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Ivaan was even more befuddled than he had been earlier- if that was possible. He had been saved by a talking lion from slaves of a witch whose name sounded like a tea kettle. He was sure he was going insane.
“You can stay here tonight.” The queen spoke. “This is the safest place for you. As soon as the first ray of the sun colours the sky, we’ll send you back home. But not right now. Earth is too dangerous a place for you to remain until the sacrifice time has passed.”
The word ‘Earth’ jolted him. He wasn’t on the Earth? Then where the hell had he ended up? He voiced his thoughts, though not in precisely the same words. “What is this place?”
“You’re in the kingdom of Vasiona in a dimension parallel to yours,” she replied casually.
“What the… I’m not even in my universe?”
“I’m afraid not. But don’t worry, you’ll be back home through the portal by dawn. Now, now, I know this is a lot to take in, so why don’t you go and sleep and not bother your innocent head about it.” She clapped twice and two maidservants in black-and-purple corsets and ankle-length skirts appeared, bowing their heads. “Go and prepare our best guest room for this gentleman,” the queen ordered them. They curtseyed and left. “You can have your meal while they set your room, dear.”
Ivaan hadn’t realised that dinner had been served while the queen was talking to him. A trapezoid mahogany table had been laid with silver crockery and golden cutlery before him. A bowl full of reddish-orange soup garnished with parsley, a generously seasoned Ratatouille, pita bread stuffed with baked vegetables and a tall glass of cherryade was all part of the meal.
Ivaan was a food critic. He could pick out flaws in Alain Passard’s food, his mom would say. Yet this meal seemed to be perfect. Try as he might, he couldn’t find a single fault- the flavours blended with each other yet retained their individuality, the three dishes complemented each other and the cherryade was just the right amount of sweet. As soon as he finished his main course and emptied his glass of cherryade, a maidservant came in with a plate of what looked like chocolate truffles. As soon as he bit into them, he knew he had guessed wrong. The dessert tasted like a flavourful hodgepodge of all the best sweets. It was like cookie dough stuffed with nuts and tiny marshmallows, flavoured with cotton-candy crème and a generous amount of dark chocolate syrup. Although the main meal had more than filled him up, he could not possibly have just one of those truffles. He overate and tried not to burp or fart.
The food made him sleepy. When he had finished, a manservant in a sleeveless brown jacket and Arabian pants led a very drowsy Ivaan to his room. While they were climbing a flight of carpeted stairs, a girl around his age with an ivory complexion and strawberry-blond wavy hair in an ash-grey tunic and black leggings came bounding down the stairs towards them. She stopped before the manservant and talked to him in that language which, by now, had begun to annoy Ivaan. She sounded quite urgent and seemed to be commanding the man to do something. The man seemed to hesitate at first and tried to argue, but had to obey in the end. He left with a bow. As soon as he was out of sight, she turned to Ivaan.
“Hello, Thysia. I’m Princess Jo and I’m going to save your life.”