Fungal Halo

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Thorough Prophecy

If one braves the journey through the northern wilds, climbing inhospitable cliffs, crossing raging rivers, and cutting through dense forest, one may reach the land ruled by an ancient and immortal Queen of Evil: the Forbidden Kingdom of Hxail, where the living do not dwell.

How can such a remote place be a threat to the Empire of the Sun?

The answer is obvious to those who live there. A Dark Queen’s ideas know no borders. Her sinister whispers catch the wind and fly south to plant seditious fantasies in the minds of the weak, fearful, and lazy.

The true and loyal citizens take heart in a prophecy passed down for generations which tells of a great Hero who will quest to the north and put an end to the malice and greed that preys on all of them.

So important is it, that it is every citizen’s legal duty to know it.

The prophecy is quite specific about how one may identify their savior. There can be no room for doubt. Some fragments are even kept secret, held in an Imperial vault to ensure none may try to win status with a false claim.

Only the true hero may wield the Hero’s Mark Ring.

When the Hero at last appears—a woman stout of heart and broad of shoulder—the people know right away that she is special. She travels to the capital, where the Imperial scholars of the hidden fragments confirm it. The Empress herself presses the ring into the Hero’s hands.

“Travel swiftly,” she says. “And bring an end to tyranny.”

The Hero wants nothing more.

“You will know her by the strength of her love for the common people,” the prophecy says, and it fills her with pride to know that her actions might help the struggling people.

She travels north, and the great cliffs are no match for the Hero.

“You will know her by her astounding physique,” the prophecy says, and with sturdy hands and bulging muscles she pulls herself upward, scaling the rocky faces with ease.

She crosses the swiftly moving rivers, undeterred by their dangers.

“You will know her by her sharp wits,” the prophecy says, and with rope, axe, and her own ingenuity, the Hero finds her way safely across.

She navigates the wild forests without an errant step.

“You will know her by the depths of her wilderness lore,” the prophecy says, and the Hero makes her way as though born to inhabit these woods, foraging and hunting to maintain her strength.

She walks the winding path to the dark and fearsome fortress of the Queen of Evil.

“You will know her by the unwavering courage of her heart,” the prophecy says, and the Hero pauses only to wipe the sweat of her long journey from her eyes before approaching the main gate.

The gate is open, either as a sign of hubris, or in anticipation of her arrival. Either way, the Hero grips her sword, ring shining in the sun, as she makes her way through the completely unguarded approach to an imposing door, beyond which lies the home of her fated enemy.

The house itself is a maze, but the smell of smoke and strange, unfamiliar herbs wafts through the halls.

“You will know her by the sharpness of her senses,” the prophecy says, and her keen sense of smell leads her through the winding passages.

The Hero arrives at a great hall, where the Queen sits at the head of an old, oak table groaning under the weight of the elaborate feast arrayed on it.

She smiles, raising her wine glass in a silent toast to the arrival of the Hero sent to kill her.

“Please, won’t you join me for dinner?” the woman in black asks.

The Hero hesitates, but she doesn’t feel right attacking someone who offers a chance to talk first.

“You will know her by her merciful nature,” the prophecy says, and the Hero decides to try diplomacy.

The Queen gestures to the empty chair close to her—plate and silverware waiting for the guest whose arrival has obviously been expected—and the Hero warily seats herself.

“My, my, my… you really are exactly the woman the prophecy describes, aren’t you?”

The Hero runs her fingers uncertainly through her disheveled red hair, which grew out uncomfortably far during her journey.

“You will know her by her fiery locks, cropped short by her own choice,” the Queen says.

“So, you know the prophecy. You know who I am and what I’m here to do,” the Hero responds. “You know you can’t win a battle between us.”

The Queen waves her hand dismissively. “Oh yes, yes. Of course. I have no intention of fighting you. Wine?”

Without waiting for a response, the Queen of Evil leans toward the Hero, pouring a glass from the open bottle of wine next to her before topping off her own.

The neckline of her dress plunges low, and the angle of her body seems calculated to offer the Hero a salacious view.

Nevertheless, the Hero does her best to politely maintain eye contact, though she feels her face flushing at the smirk on her enemy’s face.

“You will know her by her weakness for women and disinterest in men,” the Queen says, quoting one of the secret fragments of prophecy.

The Hero’s eyes widen in shock. “How do you know that part?”

“The same way I know that the wine I just poured is to your taste, that the meal I prepared will meet with your satisfaction, and that you’d be wearing your shirt so deliciously open like that when you arrived.”

She recognizes the Queen’s references to some of the more…oddly specific secret fragments of the prophecy—those that required the Imperial scholars to test her preferences to a number of foods and drink.

“You will know her by the way she wears her shirts half unbuttoned,” the prophecy says, though the Hero was absolutely convinced the scholars were playing a joke on her when they revealed that fragment to her.

“But please, let’s eat first,” the Queen says, gesturing to the food. “I worked quite hard on it, and I hope you enjoy.”

The Hero feels wary, but after watching her host take a deliberate bite of every course, she allows herself to believe it has not been poisoned.

The food is astonishingly good. It is even better than the Hero enjoyed when treated as a guest of honor by Her Imperial Majesty—where they served her food designed to project opulence rather than crafted for flavor—and she could hardly believe it was prepared by a Queen.

She says as much, and the Queen laughs. “Oh, I’m not a queen of very much, my dear. Of powerful sorcery? Sure. But I have no subjects and no servants, and when one is immortal, well…one has so very much time to practice sating the body’s many desires.”

The Queen grins, eyes flashing bright with an expression that suggests she means to imply something that the Hero refuses to allow herself to speculate on. She feels her face heating up from the attention of a woman who seems to know exactly how to dismantle her defenses.

The Queen of the Forbidden Kingdom of Hxail does not need a prophecy to tell her where the night will lead, and with practiced expertise, she directs the conversation to keep the Hero off-balance and wrapped around her finger.

She never stood a chance.

It is not long after dinner that the Hero finds her hands gripping the waist of Evil, body weight pinning a panting, immortal sorceress to the stone wall of her dining hall.

Lips of darkness break their kiss to direct the Hero to the bedroom, and she obliges.

According to prophecy, the Queen comes to know her by her skillful hands, her dexterous tongue, her impressive stamina, and her attentive manner.

The Hero, for her part, comes to taste a healthy fraction of the Queen’s own skill set.

The sword is left behind, forgotten.

When at last the two are sated, the Hero asks again, “how do you know the prophecy about me so well?”

“Oh,” the Queen says, as if she forgot the topic altogether, “I wrote it.”

“Wait, what?”

“Ages ago. When I made that ring, which is how I knew they found you.”

The Hero’s mind reels, uncertain how to process any of this. “You could tell when the ring was given to someone?”

“And I could hear whatever was said in its presence, which was quite helpful in keeping my agents in the Empire informed of any plans to find them.”

The Hero, with the Dark Queen wrapped in her arms, scowls disapprovingly. “No more, if you want to fuck like this again. I’m here to stop you from causing all that suffering to regular folks.”

The Queen laughs, then pats the well-muscled arm of her companion reassuringly.

“The only thing I do, my poor, misguided Hero, is point out how their rulers live in luxury while they struggle and starve.” She pauses for a moment. “Oh, and also I help them stay ahead of the guards if they want to steal food or plot treason or something.”

“You don’t blight their crops and steal children?”

“Is that what the Empire says, while it plunders its own citizenry to support the lifestyle of its rulers?”

The Hero furrows her brow in thought for a while before something else occurs to her.

“Why all the weird, specific stuff in the prophecy?” the Hero asks.

“Well, I wanted them to send a powerful warrior whose sense of justice and open-mindedness would inspire her to listen when I say that the Empire is a brutal regime that must be dismantled.”

“You will know her by her height, standing head and shoulders above the average woman.”

“I…was lonely, so I thought it would be nice if they sent someone hot. Who would be interested in me. So I started writing down all these qualities that an ideal partner would have…”

“You will know her by her preference for red wines that are neither particularly sweet nor astringent, which possess an aroma of—”

The Queen interrupts with embarrassed mumbling in her pillow. “I suppose I thought it would be nice if we shared similar tastes in some things.”

“You wrote a whole prophecy to describe the kind of woman you have the hots for, then waited for someone to find her and send her your way,” the Hero summarizes, shocked disbelief in her voice.

“And made sure they’d give her that engagement ring,” the Queen adds.

The Hero is stunned silent.

“How about it? Two wives working on dismantling a corrupt empire when we’re not having outrageously good sex?”

“You know,” the Hero says, “you should’ve seen how awful everyone at the palace was before they declared me their savior.”

“They didn’t like your sense of style?”

“Well, that and they fired this cute serving girl when they saw she was receptive to my flirting.”

The Queen sighs. “I really thought that part of the prophecy would make them kinder to women like us.”

The Hero shakes her head. “Not at all.”

“So,” the Queen asks. “Do you want to tear them down, eclipse the Empire of the Sun forever with me?”

The gorgeous warrior squeezes the sorceress tighter with her powerful arms. “I do.”