She fled through the forest, leaves whipping at her fair face, tangling the tendrils of her long dark hair that had escaped her braid in her flight.  Branches tried to grab her and roots tried to trip her, but her footing was too sure, her movements too swift to be slowed.

She heard the sound of pursuit behind her, the baying of the hounds and the leering calls of the men intent on capturing her.  She dared a glance back over her shoulder, and if any were close enough to see the grim determination in her dark brown eyes they would have thought twice about continuing the chase.

Why do you play with them so, Mira child? A voice in her head asked in a husky whisper. You know they are nothing to you.

The sudden reappearance of her inner companion caused Mira to lose her focus and stumble, righting herself with a grunt.

Damn it Asha! Mira growled internally. Don’t distract me like that!  Besides we’ve been through this before.  The Black Baron is a smart bastard.  I wouldn’t be able to get a spell off if I just walked in.  She leapt over a fallen log, careful to keep her pursuers within shouting distance.

So you play with them, let them think you are weak, and then kill them when their guard is down, the voice chuckled, a sound that sent shivers down Mira’s spine every time she heard it.  We become more alike with each day, it purred.

“Shut. Up.” Mira growled, and then fell with a great cry.

Her pursuers heard her cry and called out to each other in glee.  Their prey was close and they were eager for their reward for her capture.

Mira took advantage of the few moments she had to smear some dirt on her face and dump forest refuse in her hair, making it look like she fell harder than she did.

It didn’t take long for the first dirty, leering face of her pursuers to find her.

“Gotcha sweet thing,” the bandit leered, showing filthy, rotting teeth through a dark matted beard.

Mira’s eyes widened in mock dismay as she turned and scrambled on all fours to get away, but she wasn’t quick enough and felt the body of the bandit pin her to the ground.

“Over ‘ere!  I got her ‘ere!” the bandit cried to his brethren as Mira feebly struggled beneath him, disgust rising in her as his arousal over her struggles became strongly apparent.

Soon enough Mira was surrounded by half a dozen men and their hounds, all dirty, filthy beings with darkness in their eyes that boded ill for any innocents to cross their paths.  Hands grabbed at her, more than one pair squeezing choice parts of her anatomy painfully as they hauled her to her foot and bound her hands.

“That was quite the chase you led us on lass,” said one bandit who was marginally cleaner than the rest.  He must have been the leader of this little scouting party.

“Fuck you,” Mira spat, struggling briefly against the bonds that held her.

“Maybe later, if the boss gives you to us I’ll claim first dibs,” he leered at her before turning away.  “We need to get back quickly,” he said to the others.  “Silence her.”

Mira managed one last glare at his retreating back before a sharp pain exploded in the back of her head and everything went dark.

****

She was a queen once.  A real queen, with a crown, a throne, a palace, and everything else that came with it.  Her people were happy, her allies content, and her land was at peace.  She ruled as any great queen should, with grace, dignity, and strength, until one day it all came crashing down.

Her real name was Tanamira, Her Royal Highness Queen Tanamira Reboult, First of her Name, Beloved of the People, Cherished of the Gods, and Guardian of the Lands.  She was the daughter of the late King Baraka Reboult and his queen, the great Lady Tanalt Secard.  Her blood was a blue as it gets, but for one thing: she couldn’t use magic.

It was a mark of nobility in the Lands to be able to use magic and cast spells, but Mira was born without that talent, a fact that dismayed her father and mortified her mother, both great spell casters in their own right.  But Mira was determined to prove her worth despite her ‘disability’.  And once she became queen, she employed the greatest spell casters of her age and spent as much time with them as she could, learning all there was to know about the art.

But one day, while presiding over a common familiar summoning for a new mage applicant, things went horribly wrong.  Mira made it her duty to be present at the tests given to all mages in the employ of the crown.  Not only did she learn the strengths and weaknesses of her mages, but it also seemed to create a stronger bond between queen and mage if she was seen to look favorably upon their testing.

Never before had anything gone wrong during these tests, and if she had any thought that that day would be any different, she would have never stepped foot into that room.

The mage was young, talented, but ultimately unschooled. She had inscribed the wrong circle for the summoning, and instead of calling forth a lesser imp of the hells, the mage summoned a succubus demon.  The wards in the circle were too weak to hold the demon and it easily broke free, wreaking havoc and killing many in the room before it was finally banished.

Mira didn’t remember much of that fateful day over twenty years ago.  The backlash of magic from the demon breaking the summoning circle bonds broke through the protective wards the other mages had woven around her, and sent her flying across the room, knocking her out instead of killing her.  She only heard what had happened when she awoke days later, when the last surviving mages told her they had successfully banished the demon back to the hells.

But Mira knew they were wrong.  The demon had been banished, but not to the hells.  The demon, knowing her banishment eminent,  took refuge in the only place she could.

The body of the unconscious queen.

Normally, something like a demon entering a human host would lead to that host being possessed.  But as the succubus was in the middle of being banished, so instead of taking possession of Mira’s body, the transition led the demon to be banished to Mira’s body, and bound there.

No one knew it, but those days where she had lain unconscious, Mira was actually fighting the invading demon, trying to expel it from her body by sheer force of will, but no matter how strong the character, such a thing is not possible.

For years after the incident, Mira worked quietly to try and rid herself of her unwanted passenger.  No one but her most trusted mages knew the truth of what had happened that day.  The gods only knew what kind of havoc would be wrought if the wrong people knew of her ‘condition’.  She tried everything anyone could think of, all to no avail.  It seemed as though human and demon were bound together eternally, or until one soul overtook the other.

Mira continued on as if all were well, trying to ignore the demonic voice in her head, whispering to her, trying to tempt her to betray herself and her people.  Thankfully her will was a strong one, but it was her greatest fear that one day she would give in to the demon’s temptations.

What was a queen to do?  She took no husband or lover, fearing the consequences of losing control of herself for even a moment, as well as those of bearing a child so she had no heir.  There was a demon in her brain, telling her to rape, maim, and kill, and the very real possibility that one day she would.  So she did the only thing she thought she could do.

Mira abdicated her throne and fled the capitol.

She took to the woods and villages surrounding her old home, the demon coming in handy and teaching Mira the skills she needed to survive.  Neither knew what would happen to the demon should Mira’s body die, so the demon-Mira learned in time it’s name was Ashaslaademora, or Asha for short-gave Mira a crash course in survival, preferring a live body to a dead one for now.  So Mira took up a new cause, and a new name: The Red Queen.  She traveled the most dangerous roads, doing what she could to make them safe, protecting those she still considered her people, although she no longer had that right.

So now Mira’s body housed two souls, one mortal and one demonic.  Asha’s soul granted Mira’s body many benefits, such as additional strength, greater speed and stamina, and supernatural healing, something that came in handy when being knocked on the back of the head.  But there were darker gifts that Asha granted her host as well.

All these thoughts and more swirled through Mira’s mind as she held herself still, feigning unconsciousness as her ‘captors’ took her right where she wanted to go.  Asha huffed in impatience.

Just kill them already darling, she whispered.  It is unbecoming of a queen to be handled so.

I am no queen, Mira responded.  And they are not my goal.  Remember your place demon. Mira felt a small pang of satisfaction as Asha growled in frustration.

While the two souls shared one body, their minds thankfully were kept separate, a fact that frustrated the demon to no end, and one that Mira was more than happy to use to agitate her unwanted companion whenever she could and to remind her who was in charge.  For now at least.

Why do you insist on playing these pitiful little games? Asha hissed.  Give into me now my sweet and I will go easy on you.

Mira gave a mental snort, careful to keep her body limp and relaxed as the bandits continued to drag her through the forest. Aye, you’ll go easy on me.  When pigs fly, ravens sing, and the sun sets before it rises.  Which is exactly when I’ll give in.

Mira felt another thrill of satisfaction as she felt Asha retreat to her own corner of Mira’s mind to fume and sulk.  It always galled the demon that after almost twenty years she had yet to break the mortal she was bound to, and find her freedom one way or another.

Mira knew when they approached the campsite, the smell alone enough warning.  But she also heard the cacophony of life, dogs barking, men laughing and shouting, the neighing of horses and the braying of donkeys.

There seemed to be no women or children in this camp, thank the gods.  They must have been left behind while this one was set up and secured.  Mira was thankful for this small miracle.  They didn’t need to see what was coming.

The med dragged Mira through the camp before dumping her unceremoniously to the ground and cutting her bonds.  A bucket of water was thrown on her face to ‘wake’ her, and Mira did not need to fake her thrashing and spluttering as the men laughed.  Hauling her to her feet once more, they pushed her towards a crude wooden dais, with a chair that could generously be called a throne at the top, and sitting in this ‘throne’ was a very large man.

Though he was sitting down, Mira could tell that when standing he would easily top seven feet in height, a good foot taller than Mira herself.  He was well groomed compared to the other men she had seen, his hair was cropped short and free of snarls, he was clean shaven, and his clothes were well maintained if worn.  He had a handsome enough face, with a clean, square jaw and high cheekbones, but it was his eyes that gave him away.  His eyes were chips of the darkest obsidian, and showed no hint of warmth, mercy, or humanity.

This was the Black Baron, the most twisted and sadistic of men to haunt the roads of her kingdom in the fifteen years Mira had been traveling the roads.  He was the reason why she was here; he was the one she had come to kill.

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