“That’s a cake?” Emile asked, his eyes widening.
“Yup,” Vur said as he walked over to Tafel’s side, transforming back into a human. “It’s for Tafel. Just like this whole party.” He wrapped his arm around her shoulder. “Happy late-for-this-year-but-early-for-next-year birthday! Let’s go to the center of the plaza.”
“This party was for me?” Tafel asked, blinking hard as Vur pulled her along.
“Uh-huh.” Vur nodded. “I tried to get you a star as a present too, but it got really hard to breathe and I fainted before I could reach them, so I decided to gift you the continent instead. Do you like it?”
“You didn’t have to,” Tafel said and bit her lower lip. She smiled and hugged Vur. “I like it. I like it a lot.” Her nose crinkled, and she drew her head back. “But please, rinse out your mouth with something.”
“I have just the thing!” Minerva said, lifting a barrel with her talons.
“Something not from her,” Tafel said, staring into Vur’s eyes.
Minerva flapped her wings as she hopped towards them on one foot. “What? You don’t trust my taste? Who was the one that adopted you, huh? Huh?”
Tafel sighed as she released Vur and patted Emile’s head. “You had it rough.”
“Not really,” Emile said, blinking at his mom. “I’ve never seen Mom like this before. Alcohol’s evil. I knew it.”
“If alcohol’s evil, then call me a midget!” a dwarf shouted from off to the side. Vur walked over and took a drink off the table, rinsing his mouth with it.
“You’re a midget,” Emile said, sticking his beak into the air while looking down on the dwarf.
“Eh!? What did you just call me?” the dwarf asked as he lumbered to his feet. “I’ll have you know I’m tall for a dwarf!”
“See? It poisons the mind,” Emile said and nodded at Tafel, ignoring the dwarf.
“Excuse me?” the dwarf asked as he tromped up to Tafel, his face bright red. “I’ll have you know, alcohol makes my wit sharper! My fingers become faster! The words come out easier! The—wait, am I arguing with a bird?”
“Not just any bird,” Emile said, puffing his chest out. “A phoenix.”
The dwarf scratched his beard and raised an eyebrow. “I thought penguins were taller than that.”
Emile hissed. “I said phoenix!”
“Eh….” The dwarf picked his ear with his pinky, pulling out a glob of earwax. “I have more important things to do than arguing with a penguin. There’s supposed to be a coronation ceremony today for the new king. I have to prepare myself to flatter him. I hope he’s as simple as our previous king.” The dwarf smiled and hiccoughed. “See you around, talking penguin.”
“I’m never going to drink,” Emile said, his beak hanging open. The dwarf staggered back to his seat and sipped on his tankard.
“That’s a good resolution,” Tafel said with a nod. “Don’t grow up to be like our mother, got it?”
“Nonsense! I’m an excellent role model,” Minerva said, her voice slurred. “Anyone who says otherwise is a cow.”
“Let’s keep going,” Vur said, arriving at Tafel’s side. “Everyone’s waiting to cut the cake.”
Tafel looked up. The castle-like cake that was in the sky was now on the ground. Hundreds of people were huddling around it, blocking her and Vur’s way. A barrier of skeletons were standing around the cake, holding the crowd back. A few skeletons with wings were stopping the fairies from stealing the frosting and sprinkles. One of them noticed Vur. “Vur’s here!” it shouted and pointed. “The king has arrived!”
The crowd whirled around and whispered, following the skeleton’s finger. Tafel sighed before smiling and waving at the people while Vur stuck his chest out and crossed his arms. The drunk dwarf from earlier gasped and fell out of his chair as if he had been struck by lightning. Emile shrank in size and covered himself with Tafel’s hair, using it like a curtain. “So many stares!”
“You get used to it,” Tafel said and tickled Emile’s belly with her finger. The crowd in front of her and Vur parted, letting them approach the cake unhindered. A few children ran up to them, but were held back by their parents. Their hands still stretched towards their new monarchs, and Tafel smiled while trailing her fingers along their palms.
“She’s not a human or a dwarf.”
“Is she a mutated elf?”
“Doesn’t her aura feel a bit like a phoenix’s?”
“Idiot! There’s a phoenix sitting on her shoulder.”
“That’s not what I’m talking about though.”
Tafel ignored their reactions and pulled Vur, who was glaring at the crowd and trying to find those who spoke, along. She whispered to him, “Will they really accept me as the new ruler of the land?”
Vur nodded. “Yeah, the dwarf king agreed, and the human emperor was replaced by a skeleton. It’ll be fine.” He gestured up ahead with his chin. “See? There they are.”
E was lying down, waiting beside the cake. “Vur,” he said and groaned as he sat up. “Do you know how many flying sets of armor it took to bring this cake here? Is it big enough for you? There’s a second one in the palace, but it’ll take at least a week to bring it here.” He snapped his fingers, summoning a set of armor beneath himself. “And this must be your wife. It’s a pleasure to meet you. You have a very capable husband.”
“Oh, err, thanks,” Tafel said and curtsied. Her brow furrowed at the previous dwarf king who was wearing pajamas and had drool stains on his cheek. “It’s nice meeting you too…”
“E,” E said. “My name’s E.”
Tafel blinked. “Like the letter?”
“No, like the number.” E nodded and clapped his hands. “Your aunt also had me prepare a new crown. I wasn’t sure about the ridges she wanted me to add, but now that I see the horns, it makes sense now.” A skeleton popped out of the ground, holding a shining green box. E raised an eyebrow. “That’s really convenient. I need some of these undead for myself. Is your aunt taking a disciple by any chance?”
Vur shrugged. “You’ll have to ask her.”
“Vur! Tafel! Hi!” Rella and Bella flew down from the sky, tackling the twos’ faces. Rella giggled and rubbed her head against Tafel’s cheek. “We’re here to do the projection magic again like during your marriage.”
Bella frowned at E and pointed at him. His pajamas rippled as they transformed into deep-purple robes. His jawline became sharper, and his face sterner. “You’re going to be one of the main characters for this coronation ceremony. At least dress appropriately.”
E blinked and rubbed his hands over his illusionary clothes. He raised his head and stared at Bella with wide eyes. “Are you taking on a disciple? This is even more convenient.”
Bella snorted and crossed her chest. “You won’t be able to learn it unless you’re a freak like Vur.” She smiled and ruffled Vur’s hair before sitting atop his head. “I meant that in an endearing way.”
Footsteps approached the group. The human emperor grinned at them. “The mistress ordered me to pass on the scepter.” He waved the golden stick in his hand. “Shall we get started?”