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Ivaan lay curled up in the foetal position, sobbing. He felt horrible about everything. About being brought into this goddamn parallel universe with a weird name by a lion who was strangely named himself. About being lied to so elaborately by the queen. About killing the man. About screaming at Jo.
Jo didn’t know she was actually growing fond of Ivaan until she walked away from him. There’s something about escaping together that makes two people become close friends. Sooner or later, the guards would come after him and capture him. And probably her as well. It was not impossible for her mother to sacrifice her along with him at the altar. She’d never even loved her like a daughter, anyway.
Ivaan didn’t even resist when the guards came for him. He just let himself be carried off without the slightest protest. He saw the guards’ lips move, but couldn’t hear any sound. Everything seemed to be moving in slow motion. They took him down several flights of stairs. He was thrown into a dark prison with a cold, bare stone floor, random sharp edges jutting out of it all over. Just as the bars were closing themselves shut, he ‘snapped out of it’, as Jo had told him to. He realised the actual idiocy of what he’d done. There was no doubt that he was going to be killed in a few hours, but he’d put Jo in trouble too. She’d told him that she wasn’t close to her mother. What if the queen imprisoned, or worse, sacrificed her as well? As if a switch had flicked on somewhere inside him, he sprang up and started banging on the bars. “Let me go! Let me go!” The guards merely smirked and clopped back up the stairs. After several minutes of trying to get the door open, Ivaan slid along the wall and sat back down, arms wrapped around his knees. Soon sleep replaced helplessness, weighing his eyelids down, and he slipped into the blissful abyss.
A few hours later…
When Ivaan woke up, he wasn’t in the prison anymore. Instead of the prison’s ceiling, there was the black fabric of the night sky embroidered with stars above him. He tried to sit up, but he couldn’t. He felt something cutting into his arms and legs, and he saw that he was chained on to a white marble platform. No, it wasn’t a platform- it was an altar. Realisation hit him like a jolt of electricity. He was going to be sacrificed. Panicked, Ivaan turned his head this way and that, taking in his surroundings. The altar seemed to be positioned exactly at the centre of a vast circular garden. Black, blue and violet roses lined its circumference. People were arranged around the altar in concentric circles. Guards, manservants and maidservants made up the outermost ring. After that, the people he’d seen sitting in the throne room- he spotted Lord Harog, who’d given him his seat- stood in the next ring. That dinner seemed ages ago now. In the innermost ring stood the Queen’s bodyguards and then the queen herself. She looked regal in a black gown embroidered with glinting silvery rhinestones and sequins, as if she’d decided to impersonate the night sky. Plastering her face with a sweet smile, she walked to his right and leaned over him, so that he was looking straight up into her eyes. “So how does it feel, Ivaan darling? I promise it’ll all be over soon,” She talked as if he’d just received an injection and she was his mother, trying to console him. His mother. When had he last seen her?
Ivaan ignored the question. He stared back at the queen, putting as much spite as he could in his words- “You lying, manipulative vixen, you won’t live another moment. I won’t let myself be killed to let a toad like you live.”
“Careful about what you say, boy. I can kill you before you can say ‘Thysymnykhta’.”
“I. Will. Not. Die.”
“Really? And who will save you? Jo?” The queen laughed, a menacing sound. “I’ve already made sure she won’t be able to.”
Fear built up inside him. “What have you done to Jo, witch?” He spat at the queen.
The queen calmly wiped her face. “More concerned about her than ourselves, are we? Oh, young love is beautiful,” she said, with an exaggerated dreamy look on her face.
“Answer my question!” He roared.
“Well, that’s not something you need to know. All you need to know is that you’re going to fall into an eternal sleep in ten minutes.”
Ivaan knew it was hopeless, but he still struggled against the chains binding him. “Let me go! Let me go, witch! What have you done to Jo! Leave her alone!”
The queen turned and looked at her bodyguards. “Gag him. I can’t stand his voice anymore.” The men bowed and walked towards him. Ivaan tried biting their hands and one’s hand bled from where he’d bitten him, but another punched him in the face, making his nose bleed. Ivaan screamed from the pain just as the man gagged him, leaving him whimpering. Ten minutes passed by quickly. Too quickly. It seemed that it was seconds before the Queen was standing above him with a wicked-looking spear in her hand, ready to bring it down on his chest. Ivaan closed his eyes and braced himself for the pain. It never came. What came instead, was a whooshing sound and the clatter of the spear on the marble floor surmounted by the altar. Ivaan opened his eyes.
“Not on my watch, mom, not on my watch.”