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My name is Thomas Regus. I’m a prisoner in two castles.

One was built by giant ants; one constructed of lies.

I had to escape both.

Yet my single option was such a long shot it almost made me chuckle.

Make Erica chatty!

Ogres, of course, are trained from birth – not for their chatty conversational skills, but to be the best bodyguards in the world.


Erica, the best of the best, kicked wide my iron-braced doors. Before the hinges could rebound, she tromped into my private dining room.

Right on time!

My ogre loomed three metres tall, her body covered in chain mail, her noggin rounder than Lord Boron’s belly, her eyes suspicious slits. On her hips, swords, knives and ancient guns jiggled and clanked. In her massive right hand, she clutched her trusty crossbow. In her left, she balanced two uneven plates of steaming food.

I cracked my knuckles and pushed back my chair from the oaken dining table. ‘Reckon you can take me?’

Erica sighed.

I charged at her short sword, sheathed by her side. As I planned (and hoped), my bodyguard stepped aside. I lashed out with my greatest weapon. My right fist struck below her kneecap, just as she’d taught me. Erica didn’t flinch or make a sound, as was her ogre way. But I knew I’d hurt her. At least a bit. Maybe. I snatched a fork from the dining table, faked towards her belly and somersaulted between her legs.

My plan: to attack the lumbering ogre from behind!

‘Ha!’ I cried in triumph, followed immediately by, ‘Ow!

Without spilling a pea, Erica scissored shut her legs, trapping me between barrel-thick calf muscles. She squeezed me like a nine-tenths empty toothpaste tube until my ribcage creaked.

I dropped my fork and squeaked, ‘I … surrender.’

‘Your face betrayed your somersault plan.’ Releasing me, Erica placed the plates on our table. ‘You must train your eyes to deceive.’

By the time I’d washed my hands, Erica had demolished her brick-thick hippocow steak and sampled every item on my plate.

Ignoring the medium-rare fumes that filled my mouth with saliva, I sat and cleared my throat. ‘Erica, you’ve guarded me since I wore nappies. Um, do you ever see me in a kind of … family-ish way?’

My bodyguard burped and formed her eyebrow-bunching frown of disapproval. Both were ogre specialties. ‘Your meal has not been poisoned, Prince. Or spat on.’

Mine was clearly a line of conversation she did not enjoy.

‘Old news.’ Ignoring my hunger, I pushed my plate aside. Direct attempt time. ‘What really happened that night ten years ago?’

‘I am not permitted to discuss–’

‘Heard it!’ I gripped the table to stay calm. ‘Lord Boron says you’re a monster who’s only loyal because he pays you so much money.’

‘Lord Boron knows ogres.’

I pretended her words didn’t sting. ‘Why’s money so important to you, anyway?’

‘I am an ogre.’

It was my turn to sigh – and change my attack angle. ‘Erica, may I visit my mother … please?’

‘Forbidden.’ Two bulge-muscled arms folded. ‘Lord Boron would not permit–’

‘Stuff Lord Boron!’ I jumped to my feet, clattering my chair. ‘I’m going to be king one day!’

‘Perhaps. If you survive that long.’

‘You’re not my bodyguard!’ I hurled my meal against the wall. The plate shattered, spraying dried peas. ‘You’re my jailer!’

More eyebrow-bunching.

I calmed myself a bit. ‘Okay, Miss Money-lover, how much would I have to pay you to let me visit Mother?’

Erica scowled with such ferocity, I recoiled. Had I pushed too far? Just as suddenly, with a twitch of an eye, my bodyguard growled, ‘How much do you hold?’

It took me several seconds to understand what had just happened. I smiled without humour. ‘I should’ve spoken to you years ago in the language of money.’

Erica did not return my smile. ‘I am an ogre.’


Odours of alchemy and mould-veined cheese lingered upon the hospital room like reeking wreaths of dust.

I crept to Mother’s side. Even in sleep, the muscles beneath her skin twanged randomly. When the nightmares invade, I wondered, does my face distort like that? I suppressed a crazy urge to hug Mother and never let go. Instead, with Erica and a goblin nurse looking on, I sat beside her bed and touched her bony hand.

Mother jerked awake. Her eyes stretched wide as if she had witnessed some invisible horror. ‘Albert?’ Her voice strained, the first time in months I’d heard it, shockingly dry and tiny. ‘Is that you?’

Hearing my father’s name, my heart pounded. ‘It’s me, Mother.’


Hearing my brother’s name, my jaw clenched. ‘No, it’s –’

Before I could finish, Mother’s eyes flickered and closed like an ancient toy whose batteries had tumbled free.

I sat straighter and squeezed my eyes shut. Why couldn’t she stay awake for me? If only I could prove, somehow, I had the makings of a worthy king, maybe our family could be pieced back together again.

‘I’ll make everything better, Mother. I promise.’ Yet even as I spoke them, my words tasted hollow and metallic.

Erica tapped my shoulder.

I released my mother’s hand and followed my bodyguard into the corridor.


Like the rest of Castle Mount, my bedroom had been formed by the acid-spit of long dead monster ants. I slept inside a prison cell perfectly designed to evoke my flashback terrors. Come dawn, the air in my windowless sphere would be thick and my sheets glued to my skin with sweat. I itched to grab the stupid broom leaning against the wall and attack the annoying net of garlic cloves and holly leaves surrounding my bed.

A match struck behind me. Inhaling sulphur and burning wick, I didn’t need to turn to know Erica was at my dresser, dripping candle wax onto her palms and rolling two warm balls.

‘Why must we do this mumbo jumbo every night?’ I yanked the multi-coloured hat from my head and scrunched it in my fists.

Pumpkin-shaped and pumpkin-coloured, Erica’s face glowered. ‘Everything we do helps you survive.’


‘You know I am not permitted to tell you that.’

‘Stuff permission!’ My voice spiked. ‘I’m almost sixteen! How can I become king if no one tells me anything about anything?’

‘You know I’m not permi–’

‘Old news!’ I stomped to my cupboard, wrenched open a drawer, seized a handful of crown notes and flung them at the ogre’s feet. ‘How about these for permission slips!’

Muscles snapped to attention along Erica’s tree-trunk neck.

Had I pushed her too far?

The ogre blinked, strode to my bed and jabbed the stinky, brain-donking netting I hated so much. ‘Holly deters two-headed snakes called sisiutls. Garlic repels vampires.’

I froze at that last word. Still, Erica was actually telling me factoids! I had to ignore my fear and push for more, before the chatty wind changed!

‘What about this stupid noggin-cover?’ I fingered my crumpled bed-time hat. ‘Is it supposed to scare fashion monsters?’

Erica snatched my hat, straightened the brim and wedged it back on my head. ‘Your headpiece, from the mythical continent Africa, is the single known protection against wokolos.’

‘Wokolos?’ I pushed my luck. ‘Surely I paid for more than just stupid monster names.’

‘Yrrr,’ Erica grumbled. ‘Wokolos resemble human youngsters, but hold supernatural strength. They can see through walls, turn invisible and love torturing human children. Unless said children wear this headpiece.’

Heart pounding, I nodded casually, memorising every word. ‘And the rice pile outside my door? Is that for your midnight munchies?’

‘The rice deters flying blood-drinkers called azemans. Before they may enter your room, the death-eyed creatures are compelled to count the grains of rice. If they are still counting at sunrise, they die. And you survive.’

‘Wow, kids’ blood sure is a popular beverage.’ My head spun. ‘And the broom beside my bed? Is that your ogre transport?’

Erica ignored my attempted humour and continued in her monotone. ‘Brooms deter moras, the bringers of bad dreams.’ One shaggy ogre eyebrow arched. ‘The broom is also useful for cleaning princely mess.’

‘Was that a joke?’ I climbed onto my bed and balanced on my tippy-toes to look Erica in her left eye. ‘Did the world’s grimmest ogre just make a comeback?’

My bodyguard poked her candle-wax balls into my ears. Even muffled, her voice still boomed. ‘Without wax, vampire mosquitoes called alkuntanes might enter your ear, drill through your skull and suck out your brains. That is, if they can find any.’ Erica lowered me to the floor. ‘Now brush your teeth. Before plaque monsters gobble them.’

‘What?’ I shouted, backing out of the room. ‘My ears are waxed. Did you just say, “Please kick my hairy ogre backside”?’

Without even a flicker of a smile, Erica followed me and handed me my toothbrush. ‘Leave the bathroom door open.’

‘WHAT?’ I kicked the bathroom door shut and locked it. ‘Moronic monsters.’ I poked my tongue at the mirror. ‘Likely all just made up anyway.’ If only there was a window to climb through and escape. Of course, the black wall was impenetrable – lumpy yet smooth, as if formed from the dried, dark tears of the earth itself. ‘Moronic ant bathroom builders.’

The mirror rippled.


Two pus-yellow hands jabbed through the glass.

Before I could scream, icy fingers seized my head, clamping shut my jaw. Crimson nails clawed my ears. My eyes welled with reeking flesh. I stabbed at the arms with my toothbrush. The nails bit deeper into my skin.

Beyond the rippling mirror, a scarred face leered.

‘Come … to Bloody Mary!’

I clutched the sink. But Mary’s grip was too powerful. I skidded towards the mirror.

The bathroom door splintered.

The face beyond the mirror hissed.

Erica’s short sword flashed, hacking at the yellow arms.

The hands released me. With a final slash across my cheek, they slurped backwards through the mirror.

Erica’s fist shattered the looking glass.

I swayed, stunned and gasping, dripping blood and toothpaste.

Erica scowled and wrenched open a cabinet door. ‘You are lucky.’ She tossed me a bottle of ti-tree oil. ‘Few humans, let alone children, survive an encounter with Mary.’

‘Yeah? And you’re unlucky,’ I answered squeakily. ‘To the tune of seven years!’


My double’s head rolled by, sparking and fizzling.

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