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The Perfect Bait

She tapped the arm of her throne impatiently. Her long, pointed nail clicking against the dark stone echoing through the still throne room was the only sound.

Her head she kept propped on her other arm, a bored look on her face. Her red eyes, with pupils slit like cat's, remained fixed on the chamber's doors.

When would he get here? she wondered.

Guards stood on either side of the throne and around the periphery. Their black armor shone in blue and yellow will-o-wisp that lit the room.

They were all for show, really. She was far stronger than any one of them. Even together they were hardly enough to give her a light exercise in the morning. But an empty throne room would hardly do. A demon queen had an image to maintain. What would the he think if she were here alone?

In the center of the room a young woman knelt, her hands chained to the floor at her feet. Platinum blond hair fell around her shoulders. Her dress of snow-white silk pooled around her feet. Ice blue eyes stared forlornly at the floor. This was the princess and high priestess. Kidnapping the woman had been no small feat by her demon generals. Her best man had lost an eye fighting the captain of the king's guard to take her.

But it would be so worth it. She could already taste it, the moment he burst into the room and saw the princess kneeling there.

The corners of her mouth twisted in a suppressed smile as she imaged his face, the hero's face, as he saw his love there.

Once again, she debated having the princess change outfits. She'd selected this one for the girl because it highlighted her noble rank and flawless beauty. There was no doubt she was a princess even sitting on the floor of the demon queen's throne room.

But, now that the princess was in position, she wondered if perhaps highlighting how far the girl had fallen to be her prisoner would have been better? Maybe she should have had one of her men rip the dress? Tear off the bottom half? That would make it more obvious the girl was kneeling, rather than just sitting. Perhaps die the edges in blood? The red on the white would pop delightfully, that was certain.

Or maybe a tasteful scar across the girl's back? Something to mark her, that showed her claim on the princess.

Something to give the hero a righteous anger for the fight. It was always more interesting to fight an angry opponent. But heroes were only allowed to be righteously angry. Normal anger was frowned upon.

Of course, maximum impact would only be achieved if she was slashed as the hero walked in. And timing that would be a total nightmare. No chances to practice, and it would just look dumb if the timing was a little wrong. She could do it ahead of time. A poorly healed scar would be just as good. But then, if that was the look she was going for she would have to wait until the wound healed, and then an entirely different, backless dress would need to be chosen.

He wasn't here yet, she could have the princess change.

Where the hell was he anyway?

Didn't he know it was rude, making her wait like this. Even if he didn't care about making her wait—which fair enough—this woman was his kingdom's princess, wasn't she? Chosen by his goddess, right? His one true love and soulmate?

She should have been the perfect bait.

He should have found her gone and set out at once! Gathered his ragtag team of dysfunctional misfits and traveled across the continent, beating each of her generals in turn. She'd even ordered her men to go easy on him. There would be no point if he died before he got here after all.

His quest should be going perfectly.

She'd spread powerful artifacts, and rumors of their locations, all along the sensible route he should have taken from the capital. They would be more than enough to take down any unforeseen enemies, be they demon or human. Naturally, they were designed to fail spectacularly when they entered this chamber, but he hadn't touched a single one!

Maybe he knew they were traps? But then again, heroes were notorious for being on the dumber side, there is no way he'd have considered she'd left them for him. Then perhaps he hadn't realized these weapons were waiting for him? That seemed just as unlikely. Any more obvious and it would have been like leaving them in open fields with signs saying “Free Hero Weapons”. He couldn't have missed them.

But here she was. Bored, in her throne room, waiting.

Where the hell was he?

*****

He stood at a lake side, three miles out from the capital of the kingdom. The water before him shone like sapphires and just below the surface, dark silhouettes darted to and fro. In his hands he held a long pole, on his face he wore an impatient grin, his eyes fixed on the water before him.

Behind him a ragtag group of adventurers lazed in the sun. The mage lay on her back, a tome in her hands, her staff stabbed into the grass, a cloth hung over the top end, creating just enough shade to keep the sun directly out of her eyes. The rogue and ranger played cards on the knight's shield. The knight and priestess sat side by side on the far side of the nearest tree, whispering back and forth.

“Oi,” the rogue called from his seat at the card “table”. “Not that I mind this, but you think we'll head out soon?”

The hero, standing rod in hand at the lake side, shook his head. “There is a heart piece in this lake, I know it. We aren't leaving till I get it.”

“Kay,” the rogue said, dealing the next hand of cards, unsurprised by the unchanged answer.

The hero's pole dipped, the grin on his face growing. He pulled back and started reeling.

A minute later he stood with a fish above his head, triumphant music playing in his head. “Alright! New record!”

The mage shook her head. “That's the third one today, how do you do it?”

The hero grinned. “It's all about having that perfect bait.”

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