Originally published on April 4, 2019. Unbeta'd.
I own nothing of the Black Jewels Trilogy or any of the following novels. All rights go to Anne Bishop. Thanks for Reading!
At 8:30 exactly there was a polite knock on the front door of the cottage. Reyna, who had been desperately attempting to drown herself in coffee and had not looked at Arina after the first side-eyed glance, practically bolted out of the room. Arina picked up her mug of tea and followed after her towards the front door, arriving in time to see Reyna hurrying away down the path. Quinn was standing stiffly by the side of the door, his eyes focused on the wooden frame instead of Arina.
"Lady Valini," he said, a little hesitantly.
"Prince." She swept past him and started down the path towards the Principia, otherwise ignoring him.
Janos had already left, when Shadow and another member of his pack dropped by an hour ago to take him to their Territory. She already missed him terribly, and he hadn't even been gone long. From the letter that Jaenelle had left her, Janos wouldn't be coming back for at least three months, but likely longer.
For the first time since she had gotten to know the others at the Hall, she felt like she was alone. Even coming here hadn't felt like that, since she had made friends with Reyna and the others so quickly, and she had had Janos the entire time.
Now he was gone, and Quinn and the others were angry with her, and all she wanted to do was curl up and cry at the loneliness of it all.
She had been sorry, and sorry had gotten her nowhere. Angry probably wouldn't do much for her either, but right now it was the only thing keeping her going, and violently betrayed was the only other emotion that she was feeling right now. Otherwise, she just felt hollow. Breakable, even.
She had no idea what she was going to say to Lucien, or Farostel for that matter. They were both probably losing their minds right now, but she couldn't bring herself to care. She couldn't bear to pick up a pen to write to them either—there was too much of a chance that she would end up writing something cruel that she didn't actually mean.
The whole point of her even being in this world was that she didn't want to be alone anymore.
By the time that the pair of them reached the Principia, Arina had retreated inside herself and looked completely blank.
Quinn, trailing a bit behind her, looked outright miserable. Jace and the others looked sympathetic, but not as though they were going to interfere either.
Lady Irene was watching, frowning a little bit. The Queen usually came down every morning to meet with all of the trainees, and yesterday she had noticed the way that Arina and her friends were acting around each other.
It wasn't a good sign. Last week they had been a fairly close knit group, and now, Arina was completely separated.
There wasn't much of anything that she could do, however. Trying to interfere would only bring more attention to Arina, which was something she was trying fairly hard to avoid.
The girl was trying to avoid unnecessary attention, after all. It wouldn't do her any good if the rest of the Court realized how closely Irene was watching Arina. And while Irene was confident in the strength of her Court, she had no desire for those of Lady Angelline's Court to start looking to much at her Territory.
Which they would do instantly if anyone tried anything with the girl in order to get close to the Hall. Or even if they were just trying to make an in with the new Witch.
This was giving her a headache just by thinking about it.
In the time that it took for the rest of the trainees to arrive in the Principia, Arina hadn't so much as twitched from where she was standing, staring blankly at a wall. None of her friends had come over to try to talk to her, either, and Irene sent them all off to the day's work with a heavy heart.
Raleigh was the one who walked Arina back to the cottage that first evening. Arina couldn't tell if he had chosen to do so or was volunteered to do so. She didn't particularly care, either way. If he hadn't kept looking over at her, it would have been much easier to convince anyone, except for her, that he was just walking his sister back to her place, given that he and Reyna were busy arguing about something that happened while they were home.
Arina didn't say a word the entire way.
The Priestess was the only one who spoke at the Hourglass training that night, even Reyna staying quiet as she shot side glances at Arina. At the end of the night, the Priestess gave both girls a long look before nodding to them in apparent decision and leaving the cottage.
"Hey," Reyna started, turning to Arina hopefully only to find her already gone. She sighed, and her shoulders drooped down a little as she slumped against the wall. "Never mind," she muttered to the empty room, rubbing her hands over her face. Things were starting to get out of hand, she noted grimly as she headed for her room. She hesitated at the corridor break for a minute, looking over at Arina's firmly closed door before turning resignedly for her own room.
The nest day went the same way, but even worse. By this point, the rest of the Court apprentices had realized that something was going on with Arina and the others, and were sending the entire group curious looks all day long.
By noon, Quinn was glaring back at anyone who so much as peeked a sideways look at Arina. The girl herself did not seem to so much as notice, if the way that she was completely blank eyed was any indication. She would respond to a direct question posed to her, but her voice was mechanical if she needed to speak and would only give bare minimum responses if she couldn't just nod or shake her head.
Even working in the garden with Saralea did nothing to help, even though it usually made her relax and smile, and was a tried and true way to get a Queen to unwind. The day before it had worked, even if she had tensed right back up after leaving the plants behind, but that day it wasn't doing any good. She just drifted through the day, mostly unresponsive, and by the time that everyone was scattering back to their residences, no one was sure if Arina was even in a state where she could understand them.
By Thursday, and even more on Friday, everyone was very concerned, even people who didn't talk to her much, like other apprentices who weren't friends with Reyna's circle or in Arina's small work group. Arina had no expression on her face, and as the week went on responded less and less to direct questions. By the time Friday rolled around, she didn't say a single word all day. Quinn had been the recipient of several letters, the writers obviously concerned about Arina's sudden silence. Considering that all three of Jaenelle Angelline's children, the daughters of Lucivar Yaslana, and a Dea al Mon Warlord Prince were among the many who had directly written to him, he was more than a little bit terrified.
It wasn't like he didn't have a strong interest in fixing what went wrong between him and Arina—between all of them and Arina—but he didn't need the extra pressure of realizing that some of the most powerful people in the entire Realm knew his name, knew who he was, and was holding him responsible for this. From the tone of the letters, if he didn't manage to fix whatever was wrong, and fast, then most of these people, if not all, were going to show up and demand answers from him. Personally.
Unfortunately, no one could get Arina to so much as focus on them. At first they had thought that she was just ignoring everyone, but as time went on, it was starting to look like she didn't even see them when they were around them. Cassie tried waving her hand in front of Arina's face while they were in the gardens, but there was no reaction. She seemed to be just following a pattern of movement, not actually doing anything with her mind. Even the huge dark cat that followed Arina around and snarled at anyone who came near was getting obviously concerned, if the way that it kept brushing up against her and making rumbling sounds were any indication.
Reyna was just about on the verge of tears. Living with Arina at the moment was both very unnerving and difficult. The Queen was seemingly producing an aura of oppressive silence, so stifling the air in their previously bright and cheerful cottage.
Friday night, Hunter was the one to walk Arina back to the cottage. He filled the air with mindless chatter, trying to tamp down on his Warlord Prince instincts, which were loudly demanding that he kill whatever the problem was. Not exactly possible, considering it was her own actions that started everything and by this point it was a little too late to just try to pretend that nothing had happened, if they were even willing to do so.
Thankfully, Reyna was willing enough to respond to him, not leaving him completely hanging. It let him focus on something other than his instincts enough to make sure that Arina didn't accidentally wander off into the jungle, which was a serious concern. Once they reached the cottage, Arina drifted in the open doors and out of sight without any sign of acknowledging or noticing that there was anyone with her. Reyna gave Hunter a strained smile and a nod of agreement, before she followed the other girl inside, closing the door.
If no one could come up with a plan to fix things over the weekend, then they were going to have to resort to drastic measures. Like somehow asking for help from Lady Angelline.
Going upstairs to the work room, Reyna took a deep breath to prepare herself for the lesson, and for being around Arina's miserable company. Witch was somehow projecting her emotions on her surroundings, at least in the cottage, so getting to close to her was enough to make Reyna want to curl up and start sobbing.
Reyna arrived in the doorway of the room in time to see the Priestess set a tangled web on the table and begin a staring contest with Arina, who looked back blankly, but with a very slowly increasing focus. Reyna edged into the room carefully, not really wanting to say anything to distract either other woman, but knowing she should probably at least greet the Priestess. But Arina was actually showing signs of paying attention to something, and she didn't want to interrupt.
"Reyna." The Priestess didn't so much as twitch away from Arina when she said it, and it was more of a statement than a greeting.
"Yes, Priestess?" Reyna asked, almost squeaking.
"The book on the table is for you. It is time for you to start work on developing poisons. Study the book over the weekend. I am leaving now. I will return on Monday. I will expect questions over what you have read."
"Um…alright? I mean, yes, thank you, Priestess. Aa…have a good weekend?" Reyna trailed off a little in confusion. This was not the usual behavior. There was supposed to be a lesson every day of the week, and that had always happened, even if Arina hadn't been paying attention the night before. If there was no lesson going on…then there was still a lesson, but it probably wasn't for her. Reyna's eyes went to the web, then to Arina. The web might be a good thing, and it might be a bad thing. It was really impossible to tell from the Priestess' face.
The older woman nodded sharply and left without another word, seemingly abandoning the staring contest. Arina turned her head to watch as the woman left, then slowly went back and started to stare at the web without moving any other part of her body, still perfectly silent.
Reyna edged forward and picked up the book, opening it for a quick look at the contents before looking back up at Arina. "Are you…going to read the web tonight?" she asked.
The silver eyed girl looked up and stared at Reyna. Then she looked back down at the web, which Reyna was desperately grateful for. Arina hadn't actually looked anyone in the face for days, and there was a screaming emptiness in her eyes that was quite possibly the most unnerving thing that she had ever seen. Then Arina looked back up at her, and Reyna actually took a quick step back at the sight of vertical slit pupils. She also seemed taller, and a quick glance down showed that Witch had, in grown taller if the odd elongation of her legs was any indication, and she now sported claws on her hands, seen when her hands curled into fists.
"Please leave now."
Arina stood at the table and looked down at the web sitting on it. It looked so harmless, but there were outright chills running down Arina's spine when she looked at it. Something was telling her, with absolute finality, that she really did not want to see what was woven into the threads of that web, but also that she needed to see it at the same time.
It wasn't a particularly encouraging realization. Still, she probably shouldn't just stand there and stare at it all night. What she needed to do was read the web. Arina's eyes drifted towards the door. She didn't need to deal with it now, she could just leave and do something about it tomorrow instead.
Arina shook her head. If she left, she wouldn't come back. Already she could feel the dark and empty haze closing in around her, blinding her to everyone and everything around her and leaving her feeling so cold that nothing could reach her. The Priestess had gotten through to her, somehow, but the focus that the woman had managed to invoke was fading now, and Arina couldn't guarantee that it would come back if she didn't act now.
She hesitated for another moment, gathering her courage. Then, before she could back out of her resolve, she reached out to the web with her Power and her mind, and suddenly she was no longer seeing the workroom in front of her.
She was standing in the great bedroom that she had been given in the Keep. She could feel the weight of the mountain above her, pressing down on her head. It felt so much heavier than it had when she was last at Ebon Askavi, and it was echoingly silent and felt oddly cold. The room was mostly bare, with the carpets and all the extra furniture gone but the bed and dresser and wardrobe, with a few scant items around with cases right next to them.
One of the doors in the room was cracked partially open, with another room dark behind it. When Arina glanced at it, the room flickered around her and she was suddenly standing directly in front of the door instead of next to the large bed. She stepped through the door and looked around. It was another bedroom, though smaller and less ornate and formal seeming. There was also something empty and cold in that room, but with a different flavor of it than was in her bedroom. It felt dead, almost, despite the shirt tossed carelessly over a chair that indicated that someone did live in the room.
The Consort's room, Arina realized, somewhat blankly. Something was very wrong with everything in this vision, and a little voice in the back of her head was screaming at her that she had to fix this somehow, this could never be allowed to happen, this was not right.
Stepping back from the room, Arina was in the corridors instead of her room again. Her footsteps echoed in the halls until she stopped moving, and then pervading silence spread through the entire mountain. Something whispered in her that she was the only person in the Keep, other than Draca. None of her friends were with her in the mountain.
She was alone again, this time for good.
Arina staggered back from the table and the web, back-peddling desperately until she hit the far wall. She pressed one hand to her chest, exposed claws digging into the fabric there as she panted for breath. The chill that had settled into her bones while in the web had spread through her entire body and tightened her lungs, leaving her choking on air.
The web was still sitting on the table, no longer doing anything but Arina still looked at it as though the thing was personally responsible for every single thing that had gone wrong for her in the past few weeks. A brush against her inner barriers had Arina forcing herself to take deep breaths, trying to pull herself back together before she brought Challa running. She was still a little uncertain exactly what would bring the local males 'charging in in an overly concerned stampede' (as Rose had described it), but she was fairly certain that what was happening to her at the moment was a panic attack, and if any male around her found out what was happening then they would be right there with her, regardless of how they actually felt about her, and she didn't need that from any of them right now, even from Challa.
Arina shivered, but dragged herself off the wall and back towards the table. She used her free hand to slash down through the web with her claws, destroying it while leaving her other hand pressed against her heart as though that would keep her calm. Then she turned and lurched towards the door. As she moved away from the remains of the web, her movements grew steadier, and by the time that she reached her own room she was walking mostly normally. No one was in the hall to witness it, but it did make her feel a little bit better.
A Red shield snapped into place automatically around her room as Arina reached her bed and curled carefully into it. She was distantly proud of it, how natural it felt to use her Jewel, but it also didn't feel like a true accomplishment. She mostly felt numb. Arina shifted a little bit to curl her wings around herself and closed her eyes.
When she reopened her eyes, Arina had dropped into the Abyss and was standing on the cliff edge. Her waterrise reached up into the depths, beyond where she could go and towards Jaenelle's Misty Place. Arina headed for the pool, jittery and tense with her breath starting to hitch in her chest. The hem of her dress dragged in the water as soon as she reached it, sending ripples out over the still water. Arina sank down on one of the stones in the middle of the pool and dropped her elongated legs into the water, the cool liquid helping to sooth her twitching a little bit.
It was only when she was settled into place that Arina allowed herself to panic. Bending down so that she was almost folded in half, Arina dug her claws into her hair and made a high pitched keening noise, shaking violently. She had no idea what to do, that still hadn't changed since before she had looked into the tangled web, but now she absolutely and completely understood that if she failed to act to fix the problem that she was having with her Hayllian friends, then not only would it destroy a part of her that was only just starting to emerge properly and that she would never be able to get back, but it would also affect her so much that her other friendships and bonds from her time at the Hall would also go away.
She was allowed to panic for a bit at the knowledge that everything that she had gained in this world and all the relationships that she had been building were in active danger.
It took a while for her breathing to go back to normal, and even longer for her to gain back the ability to straighten up from her collapsed position. But eventually her panic faded enough for her to settle into a more comfortable posture and start to think again.
Arina traced her claws idly in the water and considered her situation and her options, feeling a disconnect from the whole affair, likely because of the Abyss.
She was so tired. Tired of being angry, tired of being lonely, tired of being wary of everything, tired of being sad. She almost regretted deciding to leave the Hall, because there she had had Jaenelle, who understood her in a way that, very literally, no one else even could. She had had Rose, the first girl her age that she had ever made friends with, and all the other girls. She had had Farostel and all of the other boys as well.
She had Lucien.
She didn't want to lose any of that. No matter what she had to do to keep her friendships, she would do it. And maybe the mindset that she had brought with her from Earth, that she had to do things on her own, would never fully disappear, but at least she would never make a mistake like this again.
With that decided, all that was left was to start talking to people. She should start with Quinn and the others in Hayll, but then she absolutely had to get in contact with Lucien and Farostel, since they were both probably going absolutely insane.
The problem was, talking to people about…emotions…was hardly her strong suit. Arina groaned and curled her legs back into her chest as she huddled into a ball shape and rocked in place a little, trying to think. What she wanted most was advice from Jaenelle on what to do—surely she would have at least an idea of how to go about it, considering some of the stories that she had been told about the other Witch's Court. But Jaenelle was at the Hall, not anywhere close to Hayll, and Arina wasn't nearly good enough at using the mental threads that others would use to mentally communicate over distances.
A breeze washed over her, coming from deeper in the Abyss. Arina tipped her head back, following the waterrise further into the depths, considering.
As Witch, she felt a connection to the Abyss that no one else but Jaenelle could understand. But because it was a connection that she shared with the older woman, that meant that, in the Abyss, she had a rough sense of where Janelle had her place in the Abyss. It was, in retrospect, likely how Jaenelle had been able to help her find her waterrise from her Misty Place in the first place.
Arina closed her eyes, her head still tilted back, and reached down (up) the waterrise, searching for the unique feeling that was the Misty Place. It was far deeper in the Abyss than her own place, naturally, but while she couldn't normally go there on her own, after a few moments, something echoed back down the thread that she had sent out.
Tentatively, Arina tugged on it, not sure quite what she was supposed to do for a brief moment. Then there was a shiver in the Darkness, and Janelle stepped out of the waterrise and onto one of the stones right in front of her, blinking in surprise.
"Arina," the woman said, surprise fading away as she looked down at the seated girl in front of her. "This is your place, then?"
Arina nodded, and glanced around even as Jaenelle did. "I call it the waterrise," she said, not bothering to rise from the stone she was on.
"It suits this place," Jaenelle said, and stepped firmly onto the stone closest to Arina before settling down onto it.
There is a silence as Janelle waited, more patient than anyone Arina had meet before coming here and even after, for Arina to figure out what she wanted to say.
"How do you do it?" she asked finally, looking away from Janelle and at her reflection below her. "How can you be Other and Blood? Or is the Other that you are still closer to the Blood than what I am?"
"You are not at fault for your past," Jaenelle said, voice sharp.
"Maybe I'm not at fault for my past, but I am responsible for how I act as a result of it," Arina retorted. "Everyone is responsible for how they act, despite any trauma or, or, whatever is in their past. And I just—can't seem to let anything go. And it's hurting me, and my friends. How am I supposed to move on from it and stop letting it affect me? How do I do that?"
Jaenelle sighed. She moved forward, stepping forward onto the stone that Arina was curled up on, and set her hand on the girl's head.
"Oh, my dear," she murmured. "It is not easy, and I'm afraid it never will be. We all have nightmares that we have to face."
Arina looked up at Jaenelle, whose eyes had darkened even as she spoke. "And unfortunately, simply forgetting the terrible things that happened to you doesn't work. Both Daemon and myself can attest to that."
Arina didn't bother to ask if she was sure.
"Then how do you do it?" she asked after a moment of considering Jaenelle's statement, her expression, her truth.
"I found what I wanted, and I knew what would be too much for me, and I learned to work around the two so that I could manage." Jaenelle looked at her. "And I think that for you, it was having the fact that you now have people that you can truly depend on thrown in your face that is so hard for you."
"I've managed without for as long as I can remember," Arina agreed. "And I was getting there on my own, I think but now…they aren't giving me a choice in finishing things for myself."
"I can understand that. So what are you going to do now?"
Arina thought about it, tracing circles in the water again. Janelle hadn't really answered any of her questions, but she had made her think about things again, and here, in a place that truly belonged to her, it felt less hard.
"I think that I can forgive them now," she said slowly. "I don't think that they meant to hurt me, and even though they are wrong when they say that I need protection, I think that they actually meant that I…deserve it." Which was probably what had really been what set her off in the first place, she thought. "They aren't trying to stop me from anything, and it's still strange but…I think I can move past it."
Jaenelle smiled at her. "Then what did you need me here for so strongly that the Darkness pulled me here?"
"I needed a reminder, I guess," Arina said. "That I am not alone."
Jaenelle leaned down and pressed a kiss to her forehead. "Never," she promised. "I will never leave you truly alone." Then she faded away, out of her senses and back to wherever she had been before.
Arina laid back on the stone, letting her hair fall in the water behind her even as she dropped her legs back into the water in front of her, feeling the ripples spread out and wash against her sides.
The next thing that she needed to do, she reflected, was talk to Quinn privately. He was the one who she had exploded on, and also was the one that she strongly suspected would end up as the Steward in her Court, and so was the one who truly needed to know exactly why she had reacted as she did, and the one she needed to apologize to the most. Then he could probably help her talk to the others and she could fix this.
It would be talking to the rest of her coterie that would be the problem. After a whole week of blackout, they would all be upset, and she had known from the beginning that they would be unhappy about her decision…but she hoped that they would be able to get past it quickly. She knew what the problem was, she had reasons for it, and she wouldn't do it again.
It would be up to them, after that. But she was almost entirely sure that it would be fine. The males at Hayll had forgiven her the initial problem, she was the one causing the second one. It would be fine.
Please, please Darkness, let it all be fine.
Arina opened her eyes again to find herself looking at the ceiling of her room while Challa purred next to her on the bed.
She probably would have just laid there for a while and not done anything but continue to blink at the ceiling, but within a few minutes of staring contemplatively up and trying to work out how she could go about starting a conversation with Quinn at this point, her stomach growled.
Challa stopped purring, lifted his head and turned to stare at her.
Arina couldn't quite stop a faint flush from working its way up her cheeks. She also couldn't remember the last time that she had actually eaten, or really much of anything these last few days. That was something that hadn't happened to Arina since she left Earth, but there had been many times while she was still there when she would just fade out for a few days. It hadn't mattered much then, but it was a different story here. Still the last few days could be a problem for later, though. Right now, she had several lectures ringing in her ears about the importance of eating and fueling her body and her very dark Jewel, so she was more concerned with getting some food as soon as possible.
Actually getting to her feet made her more than a little lightheaded, leaving her grateful for Challa's presence at her side and the way that he let her lean most of her weight on him as they headed down to the kitchen.
Once down in the kitchen, Arina found almost no food that she could eat right away, but there was a lot of meat in the cold box. A lot. Which in a way made sense because they had Challa, but also did not make that much sense, because Arina didn't remember getting any of this, and what she had for Janos had been long gone.
Arina swallowed guiltily. Apparently she had been even more out of it than she had thought.
*I would like the goat,* Challa told her, peering into the cold box with her and sniffing at it. Dutifully, Arina identified the proper package and pulled it out, setting it on a large plater for the feline before turning back to the box and pulling the chicken that was packaged in there.
She found some cookies in another cabinet, and started working her way through the plate while cooking the chicken, absently humming as she found pasta and ingredients for the baked chicken pasta she had in mind that could either feed a family of four for two nights or tide her over until she could get more food in the house.
She was actually and finally paying attention to her surroundings again, and swept her senses out to locate Reyna, after she noticed that it was fairly late and couldn't sense her in the cottage. At first she couldn't locate the other girl anywhere, but finally found her almost all the way across the Court area.
The Court itself was set on the edge of the city and against the jungle, with the Principia and the Queen's Residence in the very center, along with the other official buildings, and with residents for the rest of the court scattered to either side. For the most part, the residences where the young women of the court stayed were to the left, and south of the Principia, while the young men were housed to the north. Married couples were on both sides of the Court as well, but it was an easy way to keep things more settled than otherwise.
Right now, Reyna was on the north side of the Court, along with the other members of the little group that they had here. Arina couldn't be sure, as she wasn't particularly skilled at detecting emotions through the Jewels yet, but she thought that they were fairly agitated.
It didn't take a genius to realize that they were gathered together to discuss her.
Chicken and pasta in the oven now, Arina slumped down in a chair and rubbed her hands over her face.
It wasn't exactly a great feeling, to know that the people that she was supposed to be friends with were having secret meetings about her, but it wasn't exactly undeserved, given how she had been acting. Over-reacting really, even if she mostly couldn't help what she had been feeling.
She already knew that she had to do something about it, and she had even resolved to act on that decision…but it was one thing to try to figure out how to contact and start a conversation with Quinn when he was going to be mostly on his own, other than his housemate, and it was quite another in this situation. She really didn't want to call him on a thread and get his attention now, but the longer she waited the more likely it was that she would simply chicken out and not contact him at all. It was only Friday, so she had all weekend to stew over this and not fix it, and it would only be worse the next Monday.
They didn't have normal sessions on the weekends, but if they hadn't been dismissed they were still expected to be available in case they were called up to the Principia to have an extra lesson or something, and to practice their skills. She was perfectly capable of locking herself in her room or the workroom and pretending she was busy all weekend.
Arina growled at herself, frustrated. She just needed to quit being such a coward.
The oven dinged at her, and she got up to pull her food out, stomach growling again. By the time that she was done devouring the entire thing, she had determined that the next day after her morning flight she would go to Quinn's house and catch him for a talk before anyone else was awake. After all, it was a day to sleep in, and she was fairly certain that she and Quinn would be the only ones voluntarily awake at that time.
Saturday morning, a little bit after dawn, Arina landed on Quinn's front porch, Challa slinking out of the trees nearby, windblown and anxiously tugging at the end of her braid. Jace, Quinn's housemate, was definitely asleep, seeing as she could hear his snores from where she stood, but she could feel Quinn's Jewel in the kitchen area of the cottage. She wavered for a moment, but before she could step back, Quinn started moving quickly in her direction, likely having noticed her presence.
The Prince yanked the door open while Arina fidgeted uncertainly, and simply stared at her for a long moment.
"Good morning?" she tried.
"I…good morning, Lady," Quinn said, running a hand through his hair and smoothing down his shirt. "This is unexpected," he continued. "Come in, please."
Inside looked very similar to the residence she shared with Reyna, with somewhat darker colors and a more masculine feel to the room than the light and airy and feminine feel of her own cottage. It was also the first time that she had visited anyone else's cottage while here, though to be fair, they spent most of their time either at the Principia or sleeping.
"I came to apologize, and to explain," Arina said, unable to stand the thought of small talk right now.
"I would like to apologize as well," Quinn told her, ushering her into one of the chairs and settling somewhat gingerly into one nearby. "I was out of line with what I said to you."
"Perhaps, but I shouldn't have responded as I did either," Arina said. She stared down at her hands folded in her lap for a moment before looking back up at him. "I'm afraid you hit a lot of sore points with me, and I lashed out at you. I am unused to people, both relying on them and trusting them, and I'm still not used to being someone important to others even after months of people caring. A lifetime of habit is hard to break, and I was doing alright at the Hall, but…"
"You moved here, and your life changed up again, and you were still struggling to find your balance when I threw that at you," Quinn said, watching her face closely. "Is that it?"
Arina smiled mirthlessly. "Among other things, I suppose. It's a bit of a long story, in truth, and it's somewhat unbelievable."
Quinn leaned back into the seat and crossed his arms, keeping his eyes on her, waiting.
The revelation that she had been born and raised in a completely different world, not a different Realm but something completely other made him raise his eyebrows in shock, but he didn't react much more than that. As Arina continued, he looked somewhat like he desperately wanted to take notes, but never interrupted.
"It does seem unbelievable," he mused, long after Arina was done talking and they had relocated to the kitchen for tea and food. A clever spell on the interior of the house kept them from hearing Jace's snoring, leaving them in relative quiet. "But I don't think that that's really something anyone could just make up, either."
"It's been quite the adjustment period," Arina said. "Sometimes I do better than others, but when you left me with no choice…"
"I put you right back there. I'm sorry about that."
"But you aren't sorry you did it, not really," Arina deduced, eyeing him.
"Not really, no. It still needed to be done, I just wish that I had known so I could have done it differently," he agreed.
Arina looked back down at her plate, picking listlessly at her sausage. "Now what?" she asked. "What are you planning to do now?"
Quinn hesitated, looking at her. "Is it really so bad, that we walk you to and from your cottage?" he asked.
"I have no idea," she said. "I haven't really been very present this past week, and I definitely haven't actually been giving it a try. But I will, now."
The male nodded slowly, looking exhausted. This was not even remotely how he had pictured the morning going, and Arina was obviously feeling just as awkward.
"Alright, then we will keep up with the schedule of walking you too and from the Principia. We'll get rid of Lady Angelline's spell orb, though, that might have been going a little far. As long as you promise to try, we will trust you." Quinn smiled a little wryly. "I am fairly certain that that was the part where you snapped, as it were. Up until then, you were mostly in shock and that was the breaking point. I was hitting you with a lot of things all at once, which I'm sure didn't help."
Arina nodded. "I promise to try," she said. "But you also have to promise to remember that this is hard for me, and that I am trying but I'm not going to be perfect and I do need time to myself, even still."
"I can promise that, at least for me. I'll have a talk with the others before we have another full day at Court, I'm sure that they will also understand," Quinn assured her.
Arina glanced up at the ceiling as rustling noises seemed to indicate that Jace was waking up and moving around. According to the clock, it was nearly 11 in the morning, and they had been talking for hours. The girl got to her feet, setting her empty cup down on the table and smiling faintly at Quinn.
"Well, I think it's time for me to go. We both need to…process. And I have a lot that I think I need to catch up on from this week as well."
"Of course," Quinn said automatically, also rising. "I will see you Monday morning, then?"
Arina paused in the door and looked back at him. Her wings, never having been put away after her morning flight, flexed and spread, and she nodded to him. "Yes, unless there is an emergency of some sort. I need the weekend to sort some things out, please."
He nodded back, raising one hand in farewell as Arina lifted off the ground and veered over the trees, vanishing from view. While he couldn't see it, he was also certain that there was a large black cat following her on the ground.
"WHAT THE HELL?!" Jace shouted from right behind him, making him flinch. "WHAT THE ACUTAL—SINCE WHEN DOES ARINA HAVE WINGS?"
Quinn sighed, but there was a slight smile tugging at his lips. This wasn't how he expected the day to go, and there was a lot of work for him to do still…but Arina didn't hate him. His Queen had forgiven him.
Everything else would work itself out.
Monday morning was interesting.
Reyna had almost burst into tears when she woke up on Saturday to find that Arina was an actual person again, instead of an angry ghost person, a description that unnerved Arina not just a little bit. By the time that Sunday was over, they were both back to how they had been around each other before Arina's moontime, to her definite relief.
So Monday morning involved a lot of sideways stares, stuttered conversations, and people who looked like they were trying and yet failing to work up the nerve to say something to Arina.
Markus had simply made a dry comment about how it was good to see Arina present again, and that she should see him for what she had missed. Since she hadn't physically missed a single session with him, and everyone in the group knew it, it was somewhat humiliating. Quinn had nudged her slightly and smiled at her when she glanced over, discretely handing her a set of notes.
Lady Saralea had just smiled at her and handed her a rose bush to replant. Arina was thankful that she was being so understated about it all.
But when she caught Lady Irena eyeing her at the end of the day like she wanted to call her over to have a chat, Arina positively bolted out of the Principia and back to her cottage because there was no way that she wanted to have that conversation with the older Queen.
Still, at the end of the day she had managed to have a quiet conversation with all of her friends here in Hayll and exchanged apologies for the last week, so Arina counted the day as a success.
Of course, then she got back to the cottage and knew that it was finally time to write back to her coterie, and Lucien. She had still not written to them, taking the weekend to get her feet back under her after that awful week, but at this point, she very much needed to at least tell them something or she would have every single one of them storming straight to the Hayll Court this Friday.
And that's something she would really rather avoid.
Her desk, at this point, is almost completely covered with stacks of letters, coming in every day now from every single member of the coterie, and separated into piles according to who sent them stacked so that the most recent letter is on top. Some of the piles are very, very thick, and the pile of letters that Lucien sent had to be separated into two separate piles, there were simply so many. They send a pang of guilt down her spine, but that's just something that she is going to have to live with, because she needed time to deal with things.
Arina picks up a pen and a piece of paper, stares one last time at the stacks of letters, and then looks resolutely down at the page before her.
Forgive me for how long it has taken me to get back to you, I know that it has distressed you and that was not my intention.
I know that by now you have heard about what has happened through Quinn, as he has told me that he is in contact with you, or at the very least he was in contact with you as of last week. I have no reason to believe that this has changed, only that he does not wish to bring it up again as I did react badly last time he mentioned it.
I want you to know, however, that I had honestly forgotten that my moontime was going to affect me so badly. It hadn't been so bad before this time, but after it started, I remembered how Jaenelle had said that my body was still adjusting to my Jewels and that it would just continue to get more painful. As the area was both very defensible and the Manor and grounds themselves have spell defenses woven into the stones, I did not think that it was necessary to bring anyone with me for only a few days. I know that you are probably going to be upset about that, but please don't. I'm trying to remember all the rules and such of this world, but it is not yet second nature for me.
But then, and I am not sure that Quinn has told you about this part, I met panther Kindred. I don't know why they never showed themselves to Jaenelle, but that doesn't really matter. Lucien, they are absolutely gorgeous black cats, the ones that gave me my tail and ears and probably my fangs as well. They were very kind to me, and several of them have moved into the area surrounding my Manor to help protect it.
My moontime didn't start until after I had met them, as well, so please stop panicking about me being defenseless because I wasn't. And they aren't a threat to me, any more than Kaelas is a threat to Jaenelle, in case you were wondering.
And then my moontime started and I was literally being sat on by a bunch of panthers, and I didn't even manage to get everything I wanted to get done at the Manor done because they were also horrified that I was alone on my moontime and didn't let me do anything after it started.
I wasn't sure how to tell you about my weekend without having you freak out on me, so I hadn't written to you yet…and then when the panthers took me back to the Hayll Court, the others were so angry with me. I hadn't meant to do it, and I was going to apologize, but I didn't take it very well when they started yelling at me.
And when Quinn found out that I was Witch, and then told me that he had gotten a spell orb to keep me trapped…I wasn't particularly present last week. It wasn't until Friday that I was forced to come out of my own head and face facts.
I am trying, Lucien, I really am, but I am not perfect. I cannot lose you, or any of the others.
I am afraid of what I would do if I lost you.
I'm so sorry. Please forgive me…
The letter she ended up to Lucien was much longer than she had intended, and also so disjointed that she almost didn't send it, it was so confusing. But in the end she ended up sending it anyway, because she couldn't come up with anything better to send.
Farostel's letter was almost as long, and Rose's letter and Augustine's letters were next in length. But by the end of the night, when Arina was literally dropping with exhaustion, every member of the coterie had a letter with an apology contained written and sealed on her desk, waiting to go out.
Then it was all she could do to crawl into her bed and curl up with Challa resting beside her, breathing steadily. It would be ok. It would. If Jaenelle could survive what had happened to her, she could survive this.
She just had to give it a little bit more time.
The week passed both slower and more quickly than she was comfortable with. She got closer with the others, picking her relationships with them back up from where they were before their last weekend off, and by the time Friday rolled around, she was able to trade jokes and comfortable conversations with them as though the last week didn't happen. There were still the signs of it, though, the way that someone was always lingering near her, the way that some conversations were just so very awkward when last week did come up.
But she was fairly confident in saying that they had forgiven her, and she had forgiven them, and everything was going to be fine with them.
Then they get out of the Friday afternoon session to return to the main Principia for Lady Irena to dismiss them, and Arina sees Jasper and Titian lurking in the corner, leaning against the walls and talking to each other quietly. She tries not to react, but she can't help stiffening up, because the instant that she cleared the doorway they both stopped what they were doing and honed in on her.
For all that she likes them, even loves them, there are times where she can only recall that the Dea al Mon here, and even in the stories of faeries and elves back on earth, they aren't the same as other people. Just a little off, a terrible sense of predatory intent that they gave off naturally, even when they weren't trying, and being the focus of their attention was…somewhat distressing.
Arina tried really hard not to feel like prey under the stare of a bigger predator, and was moderately successful, if she discounted the sudden powerful urge to flare her wings out. Which she obviously couldn't do in the middle of a Court that didn't yet know what she was, of course, resulting in her instead stiffening.
Jasper started smirking from across the room, and Arina firmly repressed the urge to throw something at his head.
Quinn, next to her, started looking between her and the pair in the corner, considering. Arina determinedly did not look at them again, instead choosing to stare at Lady Irena and contemplate escape paths.
There was more of a buzz in the room than usual, with a lot of people staring at Jasper and Titian, clearly wondering why they were there, but an increasing number of people had made the connection to Arina, and were looking over at her with interest.
It was not her idea of a good time, it had to be said.
To Arina's despair, even Lady Irena seemed a bit flustered by the presence of the two children of the Dark Court, probably rightly concerned about what that meant about the other Queens of the Realm watching her territory.
After Lady Irena dismissed the court, Arina, who had been lingering near the doors while keeping a wary eye on the twins who were watching her right back, was the first one out the doors, heading down the path at a fast clip with Quinn and Reyna right on her heels with the others trailing a bit behind them before splitting off to their own cottages, already aware of her plans and having said their goodbyes. She wasn't precisely running away; she simply had no interest in her personal life and issues being more on display for all the trainees to gawk at then they had to be.
As she fully believed that neither of the twins cared at all about her privacy and that she wanted to keep the upcoming confrontation to herself—rather, she suspected that they wanted to broadcast her status as much as they could—she needed to get as far away from the main building and the crowd as she could as quickly as she could. Not that it would work for long—the twins were part Dea al Mon with all that that entailed.
By the time the twins did catch up with her, though, she was almost to her cottage, and the other trainees had long since been scattered by distance and intimidation. They might have wanted to know what was going on, but not enough to deliberately enrage Arina, her friends, or the Dea al Mon.
Jasper loped right up to her, completely ignoring Quinn's hiss, and picked her right up off her feet in a hug.
Arina couldn't help but be more than a little bit startled, but also didn't hesitate to return the hug, even if she was annoyed with him. It had still been over a month since she had seen them, and she missed him more than she had expected. There was a low ache in her chest waking up now that she had gotten physically close enough to some of her coterie to feel them through her Jewel, longing for the others.
"Are you angry that we are here?" Jasper asked. "Is that why you were ignoring us?" He started walking towards where Arina's cottage was ahead of them, not putting her down.
Titian crossed her arms and narrowed her eyes at Arina, judging her expressions.
"No," Arina denied. "I thought you were angry with me, though, and I didn't want to do that in front of everyone. I'm trying to keep a low profile here."
"Oh, we're definitely mad at you," Titian assured her, nevertheless relaxing. "There was no reason for you to completely stop writing letters to everyone, no matter what."
"I'm mad about the other thing, too," Jasper added. "But actually seeing you and feeling that you are fine made that a lot better too. With that and your apology letter, it's not so bad. As long as you don't do it again."
Arina grimaced. "Oh, I wouldn't. This time actually finally hurt the way everyone has been warning me it would, and pain is a great reminder."
"I can't believe that you had it not hurt, before," Titian grumbled. Reyna nodded in furious agreement, fingering her Summer Sky Jewel.
"Yeah, I'm not even as dark jeweled as you, and it still hurts so much I don't want to even get out of bed!"
Arina shrugged at them. "I have no explanations. Also, Jasper, put me down."
"I hate being so short," Arina grumbled. "You tall people think you can get away with things like this."
Nobody mentioned that if she really wanted to get out of his hold she could, so Arina didn't have to actually do so. As they actually reached the cottage, Arina had the distinct pleasure of watching both twins twitch violently in absolute terror as Challa suddenly lunged out of the jungle shadows and leapt for them. Jasper slammed up a Green shield around them, which wouldn't be a whole lot of help, seeing as Challa wore a Sapphire anyways, but the cat stopped at the edge of the shield.
"Sweet Darkness," Titian breathed. "I know you mentioned it in your letter, but Arina, I think my heart just stopped. This must be how people feel when they visit Aceria and run into Kaelas or another cat unexpectedly."
"This is Prince Challa," Arina introduced, amused, from where she was currently clutched over Jasper's shoulder. "He is the Warlord Prince of the Leopard and Panther kindred. Prince Challa, this is Prince Jasper, and Lady Titian. They are friends of mine."
The big cat eyed Jasper, tail lashing. The human male quickly decided that setting Arina on her feet was the best option for him at the moment. Once she was standing again, Arina started walking towards her cottage, where Quinn was standing, watching them with a frown, and Jasper was forced to drop his shield before she broke it herself.
Quinn had her bags set at his feet, and once Arina was closer she Vanished them and continued into the cottage to grab some food before they left. Theoretically the staff that she had finally managed to get hired and set up would be there and everything would be prepared, but just in case something had happened or something went wrong, she fully intended to have food just in case. She was still trying to regain the weight that she had lost during her week of complete inattention, and the best way to prevent people from fussing over her was to make sure that she was already taking steps to fix it.
As it was, she came back outside with a stack of cookies in her hand to find that Challa was staring at Jasper, Jasper was watching Challa and Quinn with a sharp predatory look that was still not as terrifying as the one that Challa was leveling on him, and Quinn was simultaneously looking over some papers and watching Jasper and Challa warily. He might have a darker Jewel, but they were of a completely different Caste and temper.
"Are you all done then?" she inquired, turning to Titian who was lurking off to the side with sly smile that Arina didn't trust at all.
"Ready to go, Arina," Titian chirped at her. Then there was a carriage sitting on the path.
"We figured that this would be easier, since you have a darker Jewel than we do and we are supposed to be escorting you. Besides," she added, as Holt stepped out of the carriage and bowed, "Beale wanted to be sure that your staff was up to snuff."
Arina sputtered. Her staff was hardly going to be able to compare to the Hall, of course not, they were new, they didn't have the experience!
"So Holt decided to volunteer to come work for you instead, at least until everything meets Beale's standards."
Arina made a horrified noise deep in her throat, glaring hard at the other girl.
"Aunt Jaenelle's orders," both twins said, bright and cheerful.
Arina vanished her cookie pile for the sole purpose of burying her face in her hands. "Let's just go," she said in pure resignation. "Challa, are you coming with us or going ahead?"
Challa sniffed at the carriage once, then turned away with a look of distain. *I will run,* he said, and promptly vanished back into the trees.
Quinn handed her the pile of papers he had been looking at as she started past him, calling goodbye to Reyna over her shoulder. "Good luck," he murmured.
Arina took a quick glance at it and found the pile of contracts of all of her staff, which she hadn't even realized that he had taken and sorted through. She raised an eyebrow at him, and he shrugged in response. "My job," he reminded her. "Or it will be. Just getting in practice."
"Just being nosy," she corrected. "But thanks, anyways. See you on Monday, Quinn."
The ride to Starfire could have been very awkward, but the twins regaled her with stories about the past month for them, with their classes, their wild mother pulling stunts and bringing Daemon grief as his secretary, their father running dance classes which doubled as hand to hand combat classes, and their father's partner with his bookstore.
(She also got the backstory on their family situation. Apparently their father, Rainier, had some problematic 'inclinations' and was living with their mother, Surreal, as friends. No one will tell them why they were even conceived, due to their father's tendencies, and their parents are definitely not married. Also, Rainier is very close to the owner of a quiet bookshop a couple of streets over.
"So he's gay," Arina clarified, "And he's dating the guy running the bookshop."
The twins stared at her.
"I take it that it is even worse to be gay here than it was back on Earth, then," Arina continued.
"You don't…think it's wrong?" Titian asked, faintly disbelieving.
"I think that it's wrong that he has to hide what he is and who he loves, but not that he loves another guy. That's just biology, way more people are attracted to the same sex than you would think," Arina told them.)
They claimed that their month has been very boring. If so, Arina thought, she would hate to see what they considered exciting.
"You're exciting," Titian told her.
Arina did not agree, and her face made that clear to them, but they arrived at the Manor before things could devolve further, to Arina's relief.
They had arrived before the rest of the coterie so that Arina could settle the last things that she needed to with the staff before some of the strongest and most politically powerful people in the Realm descended on the Manor and scared them off. Holt was already looking around judgingly, apparently finding things he didn't like even three steps into the door. Arina rolled her eyes at his back before heading deeper into the house, trailed by the three other humans and another kindred Prince who had been lounging on one of the large trees in the drive.
Arina's new housekeeper was a younger woman than she had expected, only looking like she was in her early thirties, however that translated into the long-lived races. She was nothing like the strict and stern woman who ran the Hall, but after even a single conversation with her, where the woman, Kara Stromph, politely tore into Holt for his presumption of coming and working for Arina without any approval from the Lady of the Manor or from herself. Arina was impressed and amused, particularly as the woman did seem to be winning the argument.
And when she considered that Holt had been trained by the likes of Beale, that was very impressive.
Kara turned to Arina, completely ignoring Holt, and smiled at her.
"Welcome home, my Lady. You mentioned in your letter that you wanted to clean the place up and make it your own but not destroy what it was, so we kept it as close to the original as we could. We were waiting for you to come by and show us what you wanted to do."
"Thank you," Arina said. "I did fall in love with the place as it was when I first saw it, so I don't want to change very much. But I also expect to be hosting large groups fairly often, so a lot of the empty rooms will need to be fixed up to be bedrooms, of course."
"Should we put in for furnishings, my Lady?" The two of them started walking down the hallway and away from the others, who trailed after them, Holt looking mildly intrigued.
"Not yet," Arina said. "My guests this weekend will be choosing the rooms that will be theirs when they come, and I think that some of them intend to provide some of their own furnishings. I took the liberty of getting several order catalogs from the cities, for those who want to pick out the furniture themselves. Those that don't care will let me know, and I will let you know what needs to be ordered," she explained.
Kara's eyebrows went up, but the only thing she did was hum mildly. "That's quite generous of you," she said. "Very well. If your guests will be arriving soon, then I will go check on the kitchens and see how dinner is progressing."
"I'm not going to lie," Jasper told Arina as Kara stalked off down a flight of stairs, "I couldn't really care less what goes in my room as long as there is a bed in there."
Both Arina and Titian snorted, exchanging a look.
"Come on, twin mine," Titian said, grabbing both Arina and her brother. "Let's head back to the front. The others should be getting here soon. You can handle the other stuff later, Arina."
"If you say so, it must be true," The silver eyed girl said dryly. "I don't think that you have been introduced. Lady Titian, Prince Jasper, this is Prince Demal, another one of my neighbors. He has taken it on himself to start and head my Home Guard."
The twins nodded somewhat warily at the large cat slinking around them. While they were certainly used to Kaelas and the other Acerian cats, they had never actually been to Aceria and actually been in the home territory of the felines. It was unnerving to not be one of the biggest predators in the room. They could barely even sense him there, even though they knew how to locate the Kindred and the cat was wearing an Opal Jewel.
"Home Guard?" Jasper asked as they started down the hall and stairs.
"Mmhmm. It's a local practice here in Hayll, where jungle villages will have a group that is designated as the 'Village Guard', or in my case, Home Guard. A rotating roster of people who have given oaths to remain in the village at all times and be the first line of defense. It's also a completely separate group than a Queen's Guard, though if a Queen is a resident of the village, then the Village Guard will work with the Queen's Guard to better defend them both. The Kindred here are mostly solitary, but they have been around the villages long enough to know about it, and decided that there should be such a guard here at Starfire Manor. Prince Challa has been keeping me updated as to the decisions made by the Guard." Arina rolled her eyes a little, but looked quietly fond. "I have been informed that my opinions are unnecessary for the Guard, though they appreciate my thoughts."
Titian burst out laughing. "Sounds like exactly what you deserve, to be perfectly honest, Arina. And I have to say that I really like that whole idea. I think the others will as well, though I can't say for sure with Farostel."
Jasper nodded in amused agreement. "I for one am quite relieved by it. I'm sure that the Kindred will protect you very well until you can form your Court properly."
"You are all just so charming, have I mentioned that lately?"
Then they were down the stairs again and back in the entrance hall, which was considerably more crowded than it had been a short while ago.
Rose and Yaslana seemed to have arrived with their cousins, as Lucien was currently nowhere to be found but Rose was deep in conversation with Rillian, waving her arms around excitedly. Somewhat unnervingly, Farostel was also missing, despite both of his younger sisters being there and chatting with Alexandra off to the side. Augustine and Emerald were close to the stairs, heads bent over something that Emerald was holding that Arina couldn't see from where she was standing. Considering the fact that the rest of the boys were scattered around the large foyer, either usually fairly close to their sisters…the fact that both Lucien and Farostel were distinctly gone was concerning, to say the least.
Arina sighed quietly. It looked like she was going to have to deal with this whole situation twice over, instead of getting it all out of the way in one go. She was already exhausted from trying to explain everything, and she hadn't even started it yet. It was, however, an excellent deterrent from trying to do something like this ever again—she hoped.
"I don't suppose we can wait for the yelling to start so that Farostel and Lucien can get here first?" she asked, mostly hopelessly, when everyone turned to look at her with narrowed eyes once she started down the stairs. She paused halfway up the steps so she still had a slight height advantage over the others in the impending 'conversation'.
"Hm, let me think, no," Rose denied, voice sweet.
"They get to yell at you seperately anyway," Lauranna agreed. "We decided. It's fair, all things considered."
"Oh, joy," Arina muttered, taking another couple of steps down. "Alright, fine, lets get this over with, then."
"Excellent, I get to go first. WHAT THE HELL WERE YOU THINKING?" Daemonar bellowed.
Arina blinked slowly at him, rocking back on her heels. She glanced up at the glass ceiling of the foyer, taking a moment to watch the panels shake in the echoes of the craft enhanced voice. Then she turned her attention back on Daemonar, scowling.
"I wasn't, alright? You of all people should know that the world that I came from is so radically different that a couple of months aren't going to be enough to erase everything that I used to know to be the truth! I had Janos with me—"
"He's barely more than a puppy!" Dmitri interrupted, just as angrily as Daemonar but not using craft to enhance his voice.
"Which I am aware of, yes, but I am actually trained to defend myself and frankly I am still far more used to defending myself and being expected to defend myself rather than relying on anyone else for protection because frankly I would never have gotten it back there! And I know that things are different here and now but I don't remember that all the time! I'm trying, but I'm not perfect! What more do you want from me?" Arina blinked hard, trying to hold back the tears that were gathering in her eyes, to no avail. "I'm so tired of having this fight, I'm sorry, I'm trying, I didn't do it to hurt you, what more do you want?"
There was a long silence. Arina scrubbed at her face for a moment, deeply humiliated. Everything about this encounter was terrible, starting with getting yelled at again for something she didn't even necessarily do on purpose, and ending with crying about it in front of her friends.
"You didn't mean to do it?" Yaslana finally clarified, breaking the silence.
Arina looked back up, vision slightly blurry. "I just wanted to be alone for a little bit, and I wanted to spend time exploring my house, and I didn't think it was really that important," she said wearily.
"But you were going onto your moontime," Alexandra protested, confused.
"I know I told you this, but they have never affected me quite like what you all seemed to find normal," Arina said. "Annoying, for sure, but not debilitating. I didn't know if that was just because on Earth it didn't matter if you were on your moontime or not, you still had to function like it was a normal day and I just got used to it or not...until that weekend. That was the first time it really hurt that much. Until that happened I didn't actually believe you guys about what it was like and why women actually don't do anything if they can help it on those days. Trust me when I say, I have changed my mind."
"I...see," the Healer said, looking thoughtful now and not upset.
"I'm sorry that I hurt you, it wasn't what I was intending at all," Arina repeated.
The others in the room exchanged looks. Arina bit her lip a little, barely noticing when her teeth cut straight through the skin and only realized that her teeth had shifted to fangs when the blood started welling and running down her chin.
Jasper huffed from behind her, stepping down so he was on the step below her and reaching forward to check the cut.
"Alexandra, come fix our Queen," he called over his shoulder. "She broke herself, but I will forgive it this time," he added, more softly.
"It won't happen again," she promised.
There was a general sense of lightening in the air, and everyone started slowly moving towards the stairs, giving Alexandra the time she needed to quickly heal the hole in Arina's lip before everyone got to the second floor.
"So, a tour?" Rose said brightly, clapping her hands together and smiling winningly at the silver eyed girl. "Lucien and Farostel will...probably be a while, so in the meantime, I know we saw some images, but lets see the real thing! And pick out our rooms."
"Lucien and Farostel went to the Hayllian Court, didn't they?" Arina asked, deeply resigned. "Lady Irena does not deserve that."
"I've heard that the Jungle Court is one of the most beautiful places in the Realm," Augustine offered.
"I believe that," Arina told her. "It's airy and bright and very natural. None of that changes the fact that those two do not need to be there, harassing the Queen of the Territory because of my mistake."
"No, actually, they went to meet with your Quinn," Daemonar corrected. "About that tour..."
"There are too many of us right now for me to give everyone a personal tour of the entire manor, at least not at the same time," Arina grumbled, annoyed. "This isn't the Keep, the hallways aren't that wide."
"We can do tours in groups, later. What about rooms though? Are those scattered all over? Do we need a tour just to find the bedrooms?"
"No, Leo, we don't need to do a full tour to get to the rooms. They aren't actually that far away. This way, everyone." Arina turned away from the stairs and started walking down the hallway to the right and around the balcony, the group of teens and young adults following gamely behind her. The short hallway wound around an office space, and then to a smaller set of stairs leading to the third floor of the mansion.
"This is the room block," Arina said, as everyone spread into the hallway at the top of these stairs, which opened into a courtyard that was covered only by a faint glimmer of Craft that could only be seen out of the corner of the eye. "All of these doors open into bedroom suites, except if you head all the way down to the left at the back of Starfire, that's the second floor library."
"We get to pick any of these rooms?" Daemonar said, clearly interested and eyeing one of the doors close by. "Where's your room?"
Arina couldn't quite bite back the sigh, and several of the others started laughing at her expression.
"Just so we don't pick the rooms on either side of you," he promised, obviously entertained.
"Because that's where my triangle lives, I know," Arina grumbled. She started across the stone courtyard towards the door that was pretty much in the center of the house and at the back, where the secondary windows would look out the back of the manor. She tapped on it once she reached it, leaning on it with her back to it as she turned back to face the others. She gestured to the door on her left. "That's the room for the Master of the Guard," she said, seeing as it connected to the Armory and Guardrooms below.
"Farostel then," Lauranna said brightly, clapping her hands. "That means that I will be taking that room!" She pointed at one of the doors that was about as far away from Farostel's room as it could get, and promptly headed in that direction while Arina was busy snickering.
"Sibling solidarity at it's height, I suppose," she said finally.
"What about those rooms up there?" Rillian motioned up, and Arina didn't even have to look up.
"The fourth floor is a half floor," she explained. "The space above me has more rooms, and the half at the front of the manor is flat space that holds a Greenhouse and some other things, but is mostly an empty space that is a holdover from when Starfire Manor was the Hold of the Southeast."
Daemonar made an interested noise. "I didn't realize that this was one of the strongholds from back in the wars," he said, looking up at the balustrade.
Arina shrugged. "It was a long time ago," she said. "Starfire hasn't been used as a War Hold since probably High Lord SaDablio was still alive and not a Guardian."
"This place is as old as the Hall, isn't it?" Yaslana asked drifting over to one of the front rooms and studying the lay of the courtyard from his chosen door.
"Yes, they were built around the same time period. Within 500 years at least, I think, but probably closer to 200."
Daemonar, Andulvar, and Lillian all launched upwards to get a look at the rooms on the fourth floor, and Jasper and Dmitri followed them up once they spotted the stairs over by where Arina had pointed out the library.
Rillian was hesitating in the middle of the open space, but finally picked her way through the flower plots scattered around to Arina's side as the other sixteen teenagers picked out rooms around the courtyard. It looked like Emerald and Titian were deliberating over sharing a room. (Arina could hear snippets of their conversation carried over on the wind, and it sounded like they would prefer to have another person nearby because they both preferred city environments and would feel more comfortable living together, as they did usually share rooms when visiting other houses anyway.)
(Arina was fairly certain that they were at least seriously thinking about dating, or perhaps pretending that they were not already dating)
"I'm not sure that I want to chose a permanent room here," she said quietly. Arina turned towards her quickly, a flash of alarm running through her.
"Can I ask why?" Arina managed after shoving down her nerves.
"I've been talking to my mother, because I don't think that life in a Court is something that I want for myself, even if we are close and going to be family at some point. It wasn't something that Mom wanted to have either. She was only seventh circle in Aunt Jaenelle's Dark Court, and she was perfectly happy with that. I've already started looking into getting a job at the school back home. When I do come visit for big family events, I was thinking that I would just stay with Lillian in her room. Would that be okay?"
Arina blinked slowly at the older woman. "Of course it is. As long as you know that you are always welcome here."
"I don't want to offend you or hurt your feelings, Arina," Rillian said quietly. I know that this wasn't something that you were expecting, and after the recent...difficulty...I need to know if this is a problem for you."
Arina looked away from Rillian and looked back at the rest of the courtyard, where the rest of her friends were finishing deliberating over their room choices and neighbors.
"No," she said eventually, smiling faintly. She turned back to Rillian and the winged woman was relieved to see that Arina was genuinely happy. "It isn't a problem. I will always love having you here, but if you do not feel like you belong here, I am never going to make you stay."
Because I know what it is to stay in a place when it feels as though I do not belong and I will not make someone go through that to make me happy, went unsaid.
Rillian tilted her head to the side, considering. It was fairly obvious that Arina wasn't entirely settled about her decision, but she also wasn't upset about it. Not exactly what Rillian had been hoping for, but far better than she had expected after recent events.
"Thank you, my Lady," she said quietly. Arina flushed a little bit and fluttered her hands at the other woman. "No, I mean it. I know that you still aren't entirely comfortable with us saying things like that, but you really need to get over that soon."
Arina dropped her hands slowly to her sides. The others had all vanished into various rooms, leaving only the two of them standing outside Arina's door.
"I'm doing somewhat better about it," she said, very quiet.
Rillian put her hand on Arina's shoulder, and the shorter female slumped a little bit. "You are, and we can recognize that. But we also can notice that there are other times when you are not good about it. And whenever you get flustered, you really aren't."
"And you need to be consistently better at it."
"The apprenticeship at the Court should help with that."
"Then why are you bringing it up now, Rillian?"
"Because when Lucien and Farostel arrive, you can't afford to hesitate."
Arina sighed, leaning back against her closed door and tilting her head back. Well, it wasn't like she didn't already know that.
It wasn't until nearly an hour later, after Arina had concluded the general tour of Starfire and the large group was settling down in the dining room, that Lucien and Farostel dropped of the Webs and landed at the foot of the Manor's pathway.
Everyone turned to look in that direction, and then all those heads turned and swiveled back to Arina. She huffed, but got to her feet without any further protest and headed out the door, grabbing a stuffed dinner roll on her way.
This was probably going to take a while, and while she could always go get food later, and she probably would, she was hungry now, and she deserved to eat at least some of what was supposed to be her dinner.
Emerging from under the stairs, Arina found Farostel and Lucien standing in the middle of the entry hall, staring around with blank expressions.
"Welcome to Starfire Manor," she said, leaning against the railing.
Both of the human males turned to her, though Farostel didn't quite turn his back on Prince Zurin, who was sprawled in the branches of the tree growing in the middle of the entry and watching the Dea al Mon right back.
"Lady Arina," Farostel greeted. Arina narrowed her eyes, deeply suspicious of the strangely formal greeting.
"Prince Farostel," she returned, trying desperately to remember if there was some special protocol for this kind of situation that she wasn't following.
On the other hand, he could just be trying to make her nervous, which seemed much more likely once she caught the faint smile playing along his lips.
"Are you going to yell now?" she asked, slumping a little in place.
The two males exchanged glances over her head.
"Do you want us to yell?" Lucien asked, crossing his arms and considering her.
Arina scowled at them both indiscriminately. "No, of course not, but I can't say that I'm not expecting you to yell," she grumbled. "Everyone else did."
"We spoke to your Steward," Farostel murmured, crossing the marble to come up on her side.
"Quinn isn't my Steward yet," Arina said. It was sounded practically automatic, and the way that she grimaced a moment later indicated that she was aware that the statement was a surrender.
"We know," Lucien said, with what Arina considered to be an abnormal amount of cheer, considering the situation. "We went to talk to him anyway."
"Please tell me that he is still in one piece and that he doesn't hate me now," Arina begged.
"He is still as devoted to you as ever," Farostel assured her, before glancing around pointedly.
"Here," Arina said, starting to one of the doors and leading the two males into one of her receiving rooms. Light from the setting sun turned the whole room into shades of amber, and Arina settled down into a chair that was normally white but was a pale gold at the moment. Lucien took the couch across from her and sprawled out, and Farostel chose the matching chair.
"He told us about the conversation that the two of you had, earlier this week," the silver haired male continued once they were seated. "It was enlightening."
Arina shot him a narrow eyed look, then turned her stare on Lucien.
"Between what you told him, what you told us, and the letters that you sent us—and our sisters, once I got my hands on Rose's letter I learned a lot more—we decided that we are willing to forgive you, this time."
Arina stilled, folding her hands in her lap and watching Lucien with the blank expression that she had long since mastered on Earth. Lucien, who had never actually had to deal with situations like Arina or his father had and therefore didn't have the experience needed to truly understand, couldn't read her face.
There was an unsettling period of silence, where all three of them seemed to be waiting. Arina was somewhat ominous in her silence, and the two males were honestly somewhat grateful that they had not experienced a solid week of this.
"I'm willing to accept that," Arina said finally. "I've already told the others this, and I'm sure that you heard it from Quinn, but—I didn't intend to hurt anyone. I forgot that it was different here. I feel like every time that I start to feel like I have settled in and figured it out, I mess something up."
"My mom would say that that's life," Lucien told her, sympathetic but unmoved.
"I never used to make mistakes," Arina countered. "I knew exactly what to do, and when to do it."
"And you weren't actually living," Lucien said.
Arina sighed. "No. I wasn't.
"You will make more mistakes. So will we. As long as we can work past that, everything will be fine," Farostel said, a solid reassuring presence at her side.
"As long as they aren't the same mistakes, at least," Arina murmured. She nodded slowly to herself. She had already promised herself that she wasn't going to ever make the same mistake of going somewhere on her own without an approved guard.
She was sorry, she had apologized. But it was only now, with Lucien and Farostel forgiving her, that she could forgive herself.
This has been a long time in coming, but I promise that I am going to finish this story. Next chapter will either be time skip scenes, or just jump into a time skip, let me know if you have any preferences. I'm going to be trying to finish this story up within the next 2-3 chapters.
Please leave a review on your way out!