May 21, 2017

In Which Riona Pulls the String

March 14, 1204

"Please, Holladrin. You've escaped notice so far because everyone else is wrapped up in their own family dramas, but a mother never misses the way her daughter looks at a man--or the way a man looks at her daughter. I said nothing before because there was no need. With your Aunt Danthia dead, that has changed."

Her daughter's deer-to-the-bow look gave Riona no pleasure, but the balance of honesty and discretion was one of few maternal assets she could pride herself on. She'd never been the warmest of people, finding it easier to show affection by pulling strings in the background to make life easier for her children than by cuddling or hours of inane play, and there were days when there was guilt over it. But, Riona Sadiel didn't lie to her children, even if she sometimes had to omit the truth or hide behind cryptic wording. And Riona Sadiel let her adult children make their own decisions, and didn't pry.

Holladrin didn't need to be protected anyway, not from men. Anxious as she might have been at the moment, a clever, pretty girl from a powerful family didn't get to be her age and unmarried if she didn't know how to deal with unwanted suitors. Farilon was not unwanted. While Riona wouldn't pretend to see the appeal, he was kind and caring and loyal--somehow, he'd even managed to be that to Danthia, of all people. Not the choice she would have made for herself, but she didn't disapprove for her daughter.

But, Danthia's death hadn't been so long ago. No one missed her, and no one cared enough to bother taking her passing at more than face value, but if Farilon married so suspiciously early, either he or his new, beloved wife could raise a few eyebrows. That was a string Riona could pull.

"I think it's a fine match."

Her daughter's level of shock neither rose nor lowered, but its manifestation shifted. Where before there was fear, confusion now reigned: wide eyes squinting, quivering lip curled, tense shoulders slouched to a slight tilting of her head. "Sorry?"

"There's the age difference, sure, plus the fact that he was until recently your uncle by marriage--but, he's a stable sort, plus a marriage would renew the tie between House Andronei and the Royal Family that weakened when Farilon's brother left your Aunt Meera a widow. That, and you were adamant throughout your time at the university that you intended to return to Dovia, so on the off-chance that Queen Medea fears Farilon might make a move for her throne, I don't doubt she'd appreciate another reason for him to stay safely out of Naroni."

"From what I hear, Queen Medea isn't so paranoid, Mother--plus everyone knows Farilon has no interest in ruling. I see your point about the alliance, but Aunt Meera did give Conant three children before he died, so that bond lives on as long as they do. And surely it wouldn't seem appropriate if Farilon married again just yet! Especially if people know just how bad his marriage was."

"I didn't say that you ought to head for the chapel right this second." But, if they did head for the chapel, and Riona herself had championed that union... well, then at least any suspicion would be off of Holladrin and Farilon, and instead with the one who at least deserved it. "Give it another few months, well into the summer at least. No one should bat an eye at Farilon never marrying again, after all; he's still a young enough man, plus he couldn't be faulted for wanting an improvement on his first marriage."

"I suppose." Holladrin stood, as she often did when in need of absolute confirmation. Riona had a habit of doing the same. It was difficult to look someone in the eye from the disadvantage of a seat. "You're sure you approve, Mother?"

"You know I wouldn't have said so if I wasn't."

"Yes, but you must understand just how... well, how much of a relief it is," Holladrin finished in a please half-sigh as she stepped forth for a hug. "Thank you, Mother."

"You needn't thank me for wanting you to be happy, darling. So long as Farilon makes you happy and treats you well, why should I object?"

NEXT CHAPTER:

May 13, 2017

In Which Hollie Is Closer

February 2, 1204

"The bedroom is to your liking, I hope? I know you tend not to care much about decor or anything, but if only for the sake of comfort--"

"Shh." Hollie tapped her finger to Ricky's lips. It was sweet of him to consider such things, but as sweetness and consideration were typical of him, she doubted he could have made a bedroom unfit for her if he tried. "I'm quite happy with it. Cozy, but not cluttered--and simple, but not dull."

"Ah, good." His arm on her shoulder relaxed as she drew back her hand, though he choked out a nervous chuckle all the same. "Maybe it's good luck, a bedroom that fits the same description as one's husband?"

"You're not simple, and I'll box the ears of anyone who calls you such."

"I'm flattered that you're so eager to defend my honor." Ricky slipped his free hand beneath Hollie's knees and nudged her up to his lap. Comfortable though he'd made sure the bench was, she preferred this alternative seating.

"All those years of my nagging parents were worth it, you know. I'm sure I could have found someone who didn't make me miserable, but no one makes me happy like you do, Hollihock."

"And you likewise," she agreed, leaning inward until they were brow to brow. His eyes may well have been the only blue in the room, but there came and went a distinct second in which her whole world was that color. "Here's to all those years and then some of us figuring out how to make each other even happier."

"Each other, and ourselves from time to time. I know you're still figuring things out. If there's anything I can do to help you find yourself, know that there's nothing you can't ask of me."

"I know--but I'm a lot closer already." Closer in time, closer in space, closer in every sense including the gaps between thoughts and the strings that tied hearts together. "It helps when you have someone who will love you no matter who you are."

NEXT CHAPTER:

May 6, 2017

In Which Gennie Is Not Wolf's Mother

January 10, 1204

"And that," Wolf concluded with the help of a triumphant wave of his arm, "is how the brave prince reclaimed the Kingdom of Cake from the tyrannous grasp of the evil Lord Broccoli!"

"Yay!" Jadin bounced about in his father's non-narrative arm, the image of this Lord Broccoli's launch from the spoon catapult no doubt more prominent in his mind than any gesture from an over-dramatic nominal adult ever could be. Gennie would privately admit to some amusement from both of them.

But out of duty, she caught her husband's eye with a disapproving frown. "Great. How on earth will we make him eat his vegetables now?"

"Eh, if he's hungry enough, he'll eat anything. The challenging job will be getting me to eat my vegetables."

"Then lucky for me that I'm not your mother."

"Lucky for me, too." He winked.

That did it. She couldn't fight back that grin. "You're impossible."

"And yet, here I am." Wolf contorted his mouth into that goofy smirk, causing their son to giggle as he always did. "But in all seriousness, if you stuff me full of too many vegetables, then only you can claim responsibility for the assault of sounds and odors that leak out of my ass as a result."

"Wolf!"

"I'm serious! Imagine how it'll be if there's nothing but green on my plate the night before your sister's wedding. It may be welcome entertainment for bored children, but don't expect Hollie or Ricky to ever forgive you for such unyielding flatulence."

"You weren't even listening, were you?" Gennie stood up and walked over to her husband, wagging her finger in a mock-scolding. "It's your mother's job to make you eat your vegetables. Me? I'm only the mother of your children."

"Children?" Amused, Wolf cocked his head to the side. "Plural?"

Gennie rolled her eyes. "Eventually, I should hope."

"Interesting." Her husband shut his eyes and let out a sigh of content. It was a quiet gesture she didn't expect of him, but he made it suit him regardless. "I'm glad to hear that I've managed to win you over in regards to making babies with me."

"And why shouldn't you have? When you're not discouraging vegetables, you seem to make quite a good father."

NEXT CHAPTER:

April 29, 2017

In Which Holladrin Is Inconvenienced

December 24, 1203

"I wouldn't blame you, you know--if you didn't want to do this any more."

Of course Holladrin knew. How could she not know, when Farilon offered her that out every time they were alone? He always gave her an exit.

And, as always, she didn't care to take it. "I know it's not what either of us really wants, but I'd rather a few stolen kisses than nothing."

"But you could have so much more."

"More, perhaps--but not better. No marriage in the world is as convenient to me as all the inconveniences with you." An inconvenience, she'd learned all too well these past months, did not have to be unpleasant. "Don't worry about my needs. As for my wants, there's only one you need to worry about: you."

Farilon's blush found itself lost in the glow of the nearby fire, but Holladrin didn't need to see it to know it was there. By this point, she knew how it dilated his eyes, opened his lips. She knew even the cheek's tug of a smile before he stopped it from forming. "I don't... I mean, I'm not sure--"

A soft knock on the door cut him off. Holladrin pulled back in a practiced step while Farilon watched over her shoulder. Farilon had excused himself from the party on account of a headache. Holladrin hadn't been in need of a story, but if caught, she'd say her mother had sent her to check up on him. Her mother had seen just how 'ill' Farilon's wife was, after all, to the point of admitting upon arrival that this may not have been one of Danthia's usual ruses. Surely there would have been a chance of Farilon catching that ailment?

"Uncle Farilon? Are you in there?"

"Celina?" His niece, daughter-in-law to the hosting earl and countess. He breathed relief into her name, glad to not have to explain anything to Searle of Bandera himself.

"Yes, he's here," Holladrin answered, announcing herself before Celina could enter. "If you've come to offer him a cup of water or a cold cloth, he's just refused both from me."

"Oh. Sorry that the headache persists." In spite of believing that, Celina did slip herself through the door. "I'm sorry to disturb you, Uncle."

"It's all right. Talking with Holladrin did ease it somewhat." Farilon grimaced. "Did you need something?"

"Actually, you're needed in the entrance hall." Celina's finger caught the end of one moon-blond curl, eyes fluttered shut in a half-informed messenger's unease. "My mother-in-law asked me to fetch you. She said that your wife's maid just arrived. I didn't see her myself, but it seems she's in something of a state."

NEXT CHAPTER:

April 19, 2017

In Which Riona Is Mercy

December 24, 1203

"I'm sure my absence at the party will be noted, of course. It always is. Our peers really do have no understanding to spare for an ill woman."

"I don't know if you really understand our peers," Riona muttered, more to the hearth in front of her than to her sister. The hearth was likely the better listener anyway. Danthia was almost never ill, and a clever attention seeker would switch methods once no one without some degree of obligation bothered to investigate any feigned illness she suffered.

That, and none of their peers understood Danthia. Riona herself didn't. In another time, another place, there might have been hope for her, or at least enough of an idea of what exactly made her what she was to think that hope could exist. A bad childhood couldn't have been all of it. Even if no one truly overcame a bad childhood, they still... felt. Acknowledged others, at least as more than a means to an end. Often went out of their way, in some cases, to prevent someone else from going through what they had.

Danthia didn't. She lacked even the self-awareness to know she didn't. It must have been a lonely life, thinking no one else mattered.

Hello, my name is Mercy.

Searle and Ren were hosting this year's Christmas party. It was perfect. Searle knew everything. Searle would make sure no one else knew anything. And for once... Danthia's illness would have been real. She would have the attention she always wanted, the regret she always wanted, the validation she always wanted. Or whatever the hell else she wanted. For one shining moment, she would be a queen, queen of a thought in the minds of those who learned of her death, a queen who lay dying while no one believed her.

The real Queen of Naroni, meanwhile, would be safe from any more misguided plots, no matter how foolish and unlikely to succeed.

"I just can't believe how rude everyone is. Even my own children couldn't be bothered to kiss me good night before leaving. The girl was always a lost cause, I suppose, but Roderick? Surely I raised him better than that!"

"I'm sure you hired a nanny who did." To Danthia's credit, many of their class couldn't have claimed much better. Riona herself wasn't the most nurturing of people, and for her children's own sakes she'd brought in someone whose strengths aligned with her weaknesses. But she did believe in giving credit where credit was due.

And not one of her children had ever been a 'lost cause'. Laralita wasn't either. Nor would be, she hoped, a Danthia born a thousand years in the future.

"Your daughter is a lovely girl."

"What good is 'lovely'? An alliance? I'm not interested in compromise."

"No one is--but it's how we get by. Even animals have figured that out."

"And maybe the lack of an individual who won't compromise is why they're still animals."

"Who's to say we're not still animals, sister?" Animals may have had concepts, after all. Fear, desire. Justice. Mercy.

Hello, my name is Mercy.

"Would you care for a cup of tea before I leave? I was going to go down to kitchens anyway; after the detour, my horse deserves a nice carrot."

"Hmm. Not sure why you'd bother, but I suppose if you're going down there anyway. You'll have to get my maid to brew it, though; Farilon insisted on giving the cook the night off."

"I can brew a cup of tea myself. I'm sure you could too, if you tried."

"Why should I? That's the cook's job."

"Of course it. And you need to focus on... whatever it is you do. I won't be long."

Badly planning assassinations, pretending to be ill, manipulating in spite of the lack of ability to do so.

What a tragic existence.

Sister, my name is Mercy.

NEXT CHAPTER:

April 7, 2017

In Which Dora Wakes Late

November 8, 1203

Dora remembered having odd dreams. She was sure she'd forgotten having odd dreams. Neither thought had ever bothered her.

What did, however, was exactly what had happened upon waking this morning. She knew she'd dreamed--vividly. She knew it was an odd dream--very odd. But she couldn't remember a thing about it, other than that it had happened.

That had happened before, but never quite like this. She might have had... at least a flash of an image, even if it told her nothing about the dream as a whole. But this morning, there was nothing. Just an empty space in her mind, a gnawing reminder of something she'd forgotten, something that ought to have been unforgettable.

Something...

"Ah! Finally awake, I see."

Her husband, all smiles caught her as she cleared the last few steps and cleared her fog with a mid-morning kiss. Mid-morning. She'd always been an early riser, as Alina had long lamented since they'd been little girls stuck sharing a bedroom. A lucky thing, this rare occurrence striking on one of her free days!

"I was starting to worry. You're not ill, are you?"

"No. I just... slept strangely, I guess." Slept strangely, dreamed strangely, woken strangely. Adonis, at least, was his usual caring self. "I'll be fine so long as I've got you."

"And you'll always have me, my love--although alas, I won't have you to myself just yet today! Your father's waiting for you in the kitchen."

"My father?" She certainly hadn't gotten her usual sleeping habits from her father! Of course, her father had no sleep habits at all. She'd spent half her childhood convinced that he in fact didn't sleep, until she'd overheard the baron scolding him for napping at his desk. She'd since heard reports of him catching winks in trees, on the roof, at Master Altharaine's inn (probably not after having paid for a bed), and even in the Lady Rahileine's cellar--from the sounds of, any preceding presence on the property going unnoticed by the family.

Her mother thought sleep bored him. But if sleep bored him, then so did routine visits. Not that he didn't call, but rarely did she find him waiting politely in her kitchen.

"And he even knocked, if you believe it! I was so concerned, I asked if anyone had died. Of course, he told me to spend less time asking stupid questions and more time making my eyelashes look less girly."

"So... less cause for concern, then." Dora shook her head, not without that bizarre fondness only her father could inspire. "I'll go see him."

"And I'll be upstairs, making my eyelashes look less girly."

She chuckled as Adonis took to the steps, then made for the kitchen. Her father hated waiting even more than he did both sleep and visits.

"Oh, thank God. I need your help."

"Good morning to you too, Father." Whatever it was, she suspected he'd be better off seeking help from her five-year-old son than from her. "What do you need?"

"Your boss has a stash of books, right? Books that might say something about... I don't know, behavior and whatnot, whatever you did at the university? Or training? I'd ask Raia if I could use the university's, but it's tough to speak with someone after your nap in their cellar ends with them pelting potatoes at your naked ass as you run like hell."

"Wait, you were-- never mind." Dora sighed. "What do you need a book for?"

"I'm glad you asked. See, I'm curious as to what kind of bird would be best suited to a life spent stealing pastries off of windowsills. I don't know if a crow would be able to carry a pie, but I get the feeling that an owl would betray me..."

NEXT CHAPTER:

March 28, 2017

In Which Ylwa Agrees to a Mind-Numbing Chore

November 7, 1203

"That's it. I'm never helping another human again. None of you are ever satisfied with just one enormous favor." And it wasn't as if anything Ylwa or Deian or any of the rest of them did was technically impossible for a human to do; the lazy wretches just hadn't bothered to try for themselves. Her grandson had taken the smart route when it came to humans, finding one tolerable specimen with a wide sphere of influence and only interacting with the rest of them through her.

Ylwa supposed Dora was tolerable enough. Not much of a character, but therefore unlikely to draw undue attention--and her problems did lean somewhat toward interesting, even if she herself didn't. Of course, 'somewhat' interesting wasn't... well, that interesting.

Not when it got to be this predictable. "Let me guess: you want to be able to freely acknowledge your family, but without... I don't know, being burned at stake or whatever you humans are doing to scare each other into conformity these days."

"Uh... I guess that sums it up."

Perhaps 'somewhat' had become a generous adjective.

"I know I shouldn't get my hopes up. I'm sure it's too much to ask, even with your powers--"

"Let me stop you right there. None of what I do is anything special. The only reason you humans can't do all of the things I've done for you is your baffling tendency to label all of your half-decent ideas as heresy. But never mind any of that. There's one thing I can do for you, and maybe I should have offered this from the start, but I really don't like doing it. That said, if it gets you to leave me in peace for a while, perhaps it will be worth the bother."

"Really?" There it was, genuine shock in the eyes. Dora had already dismissed the possibility of anything more, probably ages ago--and yet, she'd still had to ask. How vexing. "What on earth could be a more drastic option than changing my memories?"

"Oh, I don't know... changing the actual past events of your life?" Ylwa flipped some hair out of her eyes and stared back at the human, who was now even more confused if that gaping jaw was any indication. Was it even worth the bother of explaining? "It's really not such a difficult concept to grasp. Take the folds in space and time, rearrange them in such a way that leads to whatever in-utero event that resulted in your initial misgendering not happening in the first place, then otherwise correct the resulting sequence of events so that your life and those of everyone around you remain unchanged at present, apart from the fact that you were always recognized as a woman."

"Change the past?" Shock, confusion... now skepticism. Of course they didn't like new concepts! New concepts, as far as a human was concerned, couldn't have existed. "You can do that?"

"With almost mind-numbing ease." Ylwa yawned. Simple enough, but with undeniable tedium. Like counting leaves, or regrowing limbs. "And it's nothing new. My ancestors have been doing this for centuries. Do you think the Great Hexagonal Prisms of Egypt would have made for an interesting landscape? We even have a name for these modifications: a retroactive continuity."

"It's common enough that you named it."

"Yes."

"And you say it's easy."

"I daresay a monkey could do it."

"Then why don't you do this constantly?"

"For all you know, perhaps some of us do." Not that she or anyone else would know it. After they were done, she wasn't even privy to her own retroactive continuities. That was, indeed, how they worked. It occurred to her then that this one would likely result in her never having met Dora and that added some degree of pleasantness to the chore. "Me personally, though? I don't see much point in life if it's all tailored to one particular result."

NEXT CHAPTER:

March 22, 2017

In Which Searle Is Justice

October 14, 1203

"So." Business as usual, Riona didn't bother with a greeting, which suited Searle just fine. They'd been practically raised as siblings, and they saw each other frequently enough that formality was superfluous. Some thought Riona cold, at least if not compared to her sister--but, frankly, those same people might have found her to-the-point manner admirable had she been a man.

Of course, if she had been a man, who was to say that her sickly mother would have chanced any additional pregnancies, such as the one that had produced said sister? And if said sister hadn't existed, Riona--man or woman or whatever--couldn't have possibly been the person she was today.

"I take it this urgent summons of yours means that our suspicions were correct?"

"Indeed. My contacts within the Retribute itself confirm that they received Danthia's request." Searle fought the urge to roll his eyes. His cousin Danthia, at least, was far too stupid to further her own regicidal plots. It was rare enough that the Retribute risked its own cover on the assassination of a monarch, never mind if her sisters, nephew, and three-going-on-four children were also included in the contract. Selfishness was useful if not necessary to a degree, but it defeated its own purpose if it failed to acknowledge the agency of others, their ability to act counter to the selfish aim desired.

"Dear Lord. Don't tell me: some elaborate scheme to push Roderick closer to the throne."

"Exactly that. She didn't mention Farilon, but I don't doubt she'd smother him in his sleep shortly after if he did end up making her a queen. I don't even think Roderick would be safe, now that he's old enough that he wouldn't need her as regent; she could push for his early marriage and dispose of him once a malleable grandson was in the picture."

Riona sighed. Little as she liked being Danthia's minder, she was the only one left with any shred of affection for the woman. That didn't mean that she couldn't see beyond that love. Searle had once had a beloved brother, one who had become something twisted and irrational to the point of cruelty, one whose death had been a mercy to more than just himself. Danthia would be her own undoing one way or another, but Lord knew who else--what else--would be undone in turn if her demise kept solely to her own hands. "The Retribute isn't fool enough to murder a popular queen."

"Especially without anyone they'd deem deserving of being framed." A Retribute assassin, so Searle had heard, would introduce themselves to their mark in one of two ways: 'My name is Justice', or 'My name is Mercy'. "They see themselves as judge and jury where judges and juries fail. They won't take a contract for the sheer point of being paid, even if someone like Danthia could offer them enough coin to eliminate seven or eight royals."

"And a less scrupulous lone assassin would have lacked the resources to pull off such a feat. A fortunate thing for you and the other puppet masters of the world, such chaos trapped in its own brand of order." Riona clasped her hands together, as if in prayer though Searle doubted she had much prayer left in her. "The Retribute now have Danthia herself on their radar, don't they?"

"Likely. She didn't put her name to her letter, but they'll make efforts to trace a request like that one. They won't kill her unbidden, but if a client marks her as a target, she won't be in the clear."

"'My name is Justice'." Riona bit her lip. Her mother, Searle remembered as well as he did his own name, had often done the same, often when dealing with Danthia. "It may be a selfish thought, but I believe I'd rather my sister die at Mercy's hand."

NEXT CHAPTER:

March 15, 2017

In Which Dora Wishes

September 21, 1203

"I still can't believe Ceidrid's old enough to be starting at the school next week! They grow up so fast, don't they?" Her mother's eyes sparkled with pride, but as usual, a pang of guilt hit Dora's heart at the sight. Her mother was, of course, her son's grandmother, and she loved him and doted on him like any of her other grandsons.

But only her mother and Severin and Ylwa knew who she really was. From what Dora could see, Ceidrid loved his grandmother as a grandmotherly figure, loved her like he loved his other grandmother--but he didn't know she was his grandmother. That had been a conflict of brain versus heart, and Dora's brain had triumphed, ruling that Ceidrid would be better off not knowing about his mother's secret past. That didn't mean her heart was free of the consequences, of the agony of the boy not knowing her family as family.

And her mother! Even if her mother knew Ceidrid for her grandson, it wasn't fair that she wasn't known in turn as his grandmother.

"Dora? What's wrong, dear?"

Dora bit her lip. She didn't like to lie to her mother. Even if she had the excuse of her altered memories--and she didn't, not when she'd chosen them--she'd done enough of that.

"I... I'm so sorry that I chose not to tell him. I think it's in his better interests, but I wish he at least knew who you were. And who Father is, and his aunts and uncles and cousins."

Never mind that her father and all but one of her siblings had no idea.

"No need to be sorry, dear. It's... unfortunate, perhaps, but we both know that we can't have it both ways there. And I did promise you that I'd support whatever decisions you made; Lord knows I have no idea what you've been through, so I won't presume to know better."

"Yes, and thank you for that--and everything." But the acceptance, the understanding... surely it didn't undo the hurt. It certainly didn't for the rest of them, who didn't know, who might never know--who might have benefited from not knowing, but who regardless would never know closure, or what they could have had but never did. Her father. Her sisters, brothers. Her husband.

Her son.

"I just... I wish there was another way."

NEXT CHAPTER:

March 6, 2017

In Which Morgan Has an Intimate Certainty

August 10, 1203

"Happy birthday, sis." Running as late as she'd been--unsurprisingly, given that she was a newlywed herself--Alina wasted no further time in greeting Viridis with a tight hug. "And happy wedding day! You look stunning. Sorry for my tardiness."

"Thank you--and don't apologize! The ceremony won't start if key family members aren't accounted for, or at least Reyes and I wouldn't let it."

"That, and Galahan bought you some time," Morgan added with a sigh. It seemed that six wasn't yet old enough to go anywhere without a spare outfit on hand. Thank God for Honora and her ability to make an obscuring accessory out of anything. "At least when the other children sneak off for pastries, they don't return with jam all down their fronts. Your sister is working on that now."

"As if she didn't have enough of a job with Viridis here! But I see she at least had help, even if it wasn't mine." Alina nodded over to the twins, but without much resulting response. Lysi blushed somewhat in the acknowledgment, but said nothing; Lythe, somewhat bitter about being cooped up inside on such a nice day, only pouted. "Hmm. Well, shy and bored as some may be, everyone involved did splendidly."

Shy, bored, covered in jam. That was three of her children who'd made a terrible start to their sister's wedding day. Morgan hoped that Kay, at least, was behaving himself.

But of course, the younger four weren't the focus of day. Lysi could be shy and Lythe could be bored and Galahan could be covered in jam, but the way Viridis's smile echoed in her eyes assured Morgan that nothing could possibly ruin this day for her.

Morgan's powers didn't extend to the realm of the dead--that was the domain of Vera's abilities--but somehow, she knew with an intimate certainty that Viridis's birth mother took the same delight in those eyes.

"You do look lovely, darling." Morgan took her daughter in her arms and kissed her on the cheek. Viridis's face was just as soft and warm as it had been when she'd been new, bundled in a blanket in her ailing father's arms. "My beautiful girl. I'll always be so proud of you."

"Thank you, Mother." Never mind that she was now the taller of the two, Viridis rested her chin on Morgan's shoulder. "Thank you for everything."

NEXT CHAPTER: