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 raised and ready. As the day progressed, the festival workers lowered the banners of the monster one-by-one 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: not only has one of our Unifier allies, who protects us from threats and brings us to Heaven with their great strength, but someone special, someone whose presence with us has enabled us to protect existence as much as our revered allies, is also here for the celebration!" 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 of everyone's hatred brought throbbing pain to her head. A knock at the door warned her of someone, and then the door opened. "You're not joining me for breakfast?" The king walked to the bed and sat on it. "It's tomato soup with soft-cooked eggs." He reached out and slowly rubbed her hip. "Please forgive me. I do not feel well." The lie sent burning pain through her. "I feel very sad and want to lay in my bed for a time longer. Please, may I?" The honesty and begging reduced the pain, and she trembled as she felt the grip on her slender hip tighten. "Oh?" The man gripped her dress and pulled upward as his hand slid that way. His weight on the bed shifted, and suddenly she could smell his breath as much as she felt it against her neck. "Someone has been looking for you, Dzhed. What do you know about it?" She grimaced as his grip on her night gown tightened. "You are- are hurting me." She murmured. "What?" He gripped tighter. "I... Forgive me. I do not know. Maybe they wish to throw things at me as you have allowed others to do already? I did not enjoy that, your majesty." She closed her eyes tight. "I cannot even strike a spider. I would never harm anyone." "You say that, but it's your word and your crown against the Unifiers, and they've done a lot more for us than you. All you do is laze about until I tell you to bend over." He slapped her hip and stood suddenly. "You'll sneak out of the castle and find this seeker. Find out what they're up to, and tell me in the morning at breakfast." Dzhed remained silent for several moments. "Yes, your majesty." She hugged herself as she laid on the bed.