magic of first love is our ignorance that it can ever
Jessica was on a mission. Her jaw was fixed and her gaze never left the trail straight ahead of her. Her gait didnt yield or slow no matter how congested the path became as she strode through the hallways of the Magic Guild. From moment to moment she would glance back and smile pensively to the blue-haired woman accompanying her, as if in encouragement to keep up with her long stride. People in the corridors greeted them with cheerful hellos, and some even bowed, a gesture she was still getting used to here in Vane. (They didnt bother with such foolish formalities at home.) Still, they meant well, so she forced herself to give at least a quick nod of her head in acknowledgement as she pressed on, expecting Luna to do the same.
She had wanted to embark on this quest last night, while her annoyance and anger were fresh in her mind, right after it all hit the ceiling at that dinner party. But, in a rare moment of contemplation, she realized that it would be best to wait and let the dust settle. So, this morning, armed with a nights careful planning, her ire up, and Luna to keep the peace, she went to hunt down one of the biggest players in the disaster from the previous eveningMia. Oh yes someone has a LOT of explaining to do.
Oh, it had been a dream at firstjust sitting and joking with her friends again. It was like old times, or how she had wanted to remember them. Even Alexs little dragon, Nall, had taken up a spot on Mias shoulder, nuzzling her on the cheek and laughing with the rest of them. Kalyn had found happiness in her fathers lap and seemed caught between an endless curiosity of everything that that was being said around her and the fact that it was well past her bedtime. No one, not even her energetic daughter, could keep going all day, and sleepiness had finally started to set in.
All about her the rest of them smiled and told stories as they waited for Nash to arrive for dinner. He was surprisingly late, and Mia had seemed to grow more irritated by the second, casting glances at the still doors that began as worried and quickly grew to annoyed. Finally, after twenty minutes had passed, in through the doors had blown the storm himself, reluctant to meet any of their eyes and taking a quick and decisive seat with a hurried apology for his tardiness.
She should have seen it as an omen. A dark cloud seemed to have followed Nash into the room, and although the gathering had started out pleasant, it quickly began to change tone. Every time Nash addressed Mia, he did so with a formal Yes, Majesty. Of course, Majesty. The cold and stiffness in his voice quickly chilled everyone at the table and brought the cheerfulness that had once filled the room to an abrupt end. Sitting only a few feet from him, Jessica wanted to slap him, and by some miracle was able to resist the temptation.
Conversations, no matter who started them, or what they were about, didnt last long enough to even be called that, and the tension between the two mages quickly drained any and all joy and life from the room. Luna and Alex seemed to feel it first, setting their glasses down and making regretful, if obviously fabricated, excuses as they stood and exited the room, dragging Nall behind them. Finally, Jessica herself couldnt take it any more and, with as stern look between Nash and Mia, pardoned herself to put Kalyn to bed, her eyes telling Kyle to follow.
Jessica frowned as the memories of the night before filled her, urging her to a faster pace as Luna rushed to catch her. Today, one way or another, she would find out what was going on. Silently she prayed it was just stress from this Festival and everything else that was going on, but instincts told her it ran deepermuch deeper.
They came to the door to Mias private wing and stopped. Decorated in lush gold leaf with her family crest, the entrance to the Guildmasters suite spoke well of the luxury that lay within and showed an astonishing touch of extravagance. Jessica tried to walk past, but the two guards stepped in front of her. The younger of the two spoke, I dont believe Majesty Mia was expecting you. My lady, and no one enters without her permission.
Jessica glared at him, and spat, She doesnt need to expect me, you twit!
Jessica, Luna said sternly.
She paused, taking a breath and then continuing in a much more pleasant, yet still direct tone. Tell her its Jessica and that Im coming in whether shes awake or not. This is important.
The older man slipped into the room on the other side, his response to the women nothing more than a nervous nod. A moment later he returned and held one of the double doors to the suite open. My deepest apologies, Mistress Jessica. Please understand we have tightened security for the Festival. Majesty Mia will receive you in her bedroom. Please take the first door on the left.
With only a curt nod to the two sentries, Jessica stepped into the parlor of the suite. She noticed that the younger man kept his eye on them as they passed by, and was glad to be rid of him when she heard the door close. Kids these days, give them a uniform and they think theyre important or something.
The parlor was plush; just like everything else in the newly reconstructed city. Jessica really didnt have time to admire the décor, but one thing caught her eye. Hanging over the fireplace was a framed portrait of a very young Lemia dressed in her formal robes, and smiling at some distant admirer.
Luna also stopped and stared at the artwork for a moment before giving a saddened bow of her head and moving on. The blue haired woman knocked on the door they had been directed to, and yet another guardthis one female, opened it.
With less than a glance to her, the two stepped into the bedroom, both taken aback by the grandeur of the space. The room itself was at least twice the size of the faculty dorms they had been assigned, and far more luxurious. At the far end was a large bed with its purple velvet curtains pulled back, as if proclaiming the ornate gold headboard, decorated with the Ausa family crest. Strangely, sitting on the bed was a stuffed toy in the shape of some kind of monster. Jessica shook her head remembering her friends bizarre fondness for the creature called a Gorgon. I wonder where the hell she got that hideous thing? Well, I guess its cute in a crazy way like if you dont have any taste
Other furniture in the room was typical of the faculty quarters. The dressers, desk and tables were all made of fine wood, with polished marble tops. A dressing screen was in the far corner, and two large doors opened out onto a private balcony, letting in some fresh air. The only oddity was a hole in the ceiling, square in shape, and patched with rough pieces of lumber as well as a tarp. Effective for keeping out the elements, but certainly out of place with the fulsomeness of the rest of the room. What? Did they miss a spot?
In the center of the room, stood the Guildmaster, balanced atop a small stool and dressed in an elegant red and gold gown while an older woman bustled around her. The seamstress was constantly adjusting this fold and that seam, and pinning this to that as her hands danced around the soft fabric. All the while the old woman was muttering under her breath, her words mostly obscured by the pins and needles she held in her mouth. Another female guard stood a few feet away, watching them closely. Is she afraid of getting attacked by the dressmaker?
On hearing her friends entry Mia gathered the wide skirt about her and, with her happy laugh pealing through the room, jumped from her perch, and ran toward them, the train of her dress pulling the stool over behind her. Jess, Luna! Good Morning! I hope you slept well?
The old woman spat out the pins and threw the pincushion hed been holding to the floor, watching as it rolled a short distance from her. She gave a disgusted look to the young woman as she righted the footstool. If you want me to have that dress finished by the time you inaugurate that new Premier of yours, you will get right back over here, Miss Ausa! You are more difficult than your mother and grandmother combined!
The guard moved with Mia, hovering around the three women, but not quite positioning herself between them.
Mia glared at her shadow. Do you have to take Master Alastairs orders so literally? I can fend for myselfespecially in my own bedroom and with my best friends!
The guards ears turned a pale pink as she backed away a few feet. An order may be an order, her steady gaze seemed to speak, but her hand stayed near the hilt of her sword, and her eyes never left Jessica or Luna.
Mia laughed as she hugged her friends, blushing a bit from embarrassment. Im sorry, but Alastair is getting downright paranoid with all the visitors coming in these days, and even Magda is a bit testy at the momentcome to think of it, everyone is on edge lately. But shes right; I really do need to let her finish working on this dress. Please, stay with me while she does. Being a human clothes hanger is awfully boring.
With that Mia grasped her friends hands and pulled them back with her, as the seamstress angrily saved the train from being destroyed a second time. The Guildmaster didnt release her friends until she stepped back up onto the stool. She teetered for a moment, almost losing her balance as her friends steadied her. Is this okay, Magda?
The old woman mutely nodded and again began trying to reset the creases and seams that Mias movements had pulled loose, marking where the garment would have to be altered from its last resizing.
Jessica grinned at her petite friend and the fantastic gown. The bodice fit tight, pushing up in all the right places without compromising Mias tiny frame. The short, decorative sleeves fell off her shoulders, letting her black curls brush the golden fabric and her alabaster skin. Red beads trailed across her chest in a flame pattern, the crest of her house in the center. Within the folds of the skirt more red showed, seeming to shimmer as the eye tried to catch their detail, and giving the illusion that the woman wearing the gown was aflame. Wow, Mia. Thats some dress. Something special I take it?
It looks stunning on you, as though you were designed for it, or it for you, Luna added.
Its a family heirloom. Its ancient, as old as Vane I think. No one really knows what the cloth is. It never seems to tear or show wear, even after all these years it looks brand new. It only comes out when we instate a new Premier.
The old womans voice came out in a soft mutter as she tugged at a stubborn hem. And its about the closest thing to a wedding gown youll ever see an Ausa in.
There was a stunned silence as Mia turned and glared at the seamstress. A look of horror crossed her wrinkled face as she realized that shed said the words out loud. I I Then she fell silent, looking down to the floor to hide her embarrassment and frown.
Mias voice was casual as she gave her reprimand. Magda sometimes forgets herself, and shes always been something of a gossip, havent you my dear?
The old woman only nodded in silence as she reached out again to resume her needlework.
Jessica gave her friends a wink as she broke the uncomfortable silence, I dont know how much swearing in Nash is going to be doing with you standing near him in that! Ill be surprised if hell be able to chain two words together without stammering.
Luna chuckled, She does have a point. Maybe you should wear a burlap sack?
Mia seemed a bit sad as she said quietly, Youre too kind. Im an ugly duckling in comparison to my mother. And, to be honest, Im not sure hell even notice it, or me.
Jessica gave the Guildmaster a sympathetic look, and was about to speak when the seamstress muttered again, I just hope this one performs his duties quietly and leaves the rest of us well enough alone.
Mia forced a smile, desperately trying to change the subject. Wheres Kalyn? I adore your daughter, Jess. She looks more like you every time I see her.
Jessica smirked, Off being Daddys Little Girl. Kyle said hed take her down to some of the Festival this morning. I never have to worry about him getting into trouble with Kalyn around, she runs him so ragged hes too exhausted to even look for it.
Luna smiled, as she winked at Jessica. I sent Alex with them. He needs some practice.
Practice? Mia looked between the two of them, her expression saying she knew they were hiding something.
Practice. Luna repeated with a warm smile.
Oh! Mia exclaimed, suddenly understanding. She jumped off the stool again and threw her arms around Luna. Oh my goodness! Thats wonderful! How many months now?
Two, Luna replied as she hugged her friend again. Although I admit getting sick every morning isnt all that wonderful.
That should end shortly, Jessica said with a bit of authority.
Jessica gave a soft cough, trying to cover her forwardness. You know, come to think of it. You do seem to be falling behind the rest of us here.
Mia turned to her. Behind? I dont understand, Jess.
Jessicas next thought was interrupted by the noise made by the seamstress as she picked up her things and left in a huff. Ill come back when youre not quite so distracted, Majesty.
Mia didnt even give a reply; it was clear that at that moment all she could feel was joy at hearing such wonderful news from her friends. Why didnt you tell me last night? I mean, why wait? This is such happy news!
I wanted toat dinnerbut things seemed a little too tense.
Mia frowned, Yes my apologies on that. Nash has a way of aggravating me easily these days.
Jessica looked to Luna, concerned. Well he was always good at that; probably just a lot of stress from this Festival and the Guild and all. Although I did want to smack him when he called you Majesty. Goddess, Mia, it was as though youd hit him with a freeze spell or something.
Mia sighed, No it goes beyond that. But lets not get into it. There are too many things to be happy about. A week of parties, a few weeks with my best friends, Lunas pregnant
Footsteps came from behind them. Standing there was a dark haired boy in his early teens, dressed in a tunic. Pardon me, Majesty, but your appointment--?
Oh! Mia cried as she ran behind a dressing screen, the train of her dress dragging across the floor. I completely forgot about that, thank you. Tell him Ill be right there, Kant.
The boy bowed in the direction of the screen and left.
Jessica called out to her through the screen, more than a touch annoyed at being interrupted before she could ask Mia about Nashs act the night before; You have a meeting? When will you be free again?
Its not a meetingits more of just a welcoming of a special guesta very special guest. Come with me. This is someone I want you to meet.
All right, Jessica replied, as Luna nodded to her.
Mia was wearing in a much more simple dress as she came around the front of the screen and handed the gown to the guard in the room. Please take this to Magda, and be careful with it. She would have both our skins if it got dirty or torn.
The walk to Mias office wasnt all that long or tedious, and Jessica was pleased that the Guildmaster shrugged off all interruptions for the moment. The blonde woman smiled to herself as she took in all of the improvements made within the building. Sadly, the last time she had been to Vane was the past August, for Lemias funeral.
Back then, the buildings were still in disarray, and she secretly wondered if it would all ever come back together. Her doubts increased when she had seen her dear friend and how she was taking the inevitable. Everyone had known Lemia was dying; everyone but Mia it seemed. Perhaps the poor girl had been deluding herself for so long that a false hope had sprouted. The strong and quietly confident Guildmaster did little the week of the burial other than cling to Nash, like a child afraid of her own shadow hiding behind her trusty and protective teddy bear. Jessica shook away the dark memory, No point in bringing up bad things of the past, they only cloud the view of the present.
Down some stairs and around a corner they turned, only to be greeted by yet more of Mias elite guards, both of them bowing to the women. Your guest said hed return shortly, Majesty. He said hed forgotten something.
Show him in when he arrives, Mia said, giving a perplexed look as one of the men opened the door for her, and she led Jessica and Luna into the office.
Although it wasnt quite as large as her bedroom, the office was elegant nonetheless. Jessica stared in awe at the tapestries and exquisite furniture, but what intrigued her the most were the six statues arranged on columns near the window. She moved closer to examine them further, taking careful note of the placement of each in relation to the others around it. Hmm interesting shes put herself as far from him as possible
My mother gave those to me. She said I should always remember my friends. Arent they fantastic?
They are beautiful, and you even have Nall in there.
I couldnt forget him.
Of course not, but I still say that he likes you a little too much
Who is this person we are meeting? Luna asked as she looked at the tapestries, all of them depicting what appeared to be different scenes from Vanes history.
As Mia started to answer, a loud knock echoed through the door and it swung smoothly open. Before it had ended its movement, guard entered, came to attention and bowed. Gravitt of Briggatt is here to see you, per your request, Majesty.
Mia smiled to the guard. Please show him in, Sebastian.
The sentry turned and nodded to the shadowed figure that had stepped into the entrance. Without a sound, an enormous man walked forward. His pace was more measured than any guard Jessica had ever known, but unexpectedly casual. Her head jerked in response to the appearance of the man and stared at him critically. He was large, bigger than Kyle, or at least close to it. His massive frame spoke of his strength and the grace with which he balanced on his feet screamed of his unmatched skill in combat. His tunic and cloak were of excellent quality, yet seemed somewhat out of place on him as though tailored for someone else of near, but not identical, size and build. He wasnt bad looking, in a rough-hewn sort of way, again reminding her of her husband. But then her gaze fell on his bright silver eyes and a frightening chill ran down her spine. He has the eyes of a reptile She instinctively recoiled, but still watched intently as the man ducked to enter the room, and then gave a deep bow to Mia as he stepped forward.
The strangers voice was deep, smooth, and strangely convincing. I received your message, Majesty, and came as quickly as I could. I trust Ive not interrupted anything? He asked, turning to the other two women, though his smile seemed to grow thinner as he looked at Jessica, perhaps enjoying her repulsion of him.
No, not at all. These are my closest friends. May I present Luna of Burg and Jessica de Alkirk?
Jessica forced a smile at the man, and noticed Luna did the same. A pleasure to meet you ladies. I thank you, especially, Miss Jessica for your efforts in the years past. The smile that accompanied these words failed to touch his eyes as he gave the two others a quick, appraising glance.
Youre most welcome, she responded, not even sure where her voice came from, because she couldnt stop staring at his eyes.
Please have a seat. Im sorry, I dont know your title or proper name, Mia said with a smile as she gestured to the large sofa in the office, motioning for her two friends to follow and sit in the chairs next to it. Im afraid the letters you included with your generous donations didnt really mention that.
Ah, its just Gravitt, Majesty. In Briggatt we really dont have time for titles or namesakes. We see ourselves more as a community of equals. I merely have the honor of speaking for them, you might say. His words sounded like oil rubbed over the cold edge of a sharp sword to Jessica.
Mia gracefully lowered herself next to him on the sofa. Very well, Gravitt. Lets set aside the formality and, as you do in your homeland, speak as equals. I asked you here to thank you personally for all you have done for us. You were by far one of our most generous benefactors, and yet I feel as though I know nothing about you.
Ah, youre most welcome, Majesty. It does sadden me that you dont remember me, but then I shouldnt have expected you too.
Mia looked at the man quizzically, tilting her head and letting some of her locks fall to the side of her face, framing it perfectly.
Many years ago, when my father, Ziggratt, was still alive, we traveled to Vane. It was still flying then, and I was little more than a child. He came to bring some of the jewels from Briggatt here to trade. They have been our lifes blood for longer than we have records. Anyway, I remember wandering the halls of the Guild enamored with the magic, the school, and the society in general. My appearance must have come as a shock to many of the finer students, for we hadnt changed from our riding clothing and must have looked rather out of place to them. I wandered away from my father and some how found myself in the vast Library that used to be outside the Guild proper. I understand youve moved it inside the academy now. Anyway, I was very frightened and lost. I asked several people for directions but no one would talk to meno one except a pretty little black haired girl who seemed to be hiding behind the pages of her book.
Jessica saw her friends face flush.
Yes, Majesty, it was you. You must have only been seven or eight years old at the time, but you put your book down and with a smile agreed to help me find my father.
A look of surprise manifested on the Guildmasters face as the memory of that event returned to her. I remember that. We found him equally as lostdown near the gardens, I believe.
The mans eyes warmed, or seemed to. Yes. Well, I never forgot that small act of kindness.
All of this just for that?
The snake reached for Mias hand, and to Jessicas surprise, she didnt resist. That, and because Ive always longed to be a part of Vane. Ever since entering that Library and feeling the knowledge pulsing from within its very walls, I have wanted to study here, and to be part of this wonderful world. I wanted to learn about magic, even if Im not really Gifted. Then, after the tragedy of the Fall, I heard you were going to open this magnificent place to anyone who wished to study both magic and other subjects. I greatly admire that.
Gravitt, I dont know what to say Of course you are welcome here now. I apologize for the traditions of Vane past. I wish I could have changed them earlier. She paused, and placed her other hand on his massive one, What do you mean, not really Gifted?
The benefactor gave a heavy sigh, I have magic, of a sort, but it is not like yours. I have anti-magic, if you will. I guess you could say Ive been cursed with immunity to magic. Its as though it ceases to exist when it comes near me in any form. My father had the same Gift, but I see it as more of a curse.
I think you are a curse.
How fascinatingIve never heard of anything like that, but how sad for you. Mia said, her voice soft with sympathy at the mans story.
Gravitt smiled at her again, and then stood up. Well, even without magic Ive managed to do rather well. I dont want to take any more of your time, Majesty. I know you dont get to see your friends very often, you deserve to enjoy their company.
Mia rose to her feet, still clearly drawn by this man or his revelations. Gravitt, I dont know how to thank you. The least I can do is ask that you honor me by sitting at my table during the receptions this week.
Gravitt bowed, Ah, no, I would be honored with that offer, Majesty.
Mia smiled as he righted himself and Jessicas eyes narrowed with a bit of suspicion as he fished in his pocket for something. He produced a small box and placed it in Mias hands. For you, Majesty.
Jessica moved closer, though still keeping a strategic distance between her and the two-legged serpent. She was, despite herself, intrigued by the package and watched as her friend lifted the lid. Inside was a magnificent necklace of alternating diamonds and sapphires, set into to a silvered chain that seemed to glow from the reflection of the stones themselves. It wasnt silver; its color was softer than that, yet it wasnt pewter either, for it had a luster like none shed ever seen before. Then she gasped, as Mia lifted the glowing chain from its box and the pendant, the crowing glory of the necklace, came into her view. The large, deep blue stone was almost the size of a robins egg, and seemed to glow softly in the rooms light. As Mia turned it, she saw that deep within the stone was a four pointed star, its sharp tips standing at ninety-degree angles as though carved from within in a silvered light. With every move the image of the star seemed to shift, growing brighter or dimmer, larger or smaller as the Guildmaster studied it with fascination.
Mia gasped, Its beautiful. Gravitt, again I dont even know how to thank you. Ive never seen such a stone. Its amazing, and the color of the Blue Star. Look! Luna, Jessica, it even has a small star within it, it follows you as you turn it.
It seems to glow as it if were alive
The man bowed again, as Mia put the necklace on with some assistance from Luna. Its nothing, Majesty--just a small token of respect from the citizens of Briggatt. The setting is a rare metal found only in our city, or it was. The one vein of it was exhausted years ago, and the magic it took to refine it has also been lost. This is the most extraordinary of precious metals, and the rarest of gems. But it is nothing, your real gift, your gift from me, will be delivered later on this week.
Mia touched the jewelry with a sense of incredible gratitude. Still this is more than magnificent. It seems your generosity is without end.
Ill leave you with thisconsider it a preview of the things to come. He said as he placed a single green stone in her palm.
Mia stared at the gem; it was crudely cut, but her eyes telling that she had never seen anything like it before, yet it still captivated her. There is strong magic here, but a kind Im not familiar with. What is it?
Ah, that would spoil the surprise of your gift. Just accept that for right now. I shall deliver the rest with an explanation in a few days. Let me just say that I have heard of your dream, and this is a part of making it come true.
You dont need to
Gravitt smiled at Mia and touched a gentle hand to her cheek, Oh, but I do. Someone as exquisite as you should not just be revered, but worshiped.
Mias face burned as the man backed out of the doors, closing them, as his eyes never left her; Jessica felt like she was going to vomit.
Well sounds like you made a friend, she said wryly.
I guess I did.
He seems very nice, said Luna.
Jessica snorted, Yes, as pretty as nightshade, and every bit as deadly. Im surprised he didnt leave a slime trail behind him.
Mia looked away, seeming to concentrate on the statues at the far end of the office, but then returned the conversation. Hes one of the reasons Vane is what it is today, Jessica. I think you are over-reacting.
Perhaps, but just be careful. At least get those annoyances of guards to do their job when hes around you.
Luna walked up to the window and stared out, trying to ignore Mias rejection of Jessicas warning. She sighed, Its just so beautiful, Mia. I remember the first time Alex and I saw Vane. Ill never forget it. Ive still never seen a place so magnificent.
Thank you. I just hope we regain our place as the seat of knowledge in the world. My mother valued that above all of the magic.
I think youre already there, Mia.
Another knock came on the door, this one more pounding than the guard from before, and Jessica heard a voice she knew too well arguing with the guards.
Mia quickly stepped to the door and opened it, beaming at the people there. Oh come in! All of you! She said as she waved the group in, not even bothering to talk to the guard who seemed, this time at least, to recognize defeat as she gestured to him to close the door behind them. Kalyn ran straight for her mother, her blonde hair waving behind her as her small beast ears twitched with excitement. As she gave Jessica a quick hug she cried out in a happy voice; Mommy! We saw fire! We saw lots and lots of fire! We saw a man eating fire! Like a dragon!
We dont eat fire! Nall retorted as he resumed his perch on Alexs shoulder, but a careful glance from Luna silenced him.
Really? She gave a dubious look to Kyle who just shrugged.
Mia giggled, giving a soft smile at the girl and her parents. She turned to Alex, and gave him a hug. I heard the good news. Congratulations!
The quiet mans cheeks turned a little pink as he returned the embrace with a glance to his wife. Thanks.
A swift yet friendly silence filled the room, until Kalyn shouted again, I wanna go back! I wanna go play the games and watch the magic!
Shes addicted to that carnival, Kyle said to Jessica. I need a break, but Ill take her back after lunch. Besides, I think Alex was having fun playing chase the three year old.
Could be worse, I guess. She replied playfully.
Alex smiled at them all, not saying a word.
My wings are tired after following Kalyn. Your kid better not be as energetic! Nall said, glaring at Alex.
Jessica frowned at her husband, sensing that he had failed in his mission. Wheres Nash?
I dont know. He all but disappeared. We tried his room, his office, and even the Library. Someone said he was out by the stables, but by the time we got there, he was gone.
He does that, Mia said quietly. Hell turn up soon enough.
Jessica noted Mias tone was enough to halt the entire conversation, and she gave Kyle a look that suggested he follow her request. Why dont you take Kalyn to lunch at the Festival?
Yeah! Lunch! Outside! With the fire people!
Kyle scooped her up and looked to Alex, You ready for another round, Daddy?
Actually, Id like to borrow him for awhile, Luna said, tugging on her husbands sleeve. Come on, Alex.
Alex was smarter than to put up a fight, and followed her as Jessica glared at the pair. Dont you leave me to handle this! The grin on Lunas face told her that she knew shed just ducked having to sit in on her little talk with Mia.
Jessica watched as the pair left, a smile breaking across her face, the annoyance fading quickly. They are such a perfect couple She turned to Kyle, and nodded, letting him know it time for him to go. She still had matters to attend to, and they did not involve him. She hoped he would take care of what he promised to, but realized with Kalyn so wound up, it probably wouldnt happen. The little girl gave an excited wave to her mother and Mia, and then she and her father left, the door closing behind them.
Mia opened the huge double door next to the window the statues sat in front of and stepped out onto the balcony. Well, at least I have you alone now. Enough of this beating around the bush
The two of them stood for a moment, looking out over the city. Jessica found some words, not as direct as she hoped, but the sadness she sensed around her friend kept her demeanor gentle. Its beautiful, Mia; maybe even more so than it was before. I could enjoy a week or two here, but I dont think I could stay. Might make me soft or something.
Soft? What are you talking about Jess? A lot of what weve done we adapted from your city.
Not my city, Mia. My fathers city. I dont run it, and I enjoying being able to leave it from time to time. In fact, Kyle and are even thinking of going back to the barrier once Kalyn gets a little older.
Why not? I dont understand, Jess. I mean, I could never leave Vaneeven if I wanted to, I just couldnt.
She laughed, And thats where we differ so much, Mia. You force this responsibility on yourself.
I was born into this position, Jessica. Just as you were born into your title.
My title? Titles are meaningless to me. I have told my father flat out that Id rather not rule the city. He understands. He has many good years left in him, and if at some time I chose to change my mind, then fine. If not, fine too.
So what will he do if you dont change your mind? It sounds to me like youre running away from the situation, Jessica.
The beast eared woman turned quickly, almost snapping out her reply. I never run away from anything. You know me better than that, Mia. She hesitated a moment, as though regretting the strength of her reaction. Ruling a city, thoughespecially after seeing what youve had to go through to do it, well I just dont want that headache. Its not that I couldnt handle it. Im sure I could, especially with Kyles helpits just that you dont get a break. I watch Dad run himself crazy with some idiotic thingsand thats why hes not here for your Festival, by the way. Some absurdity with the dock masters and taxes again or something. Anyway, he just couldnt leave. Its almost funny, hes supposed to be the most powerful man in Meribia, yet he has less freedom than a bondservant. I dont ever want to be in that position. I want some degree of independence. She paused for a moment and looked at her friend, And you know what? I can tell you want some of that, too.
Jessica frowned as she saw Mias perfect face twitch in either self-hatred or angershe wasnt sure. She put a hand on her friends back and glanced back to see the ever-present irritation of a guard. Go away!
Mia turned to the man, Please, Im all right. Wait for me inside. Thank you.
As the guard left, Jessica walked over to the edge of ornate balcony, and looked out over the carefully tended garden and sculpted hedges. Shaking her head she began studying the nearby buildings and the citys complex layout. Most of what shed seen was familiar, new but still familiar. She tilted her head as she squinted at a thin, bronze colored needle that stabbed high into the sky at the buildings corner.
What is that thing? Ive never seen anything like that before. What, you dont want people sitting on the rooftops or something?
Mia fought a laugh, No! Its a lightning rod or at least thats what Artemus calls them.
Artemus? Whos that? Oh, never mind. What does it do? It doesnt look much like its made of lightning or anything like that What is it, bronze? She squinted a bit as she looked at the skyline of the city. Hey, theres a bunch of them all over the place.
No, theyre supposed to keep us from getting struck by lightning. And yes, she said iron was best but Tamora raised a howl over anything that didnt look proper sitting on top of the guild itself, so that ones Brass or something. Artemus came up with them after the storm that nearly ruined the Guild. She said she got the idea after watching the way lighting kept hitting the bronze statues down in the courtyard. Theyre supposed to catch the lightning and run it into the ground. I guess its better than it hitting the buildings. They protect us from storms and thunder mages with very short tempers.
Well, I guess that makes sense if anything in this crazy place makes sense. She hesitated for a moment, then looked back to Mia in surprise. Storm? What storm? You never told me about a storm
I didnt get the chance. Its the main reason were so far behind. We should have been ready to open a month ago, instead of all this last minute chaos.
Cant you people control the weather? I mean you can control everything else.
Normally? Yes, within reason. But this one was too sudden, and unexpected. Besides, it was controlled and created by someoneit was pure magic. I could feel it the second I Her voice trailed off.
It was sent by someone? Couldnt you feel who was behind it then? Who was it, tell me and Ill split his gizzard for shoelaces.
Yes. I could. Though I didnt want to. I . I knew right away who created it. I didnt even need to sense the magic. I just knew.
Well? Who was it?
Mia shook her head, not wanting to meet Jessicas eyes. Thats not important, and it certainly wont happen again.
Jessica stepped closer, leaning over the smaller woman. Her voice was rough and her tone abrupt. It was Nash, wasnt?
Thats enough Jess, I didnt say it was Nash! Her reply was too fast, too forced for Jessica to be convinced otherwise.
You also didnt say it wasnt Nash, and youre being way too defensive for it to have been just anyone. I know Nash has been pain in the backside for most of his life, but why would he want to do something like that? Goddess, Mia, he worships the ground you walk on, and wanted to see this place rebuilt as badly as you. It doesnt make any sense, and judging from the way you two dont talk to each other, this makes perfect sense! But why destroy the Guild?
I didnt say it was Nash, and thats all Im going to say about it! She marched back into the office, not even looking back to see if Jessica was following.
Jessica watched from behind as Mias eyes fell on a faded sheet of parchment sitting under a small stack of papers on the desk. Although she was trying not to rush or seem too desperate to change the subject, it wasnt convincing. The Guildmaster stepped over, and carefully pulled it from the pile. Jess, since youve brought Nash up, I . I want your thoughts on something. I . Nash doesnt know, at least I dont think he knows, that I have this. She said, holding the paper against her chest to conceal whatever was written on it.
Jessica reached for it, but Mia continued. Let me tell you how I came about it first.
Mia motioned to the couch and they both sat down. Once comfortable, the black haired woman began her story. A few months ago Goddess, it feels like forever, I sent him out on a mission--something special for the library. I was feeling bad about that, and kind of lonely. Anyway, I thought Id try to find something special to do for him, and went to his room to see if I could find I dont know what I was going to find, but I didnt have any other ideas.
I think I was looking for some sort of familiarity, something that said Nash to me when I saw it. He washe issuch a slob. There were dirty clothes everywhere, and papers tossed on the desk like autumns leaves scattered by the wind. For someone as careful about his appearance he doesnt take much pride in his quarters. Anyway, I looked at his bookshelf and saw his sketchbooks--Id almost forgotten about them, I dont think anyone else really knows this, but hes a very talented artist. Believe it or not, hes very shy about his work.
Jessica snorted, Nash? Shy about anything? Tell me another one!
No, really, he is. Anyway, sometimes hed let me see some of it, but most of it he kept hidden, claiming they werent ready or not good enough. I flipped through one of them and found pictures of me in various everyday posessitting, smiling, reading, sleepingyou name it. I didnt sit for the drawings, so he must have done them from memory.
I wonder what other poses he had you in...
I took another book, sat down on his bed and studied all the pictures. This one had rough sketches of all of us, as if he was documenting our adventure. I stared at those sketches just examining the sweeps of his lines and trying to figure out how he could create such vivid images with just a pencil and memories. I almost cried; they were so real. I felt like I was invading his privacy, yet I couldnt understand why he would keep these things from me. They were so exquisiteso genuine and beautiful.
I decided I should leave, and as I was putting the sketchbook back, a piece of paper on the bookshelf caught my eye. It had been folded and tucked behind all the others, so I took it out and opened it. It was another unbelievably realistic portrait of two people in ink and painta man and woman. She held the paper out to Jessica. Look at this.
Jessica did so. It was a remarkable work--the colors and shading having been done with exceptional care. The man looked a lot like Nashbut with long hair and a full beard. The female was blondeblonder the she wasyellow blonde, and very pretty. They both wore strange clothes and ribbons plaited into their hair. Written underneath them was something in a language that looked familiar, but she couldnt understand it. At the bottom wasnt his full signature, just a simple little N.
So, I took the drawing with me. I wanted to ask him about itthere was something there, I knew it, and I still think so. I Ive wondered if they might have been his parents. He never did talk about them. Dont you remember? Even during the quest hed ignore every question about it, or snap back with one of those nasty little comments he used to use so often.
Oh I remember that and how close he came to getting his butt kicked by the rest of us for it. He did seem to outgrow that, afterwards. I always figured it was your influence.
Mia looked at the parchment over her friends shoulder, ignoring her implied compliment. You tell me, Jess. Have you ever seen anything like this before? The language, or the way these are dressed? Something about them reminds me of Tempest, but that cant be.
Jessica frowned as she stared down at the portrait. Youre right. The clothings similar to what he and Fresca wore, but I dont know about the writing. It does look like Tribal script, or at least what I remember seeing of it while we were there. Mia, you can count the number of people that can read Tribal on the fingers of your left foot--at least anywhere outside the prairie itself. Besides, that cant mean anything. So maybe Nash copied something hed seen on one of those trips you kept sending him out on She peered at the painting more closely than she had before, then folded it and handed it back to Mia. I still cant believe that runt did this. Apparently hes got more talent than I thought, other than being annoying like he was last night. Tell me, is that act something new?
Mia sighed, Oh no, this has been going on for six months, and believe me when I say he was more civil with you and everyone else around.
Civil? You call that civil? That emotionless demeanor? I though Ghaleon had been reincarnated for a moment there. And now you tell me he nearly destroyed the city?
The Guildmaster gave her a fierce look; a hate far deeper in her violet eyes than Jessica had ever seen in her friend. Dont say that! Dont ever say that!
She fought a desire to recoil from her friends reaction, and instead waved a hand flippantly, Well at least you seem to still care about him, for what its worth. So, whats his problem?
I am the problem.
Like I wouldn't have guessed...right...What did you do to him?
I dont want to talk about it.
Jessica moved closer to her friend, Let me tell you something, Mia. Nash may be a lot of unpleasant things, but he is madly in love with you. He would do anything for youhe has told you so himself. Now, at one time, you said you loved
Mia interrupted her flatly; I dont deserve him. Lets just leave it at that.
You damn well deserve each other!
He doesnt even notice me any more I doubt he even remembers caring for me.
Make him notice. Make him remember.
I dont really know how.
Oh sure you do! It goes with being a woman. Wear something that will get his attention and go see him when you know hell be alone. You know, some of the uhh best times I ever had with Kyle is when wed make up after a fight.
Mia closed her eyes, something obviously still bothering her. After putting her dainty little hand to her forehead, she sighed. Jessica, I have to get some things ready for my welcome speech this afternoon and the reception this evening
Taking the hint, but not really wanting to, she nodded, All right, but you know, there is no reason for either of you to act so hateful towards the other. If I have to beat some sense into him, I will. Hell, Ill probably enjoy it.
She saw Mia give a weak smile as she left. Although you both might need a pounding
The reception was about as boring as Jessica could have imagined, and she knew Kyle felt the same way. The ground floor of the Atrium had been converted into a lavish banquet. Tables, chairs, and banners decorated the space that only earlier in the day was occupied by mages and guests running through it on their way to somewhere else. She smiled as Mia made her descent down the colossal staircase, but frowned at noticing her friend was unescorted.
She and Kyle had been seated at the head table with the rest of their friends, the Council members and that Gravitt man, and she constantly felt like people were watching her every move. Facing the rest of the room was quite unnerving, and it certainly wasnt conducive to private conversations. I wonder how interesting I look when I eat these people need to focus on something else
Mia gave a wonderful speech welcoming everyone and outlining the weeks events. Then she made history as her decision was announced and she formally extended her invitation for anyone who wished to attend the Guild to do so. A blurred carousel of food and dancing commenced and the crowd seemed to swirl around them until she couldn't tell one from the other. That strange Gravitt person was eating up most of Mias attention, much to her discomfort. Jessica felt a brief feeling of relief for once at the presence of the guards, seeing how close to her friend a flock of them stayed, not one of them leaving their post, and all keeping their hands ready on their weapons.
She scowled at Nash as he sat in his chair and sulked, his face only softening when Kalyn climbed up on his lap. The little girl managed to get more of a conversation out of him than any adult, and was reeled into giggles when he let her play with the upswept curl in his hair. From her seat, Mia gave a soft, admiring glance in his direction, but as soon as their eyes met, he handed the child back to Kyle, and said that he wasnt feeling well. He stood up and quickly walked away, making quick escape down one of the side corridors, and keeping a lookout over his shoulder for disapproving glances. Finally sick of the entire situation, and tired from the travel the day before, Jessica again used her daughter as a convenient excuse for an early departure, and her husband willingly followed her.
Jessica went back to her room and laid on the bed while Kyle tucked Kalyn in. The little girl must have been either exhausted or bored to death, and quickly fell asleep. Kyle asked if she was all right, and she assured him she was; that she was just tired. He gave her a quick kiss and then fell asleep himself. Lucky stiff... I wish I could sleep like that.
She had spent most of the night before awake worried about her friends and had a bad feeling tonight wasnt going to be any better. Yes, she reminded herself, it was she who had prodded them to finally stop acting like scared children and tell each other how they felt. She was so happy for them; they really did need each other. But this this whatever it was it certainly wasnt good. Both of them had seemed to change, and it was for the worse. The frustration of the day seemed to eat at her and she tried to force herself to think back to earlier, happier, memories.
As she closed her eyes, a vision of an especially happy moment slid through her mind. Three years ago, just after Kalyn was born and they had all gotten together, she and Mia stayed up beyond everyone else. They had probably had a bit too much wine, but neither of them seemed to care, and as they stood out on the balconythe same balcony where she knew her friends had shared their first kissthe conversation had gotten a little risqué. She smiled to herself as she heard and saw it again in her mind Such happy days back then
Jessica filled her friends glass again, So are you going to give me the dirt or am I going to have to drag it out from you?
Dirt? What dirt? Mia said as she fixed the slipping neckline of the over-sized shirt that had been obviously liberated from Nashs collection.
About you and Nash. Or is it just a coincidence that I found you wandering around in his clothes?
Mia didnt bother to adjust the garment this time, and instead just let it fall; one of her bare shoulders peeking through the collar of the shirt that draped on her like a tarp. Its no secret, Jessica. You know that. Besides, its your fault in the first place, remember?
Yeah, I know. And to think, he was so afraid of you rejecting him I knew I was right. I knew you had it bad for him, too. Although I have to say I dont know why, talk about opposites attracting but to each her own, I guess.
Mia shook her head, and then took another sip of wine. Hes not as bad as people make him out to be. Hes really sweet and gentle. I knew from the start that all that arrogance of his was just an act. Though Im still not sure why he felt he had to hide behind it. Hes grown up a lot and put that behind him. Its as if hes a completely different person than he was when you first met him.
I know, and thats one of the few reasons hes still alive. Id have wrung his neck a long time ago otherwise. But just the same, Id like to find out for myself why he had to put on that idiotic charade. If he wasnt primping himself he was insulting someone else. Jessica chuckled, giving Mia a smile as she nudged her. So, do you really love him or what?
Mia pushed the sleeves of the shirt back, Of course, at least, I think I do. I mean, Ive never been in love before, but if love makes you happy just to be with someone, to know theyre there next to you, then yes, because Im very happy whenever hes around, and I miss him when hes not.
You think? Its not a think thing, Mia. This has to be something youre sure about. If youve found the person you want to sleep next to every night and wake next up to every morning, and if you can do that without getting grossed out seeing him all unwashed and unshaved, then maybe it is love. And if you cant imagine that person being anyone other than Nash, though Im still wondering about your sanity if not your judgment there, then I guess it is as simple as that. As sick as it sounds to me, you really do love that idiot.
The Guildmaster traced a finger around the lip of her glass, If you put it like that, then yes, I do really love him. And my sanity and judgment are just fine, thank you But if you want to talk judgment, should I bring up the subject of some of Kyles past antics?
Okay truce, I give up. Seriously, Mia, Im happy for you. I still think youre more than a little crazy, but you know me. Id never think of criticizing my friends. She paused a moment, slapping upside of their heads maybe, but never criticizing. Jessica laughed and downed another swallow of wine before Mia could respond. So any ideas when were going to have a royal Vanetian wedding?
Mia looked away for a moment as she tried to gather her thoughts. Not for a long time. I have too much work to do without worrying about being married. I mean, right now, Im married to my job.
There was a brief silence before Jessica bombarded her friend with a torrent of suddenly important questions. So no marriage. I assume that also means no little Guildmasters running around, either? Unless
Mia closed her eyes in deliberate concentration. I dont know what you mean. Ive been very busy.
Oh come on the innocent act is old, Mia She narrowed her eyes, determined to make her friend understand, hoping she wouldnt have to be any more blunt. I assume that the two of you have become very close?
Mia stared at her, Of course we have. I mean, hes been very good to me, and were getting the Guild rebuilt together. Hes hes my best friend.
Thats not what I meant, and you know it. I meant are you sharing sheets with him?
Mias face turned redder than the wine in her glass and she gave a shy smile at her friend.
That was all the answer Jessica needed before she smirked. I knew it. Spare me the details, please. I dont want to throw up, but I have to ask this. You dont have to answer if you dont want to, okay?
All right .
Well I mean, I know all about healing magics, but thats different from all that elemental magic you two wield does it uhh affect certain moments?
Certain moments? I dont understand Jess.
She shook her head and gave Mias shoulder a playful slap, almost dropping her glass in the process as the gesture unbalanced her. You know what I mean.
Mia laughed out loud, nearly spilling what was left of her drink. Honestly, Jess, the things you think about! She took another sip as she tried to stop her laughter, finding it harder to do with each swallow of the potent wine. No, Jessica. For most of us magic requires concentration, to gather and direct the power. Far too much work when youre . distracted like that. Besides, magic isnt tied to your emotions unless you are an empath, and those are few and very far between. She paused a moment, tapping her cheek in thought, and forcing herself to recite some obviously rather old and well taught lesson, Although when you get angry, you can feel the rush come from within, sort of like when youre getting ready to fight. Thats dangerous though, because you can lose all control if you let anger control you. But no, to answer your question, just no.
Jessica grinned, Sorry, just had to ask. I mean, I couldnt help but wonder if you didnt get struck by lightning.
No, but sometimes it feels like it, Mia said with a sloppy wink, the blush on her cheeks hidden behind the flush the drinks had given her.
Jessica laughed at her friend, then almost lost her balance on the seat and had to quickly reach down to straighten back up. She looked down to her now empty wineglass and shook her head as she gave a distracted look to the now empty wine bottle. Oh Then I guess youve not managed to melt or freeze any of his more tender parts either?
Mia almost doubled over in hilarity; reaching out to the equally blitzed Jessica and the two of them slid onto the polished marble floor amid gales of laughter.
Jessica gave a very drunken nod as she tried to stand, her legs surprisingly unsteady, but managing the task nonetheless. Woah that stuffs got a kick like a a . She shook her head as she tried to weave her way to the door, halting to a staggering stop as she made out the small outline that seemed to have just materialized at the door.
Jessica really hadnt known how long hed be standing there, listening to them talk, when he finally made his presence known with Well, thats where my shirt ended up Mia looked over towards the open door and started laughing hysterically at Nash leaning on the doorframe in just his pants. I hope he didnt hear all of that
Mia stood, clearly unsteady as she teetered towards him before holding her arms out, Dont you want to kiss me?
He helped her regain her balance, or as much of it as she had at that point. Yes...very much so...but not when you are drunk. Id prefer that you at least know whom youre kissing, and right now Im not sure you even know where you are. You need to go to bed, Mia. Come on, I dont think you should walk. Come to think of it, Im not even sure you can, right now. He scowled at Jessica as he effortlessly lifted her off the ground and began to carry her to her bedroom down the hallway.
Jessica followed them; Mia laughing as she was carted down the hall while Nash held a cold and wrathful silence. The blonde stood in the doorway of the room they had been assigned as he gently placed her on one of the single beds and pulled the covers up over her. His voice was soft as he spoke: Youre going to have one hell of hang over tomorrow. Better start sleeping it off.
Mia laughed at him and ran her fingers through his hair, in an almost suggestive manner, had she not been so drunk. He pulled away from her, brushing his hair back in an unconscious gesture, but not before giving her a kiss on the forehead. Get some sleep. Youll need it.
As her friend closed her eyes and almost instantly fell asleep, Jessica started to back away and close the door, but Nash stopped her. Wait a minute, he said as he grabbed a shirt from his traveling bag and pulled it on.
He walked out into the hallway, and glared at Jessica. Why did you have to do that to her? Why did you have to destroy her like that?
Oh come on, Nash. Its not like youve never been drunk. Youre not her mother. She can make her own decisions.
Thats not the point. You...corrupted her!
Ive corrupted her? With two glasses of Hynat Red? Give me a break, Nash. Besides, from the sound of it Id say youve done more than your share of .
He growled at her, What goes on between Mia and me when were alone is none of your damn business!
She laughed at him. I wasnt even talking about that, but all right, since you brought it up. Yes, she did imply that you have some hidden talents...
She wasnt sure in the low light of the hallway, but she could have sworn he blushed. Enough. He muttered. Youre Mias best friend, but .
That girl has got it bad for you. Break her heart and Ill have to break you into tiny little pieces, Nash. Nothing personal, mind you...
He laughed at her, and then turned return to his room. Youre something else, Jessica. You know that? One of these days I figure out just what.
Jessica shook her head, looking over to her snoring husband. I know its not the sleep of the innocent, but Id love to poke him just to wipe that drooling grin off his face I give up! I cant sleep. With an irritated look to Kyle, she slipped from the bed and threw some clothes on, being careful not to wake either Kyle or their daughter. What the heck, I may as well see the sights. Besides, Ive been wondering what changes they made in the rebuilding, and who knows, maybe Ill run into something interesting
She had been wandering a good twenty minutes, up the stairs, down the stairs, but wherever she went there was the omnipresent non-descript guard who would give her a respectful, yet suspicious bow. She found herself somewhere on the first floor, and realized that the party from earlier in the evening had already been cleaned up; apparently the mages of Vane and their servants were far more efficient that she had given them credit for.
She stepped down one of the side corridors, and a noise beyond and down the hall had caught her ear; someone, just like her, was restless. She walked down the hallway quietly, and saw a lamp on under a door to a classroom. As she drew closer, she saw the door had been left open a good two inches and so, she peeked in. Sitting at the large desk clearly reserved for the instructor was Nash; his back was to her, and what he was doing up at this hour, she wasnt sure. She stared at him for a moment, watching him twirl a pen in his right hand as he stared off into space. I dont know what his problem is, but this seems as good a time as any to find out. Besides, this way theres no witnesses.
She pushed open the door and slipped in, closing it behind her with an audible click. She was surprised when he didnt turn around or even try to notice the noise. His voice, though obviously tired, was one of unexpected self-control.
Go away, Jessica.
Nice to see you too, Nash. What are you doing up so late and how did you know it was me?
He turned around, gesturing towards the brightly polished brass base that sat below the flickering flame. Your reflection in the lamp. And I couldnt sleep.
She sat at one of the student desks in front of him, and for a moment, considered trying to at least look like an attentive apprentice. That impulse quickly died as she fixed him with a questioning gaze. So you came here to just mope?
Maybe. Why arent you in bed? Its almost three in the morning
Couldnt sleep either, though Ill wager its for different reasons.
No doubt, nosiness usually doesnt keep me awake at night.
Jessica ignored his comment, for the moment. Want to tell me about it?
Let me guess, then. Youre tired of being the self-absorbed jackass that that youve spent most of your life as? Youre regretting that little scene at dinner last night, arent you?
Thank you for your insight, whatever would we do without you? He paused for a moment before nodding sadly to himself as he added; Among other things, maybe so.
He gave a little sigh as he scratched the back of his neck, If you really want to know, its money. Theres just not enough to do what really needs to be done, let alone everything that Mia wants. For one thing, I dont see how were going to be able to pull this Festival off. I know this is important to her, but I dont think we can afford it. More people showed up for that reception tonight than she anticipated, and we have three more of them planned. Im sure theyll grow as the week goes on, too.
She seems to think she has plenty of money.
He shook his head. Dont I know it! Weve gotten a lot of gifts from benefactors, but well
I told you, its just not enough. Vanes own treasury is all but exhausted, and even the donations havent made up the difference. With this Festival, were spending twice as much as were getting. Were down to looking for silver under the floorboards now.
At her puzzled look he continued. Look, let me give you an example. The faculty of Vane used to get a stipend. Not a lot of money since weve always lived here for free, but most of us have been refusing it. Some of us have even been selling off personal possessions and then donating the money anonymously. Mia would be furious if she found that out, but I dont know if any of us have anything left to help finance this fiasco.
Money troubles? Is that all of this, Nash? I mean, all you had to do is ask youll find a rather hefty donation from the citizens of Meribia tomorrow morning.
No Jessica, thats not it. Vane needs to become self-sufficient, and Meribia has already been too generous, far more than we have any right to expect. Besides, we cant rely on the good nature of others forever. I dont think Mia sees that. Gregory told me that Vanes always operated on a fairly thin margin, with contributions and tuitions just enough to cover the costs. But now, with the rebuilding and Mias insistence on everything being not just as good as before, but better, I dont see how well ever finish or repay our debts.
On top of that, Ive been trying to trace some of the donations we have received, so we could thank everyone thats helped rebuild Vane. But theres just too much money that I cant track. It was sent, and its been spent, but I have no idea who or where it came from. Frankly, Im worried that it may have come with strings attached that I dont know about. For all I know we may have a debt we may not want to repay.
Hmm I met one of your so called benefactors today. You certainly have a point there. Im not sure what he wants, but he made my skin crawl. She paused, Have you mentioned this to Mia?
He shook his head, No we dont communicate very well these days.
She stood and, with only a few swift steps swung herself up on the desk in front of him staring down into his startled brown eyes. I noticed. In fact, I told her that you reminded me of Ghaleon. You know, hed come to see my Dad when I was a kid. That shell, that façade he put up, just creeped me out every time I saw him. When I saw it in you yesterday, I damn near panicked. It was as though his ghost was staring out through your eyes. Then I heard that you nearly destroyed Vane I guess he did teach you some lessons after all
Nashs skin paled as his eyes hardened in response, his voice little more than a grated whisper as he replied; Thank you for that, Jessica. Knowing I remind you of Ghaleon makes me feel so much better! Would you like to try again? Maybe twist the hilt on that dagger in my back just a little harder?!
Her voice was a desperate plead as she touched his shoulder, Please dont scare me like that. Forget the storm for a minute just the look in your eyes that hollowness and the way you drag yourself around
Look, Im sorry. I have to do that when Im around Mia, but I dont have a choice any more, otherwise Im Im afraid of what will happen to her.
Oh yes, make her worried about you brilliant for someone that thinks theyre Althenas gift to women you really dont have a clue do you, Nash? What do you mean, what will happen to her? You dont think enough has happened to her already? The Fall of Vane, the death of her mother, the betrayal by her lover?
He winced at the apparent painful truth of her last statement. Its a long, agonizing story, and its late. Just forget it, all right Jess? Besides, to be blunt, its none of your damn business.
All right, be that way you arrogant little snot! But Im going to say this anyway. Somethings happened between the two of you, and since its my fault youre together in the first place that makes it my business. I still dont know what happened, but I suspect Mia must have done something something she blames herself for and in retaliation you tried to destroy the Guild. She wont tell me what it was she did, but I know she isnt upset about what you did. Cant you just forgive her and move on with your life? And let her back into it?
I already have forgiven her. It doesnt matter anymore, anyway. Some things, no matter how desired, are simply never meant to be. With those words he stood, cupped his hand over the chimney of the lamp, and blew it out. As he was nearly out of the room, he turned back over his shoulder and gave a small bow of his head. Good night, Jessica.
She stared at him in the near darkness; the chill in his features, and the ice in his voice again reminded her of his mentor. As he left the room, a small shiver began to run down the tall womans back.
I have an idea now but Althena, I pray I am wrong