders. “Maybe. It’s possible that I’m lying, and it’s possible that I’m already toying with your feeble mind. It doesn’t change one simple fact though - giving in would be so much easier.” She raised both of her hands and began massaging Meredith’s temples. “Nobody else is pulling their weight. One of them was supposed to protect you, and not only did she fail, she left herself in an even worse spot. One of them saved her skin by throwing you under the bus. And one of them is responsible for my arrival in the first place. I’m giving you a way out, a chance to be free of all the obligations people pile on you. A chance to be selfish and do what you want for a change. Wouldn’t that be so nice, for once in your life to just do what benefits you instead of catering to the needs of others?”
A day earlier, the answer would have been easy. Of course she would keep fighting until the bitter end, if that’s what would save her people. But Zenith was right. She was tired, so tired of sacrificing everything she enjoyed because of her obligations. It was expected of her to be kind and generous, and she had thought it was all worth it. However, the brief time she had spent under Zenith’s spell was the most relaxed and at ease she had felt in years.
“If this is all just some elaborate mind control spell…” Her voice trailed off. She didn’t know if she was talking to Zenith, to Bellwyn, or to herself.
“Then you’ll never forgive me when you break free?”
“No. Then it doesn’t matter to me anymore. I don’t care if you’re magically forcing me to submit or not.” The final traces of magic around her fingers began to fizzle out. Sure she could have begun some epic mage duel, but the result would all be the same. The dense fog in her mind was calling out, and she was eager to sink back to that peaceful place. “I’d ask you to be nice to my daughter, but honestly, I don’t even care anymore. She’s a grown woman and she can fend for herself.”
Her words sounded uncharacteristically pessimistic, but she felt like for the first time in ages she was being completely honest. Tears were forming in Bellwyn’s eyes, and she gave her a weak smile. “Sorry Bellwyn, I guess I can’t protect you after all. But that’s fine. You’re tough, you can handle whatever she throws at you. Although it’s not like you’ll have a choice in the matter.”
With that, Meredith gave her mind away to the pressure that was pulling her away. She let herself fall under whatever spell Zenith was casting, surrendering her pride and surrendering to lust.
Whatever happened was somebody else's problem now.