The Proper Princess Protocols

What To Do When Meeting Your Princely Husband For The First Time:

1. Smile adorably, even if you’re being jerked out of a pit with coarse rope.
2. Don’t correct him, when he claims his chicken is a phoenix.
3. Don’t correct him about anything, really.
4. Smile adorably, even if he’s smiling at another princess.

Within the realm of Things That Could Be Wrong with your Princely Husband, Juan’s flaws were really quite minor. In fact, Leonora was even willing to call them Wholly Understandable, if not Entirely Overlookable or maybe even Completely Forgivable (terms she was well acquainted with, considering their flagrant use to describe her father’s peccadilloes). After all, Juan’s positive attributes more than outweighed his imperfections. For one thing, he wasn’t Majarlikan. For another, he only had one head, walked on two feet, and had nice, even teeth instead of poisonous fangs. Which was not to say that Lea had anything against her latest spurned suitor, who wasn’t Majarlikan, but had seven heads, no limbs and a rather dangerous smile. (Except that Lea did have a small issue with how inhuman her suitor looked, though she knew it wasn’t his fault he was born as a seven-headed snake.)

Despite the unassailable logic emblazoned in her mind, Lea still found herself uncomfortable with the given circumstance. It wasn’t because Diego, Juan’s older brother, was ignoring her (Lea had come to understand that a number of people were destined to have dubious taste if not imperfect eyesight). It wasn’t because Pedro, Juan’s oldest brother, was giving her some Flattering Attention (Lea couldn’t fault him for being appropriately dazzled by her beauty, charm and ample breasts). It wasn’t even because Juan was smiling at the Sampaguita-Smelling Princess in pretty much the same way he had smiled at her (because Juan was obviously just being polite).

The only flaw of Juan’s that bothered Lea, really, was the chicken.

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The New Daughter

When the boy inevitably grew up, married and moved away with his own growing family, the toymaker decided to make a girl. He did it this time in secret, afraid of what his neighbors would think, fearing the potential unjust accusation of prurience when all he wanted was someone he could talk to, whose conversation would eradicate the heaviness of his solitude.

He worked at night, carving wood with his spotted hands by the feeble light of low and fat candles he favored from his youth, recalling how he watched his grandfather shape magic from wood and humming a song whose words he had long forgotten. He worked from midnight until just before dawn for five weeks, struggling with the impatience that old men with erratic memory suffer, losing himself in the methodology of his craft, shaving wood to reveal the delicate limbs and the small torso of his waiting daughter. Then at last he reached the part he liked best: shaping the girl’s face, determining the contour of her cheeks, the ridge of her brow, the curve of her chin, the hollow of her eyes. For her hair he chose the color of burnished bronze, planting and pulling the strands in and out of her hard scalp. For her eyes he selected the color of the bluest sky, fitting the glass spheres with a precision that only a master toymaker possessed. Just before he finished, he covered her polished nakedness in muslin and lace, cutting and sewing the sleeves and the hems and the ruffs, just as the sun came up.

The toymaker straightened up and grimaced at the creak of his aching back and looked at his new daughter, reaching forward to gently put an errant lock back in place.

“Now we must be patient, you and I,” he told her. “If my son could come to life, then certainly so can you.”

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Retokado

She hoped the crisp warmth of the morning would persevere until early afternoon, aware that only on warm days do Manang Yna’s therapeutic massages work best. Mai needed a particularly potent dose for tonight: Jun, her husband, was coming home early. She made sure of it during breakfast when she seasoned his fried eggs with salt and a pinch of finely ground mermaid bones.

“I’ll cook dinner tonight. You don’t have to bring home fast food or pancit.” Mai smiled. Jun almost missed it on his way out. He looked back at her through the aluminum screen door, anxious to be gone.

Ano? Ano?”

Magluluto ako ng ulam pang hapunan.” Mai winced as the door shut. After that, she phoned Manang Yna.

The retired nurse was gifted with the ability to reform her clients’ appearance and reinvigorate their bodies. Over the phone, Mai explained: last night, she found her husband’s collection of naughty videos on their computer. She must have sounded defensive, she apologized, she was looking for recipes for sinigang na sirena.

The older woman was completely sympathetic. Masahe lang iyan, iha, stressed ka lang. Mai refused to regret poisoning her husband, setting a trap for him, and preparing, even now, to seduce him as revenge. Hindi ka naman papatay, diba?

If Mai described girls in her husband’s favorite videos, could Manang Yna mold her face into a passable replica, for a fee? Mas mahal yun than the regular massages she enjoyed to maintain her figure and, sometimes, to enhance her breasts. Pero oo, syempre, para sa’yo. Anong oras ka pupunta rito?

So, tonight, her husband would come home to a woman he enjoyed and the women he loved could finally, finally enjoy him. But she needed him to come home.

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Divine Light

“Most favored and thus fortunate of wenches,” says the god, “yonder varlet hath yet again demonstrated most appalling familiarity toward mine august person.”

“It’s ‘valet’, not ‘varlet’, Great and Glorious One.” Lee completes her exterior vehicle check, eyes flicking across the underground parking lot, as she re-folds the extensible mirror she used to scan the undercarriage. Of course, since she waited a reasonable several minutes a respectable several meters away before even approaching, any little surprises would more than likely have triggered already—and poor Carlos would have been a victim of, probably, automotive immolation rather than godly wrath. Still, it’s always better to be sure. “Can we please get in the car?”

The god climbs in, obligingly enough; luckily, he believes in graciousness—at least toward his ‘right and worshipful devotees’—and is preoccupied with what he considers to be the more important matter at hand, in any case. “Thou’lt smite him for such impertinence, naturally,” he says, settling into the shotgun seat.

“Naturally.” Lee is already inside, has checked the back seat, and is running her hands over and under the dashboard, across the ceiling, beneath the seats, and along the steering column. “Seatbelt, please.”

He grimaces. He doesn’t like seatbelts; they muss his clothes—and he’s particular about his appearance, which he says any self-respecting god should be, in the most elementary practice of noblesse oblige—and what’s more, he’s convinced that no ‘mishap of mortal origin’ could possibly cause sufficient damage to harm his divine presence.

She’s less sure—but would, of course, never actually say so out loud. Instead, she’s concocted the reasoning that her ‘womanish concern’ over his well-being is, in fact, a facet of her reverence toward him, and that indulging her in it therefore constitutes another instance of the noblesse oblige befitting a superior being.

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The Nameless Ones (Part 2)

Aubrey shoots up, her body ramrod straight as she sheds her discomfort. He gets up more slowly, training the scanner at the center of the tunnel. The shadows shift like storm clouds breaking and then re-forming. Above them, the sky releases a fresh batch of rain. They steadily inch forward, away from their makeshift lean-to, the rain obscuring their vision as they moved away from the shelter and out in the open. Troy walks in front, one hand holding the scanner steady, the other hand tucked at his hip, fingers tracing the familiar holster of his gun. Behind him, slightly to one side, Aubrey already has her palms open, fingers spread out, eyes blinking back the rain.

The shadow in the tunnel seems to retreat slightly, gathering itself. Troy remembers snorkeling somewhere off Palawan, one summer day, a lifetime ago, and saw a school of fish moving through the ocean waters. The tides pushed them this way and that, and yet they seemed to instinctively follow a pattern, become a whole being that surrounded him, that swam around him like a multicolored whirlwind. He thinks the shadow is like that: made up of miniscule pieces that swam together, forming and re-forming into this vast, cloud-like shape that filled the entire tunnel entrance.

The scanner squawks as they approach, a high-pitched whine replacing the low hum. Troy switches it off, shoves it in his pocket, and instead spreads his palm out in a gesture of peace. Blue-white lines flare up across the skin of his open palm, fine lace-like traceries that form a familiar symbol — familiar, at least, if you were of non-human origins. The mark of A.G.I.M.A.T. “My name is Agent Montero,” he says calmly, reciting each word in a low, non-threatening tone. “This is my partner, Agent Miles.”

“Stupid codename,” mutters Aubrey behind him. He ignores her.

“We don’t want to hurt you. We are seeking an artifact that may be with you. This is a dangerous item. Please, we are asking you to give it up so that we can take it to a safe place.” The shadow croons, its sound like a hundred thousand nails scraping across a chalkboard. Aubrey flinches, but Troy keeps on speaking, his voice rising above the din of the rain. “Can you understand me? We don’t want to harm you. Once you give us the item, you’re free to go.”

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