This wasn’t the first time Namir had crashed into Sloane’s room and loudly declared some new epiphany. “This has got to be your dumbest idea yet, O Great Chosen One!” But it was certainly the most surprising.
Namir stood in the doorway, panting from the effort of running up stairs. They attempted a scathing look at Sloane but they could tell it didn’t have the sting they were going for.
Sloane, calm and beautiful as ever, simply sighed and set down her brush. “You’re being vague again, Namir.” She smiled turning the sour note in her voice to a teasing one.
“I think it’s perfectly obvious which dumb idea of yours I’m referring to,” Namir snapped. They kicked the door shut and stepped further into the room. Crossing their arms, they continued, “What in Ihtar’s name makes you think marrying the Devil King is what the prophecy was even slightly suggesting?”
Sloane rolled her eyes. “You said I had to ‘take his heart’, didn’t you?”
“Literally. You had to literally take his heart from his chest!” Namir threw their hands up in a show of frantic disbelief. They felt on the verge of tearing their hair out in frustration.
Sloane shrugged, which was so casual that it almost caused Namir to scream. “I think you’re worrying too much about the specifics,” she said, turning back to her vanity mirror. “I can handle this.”
Namir took a few giant steps across the room. They slammed their hands down on the vanity, leaning into Sloane’s space for her full attention. “I don’t think you’re worried enough!” they growled. “First you disappear for months without me and now you’re- You’re-”
“Fulfilling the hundred year prophecy my way,” Sloane soothed, placing a gentle hand on Namir’s shoulder. She flashed her most confident grin. “You know I can take care of myself, don’t you?”
“But what you’re doing-”
“Is to get the big final fight as far away from any innocents as possible,” Sloane interrupted. “I’m going to convince him to take me to his fortress and then finish the job there.”
Namir jerked back in surprise. “There’s no way you’re going to catch him off guard like that.”
“Well, he already confessed his love for me.”
Namir leaned in again. “And you believe him?”
There was a pause as Sloane flicked her gaze to the floor in thought. “He asked me to marry him, didn’t he?” She shrugged. “Besides, it’s not like anyone else is confessing their undying love for me. It’s worth a shot.”
Namir turned away just as they felt heat rising into their face.
“Anyway, he’s going to be here soon,” Sloane said, nudging Namir towards the door. “Said we were going to look for someone to help plan the wedding. The sooner, the better, right?”
“You’re going to get yourself killed,” Namir grumbled. Sloane laughed, “Better me than you.”
The door shut behind Namir with a soft click and they were left alone in the corridor of Howlester Keep.
Or so they thought.
As they stood, back pressed against the door, someone cleared their throat a few feet away. They startled out of their maelstrom thoughts. Their stomach dropped.
Faust the Devil King stood there in all his unholy glory, a sharp smirk plastered to his devilish features. His posture was befitting someone of royalty and his long sharp horns nearly scraped the ceiling. “My dear bride isn’t getting cold feet, is she?” he crooned.
Namir gave King Faust a glare. They received one right back.
“I certainly hope no one plans on crashing the wedding,” Faust said in a tone that only resembled concern. “It would just be a dreadful shame if someone were to attack me for my past actions.”
Namir wasn’t stupid. They were able to tell that the Devil King was gloating. Whatever his actual plans were, this wedding was part of it.
“I’m sure dear Sloane would be just devastated if I were to perish before our wedding day,” King Faust continued. “Wouldn’t you agree, Oracle?”
Namir was silent for a moment, weighing their options. To openly defy Faust without any way of defending themself would be to welcome death. But Namir would rather die than allow him to marry Sloane.
Faust waited patiently for their response, pointed tail lazily drifting behind him.
Perhaps, if Namir was clever, they could choose both options.
“Oh yes, my King,” Namir agreed, looking sheepish and weak. “It would be simply awful if anything were to ruin such a momentous day.”
Faust’s smirk grew into a fanged grin. “Excellent. Good to hear you say so,” he chuckled. “As your inevitable new ruler, I value the insight of such a knowledgeable soothsayer.”
Namir gritted their teeth but forced themself to bow humbly anyway. They were determined to keep up the act. Just long enough to put a blade in King Faust’s chest, at least.
King Faust hummed in consideration. “You know what? Since you are so knowledgeable and trustworthy, perhaps you’d like to be put in charge of planning the whole wedding?” Just when Namir thought Faust’s grin couldn’t get any wider, the devil appeared to just grow more teeth to accommodate it. “I- I couldn’t possibly-” Namir tried.
“Nonsense!” Faust boomed. “There’s no one else I’d prefer.” “But I-”
“You will happily accept and meet with the peasants preparing in the courtyard immediately?” Faust’s tone turned dark as he leaned over Namir. “I’m glad you’re so agreeable, Oracle.”
Namir was glad that they had the self control not to scream at the top of their lungs. “Yes. Sir.” they ground out. “Good. Now,” Faust patted them on the head with a clawed hand and nudged them aside, “my beloved and I have some of our own plans to attend to.”
Namir stepped stiffly away from the door of Sloane’s room.
“Run along now, Oracle.” And with that, Faust disappeared behind the door and Namir was left, properly, to their own devices.
Namir walked briskly down towards the courtyard. As they went, the gears in their mind turned steadily. They were not going to just let the Devil King get what he wanted. Not without a fight.
Then like a candle flaring to life, a thought that was not their own popped into their head; Namir stood in the Chosen One’s place. They envisioned themself standing over the dying King Faust, Sanguine Dagger in hand. To anyone else, this thought might have been a frustrated delusion. Namir knew better. This was a new prophecy directly from Ihtar.
This prophecy was a backup plan.
Namir gained speed as they rounded a corner into the courtyard.
More than a dozen heads turned to greet Namir. The townsfolk all had expressions of worry and fear. They had put their trust in Namir and Sloane.
Shame made Namir hesitate. It wasn’t their fault Sloane had made such a rash decision without telling them. But they were Ihtar’s oracle. It was their job to know what was supposed to happen. They took a deep breath.
“Citizens of Howlester,” Namir began in as confident of a voice as they could manage. “I have received a new vision of what is to come.”
There was the sound of frantic murmuring and panicked whimpering.
“Ihtar has told me that I am the one who will slay the Devil King and usher in the next hundred years of peace,” Namir declared.
The bubble of panic burst into a whirlwind of shouted questions. No matter the wording, the questions all asked the same thing: what about the Chosen One?
Namir tried not to hesitate. “The Chosen One has decided to take a risk that Ihtar seems to think shouldn’t be made. So I am taking her place.”
They stepped into the circle of worried folk and shushed them gently. In a much lower tone, Namir continued, “Many of you may not be aware but while the Chosen One was being trained to destroy evil, I was training alongside her. I can fight just as well as she can. We can defeat the Devil King. I just need your support.”
There was a brief exchange of doubts but ultimately, the townsfolk came to an agreement. They offered Namir whatever help they could.
Preparing for a wedding was a daunting task on its own. There was much that needed to be checked and double checked to ensure everything went without a hitch or a hiccup. The assistance of the townsfolk made a few things easier for Namir, who had no real idea how to plan a wedding, but there was still a constant stream of nonsense in the form of King Faust’s minions.
The devils kept a close eye on Namir and the townsfolk. Namir reasoned that this was probably because King Faust didn’t trust them for a second. Luckily for Namir, the hellspawn minions weren’t nearly as clever as their King.
While the townsfolk worked tirelessly on the decorations, Namir took to protecting them from the devils. They were sure that Faust wouldn’t notice if a couple minions turned up dead. After all, he regarded his minions with the same warmth and care that someone might give to a piece of garbage. Anything that wasn’t useful anymore got thrown away.
The day of the wedding swiftly arrived and in a last ditch effort to ensure King Faust didn’t suspect them of plotting, Namir offered to assist the Gulaboli with cooking the post-wedding feast.
The King, likely distracted by his own plotting, agreed without so much as an argument. “Fine, fine,” Faust huffed as he fidgeted with his cufflinks. “It won’t really matter once all is said and done. But if it will keep you busy, be my guest.” He stomped off after that, grumbling something about how small mortals were.
Namir hurried off to the kitchens. They were glad that Faust was too distracted to realize that he had sealed his own fate. The smell coming from the kitchens was foul; sulfur and ash mingled in Namir’s nose. They wrinkled their nose as they passed what looked like a bubbling pot full of tar. A massive pile of raw meat sat slowly attracting flies on the central counter of the large kitchen.
The Gulaboli, a large hideous devil, hummed to itself as it stirred away at another huge pot of some sort of thick and sour smelling stew. It looked over its shoulder as Namir approached. “Whaddya want, maggot?” it snarled, brandishing its spoon somewhat threateningly.
Namir simply smiled. “King Faust sent me to assist with the cooking,” they supplied eagerly. “And judging by the state of this place, you’re in dire need of assistance.”
Gulaboli gurgled deep in its belly, “Shove off, oracle. The King wouldn’t have sent ya. He’s not stupid.”
“I’m just here to help,” Namir said, holding their hands up in surrender. “King Faust made it seem pretty urgent that this food be prepared before the ceremony. I certainly wouldn’t want to upset him.”
Gulaboli considered this for a moment. “Alright. Fine.” It waved its spoon in the direction of the meat pile. “Get to choppin’ then.”
Namir’s smile grew a tiny bit wider. “With pleasure.” They knew the layout of the kitchen well. As they dug through the drawers in search of just the right implement for the job, Namir also took the time to tip the contents of a pot out the nearby window.
Gulaboli looked over with a nasty grimace. “What’re ya doin’ with my soup, Oracle?”
Namir flashed a grin as their hand closed on the desired handle. “Oh I was just thinking it smelled a little… Over cooked.” They pulled the large kitchen knife close behind their back.
That seemed to strike a nerve. It stomped up, leaning over Namir in an attempt to be imposing. Gulaboli bellowed, “You little rat! It was barely burnt! You don’ know anythin’ about fine dining!”
Namir took a deep breath, closing their eyes.
“Are you even listenin’, runt?” Gulaboli grunted.
Clatter-clunk! The top of the Gulaboli’s spoon hit the floor. “So that’s your plan!” The Gulaboli grabbed a pot lid and hurled it at Namir’s head. It bounced off with a series of clangs. “Good try, Oracle. Sportin’ try.”
Namir groaned, clutching the side of their head. Their vision spun as they adjusted their footing. They gasped. A rolling pin smashed into the wall behind them.
“The King’s gonna give me a medal when I present him with Oracle Stew!” The Gulaboli lumbered around the kitchen after the retreating Namir, swinging a soup ladle.
Namir brought their knife up just in time. The metal twang reverberated through their arms. “The King,” Namir hissed through gritted teeth, “is going back to hell where he belongs. And you with him!”
Gulaboli laughed, deep and gurgling. “I wonder what roasted Chosen One tastes like!”
Namir lunged with a furious growl. The knife sunk deep into the Gulaboli’s belly but the creature seemed unfazed. Instead, the beast grabbed Namir and wrenched their knife out of its massive body. It lifted them over its head. “Good try,” it belched.
Namir was thrown into one of the stoves, causing the bubbling pots to rattle against each other.
Namir’s ribs throbbed as they pulled themself to their feet. Their knife remained in their white knuckled grip.
The Gulaboli twisted slowly around, chuckling the whole way. It patted its stomach. “There’s gonna be good eatin’ toni-” Namir cut it off.
They stepped to the side as the head of the beast rolled from its shoulders and the body tipped forward. Dark red blood oozed from the stump.
Namir let out a sharp huff, tugging their clothes back into line. “Now then, better not waste any time,” they pulled up their sleeves and got to work.
They collected the blood of the deceased Gulaboli in their empty pot. They set the pot over the stove to boil. “Garlic cloves, a pinch of iron shavings…” they muttered to themself as they tossed ingredients into the bubbling liquid. “Aaand nightshade berries.” Then they dropped their kitchen knife into the pot.
The liquid began to foam and bubble violently. The knife rattled against the sides of the pot. Foul black smoke billowed out. Namir had to cover their nose to stop themself from gagging.
It only took a few minutes for the pot to stop shaking. The old iron stove was coated in some kind of residue. “Well, we were due to replace it anyway,” Namir said to no one in particular.
They retrieved the knife from the pot. While its general shape remained unchanged, the blade of it gleamed ruby red. Namir felt the thrum of power against their palm. They gave the Sanguine Dagger a once over before hurling it at a cabinet.
Thunk! The Sanguine Dagger struck squarely in the center, burying itself a couple of inches into the wood.
“Perfect.” Namir yanked the knife from the cabinet door. “Now for the ring.”
Namir hoped that Sloane wasn’t still wearing the Viribus Ring. They chewed on their lip as they neared her room, worrying that they might not be able to convince her to give it up.
They knocked on her door. No reply. They waited a breath. Still nothing. “Sloane? Everything alright in there?” they called through the wooden door.
There was no response.
Namir stood there in the hallway for a moment, glancing around. “She’s probably just… With the seamstress that’s all. You aren’t too late,” they assured themself. “You’re never late.”
They opened the door a crack and peeked in. The room was unoccupied and cold.
Namir’s stomach twisted into knots. They didn’t have time to panic. They began searching through the room quickly but methodically. They grumbled to the dusty bookcase, “Head full of futures but none of them tell me where the damn ring is!”
They darted past the window then froze. Namir’s heart pounded. From their vantage point, they could see the keep’s courtyard where everything was set up for the wedding. The wedding that had just begun.
Namir whirled around. They launched into a sprint only to slam into the thick wooden door. The lock clicked.
A throaty cackle leaked through the door, “Sorry, Oracle! His Majesty says you ain’t invited! He’ll be keeping your precious Sloane though. And consider the ring a wedding present!”
Namir stabbed the Sanguine Dagger into the door. The wood cracked. The voice behind the door yelped in terror.
“Best you and your knife stay safe here, Oracle,” growled another voice. “Wouldn’t want you crashing the wedding.”
Namir pulled the dagger out of the door and looked about, eyes wild. They attempted to heft a stool into the window but they were quickly thrown off balance. The resounding crash spurred the fiends guarding them to cackle.
From their new perspective on the floor, Namir spotted something underneath Sloane’s bed. They half crawled beneath it. There was a rope, old but sturdy, and crowbar. A vivid memory of sneaking out of the keep with Sloane as children popped into Namir’s head. They smiled.
With their brow set in determination, they set to work on the window. The frame snapped and creaked in a stubborn effort to remain shut.
“What’re you doing in there, Oracle?” an imp snapped, no doubt peeking through the lock. “Awful lot of noise!”
Namir threw their weight onto one end of the crowbar. The window wedged open a smidge.
The Devil King Faust was standing at the altar. Sloane, dressed in white, had begun her descent down the aisle. Namir gritted their teeth. They pushed the crowbar down harder. Their arms ached.
Sloane was halfway down the aisle.
“The Oracle’s attempting to escape!” a fiend shrieked. “Warn the King!”
Crack. Crackle crack!
The window groaned open another inch. Then two inches. Sloane was only a few steps from the altar.
“I- Said- Open!” Namir shouted, giving the crowbar one more heave of effort.
The window flew open with a gust of air.
Namir rushed to secure the rope to the sturdy bedpost before throwing themself and the other end out the window. Their stomach lurched as they dropped. They briefly wondered if they’d have time to regret their choice.
The rope snapped tight against the wall and held firm. Namir let out a sigh of relief.
Descending the rope was something Namir had practice in. Aside from a few rope burns, they made it to the ground in one piece.
“Don’t let them stop the wedding!” a flying imp shrieked from the head of a swarm above them. The tiny devils dove to slash with sharpened claws and stinger tails.
Namir whirled with the Sanguine Dagger. The blade reached farther than the imps anticipated. Several were sliced in half and dropped to the ground like stones.
The remaining imps squawked and shrieked in rage. Their tails lashed out.
Namir parried a stabbing tail and in one quick swipe of their knife, took the imp’s tail clean off. Devil blood spattered their clothes. Their blade shined its crimson hue.
The imps recoiled from the sight of the Sanguine Dagger. Namir took the opening and made a mad dash for the courtyard. The chaotic screams and snarls of a gathering hoard of devils rang out behind them, nipping at their heels as they ran. “Stop them! Stop them!” one of the devils roared.
Namir nearly tripped on a bone club as it swung for their legs, just managing to leap over it and keep running. A bold imp flung itself onto Namir’s back, tearing at their hair and clothes.
Namir stabbed it over their shoulder. It fell with a cut off shriek of pain.
“If there is anyone who believes these two should not be wed, speak now or forever hold- By the gods!” As Namir entered the courtyard, the peaceful wedding music stopped with a jarring sound. Townsfolk and devils alike gasped in shock at the sight. Even Sloane, awe inspiring in her wedding gown, was rendered speechless.
Bruised and bloody, Namir stood at the end of the aisle and pointed their still dripping knife at the Devil King. With all the conviction they had, they declared, “I object!”
Faust looked unimpressed. “And just what do you think you can do to stop us, Oracle?” he snarled. His horns and claws seemed to grow sharper with every word.
Sloane took a cautious step away from her would-be husband. She held a hand to her mouth, the Viribus Ring glinted gold.
“Why don’t you come find out, Faust?” Namir took a step forward. They shot a glance at Sloane. They wished she could’ve been far away when this fight occurred.
The Devil King must’ve seen the glance. He smiled, folding his arms across his chest. “No, I don’t think I will,” he chuckled smugly. “Perhaps after dear Sloane and I are married, I’ll indulge your pathetic attempts to win her back.”
Sloane looked to Namir with confusion on her face. Namir’s ears burned but they took another resolute step forward. “This wedding is over, Faust,” they spat.
“Petty jealousy doesn’t suit you, Oracle,” Faust countered. He turned back to the altar. “You’ve had twenty years to earn her affection and you failed. Just accept that and this will be painless.”
Namir’s grip on the Sanguine Dagger tightened, their knuckles going white. Another step down the aisle. “Enough! Let’s end this, you monster!” they shouted.
Faust glanced down at Sloane. “Oh dear… They are stubborn aren’t they? How did you ever stand it?”
Sloane’s voice trembled when she spoke, “Faust, let’s just finish this and-”
Faust’s smile turned wicked and sharp. “No. If they want a bloodbath, I think I’ll give it to them. Just this once.” The spines along his arms and back rent his fancy wedding clothes. He tore the tatters from his chest and faced Namir. “Just remember, Oracle, you asked for this.”
He leapt from the altar with unnatural speed. Townsfolk ran screaming from the courtyard as he landed a foot from Namir.
Namir wasn’t ready for the sheer inhuman strength of the Devil King. His claws caught them just under the jaw and flung them backwards. They crashed through the wooden benches.
They pulled themself out of the debris just in time to tumble away from another thorn-covered attack from Faust. Namir scrambled to their feet. They lunged with the Sanguine Dagger. It sunk into Faust’s side for just a moment before Namir was thrown off their feet again.
The much more monstrous looking Devil King hissed, examining the steaming wound. It wasn’t healing. But it wasn’t nearly enough damage to subdue him.
Namir managed to drag themself to their feet and hurl themself back into the fray. They slashed at Faust’s spiny back, ignoring the thorns that stabbed them right back.
Faust’s tail slammed into Namir’s ribs. Their feet skidded across the dusty cobblestones. They were on their feet this time but barely.
“Oh, won’t you just die already?” Faust rumbled. He grabbed Namir by the shirt and hefted them into the air.
The knife sunk into Faust’s arm like butter. Namir drew it back and stabbed again. And again.
Faust hurled them down the aisle.
They smashed into the ground, tumbling and bouncing until they were finally stopped by the altar. Namir layed there for a moment, gasping for air.
A soft but strong hand squeezed theirs. They looked up and saw Sloane worrying over them. “I’m so sorry, Namir,” she sobbed. “I’m so stupid. I didn’t know.”
Namir pushed themself to sit, leaning against the altar. “It’s not your job to know what’s going to happen,” they coughed, wiping the blood from their chin.
“That’s not what I meant,” Sloane sniffled. She gripped Namir’s hand tighter.
They realized something small was resting in their palm now. The Viribus Ring pulsed with power. They blinked at Sloane, eyebrows shooting up.
“I love you too, Namir,” she murmured. “I’m sorry. I thought I could protect you from this.”
“Sloane dearest!” roared the Devil King as sparks flew from his elongated fangs. “What do you think you’re doing?” Namir gritted their teeth. “Maybe you can still protect me,” they coughed.
“Sloane! You’re playing a very dangerous game, my love!” Namir took Sloane’s hands tenderly. The Viribus Ring slid onto her finger with ease. The power of the ring swathed her in golden light. It shimmered over her skin like sunset across a lake. “We were both chosen for this.” Namir gave Sloane’s hands a quick squeeze before pulling the Sanguine Dagger to their hand. “Let’s do this our way.”
“What about our wedding, Sloane?!” the Devil King snarled and spat. “You said you loved me!”
Sloane smiled and tugged Namir to their feet. “I guess we both lied, Faust,” she quipped.
The Devil King let out a hellish scream and charged.
Sloane stepped neatly between Namir and King Faust. The golden light surrounding her burst like a firework. Faust recoiled with a feral howl.
In two practiced steps, Namir whirled on Faust. Their knife sliced through his claws, trimming them short.
The Devil King retreated a step. “No!”
“You were always better at sword play than I was,” Sloane remarked, parrying Faust’s next swing with her bare hand. “Only when I didn’t have to use a shield,” Namir retorted. They snapped off a few thorns on Faust’s tail with a flick of their wrist.
“Stop! Mercy!” begged the Devil King as he continued to retreat.
Sloane brought a heel down hard on his tail. “Guess it helps when your shield knows your blindspots, huh?” Her smile was radiant.
“You can’t- Hrk!” Faust choked on his pleas when Namir threw the Sanguine Dagger squarely into his chest.
“That’s enough of that, Faust,” Namir growled. “Back to hell with you.”
They grabbed the knife handle. They were just about to twist it into his heart when Sloane placed her hand over theirs. They turned to question her.
She leaned in before they could speak. The kiss was firm but gentle and everything Namir had imagined it would be. Sloane pulled away a moment later. “I hope I actually managed to surprise you for once.”
“Are you kidding? You’re the one thing I could never predict,” Namir laughed breathlessly. They punctuated their words with a twist of their knife.
Something made a deafening cracking sound. Then both the Devil King and the Sanguine Dagger turned to ash and blew away with the breeze.
Namir and Sloane looked up from their work as hundreds of cheers rang out around them. Sloane gave Namir’s hand a squeeze before they joined the townsfolk in true celebration.
The cleanup lasted weeks. While the town of Howlester had driven off any lingering devils within a few days, the destruction of both the courtyard and kitchen of Howlester keep was another matter. Namir and Sloane received a stern talking to from the Lady of the Keep. They enjoyed cleaning the Gulaboli’s filth up even less than the tongue lashing.
Soon all was in its place once again and all of Howlester and the towns beyond rejoiced. The next hundred years of peace would be well worth the suffering the Wedding of Hell had caused.
It was a beautiful spring when Namir proposed to Sloane the next year.
MAUDEunit is a fantasy, sci-fi, horror, and romance writer, as well as the grand winner of December 2020's writing contest.