The festival sent the city into a frenzy. This week was a celebration like none other: this week, they celebrated the soldiers from other worlds, and their own part in protecting those worlds by hosting the most dangerous monster imaginable. The monster's visage decorated banners, and children threw rotten eggs and tomatoes at targets made to look like it. The creature's face was all red eyes and black horns and snarling wicked teeth, with claws ready, and as the day progressed, the festival workers lowered the banners of the monster and raised banners that showed an orb of green and blue surrounded by wings, with a twisted halo over top that resembled a sideways numeral. Today, the last day of the Festival of Greenstone, a special guest was slated to appear. All but the last monster banner had been lowered and replaced with the banner of the heroes, and a hush fell over the crowd, little by little, as the king stepped forward. "Good eve, one and all!" His booming voice echoed as he raised his hands. The crowd grew still as people of all ages and walks watched their ruler, heads upturned as the quiet grew and the monarch waited. Finally, his voice shattered the silence with a thunderous laugh. "I promised you a special guest tonight, and it's not just one of our allies protecting us and fighting for the truth of existence: no, today, it's someone special, someone whose presence with us has enabled us to protect existence as much as our revered allies!" The crowd began to murmur. "I present the monster, bound to the form of a maiden and shackled for your pleasure!" A pair of doors opened under the king's balcony, and a tiny woman walked slowly forward, onto a platform. Her figure was petite, more than two heads smaller than the guards who bound her wrists to the platform. Her pale skin looked like snow against the blood and black of her dress, which looked darker still against the pale green stones that decorated her jewelry. Most striking was her ankle-length golden hair that blew freely in the light breeze, wavy and thick, her vivid red eyes, and a black ring of horns that grew from her head in a crown. "I have a few rules!" The king shouted over the excited crowd. "The biggest is you don't touch beneath her clothing, and the second is not to damage her crown. Her crown keeps us safe from her cruelty." The king laughed, and almost immediately, an egg flew at the young woman's face. She closed her eyes, but made no move to defend against it. Dzhed stood, ready for the impact, and the egg shattered against her crown. Agony rocked her, and her vision blackened as she felt more impacts against her body and clothing. It felt like forever, but eventually the attacks stopped, and a hand rested on her shoulder. She jumped and turned to look, only to see the king standing with a guard nearby. "Time to wash up, Dzhed. You did well, my pet." The monarch purred. The light flickered across his broad form, and Dzhed looked around to see that the guard held a torch, and the night above was filled with stars. "Thank you." Dzhed murmured as she turned and bowed. "You look pretty, with that martyred expression. Go wash, and meet me in the throne room." The night went by with none of the promised cherries, and the next morning, Dzhed laid in bed, nursing bruises all along her arms as she trembled at the memory of the day and night before. Tears flowed freely, and she did her best not to think about how it made her feel. Even the act of feeling the pain caused by everyone's hatred brought throbbing agony to her head. And yet, the day held more for her than self-pity. She forced herself to rise and dress, to prepare for the day. Outside, she heard the usual noises: servants cleaning, people gossiping, and birds singing. Just another day. The small woman finished dressing, then sat on the edge of her bed and placed her face into her hands.