Vur sat across the table from Mary, Alora sitting beside him. Tafel was sitting next to Mary, her dress changed into a new one. And around the group of four, there were dozens of tables occupied by nobles with plates of cold food in front of them. “You have to be nice to her, Vur,” Tafel said. “It’s her birthday.”
“Then I don’t have to be nice tomorrow? She attacked me first,” Vur said.
Tafel turned towards Mary, and the empress turned her flushed face away to avoid Tafel’s gaze. The demon sighed. “Yes, you can be mean to her tomorrow, but not today, alright?”
Vur grumbled. “I’m not being mean.”
Tafel sighed again and swept her gaze over the room. Alice and Mr. Skelly were far away, sitting next to Apollonia. The diminutive guild master had said a saying about not camping on top of an active volcano when Tafel had asked her to sit next to Vur. “Look,” Tafel said to Vur after realizing no one was around to back her up, “didn’t Mary and I make even worse first impressions than she did to you and you did to her? But Mary and I are friends now.”
A wrinkle appeared on Vur’s forehead. “I disagree. She didn’t almost kill your wife.”
Tafel’s expression darkened as Mary’s head seemed to shrink down into her shoulders. Alora nudged Vur’s side. “Tafel doesn’t have a wife.”
“Exactly,” Vur said and nodded twice. “See?”
“I’ve already forgiven her for thrashing me like that,” Tafel said and patted Mary’s back.
Vur snorted. “But I haven’t. And it’s annoying how she thinks she’s better than me in anything when she’s not.”
“But I am…,” Mary said in a small murmur.
Vur crossed his arms and looked at Tafel with a gaze that asked, “See what I mean?”
Tafel sighed and turned her head. A motion from the doorway caught her eye. “Oh, the cake’s here.”
A waiter came up to Mary’s table and placed a slice in front of the empress. Mary looked at it and nodded before pushing it towards Tafel. “Try it. I asked Alice what your favorite flavor was.”
“When did you ask her that?” Tafel asked and furrowed her brow. Was there a time when the two had been left alone?
“Secret,” Mary said and pushed the plate even closer to Tafel, nearly causing it to fall off the table. Dozens of waiters streamed into the room and filled the nobles’ tables with plates of cake as well.
Vur frowned at the slice of cake. It was gray on the inside, and the outside had a layer of cream and fruit covering it. He poked at it with his finger, causing the spongy substance to sink inwards before puffing back out. His hair brushed against the table as he leaned forward to sniff the cake, getting cream on his nose. “This smells like dirt.”
“That’s rude,” Tafel said. She stabbed into the cake with her fork and retrieved a piece. “What flavor is it anyway?” she asked and placed the spongy bit into her mouth.
“Rock,” Mary said. Gagging sounds echoed through the room along with the tinkling of forks dropping onto the ground. Tafel’s face paled, her lips pressed tightly around the tines of her fork. Small motions rolled along the surface of her cheeks as she savored the exotic flavor of the cake. With an audible gulp, she swallowed and placed the fork facedown onto her plate.
“W-what flavor did you say it was?” Tafel asked.
A bright smile decorated Mary’s face. “Rock.” She nodded as Tafel grimaced. “Alice said you loved eating rocks, so I made the cake rock-flavored. Do you like it? I personally didn’t like it very much, but it’s your favorite flavor.”
Tafel chewed on her lip. “By rock, do you mean like the bird … or the stones on the ground?”
Mary tilted her head. “Rocks can be birds?”
“Oh, this tastes like rock stew,” Vur said and stabbed his fork into his already half-eaten cake. “No wonder why it smelled like dirt.”
Tafel gave Mary a thin smile as she pushed her plate towards Vur. “I really appreciate the cake. It was great,” Tafel said, causing Mary’s eyes to brighten, “but I’m on a diet, you see.”
“Hmm.” Alora hummed while squinting at Tafel. When the demon turned towards the polymorphed dragon, Alora nodded. “It makes sense why you’d go on one.”
“Oi!” A vein bulged on Tafel’s forehead. “Are you calling me fat?” Alora didn’t respond, choosing to bite into her cake instead. Vur turned his head towards the window, causing Tafel to narrow her eyes at him. “Vur. Do I look like I need a diet?”
Vur swallowed the remainder of his cake and frowned. “The sky’s awfully red today.”
“That doesn’t even make any sense!” Tafel said and slammed her palm against the table. Someone tugged on her sleeve, causing her to whip her head around towards the offender.
Mary pointed out the window. “You’re not fat, but the sky really is red.”
A wrinkle appeared on Tafel’s forehead. Why was the sky red? It was still noon.
A figure dressed in a completely black outfit fell from the ceiling and landed behind Mary. “My liege, an urgent report! All three other empires are performing strange rituals and sending soldiers into our lands!”
“What’s this?” Grimmy asked and raised his head. In his claws, there was a struggling turtle with a snake for a tail. “That’s some weird weather.”
“This feeling reminds me a bit of that girl we picked up for a bit, don’t you think?” Lindyss asked. “The one with the armor.”
“You mean Mary?” Erin asked.
“That sounds familiar,” Lindyss said and nodded. She patted Grimmy’s snout which was underneath her. “What do you think?”
“I’m thinking I’ll eat this egg later,” Grimmy said as he reached up with his paws. He hooked one claw against the edge of Lindyss’ pocket and pulled it open before dropping the crying turtlesnake inside. “Let’s go see what this commotion’s all about. I don’t like the feeling it’s giving off.”
“Huh, it’s not very often you don’t like strange things,” Lindyss said. “Are you going to do what you usually do to things you don’t like?”
Grimmy nodded and spread his wings. “Of course.”
Erin tugged on Lindyss’ ear. “What’s he do to them?”
“Usually squishes them or casts a curse,” Lindyss said.
“Oh.” Erin pursed her lips. “He likes me, right?”
Lindyss smiled at the fairy without replying.