In the ugliest valley, an old woman climbs one thousand stairs. She places her feet with care on each black step carved into the towering spire of rock. The steps are wet. Storm clouds roil overhead. Lightning sears the sky and slams into wet black stone to sizzle blue sparks. The wind whips her tattered robes and tangled gray hair. Where does she go so late at night in such awful weather? She blinks murky blue eyes at the bleak place. She leans on her staff. She knocks on a door.
At the peak of this leaning spire is a castle, a horrible castle, a castle of midnight dreams and lost loves. Carved monstrosities around the door slip and scrabble over one another when she isn't looking. They blink stone eyes and bare stone teeth and drive their stone claws into one another so they can get a better look at this unlikely visitor. She leans on her staff and stares over the festering bogs leading to gnarled forests. Not a light to be seen in any direction.
The door opens. He holds a candelabra that drips black wax. He wears silk and his black hair is loose around his shoulders. She comes at a bad time.
"Shelter," she rasps.
He rolls his eyes. "What's the message?'
She blinks those murky eyes. "Shelter."
"The message, fool, from your lady."
Her eyes narrow. The murk clears like mist until her eyes are brilliant summer-sky blue. Her skin smooths and clears. Her poor bent limbs straighten and the black robes fall away from a white tulle-skirted dress shimmering with silvery dewdrops. Her matted gray hair grows lustrous-long and blond. A pretty little tiara twinkles in the dark. She smiles at the man now with full, lovely, kissable lips. "So this is who you are, now." Her voice is honey and bees.
The man throws the candelabra at her. The candle flame whirls circles and she steps aside so that it tumbles over the edge into the abyss. He grabs a hunk of mud and toadstools growing beside the door and he hurls that at her. It lands on her dress, spattering the snowy-white skirts with crud.
"Have you nothing to say for yourself?" she says. A resplendent crystal now glows softly at the top of her staff, pulsing pale shades of blue.
He sneers. "Go to-"
The blue light pours from the staff and the stone carvings cover their stone eyes against the radiance. As shadows return, the man is gone. Instead, a mottled toad squats on the threshold.
"Enough," she says. "To the swamp with you, Lorenzo. Now, where are my darlings?" She whistles like a master whistles for a dog. She nudges the toad into the messed-up toadstools beside the door so he won't be trampled by the clattering chaos racing down the hall.
They burst outside and mill about her with the eagerness of puppies, their wide eyes alight, their smiles big over sharp teeth. The smallest of them stands quite still, for a goblin, and bows low before her. "My lady," he says.
"Oh, my sweetlings, how I miss you." She brushes her fingers along the curve of his tapered ear. Do goblins blush?
"But I must send you away for a little while. Fetch me my sister."
"Your sister? But she is-"
"Her time among mortals is over. I need her. We need her. And call a gathering of the Dark and Mysterious."
The goblins hiss and scramble down those perilous steps with their armor clanking.
"We crown a new lord tonight," she says in the goblin's wake. "A new Lord of All Things Dark and Mysterious."