Fungal Halo

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The greasy, spindly woman who wormed her way into the king’s court should not, by any reasonable estimation, have been able to get as close to him as she did. She was foul, unsavory, and with a sharp tongue that did her few favors in the great courtly games of diplomacy.

It was clear her grip on the king was sorcerous in origin. With every whisper at his side, the woman in black dripped poison into his ear. The once-benevolent ruler slowly gave in to paranoia and delusion.

But while the interloper was loathed by many, not all hated her.

The princess found it a relief that her father’s priorities suddenly shifted from arranging a marriage for her.

She was a radiant beauty who resented her role in life. Held in a prison of gold and finery, she was kept as a prize to be earned or bartered for, and she hated it.

What did she care if the haunting woman with the pointed features arranged the deaths of some of her family’s oldest allies? It was not merely that politics disinterested her; she had been actively prevented from acquiring the political education that a male heir would’ve had.

So when she stood at the king’s side at a ceremonial event of some kind or another, she pretended not to notice the subtle ways her father tried to resist the woman who kept him enthralled or the flicker of the unnatural emerald glow in his eyes as he silently begged for help.

“I believe your advisor wants your attention, father,” the princess said, nudging him toward the woman bent in his direction, ignoring how that other woman’s pendant glowed the same brilliant green whenever she exerted the power to restrain his struggling mind.

The princess also acted oblivious to the lascivious glances the woman in black—the Raven, as the princess had come to think of her—cast in her direction.

Yet her bodyguard—and jailer, responsible for keeping an eye on her at all times—did not fail to notice the Raven’s gaze.

Nor did that knight fail to notice the Raven finding an opening during the ceremony to scuttle over to the princess. Before the bodyguard could chase her away, she managed to murmur into the princess’s ear a soft command: “you want to invite me to your chambers later.”

The princess, who wondered what it would feel like to fall under that spell, found herself disappointed that the pendant did not glow nor project any compelling force into her mind.

Was there a hint of confusion in the other woman’s face before the knight shooed her away?

No matter. She did, in fact, want to issue that invitation. The Raven was surely better company than that dreadful knight, anyway.

It took some doing given said knight’s renewed enthusiasm monitoring the princess, but she managed to find room to write a proper invitation.

She discreetly slipped it to an attendant who could see to it that the letter made its way to its intended recipient.

The knight remained an obstacle to hosting a guest in her chambers, but she trusted in the powers of the Raven to resolve that matter.

Sure enough, her bodyguard entered her chambers later that evening—with a recognizable glow dancing in those knightly eyes—to announce the arrival of an important guest.

“Green looks good on you,” the princess said. “Please let her in.”

But of course she was already through the door. The Raven would never let herself be slowed down by something as mundane as courtly etiquette, and there was something desperately alluring about such brazen disregard for the same rules that bound the princess so tightly.

Then the knight left, and the kingdom’s fairest jewel was all alone with the sorcerous usurper.

The Raven was just as brazen in her ogling. The princess felt the spindly woman’s gaze touch every last part of her body, and the sheer audacity of it made her breath quicken.

“To think that dolt had such a pretty thing as a daughter this whole time,” the Raven said, her voice as full of sharp corners as her bony limbs. “I would have taken an interest in you sooner had I known.”

The princess could only smile at the compliment. For her part, she found the Raven to be more attractive by far than the obnoxious princes who made up the suitors that her father forced her to meet. Clever and powerful, she was the opposite of all those well-bred fools.

The other woman carried such an air of danger, her pulse raced with excitement. It was obvious what the Raven wanted, and the princess wondered what manner of debasing, depraved acts she’d be compelled to do by dark, irresistible magic.

“Your bed,” the Raven commanded, stroking her pendant. “Take me there.”

The pendant remained inert, and the princess felt no compulsion, but she did as she was told.

The commands continued, requiring her to strip off the clothing she’d chosen to wear just for this meeting, one article at a time, while the woman in black watched and touched herself through the rags she wore.

Overcome with curiosity, the princess finally had to ask. “Why doesn’t your pendant glow for me, like it does with the others?”

With a quiet, harsh laugh like the sound of razorblades, the Raven took a step closer and gripped the princess by the chin.

“My focus has a luminous reaction when it drains someone’s will to resist me,” she replied. “For some reason I cannot fathom, girl, you make no effort at all to resist.”

As disappointed as she was in not getting to experience what the touch of the Raven’s will-draining compulsion felt like, the princess was filled with a strange kind of pride.

And the way the other woman held her by the chin, they were so close she could taste her breath.

She couldn’t resist. Leaning forward, the princess touched her perfect lips to the Raven’s thin, pale ones.

She felt the Raven stiffen, perhaps in surprise, before opening her own mouth and pushing hungrily into the princess’s eager kiss.

For how eagerly the Raven watched the princess disrobe, she was oddly bashful about allowing herself to be laid bare by another woman’s frantic hands grasping and pulling the fabric away from her scrawny body.

Nevertheless, it took remarkably little time before the princess had her way, and the Raven’s own body was on full display for hungry eyes and hands and mouth.

The princess needed remarkably little persuasion to indulge in all the debasing, depraved acts she’d imagined, that night or any other night to come in all those that followed, and even the Raven had to blush at some of her suggestions.

The pendant never glowed.

The king’s last remaining loyalists knew they had lost their last chance to maintain control of the kingdom when the wedding between the hated usurper and the king’s daughter finally took place.

By that time there were so few members of the court without the piercing green, enthralled eyes.

Before long, those too were claimed.

In the end, only the Princess was left with clear eyes and a clear mind, though perhaps she was still enthralled in her own way.