“Where are yoooouuuuu. You can’t hide forever, darling.” The mocking sing songy voice filled the hallways. Jinta held her breath, praying her pursuers wouldn’t look behind the cabinet. She could hear the footsteps getting louder, growing closer to the room she was hiding in.
While she couldn’t see anything from her spot, Jinta could hear the door being flung open. She didn’t know which of the Meturi sisters was checking this room, and at this point, she didn’t particularly care. Her only goal was to avoid any potential conflict with them. After she had split up from the group, Jinta’s first instinct was to head to the falconry to send out a distress message. She had been relieved to find the Meturi sisters on duty, a pair of twins who were expert runners and battlefield messengers.
The relief had quickly faded when they began making some rather unsisterly motions, followed by proclaiming loyalty to their new Mistress. A fight had broken out when they tried to subdue her for Zenith. Although she was confident she could take them in a fight, Jinta had slipped up while attempting to talk them down. The result was her being disarmed, resulting in their current chase.
Thankfully, the sister wasn’t interested in thoroughly checking each room. A proper search would have revealed Jinta cowering at the side of a cabinet, just out of the door’s line of sight. But she simply poked her head in and moved on, giving Jinta a chance to properly breathe.
After waiting a minute to ensure her foe was gone, Jinta ran back into the hallway. She doubled back on the way she came, returning to the falconry, hoping they wouldn’t think to look there again. Plus, it would give her a chance to send out a message for help, like she’d originally intended. A chill ran down her spine as she considered the worst case scenario. The other servants of the castle were already turned against them. Was it possible that Zenith’s influence expanded outwards, to the rest of the city? Could they really trust their allies to come to their aid?
She shook her head. Worrying about such things would accomplish nothing, and for the moment, she had to hope for the best. Her Aunt would find a weakness for the sorceress, and they’d eventually find a way to fight her off. Between herself, Cherry, and the others, she could still find a way to prevail.
Cherry. The mere thought of her caused a scowl to cross her face. She’d always been the favourite of the family, just because her mother had been born earlier. She didn’t even have to try to be good at magic. Jinta thought about the countless hours she’d spent, staying up all night to try and produce the tiniest of sparks. Meanwhile, Cherry was just throwing around enchantments and learning a new spell seemingly every day. She acted like she didn’t have a care in the world, flaunting her effortless talent and acting all lovey-dovey with her girlfriend.
Just once, Jinta would’ve loved to see everything crumble in her face. And the ritual would’ve been the perfect opportunity for it. But although she felt a sadistic twinge of joy at the dark turn of events, this was far from anything she would’ve hoped for. Sure, Jinta would’ve loved to see Cherry squirm in place. But having their entire fucking castle under seige, with a power that threatened to usurp the entire royal family? There was no way Jinta could ever stand by it.
Zenith had to be stopped. Even if it meant working with her cousin, a thought that made Jinta want to gag. Besides, she still had a grudging respect for the Queen. Meredith had personally offered to try and teach her some basic magic. Although she had never taken up the offer, Jinta did appreciate the gesture. Their family had ruled for generations, and although she didn’t particularly like everyone in it, she would be damned before she let it fall.
The falconry was empty when she arrived. The only occupants were a handful of birds, hanging about in the rafters. Jinta grabbed her sword that had been discarded earlier. She spun it around in her hand, enjoying the comfort of being armed again, before sheathing it. There were more important tasks at hand.
On top of a nearby desk was a quill and some parchment. Jinta jumped right at it, frantically scrawling an emergency message. It didn’t take long before she had a half dozen of them prepared, ready to go out to the neighbouring dukes and barons. However, as she was rolling the last one to prepare it for transport, a frantic pair of footsteps could be heard heading towards the room. Jinta bolted upright, immediately on full alert. She drew her rapier again and brandished it towards the door, ready to fight off anyone who came through.
Although she had been caught off guard before, now she was fully prepared. Any one of the staff within the castle could be on Zenith’s side. Someone began entering through the doorway, and without hesitation, Jinta pounced. She charged forwards with her rapier, trying to land the initial blow. The other person was just as fast. They parried the blow, deflecting it with a small blade in their hand, and manoeuvred out of harm's way. It wasn’t until after the initial clash that Jinta actually got a good look at the person. Once she did, however, a shocked expression came across her face.
Standing in front of her was the head maid, but not like Jinta had ever seen her. Although she was technically wearing something that resembled a maid outfit, it was made of the same shiny material Zenith had been so obsessed with. The skirt was shorter than any Jinta had ever seen, and the outfit hugged her body so tightly every one of her curves was highly accentuated. It looked like something the performers would wear in the adult district of town.
“Is that you, Jinta?” The maid’s eyes briefly softened, but swiftly narrowed again. She clutched her knife even tighter. “How do I know you’re not under her spell right now? Zenith has a way to control the minds of others, and some of the castle staff have already fallen victim.”
“Yeah, I’ve seen her handiwork firsthand myself.” An indignant anger started to rise in Jinta. “Wait a minute, I could say the exact same thing about you. And what the fuck are you wearing? You look like you’re already one of her sluts or something!”
Valia’s cheeks flushed a deep crimson. “That’s not important! She got me with one of her tricks, but I can assure you it won’t happen again.” She lowered her blade, taking on a more relaxed stance. “I suppose it really is you, mind fully intact in there. No other would have such vile and undistinguished language.” Although her weapon was sheathed, she continued to watch Jinta with a cautious gaze.
“Nice to see you too I guess.” Jinta lowered her own blade, feeling the maid’s scrutinising glare wash over her. “Are you going to stand there glaring at me or are you going to help me send out a distress message?”
“Don’t get ahead of yourself, vile cur.” Valia’s words were full of venom as she spoke. “Just because you aren’t enthralled by the sorceress’s magic, doesn’t mean I fully trust you. Cherisse and the Queen might give you the benefit of the doubt, as you are still their family. But I know better. I know how badly you want to take the throne for yourself.”
Although she hated to admit it, the words did sting a little. “Hey, I never wanted this to happen.” Valia merely cocked an eyebrow, the emphasis of the words not going over her head. “But you’ve gotta admit, Cherry’s ego can start to swell up. She needs someone like me to knock it down, to keep her in check.”
Valia merely shook her head. “The lack of self-awareness you possess is simply astounding. At times I feel baffled at the knowledge that you and the Princess are related, yet sometimes you sound far more alike than either of you realise.” Her oddly cryptic words only left Jinta confused, but she was just glad they had seemingly formed a truce.
“In any case,” Valia continued, “my feelings about Cherisse are wholly irrelevant to the task at hand. Let us send out these distress messages before we have another unwelcome guest.”
That was something Jinta could agree with. The two set about, storing each note in a small cylindrical capsule and tying to the leg of a bird. The various messengers were exceptionally well trained, and they would go directly to their destinations and back with little delay. After sending out a dozen total letters, They were finally finished. Jinta felt a wave of relief wash over her. Help was on the way, and no matter what happened, reinforcements would eventually arrive.
“I suppose some credit is due.” Valia’s serious tone broke the awkward silence between them. “Between the two of us, you did manage to successfully complete your objective. That’s more than I can say.”
The self-deprecating comment took Jinta off guard. She had never seen the maid with anything but total unwavering confidence, no matter what the task was. It put her in a strange position, where she felt the urge to comfort her new companion. “Hey, you can’t blame yourself for this. None of us could have predicted what Zenith is capable of. I’m sure you did your best, you always do.” It felt weird to be the one doing the comforting, especially to someone currently wearing a shiny fetishistic outfit. But this whole day had been nothing if not filled with unexpected changes.
Valia shook her head. “Of course you don’t understand. For me, failure is simply unacceptable. The Princess counts on me in all manner of circumstances. I am her maid, her bodyguard, her retainer, and countless other jobs I doubt you even know the name of. And I excel in all of them, because Cherry needs the support. You don’t know her like I do.” Her voice grew awfully quiet. “Nobody knows her like I do. And she doesn’t even realise it.”
If things had felt awkward before, it was nothing compared to now. Jinta felt like she was hearing a secret she truly was not meant to hear. It might have been the adrenaline from their precarious situation that was causing her to open up. Valia was putting herself in a vulnerable position, and while a day earlier Jinta would’ve mocked her for it, now she felt the urge to comfort her instead.
“You know, I get what it’s like to be overlooked.” Valia looked up in surprise as Jinta began sharing her own experiences. “My whole life, people have overlooked me, to focus on Cherry. I hear the pity in their words when they talk to me, the poor unfortunate child. Never able to reach the throne, and even if she could, her magical inability would leave her unfit to stay as Queen.” Once the words started, they just kept pouring out. “Nobody directly said it to my face, of course. But they didn’t need to.
Jinta turned to directly face her companion, her eyes beginning to slightly water. “Is it really so wrong of me to want what she has? To see her suffer and squirm a fraction of the amount I’ve had to do in order to get where I am today? I’m just like you, I always have to win, no matter what. It’s not my fault the deck is so often stacked against me, so I have to even the odds myself.”
Valia opened her mouth to respond. However, before she could, a slow clap began to fill the room, echoing unnaturally loudly in the large room. Both girls jumped in place, spinning around to see the new intruder. Jinta’s heart lurched as she saw Zenith standing before them.
“Bravo girls,” the sorceress began. “That was quite a lovely heart-to-heart. Very touching, if I do say so myself. However, I’m afraid I’ll have to cut your little gathering short.”
Immediately Jinta prepared to charge, but Valia was even faster. Flashes of steel came flying out from her hands as she flung her set of daggers with deadly accuracy. However, Zenith merely held up her hand and stopped them in mid-air. The daggers hung in place for a moment before melting to a silvery puddle on the floor. “Someone’s rather eager for a fight. Which is a bit of a relief, to be honest. I was getting worried you would all just give up on your own.”
The implication caused Jinta’s blood to run cold. “What are you talking about? If you’re trying to say that someone willingly joined you, I don’t believe you.” Her mind was racing, imagining all the worst possible outcomes. They would need every advantage they could muster in order to take down Zenith.
“Well, not necessarily. One of your pals somehow managed to get herself defeated before I arrived.” She stared at Valia’s fetishistic latex maid outfit. “I do love what you’ve done with your clothing, but hers was a little more… intense. By the time I got there she was as helpless as she could get.” An arrogant smirk grew across Zenith’s face. “But at the same time, your darling Queen decided to give herself up to me. I wouldn’t be expecting her to help you anytime soon.”
Valia had a sharp intake of breath. “That’s not possible. You’re lying, the Queen would never turn her back on her country.” Jinta nodded in agreement. Zenith must be getting desperate if she was telling such a bold faced lie.
However, Zenith merely sighed in annoyance. “You really put too much faith in each other. All of you do. Here, let me show you what she’s busy doing at the moment. Spoiler alert - it isn’t figuring out a way to defeat me.” Zenith waved her hand and created a magical bubble in front of them. It sparkled for a moment, but quickly stabilised into showing a proper image. Jinta and Valia both went wide eyed in horror as the sight before them unfolded.
Someone was laying spread eagle on a bed. The core of her body was completely exposed, but she wore a set of latex gloves that appeared to melt together at the end, giving her no fingers to work with, like a set of mittens. A similar pair of impossibly pointy heels were on her feet, and if standing upright, they would force her to stand on tip-toes. Not that it mattered, since her limbs were chained to the corners of the bed. A hood covered her face, keeping it totally encased, with a phallic object sticking up from where her mouth would be. Despite her face being obscured, Jinta recognized Bellwyn’s body shape, although she had never seen the ranger’s small breasts and dripping pussy so completely exposed before. However, Bellwyn’s predicament wasn’t what caught her attention, not by a long shot.
Squatting over top of her was Queen Meredith herself. Her typically regal composure was completely gone, replaced with a primal and unrefined demeanour. She was completely nude, pumping herself up and down on the phallus protruding from Bellwyn’s face. Her oversized tits were flopping about with each movement, her loose hair flailing about all over the place.
“Oh fuck, that feels so good. Fuck me harder, stretch open my slutty cunt!” The voice was somewhat faint, but they could still hear her words. Meredith was rubbing her own nipples as she used Bellwyn to get herself off. The entire bed was stained in various body fluids. Jinta felt a well of emotions building up inside of her. Naturally, there was shock and despair at seeing her aunt in such a manner. There was also a perverse arousal, from seeing something that by all means should have grossed her out, yet it only drew her in more. But most importantly, it fed off a strange spark inside of her. A spark of cruelty.
“Your vision means nothing to us.” Valia was doing her best to remain stoic, but the uncertainty in her voice was beginning to creep in. “That could be a fake vision you’ve conjured just to distract us. Or if it is real, it would be from you totally enthralling the Queen like you have with the staff. Either way it means nothing.”
Zenith clapped her hands, causing the vision to disappear. “You really do try and see the best in your friends. It’s almost commendable, if a little stupid. I told you when I arrived, any of you are welcome to surrender and join my ranks. I am still looking for a right hand lady.”
The offer was met with a wad of spit on the ground from Jinta. “How can you expect us to believe you after what you’ve just shown us? It’s clear you have this sick and twisted fantasy in mind, and you’ve given us no reason to trust that you’ll honour your word.” She pointed her rapier, preparing for a swift charge. Zenith was fast, but she was also a talker. Cutting her off while she was in the middle of gloating could be her best chance at an opening.
However, the sorceress’s next words completely took the fight out of Jinta. “I’m a little surprised to hear such resistance from you. After all, you’re the reason I was able to arrive here in the first place.”
It was like the wind had been knocked out of her stomach. Jinta felt a chill sweep over her, and her knees began to wobble in place. Valia slowly turned her head towards her, a distant look in her eye. “What exactly is she talking about? Jinta, tell me she’s just saying things to divide us.”
This whole time, Jinta had been hoping they could resolve the issue without the horrible truth coming to light. That things could go back to normal without her unfathomable mistake being known. “It wasn’t supposed to be like this.” Her voice was weak, trembling as the words came out. “It was just supposed to mess with the ritual. The shopkeeper told me to spread this black powder around the chamber and the ritual would go sideways.”
She turned to Valia, hoping for any trace of compassion and understanding. “I told you, I just wanted to see Cherry fail. I didn’t know any of this would happen. Valia, you have to believe me, I-” her words were cut off by a slash right in front of her. Valia was brandishing a dagger, slashing at Jinta with a brutal ferocity she had never see from the maid.
“You absolute BASTARD!” Valia shrieked as she continued slashing, Jinta barely deflecting her hits and being pushed backwards. “YOU betrayed the crown, YOU brought this disaster upon us. You ruined EVERYTHING!”
Jinta caught the handle of Valia’s blade, twisting the dagger out of her hand. “Valia, listen to me! Look, I know what I did was wrong, but I’m trying to make it right. We can still fix this.”
“We?” Valia reared back and headbutted Jinta right in the forehead, causing the duelist to stagger in place and drop her own weapon. “There is no we. There never should have been. Zenith was right, I never should have been stupid enough to trust her. You’re almost as despicable as Cherrisse.”
Despite their conflict, the words threw Jinta into a wave of confusion. “Wait, what do you mean? Aren’t you in love with her?”
Valia advanced on her, her hands balled into fists. “Love? You think I love that pitiful entitled self-centred brat?” Her stance was completely different from usual. Her eyes glowered with unbridled rage, filled with hatred the likes of which Jinta had never seen. “I have spent years cleaning up after every little mistake any of you make. When you invite diplomats over and offend every aspect of their culture, I have to ensure the food is prepared and served well enough to smooth things over. When you go out hunting, I’m the one who has to ensure a bandit doesn’t try and kidnap you. When you all go to sleep for the night, resting your fat and lazy buttocks in a soft and refined bed, I stay up to plan the next day and figure out how you idiots will ruin it.”
Jinta had never known their maid was holding such scorn for them. She never would have guessed it in a million years. “But your work doesn’t go unnoticed! Meredith has given you all sorts of rewards, and Cherry thanks you all the time.”
“YOU THINK I WANT A THANK YOU?” Valia was screaming, tears openly running down her face. “I have spent years living in this castle, putting in far more work than ANY of you. You think that you work hard, that we struggle in the same way? I have to pick up the messes of an heir to the throne, but because it’s a throne you don’t get to sit on, that makes us similar. You struggle with magic. I struggle with being undermined by the sole person I have to protect. And yet you think we’re the same because one aspect of your life wasn’t delivered on a silver platter? DELIVERED BY ME, LIKE EVERYTHING ELSE YOU TAKE FOR GRANTED?”
Valia grabbed her by the throat, her grip startlingly strong given her slender fingers. Jinta looked over at Zenith, grasping at straws to figure out an explanation. “You’re doing this,” she desperately gasped. “You’re somehow controlling her, making her act this way. This isn’t the real Valia.”
Zenith merely raised her palms and backed away. “Hey, don’t look at me. I’m not doing anything to her. Honestly I might just let this one play itself out.”
“Did you know I once considered Cherisse to be a friend?” Valia was speaking through tense breaths. “I was young and stupid when I was told I would be her retainer for life. Growing up, I thought we could be like equals. Eventually I realised that would never happen. That even though I do more than you and her combined, I will always be the dutiful maid in the background.
Jinta clawed at Valia’s grasp. Her airways weren’t fully blocked off, but the choking grip was definitely constricting her. “Valia… please. I’m sorry, can’t you just listen to me?”
“All those years I spent keeping this family afloat. Silently stewing in my own misery because that was my job. I sacrificed everything. Every dream I ever could have had.” Each word felt like it was piercing through Jinta’s skin. “And now, thanks to you, it was all for NOTHING!” She raised her fist, preparing for a direct strike. Jinta flinched in anticipation of the blow.
But nothing happened. In fact, the grip around her throat started to lessen. For a moment Jinta thought that maybe she wasn’t as angry as she had sounded. However, when she opened her eyes, she saw a set of shadowy hands binding the head maid.
“That was a rather enjoyable performance, but I’d rather you didn’t go breaking my toys.” Zenith snapped her fingers, and another set of hands covered Valia’s mouth, effectively gagging her. Valia thrashed in place, and although the fury in her movements hadn’t gone declined in the slightest, she was thoroughly held in place. “As much as I love seeing you go after each other, it would be wise not to forget who the real threat here is.”
Jinta scrambled to her feet. She felt like a cornered rat, with an angry snake in front of her and a hawk circling overhead. There was no hope for her. For any of them. Even if the reinforcements arrived, even if they somehow managed to fight off Zenith, nothing would go back to the way it was. Valia was still burning with anger, and if looks could kill, Jinta would have been dead a thousand times over. There was only one possible option left for her.
“Zenith, you mentioned you were looking for a right hand woman. Is that offer still open?”
Zenith clicked her tongue. “Oh? I thought you were adamant that you would never betray your family. At least, no more than you already did.”
The words stung, but it was a blow she was willing to take. “You were right. I should’ve just joined you from the start. I wasn’t ready then, but now I am.” Jinta’s number one rule in life was that she always had to come out on top. If the odds were stacked against her, she just had to change the problem. There was no way out for her if she stayed loyal, but with Zenith, she could still be the winner. “I’m not sure if you know this, but I can’t do magic. I’ve tried everything I know but it’s never worked. I don’t know if I’ll be of much use to you, but I’m willing to pledge my loyalty to serve you.”
There was a loud clack of heels as the sorceress slowly approached her. Zenith bent down, caressing Jinta’s cheek with her hand. “My dear, there’s so much one can do without needing to use magic. With the right tools, I’m sure we can find a proper use for you.”
A strange wave of hope sprung in Jinta’s chest. Sure, she wouldn’t be able to rule. That was never going to happen. Despite all her efforts, there was no scenario in which she would ever be the person sitting on the throne. But standing next to them? The loyal second in command who helped where needed and graciously accepted being their underling? That was something she could do.
“But first,” Zenith continued, “we need to figure out what to do with this one.” She gestured towards Valia, who had grown still but was staring at her with absolute hatred. “If you’re going to be my underling, you’re going to watch as your former friends and family are corrupted and twisted into their new perverse roles in life. Why don’t you decide her fate?”
It was a jarring thought. One that disgusted Jinta, but more than it disgusted her, it enticed her. Maybe this would end up being her chance to get back at Cherry. Sure, she never wanted to make her suffer this much, and she felt a little bad for Bellwyn and Meredith. However, their suffering was a price she was willing to pay. And Valia would never forgive her, no matter what. So why should she be kind in turn?
“She always hated being a maid and serving others,” Jinta began. “She’s already wearing an appropriate outfit. Why not have her continue her job, but for new masters, and some more devious attire?”
Zenith tapped her chin in contemplation. “I like the way you think. You know, I have always had a bit of a thing for maids. I have just the idea in mind.”