It has been several days since she killed Tiamat and was summoned to Sillus fortress. She has spent the whole time in her chambers, only talking with servants, who brought her food, and guards, who were standing at the outer side of the door to ensure she will stay there. Beritra hasn't came to her, he didn't even call her to accompany him or test weapons for him, although he was still in the fortress. That was odd. She welcomed she didn't have to face him, but at the same time she was worried about what could he possibly plan with her. She knew it was nothing good, but that lack of any action made her anxious. A quiet sound behind her broke her chain of thoughts. She turned around, dagger in her hand, and froze.
"Mom?" she gasped and put the dagger back. "What are you doing here?"
"I should be the one asking this question," the Lady of Death replied coldly. Even under hood Chellia noticed her hair had few stripes newly grey. Is it because of me?
"I... I'm sorry," she lowered her head. "I know I messed up. I tried to help..."
"Chellia, what happened? Come home," Triniel's voice softened. "I can't... He has hurt you so much..."
She's worried? No, nononono! If Beritra finds her here... But I don't want to hurt her. What should I do?
"I can't leave this place," Chellia looked around in panic. "But you have to go. Don't worry, he won't hurt me, he needs me to be me to control Hyperion and I won't use it against you."
"Chellia, it's not about Hyperion, it's about you," Triniel shook her head. "I know I wasn't a good mother to you and I deeply regret that. I want to do better, if you let me. I won't force you to live in Kamar, if you don't want."
"Mom, I didn't leave because of you or dad or Kahrun. Tiamat was too strong, I wanted to help and Beritra was the only one who could get me to Hyperion in time. Well, it was Ereshkigal, but... anyway me staying here is the price for that help. I don't want to be here, but if I try to leave... do you see these?" she showed her mother the blue tattoos. "There's some spell in them and Beritra can teleport me to him any time he wants."
"Then Lumiel will remove it. I won't let you stay with this brute."
"No," Chellia shook her head. "There's no guarantee she'd do it in time. No, mom. I'm not going to risk he'd find out. Please, trust me. I have a plan."
"I can tell you're lying."
"Well... I have part of a plan."
"Oh, no!" the Young Lady's tattoos started glowing and she looked helplessly at her mother. "He's summoning me. You have to go. Please," she wiped her tears and put on a neutral expression just before she disappeared. In a blink of eye she was on a terrace in a completely different part of the fortress.
"My queen," Beritra has greeted her with a displeased expression. She noticed he quickly hid something into his sleeve, but couldn't see what. "You're not supposed to have visits, that I'm not informed of ahead."
How can he know? Mom wouldn't let anyone see her. Does he have some ways to spy on me?
"You can be at peace, lord Beritra," she tried to say without emotions. "I didn't invite anyone, neither was I planning to."
"Do not lie to me!" he raised his voice. "No one can get through the fortress security without help from inside. Now watch, what happens to all the uninvited guests," he gestured at the courtyard. Chellia looked around the fortress. All the soldiers were battle-ready and expecting action.
He was ready. A sudden realisation struck her. He expected someone to try get me back. All the time he was just waiting! Mom, please, get out of here!
For several minutes nothing happened. Then one injured soldier ran out of the part, where Chellia's room was and told something to one of his superiors. The officer became clearly distressed and yelled at the guard for a while, but then he walked up the stairs to where Beritra and Chellia stood and bowed deeply.
"I beg for your fogiveness, lord Beritra. The intruder has killed several soldiers and escaped. The room was destroyed during the fight."
"Are you trained soldiers or bunch of freshly hatched fledgelings? How could one spy escape such ambush?!"
"My lord, she was extremely skilled. We haven't expected someone with such abilities, that exceed everyone we have captured so far."
"Of course they wouldn't send an average spy here. Now get a group and find any tracks or information about that spy and her abilities. You personally will lead them. Dismissed. And now, you," he turned at Chellia, who was watching this scene tensely. "Who was that person who visited you?"
"An Asmodian spy," she replied automatically. "Very good one."
"Do not mock me, my queen! Who was that person?"
"How would knowing a name of a spy, who escaped, help you? Capture her first and you'll find out. But scaring one spy away doesn't stop them from trying again. After all, I control the Hyperion and they would really like to get it too."
"You!" he called two guards, who were standing nearby. "Escort her to my chambers and make sure she stays inside until I say otherwise."
"Yes, my lord," they bowed and waited for Chellia to follow them. She has decided to not cause a scene, the sooner as she's away from Beritra, the better. They led her through halls, until they reached the lord's private rooms and beckoned her to go inside. After they closed the door, she still felt their presence outside to watch over her.
She looked around, this place was completely unknown to her and she was curious about how the Fourth Dragon lord spent his time. As she expected, the rooms were dark and the curtains drawn. The chairs and other furniture looked more functional than aesthetic, but when she sat into one, she found it really comfortable. When no one came for some time, neither servants with food nor Beritra to check on her, she decided to peek into the other room. There was large bed with black and dark blue sheets, which she found a bit creepy, her own were blue too, but instead of black as secondary colour, they were violet. The wardrobe and armchair were not interesting, but she was genuinely surprised when her gaze fell on a large ornamental mirror. That was something she didn't expect. It didn't even fit into the room. She drew away the curtains to take a better look at it. The reflecting glass was flawless, the frame was very ancient and among its ornaments there were thin lines of aether and ide, neatly combined so they didn't interfere with each other.
"Wow, such a waste," she shook her head and checked her reflection. Dressed in elegant black and blue dress she indeed looked like his queen, which irritated her. The materials and cut were amazingly great, but if it was up to her, she would definitely chose different colours. Cream and some dim shades of red. "Mirror, mirror, on the wall, what's his weakness, if at all?" she said without thinking. I seemed like a good idea to her. She thought she saw something moved in the mirror, but when she focused, her reflection was still the same as before. "Just shadows, this room is creeping me out," she sighed, drew the curtains and returned into the first room. It was dark too, but a bit more comfortable.
~ x ~
"Miss, would you grant me a bit more of your kindness and brought me three clean glass flacons?" friendly voice pulled Canta back to reality.
"Oh, yes, sure, I'm sorry," she quickly found what her companion needed and handed the items to him. After the siege of Tiamat's Stronghold she was sent back to Kaisinel's Beacon, and as there weren't many available soldiers, she got to visit Shien only once and back then the sorceress was still under a sleeping spell. She wanted to visit her today, but suddenly a poisonmaster from Sanctum arrived and she was ordered to assist him in any way he'd desire. Upon hearing those words she was terrified, but he turned out to be very polite and decent man. Sure, he was flirting with her a bit, but didn't require anything that wasn't related to the poisons he came to study.
"Don't be. You only need to concentrate, we're working with quite dangerous stuff here."
"Yes, you're right. I'll be more careful. Sorry."
"As I said, don't. Regret takes away concentration. And we need to concentrate. Now, give me the pink rava extract, please."
Fortunately the assistance didn't require for her to have any extensive knowledge of poisons or alchemy, the basics along with good memory and paying attention were enough. After few hours the poisonmaster was finished with the brief analysis of the newest balic poisons. He wrote a report for general Tirins, packed the samples and left. Only after Canta cleaned the lab, she could go to Kamar to visit her friend.
Shien was still in the same room in the Healing house. The burns on her skin were mostly healed, but she was still wrapped in bandages with calming ointment. And, of course, her eyes were covered. Canta has already seen her before, so she wasn't surprised, but seeing her friend like this was still painful.
"Shien? How... how are you doing?" she asked hesitantly. "I'm sorry, I wanted to bring you the cherry candy you like so much, but I forgot them, I was leaving in hurry. The healers said no candy until you get better, anyway. I'm sorry."
"That's alright, I'm just bored," the sorceress replied. Her voice was quiet and coarse, the healers said even her throat and lungs were burnt.
"I know it's not just bored. Please, Shien, if something's worrying you, tell me."
"I messed up, again. And now I'm blind. Everything I worked for is just... gone."
"Oh, come on, Shien, it's not gone. It's going to be difficult for you now, I won't lie, but I'm sure you'll be able to... get up and be... you again. I've heard about some spells, that enable sensing aether as replacement for sight, and you're really good sorceress, so..."
"I know about those spells. And it takes time to learn them. Especially when I can't read them."
"But with help..."
"And who is going to help me? Canta, I know you would like to, but you have your own duties and your own life. No, I'll have to learn everything myself. And no, Canta, I'm not complaining. It's going to take some time, but I think I'll eventually do it. It's just... I can't think of any way how will I live until I do. That's going to be real mess."
"Stop. Don't. Yes. The healers informed my mother about my state. But she doesn't care. And I... I can't go back. See, the only reason my mother paid any attention to me, was her hope to marry me to some better family. Now she can't even hope that I'll change my mind about that, which I won't, because she knows no one is going to marry me like this. So, no. Not an option."
"Ah, Shien, this can't be true. I know you had really bad argument with her, but..."
"Stop. Canta, really, drop this topic. She won't come. You don't know her. You weren't there, when... nevermind, just stop. Tell me something else, how are things at Beacon?"
"As you wish," Canta sighed. "It's tough there, we barely have enough people to maintain the base. The patrols can't go too far, to be able to return immediately. But it's surprisingly calm. Everyone thought Beritra would attack even before the siege ended, but he didn't. As if he was waiting for something, or... I don't know. It's weird. Oh, and Nonni says hi. That's weird too."
"That lovely chantress who suspects me of infiltration and spying? That's nice of her," Shien smirked.
"Oh, you know, she kind of changed her mind when she met you in the Stronghold. You made really great impression with that battle."
"Great impression? I barely scratched him."
"Well, she said something different. Come on, Shien, it was Tahabata, one of the most powerful Balaur generals and you fought him for who knows how long and when Nonni's group got there, he was exhausted enough so they could defeat him without trouble. You were amazing!"
"Yeah, so amazing I ended up here. Right."
"Alright, I can see you don't want talk about this either. Do you know the Ballad of Gaphyrk and Mimiti?"
"No, I've never heard of it. But these don't sound like Elyos names."
"It's a story about tragic love of a Shugo and Kobold. Well, not that tragic like Bollvig and Myanee, but it's sweet. Would you like to hear it?"
"Maybe some other time. Thank you, Canta. I'm really happy you came to see me, even more happy to know you're alright. But there's still a lot of things I need to think about."
"Oh? You want me to go?" the songweaver was surprised.
"I... don't know. Yes, for now. I need some time to stop freaking out. I would like to talk with you when I'm... friendlier."
"Shien, I... as you wish, I'll be back... not tomorrow, I'll be on patrol, we're really short on people right now. But I should find some time the day after. Or the next one? Yes, well, two or three days, is it okay with you?"
"Yes, that... would be nice. Thank you, Canta," the sorceress faintly smiled.
"Then it's settled. Can I hug you before I leave?"
"Only if the clerics won't see you."
Canta said goodbye to her friend and slowly walked to the teleporter. Her friend's feelings of helplessness hit her harder than her physical state. In the middle of Peace Square she suddenly got an idea. She altered her path slightly and instead of the brown and beige dressed teleporter she headed to the grey and blue one.
"Take me to Pandaemonium, please."
"Are you sure?" the teleporter looked surprised. "Dressed like this?"
"What's wrong with my dress?" Canta frowned.
"You'll freeze to death. This time of the year is the coldest in Asmodae."
"Ah, you're right! I completely forgot! Thank you, I'll be back," she turned around and walked to the market quarter. Since the teleport to Pandaemonium was accessible to the Elyos for some time already, she didn't doubt someone had already seized the opportunity to sell warm clothes for those who didn't realise they needed them. After short while she indeed found such shop and few minutes later she emerged from it with warm stockings, coat and scarf.
When she appeared in the Asmodian capitol, she was really happy, that the teleporter has stopped her. The cold was biting her even through her new clothes, she had to take care of this matter fast and even faster return back to Beacon. Fortunately the one of the information boards was near the Vifrost Bridge and she found her destination within few minutes and thanks to teleportation statues she reached the Vanahal district without trouble. Finding the right house proved to be a bit more difficult. Because she was Elyos, most of people refused to even talk with her. After several failed attempts she came up with an official business from Kamar story and suddenly the first person she met directed her.
She knocked on the door and after few minutes an older man opened. From his decent clothes she guessed it would be the butler.
"Do you wish something?" he asked with professionally neutral tone.
"Good afternoon, I have an urgent message from Kamar for madam Elliana," she tried to remain calm. "I am supposed to deliver it personally and wait for an answer."
"Please, come in," he beckoned and stepped aside. When she entered the house, he led her to a small but neat room for visitors. "Make yourself comfortable, I shall inform madam of your visit."
Left alone in the room, Canta put off her scarf and coat and patiently waited. It took a really long time, before the door opened again and a woman dressed in rich dark-coloured robe in classic Asmodian style entered. There was no doubt who she was, her facial features were slightly similar to Shien's and her expression was a mixture of pride and disgust.
"What is so important, that they had to send an Elyos here?" she said without even formal greeting.
"Good afternoon, madam, I'm here to tell you, that your daughter Shienar has been severely injured and..."
"I have been already informed of this. If you have nothing else to bother me with, leave my house immediately."
"Madam, maybe you don't understand how serious her injuries are. She lost..."
"Ah, I see, so it's no official message, she sent you here, didn't she?"
"No, she doesn't even..."
"That arrogance! If she wants my help, she should come herself and apologise properly. Until then, I have no daughter."
"That's all you're going to say?" Canta couldn't believe what she just heard. "Shien was badly injured, she almost died and she might never see again and you... you..."
"It was her own decision to leave this family when she has chosen that Elyos trash," madam Elliana replied coldly. "Why don't you bother him?"
"Because he died! And because you are Shien's mom! Do you even realise what you're saying?" the songweaver raised her voice. "Are you really serious about leaving your own child suffer for eternity, only because she fell in love with someone you didn't approve?"
"You have no right to question how I take care about my family. Since the moment Shienar was born, everything I did was for her. I always gave her everything she needed, even in times when she stubbornly refused to accept the privileges and duties of her stature, because that raider girl fooled and manipulated her. That farce with that Elyos fiancé was the last straw. She has chosen one of her father's murderers over her own family. Now get out of my house, you've been spoiling it with your presence for long enough."
"No, it's Shien's life what's at stake now, I won't leave until you hear what I want to say. So shut up and listen."
"How dare you speak to me like..."
"I said shut up! Did you even care about Shien? Did you ever bother to ask her how she feels? Did you even care about anything else than how she represents you? She was hurt. Really, really badly hurt by some soldiers who thought they can do anything with her, just because she was an Asmodian. They saw in her the same trash as you saw in Shade. As you see in me. Do you even know you sent her away just when she started recovering from that terrible experience? You're no better than those guys. And you know what? Even if you're such selfish, ruthless and cruel person, even if Shien's angry at you, she still loves you and it's breaking her heart what you told her last time. And even if she wouldn't admit it, she needs you. Now more than ever. I wanted to believe you still care about her, but it seems I was wrong. And don't worry about my presence, I can find my way out. May Aion protect you."
Canta grabbed her coat and scarf and ran out of the house, ignoring the surprised look of the butler.
~ x ~
"Thank you, Lumiel, for accepting my invitation. Please, have a seat," lady Ariel welcomed her old time friend in a small, comfortable and light tearoom.
"It was surprising, but I saw no reason why should I not," Lumiel smiled. "We have the truce, after all and it would be rude to reject it."
"Speaking of which, how do you find the truce?" the Lady of Light poured the tea for her guest. After all the refreshments were brought in, she didn't want anyone to disturb their conversation.
"It is interesting so far. We need to be careful with the changes, though."
"What changes do you mean?"
"All of them. For example, it's no longer legal to kill an Elyos, just for being in Asmodae. Same for the Asmodians in Elysea, I presume. But that doesn't mean people will just happily welcome each other. And we can't order them to do so, there is still mistrust and even though Israphel and his Lepharists are all but gone, there are others who wouldn't hesitate to use it to start the conflict again. We need to build the trust between our people. One step at time."
"Yes, I understand what you mean. And I agree. We'll keep all tasks, that require cooperation with the Asmodians on voluntary basis. And we'll work with the Reians, who can serve as mediators if needed. Tell me, were you predicting the truce?"
"Sometimes I was considering the possibility, but until we got your letter, I didn't actually believe it. Maybe after few more centuries of Reian guidance I would have. Maybe you should ask Marchutan," Lumiel smiled. This semi-casual conversation was unexpectedly calming.
"I'm lost then."
"Maybe you'll disagree with me, but to many people you seem more dangerous than Azphel. He is predictable to certain extent, consistent. But you, my dear, you have surprised us so many times. Few years ago you have started surrounding yourself with, let's say, talented people. I'm certain they are extremely helpful now, but if it wasn't in preparations for the post-truce crisis, it makes me wonder. Why?"
"You must have extremely good network of spies, if you were able to figure it out."
"You have to admit, our spymaster is clearly fascinated with you."
"Isn't he fascinated with every woman?"
"Not every woman is Shedim Lady of Wisdom."
"True," Lumiel sipped the tea to take few seconds to think. "You're right, I have certain plan to improve the future of Atreia. And I need the best and brightest for it to become reality. The details are, of course, secret."
"I'm sorry, I didn't want to pry. I just... I missed talking with you."
"One step at time, Ariel. That doesn't apply only to our people. I missed you too. Also Yustiel."
A knock on the door interrupted their conversation.
"Come in," the Lady of Light put her smile on.
"My lady," the butler has bowed when he entered. "Lord Vaizel urgently requests your presence."
"Did he say why?"
"The messanger said something about lord Zikel and uh... lady Alinette, but I couldn't understand him."
"Thank you," Ariel dismissed the butler and turned to Lumiel. "I'm afraid we'll have to continue our talk at some other time."
"If you don't mind, I'll go with you. I think no one told Zikel about the seal I had to place on Alinette, I'll have the best chances to calm him down, if he's freaking out about that."
"A seal?" Ariel looked at her in surprise. "When did you do that?"
"Vaizel didn't tell you? When you all were in Balaurea, Alinette's health became worse and the clerics didn't know what to do, so he called me," Lumiel explained, when they were leaving the tearoom.
"No, he only mentioned he found the Lepharist spy, who gave May the false message to lure her out."
"He did? It was about time. What will happen to her?"
"What do you think? Once we deal with the worst and most urgent consequences of the siege, Vaizel will properly interrogate her and then she'll be executed."
"Let me know if he gets something interesting from her."
In a few minutes they reached Vaizel's house and from the relieved faces of the guards and servants they guessed they came just in time. Both Empyrean lords were in Alinette's room, standing next to her crib and arguing. As if by miracle, the girl was still peacefully sleeping. Varinia, her wet-nurse, was sitting in the furthest corner and was quietly cuddling her son, trying to prevent him from crying.
"Good afternoon," Ariel greeted to get their attention. "What is so urgent that you have to argue over it next to a sleeping baby?"
"Lady Ariel, thanks Aion you're here!" Vaizel said with relief. "And Lumiel too, that's even better. Can you please calm him down and explain him, he can't take Alinette to Asmodae?"
"What? No, Zikel, that's unacceptable, she has to stay in Sanctum, until she grows up!" Ariel protested.
"Why?" Lumiel asked with pretended innocence.
"She's Lady of Life, she belongs here!"
"She's no Lady yet," Zikel snapped. "She's my daughter and she almost died here, so I'm taking her to safer place. She'll live with me."
"How many times I have to tell you it wasn't our fault?" Vaizel rolled his eyes. It was clear he was slowly losing his patience. "She was born too early, because Tiamat attacked May..."
"If you caught the spy in time, Alia would be still alive and Alinette would be born as she should, without any dangers. No. I'm her father and I will decide where she'll live until she's old enough to decide for herself."
"Zikel, yes, she's your daughter, no one is denying that," Ariel attempted to calm him down. "And we know she's still a baby, but one day she'll be Lady of Life. We have already lost Yustiel and May, if she's moved to Asmodae, our people will lose all hopes."
"I don't care about that," he retorted. "It is my right to raise my daughter where I see fit."
"Oh, seriously, how can you be so thick?" Vaizel rolled his eyes.
"Zikel, please, we don't want to take her from you," Ariel didn't want to give up. At that moment Alinette started crying.
"And now you woke her up," Zikel grunted and gently swayed the crib. "Shhh, don't cry."
"What are you idiots doing here?" a cold voice sounded from the door. "Can't you argue somewhere else?"
"Ahd what are you doing here, Triniel?" Zikel frowned even more.
"What would you guess? I wanted to see our new Lady of Life myself, but I certainly didn't expect arguing bunch of idiots, who have no idea what to do with a crying baby," she strode towards the crib and gently touched the girl's forehead. "Get out. All of you," then she turned to the wet-nurse and said surprisingly gently: "Of course, you're welcome to stay. I would like to have few words with you. Vaizel, see to it that kettle of some nice and calming tea is delivered to us."
"Sure, I can do that," the Lord of Freedom blinked in surprise.
"What are you doing?" Zikel warily watched Triniel, who bowed over the crib, sniffed few times and took the baby out.
"She needs her diapers changed," Triniel said with calm. "If you want, I can teach you how to do that some other time. For now, get out and sort out that argument."
"You're still here?"
The Empyrean lords decided it will be easier to let Triniel work. Zikel hesitated for a few seconds, staring at the crying baby, but then he muttered a curse under his breath and followed the others outside, where, to his surprise, Nezekan was waiting with a curious expression on his face.
"And you're here why?" the Lord of Destruction grunted.
"I was simply escorting Triniel here. What is this commotion about?"
"Gentlemen," Vaizel elegantly stepped between them. "I would really appreciate if you didn't continue the discussion on the hallway, but rather followed me to my lovely stateroom. Ladies," he slightly bowed his head and led them into lavishly furnished and decorated room, with two soft, luxurious couches and number of armchairs and several small tables. "Make yourselves comfortable, I'll arrange some refreshments for you and the tea for Triniel," he disappeared and left them in awkward silence.
"That was certainly unexpected," Lumiel said after a while and sat into one of the armchairs. "Hm, rather comfortable, I must ask Vaizel where he got it. The fabric structure and the pattern are an exquisite work. Where were we? Ah, Alinette's place of residence during her childhood."
"There's nothing to discuss, I'm taking her with me," Zikel insisted on his demand.
"Can I say something too?" Lumiel aksed with a smile. "After all, her well-being is in my interest too."
"Say whatever you want, I'm not gonna change my mind."
"You might want to be careful with such statements, Zikel, it would make things easier later," the Lady of Wisdom shook her head. "But you of course have a point. You are the only family she has and you should be together. However, you will not be always at home to be with her. Even though we made peace with the Elyos and defeated Tiamat, there are still other Dragon Lords to consider. Your duties will lead you away for days, sometimes weeks. Also, Ariel has a point too. Partially. I think, Alinette should grow up in both, Asmodae and Elysea, to learn about both. And given her health right now, I'd suggest she stays here for the time being, until she grows up a bit and will be ready to travel to Asmodae."
"What do you know about her heath?"
"What the healers told me when I was placing the seal on her. That her body is fagile and she will need to be checked upon regularly. Ah, Vaizel, good you're back. When was the last time a healer came here to look at Alinette?"
"Today morning. She's getting better every day," Vaizel replied promptly and sat on a couch, next to Nezekan. "Hygea will come back in the evening, you can ask her for details."
They looked at Zikel, who was pacing back and forth in front of the door.
"I want an Asmodian healer to look at her," he said after a moment.
"That won't be problem," Ariel replied with calm. "When you choose someone you trust, just bring them with you."
"Also, while she's here, she won't be staying in this house."
"What's wrong with my house?" Vaizel sounded offended.
"You," Zikel said simply.
"Oh, come on, she's a baby. You can't seriously think I'm that sick."
"She will grow up. I don't want her anywhere near you."
"We're already making preparations to move her to my house," Ariel stopped Vaizel's complaint. "I spend my time in Sanctum more than the others and it would be only appropriate, if..."
"No," Zikel declined. "You're not an option either. He is," he pointed at Nezekan.
"What? Me? Why?" the Lord of Justice was as surprised as everyone else.
"Don't think I started to like you," Zikel replied. "I didn't. But you're at least competent to protect her. Or assign competent people while you're away."
"Yes. I can do that."
~ x ~
"Your name is Varinia, right?" Triniel asked while washing the baby, who finally stopped crying.
"Y-yes, my lady," the wet-nurse replied. "How may I help you?"
"Please open that window and let the light in," she pointed at window further from the cribs.
"B-but... lord Vaizel said... security..." Varinia babbled, still shaken with fear.
"The babies need some fresh air and natural light," Triniel replied with practical calm. "And I wonder what kind of idiot would attack while I am here."
"Y-yes, my lady," Varinia gently put her son to his crib and went to the window to draw back the curtains and open it. The light and warmth of Elysean sun filled the room and she felt slight relief from the tension, that clutched her since she came here. Someone knocked on the door.
"I'm here with the tea," the servant said without opening. No one was supposed to enter the room, unless an Empyrean lord granted them permission.
"Please, see to it," Triniel said, while wrapping Alinette in clean cloth.
"Y-yes, my lady," Varinia opened the door, took the plate with the kettle and two cups and carried it to the small table. Triniel finished changing Alinette's clothes and put her back into her crib. After few minutes of swinging the crib and humming a gentle melody, the baby fell asleep. She checked Varinia's boy too, he didn't seem to have any trouble with sleeping.
"What is his name?"
"Nerios, my lady."
"That's a nice name," Triniel nodded and went to the table and the prepared tea. "Do you have other children?" she asked and sipped the tea.
"Yes, my lady," the wet-nurse replied hesitantly. "A daugther, Veradis, she's three years old. She stayed in Verteron, with my husband. I... I..."
"Do you miss them?"
"Yes, my lady, very much."
"Are you in contact with them?"
"What? No, of course not! Lord Vaizel said..."
"I can imagine, what he said," Triniel sighed. "If you want, write them a letter. To let them know, that you're alright, that you miss them, or anything you'd like to tell them. Of course, you shall tell them nothing about Alinette or where you are. I'll talk to Vaizel to have the letter delivered to your husband. He will have to read it, though."
"But... why would you do that, my lady?" Varinia was confused.
"We need your help in taking care of Alinette. And you're helping us the best you can. I don't want to reward you for that with fear and broken family."
"Thank you very much, my lady. You're very generous."
~ x ~
"And then, there was fire. Like, real fire. From the flask. It was scary, but only for a moment, sir Jumentis threw some dust on it and snuffed it out. I felt like a complete idiot, I never thought that it could catch fire without aether, but it did. And, of course, I had to clean it up," Canta was telling her friend about the visit of the poisonmaster in Kaisinel's Beacon.
"Uhm, yes, some substances are known for setting others aflame," Shien nodded.
"Well, I learnt that the hard way," the songweaver said with her mouth full.
"Canta? Are you eating my lunch?"
"No," Canta gulped. "Of course not, I'm just tasting it for poison. It's good. You can open your mouth, now."
"Oh, come on, I'm not a kid. I can eat myself," the sorceress frowned.
"Yes, but it will be easier if I help you, don't you think?" her voice was genuinely cheerful. "Aaah."
"Fine," Shien opened her mouth and let her friend feed her with soft and sweet mash, which was Reian high nutrient, but easy to digest food for recovering patients. It contained only local ingredientsso its taste was unfamiliar to Shien, but surprisingly good. From her experience she has expected much worse from such meal.
After several minutes, when the bowl was almost empty, the door opened. From the steps Shien guessed that two people have entered.
"Wow, you're here?" Canta broke the awkward silence that threatened to arise.
"Who is it, Canta?"
"It's your mom, Shien," she still sounded surprised.
"W-why?" Shien's voice was shaken. Her heart begun beating faster and her claws dug into blanket.
"I came here at your insistence," her mother replied simply. No emotion seemed to be projected into her voice.
"I didn't..." Calm down! Calm down! Shien took a deep breath. "This must be a misunderstanding, madam. I am certain I didn't require your presence, please, accept my apologies for this inconvenience and waste of your time."
"Stop saying this nonsense, Shien!" Canta was shocked by her reaction. "She's your mom! And she came here to see you! Why are you..."
"It was you, wasn't it? You brought her here."
"Why? You said you're my friend!"
"That's exactly why I brought her here."
"Ladies, if you could stop," Illian's voice interrupted them. "Mother, this is clearly great shock for Shien and given her state, I am not surprised. Could you wait outside for a moment? I'll talk with her. You too, miss, please."
He waited until they left the room and then walked to his sister and put his hand on hers.
"Shien," his voice sounded worried. "We really want to help you. Please, talk with her."
"I can't face her, Illian, please, take her away," Shien sobbed, digging her claws into the blanket.
"I won't," he shook his head. "I've been trying to make her talk with you for months. I'm sorry the circumstances are this bad, but it seems it's the only way."
"But... I can't! I can't do that! I don't want to hear how I failed her again, how I disgraced our family again, how I..."
"She's not here to scold you, Shien."
"She's always here to scold me! That was the only reason why she ever bothered to speak to me. That disappointed look she always had... I tried. I have really tried to make her proud of me, but no matter what I did, it was never enough. So I stopped and just ignored whatever she said. But now I... I don't even have the strength for that."
"Yes, it's mother's habit to nitpick on every slightest imperfection, but she cares about you and now she really wants to reach out. Don't reject her now."
"But I failed again..."
"Failed in what?"
"I fought with the Balaur and I lost. And I became like this. I don't want her pity. Or yours. Or anyone's."
"I know that well enough," he smiled. "You'll have my support, instead. How about that? But only if you talk with mother. You don't have to make everything alright between you two now. Just one step."
"I know I should, but it's... Fine, I'll try to speak with her, but I can't promise you anything."
"That's alright. I'll call her, then," he walked out of the room and after a while her mother entered.
"How are you feeling?" Elliana asked, unsure if she should hide or show her concern.
The same as I feel every time I speak to you. Like the worst trash ever.
"I'm fine," Shien said, trying to remain calm. "Thank you for your concern."
"Shienar..." her mother started, but couldn't find words. The sight of her daughter like that was too much, even if they didn't get along. She took a deep breath and slowly exhaled. "I will not pretend I was sad to hear about that man's death and I will never understand how you could even start dating an Elyos. But I am willing to put this matter behind, if you behave reasonably," she paused, but she got no reaction. "Were you at least happy with him?"
"Why do you care? He's dead, it doesn't matter now," Shien said bitterly.
"Just answer me, can you do that?"
"We were on a good way to being happy," she replied after a moment. "Why are you really here?"
"Isn't it obvious? I am here to make necessary arrangements to relocate you to Pandaemonium, once the healers release you."
"Why? The last time we spoke you told me to never come back."
"Don't be ridiculous, Shienar. You were supposed to come to your senses and then come back."
"You don't have to waste your time, then. I haven't changed my mind."
"Maybe your opinions didn't change, but the circumstances did," her mother's voice became a bit softer. "I do not take any joy in seeing you suffer. You are still my child and that will not change. I refused to support you when your behaviour was extremely untolerable, but now you are in need of help and I will not abandon you."
"You will find yourself very disappointed in me," Shien sighed. "As usual."
"Perhaps. Perhaps not. We will talk about the important things once you return. Now I'll take my leave and let you rest," Elliana walked towards her daugther and gently embraced her. When Shien stopped shaking, she whispered: "Your father would be proud."
~ x ~
It was madness. Since her mother left the fortress, Chellia couldn't find a moment of peace. Several hours after she has been locked in Beritra's chambers they moved her to another, smaller room, designed mostly in blue and violet colours. And that was the only good thing that happened. Beritra stopped ignoring her and several times she had to share a dinner or lunch with him, or walk with him around the fortress, while he was inspecting the soldiers and defences. But the nights remained the same. He never walked into her room during the night, as he used to do before. She knew he was trying to impress her, to lower her hostility towards him, to weaken her resolve. Due to Hyperion's fail-safe, the free will of its controller, he couldn't force her to become obedient, he had to persuade her, make her believe that obeying him is the right thing to do.
Chellia hated him. She hated Beritra with every part of her soul and even though she tried, she couldn't even pretend to feel anything but pure hatred for him. Her own plans to discover what was the thing that allowed him to summon her, didn't move. And she was scared. She couldn't tell how long her defiance could last. Beritra was extremely patient and skilled manipulator, it was only a matter of time, until he either convinces her or breaks her.
She got up from her bed, wrapped a warm coat around her and walked over to a window. Snow was slowly falling on the fortress and the mountains around it. The patrolling soldiers paid no heed to the snow, other than occasional shout at some Dragonbound workers to clear the paths. Recently, a lot of Beritra's soldiers inhabited the fortress, or were camped in tents and caves around. Even from the encounters with him she wasn't able to find out why. Did he plan an attack on the now united Asmodians and Elyos? Or were they here because of the Sealing stones? Again, she haven't got any useful information about those either.
She stared out of the window and her thoughts and feelings whirled in one giant storm. She had the Hyperion. Beritra didn't. The ancient weapon was hers to control. Not his!
She opened the window, slipped though it and jumped. Before hitting the ground, she spread her grey wings and glided down into the middle of the courtyard. Being dressed only in her night gown and the fluffy housecoat, she shivered in the wind and she had to concentrate to ignore the cold pain, when her bare feet touched the snow. The Balaur on the watch and those just passing by stared at her, but didn't do anything to harm her. She was their queen, after all. No one wanted to face the great Dragon lord should any harm happen to her. But several guards immediately disappeared into the fortress, running quickly to inform their lord of her unusual actions. She had little time. She took the key off her neck and stretched her hand.
"Open the gate to Shard of Infinity. Hyperion!" she commanded and a portal opened from the tip of the key. Within seconds the giant construct stepped out of nowhere and crushed the fresh snow under its feet. Chellia felt a familiar tingling on her skin. "Hyperion, charge the cannon."
In an instant she appeared at a balcony above the courtyard with angry Beritra staring at her. In his hand he held a dagger, which glowed with the same blue lights in the same ornaments as her tattoos.
"My queen," he said, his deep voice was filled with threat. "Call the weapon off at once."
She forced herself to remain silent. Just few more seconds.
"I won't become your tool, Beritra," she hissed. Then she locked her gaze with his, she wanted to see his expression, when she shouted her last command: "Hyperion! Self-destruct!"