Magic Banquet by AE Marling; First Course, Part III: The Sixth Guest
The darkness parted around a man dressed in blood, with a hornet in his chest. No, that couldn’t be true. Aja gulped and looked again. He wore a satin coat with a black orchid tucked into his lapel.
“Good evening.” His eyes were two points of lamplight. “I apologize for not arriving later, but sometimes punctuality—”
“Outta the way, Drac’!” A short figure rushed through the doorway, pushing the man aside and to the floor. The figure was a blur of color, but it looked to Aja like a ball. A ball with gnashing teeth, no taller than the roc egg.
The ball leapt over the feast-covered carpet and into the roc egg. The egg burst, the rice cracker eggshell dashing over everyone. Aja flinched away as the scalding egg and crackled eggshell showered her.
The swordsman, in an action quicker than Aja could see, blocked the egg and eggshell from the empress even as she clapped her hands and laughed in a ringing giggle.
“We not only get dinner,” she said, “but entertainment, as well!”
“You got it, kid.” Sitting where the egg had been, Aja could now see it was a ball striped in red and yellow and blue between white, but with two shapeless feet and stubby arms, eyes like two points of smudges, and a grinning mouth big enough to swallow Aja whole rimmed with sharp teeth like the cracked roc egg.
Old Janny looked between the ball and the lord and groaned, then chugged her elixir. “One night of bliss, that’s all I wanted. And now it’s ruined.”
The swordsman flexed his fingers around his hilt. Gripping it, letting go. “Try to remember it isn’t real.”
“What?” The ball stood on its feet, stubby arms akimbo. “Hey, I’m just as real as you or me, bucko.”
“Indeed,” the lord said, “if you are connecting me to this apparition, know that I would never be able to conjure, or associate with, one so jovial.”
“You’re just jealous because my teeth are better than yours,” the ball said. Following this was a ravenous rampage as the ball chomped and munched on the food like mad, faster than Aja ever could. It ate the lion-carved watermelons, rind and all, tossed the chocolate-coated newts into its mouth, and downed bowls of macadamia nuts along with the bowls themselves. The bouncing ball rumpled the carpet, knocking all the chalices over, the elixir flowing back in as each chalice repeatedly righted itself.
It was only then Aja worried whether there would be enough for all. The Midnight Banquet was only supposed to have six guests, not seven, wasn’t it?
“Eh?” The ball lifted into the air, picked up by djinn, who held it by the foot as it were ratty garbage.
“Only six guests are allowed at the Banquet,” the djinn said. “You must leave.”
The ball flailed its arms at the food. “But I was here first! I was here first! Kick out the Dark Souls of feasting, instead!” It kicked its free foot towards the lord.
“Wouldn’t mind that one bit,” said Old Janny.
“Unfortunately, I don’t think we’ll get to choose,” the swordsman said.
The djinn carried the ball away as it still flailed and shouted. “Put me down! Put me down! I’m magic too, you know. I’ll bite you. I will so bite you. Don’t think I won’t. I’m still hungry! Can I at least have something to go? Some more of that egg on a muffin maybe, mac? Fine! Then you’ll be hearing from my pumpkin lawyer! Do you hear me? I’m suing!”
The sound of a door closing ended the ball’s rant. The banquet had its six guests, minus one ravenous, toothy-mawed ball.