Delia moaned and blinked furiously to prevent the tears welling in her eyes from streaming down her cheeks. Curled up in a miserable ball on her bed with waves of agony that made her want to rip out her womb with her hands tearing through her abdomen, she thought that, at only eleven, she was dying of pain. No matter what the priestesses said about times of the month like this, she knew that the red streaks of torment dashing through her brain—crimson as the blood trickling from her privates—weren't natural.

Even if she didn't die of pain, she would die of humiliation. She had worn a stunning white gown today, and she hadn't understood why the other girls were laughing at her and pointing at the rear of her dress until a priestess had pulled her aside to suggest that Delia slip a cloth beneath her undergarments. That kindly whisper had been enough to bring all the blood that wasn't pouring out of her to stain her gown to her cheeks.

Then came the throbbing agony in her abdomen and the shame of hurrying through packed hallways to the relative safety of her bedroom, where she could be alone with her bloated, cramping, and bleeding self. She was a hideous, ugly, and unclean creature right now. She didn't deserve to face the world when she couldn't imagine looking at herself in the mirror.

"Delia?" Cythera's hesitant voice accompanied the sound of their bedroom door creaking open. "How are you feeling?"

"Awful." Delia's lower lip trembled from the stress of not breaking down in front of her friend, because she was supposed to be the strong and funny one, not the weak one. "I've seen better days to say the least."

"I thought you might say that." Smiling wanly, Cythera stepped forward to place a bowl of chicken soup on Delia's bedside table. "I brought you something to make you feel a little more yourself."

"Smells good," muttered Delia, rolling closer to the nightstand. Delicious, she thought, would actually have been a more apt adjective for the pungent aroma of spices, meat, and vegetables emitted from the porcelain bowl.

Pushing herself into a sitting position against her pillows and grabbing the warm bowl of soup between her hands sapped all her reserves of energy. In the end, after Delia stared into the bowl for a full minute, Cythera settled onto the bed beside her and began spooning soup into her mouth.

"Tastes wonderful," Delia murmured, feeling some of the waves of pain near her womb subside.

"Feels good, too, I think," Cythera commented, her smile widening as some of the tension left her friend's face.

"How do you know so much about monthlies?" asked Delia, her eyes narrowing. "I haven't seen you dying of misery once a month, and that's not something likely to escape my notice."

"My mother craving soup at a certain time every month didn't escape my notice," Cythera answered wryly. "I certainly won't be getting my monthlies any time soon. I haven't developed up here—" she pointed first at her chest, still almost as flat as a boy's, and then at Delia, which had two growing peaches any farmer would have been proud to have in his orchard—"as fast as you have."

"Bouncy breasts and aching wombs," muttered Delia, hating the reminder of how her bodice pinched her more than ever in its efforts to constrain her ever-expanding chest.

"Don't complain." Cythera wagged a finger at her friend. "Breasts make you beautiful. Everyone knows that men look at breasts and want to discover how soft or firm they are. The other girls are just jealous of how fast you are growing, so they laughed at you when you got your monthlies. They just aren't mature enough to get monthlies, so, of course, they can laugh. You'll have your revenge when they get their monthlies."

"If they ever get them." Delia smirked, and, channeling her own envy of the girls whose monthlies hadn't arrived in a river of blood, she added vindictively, "Janalea of King's Reach, who laughed so loudly, is such a frigid, ugly prude that her body might never feel the need to prepare for a potential pregnancy, because she would never want to sleep with any man, and no man would ever want to sleep with her."

"This is the temperamental, vicious Delia I know and love." Cythera chuckled.

"I'm out for blood," Delia stated between swallows of soup. "I have to replace the blood flowing out of my body before I get light-headed."