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The Cursed Kingdom

Chapter Text

He found himself in a throne room.

He had no idea how he knew it was a throne room, since he’d never set foot in one, or even seen one his entire life, but he just knew. This amount of valuable artifacts didn’t belong to just any noble.

He also knew he was sitting in the king’s throne — or the lord’s, or whomever this castle belonged to. On his right was a raven-haired boy that, if he had to guess, was around twenty years old. The boy was important, or at least important enough to have a seat in the throne room — the only sitting position other than his. On his left was a curly-haired blond boy also around that age. He could tell the blond boy was his advisor. He didn’t have an advisor in real life, but since he was apparently the master of this place at the moment, the advisor was his. He didn’t need to look around to know that much — this wasn’t the last time he’d been here, after all.

“So, what kind of allegiance are you proposing?” He found himself asking the guy kneeling in front of him. This was a messenger from another land, although he didn’t know how he knew that.

“It is very simple, Your Highness,” the messenger said with a smirk. “We want you to swear your loyalty to our kingdom, send us your annual offering, and volunteer your troop when we require. In return, of course, you will have the protection of our kingdom.”

He might not have been born to that world, but he knew that was certainly not how you should talk to the ruler of a realm.

“And why,” he could feel himself gritting his teeth in anger as he talked, “would you think I would ever agree to such proposal?”

“Isn’t it clear, Your Highness?” The messenger asked in a mocking tone, his amber eyes shone in amusement. “Our country is a lot more ancient. Others fear our flag. Surely even someone as young as you can see what’s best for your people in this situation.”

At this moment, he was certain the king, or lord, or whoever he was supposed to be, wasn’t the only angry one in the room. Everyone seemed to be waiting for him to order the messenger’s execution.

“You mean your country is old,” he snapped back. “The world is changing. It’s time for the younger generation to take over.” He snorted. “Sure, you have your reputation, but that’s what we’re here to tear down. That’s why my advisor, my Head Knight, and every important position in my castle is held by a young person.” He glared at the messenger. “Old people like you won’t be able to keep up with the change. So here’s my proposal for you: leave, before you’re unable to.”

“Oh, Your Highness,” the messenger bowed and smiled dangerously, “you have no idea what you’re getting yourself into.”

“I think you’re the one having no idea what you’re getting into,” this time, it was the person on his right that snapped back. “Leave, before I behead you with my own sword.”

The kneeling guy looked up, and suddenly his eyes were blood red. “You say ‘old people like me’ won’t be able to keep up with the change?” He asked, his voice suddenly echoing around the room. “Let’s see whether young people like you can keep up with the change.” Black smoke suddenly poured out from the guy’s hands, engulfing everything.

“Black magic!” He heard the advisor warned, but there was nothing he could do since it was impossible for him to even see anything.

“Let the people in this kingdom pay for Your Highness’ arrogance,” the messenger’s voice echoed from all around him. “Let people cower away from this ruler. Let them spurn everything this palace stands for. Let the darkest part of their hearts be the only thing they can see looking at him.”

He could feel the black smoke swirling around him, but as soon as he opened his mouth to say something, anything, the smoke entered his body and started choking him.

“Unless someone sees through this creature, this palace will crumble and this kingdom will fall.”

A loud explosion blew everything away, ripping his own flesh from his body.

 

~~* * *~~

 

Will woke up from another nightmare, sweating.

Chapter Text

Derry had always been a small provincial town, where everybody knew everybody, and nobody ever left. Which meant most people had extremely backward thoughts.

Joyce Byers wasn’t most people, and luckily, neither was her son. She was a seamstress, and once upon a time, she’d lived in the city, surrounded by open-minded people. Like a lot of people in the city, she’d been forced to leave her home when the plague arrived, taking the lives of everyone she’d ever known, loved, or hated, all but her precious infant son. The survivors like her had all fled to the countryside, where the population wasn’t as dense, and the chance of getting infected wasn’t as high.

The townsfolk in Derry were like the town itself — simple to the point of being dull. Every day they traded with the same people, made the same products, and did the same thing over and over again, only to do it again the next day. The son of a baker would still bake, and the daughter of a butcher would still wield a knife. Sure, she and her son were safe from the plague here, but she didn’t want him to be stuck in this town forever.

“I’m back!” Will’s voice echoed around the house, notifying Joyce of her beloved son’s presence. The woman smiled softly as she walked out of the kitchen to greet the boy.

“Welcome back,” Joyce chuckled. “How was the market today?”

“Like how it’s always been,” Will said. “Mr. Hammond burnt the bread again, so you lost the bet,” he grinned cheekily at his mom.

“Really?” The woman laughed. “The man couldn’t last a week without forgetting about what he was supposed to make? Why did I even take this bet?”

“Because it’s the most fun thing we can do around here?” Will grinned at his mom. “So, are you leaving later today?”

“Yeah,” Joyce nodded. “Do you have any new paintings for me to sell?”

Being a seamstress in a small town, there wasn’t a lot of work for Joyce Byers. The townsfolk didn’t need new clothes that often, if at all, other than one or two extremely rich people who wanted to show their wealth. Even though most of the time they were able to grow their own food, sometimes she or Will needed to buy things, too, and that wouldn’t have been possible with only two orders per year. That was why she often had to travel to the city to get more customers, and that happened to be perfect for Will. 

Will Byers wasn’t like any other boy in town. He wasn’t like any other person in town. Will didn’t fit in with everyone else in town, he didn't just blindly follow everything without questions, and most importantly, he had more creativity than the rest of them combined. Unlike the rest of the town, he knew how to use his brain. Even when he was little, he’d always preferred staying indoors and helping his mom to running around, getting in fights, and causing trouble for everyone in town like all the other boys his age had seemed to enjoy doing. And now, those little boys had turned into barbaric ogres that measured their masculinity based on how far they could spit, how hard they could punch, or how many side trophies they could get with their brute behavior. The sad thing was that all the girls in town seemed to enjoy taking part in condoning that kind of behavior, which only encouraged those brainless jerks to continue acting that way.

Well, Will refused to have anything to do with that. He preferred doing more sophisticated things, such as reading or drawing. Especially drawing. His mom had told him that he had a gift for art, and although knowing her, she probably would’ve said that even if his paintings had been horrendous, the fact that his mom had been taking his drawings with her and selling it to strangers for years did make him feel good about his ability, since he could help his mom by doing something he loved.

“Well, mom, you know what they’ll probably like,” he smiled softly at her, “you can go through them and pick whatever you think is good enough.”

“How many times do I have to tell you?” Joyce asked. “They’re all good enough. The patricians love anything you draw.”

“I guess that’ll make things simpler for you, then,” Will stuck out his tongue. “You go and get things ready, and I’ll prepare the wagon.”

With that, the brown-haired teen headed towards the stable through the back door, where a beautiful white stallion was staying. He picked up a brush and walked towards the horse.

“Hello, Pegasus,” the boy greeted. “Ready to take my mom on a trip again?”

The horse neighed, and Will chuckled as he started brushing his mane. “Just you wait,” he whispered, “one day it’s gonna be my turn.”

The teen had never felt like he belonged in this town, where everything and everyone was either too mundane or outright ridiculous. He’d always dreamt about leaving this place with his trusted stallion and never looking back. He still wanted to do that one day, when he and his mom had saved enough money for the trip. He doubted his mom would want to live in the big city again, but maybe they could find a place close enough so people would start coming to them instead. His mom wouldn’t have to travel all the time, and he wouldn’t need to worry about her running into something, or someone bad.

 


 

“Remember, you lost the bet,” Will reminded his mom.

“How can I forget with you bringing it up every ten feet?” Joyce chuckled. “What color do you want?”

“Surprise me,” the boy grinned at his mom. He knew that even without the bet, his mom would still bring back some new paint for him, and maybe more supplies if what he’d drawn was worth enough money.

“Okay,” the woman smiled and nudged Pegasus to move. “I’ll see you in a couple of days.”

“Don’t enjoy the city too much,” he called after her as the wheels started rolling.

“Don’t have too much fun without me,” Joyce waved back.

A little banter while seeing his mom off before a trip had always been their tradition. Of course, they always hugged before she left the house as well, but this also took both their minds off their worries — Will’s concern for his mom’s safety and Joyce’s struggle to leave her son behind. It was also some sort of an ‘everything will be alright’ ritual, since things were always better when they faced them with a smile.

Or sometimes things were better if they ignore them, as his brain provided him when he turned around.

“Mommy left you again?” The mayor’s son looked down at him with a cocky grin.

“What do you want, Henry?” Will rolled his eyes and started walking away from the guy.

“You know what I want, dollface,” the taller guy said and started walking along. “I’ve said it too many times to count.”

“And for the thirty-sixth time, I don’t want to be one of your side trophies,” Will snorted. “Why are you even asking me this? You have like, five of them already.”

Of course, Will knew exactly why. Henry Bowers was a spoiled brat who just had to get whatever he wanted. He didn’t take ‘no’ for an answer.

“First, they’re called lovers, dollface,” Henry said. “Second, it will be five when you agree to date me. And third, you’re too pretty to be anyone else’s in this shithole of a village. Do you seriously think you can do better than me?”

As a matter of fact, he believed the real challenge would be finding someone worse than Henry Bowers. The guy was an utterly spoiled brat who believed he was invincible because his father was the mayor, with the manners of an ogre, the sex drive of a rabbit, the personal hygiene of a pig, and a brain the size of a pea. He was certain most of the things he’d eaten were smarter than Bowers. The brute probably wouldn’t die if he got shot in the head.

Unfortunately, those weren’t the type of things he could say to someone five times as strong as him following him home. The shorter boy waited until he arrived at his door before turning around to face the taller man.

“Look, Henry,” he said with a fake smile while slowly opening the door, “I really appreciate you going out of your way to ask me this, but I don’t think you have what I’m looking for.”

Bowers’ face contorted in a way that told everyone his brain was trying to process something he wasn’t capable of, and Will briefly wondered if it actually hurt as much as it looked to think.

“But I’m rich, strong, and respected,” the guy said with a puzzled look. “When you’re with me, I can make sure you won’t have to think about anything else in your life.” He crossed his arms and looked at the shorter teen. “Sweetheart, you’re already eighteen. You’re not gonna be that cute forever. What else can you possibly look for in someone?”

“I’m looking for someone more perspicacious and sagacious,” Will said as he stepped inside his house.

“What are those?” Bowers looked at him like he’d just grown a second head.

“Exactly,” the brown-haired boy said with a grin and quickly closed the door in Henry’s face, ending the conversation.

Will’s hands flew up to massage his temples as he walked into the kitchen. This kind of encounter had been happening more and more frequently lately. He remembered when he’d turned sixteen, the guy had approached him perhaps once a month. Then it had turned into once every two weeks, then once every couple of days, and as of now, he had to avoid the brute every time he walked outside.

Once upon a time, he’d actually considered agreeing to Bowers, so his mom would have an easier life. Sure, the guy was literally the worst thing that had ever walked the earth, but his family was rich and powerful, and he could make a deal so his mom would be taken care of. However, after sitting down and discussing that with Joyce, she’d convinced him that there was no way she could be happy if he wasn’t, and she knew that would never happen if he was around someone like Butch Bowers’ son.

He supposed they needed to move away as soon as they could before Bowers’ brain came up with some kind of crazy ideas.

 


 

As she raced through the woods, Joyce was fairly certain she was lost, although she didn’t know how that had happened.

Technically, she knew exactly how that had happened, but she couldn’t quite explain it. Not too long after entering the forest, the storm had come out of nowhere. The rain had been unlike anything she’d ever experienced before, chilling her to the bones as it combined with the strong wind, making her unable to see anything more than a couple of meters away. Somehow, there had been a huge boulder blocking her normal path, despite the fact that there had been no mountains whatsoever nearby to drop this huge chunk of rock there. The boulder had made her take the path on its right in hopes of being able to circle around and get back to her usual path sometime later. The most unusual thing about the whole ordeal was, she’d traveled this path for years now, and it had always been a straight path from her town to the next. There had never been a second path to take before. Everything about this trip had been unprecedented.

After a while, the rain had stopped, and even though it hadn’t stopped the freezing cold, at least it had given her a moment to think things through. Perhaps the familiarity of the woods before she had taken the turn had been because everything in the woods looked exactly the same, but she’d been confident that despite the heavy rain, she’d never strayed from her path since her wagon couldn’t have done that even if she’d tried. However, she’d never been surer that she hadn’t been to this patch of woods before, especially after the howling started.

Joyce wasn’t an expert, but since during her years of traveling, she’d never run into a single wolf before, this was the definitive proof that she was lost. The small woman nudged Pegasus a little harder, picking up speed. She had no idea where she was going, but she knew she needed to get away fast. The trees were getting thicker and thicker, and it was impossible for her to see the sky anymore. In fact, it was impossible for her to see anything with how dark her surroundings were getting. It was as if this particular area was robbing her of her senses. She couldn’t feel anything other than the chilling cold, couldn’t see anything because of the thickening darkness engulfing her. The only consolation was that her hearing seemed to be enhanced, and she could hear the growling from all around her.

Lucky for her, Pegasus seemed to be able to see the narrow path she wasn’t able to make out and was leading them away at full speed. Unlucky for her, where the horse had taken Joyce, all logic seemed to have stopped working. The trees were shorter and more spread out here, and if she looked up, she could even see the night sky. However, she’d spotted more concerning things closer to the ground. On the tree branches and covering every surface, there was a soft layer of white powder that looked suspiciously like snow. That would’ve explained the freezing temperature around her, although she couldn’t fathom out the reason for there to be snow in the middle of the summer.

The next concerning thing on her list was the drawbridge leading to the tall open gates that her wagon was approaching. They were heading towards a glooming castle that looked like it had been there for hundreds of years. Not knowing about a path was one thing, but in her years and years of living in the area, she’d never heard anyone mention anything like this before. It was almost like the place didn’t exist until today, and from everything she’d gone through, that didn’t sound too absurd either.

“Slow down, Pegasus,” she whispered to the horse when they finally passed the giant arc that led to a huge yard. As she turned around, Joyce could see glowing wolf eyes in the dark, although none of them dared to take another step closer. That didn’t make her feel any better, since whatever this place was, even vicious wild animals were afraid of it. Then again, she didn’t have much of a choice, between unknown danger and certain death, she just had to go for the lesser evil.

The castle looked as ancient as the ground it was on. The stone walls looked like they had been worn down by nature for years, hiding the cuts and scars of endless battles. The layer of snow couldn’t hide the greenish hue of moss on top of the watchtowers. The yard she was in was big enough for a small army to gather in, but it was apparent from the broken equipment rack around the place that nobody had been here for a while. In fact, the whole place looked abandoned, yet at the same time, it didn’t. The whole place was too clean to be abandoned for decades, if not centuries, and the grass didn’t grow. And then there was the spotless handle of the front door. She couldn’t even get her own handle to look that shiny.

Slowly getting off the wagon, Joyce carefully approached the main door. There was a wolf head door knocker the size of her head that looked like it hadn’t been struck in years. She truly believed it hadn’t. With difficulty, she lifted it up and knocked twice on the door and waited. With any luck, the people inside the castle would give her a place to stay tonight, and perhaps they could help her get back to Derry, or even just get out of the forest alive.

She felt like she was being watched, although there were no signs of life anywhere around her other than Pegasus. She could feel people whispering — or maybe she’d heard them. It wasn’t as if they were whispering behind the closed door, but more like they were standing somewhere behind her, talking to one another while being invisible. Joyce had decided to not ask any more questions for now, since there wouldn’t be enough paper in the world to write down all her inquiries.

After a while, the middle-aged woman decided to reach for the knocker again. However, the door creaked open the moment she touched it, startling her a little. There were still no signs of anyone around, either in or outside of the castle, but she could tell that all eyes were on her, maybe other than her horse’s. Taking a deep breath, she entered the palace.

Behind the magnificent door was a grand main hall that could easily fit four houses like hers inside, with a large door on the wall facing her, multiple smaller doors on both sides, and two stairs undoubtedly leading to more rooms around the place. The whispers were louder here, but she wondered whether it was because she was closer to the source, or if it was purely due to the acoustics of the room. A door on her right creaked and slowly opened, and Joyce could see warm orange light dancing on the floor there. Figuring that it was a fireplace or something similar, she slowly advanced.

 


 

“You know this is how we’re gonna get in trouble, right?” Lucas grumbled as he watched the woman warm herself up in front of the fireplace. “When he asks, and he will, I won’t hesitate to sell you out.”

They were in one of the smaller rooms, with a long table near the window on one end and a fireplace on the other end. Back when they used to have balls, this would be one of the rooms where they left food.

“So what are we supposed to do? Leave her cold and freezing outside?” Dustin huffed. “It’s been years since someone found this place. Show a little hospitality, will you?”

“Just saying, I’m not dealing with his wrath for another ten years,” Lucas grumbled.

“Come on, the last time wasn’t that long,” Dustin snorted. “Plus, Bev already made something the moment her horse got to the bridge.”

“Both of you, shut up,” Stan hissed. “She has ears, you know.”

As if on cue, the woman turned towards their direction again. Her eyes scanned back and forth, landing on them twice. If she’d been able to see them, she probably would’ve freaked out by now.

“Hello?” The woman tried again, but nobody answered.

The door to the dining hall slowly opened — courtesy of El — and the woman’s attention shifted as she walked to the other room.

“That was close,” Lucas whispered.

“Yeah, because a door opening on its own is way better than invisible voices,” Eddie snorted, startling the three of them. “He knows, by the way.”

“Damn it,” Dustin cursed under his breath. “Well, at least now we don’t have to worry that she’s going to alert him of her presence anymore.”

The four of them, still staying invisible, quietly moved to the next room to observe the woman, who was now enjoying the soup Bev had made specifically for her. Like Dustin had pointed out, it had been years since someone had found this castle — decades, even. There had to be a reason why she was here now. Perhaps she could be the one to lift the curse.

“Don’t even say it,” Lucas whispered.

“I didn’t say anything,” Dustin protested.

“You were thinking about it.”

“To be fair, we’re all thinking about it,” Stan said matter-of-factly.

“But no one has ever managed to do that before,” Eddie sighed.

“Curses are meant to be broken,” Dustin said cheerfully. “Maybe we should introduce ourselves.”

“Don’t even think about it,” Bill’s voice interrupted them, but it didn’t startle Dustin anymore. With everyone being invisible like this, it was quite impossible to know how many were watching the poor lady exactly, unless, of course, one had Bill’s power. “By the way, who brought her stuff inside?”

“I think Mikey did,” Lucas said quietly. “So, what’s the verdict?”

“The Master has allowed her to stay the night, but she must leave by morning,” Bill whispered back. “And we are not allowed to show ourselves.”

“And have you told the others?” Dustin inquired.

“No need to. You’re the only one who’ll think about doing it anyway,” Bill said with an amused tone in his voice.

“Excuse you?” Dustin said incredulously. “What about—?”

“Quiet!” Stan said again, and they all shut up as the woman stood up and scanned her eyes around again. She’d finished the soup and was now walking back to the other room, where her chest was now waiting for her. She only raised an eyebrow before approaching it to check if the things inside were still dry.

“She’s good,” Lucas whispered. “The others would’ve run off by now.”

“Excuse me?” The lady cleared her throat. “Thank you for your hospitality, whoever you are.”

“And she has manners as well,” Eddie hummed.

“I don’t know how you did it, but if you want, I can repay you,” the woman said. “I— I’m a seamstress, if you need new clothes. Or I have some paintings I’ll be more than happy to offer you if you’re interested.”

To demonstrate her words, the woman took out several outfits from her trunk along with a couple of paintings, and carefully unrolled them. The brushstrokes were exceptionally good, in Dustin’s opinion. The first painting she showed them was of a green hill. Despite the limited lighting in the room, he could see the beauty of the masterpiece, the way the artist drew the grass that made him feel the breeze of wind blowing through them, and the golden hint of sunlight that made everything look so surreal. The next painting was of a crowded marketplace, with lots of people trading their goods. He could almost smell the newly baked bread, fresh vegetables, and meat, and unfortunately, the odor of the people in that scene. Almost. The third painting was of—

A collective gasp could be heard from everyone in the room as their eyes all landed on the last painting the woman decided to show them. However, before anyone could do anything, the flame in the fireplace died, the darkness became thicker, and the shadows were reaching towards the stranger in the palace.

“You!” An angry voice said.

Chapter Text

Ever since Pegasus’ return without the wagon or his mother, Will’s only thought had been I knew I shouldn’t have let her go. Technically, it wasn’t like he’d woken up that morning knowing it, but more like he knew if Joyce kept going on long trips like that, something was bound to happen. And it had.

After he’d returned home from seeing his mom off the previous day, he’d continued doing his chores for a while before he’d been interrupted by Old Al. Old Al was Will’s neighbor, who his mom had asked to look after her son whenever she was out of town. Or at least she had when he’d still been a child. Nowadays, it always felt more like he was the one looking out for the old man, but he didn’t mind that since the guy was like a cool, albeit silly, grandfather to him. Back in the day, Old Al had traveled the world, so he had told Will lots of stories about his adventures. That, and the fact that the guy still believed in magic and miracles, had given young William Byers a rich imagination that had been carried into his drawings and sometimes even his dreams. This time, the old man had come to invite him over for dinner. The silly man had made enough food to feed ten grown men, and Will was the lucky scrawny kid that had been invited to help clean that up, because apparently, he needed to be healthy to prepare for anything. After that extremely heavy meal, he’d gone back home and had the best sleep he’d had in a while, at least until he’d been woken up by the very same man informing him that Pegasus had come back alone.

And now, hours later — Will wasn’t exactly sure how many hours, but he could tell from the growling of his empty stomach that it had to be at least noon already — he was out searching for his mom. It was quite difficult to tell the time when the forest around him got so thick that it was impossible to see the sun. He had a feeling this wasn’t his mom’s usual path through the woods, since the path was too narrow for a wagon to travel through regularly without sustaining damage. That meant something had made Joyce derail from her usual path. The teen refused to let his thoughts go any further. There was no way he could do anything if he went down that path. Unfortunately, focusing on his surroundings didn’t exactly make him feel better either. The boy couldn’t see most things further than a couple of yards away due to the lack of lighting, and the things he could see were quite disturbing. The temperature dropped with every step he and Pegasus took. The tree branches looked like they were moving — not as a result of a strong gust of wind, but in the sense that they were reaching for him, and he didn’t think that was an illusion caused by him dashing through the woods. There seemed to be moving figures and glowing eyes watching him just outside his peripheral vision, but the moment he focused on them, they seemed to have vanished.

The first sign that told Will he was getting close to the edge of the forest was the improvement in his surrounding lighting. The second sign was a little unsettling — the thin layer of white powder covering the ground and the barren branches that were still woven together to prevent him from seeing the sky. The boy knew even though it had felt like forever since he entered the forest, he couldn’t have been wandering for more than half a day, so it couldn’t be winter already. He would’ve liked to say that he’d seen stranger things than snow in July, but that would’ve been a lie.

Not until Pegasus led him out of the woods did he see where they were heading. The stone path towards the drawbridge led to a magnificent castle, but that wasn’t what set off his alarm. He’d seen this castle multiple times before — he’d had dreams about it ever since he was a little kid. However, in those dreams, the place had looked much more lively than what he was looking at right now. The whole area gave off such an uneasy vibe that if he believed in ghosts, he would say the palace was haunted. That would definitely go well with the aura the surrounding forest gave off, as well as the change in season. However, since something had happened to his mother, and the family’s trusted horse had led him here, it was more probable that he was about to enter the lair of a band of bandits. Maybe Joyce had seen something she shouldn’t have and was being held captive. He refused to think of another ending.

Going into a lair of thieves unarmed might not be the smartest thing he could’ve done, but since he neither had any weapon nor any experience using them, and he wasn’t sure how many people he would need to defeat to get his mom out safely, his best strategy would have to be stealth. That didn’t stop him from picking up a random stick on the ground before sneaking inside, though.

Will could tell — mostly from the dreams he’d had — that the place used to be breathtakingly beautiful. However, the light and joy that had once resided in this castle had been snuffed out long ago. Any criminal mob that lived here knew not to leave any trace behind, though he supposed that was expected from them. There were a couple of stairs that led up somewhere, and a bunch of doors surrounding him. The boy decided to wander around downstairs, since it was more plausible that his mom was held in some kind of underground dungeon than locked up in a tower.

After looking around for a while, the teen started hearing whispers. At first, it had been so faint, he’d thought the wind might’ve been tricking him. However, the voice — or voices — gradually became louder, and it was clear to him that there were people — probably males — talking to each other somewhere he couldn’t see.

“— her family. That was the exact same horse,” the first voice said.

“Since when are you a horse expert?’ The second voice asked. “Even if he was, we still have our orders.”

“The woman is freezing,” the first voice protested. “I’m sure the master didn’t mean it when he—”

“Oh, that was your excuse? I’ll make sure to tell him that when he—”

“Lower your voice,” the first voice hissed, “or he’ll hear us.”

Well, it was too late now. Will had already heard enough to know that, one, he’d been watched since the moment he stepped inside this castle — maybe even before that, and two, whoever these people were, they definitely knew where his mother was. Since stealth wasn’t an option anymore, he didn’t have many choices left.

“Hello?” The brown-haired teen looked around, trying to locate the source of the voices. “I heard you. You know where my mom is?”

For a couple of seconds, he was met with complete silence. However, the whispers continued after a while.

“Maybe if we don’t talk to him, he’ll think he’s crazy and leave,” the second voice suggested.

“So that was your brilliant plan?” The first voice snorted.

“I don’t see you coming up with a better one.”

“I did. I literally just told you—”

“Bringing him to his mom isn’t a better plan,” the second voice interrupted. “If anything, that’ll get everyone in trouble, including this boy.”

“You know I can still hear you, right?” Will told the empty room. He couldn’t figure out where the voices came from — or rather, according to his ears, they came from a spot midair where nothing was there, which made no sense at all. Based on the conversation the two voices had been having, they didn’t seem to be the bad guy, but the person giving them orders probably wasn’t the kindest person he’d ever meet. “I’m not gonna leave this place without my mom,” the hazel-eyed teen continued, “so I’m going to find her with or without your help. I’d appreciate the former, though.”

There were more whispering before one of the voices let out a tired sigh.

Up until that very moment, the most bizarre thing Will had ever seen had been snow in July. However, that immediately changed in a blink of an eye. One moment, he was all alone in the empty corridor, the next, something appeared right in front of his eyes.

Not something. Someone.

Facing him was a curly-haired boy around his age shrouded in bluish-white light — the kind lightning would have when it hit something. Or rather, the teen in front of him looked like lightning personified. He wasn’t sure if that would be a ridiculous thing to think of, since the sudden appearance of the boy was already too ridiculous to think about.

“Huh,” the stranger hummed, and Will immediately recognized that voice as the first of the two voices that had been talking about him. “You’re not running away,” the boy said, raising an eyebrow. “Usually they would’ve run away by now.”

“I—” the hazel-eyed teen tried to say something, only to realize he didn’t know what to say. “Uh, I’m Will. Will Byers. And you are?”

“In big trouble, if Master finds out about this,” the boy furrowed his eyebrows. “Quick! I’m taking you to your mom.”

Since that had been the one thing Will had hoped to hear, he eagerly followed the stranger without raising any question, not even when he realized the other boy had been floating a couple of inches above the ground, not even when the doors opened by themselves and closed after they both went through them.

After going down to the cold dark dungeon — at least he’d guessed something correctly, he finally spotted his mom inside a locked cell, wrapped in an old blanket, shivering from the cold.

“Mom!” Will cried as he rushed towards the metal bars that separated him from the woman.

“W-Will?” Joyce said breathlessly, her eyes widened, unable to believe that her beloved son was standing in front of her. “W-What are you d-doing here? You need to g-g-get out now.”

“What? No, mom,” the brown-haired boy shook his head. “I come here to save you. I’m gonna get you home.”

“You don’t under-der-stand,” his mom said through her chattering teeth, “this place i-is evil.”

“But mom—”

“Evil, she said,” a cold voice came from behind him, making him feel like he’d just been doused with freezing water, “when she was the one who brought along the painting of the devil.”

Joyce cried out in terror and glued her eyes to the ground, her hands clinging onto the metal bar so hard that her knuckles turned white — although that might’ve been because of how cold she was. Slowly, Will turned around to face the person behind that voice.

The first thing he saw was the boy who had taken him there. His eyes were widened in surprise, and there was also a hint of fear, as he froze in the air like all hell would break loose if he dared to move a muscle. Behind that boy was the one he assumed was the master the boy had mentioned, based on the guy’s reaction. The person — Will wasn’t sure if that was even a person — was shrouded in darkness, as if his clothes were the definition of pitch black. The shadows around him seemed to grow thicker and darker in his presence. This master was tall, he could tell as much from the shape, but it was impossible to see his face, his limbs, or even the clothes he was wearing. The only thing Will could see was a pair of cold dark brown eyes staring at him, studying his every move.

“You don’t cower,” the master said, as if out of everything that was in that dungeon, that was the weirdest thing of all.

“Should I?” Will asked. Sure, it was quite unsettling seeing someone who looked like the embodiment of night itself, but the guy wasn’t exactly the first weird thing he’d seen within an hour.

“He doesn’t see it,” the bluish-white boy whispered in surprised. “Master, maybe this—”

“Silence,” the master growled as he turned to the boy. “Twice in two days, you have brought a stranger into my castle.”

“You see,” the boy bit his lips before showing his master a nervous smile, “technically I didn’t bring him inside. He got in all by himself.”

“And did he get down here all by himself?” The master asked, and Will decided that he needed to help the boy who’d brought him to his mom, especially since they were now talking about him.

“Uh, sir?” He cleared his throat. “I didn’t mean to trespass. I just wanted to find my mom.”

The shadowy figure turned around and studied him carefully. “You just wanted to find your mom, huh?” He shot a quick glance towards Joyce. “Well, you found her. Now leave.”

“Thank you, sir,” Will tilted his head towards the guy. “Can you tell me how to open this door so I can—”

“No,” the guy interrupted.

“I’m sorry?” The hazel-eyed boy furrowed his brows.

“I told you to leave,” the master said coldly. “I never said she could.”

“But she’s my mother.”

“She brought that painting into this castle.”

“What painting?” Will raised his voice. It probably wasn’t the smartest decision ever, but he couldn’t help it. This guy was locking his mother up because she brought a painting with her. Seeing how he’d made all the paintings his mom brought with her, it was impossible for one of those paintings to be the guy’s long lost treasure. No matter what this master tried to frame his mom, he knew she wasn’t a thief.

The guy turned to the bluish-white boy. “Dustin?”

“It’s by the pillar next to her cell,” the boy, whose name had to be Dustin, told Will, and he quickly retrieved the reason behind all this ruckus.

It was one of his more abstract paintings. In this, he’d drawn a pair of eyes with irises in the middle of changing color from amber to blood red on black background. This image was from one of those dreams he couldn’t remember the details, but also couldn’t get out of his head until he drew them down.

“What’s wrong with this painting, then?” Will asked.

“It’s none of your business,” the master replied emotionlessly.

“It is my business if you decide to lock my mom up because of it,” Will raised his voice.

“Leave your mother and get out of here,” the shadowy guy said. “That’s your last warning.”

“Are you fucking crazy?” He was practically screaming now. “She’s my mom. You expect me to, what, just leave her? She doesn’t even know what that was about. I was the one who drew it. If you want to imprison someone, take me instead.”

That had certainly caught the attention of the guy. “You,” he said slowly, “want to take your mother’s place in my dungeon?” The guy had asked it as if that was the most difficult question that had ever existed, while in reality, that was the easiest thing to answer.

“Yes,” he said without hesitation.

“No, Will!” Joyce cried out. “You can’t!”

She grabbed his hand from behind the bar, and that was when the next strange thing happened. He suddenly understood what the bluish-white guy — Dustin — had said about him not seeing, because at that moment, he saw what he was supposed to see, and for some reason, he just knew it was what his mother was seeing. Dustin didn’t look like a curly-haired boy, but rather like a mini thundercloud that was sending bolts of lightning into the air. However, that wasn’t what had made his mother cry out in terror. The shadowy master wasn’t shadowy anymore — instead, he had taken the form of the corpse of a six-year-old boy. He knew whatever his mom was seeing wasn’t real, the same unexplainable way he knew he was seeing what his mom had been seeing. Nonetheless, it didn’t make him want to curl up in a corner and cry any less. Still, he slowly turned around and looked into Joyce’s eyes.

“Mom,” he said softly, trying to get her to look into his eyes, “I can’t let you stay here because of what I drew.” Furthermore, it was clear that his mother was sick. Her clothes were soaking wet, and the dungeon was freezing cold. If she stayed here any longer, he doubted she would make it. There was absolutely no way he would let that happen.

“You can’t,” she whispered before collapsing onto the ground. Anyone could see that she wouldn’t be able to stop him in this condition, so he gently pried her hands off him before turning back to the master of the castle.

“Will my mom be okay if I stay in her place?” He knew he wasn’t in any position to make demands, but he still wanted to get the message across that he would do anything to keep his mother safe.

“There will be a carriage to take her back home,” the guy said emotionlessly. “My servants will make sure she’s fine before sending her off.”

“She’s the only family I have left,” Will said, his words barely above a whisper.

“And you’re fine with never seeing her again, in exchange for her freedom?” The shadowy figure asked.

“Yes.”

“So be it,” the guy said. “El, open the door.”

 


 

Henry was way beyond irritated.

It was well past noon already, but he hadn’t seen William Byers once. How could he explain to the boy what a terrible mistake it was to turn him down if he didn’t get to talk to him? And of course he had to point everything out to that boy, since for some strange reason, the little dollface wasn’t able to think like the rest of the village.

He was the best person in the entire village, with money, power, beauty, and of course, a dick that could satisfy anyone. He could have any hot guy or girl in town just by winking at them — and he had — except one little sheep that was playing hard to get. Of course, he knew the best things were always the most difficult to collect, but he’d expected the Byers boy to get it through his thick skull already. After all, what could he possibly not give the little dollface when the boy agreed to be his? Everything that kid and his mom could ever want in the palm of Henry’s hand, and Will wanted to keep running around with paint and brushes. Why would anyone want to dirty their hands like that, anyway? If that kid wanted to hold something, Henry certainly could give him something impressive to hold. And why would anyone want to read when they could ogle him and his amazing abs instead? Something had to be wrong with that boy.

He’d even pointed out that the boy’s youth wouldn’t last forever, and soon enough, Henry might not want him anymore, yet the boy still tried to reject him with some made-up words. That had ruined his mood enough that he’d almost canceled his evening with Greta Bowie. Well, that would’ve been Greta’s loss, anyway. And Will’s too, if he knew what he’d been missing out on. He would bet anything that once the kid got to try his dick, he would’ve asked to take someone else’s playtime for himself as well. Of course, Henry would be stern with him, but if Will begged him long enough, he might let the kid join his playtime with Troy.

“Are you daydreaming about Will Byers again?” Belch Huggins asked, pulling him away from his scenario.

“And what if I am?” Henry cocked an eyebrow.

“It’s rude to think about someone else when I’m riding your dick,” Belch huffed.

“You can’t say you haven’t thought about tapping that ass either,” he looked up with a smirk. “Want me to share him with you sometime?”

“How are you gonna do that when he’s been rejecting you for years?” The other boy asked.

“No need to work your little brain on that,” Henry chuckled. “I already have Bob planning something for me. You only need to worry about pleasuring me.”

Chapter Text

The sun was already touching the horizon when Bill found his way to his favorite tree in the garden. This had been a long 24 hours, especially with the arrival of two strangers, one of them who was the artist behind that painting depicting the last thing he’d seen before losing his body. However, something told him that he wouldn’t be able to rest anytime soon.

Sensing his arrival, a tiny gust of wind started whirling around him, making him chuckle a little. With him being able to control the wind, it wasn’t difficult for him to do it himself, or to command this little guy to stop. However, he never wanted to give this particular spirit any order other than to stay away from certain places.

“Hi Georgie,” he chuckled. “How’s your day?”

Georgie was his little brother, and was among the dozens of residents of the castle who didn’t have a voice due to the curse. Other than the king, who had been put under a different curse, everyone else in the kingdom had been stripped of their physical bodies. Lucky for them, the dark magic had alerted an old wizard, who had come to help them. The guy couldn’t undo the curse himself, but he’d managed to give some of them enough power to materialize and made them take care of the ones who couldn’t. Since Bill was the chamberlain, he’d been in charge of anyone who had lived in the castle that wasn’t in anyone else’s command. That included his younger brother, who had only been there because of Bill. He could still understand the little guy, and anyone under his element for that matter, but it had been a long time since he last heard his brother’s jolly laugh.

“Yeah,” the boy nodded at his brother, “the Master was a little cranky today, but he wasn’t as bad as I thought he’d get.”

“Is that why he let the lady go?” Another voice asked, and Bill’s lips twitched as he looked up to a boy who’d seemingly grown into existence from a branch.

“Hi, Mikey,” he greeted. “I was wondering where you were.”

“Your brother was playing hide and seek with Stan’s birds in my garden,” Mikey chuckled. “Thought I should keep an eye on him.”

Just like the wind was his domain, Mikey could talk to and control every plant in this land — a fitting power for the Head Gardener. That certainly made babysitting Georgie a lot easier, since the trees could tell him when a gust of wind passed by.

Mikey had once told him that since the spirits of the people in the kingdom didn’t have anywhere to go when their bodies vanished, they’d taken shelter in the plants, so in a way, he was in charge of looking out for the people.

“Back to the Master,” Mikey said with a grin, “you said he wasn’t as bad?”

“I assume you saw the boy that entered the castle?” Bill asked.

“No, but the trees in the forest told me about him,” the other boy said. “He didn’t leave with the woman.”

“He’s her son,” Bill shrugged. “The Master let him stay in his mother’s place.”

“Really?” Mikey’s eyes widened. “He wasn’t gonna lock both of them up for months again?”

“He didn’t even plan to lock that kid up in the first place,” the chamberlain shook his head. “He told the kid to leave, even after Dustin showed himself.”

“What?” The other boy asked incredulously. Of course, Mikey had every reason not to believe that.

The king — or as they all called him now, the Master, since there was no kingdom anymore — always had a habit of locking people up once they saw any of the castle’s occupants. That was because of the evil sorcerer’s curse making them appear as something else. That curse had only been intended for the Master — the only one with a physical body in the kingdom, but due to the wizard’s interference, a handful of people had been given an ethereal form to manifest in, which had made the curse slightly unpredictable. Any normal person looking at the Master would see their greatest fear or their biggest regret, and the Master would also know the thing they desperately wanted to bury. Bill had to admit, that was a perfect way to make sure the curse would never be broken. However, it seemed like for the rest of them, the curse had turned them into something scary as well, although they had no idea what any of those mortals saw.

Then came that boy.

“You know, I don’t think he sees what the curse wants him to see,” Bill said. “He wasn’t afraid of Dustin or the Master.”

“But that’s impossible,” Mikey frowned. “Nobody has ever been able to see past the curse.”

“Which is why I think he might be the one.” The chamberlain wore a thoughtful look as he mulled over what he said. It had been centuries since they’d been cursed, and nobody had ever come close to breaking it. That was why he didn’t want to get his hopes up. However, he was certain he hadn’t been the only person with that thought.

“I really hope so,” Mikey hummed. “I miss being human.”

 


 

Lucas promised himself he wouldn’t say ‘I told you so’, but it was getting more and more difficult with all the stupid things Dustin had done. In the last two days, the boy had let a woman enter the castle despite the Master’s orders not to let any stranger inside, sneaked a pillow and a blanket in the guest’s cell despite the Master’s orders not to interact with her, let another boy inside the castle less than a day since the woman got locked up, and shown himself to said boy against the Master’s explicit order to never let any human see any of them. The last one had been the most severe offense since the Master loved to lock anyone who’d seen them up for a year or two until they couldn’t remember the way back anymore.

On the bright side, this time, the Master didn’t react as badly as he’d expected. For one, he’d allowed the boy to leave, even after he’d seen Dustin. He supposed it could’ve been because the boy didn’t seem to be as terrified of them as his mother, but something told him it wasn’t that. Also, even if that was the case, it still wouldn’t explain why he and Dustin were now tasked with taking the boy to a guest bedroom. Nobody had used any of the guest bedrooms ever since before the curse. Of course, that had made everyone ecstatic, since it had been centuries since they’d had someone to impress.

“You really don’t need to come with me, though,” Dustin’s voice came from his right. “I can take him up alone just fine.” They were both invisible at the moment, so he wouldn’t be able to look the other boy in the eyes when talking to him even if he wanted to.

According to the Master, each of them radiated a faint aura in a different color, which allowed him to see where they were, or when their powers were at work. None of them could see it, though they could feel it when they were close enough to each other, or when someone entered their element. That gave Bill a huge advantage whenever they played hide and seek, since most of the time they were surrounded by air. Of course, Lucas could still hide in the ground, the same way Ben hid underwater or Mikey merged with a tree, but that really limited their options. Other than that particular use, the aura was there to prevent them from bumping into one another, since apparently, non-corporeal beings like them could still touch and hurt each other.

“I don’t think he sent me to help you,” he said. “Pretty sure I’m here to make sure you don’t cause any trouble.”

“I have never caused any trouble,” the other boy protested.

“Remind me again who we are fetching and why he’s here?” Lucas rolled his eyes, despite Dustin not being able to see it. His friend huffed but otherwise didn’t have a comeback to that as they approached their new guest’s cell.

The boy — he couldn’t quite remember his name — was lying on the blanket Dustin had brought down the previous night. He was looking aimlessly at the ceiling, which, considering the situation he was in, was probably the best thing he could do at the moment.

“Do you think we should enter the cell or stay out here?” Dustin whispered.

“Don’t you think appearing out of nowhere in his cell might freak him out?” Lucas asked.

“It’s not exactly ‘out of nowhere’ if I can hear you guys,” the boy interrupted them. “I have ears, you know?”

Lucas flinched slightly at that and had the urge to slap himself for bickering in front of the stranger. Surely, it was hard enough to be in all of this. The boy didn’t need to be any more afraid.

Dustin, however, apparently didn’t think there was any need to be careful as he materialized in front of the holding cell. The boy’s gaze briefly darted towards him, before returning to stare at the ceiling.

“You’re still not afraid,” the curly-haired boy said, furrowing his brows a little.

“I don’t see what my mother saw,” their guest said, as if that explained everything.

“What did she see?” Lucas couldn’t help but ask. This was the first human to ever see them without screaming and trying to get away, and he’d been dying to learn that.

The boy turned to him and frowned. Not being able to see who had asked the question, his eyes darted back to Dustin. “She saw a scary stormcloud,” he said. “Imagine the most destructive storm that’s ever existed, compressed into that tiny space where your body is, add bolts of thunder randomly shooting out and a pair of glowing red eyes.”

In Lucas’ opinion, that didn’t sound scary enough to send grown muscular men crawling, but perhaps since it was somewhat a deviation of the Master’s curse, each person saw it differently, and the old woman only saw what she thought was the scariest.

“And what do you see?” Dustin asked.

“A teenage boy,” their guest said. “You’re about my age and have curly hair,” he described. “But it looks like you’re made of lightning.”

“Just like how we see him,” El’s voice and presence suddenly appear next to Lucas, making his heart leap out of his chest — or whatever their equivalent of that expression was.

“Fuck,” he cursed and materialized next to Dustin. “Don’t do that to us, El!”

Unlike the rest of them, El’s power allowed her to travel between this world and a world she called the Nether. The girl had described to them that the other world looked exactly like theirs but was devoid of any lifeform. Moving things in that world made objects move in this one as well, so she used to enjoy playing invisible tug of war with them back in the days.

The boy’s eyes immediately landed on him. “Are you,” he furrowed his brows as if trying to find the right word to use, “made of stone?”

Lucas frowned and nodded as he looked down at his hands. Unlike most of his friends, who were in control of lighter, or in most cases, weightless elements, he had dominion over the earth and its treasure — which meant he would usually take heavier, unlevitatable forms whenever he materialized. He used to turn into sand as it was the only form of his that allowed levitation, but after his friends kept complaining about his sand being everywhere for a century, he figured he could save everyone some trouble.

El also materialized and floated behind him. Unlike Dustin, who was lightning personification, the girl looked like she was made of smoke. Lucas had always thought that was how ghosts looked, but he’d never met one to confirm.

“El?” Dustin cleared his throat. “You know why we’re here, right?”

The girl didn’t say anything as she raised her arm lazily, and the door to the boy’s cell opened with a loud creak. The boy just raised an eyebrow as he scanned the three in front of him warily.

“I don’t think I’ve introduced myself,” the lightning boy said cheerfully as he entered the cell. “I’m Dustin. I used to be the king’s messenger before this happened,” he said, sticking out his hand. “Don’t worry about being zapped,” he added with a cheeky grin, “I haven’t lost control that much in centuries.”

The boy eyed Dustin’s hand for a while before finally deciding to shake it. “Will,” he said.

“Yeah, I remember,” Dustin chuckled. “Nice to meet you, Will,” he said before turning around. “That rock-for-brains over there is Lucas. He used to be the Head Knight. The girl is our amazing Magna Magus, El.”

“What’s that?”

“That means she’s a mage,” Lucas provided. “The strongest in the kingdom.”

“Not strong enough,” El mumbled before fading out. “My job is done here,” she said before phasing into the other world.

“Anyway, since I’m the one who got you into this mess,” Dustin said with a grin, “I’m tasked with taking care of you. Let’s get you to your new room.”

As the lightning boy flew out of the cell, Will only looked at him quizzically. “I thought this was my room?”

“Uh,” Dustin frowned, “do you want to stay here?”

“Of course not,” Will shook his head and hastily got out, “but your master said I’d take my mom’s place.”

“Don’t mind him,” Dustin chuckled as he motioned the shorter boy to follow him up the stairs, “he’s always dramatic like that. ‘You will take your mom’s place’. ‘You’re not allowed to set foot in the library ever again’. ‘You’ll have to clean every loo for a decade’. He always says stuff like that.”

“He actually made you do that for a decade, though,” Lucas reminded the curly-haired boy. “I wish that taught you not to disobey a direct order.”

“Don’t be overscrupulous,” Dustin waved his hand dismissively. “The point is, he only likes to portray himself as cold, cruel, and unforgiving.”

“Dustin likes to think the Master is deaf,” Lucas turned back to Will, “trust me, he’s not.”

“Anyway,” the former messenger rolled his eyes, “he told us to take you to your room, so you don’t have to worry about going against his word.”

“What are you guys?” Will asked.

“Good question,” Dustin hummed. “I’m not sure what we are either. We’ve never sat around and thought of a name to call ourselves.”

“We used to be human before this happened,” Lucas shrugged.

“Before what happened?” Their guest frowned.

“We’re not allowed to talk to you about it,” Lucas shook his head before Dustin could say anything.

“What are you allowed to talk about, then?”

“I don’t know,” Dustin shrugged. “Just ask us, and if we’re not allowed to say it, I’m sure Lucas will stop me from spilling. He never goes against a direct order.”

“I’m the Head Knight,” Lucas rolled his eyes, “I’m supposed to follow orders.”

“So,” Will contemplated his questions before picking one, “how old are you?”

“We’re 20,” Dustin quickly answered, “so, I’m not ‘a teenage boy’, thank you very much,” he huffed.

“You’re not 20,” Lucas pointed out.

“I’m basically 20 already,” Dustin scoffed. “My birthday was two months away when it happened.”

“Still makes you a 19-year-old,” Lucas smirked, “so Will was right.”

“How long have you been that age, then?” Will was smiling at them.

“I don’t know,” Dustin shrugged. “A while. We kind of stopped counting after 200 years or so.”

“I bet the Master is still counting,” Lucas said nonchalantly.

“Of course he is,” Dustin rolled his eyes. “He likes to brood, after all.”

“How many of you are there?”

“Depends on how you define ‘us’, but I’ll say there are 10 of us,” Dustin answered.

“Well, technically 11,” Lucas interjected.

“Well, technically 12, if you count the Master as well,” Dustin rolled his eyes, “but if he strictly asks about us as in the ones similar to us, then there are 10 of us.”

“But how would he know if he should—”

“Okay, guys,” Will interrupted, “I get it.” The boy rolled his eyes. “Don’t suppose I can ask what that meant, can I?”

“You can ask,” Lucas chuckled, “but Dustin isn’t allowed to answer.”

“Hey!” Dustin huffed. “Why are you singling me out?”

“Oh, I’m sorry, have I answered any of Will’s questions?” Lucas scoffed. “No. Because you’re so eager to talk to him, I can barely get a word in.”

“Well excuse me for hogging our guest,” Dustin raised his voice. “It’s not like I got tasked with him or anything.”

“You wouldn’t have if you hadn’t disobeyed his order again.

“Guys?” Will interrupted them. “Still here.”

“Right, sorry,” Dustin said sheepishly. “But we’re here.”

They had arrived at the room Bill and his wind had prepared for Will in the North wing. This place hadn’t been used since before the curse, but the chamberlain had made it seem like the room had never been abandoned. He could see their guest’s eyes widened as the boy walked inside and took everything in.

“This room is bigger than my house,” the boy mumbled.

“That’s a palace for you,” Dustin chuckled. “I’d say you eventually get used to it, but we’ve been here for quite a while, so it might be different for us.”

“You’re free to explore the castle, or just do anything you want,” Lucas nodded. “We have pretty much anything around here.”

“However,” Dustin raised his voice a little, “there are a couple of rules you have to follow.” He raised a finger. “One, you can’t leave. The drawbridge is the farthest you can go.” The curly-haired boy added a second finger. “Two, the Master has requested that you join him for dinner every day. It’s served at 19.00, so I’ll be here later to take you to the dining room.” He said it in a way that implied it wasn’t a request. “Finally, whatever you do, stay away from the West wing.”

“What’s in the West wing?” Will asked.

“We’re n—”

“—not allowed to tell me,” the boy interrupted Lucas. “Got it.”

“So, remember those three rules, and you’ll be fine,” Dustin grinned. “We’ll let you settle in. Lucas and I also have something to do, so I’ll see you later.”

Lucas rolled his eyes as he followed his friend outside and closed the door behind him.

Something told him that the worst part of his day hadn’t even begun yet.

Chapter Text

Mike had had the second-worst two days he’d ever had — only second to the day he’d gotten cursed.

First, he’d found out that his subordinates had let a human in the castle for what he wished had been the first time. Then, in a bout of generosity, he’d allowed the woman to spend the night in the castle, only for her to draw out the painting depicting the last thing he saw before the life that he knew ended. Anyone would’ve been furious at that, and anyone would’ve thrown the one with that cursed painting in a holding cell. At least he’d been kind enough to turn a blind eye to Dustin giving the woman a pillow and a blanket. He’d even gone to look for Eddie to ask his personal healer to look after her health when he spotted that horse. As his luck would have it, Dustin had let a second human enter the castle, and as his luck would have it, Beautiful Hazel-Eyes had to be the woman’s son and the artist behind the cursed painting. He’d had every intention to let the boy go, despite him having seen Dustin, but of course the selfless idiot had to volunteer to stay in his mother’s place.

“What is he doing?” He turned around and looked at the mirror in his room, where his reflection was sending him an unimpressed look. Or, that would’ve been his reflection if he hadn’t been stuck in this form.

“Seriously, Mike,” Richie rolled his eyes, “if you really want to know, why don’t you just go knock on his door?”

“And say what?” Mike scoffed. “I locked his mother up. How eager do you think he is to talk to me?”

“That ought to teach you a lesson,” Richie shrugged. “Next time, before you throw someone in a cell, ask them if their kid is hot.”

“I didn’t think he was hot,” Mike protested.

“Right, silly me,” his brother grinned. “You used the phrase, and I quote, ‘breathtakingly beautiful’, right?”

Sometimes, Mike wished he could wipe that stupid smirk off his twin’s face. Unlike the rest of the palace’s inhabitants, Richie didn’t just have his body stripped from him. Instead, his brother got trapped in a dark place with lots of windows, each window was a different mirror in the castle. Mike guessed that part of the curse was to remind him of what he’d once looked like, and what he wasn’t. From experience, he could also confirm that breaking a mirror wouldn’t get Richie out, or would it bring him seven years of bad luck.

“Anyway,” he grumbled, “I already told Dustin to tell him he had to dine with me at every dinner, so I’ll see him later anyway.”

“And our chef was ecstatic upon hearing that news,” Richie said. “It’s been ages since Bev got to showcase her skills, since you don’t care anymore if your food is dirt.”

“It’s not been ages,” he protested. “She literally just made soup for the lady yesterday.”

“We both know she’s gonna take offense if she hears that,” his brother raised an eyebrow. “She’s making you two a twenty-course meal as we speak.”

“That boy doesn’t look like he can even eat a twenty-course meal,” Mike rolled his eyes.

“He doesn’t look like he’s ever had twenty different dishes in his life,” Richie corrected. “And are you planning to learn his name before then? Because we both know ‘what’s your name’ is the most romantic thing you can say to someone over candlelight dinner.”

“What’s his name, then?”

“You didn’t say the magic word,” his brother said in a sing-song voice.

“What’s his name, then, asshole?” Mike added.

“Close enough,” Richie shrugged. “His name is William Byers. I heard him introduce himself earlier.”

“William Byers,” Mike repeated. “Will… That’s a beautiful name.”

“Already thinking about what to name your children, I see,” his brother smirked.

“Shove it,” he huffed. “I’m just appreciating his name.”

“I’m wondering whether you believe what you just said,” Richie raised an eyebrow. “Because I fucking don’t.”

“Whatever,” Mike grumbled. “It’s not like it’s gonna change anything.”

“Are you sure?” A new voice interrupted them from the balcony. “Because I’m sure nobody minds if it does.”

“Stan the Man!” Richie exclaimed. “I was wondering where you were.”

“My King, my Lord,” Stan greeted both of them. “I bring news from border patrol.”

“How is it?” Mike asked.

“The barrier is getting weaker,” Stan said. “Some of my animals were slaughtered near the frozen lake, and there were reports of hellborn sightings on the West side of the forest as well.”

This was the real motive behind the sorcerer’s curse — or at least, that was what the old wizard had informed Mike. Apparently, that sorcerer’s goal was to take over the kingdom, and the excuse he’d made up before putting a spell on everything was to spread the word to all the neighboring countries that justice had been served. Of course, the curse had also been used to demonstrate his power, and warn the other countries of their fate should they stand against him. Fortunately, the wizard, who had been chasing the sorcerer, had arrived just in time to use the last of his magic to put up a barrier around the kingdom, hiding them from the evil power, and give as many people a form to appear in. Since then, the evil sorcerer had been trying to find the palace, the army he’d summoned — consisting of hellhounds, werewolves, and devil trees — had been lurking in the woods surrounding the place, trying to breach the barrier. That had been nearly 400 years ago. Mike knew it was illogical for someone from that era to still be alive, but he also knew the sorcerer wasn’t dead yet. That was why he never released anyone while they still remembered the path back to this place. The woman — the mother of Willliam Byers — had been his biggest gamble, but he was certain that in her current state, she wouldn’t be able to recall anything anyway.

“Inform Mikey and Lucas of the new sightings,” Mike said. “Have the forest on high alert and reinforce the area around the castle.”

“It’s already been done,” Stan said nonchalantly. “I’m not new to the job. Now, about that new boy—”

“No,” Mike interrupted. “We’re not having this conversation again.”

“He’s the first one to ever react differently,” his advisor protested. “You should at least entertain the possibility.”

“Didn’t you listen to what I told Richie?”

“Look, Mike,” Stan said exasperatedly, “I know you didn’t leave a very good first impression. Hell, first impressions have never been your strong suit. However, we all know that all spells can be broken. The question is, which one do you want to be broken first, this one that condemned us to this life, or the one that’s protecting us?”

Mike let out a frustrated groan. Of course, he knew they were running out of time, but he undoing this curse required an act of true love from a human being, and there was absolutely no way anyone would be able to love the thing they feared the most.

“You know,” his brother cleared his throat, “I don’t think the boy sees you differently from how we do. Maybe the curse doesn’t affect him.”

“Or maybe I’m already the worst thing he could ever imagine,” he reminded Richie.

 


 

“You’re in an awfully good mood today,” Ben commented as he entered the kitchen.

“It’s been years since we had a visitor,” Bev said cheerfully as she swirled around the room. “It’s my job to make sure that the boy stays full and healthy.” The fire spirits she controlled were making nine dishes at a time.

“From what I heard, it’s actually Dustin’s job to take care of him,” he reminded the chef. “You know, since he actually put the kid in this situation in the first place.”

“While that may be true,” the girl shrugged, “I’m not letting the kid have charred food for the rest of his stay. We’re not barbaric.”

Ben chuckled quietly as he watched Beverly continue turning ordinary ingredients — or as ordinary as it could get with the game in Max’s care and the herbs in Mikey’s garden — into masterpieces. That was all he’d ever done around her: watch her quietly.

Ever since they were both human, he’d been fascinated by her. She’d been the most beautiful human he’d ever laid his eyes on. Her voice was angelic and her laugh was music to his ears. He’d fallen in love with the way her bright blue eyes sparkled and the way her short red hair danced like it was fire itself as she moved gracefully around the kitchen, and if her fiery personality was anything to go by, it only added to her charms.

She was also the most talented person he’d ever known — being the first and only female chef Ben had ever known, and probably the first one in the whole kingdom — so there was no doubt in his mind she was meant to end up with someone equally as magnificent, and definitely not with the caretaker of the castle. So he stayed in the background and watched as she shone brighter than the sun itself.

Then the curse happened, and they were all stripped of their own flesh.

The day he’d been granted a form to appear as again had been the best day of his life, not only because she had also been there, but because she’d talked to him for the first time that day. And as the icing on the cake, she had known his name.

Now, she was fire itself. She controlled the fire spirits, which were the souls of all the cooks that had worked under her back in the days. Ben thought it was so fitting, not only because she was the chef, but also because, what else could Beverly possibly be? She’d always been a burning flame in his eyes, and now everyone saw it as well.

Of course, as fate would have it, he’d been granted dominion over water. Everyone knew how wonderfully those two elements went together, so there was nothing he could do other than to keep watching from afar, not even daring to touch her for fear of extinguishing her very being.

“Richie has been telling everyone you’re making a twenty-course meal,” he said softly.

“Thirteen,” the girl corrected. “I would’ve gone for twenty as well, but I have a feeling I should save it for another occasion. We both know how bad the Master is at making first impressions, so I didn’t want to go all out on this.”

Ben didn’t point out that to most people, a thirteen-course meal was already considered as going all out.

“Bill is setting the table with Mikey,” he informed the chef. “It’s been a while since we last used the dining room, so I already went there and made sure everything is in their best condition. Eddie is cleaning the silverware,” the caretaker paused and chuckled softly. “Well, he called it cleaning. I call it polishing, but we all know how he is about health issues.”

“He can rest assured that there won’t be a problem from the kitchen,” Beverly grinned. “I’m not planning on poisoning our savior.”

“The Master still doesn’t think that boy is the one,” Ben shook his head.

“Well, our time is running out, so I think the most important thing we can do is keep hoping,” the girl gave him a smile. “Don’t get me wrong. I do think with our centuries of practicing this power, we’re more than capable of fending off the sorcerer’s army, but it’s gonna be our last days of peace.”

“I think you’re right,” he chuckled. Once upon a time, they might’ve had a hard time controlling their powers, but that was what the barrier was for. It wasn’t there to protect them. The wizard had given them time to get used to their new powers, to make sure that when that shield eventually broke, they were capable of fending off the sorcerer’s army. The day when they needed to was approaching.

“Therefore, I believe we should make the best use of however long we have left,” Beverly said with a soft smile. “Say, are you free tomorrow?”

“What?” Ben’s eyes widened.

There was no way he was hearing what he thought he’d heard.

 


 

Will might have been staying in the biggest, most luxurious prison he’d ever seen, but it was still a prison, and he missed his tiny house with cheap but familiar furniture and a loving mom.

The people around here seemed nice as well. Or at least those he’d met other than the Master. Under normal circumstances, he would’ve been great friends with Lucas and Dustin. El had disappeared before he could get to know her, but she also seemed nice. However, this was anything but, and he really didn’t want to see anyone at the moment.

It was difficult to believe that this time last night, his biggest problem had been Henry Bowers and the brute’s incessant attempts to add him to his collection. A day later, and that had turned into not being able to see his mom ever again. On top of that, he was now a prisoner in this cursed castle where he was the only human, and where the Master seemed to take the form of the thing people feared the most. At least he could tell that had been the case with his mother.

“Will?” Dustin’s voice came from behind the closed door. “Dinner is ready,” the other boy informed him.

In addition to having to stay here, he also had to have dinner with the Master every day. That was definitely not a comforting thought whatsoever.

“Thank you, Dustin,” the brown-haired teen said tiredly, “but I’m not really hungry. I’ll make sure to be there tomorrow.”

There was a long pause before the other boy let out a forced laugh. “You have a sense of humor,” he said. “That’s good, but I’m not sure if now is the best time to use it.”

“That wasn’t a joke,” Will sighed. “I’m sorry, but my whole life just changed today. I really don’t feel like having dinner with anybody, let alone your master.”

He didn’t need to look at the other boy’s face to know Dustin was quite nervous right now. It was very apparent in the guy’s voice. “Please reconsider that,” he pleaded. “The Master isn’t known for his easygoing personality.”

“No shit,” Will mumbled. His mom had been thrown in a cell because of a painting. He didn’t need anyone to remind him how unreasonable the guy could be. However, he’d just lost his mom and everything he’d ever considered familiar. Maybe the Master would be kind enough to take that into consideration. “From what I heard, you aren’t the type to follow his every order either, so what gives?”

“What gives is I’ve known him my whole life,” Dustin said. “Plus, he can’t kill me. He can’t kill any of his subordinates because our life force is bound to this castle. You definitely don’t share that trait with us.”

“I’m tired of having spoiled brutes tell me what they want me to do,” Will said exasperatedly. Henry had been more or less the same, always approaching him to ask him to do something he didn’t like. However, the asshole at least had the decency to approach him and ask. The Master had relied on Dustin and Lucas to tell him what he had to do, and even now, the guy was sending his subordinate to fetch Will.

“Please, Will,” Dustin begged. “Just bear with me for half an hour. You can tell him you’re tired and leave early. I won’t say anything.”

Whatever Will had planned to say immediately left his mind as a loud noise echoed through the castle. It had felt like a wooden door had been slammed against the wall — only that this particular door probably weighed half a ton.

“Shit,” he heard Dustin curse under his breath, “he’s coming.”

And with that, he could tell that Dustin had already left to deal with whatever the Master was throwing at him.

Shortly after that, he could hear the Master’s voice as the guy approach his room. There was no doubt he was talking to Dustin, but he didn’t pay attention to the words enough to know what they were talking about. It wasn’t that difficult to guess anyway.

His suspicion was confirmed when there was a less-than-gracious knock on his door.

“I do believe Dustin had told you that dinner is to be served at 19.00 on the dot,” the Master’s voice came from behind the door.

“I do believe I also told him I’m not in the mood for food right now,” Will retorted. “It must’ve been a miracle for you to put aside your busy schedule to check on me.”

“Have I not made myself clear?” The Master growled. “Did I give you the false impression that my request was optional?”

“With all due respect, I don’t give a rat’s ass about what you want me to do, “the hazel-eyed teen huffed. “My whole life just changed more in a day than it had been for the rest of my life. I’m sure you can survive one night without my company.”

“Oh, because your life just turned upside down, that gave you the right to ignore my order?” The Master raised his voice. “Did you think it was all fun and games when I got turned into this thing? You either dine with me, or you don’t dine at all.”

“I already told you I will tomorrow.”

“It doesn’t work that way,” the guy replied. “If that’s how you want it to be, then that’s what you’re gonna get. You shall not have food until you learn your place. It’s either my way, or no way at all.” Without waiting for a response, Will heard the Master walked away.

Letting out a loud groan, the hazel-eyed teen grabbed a pillow on the bed and put it over his face, trying to suffocate himself.

It was just his luck that his captor had to be a spoiled brat.