From a distance, the palace seemed to rise out of the perpetual mists of lake Aned, its towering spires and stone walls hovering, lighter than air. Vera had spent many nights staring in awe at the sheer size of it, entranced by the way the glass in the upper windows caught the moonlight and boldly reflected it back to the heavens. She had always wondered how it would look up close; wondered if its dreamlike qualities would melt away under closer scrutiny.
Now that it loomed over her, dreams had given way to nightmares, and as the carriage driver called for the horses to stop, a sudden bolt of panic robbed her of breath and sent a tear down her cheek. She didn’t bother to wipe it away, and the guard who came to escort her into the palace didn’t seem to care. His large hand enveloped both her hand and her wrist, and he led her firmly if not forcibly up the palace steps, under a pair of magnificent arches, and into the palace proper. From there she was turned over to an elderly matron, who sniffed derisively at Vera's obviously common appearance and muddied dress, then walked away saying, “You will follow me” as if she was speaking to a particularly naughty child.
She was taken to a room with a large wooden tub at its center. The matron nodded curtly towards a small table that stood near one wall, then turned and left without explanation. Vera watched her go until the heavy wooden door was shut firmly behind her. There were no windows in this room, save one small, slitted opening near the ceiling. There would be no escaping through there. With no other options left to her, Vera wrapped her arms tightly around herself and went to investigate the table.
There she found a good-sized jar of bath salts, a choice of sweet smelling oils, a bar of scented soap, and a tiny hand held mirror. This last she picked up almost without thought, and in it she saw her own image; her hair was tangled from hours spent dancing in the night air, and her eyes were slightly swollen from fighting back tears. Earlier this evening, she had thought herself a very pretty young woman, radiant with the full bloom of life. Now she saw herself clearly as a crying, disheveled little girl.
She remembered Achossebein, the way the Demon had sneered as he promised that she'd get what she desired. She threw the mirror down in disgust, and it clattered across the stone floor but stayed intact.
Another tear trickled down her cheek, but determination was building inside her. Achossebein. It was he who had done this to her. She would find a way to repay him. But first, she had to find a way out this situation. She disrobed quickly, then threw her dress over the jar of bath salts, grabbed the bar of soap, and stormed over to the tub. She found the water surprisingly warm, but she refused to allow the pleasant sensation rob her of her newfound anger. .
By the time the servants came to prepare her for her audience with the king, Vera was calm, clean, and dignified. She stood perfectly still while they took measurements and tailored a silken white dress to fit her lithe form, and even made small talk as they brushed and styled her hair. They placed jewels around her neck and painted her cheeks and lips with fine red powder. They fussed over her for what seemed like an eternity, and when at last they were satisfied with their work, they retrieved the mirror from where Vera had thrown it and offered it to her. She refused. Then, just before she was led away, she grabbed her own dress from its place on the table. No one noticed that the jar of salts was taken along with it.
Vera had imagined that she would be led up a long flight of stairs, to a small room high in a tower. Instead, she was kept in a large, well lit bedchamber only two doors down from where she had bathed. She had noticed immediately that there were no windows, and a tentative peek through the crack underneath the door revealed two large pairs of boots.
She nodded. She had been hoping for guards. Guards meant that she would be left in this room for at least a short while, and she hoped that a short while was all she would need. She removed the bath salts from their hiding place within the dress she carried, threw the dress on the floor near the bed, and looked around the room. There was a large chest, several small tables with lanterns on them, and a writing table. Two tapestries, a small portrait, and a mirror hung on the walls.
She scooted the chest underneath the mirror, and with a little effort, she was able to wriggle the mirror free of its holders and lower it to the ground. She then carried it across the room, propped it against the writing desk, and used the salts to make an almost complete circle around it.
Vera had all she needed to summon the Demon, though she wished for black candles to make the binding stronger, or incense to ensure that Achossebein would heed her call. She shook her head and told herself that she would just have to make do, then went about dimming the lanterns.
After one last peek under the door, Vera took a deep breath and went back to her makeshift summoning ring. She put the last bit of salt into her left hand and stepped up to the mirror, then carefully completed the circle with herself inside. Before speaking the ancient invocations that would summon Achossebein, she took a moment to look the circle over once more. Any gap, any break at all in this protective ring, and the Demon would escape his prison and be loosed on the world.
Slowly, barely above a whisper, she began to mumble the words that would call the Demon forth. The incantation was ancient and powerful; as Vera chanted, it wove its spell not only over the salt and mirror, but over her, as well. Her eyelids fluttered and her eyes rolled back as her body began to sway. Her voice grew louder and deeper, and she began to hear her own words as if they belonged to someone else.
The air grew thick, the room darkened, and deep within the mirror, grey mists began to swirl.