Father, the King, has struck a bargain with another one. He is, at last, the twelfth.
This one is a soldier, which means that he is canny. The sisters must be careful with him. There are twelve of them, the princesses, ranging in age by only a handful of years; they were adopted by the lonely widower king, and they are not ungrateful, they have simply discovered an even greater boon: freedom. And they are so close now, they can taste it.
As always, they wait near midnight and then ready themselves as if they were planning for a ball. They do not plan openly, for they fear that the soldier is watching them. Unlike the others, they do not invite him along, do not make him promises they have no intention to keep. Instead, they go about their routine and assume that he has found a way to spy upon them.
The clock strikes midnight, and the large marble fireplace in the nursery glows, and then splits and opens, revealing a step stair carved into the bedrock that the castle was built upon. The eldest, Opal, passes first, lifting the hem of her gown daintily. Followed by Crystal, Amber, Jacinda, Garnet, Beryl, Pearl, Ruby, Topaz, Jade, Coral and Jett.
They pass first through the forest of silver, then of gold, and lastly of sparkling diamond; they come at last to the clear lake of sweet water, where their princes are waiting with boats, one for each. And in those gondolas, they take the princesses, one by one, to the island pavillion at the center of the lake. There, their shadows break from them in the glowing moonlight, and take to dance, shimmering dark versions of the princesses, their souls, their desire for freedom, spinning daintily on their newly repaired dance slippers.
While the princesses themselves, hand-in-hand with their shadow princes, lounge on the pavillion's many pillows and couches. They laugh and eat sweetmeats from the fingers of their princes, merry, laughing and smiling, but as the night marches on, the atmosphere changes. The mood is thick like honey, perfumed like the sweetest parts of a woman's body.
The dark princes undress each girl. They are grinning salaciously, wriggling for the enjoyment of their lovers. Each girl is different, thick, thin, pale-skinned and dusky, ranging everywhere in between, but each prince is the same, tall and slender, olive-skinned and sharp-featured. And each of the twelve demon princes savors their lover's body with mouth and hands until the princesses are writhing. Until they are crying out, until they are a seething mass of sweaty flesh, glistening.
Each prince is very creative: some lay their princesses upon their stomachs as their mouths work between their ladies' legs, and some when they at last enter, after caressing and teasing, after listening to their ladies' bliss over and again.
And when the evening is done, they return just before dawn and collapse into their beds, but not before their shadows return to them, and they strip off their now ruined dancing shoes and dump them in a pile outside of the nursery's door. They sleep well until after noon, and then eat ravenously. In hushed voices, Jett, the youngest, tells them that she felt someone walking behind her, and that she suspects the soldier even trod upon the hem of her gown and foot at one point. They do not know how he has made himself invisible, but considering their own secret, they do not even bat a single eyelash at the thought.
He will wait, as they all do, for lack of proof but also for perverse curiosity. And that suits the princesses just fine; it is only two nights until the solstice, and then all will be revealed. Look at him, they sneer as they watch the soldier conversing with their Father at the feasting table, he is so smug, so certain that he has won. So sure that he will win the hand of the girl of his choosing, as if she were a prize and nothing more, a trophy.
On the second night, all goes much the same. The sky shines like a curved glass bauble, the moon, very nearly full, reflects off of it like a mirror. Their shades dance triumphantly as the sisters lay with their dark princes, rolling and grasping, kissing, licking, sucking every inch of bare flesh.
On the third night, the soldier notices something different immediately, but his greed spurs him onward. The forests of silver and gold and diamond are strangely midnight dark, and they shine like obsidian. The pavilion is no longer shining and white, but a ruin of a stone circle lit by bonfires of heavy orange light. The princes change now as well, as they enter the ancient ruins; they become almost bestial, bent and wicked. The soldier is drawn onward, fascinated, entranced by the scene.
The princesses strip and discard their gowns, but their shadows do not separate from them, as they have the past two nights. Instead, they match the animalistic movements of their princes as they dance, a coven of depraved witches. The soldier is drawn forward, as if it were his own choice, but he is feeling more and more as if he is being compelled.
On their hands and knees the princesses crawl and snarl, wrestling with their dark princes, mounted by them. The princes enter them hard, bending over them, pummeling their cocks into the willing, rapturous women. Licking them with long tongues of shadow, penetrating, grunting. Turning over, rolling with them, rutting like animals. They prowl, jump one another. Play. It is magic, and it is dark.
Opal stands, and to the soldier's surprise, she is standing before him, naked as the day that she was born, pulling his cloak off as if she could always see through it. "Once upon a time," she tells him, "in ancient times, there were twelve brothers, princes and sorcerers all. They built this place, a temple at the heart of their kingdom. But people fear what they do not understand, and they were imprisoned in each of the twelve standing stones, made daemones. And here they have waited for centuries for this very moment, to be set free. For this exact moment.
"You have had eleven predecessors, all of whom have tried to uncover our secret. And all of whom have come to this point. To this ritual. And, one by one, our princes have taken their bodies and imprisoned their spirits within the stones. But you, dear soldier, who would take this freedom from us, who would choose for your own gain to reveal all to our father, never even suspected that we knew all along. And you, you dear sir, are lucky, because you are the twelfth, and you will assist the eldest and last prince in walking the world again. And he will be king, and we will rule in the manner we choose."
To his alarm, the soldier feels something hot creeping up his spine; he cannot cry out when it thrusts a fiery spine at the nape of his neck and pours itself into him. He watches as if his eyes were windows and he locked behind them as the eldest princess Opal takes his hand and leads him to the altar, which had formerly been the dance floor.
He worships with his tongue between her legs, but it is not him, he is not in control. The eldest prince is there, that possessing daemones; it is his mouth, his lips, that seek out every secret of her wet sex, licking and lashing until she tightens around his tongue, coming. The other sisters cry out, their own rapture fulfilled by their princes. There is flesh everywhere, slick, sliding against one another, frenzied. It climbs higher and higher. He thrusts into her again and again, her nails biting into flesh, leaving small, bloodied ruts.
And, at the very height, when the song of sex climbs to its highest peak, the soldier is sucked backwards into a prison of stone, cold and unmoving. The eldest prince smiles with the soldier's mouth. They have done it. And such a world as they will create!
The next morning, the prince, in the soldier's skin, informs the king that he has learned his daughters' secret. He provides a golden goblet from the feast as proof. The King is horrified and vows to seal the entrance to the secret magical cavern immediately. The soldier-puppet smiles and agrees that this is a good idea, and for his prize, he claims the hand of the eldest daughter Opal.
"Forever," he murmurs huskily as he kisses the knuckles of her soft little hand. Her mouth dimples mischievously as she agrees, repeating the word to him: "Forever."