The door Albert remained leaned against gave him a push forward and he wobbly sidestepped out of the way to allow what everyone presumed would be Sylvia trying to enter again. On the other side of the archway however, stood Gwendoloena with Wymer and Seth behind her. Everyone in the room except V and Deigen made a confused double take between them and the smaller door that led the trio down a winding staircase earlier.
“Albert, why the personal barricade here?” asked the queen as she strolled in. “Are you attempting to change occupation from inventor to one of my guards?”
The zombie thumbed behind him toward Trevor. “Sorry your majesty, I was maintaining my dual role as guardian of my niece from certain fools she needn’t meddle with.”
Gwendoloena nodded at the young henchman who had dashed over to the staircase door only to find it now a crowded broom closet. “I really don’t think he’s as much of a threat as you fear.”
Trevor whirled around to face her while jabbing a finger toward the half-open broom closet. “You three left through here and there was a huge staircase with sconces all along the wall.” He thrust his other finger toward the main doorway they just walked through. “But you came back through there and now the staircase over here is gone!”
“Seth and your friend Wymer were equally observant, dear boy.” Gwendoloena gave him a sympathetic smile for his bewilderment. “Now please close that door if you will, there’s no telling where it will decide to lead to next.”
Trevor slammed the door shut and eyed it warily.
“I see they both returned with you, my queen.” V nodded at the zombie and henchman that had followed her in like two confused ducklings. “I take it they passed the test?”
Wymer made a face as though he’d just gulped a mouthful of sour milk. “Wait, of course we returned. What would have happened to us if we didn’t pass her test?”
“Enough not to pose true concern for anyone’s safety.” Gwendoloena replied as if Wymer hadn’t uttered a word. “However, Seth was sent here by the Keepers to murder our little magician.” She raised a hand to ward off Albert’s look of concern. “Which he would not have done, even though they lied both about being able to make him living again and a supposed threat to the villagers they’ve transformed into birds.”
“So what this Simone has told us is true,” murmured Deigen. He turned to offer an apology to the young woman for not believing her but found both Simone and Ian still too entranced with one another to have likely even heard him.
“But Sylvia was dying, I thought from some blasted curse those Keepers put on her anyhow,” argued Albert. “Why would they be so intent on harming one young girl in the first place?”
“Because your niece has also shown to be a potential adversary to them,” explained Gwendoloena. “And while I do believe they were responsible for the slow transformation we saw occurring in her, they wouldn’t have been able to do more than that themselves.” She raised her hands midway to indicate the castle walls. “Not while she is under what little protection I can provide here.”
“Enough about stupid girls being in danger and barely effective barriers,” Wymer stamped his foot, “what would have happened to me and Seth if we hadn’t passed that little cup test? What if I hadn’t seen water in mine?”
The comment made V take on a new level of alarm. “He had water in his cup? Can he truly be trusted?”
“At least as far as you or I could throw him,” said Gwendoloena dryly. “Which is why he’s going back to the Keepers.”
“Going back?” Her two guards spoke in unison and shared a look before Deigen spoke the next question that both undoubtedly shared. “Apologies, my queen, but are you certain that’s wise?”
“His loyalty to either side would be more unstable than Trevor’s and he hasn’t seen or gathered enough information to damage us.” Gwendoloena turned to the pudgy henchman. “And if our alternative is to watch over him as a prisoner than I’d much rather he return to the captors he holds in higher esteem.”
“Just one question before I go.” Wymer raised his finger in the air. “What would have happened to me if I hadn’t passed the test?”
Gwendoloena returned attention to her guards. “Deigen, if you would be so kind as to please show our guest the way out. V, have the remaining villages been warned of the Keepers?”
He waited until Deigen ushered a reluctant Wymer from the room before answering. “Only one remains inhabited but I fear the messengers we sent were unsuccessful.” The vampire shook his head glumly. “They said they would not listen to bogus nonsense about danger from a gang of monsters.”
“Then we will send a new envoy that includes those they don’t hold tale tales of horror about.” Gwendoloena nodded her head at each living person in the room as she continued, “Our strange fellow Ian, what I presume will one day be his bride Simone, and our nervous friend Trevor. I do wish Sylvia could go as well but one look at her fangs and pale skin would have them quivering more than the real threat upon them. Nonetheless, they must be warned.”
Trevor took a few steps toward her from the safety of his corner by the broom closet. “But whether they listen to us or not, what warning are we supposed to give them?”
Gwendoloena walked back to the main doorway, speaking over her shoulder while going out. “To prepare for war.”