Aeryalday, 10th of Highbloom, 3830 AR

Duchy of Greenwood


            Queen Elliah was wicked hard to dodge.
            It took Veyd a little over two months to escape her grasp and even then it wasn’t easy. She managed what she wanted in Farrister, a week after meeting her, but the queen was very, very determined to give her annoying and conspicuous entourage.
            It was going to be hard enough avoiding a cyber lich’s notice without a small arming stomping around the countryside watching her every move and alerting every scumbag in the district to her arrival.
            Veyd eventually managed to “borrow” someone’s starship, left Walrus 5 where it was “safe” and set her ship to land in one kingdom while ejecting out in another.
            The queen was probably furious and probably sent a small army of sneaky, well trained officials to hunt her back down, but Veyd was good at disappearing. It wasn’t easy, however, as it once was.
            Nothing is easier than disappearing into the world as a boring, average man no one care’s about, she told herself and wondered from time to time how, all of a sudden, she had developed such a hold over the queen.
            None of that mattered now because she was free. She had snuck back into her home in Calyne, gotten her hovercycle, and was back in the game.
            She flew through the lively northern forests of northern Calyne, her vehicle green now in order to attract less attention from the queen. She was heading north, heading up through a roundabout pass, and found her face to face with a very stupid and unexpected problem.
            Somehow or another Duke Roster ended up in a border war with his friend Duke Vallorre of Greenwood’s unruly and disobedient bannerman Earl Marris. The issue popped up rather conveniently after the curse and the land short of the understood border of Greenwood suddenly became extremely valuable real estate.
            The main entrance in was for larger armies, vehicles etc. etc. was semi-royal so no one messed with that. It belonged to one, or the other, queen and Veyd had no interest trying to run that gauntlet.
            The one at the back was the part that was disputed because there were various mines involved, notably, Duke Roster’s silver mines of which the metal within had returned to the original pre-cursed value and were being presently excavated. To a lesser extent there was also valuable real estate of the nearby towns’ incomes, wood which was nearly valueless in the cursed north of Greenwood, and a strategic position if battle ever broke out over in Fort Woodwell.
            And because Veyd was caught with the queen for two months she had not been able to sneak through the pass before it became filled with two armies.
            Earl Marris on one side, the man who held the lion’s share of wealth in the country of Greenwood, and was known to be an affiliate of Queen Cydra, known to be a less-than-kind lord. He stood on one end, in the queen’s gray and his own dark orange, facing off with the army of Duke Roster in the blue of his duchy led by General Grentfyr, a noted soldier and war hero from the early days of the curse when Veyd was a very young Alan Veyd.
            “Goddamn you, Marris, I swear to the gods I will fucking kill you if you cross this line!” General Grentfyr told him.
            “We upset old man?” asked Earl Marris.
            “You’re goddamn right I am!” General Grentfyr was Duke Roster’s oldest friend. The problem was he was his oldest friend: the border war was low priority in the soon to be coming invasion from Doran in the east and he was sent by him to cover the north. He was still a healthy man, very muscular, tall, handsome in the way older men off were, with a full head of military cut white highly curly hair common to the dark skinned people of Talayne, and a scar across one of his face from that great ancient battle. “I’ve been waiting over half a century to put your bitch queen in her place and now I’m stuck guarding the north pass like some kind of glorified guard dog! You give me a reason, Marris, I swear to the gods!”
            Earl Marris was a forty something year old man, with a bit of olive skin look to him, dark hair hanging straight back over his shoulders, dark eyed, with a narrow, sculpted face that looked more beautiful than handsome. Somewhat lady faced, many would say.
            Beside him was a less than nice looking minotaur standing over eight feet tall, heavily muscled, with pointed horns out of his head, and full metal plated armor from neck to toe. Only his head was uncovered, the hairy face of what was mostly a cow, and in his right hand he held a huge gun that a normal man would require both hands and be very strong.
            That minotaur was the most hated creature in Greenwood, the champion of Earl Marris and a personal enemy of Duke Roster for the death of his son in a melee. Witnesses proclaimed the minotaur to be at fault, taking vicious advantage past the point of his victory that caused the lordling’s death, but the Gray Queen had pardoned him leaving no legal recourse. Duke Vallorre wanted him dead and the earl who protects him humiliated and it was known, far and wide, that he would pay well for such a thing.
            Veyd drove her forest vehicle out of the woods after not being able to find a way past directly between the two armies on accident. “Oops-a shitsy,” she said.
            Everyone just stared at her with the look of bewildered interest except the earl.
            His eyes narrowed on hers suddenly in something like lust but also something else, something less kind, and the minotaur mirrored that look beside him. “Who the hell are you?”
            “My name is Juliet Jandow.” They just stared at her as she lowered and stepped off her motorcycle, a girl in a black feminine short sleeved shirt, jeans, and heavy boots. Her gun was on her back but that garnered no interest to an army and her hair hung down around her chin slightly curly with the highlights gone leaving it very dark. “So, how’s it all going?”
            The two armies were on borderline, the southern half lush and green woodlands, the north half dying, ugly puke green woodlands that gave the sense of a dying yet still alive forest. There was a deeply contrasted line where the curse ended and Calyne began giving a long line, southern green with living grass, the north with its grass putrid yellow-green and dying, directly between the armies with only the dirt trail heading north from Calyne the same on either side.
            “Girl, you need to get out of here,” said General Grentfyr.
            “No,” said the earl. “No, I don’t think so.” His eyes narrowed. “You want to pass.”
            “I do,” she stated.
            “Then it’s agreed. You can fight my champion.”
            Veyd felt very much like she had missed something. She moved a lock of her hair out from over her right behind her ear. “Fight your champion?”
            “This is a joke, right?” asked General Grentfyr.
            “Do I look like I’m joking?” asked Earl Marris with a cold, unpleasant gaze.
            “Sadly, no,” replied the general coldly. He was calm and calculating at that moment, a sign that things were getting more intense and there was no time for rage and posture.
            “There are other options for a girl who has been caught sneaking around my camp borders.” He looked at her. “Come here.”
            “Well son of a bitch,” said Veyd. “I guess I’m not as smart as I thought.” She put her hands behind her back and felt a distinct twinge of worry. Marris had a reputation for wanting young virgin girls but Veyd had kind of hoped that meant eighteen, nineteen, year old girls or maybe seventeen or sixteen. The way he was looking at her then, like a mouse he had caught in a trap, meant he preferred less developed girls.
            “If I accept this challenge I want a few things met.”
            His face shifted to surprise then to a different kind of amusement. “Okay.”
            “I want the right to choose my own weapon and if I win I want to pass and I want you to give up your claim of the north of Calyne.”
            He scoffed, then laughed, then shrugged and said, “You’re using that gun?”
            “I am.”
            “Then sure. I agree.”
            “Give me your word.”
            “It’s given. You have my word, Miss Jandow.”
            The minotaur stepped forward when General Grentfyr made a sound of anger. “Is this a joke to you, Marris? She’s a child.”
            “She agreed. It’s done.” He was amused. “It ought to be worth a laugh or too.”
            “It sure will,” Veyd stated. “I can’t promise I’ll go easy on the cow that murdered Darren Vallorre the 2nd.” The minotaur’s eyes narrowed. “You’re the reason we eat so many of your kinsfolk. Learn kindness, Mr. Cow. Your friends will be grateful in the long run.”
            His face filled with rage but he said and did nothing, lips pulled back over his big cow teeth. His left hand tightened so much that she thought she heard his fingers cracking.
            “There’s a scary one,” said Veyd and she genuinely relished the idea of killing that mintaur even though she probably shouldn’t get involved. She hadn’t intended to but that minotaur was really asking for it.
            The heir to the duchy of Greenwood was one of the most popular men in the kingdom at the time of his death: twenty, super model attractive, athletic, easy going, brilliant, a respected leader, a respected soldier, and everyone loves the heir to a great land even if it is cursed. In addition to Darren Vallorre the 2nd there were countless women all over the place missing parts, hands, noses, ears, fingers, etc. etc. with horror stories about that minotaur’s involvement.
            “Not to worry, horny. I’ll make it quick.” Grentfyr was so stunned by that he was struck silent long enough for Veyd to add, “Look, I just want to pass and I’m willing to pay for it if you want to dodge this whole duel thing.”
            “I knew you weren’t serious,” said Marris, “But you’re too late.” There were guards behind her. “You’re in this to the end.”
            “You’re really going to do this?” asked General Grentfyr. “You’re going to make that little girl fight a minotaur? Even you cannot sink that low.”
            “She’s put herself in this position. What am I to do but follow the law.” He smiled at the old man.
            The minotaur leaned over and the Earl motioned for him to lean down and then mouthed something into his ear. It could not be heard but Veyd read the man’s lips easily enough.
            “Cut a few parts off,” he had told the minotaur. “Let’s see her talk so boldly to her betters when she’s headlining a freak show in Doran City.”
            “Wow, I’ve been here before,” said Veyd.
            “Really?” asked Grentfyr.
            “Yeah. Really.” Veyd pointed the gun up and shot off a couple of laser shots at the nearby wall to the east which she had not, at all, been able to get around. That wasn’t to impress anyone. It was to show that her weapon wasn’t super dangerous toward the minotaur and take him off his guard. “Old reliable,” she said with a smile.
            Earl Marris smiled at her in an ugly, nasty way. It reminded Veyd of Brenno’s grin, the grin of a bully psychopath.
            “Rush back here,” said Grentfyr. “If you get across the line—” He saw the men pull out blades and he grimaced.
            “It’s okay,” said Veyd and she turned to Marris. “Swear it in front of your men and General Grentfyr here. They’ve all caught cameras filming so it will be recorded and reach Duke Roster.”
            Marris’s smile slipped off. “I swear that should you beat my champion, Alvak the Minotaur, with the use of that firearm or any melee weapon during this duel I will back my army off of this spot and relinquish my claims to my lands south.” He frowned. “What will Grentfyr give me should I win?”
            “Nothing,” said Veyd. “Do I look Calynian to you? He doesn’t know me. All I wanted to do was pass with a bribe and get through here but you had to bring up Mr. Prince Killer there.”
            “And yet you want me to relinquish my claims?”
            “You are the asshole who is pitting a thirteen year old girl against a trained and deadly minotaur warrior. Since you’ve brought up my death and dismemberment I simply figured I should get the maximum advantage for everyone out of this. It also pleases me to think that this Calynian bad ass will be giving the Gray Queen the business after your dumbass gets off of his lord’s property.”
            The men on the Calynian side were actually smirking a little bit.
            “This is unacceptable!” said Grentfyr. “I will not tolerate you pitting your minotaur in a duel with a little—”
            “Really?” Maris’s eyes were wide with false shock. “Well why don’t you come over the line and start a war?” Grentfyr’s lips tightened and his eyes narrowed. “You have no business here, darky.”
            That last word resonated badly with the men in Grentfyr’s army who were ninety-eight percent or more black and they looked they wanted to hurt someone. One or two actually stepped forward but their commanders ordered them back.
            It all made sense to Veyd then: Marris wanted to start a war but he very much wanted Calyne to start it. Calyne is protecting its lands, because it can’t be proven that it belongs to Marris, but they can’t cross the border in Duke Vallorre’s land, technically Earl Marris’s southern territories, without risking drawing Calyne into a war north with Marris all the while claiming he had choice while it was preparing a fight in the east with the Gray Queen. Duke Vallorre had no interest in a border and would denounce the actions of his earl should the man be caught guilty of violating the same rule but his power in the land was greatly reduced with the cyber lich in the center of his capital.
            The majority of his lands were controlled by the cyber lich as well as his capital city while the earl’s lands remained mysteriously untouched.
            After a few moments Marris turned his head and looked at Veyd coldly. “You dislike the Gray Queen,” he said in a low, warning tone.
            “Figure out that all out by yourself, genius.” There were smirks all around the Calynian men. “Alright, let’s do this.”

*          *          *

            Veyd had a monitor reading her vitals in the form of a collar around her neck while the minotaur’s just came from his armor. Two projected monitors one on the left in red was the minotaur’s and the one on the right in blue was hers. They acted like barrier lines fifty feet apart.
            “Funny thing,” said Veyd. “His reads Alvak the Minotaur, which I recall you stating is his name, but I am reasonably certain my mother didn’t name me ‘Stupid Bitch Tits.’”
            “She did now,” said Marris with a laugh.
            The minotaur didn’t smile, he had the eyes of a true killer, and since he had his helmet on the one place he was vulnerable to her laser was gone. That was no surprise to Veyd and had already counted on that.
            He pulled out a huge vibration blade, his gun left behind, and started toward her. His eyes were narrow and evil through his red tinted transparent fronted face plate.
            Veyd fired once as he approached like she was trying to hurt him. The lasers did nothing as the minotaur approached. It didn’t surprise Veyd at all: she had actually been a designer of armor herself and could very well tell what kind of armor could take what kind of laser.
            “I’m going to enjoy chopping you to pieces, little girl,” said Alvak as he raised his blade.
            “Enjoy this,” she said and fired the left function of her gun draining the blue crystal by half.
            Alvak let out a scream as he, and everything he held, including, armor and weapon, all began to shrink. His voice was a roar that turned into a high pitched squeal as he went down to the size of an action figure. Veyd switched her gun to her other hand, reached down and caught him just as he tried to flee screaming his high pitched tiny person shriek.
            “Bad cow!” she cried and she shook him. He squealed like a child on helium trapped on one of those nauseating circus rides. “Drop it! Droooooop it!” She shook him for several minutes certain he vomited in his armor because she suddenly couldn’t see his eyes and the blade went flying. “You, sir, are a naughty, bad, cow should learn humility. A melee is a place of honor and dignity and respect and you, Bad Cow, broke these simple rules.”
            His vitals were spiking which meant something was broken after all that shaking which was good because Veyd didn’t want to shoot him again if he suddenly turned back to full size. Those crystals were damn expensive.
            She looked around, saw the wall, and then shrugged. She turned to it, threw the minotaur up into the air, cried out the word “punt” and then kicked him with all her might.
            His shrieking was clearly as he went flying through the air and all eyes followed him as he made a long arc and disappeared between two trees over the wall and out of sight.
            The earl was staring at her with wide eyed mortification. Veyd held out her arms and made a low curtsy.
            “You—you—” Marris’s face started to turn red “—you killed my minotaur!”
            “Well, My Lord, it was a duel.” She held up her hands. “But not too worry. He’s not dead!” She gestured to the monitor with his vitals. “It’s not like there’s a cliff over that wall.” He stared at her and she looked over to see only that one line of trees which the minotaur had clearly had flown past and nothing else. “He’ll be fine,” she added. “He’s got armor.” The sword turned back to normal suddenly again. “See, he’s normal sized again. It’s not a—big cliff is it?”
            She looked around at everyone and they all stared.
            “That’s quality armor,” she stated. “There is no way—” the vitals suddenly flat lined “—oh shit.”
            Grentfyr suddenly burst into laughter and all his men followed after.
            Marris’s eyes were full of hate and loathing and horror. He said something but it was impossible to hear over the laughter. Veyd shrugged at him with an “oops” expression that did not ease his growing rage.
            Veyd pulled off her collar, which didn’t flat line because she wasn’t dead, and watched as several men in the green of Duke Vallorre came up to her and knelt on one leg. Instantly, almost everyone became quiet.
            “Come on guys, I wasn’t that good,” she told them.
            “My Lady,” he told her and her lips tightened. “His Highness the Duke has made you Countess Valenforte.”
            “I’m a freaking countess now?” cried Veyd. How the hell am I doing this? When I was a man doing crazy awesome shit all throughout this kingdom and the crazy Living Moon and all I got was the title of World’s Biggest Asshole!
            “Yes!” he said happily. “Yes, you are! Your new lord wishes to meet you immediately!”
            “Sure,” said Veyd. “No problem.”
            Marris stared at her with sudden loathing. “Little girl, I—”
            “You speak to the Countess Valenforte, sir,” said the man in green, obviously one of the duke’s official witnesses for the battle. “I would remember to watch your honor and dignity with what little remains.” Marris frowned at him but said nothing and Veyd was led away through the enemy camp who parted for them reverently as they went toward a ship. Many of the earl’s men also bowed to her.
            “Alice Amberwood,” said Marris. Veyd looked back and saw his expression. “We shall have to meet again another time and discuss your future in my kingdom.”
            “I’m sure we will,” Veyd told him. “Of course, you have publically given your oath to back your army from this claim. As a member of the House of Lords I will be forced to make my statement verifying this should you decide—”
            “Stop talking,” he told her coldly and there was a moment where Veyd thought he would do something. He didn’t, though.
            “I need my hovercycle—” a man took her keys and rushed off toward her vehicle like he was on fire “—quick response.”
            “Get the monster’s body,” said the man in green to another man. “The duke will want the head.” He went over to a small turtle-like airship sitting there, got inside, and waited with green armored soldiers guarding the entrance.
            He thinks the earl might actually attack him, Veyd mused.
            The man sent to pick her bike drove it back, it was quicker, then parked it in the cargo bay. Within ten minutes a man on a man on a small one-man flying hover bike went flying down into what was apparently a thousand foot drop and collected the body of Alvak the minotaur.
            He was back within ten more minutes and by the time a half an hour was gone the earl was leaving. Several Calynian men, now able to head north over the border once the threat of battle was gone, thanked her personally, including the general who looked more confused than anything else excepted relieved.
            None of the soldiers wanted to be there, not from the general down to the stupidest ditch digger, all fully knowing where the real battle would be.
            “It’s time,” said man in green, who she learned was named Reynold, and they lifted off with a couple of battle airships shaped like jets flying beside them. He turned to her, a handsome man with dark hair on a handsome, sculpted face and dark hair cut short. “I’m going to talk to the duke.”

*          *          *

            Duke Darren Vallorre was as pleased as he got which in truth wasn’t very much but he did crack a smile.
            Nathan Varcus, now Nathan Vallorre, watched him closely. “He’s dead, isn’t he? The Butcher of Riverville.”
            The duke nodded and then actually broke into a full a smile. “Alice Amberwood, the girl from Calyne—” he laughed “—she used a shrink ray hidden on her gun and kicked him over a wall blocking a thousand foot drop after being semi-tricked into a duel by Marris.” He fully grinned. “She made him swear under oath to give up his claims to the north of Calyne.”
            Nathan burst out laughing. God, he missed Alan and the fun they had.
            He sounded childish at thirteen, reborn into the body of his old patron Lance Vallorre’s great-grandson. He was much better looking, actually really good looking, with straight raven black hair hanging down around his eyes and the dark eyes common of the Greenwood people, which in his case was very dark purple all of which went well with how he dressed which was almost always all black such as, in that case, a short sleeved black shirt, black pants, and tall black boots which was something close to what he always generally wore.
            He did not wear the uniform of “Knight of Greenwood” but then he almost never had even though he had been a knight before and had actually been returned to his post by Lance Vallorre who was still alive. He had been good friends with him and the instant it was clear who he was he was back in the game as a knight and one of his right hand men even though he was only technically thriteen. He was also a lord now but he had no lands or title as he was the fourth son of Darren Vallorre and two older ones were still alive and holding all the lands available.
            Nathan Varcus, now Nathan Vallorre, had been one of the few men Lance Vallorre trusted which was part of the reason he was always around his technically biological father who only trusted his grandfather Lance and his judgement and not his two other sons he continually worried about and for.
            “Is she coming here?” Nathan asked Lance.
            “She’ll be here tonight,” he replied. The former “retired” duke looked out of the window and stared across the small city surrounding his country seat far from the main seat of Valorron where the unliving man has taken over. The former duke had been ousted by his son when he was alive and invited back as an advisor by his grandson. Nathan had some pretty good recollection of the event that tossed out Lance Vallorre from the duchy since he had died in it.
            “I want to meet her,” Nathan replied.
            Darren Vallorre looked at him. “What did you and Danica Lanor talk about?”
            “She made me promise not to tell,” said Darren. “Anyway, you’ll probably learn by the end of night. Alice Amberwood is not, what you would call, a ‘smooth liar.’” He thought about it. “Well, she is, but not when it comes to avoiding—reveals.”
            “Who is she?” Lance asked.
            It was hard to hide anything from that one and he was going to inevitably learn Nathan just told him. Anyway, the man was technically his great grandfather.  “Alan Veyd.” Lance and Darren Vallorre’s eyes widened. “Yeah, I know, it’s crazy.” He smiled for a moment thinking about the times they had all spent together, with Danica too who had not been an attractive woman and was reincarnated as one of the most beautiful black girls he had ever seen. “Yeah, she calls herself Jessica Veyd but we can’t let any of this out.”
            “Obviously,” said Darren.
            “You know Archibald Brotain is from Greenwood and he cannot learn of this,” Lance said. There was no telling what he or any member of his family would do if Alan Veyd suddenly reappeared in their lives what with that stupid prophecy of theirs. “His spinster daughter is here now still hunting for a husband.”
            “I’m aware. That poor uncle of mine.”
            “He’s fine,” said Darren unhappily. He pressed the button on the monitor and the screen came alive. “When will she arrive?” Their man Reynold looked a little uncomfortable. “Okay, what happened now?”
            “She commanded me to go back to her county seat,” he said. “She was merely invited to me and outranks me—”
            “Damn it!” said Darren.
            “She’s making a run for it,” said Nathan.
            “It does sound like Alan Veyd,” said Lance.
            “I’m commanding you to change course back this instant!” cried the duke.

*          *          *

            Veyd sensed shenanigans in the air.
            “Why is this taking so long?”
            “Oh I have no idea,” said Reynold. He was grinning as he spoke. “I’m just a humble servant—”
            “You pulled a swifty on me, you son of a bitch! I know you did!” Veyd put her hands on her hips. “We’ve slowed down. Why have we slowed down?”
            “We’re there now.”
            “I was supposed to be there four hours ago. I got shit to do. My county needs me.” So much for Veyd’s head start: she needed to get into the wilderness and vanish and disappear before that cyber lich suddenly appeared on her doorstep and manipulate things from the shadows far from the sight of that psychopathic queen and her lich. “Stop that,” she told the woman.
            “You look darling,” she told her and fussed over her hair. She had been a soldier when some training as a lady’s maid that Reynold decided to help make Veyd look a “little more presentable.”
            “All the girls and women dress me up like a doll,” said Veyd. “Is my lack of feminine grace and ability written all on my face or something?”
            “Pretty much, yeah,” she replied.
            “Oh. Okay then.” She went over and watched as the airship came down in a castle courtyard. It was a classic castle, stone, with veneer insides and huge windows with statues. There were endless towers, bridges, and other unnamable architectural feats all rotting and falling apart surrounded by a ugly dying greenish-brown forest.
            “What a lovely place,” she said. “Home at last.” She frowned for a second in recognition. “This isn’t my home! This is Lance Vallorre’s country castle!” She turned to run, was caught on the shoulder by the women, and pulled back to the window. “Son of a bitch, bitch, bitch.”
            The vehicle landed and platform dropped open. She saw a figure standing in the courtyard at the bottom of the ramp. It was a boy about her age with dark hair and dark eyes looking up at her as she came trotting down.
            “Hey there, ‘Alice,’” said the figure. “You’re looking awfully effeminate today.” Veyd thought she recognized this person and then did, eyes bulging with shock, guessing his identity by the color of his clothes and snarky attitude. “How’s my favorite wingman?”
            “Fucking Nathan Varcus!” cried Veyd happily and she walked up to him and shook his hand hard. “Always thinking less of me. You were my wingman, Nathan! I’m so good at getting inside women that the gods made it permanent!”
            He laughed and she pulled her hand away and looked him over. He was taller, stronger than her, and, of course, male. Veyd suddenly felt her femininity more strongly than she had ever had with Danica. The two of them had used to hunt down girls in bars. Nathan was better at first, he was the better looker and he had some elusive quality commonly known as “charm” which Veyd apparently lacked but Veyd became rich so it balanced out pretty good in the end.
            “So, you important here?”
            “I’m Nathan Vallorre,” he told her.
            “Ooh, ooh!” she cried happily. “Tell me you’re the heir! Tell me, tell me, tell me!”
            “No,” he said. “I have two older brothers. I would have had three if not for that psychopathic minotaur.”
            “Oh yeah, the Flying Cow.” She grinned. “I had no idea there was a cliff there.” They both burst out laughing.
            “Want to get out of here—”
            “Oh hell yes!” Veyd said and punched him in the arm. “Right now, pencil dick!”
            “That didn’t hurt.”
            “I know, I’m a girl, its super-duper sad. Let’s bounce.”

*          *          *

            Lance Vallore was looking over the table being preparing for dinner.
            He stood there leaning on his cane, wondering where Alan Veyd was, and deeply envious of Duke Roster who, though handicapped from some great wound, somehow managed greater mobility. That general Grentfyr was even more mobile and older. Those two still went riding and hunting through the countryside like a couple of teenagers and he just wanted to punch them both in the nose.
            He looked at the man walking in uncomfortably and had a very familiar feeling. “She’s gone, isn’t she?”
            “Oh no, she’s just out with Lord Nathan.”
            His eyes widened. “Oh. I should have known.”
            “That’s good,” said Darren. “Nathan can keep an eye on her.”
            “Oh can he, now,” said Lance and he sighed. “Your father would have remembered this, I think. You were not born then or two young to remember.” Lance laughed, leaned on his cane, and said, “When those two clowns get together ‘things’ happen.”
            “‘Things’ happen?”
            “Shenanigans,” said Lance and his eyes widened. “Lots of shenanigans.”

*          *          *

            “So which one of you set up the dog sized life-like robotic spider to crawl through the choir girl’s locker room while they were changing?” asked Sheriff Brody. The two kids were grinning at him like Cheshire cats.
            “I have no idea, sir,” said the girl.
            “Uh huh,” he replied. “Which one of you slipped the dissected frogs into the food plates sent to the priests’ Aeryalday dinner?”
            “Sir,” said the girl, “I couldn’t imagine doing anything so horrendous as—”
            “You little hooligans!” cried Brody. “I ought to throw you in a sack and beat with you clubs!”
            “That’s seems rather severe,” said Lord Nathan Vallorre. “How will you explain your actions to the duke when the real culprit is caught?”
            “You—you little—” he pointed his finger at him and his face began to turn so red in his rage he looked like a cartoon character about to lose his temper.
            They burst out laughing.
            “I see,” said Brody through gritted teeth and tried, unsuccessfully, to calm himself. “Which one of you magically slipped Mayor Shoopman’s prized automobile into his living room!”They grinned at him in ways that showed all their teeth. “How about the one who programmed the loud speaker on Central Street to make every statement the mayor makes end with a drum roll?”
            They hid their laughter so hard they almost couldn’t breathe.
            “You little bastards!” he cried and he pointed at Nathan Vallorre. “If you weren’t the son of the duke—”
            “I didn’t do it!” said Lord Nathan. “As you know I am a lord’s son and I am a man of honor. I was escorting my lovely friend on a tour of our little village.”
            “I’m the Countess of Valenforte,” the girl told him.
            “You’re the what now?” asked Brody.
            “I’m the Countess of Valenforte and as a highborn lady I would never do these horrid things and I can assure you that I’ve been with Lord Nathan for the last several hours and no such thing has occurred.” She smiled at him.
            There were smirks and giggles and laughter behind hands of all the policemen and women behind Brody but when he looked they were all straight faced and serious.”
            “You—” he turned back to them “—you evil little—” His face started turning red again and much more. “You—”
            A man entered the room and everyone stiffened and stood tall. Then they turned and bowed awkwardly, the sheriff almost falling over, he was so unbalanced. “You too, this way,” said Duke Vallorre from the doorway. They both stood up, their feet clamping on the ground in unison from the bench they were on, and walked after him.

*          *          *

            “Which one of you was the mastermind?” asked Darren.
            “Neither,” said Lance. “They’re just like this when they get together.”
            “I’m going to punish both of you,” he said and he pointed to the chair. “You two sit here and wait.” The two walked off and Veyd was alone with Nathan in a way room with only a window to escape should the idea occur to them sitting on another bench.
            They burst into laughter.
            “Well that was goddamn fun,” Veyd told him. She stood up and let her hair hang down around her eyes.
            Nathan stood up and looked into her eyes. “Yeah, it was.”
            “What?” asked Veyd. She looked at him, confused, and then watched him move up to her.
            “You okay?” he asked.
            Veyd looked up at him and nodded. “Uh huh,” she said.
            He put his arms around her, pulled her against him, and then kissed her deeply. She let him, surprised at first, then kissed him back, taking his face in her hands as she did so.
            “Wild,” she said as she pulled back. Her entire body enjoyed the experience, shuddering from top to bottom, a fully functional heterosexual female vessel that did not pay any attention to whatever remained of Alan Veyd’s sexuality.
            She kissed Nathan again and continued to make out with him for several minutes. “Is this awkward or what?” she asked as he necked her.
            “Not for me,” Nathan told her. “You’re one of my best friends’ mind in a sexy girl’s body. I’ve got no complaints.”
            “You’re such a fucking guy,” she told him and she put her hands on his shoulders and kissed him. He wrapped his arms around her, putting his hands over her butt, and pulled her up against him.
            They kissed again but only for a moment before they heard a voice say, “Having fun, are you?”
            “Sure am,” said Nathan.
            “Is that sound of grumpy displeasure?” asked Veyd and she turned to see Lance Vallorre in the doorway with a cane. “Why yes it is?”
            “Goddamn it,” said Darren Vallorre and he came over and pulled them apart. “You two don’t even think about getting that involved.”
            “You’re going to have to watch these two closely,” said Lance. “They’re—” his eyes went wide “—problematic.”
            “Also known as fun,” said Veyd.
            “You know what else is fun?” asked Lance.
            “No. Tell me.”
            “Half the female choir are trained ladies maids.”
            Veyd’s smile vanished. “Wait, what was that now?” Several young and pretty women appeared behind him, all looking very annoyed. “Hi girls.” Veyd tried to look cute. “How are you doing?”
            “That doesn’t work on other girls,” said one of them.
            “Well shit,” replied Veyd as she walked up to them.
            “Make her look pretty,” said Lance.
            “We’ll make her look as pretty as she deserves,” said one took her hand in what appeared to be a nice gesture but was actually extremely tight. She pulled her out of the room with a look of grinning anticipation.

*          *          *

            Lance Vallorre was standing before the skull of the minotaur who had murdered his great grandson, stuffed and preserved for all time.
            “The Countess of Valenforte.”
            “Holy shit,” said Nathan in his fine black suit and his hair slicked back.
            “So,” said Lance and started to turn around to face her, “Did they have a sense of hum—” he jerk back in shock at the sight of her.
            The girl with Alan Veyd’s spirit looked like a clown. They had made her lips up incredibly red, made huge red blush on each check over white pale makeup, and put her hair up in weird ponytails on the sides. Her eyebrows overly exaggerated and her dress was a mixed color of white with bright green pompoms on the front.
            “I’m going to go with a no on that one,” said Veyd.




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