Testing

Marina

It was dusk the next day, when I was sitting with Nika, Annalise and Evan in Raymond’s lab, to test a shadow against his new technique. Nika unwound her scarf a little and pressed her hands together.

“Are you two ready?” She looked at me. We nodded. If she lost control of the shadow, we’d have to harness it. Annalise picked up the block of obsidian and filled it with light and Nika’s pulled her hands apart and a shrieking shadow appeared. I flinched and Evan put his arm around me.

I’m grateful for him and his steady presence right now. I’ve never gotten used to shadows. Every single time we face one, I shudder, and right now hearing it’s voice hissing in my mind, it’s taking all my strength to not scream.

He’s coming for you, My Lady. His patience wears thin. I look forward to watching him bind you.

Annalise carefully pressed the brick into the shadow and it shrieked and broke up, Nika collapsed and looked pale, I ran to her and cupped her face.

“What did it say, my love?” I whispered. She looked at her.

“I betrayed her, abandoned them,” she sniffed. “The Dark Lady will make me pay for my arrogance.” I pressed my forehead to hers. “You?”

“He’s coming for me,” I whispered, “the shadows long for my binding.” She nodded and I kissed her. “You betrayed no one.”

“I would die before I let him take you,” she whispered. I nodded. I loved her so much. I would have died without her these past few years, I’m sure of it.

“Glad you’re both alright,” I turned hearing the singsong laugh in Annalise’s voice and then saw the beam of pride on Raymond’s face, “but more importantly, it worked!”

“It did,” Nika said, standing up. “It didn’t take too much out of you?” Annalise shook her head. “That’s good. When Athena gets here we should discuss weapon design.”

“Absolutely,” Raymond said. “But I think you two need to go lie down.” I nodded.

“Come on,” Evan said putting his hand gently on my shoulder. “I don’t think you should try to get back to the palace.” We walked carefully back to their little house and settled on a bed in their spare room.

I slept for a while in Nika’s arms, and found myself struck into a Dream. I shouldn’t have been surprised after dealing with magic all evening, but it’s still always jarring.

I was running through the black marble palace of Amina. I knew it as well as Dovetail now. I heard the laugh, Brayton’s cold, detached laugh.

Then I found a mirror and saw myself, dressed in white and vieled, a bride. I closed my eyes and opened them to Brayton behind me, his hands around my waist.

“Oh sweet one,” he whispered in my ear, “you’ll be mine so soon.” I woke with a start, and looked at Nika, glad I hadn’t woken her. I stood up and walked out into another room, where Evan was sitting with a book, and he smiled at me.

“A Dream?” He asked closing it. I nodded. “I felt the table rattle. I assumed it was one of you.” I laughed and sat down.

“It might be all of us,” I admitted, he poured me a glass of the wine he was drinking. “Thank you,” he looked at me.

“I’m worried about him,” he said softly. I nodded and took his hand. “Rina, I mean it. Not hearing from Karina or Lefty, his sister just repeating herself.”

“I know,” I said quietly, “but he’s working so hard, he’ll take vow soon.” Evan laughed.

“Yes, any day now,” he shook his head. “My father sent instructions for my council voting, I’m supposed to fight against Calla.” I bit my bottom lip.

“Does he have an alternative?” I asked. He sighed and pointed to himself. “Goddess.”

“Well, I’m also supposed to marry you, obviously, solidifying both of our claims,” he laughed darkly. “Are you interested? I don’t know how Raymond and Nika would feel, but I imagine the wedding itself would be fun.” I laughed and sipped my wine.

“Oh it would be very grand,” I nodded. “Raymond would perform it, I assume.” Evan nodded.

“If not the Queen herself,” he laughed. I smiled. “Of course, I imagine you’d get halfway through your vows and Damian Lestoff would simply appear, powered by pure anger.” I smiled.

“He would not be thrilled,” I shrugged, “but he’d prefer you to others, at least he’d still feel he could be my lover then.” He laughed. “If your father’s whole plan hinges on our marriage, I’m even less worried than I was before.”

“Mm,” Evan smiled. “He is predictable, and underwhelming. I think Prior being made consort is his backup.” I snorted.

“It’s more likely than us marrying, but not by much,” I sighed. “How does Prior feel about it?” Evan sighed.

“My cousin adores Annalise,” Evan admitted, “but if he has any hopes for the future, he keeps them to himself.” I nodded. “I’m worried about Raymond.” I sighed.

“I know,” I said, “I am too. And he’s worried about me, and Nika’s worried about you, and it goes around and around.”

“The wheel turns,” Evan nodded. I smiled at him. “The Border and Westran will be interesting.” I grinned.

“They usually are,” I said.

University

Marina

Growing up, I’d been a little afraid of The University in Dovetail. It stood empty, save for a few Black Guards coming and going. I was barred from getting too close, for once an order from my father rather than Brayton.

Since Annalise reopened it, I still keep my distance because I’d spend every possible moment there if I could. The Masteros that survived have done an incredible job bringing the place back to life, and it’s filling daily with eager students from all over the country, who want to learn to harness the odd talents that for most of their lives they had to pretend didn’t exist.

Raymond has been flourishing and is going to be finishing his studies and becoming a Mastero soon. I’m absurdly proud of him, and the life he’s built with Evan Allred, who also studies, but as his father’s heir cannot take Mastero vows.

“Marina!” Raymond said as I walked into his lab, a large sunny room that we’d designed to be as close to a sea base as possible. “I was wondering what took you so long.”

“I’m sorry,” I said, “I didn’t realize it was urgent.” He rolled his eyes. “Nika’s here.”

“Ah,” he nodded. “Understood, Prior showed up today too, so you and Annalise will both be useless.” I stuck out my tongue. “Here,” he shoved a large orb into my hands. It was smooth and dark. “Hold that.”

“Raymond,” I said, “what is this?”

“It’s obsidian,” he muttered, “Tristan brought some last time they were in Failan because I asked for it. I think it will help.” I raised my eyebrows, “fill the pores with light, if you please.” I exhaled and shot my power through the porous stone. “OK,” he mumbled and swept a small cloud of smoke around it, but it wouldn’t settle on the stone.

“Goddess,” I whispered. “Raymond, that’s incredible. Do you know if it will work with shadow?” He shrugged.

“I can’t conjure shadows,” he pointed out, “maybe Nika can help with that test? But I think so.”

“Obsidian weapons,” I mumbled, “wielded by soldiers with gifts, Athena is going to kiss you.” He laughed.

“Or even rangers where one partner has a gift and the other doesn’t,” he shrugged. “Or if I can figure out charging.” I laughed. “How are you?”

“I’m fine,” I said, repeating what I’d said to Annalise, to Nika, but Raymond knew better and frowned.

“I haven’t heard from them either and it’s worrying,” he muttered. “I tried writing to my sister, but it was just more platitudes about how until I am freed from my unfair holding, they can’t risk Eric’s safety and blah blah blah,” he frowned. “Sometimes I think I should go back, bring Evan, live openly. They couldn’t really stop me, not anymore.”

“No,” I said, “they couldn’t, but we’d miss you.” He smiled. “We’re having a dinner when everyone arrives nothing formal.” He groaned.

“What did you say to him?” Evan walked in. I laughed at him. “He usually only makes that noise when someone tries to come into the house.”

“You have to come to a dinner at the palace,” I raised my eyebrows.

“Oh, well he can survive that,” Evan laughed and rested his head on Raymond’s shoulder.

“I can’t,” Raymond mumbled.

“You will,” I said. “Also, you’re a genius.” He grinned at me. “Raymond, I,” I swallowed, “you’d tell me, wouldn’t you if something happened,” I exhaled, “I mean, if you knew he wasn’t alright?”

“Oh Rina,” Evan said softly, I was trembling and swallowed the tears in my throat. “I’m sure he’s alright.” He hugged me tightly. “Raymond, reassure her!” Raymond looked at me.

“I wouldn’t keep it from you,” he said gently. “My best guess is they’re in Rastan, honestly, with the news of the king’s health failing, Eric would want Karina and Kristoff’s engagement settled, and Katrin basically serves Karina the same way Lefty does, well did Eric.” I nodded.

“I’m sorry, I,” I swallowed, “I’ve been so worried and today Lisette was asking, and then Nika and, I can’t,” I swallowed, “I feel like I can’t breathe anymore.”

“I know,” he whispered, “it’s alright, it’s going to be alright.” I swallowed. “You should go home.” I frowned. “I mean it, you’ve been landlocked too long, I think you need the sea.”

“I can’t,” I hiccupped, “We have to go to Westran, for Brea and Harran’s wedding.” Evan frowned.

“I’m sure you can be excused from that,” Evan said. “If you need to be home.”

“I’m sure I can’t miss it,” I said, “it would be very insulting to the tribes, and the Witches in particular, and Nika’s whole family.” I wiped my nose. “I’ll be alright.” I kissed him on the cheek. “You ought to come tonight though, to see your cousin.”

“I seriously doubt Prior has any interest in speaking to me, but I’d like to see Nika, so I’ll come,” I kissed him on the cheek. Raymond looked at me. “He’ll come too.” I laughed.

Just The Way It Is

Marina

I walked into my office in the palace, to the eager greeting of my secretary, Bethany. She took my cloak and I settled in on a couch. I like working this way better than at a desk.

“What is most pressing today?” I asked her. She looked at a list in her hand.

“Well,” she said and sat down, “Your grace has several invitations.” I sighed.

“Decline them,” I said, “Lady Nika is in the city and I wish to spend the evening with her.” Bethany nodded.

“Adept Quents wishes to see you,” she said, “he asks if The Duchess can possibly join him at the lab in the university sometime this week, that is if her busy schedule allows.” I laughed. I did owe Raymond some attention. “And Her Majesty is wondering if there is a plan to welcome Sir Tristan and Lady Dugarry when they return from Pantona.” I swallowed.

Carolina had found Bethany for me. She was a merchant’s daughter who’d joined to guard to avoid marriage and found the life didn’t suit her. I had plenty to do, between running Annalise’s household, and managing Brightcoast, (though Papa did most of that.), continuing the frustrating negotiations with the Westran tribes to search the desert for The Great Wheel. Having someone to help me was nice.

“I’ll go to see Her Majesty in a bit to discuss the Dugarrys,” I said, “and I’ll go to see Adept Quents this afternoon.” She nodded. “Nothing from Phania?”

“No, Your Grace,” she said, “but there is one from your father.” I nodded and dismissed her. I hadn’t had a letter from Damian in months. I was a little worried. I usually hear from him every few weeks.

“Thank you,” I said gently. She nodded and stood up walking out. I closed my eyes and frowned, opening the stack of letters, and got to work answering them. Papa asking questions about what to do with the increased Guard presence at home. Feed them, keep them entertained. And our most important instruction. Watch to see if anyone has magic, then write to Raymond or Elodie. It’s what Tristan and Carolina are doing in Pantona, it’s what Papa is doing, it’s what the Norvine’s are doing.

We need magic users and we need them to be trained, and we need to know they’re loyal. It isn’t easy.

“Are you busy?” Annalise walked in a hidden door. I shook my head.

“You were on my list,” I said. She laughed and plopped down. “I think just a dinner for Caro and Tristan, you know they don’t like a fuss.” She rubbed her face. “Is it just them?”

“I think so,” Annalise frowned. “Aaron didn’t mention coming, not that I blame them, Calla should be at Pantona as much as possible, not here.” I disagreed. So did Athena.

“She’s a Dugarry too,” I said softly. Annalise frowned. “And your heir.”

“Until I have children, there’s not much for the next generation of Dugarrys.” She muttered. “And officially speaking, you are still my heir.” I sighed.

“Have you heard anything?” I asked softly. She shook her head. “When did he last,”

“Two years,” she said, “two years ago. An apology, freeing me, if you can imagine.” She’d never said anything. Not a word.

“Oh Lisette,” I said gently, “I’m sorry.” She sighed. “It’s been a few months.” I swallowed. “I’m worried.” I stood up and picked up a tea pot. Thank Rana for Bethany, who prepared it every morning, I poured myself a cup and offered it to Annalise who shook her head. “Raymond asked to see me today. He might know something.”

“Oh you mean our hostage,” she said, I laughed. “Nika arrived safely?” I nodded. “Alone?”

“I’m sure Brea is very busy,” I said. She rolled her eyes.

“I’m sure Harran is at his wit’s end,” she frowned. I nodded. Brea and Harran were getting married. Annalise wasn’t happy about it. I got the feeling that Harran was. “Rina,” she said softly, “I’m worried about you.” I smiled.

“Don’t be,” I said, “I’m tired is all.” She nodded. “When do you want to go west?” She sighed.

“When everyone comes here,” she said, “then we go west. And hopefully we can do some ranging.” I nodded.

“I hope so too,” I said, “Lisette, I’ve been thinking about Rastan,” I drifted off.

“Me too,” she said, “apparently the king is not doing well.” I nodded. “I’ll go when Ranier’s crowned.”

“Right,” I said. “Good meeting.” I said and stood up.

“Rina,” she said softly, “You’d tell me if something was wrong right?” I nodded.

“In what way?” I asked. “I haven’t had any Dreams out of the ordinary, or anything.” She nodded. “Have you?”

“Nothing new,” she admitted, “but still concerning.” I looked at her. “I worry about you.” I shook my head.

“Annalise, I cannot think of anything less likely to happen at this point in time than me pledging myself to Amina and joining Brayton.” I raised my eyebrows. “Among other things, when the hell would I do it?” She laughed at that. “I don’t hold it against you, you know.” She frowned. “I’d have wound up stranded in Phania if you’d let me go.”

“But you’d be with Lefty,” she said.

“But I wouldn’t be with you,” I said, “or my father, or Raymond, or Nika.” She smiled. “Anything else?” She shook her head and stood up and left.

I left my notes and walked back to my apartment, Nika was sitting on the couch with a book.

“You’re early!” I exclaimed and sat down with her. She laughed and kissed me.

“I wanted to surprise you,” she said. I smiled and carefully unwound her veil. She slipped her hands to my back and started undoing my laces.

“You succeeded,” I whispered. “I’m supposed to go see Raymond.” I said softly.

“I’m sure he’ll be plenty patient,” she smirked. I giggled and fell back against the couch. “Oh gods, I want you,” she said taking her rings off. I ran my hands through her hair. I love her hair. It’s silky and brown with flecks of gold highlighting it. I asked her once if she kept it veiled because the color made Brea jealous. That made her laugh.

Four years and we didn’t get nearly enough time together. Nika travels more than I can, but whenever we’re in the same place we’re together. We both understand what this is, we can’t be with one another permanently, it doesn’t suit us.

But our moments are worth it. I kiss her neck and down her chest.

“Marina,” she whispered gently, breathy as she touched me. I groaned softly. “Oh I never get tired of that,” she whispered. We tumbled onto the floor and I laughed kissing down her and between her legs. “Oh, love,” she exhaled. We finished, panting happily and wrapped up in each other. “Why does Raymond want to see you?” She asked.

“Who knows?” I said, “but he asked me to come to the lab so probably some experiment he needs help with.” She nodded. “How was home?” She groaned and fell back against the carpet and I laughed.

“Brea’s already crowing about her sons and how they’ll be chieftains and leaders,” she shook her head. “She didn’t particularly like when I pointed out that Harran might change his mind again.” I shook my head and stood up.

“I don’t think he will,” I said, “I think he loves her, in his way.”

“You think too well of people,” she pecked me lightly.

“You’re too cynical,” I teased. She laughed. “Do you want to come to the University?”

“Not today,” she stretched, “give Raymond my best.” I nodded and kissed her. I stood up and straightened my gown. “Rina,” she said and kissed my hand. “You seem sad.”

“I’m happy,” I said, “when you’re with me, I’m happy.”

A Long Time Ago

Marina

Tristan came and joined me sitting out by the water at the manor. I was still exhausted, even though it had been weeks. I hadn’t thought I wanted to see anyone, I’d even sent Nika away. I wanted peace. But Tristan didn’t disrupt that peace.

“I’m sorry,” he said. “I can only imagine how you’re feeling.” I sighed.

“May I confess something?” I whispered. He nodded. It was Tristan, I could trust him. “I don’t feel anything. I’m numb.” He placed his hand over mine. “My heart isn’t even broken just, gone.”

“I don’t believe that,” he said softly. I looked at him.

“Losing the love of his life destroyed my father,” I whispered. “Damian isn’t dead, of course, which might be worse, he’s just out there, without me.” I managed a small smile. “Have you and Carolina settled?” I asked. He nodded.

“I think so,” he said, “Her mother and sister set sail today. Alex claims the ship they’re on will be here in ten days or so.” I nodded.

“I’m glad for you, truly,” I said. “But I’m a little sad.” He sighed. “It’s silly, I love Damian, and I’m,” I exhaled, “I don’t know what’s next with Nika, but you, and I,” he nodded.

“Whenever I think about the wheel,” he said, “and the threads of time, I think about us first.” I looked at him. “I think no matter what, Lisette and I would have wound up as we are, maybe by a different path. But it was doomed from the beginning.”

“I don’t know about that,” I said. He shrugged. “But you think about us?” I said.

“Mm,” he nodded. “I think about if I hadn’t been so focused on the mission, if I’d let myself look at you for a moment,” he sighed, “we could have had time.”

“I didn’t help my cause,” I shrugged. “I could barely speak to you.” He laughed, I pushed his hair out of his eyes. “When you were at Pantona, and you would write to me, you wrote about Lisette a lot.” He nodded. “In Dorin you never did.”

“I didn’t know to miss you when I was at Pantona,” he said softly. “I missed you every day in Dorin.” I nodded. When he’d left he said he’d regret me forever. He was changed now, I saw that. And I could see his commitment to Carolina was true. “I miss you still, actually.” And it was in that moment that I realized it didn’t matter.

“I miss you too,” I said. And we were kissing them, I don’t remember if he kissed me or I kissed him. It didn’t matter. Nothing did, except that neither of us wanted regret again. I stood up and he followed me upstairs. We kissed again and fell back against the bed. “Tristan,” I whispered.

“Yes,” he said.

“You know this doesn’t change anything?” I said. He pushed up onto his elbows above me.

“I do know that,” he said and kissed me again. “This happened a long time ago.” I nodded as he bunched my skirts up around my thighs. I slid his pants down and he pressed into me. We kissed as we moved with each other. “I’ve needed you so badly Rina.”

“I need you now,” I whispered and kissed him. I groaned as he finished. I swallowed and he rolled over. “A long time ago?” I said.

“Yes,” he said. “The night of Annalise’s coronation,” he said, “when I went to her instead of you.” I rolled over and looked at him.

“I was with William that night,” I said. He shook his head.

“You said goodbye to William that night,” he reminded me. I laughed. “I waited one night too long, and it was a mess. But I’ve gone over those days in my mind so many times,” I pushed his hair off his face. “And that was it, that was the moment when we could have been together, and I missed it.”

“Why that moment?” I asked. “I seem to remember being very open to it after.” He smiled sadly at me.

“You met Lestoff the next day.” He sighed and I nodded. “I could love you but you can’t compete with the sun.” I laughed.

“If I’d been with you I’d never have looked at him twice.” I whispered. “I only ever wanted you, back then.” We kissed. “Martin can perform the ceremony, if you’d rather.”

“No,” he said softly, “I want it to be you. I’m starting a new chapter in my life, and you’re the person who’s been there for every chapter.” I smiled. “And I want you to be happy.” I closed my eyes.

“When he’s back, I’ll be happy,” I shrugged. “Until then, I don’t know. Content, I suppose, satisfied, curious,” I shook my head. “But no, I won’t be happy, Tristan. I hope you can be.” He wrapped a curl around his finger.

“I love her,” he said, “I do. She’s amazing, and so beautiful, and smarter than anyone I’ve ever met, including you,” I laughed. “And in Dorin it was easy. I could be what she needed, what, she wanted.” I exhaled and looked at him. “Here everything is weighted down by the past.” I nodded.

“It doesn’t have to be,” I said, “I let you go such a long time ago, Tristan,” I whispered, “it was freeing. You should let go.” He cupped a hand against my face. “We can’t live fully in one place or another, life is in the in between.” He pressed his forehead to mine.

“So wise, Rina,” he mumbled. “I’ll try to remember that.” I laughed. “Should I go?”

“No,” I said and snuggled close to him, “please stay. Unless you need to.”

“No,” he whispered, “I can stay.” I fell asleep in his arms.

This all happened a long time ago.

Not Lost

Marina

I sat in the courtyard with Nika while everyone else went elsewhere.

“You ought to go back to the palace,” she said softly, I swallowed. “I’m serious Marina.”

“I will,” I said softly, “but I want to be with you right now.” She nodded and looked over at Brea and Harran. She was pulling her hands away from him and he looked miserable. “Will she be alright?”

“She’s more than used to this from him,” Nika shook her head, “I suppose she thought it would be different this time.” I wove my fingers into hers. She smiled. “I’m glad you want to be with me.” I rested my head on her shoulder and she kissed my hair. “You were brave to face him alone.”

“I had no real choice,” I sighed. “He’d have killed Damian.” She nodded. “I told him, about us, about me, I guess.” She smiled.

“And?” She said.

“He asked that he remain my only while he and I are together,” I said. She nodded. “I can’t say it’s unfair.”

“No,” Nika said softly, “it’s more than fair.” She kissed me gently then. “You have marriages to perform. Have you done it before?” I laughed.

“No,” I said, “you have?” She nodded. “It feels very important.”

“Marriages are a joy, so are namings,” she said softly. “The burials are harder.” I smiled. “The Queen is sending Harran away, but keeping us?”

“Yes,” I said gently, “we need you to teach us, and to help fight Amina. She needs Harran to make sure the Tribes will accept us exploring to find The Wheel.” She inhaled.

“You should go to Damian,” she whispered, “he’ll wake and want to see you.” She’d taken to using his first name. Like she was already reading my heart. I squeezed her hand and stood up and walked to the palace, and up to my apartment. A healer I’d trained with, Bella, was sitting with him, a cool cloth on his head.

“How is he?” I said softly. She looked at me.

“Fine,” she said, “the fever passed.” I nodded remembering the worst of General Martin’s illness last year. “Is Lord Brayton,” she drifted.

“He escaped,” I whispered. She made a sign against shadows. “I tried.”

“I know,” she said and squeezed my hand. “I’ll leave you.” I nodded and sat beside him. I rested my hand on his forehead. I waited to see something, some darkness, or dream. Instead, I saw only small images. A white sand beach, where palm trees lined the water, the soft face and laugh of a woman, I knew immediately was his mother, my own face and smile, our hands intertwining.

This was good, I knew, from my reading. This was his mind and soul, reminding him of light and love, expelling the shadow. After the trauma of reliving Thomas’s fall, I hadn’t checked in on him more, but I was sure his mind was then full of the twins, and Trey and Countess Olivia. Damian’s eyes fluttered opened.

“Hello, my love,” he said gently.

“Hello,” I said softly and brushed his hair off his face. “You frightened me, you know.” He laughed.

“I raised the alarm in time?” He said. I nodded. “I’m glad.”

“Don’t think of it right now,” I said gently, “you’re not out of danger and I don’t want any darkness near you.” He smiled.

“No darkness,” he whispered, “impossible for there to be darkness when you’re near me.” I slid into bed with him. “Did you win?”

“After a fashion,” I said. He nodded. “I have to go soon. We’re going hunting.” He nodded. “Eric and Annalise are engaged, though, and he’s going home to settle things.”

“So while you hunt shadows and gods,” he said, “I’ll go home, and wait for word?” I smiled.

“When you put it like that, it sounds awful,” I sighed, “I was thinking, I’d go off hunting shadows and gods, without having to worry if you’re safe. Which sounds very nice, actually.” He laughed. “And when he comes back and they get married, we can be together forever.”

“Mm,” he whispered. “I can take one of my father’s ferries on.” I smiled.

“Yes,” I said, “and you’ll eventually be Duke of Brightcoast, like my Papa.” He laughed.

“I won’t lose you though,” he said. I swallowed.

“No, my love,” I rested my chin on his chest. “You’ll never lose me.”

Nobody

Marina

“I think we need to talk,” Damian said flatly.

I stook blankly looking at him. The warm feeling in my stomach churned into guilt.

“I wasn’t expecting you,” I said. “When you weren’t at the palace.”

“Weren’t you?” He said softly. I swallowed. “You’re still upset.” It wasn’t a question. I appreciated that.

“Yes,” I said gently. “Why didn’t you come tonight?”

“I didn’t trust myself,” he whispered. “I behaved badly this afternoon.” I nodded. “I do trust you.”

“It didn’t seem like it,” I spit out. He looked at me.

“I know,” he rested his forehead against mine. “I keep expecting you to realize that I’m not worth all this. I’m not worth a war. Eric should realize it, he doesn’t either.”

“Damian,” I said softly and kissed him. “Oh my love, don’t say that.” He pulled me close. “You’re worth it. We’re worth it.” He kissed me again. Was it possible that he knew? He’s usually so in my head, so in sync with me. “Come to bed.” I said gently. He touched my face.

“Not tonight,” he said gently. I frowned. “I don’t want to, while you’re angry.”

“I’m not angry anymore,” I said softly. He shook his head. “Damian, what are you holding back from me? It’s been weeks and I feel like you’re just gone.”

“So you want me to make love to you just to prove I want you?” He raised his eyebrows. I wanted to scream.

“I want you to stop being so careful,” I said. “I’m not fragile and I thought you of all people understood that.”

“What do you want to hear then?” He said. “That I see you slipping away from me? That every minute you spend avoiding war, and hunting the gods, and weaving magic with Nika or Raymond, you become even more out of my reach than you always were.” I closed my eyes. “And then today I see you in his arms. Tristan Dugarry, a hero, who knows you better than you know yourself, who you always wanted.” He ran his thumb against my jaw. “You’re magnificent, and powerful and important, and I’m nobody.” I swallowed.

“You aren’t,” I said softly. He smiled.

“It isn’t up for debate, darling,” he said, “I could disappear right this moment and the people it would matter to could be counted on my fingers.” I went to argue. “I know you’re one of them, but I worry for how much longer.” I swallowed, thinking of the charge as Nika’s lips met mine.

“Where were you tonight?” I whispered. “And the first night Franz landed. And so many others?” He sighed. “I want to trust you, I do, but I know you’re lying and,” he kissed me.

“I know what you’re accusing me of,” he said, “and I can’t even blame you. But no, I haven’t been with anyone else.” I swallowed and realized I was crying. “I walk, and sometimes I go to see Dorian and Elaine, but I usually can’t even manage that.” I nodded. “I’ve thought about it. I know it wouldn’t be hard to find someone.”

“I’m glad you haven’t,” I whispered and kissed him. He smiled. “No matter how easy it would have been.” I swallowed. “You aren’t nobody. You’re mine and I won’t give you up willingly.” He laughed. I felt guilty, for denying him pleasure and release with someone else when I was thinking about it so much. We kissed and fell back into the bed.

“Yours,” he whispered. I nodded and went for his pants. “Gods, Marina,” he whispered softly. I guided him into me. I’d missed him. He kissed me softly and I whimpered against him. We were through quickly. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to worry you.”

“I know that,” I whispered gently. “Damian,” I said.

“Mm,” he exhaled.

“I know I’ve said I don’t want to dwell on the past,” I whispered. He sat up. “But there’s never been anyone else for me,” he nodded, “and I think, sometimes,” I closed my eyes, “I’ve spent so much time wondering if you’ll be tired of me, get restless, that it never occurred to me that I might.” He sat up on his elbow.

“Are you restless?” He asked gently. “Do you want to spread your wings a little?” I swallowed.

“I don’t know,” I said, “I want you, but I see,” I exhaled, “other people, and I wonder, what if I’d met them first? What if you hadn’t overwhelmed me so much?” He smiled.

“Well, that puts one fear to rest,” he said. I wrinkled my nose at him. “If I thought you were regretting Dugarry, I might not be able to take it.” He laughed. “Are these, hypothetical people?”

“No,” I said softly. He nodded.

“Do you want to end this?” His voice was gentle, not unkind, or afraid.

“I don’t know,” I said softly, “no?” He smiled. “Not yet.” I nestled my face into his chest.

“May I request,” he kissed my temple gently, “that until you decide, we remain exclusive.”

“You’re being very very understanding,” I said.

“I love you Marina,” he said, “If I’m going to believe as you do, that we’re meant to be together, I have to trust that you’ll come back to me, if you decide to leave,” I rested my chin on his chest and looked at him. “I’ve been ready for you to leave me since you first looked at me, love.” He swallowed.

“I’ll never not want you,” I said quietly. He kissed me gently, sliding his hands to my hips. I pulled closer. “Were the others all girls?” I asked. He stopped and looked at me.

“No,” he said and looked at me, “is that what this is? Do you want me and another man at the same time?” I giggled and shoved my palm against his face. “I’m not opposed, but I repeat, not Dugarry.”

“No,” I said quietly, “it’s Nika.” Saying it out loud to him, suddenly felt like a hole in my chest was sewn up. He nodded. “We’ve been working together, and today after we argued,” I swallowed. “And now I can’t stop thinking about her. And it isn’t fair to you.”

“I don’t know,” he smiled, “thinking about you and Nika seems quite fair to me actually.” I sighed. “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t make a joke out of this. It’s scary, the first time you realize it.” I nodded.

“For you?” I asked. He nodded. “Tell me,” it was the first time I’d asked about other lovers. Besides Elaine.

“It wasn’t a grand romance,” he said, “it was while we were in training. It’s forbidden, at home, you know. That’s why Eric was so eager to get Raymond here. It’s different for me, since I like girls too, and I’m, well, me, so no one pays much attention.” I looked at him. “Rory, that was his name, and he was, well, we had a lot in common, but he often even made me feel like a stick in the mud.” I laughed.

“I can only imagine,” I said. “Why did it end?” He shrugged.

“Like most of my stories before you,” he said, “it didn’t really, he was stationed elsewhere, when we saw each other we still got together.” I wove my fingers into his.

“Franz is demanding an ambassador,” I said softly. “I’m going to ask Lisette for the post.” He exhaled.

“Don’t,” he whispered, “not for me.” I pressed my forehead to his.

“It isn’t for you,” I said, “not entirely. I think I need to go. I think Rana wants me to.” He nodded. “Will you show me Brinecliff?” I whispered, “And Pharras?”

“There’s nothing in the world I’d want more,” he said. I smiled. “You could bring Nika,” he teased. I shook my head and kissed him.

“Enough,” I said. He laughed and pulled me close.

“Well this is cozy,” A drawl came from the terrace door. We both sat up, and I gasped, “hello, Marina,” Brayton was grinning. “Lieutenant Lestoff, I haven’t had the pleasure.” Damian lept out of bed and went right for his throat but was quickly tossed aside by power. “How tedious.”

I felt frozen, I couldn’t move.

“How?” I exhaled. He sat down at the foot of the bed and smiled at me.

“We can discuss that later,” he said. Damian stood up again. “Oh, he’s resilient.” I swallowed. He flicked a hand and a large black funnel restrained him.

“Stop,” I cried out and shoved a hand at him, a blast of light coming out and shattering his magic. He looked stunned as I ran to Damian. He was gasping for breath. “Run,” I whispered to him, “try to get to the palace, tell Annalise.” He nodded, and did make it out the door while I held a wall of light up.

“Well, that is impressive,” Brayton smirked at me. I swallowed and steeled myself.

“Thank you,” I said, my voice dripping with sarcasm, “you know how I always longed to please you.” He laughed. “Now, My Lord,” I said, “please explain your presence in my home.”

Argument

Marina

I was helping to teach the healers the spells Elodie and I had come up with the weave soothing herbs in with bandages when I heard the deep clearing of a throat behind me. The healers all stood at attention and turned around.

“Tristan!” I squealed and ran over to him, “I mean, Commander,” I inclined my head.

“Duchess,” he said, bowing with dignity. “Are you very busy, or can you spare a moment?”

“Oh, I think we’ll manage,” Elodie winked. I shook my head and rolled my eyes and walked out of the tent with him.

“I’m so glad to see you,” I said and threw my arms around his neck. He laughed and he spun me around. “Are you taller? Is that possible?”

“No,” he grinned, “but you might have gotten smaller.” He put me down and I whacked him the chest. “How has it been?”

“Awful,” I sighed, “and wonderful too, but,” I shrugged. “Feels like old times.” He nodded. “Did you come alone?”

“Here? Certainly,” he said. “Carolina is at a house her father took. It was a compromise.” I nodded. “I missed you. Every day,” he placed his hand against my cheek. I swallowed and looked up at him.

“I missed you too,” I said, “so much has happened and I wanted to talk to you and I just,” he nodded and pulled me close. “Have you seen Lisette?” I whispered. I could feel his exhale against his chest.

“Not yet,” he whispered. “She’s locked in with the Phanians.” I nodded. “Why aren’t you?”

“I made up a job to get out of it for the day,” I admitted. “Elodie didn’t really need me for this.” He laughed. “Where is Carolina staying? I’d like to go see her, if you wouldn’t mind.”

“I won’t have you scaring her,” he narrowed his eyes. I shook my head.

“I’m not scary,” I said. He frowned at me. “On purpose.” He smiled then, I slid my arm through his and we started walking. “How did you like it in Dorin?”

“I actually,” he sighed, “I loved it. There would be moments when I was so angry at Martin, for keeping us away from that life. It was simple, once I learned the rules,” I smirked, “and nice, and quiet. And Caro is,” he exhaled. “It’s hard to explain how I feel about her.” I looked at him and smiled gently. He was blushing.

“You’re in love with her,” I giggled. He shrugged. “Oh but that’s wonderful, Tristan! Here I was, so worried you’d be miserable, that you’d hate her.” He blushed.

“And you?” He asked gently. “How’s Lestoff?” I sighed. I could see how annoyed he was to even be asking.

“It’s complicated,” I shook my head. “He’s unhappy. We’re,” I sighed as we kept moving. “I know it’s not me, it’s not us. But he’s wretched, and I don’t know how to help.” He looked at me.

“If anyone can it’s you,” he said softly. I nodded. “I suppose I should let you get back to work.”

“Yes,” I said softly. I didn’t want to though. I wanted to stay here, with him holding me.

“Well, hello,” I jumped away from Tristan hearing Damian’s voice. “Welcome back Captain.”

“Thank you,” Tristan said, his face instantly hard. Damian had a cool smirk on his face. “You aren’t in the negotiations?”

“We’ve adjourned so Annalise can speak with General Martin,” he said sliding his arms around my waist. Tristan nodded. “I’m surprised you aren’t with him.”

“I’ve been with my sister,” Tristan said, “and when I’d heard Marina wasn’t in the meeting,” he drifted off. “If you’ll excuse me, I should go find them.” He took my hand and squeezed it gently.

“I’m glad you’re home,” I said softly.

“I’m glad to be home,” he said. “Lieutenant,” he nodded to Damian. He walked away and the pulled away from him.

“What is wrong with you?” I said harshly and started walking away.

“What’s wrong with me?” He snorted. “I found you in another man’s arms. I’d say my reaction was justified.”

“Please,” I rolled my eyes and kept walking. “You know how hard this has been for me and yes I was taking comfort in an old friend.” He grabbed my arm and I shook him off. “Is that really something you want to condemn me for right now?”

“It’s different,” he said flatly. I laughed shortly. “I was never in love Elaine.”

“No,” I said, “and Tristan was never my lover. So I suppose it all evens out, doesn’t it?” I started walking away. “Don’t follow me!” I shouted over my shoulder. I marched to the beach, where Nika was sitting on a rock, the waves crashing against it. I turned to go, I didn’t want to disturb her.

“You don’t have to go,” she said softly exhaling out of her meditation pose. “I already sensed the storm in you.” I sighed and joined her, sliding my shoes off and dangling my feet in the waves. I already felt better. “Who did you argue with?” I laughed and shook my head.

“Damian,” I said softly. She nodded. “I don’t think I can take much more of this.” She looked at me and smirked.

“Do you require a man?” She raised an eyebrows. I blushed. “I am serious, if the queen marries she’ll likely have many children, surely you could leave your title to a younger one.”

“There are other benefits,” I pointed out. She laughed. “And I do love him.” She sighed and stretched.

“My sister says the same,” she shrugged, “of course Lefty loves you back, and Harran does not love her, so I suppose your case is less hopeless.” I sighed.

“I suppose,” I said. Our knees touched. “It feels rather hopeless, at the moment.” She slid her hand to mine and I shivered.

“The gods have a plan for you, Marina Sanpierre,” she whispered, “it’s as plain as looking at you, the path will be difficult, but,” she stopped, I realized she was blushing, and so was I. “I’m sorry I,” she paused and I swallowed.

“Please don’t apologize,” I swallowed. I stood up. “I should go find The Queen. Thank you.” I ran off then, my hand still tingling from where she touched it.

A Lack of Honesty

Marina

I was undressed and brushing my hair when Damian came in. I didn’t turn to look at him. I was too angry.

“Marina,” he said softly.

“What kept you?” I asked, still not looking at him. I couldn’t. I’d melt when I did, and I wasn’t ready for that.

“Eric needed me,” he said. “Royal and useless remember?” He rested his hands on my shoulder. “I don’t know why you’re so upset.” Well that did it.

“You abandoned me,” I said and stood up. “It was a godsdamned dinner Damian, but you knew it was important and you just, weren’t there.” He exhaled. “Nothing’s even happened yet and you chose the other side, if it becomes real,” I gasped for air.

“Oh,” he said softly. “Oh love, no,” he whispered and knelt next to me. “I won’t, I wouldn’t, I’m not.” I swallowed. He kissed me softly. “I couldn’t, I’m here, I’m with you,” I stared at him. “No matter what we do I’m with you.” I looked at him.

“But you weren’t,” I said and sniffled. “All night, you were distant, you barely even looked at me.” He swallowed. “If you could explain, maybe,” he sighed.

“He wants you,” he said simply, “Franz, he, well, at least he’s been sent here to,” I cocked my head, “and if he knew about us, he’d find a way to send me away, I know it, he’s done it before, and,” I laughed. “It isn’t funny.”

“It’s very funny,” I said with a shrug, “I’ve dealt with bad acting suitors before, you know, one who was in complete control of my life, I think I can handle Kieran Franz.” He frowned. “As for you being sent away, it simply won’t happen. I won’t allow it.” He looked at me.

“And you won’t encourage him,” he frowned. I looked at him and shook my head. “I mean, you won’t flirt, or anything like that?”

“Of course not,” I said, “I’d like to flirt with you but if you ignore me every time we’re in public that will be difficult. He laughed. “What did Aaron do, when he said he’d come here for me?”

“Oh he choked on his drink,” Damian said, as I walked him back to my bed. “I think he might have burst a blood vessel. Raymond laughed outright, Raymond gets to do things like that.” I grinned as we fell backwards. “And I was just trying not to strangle him, ‘and the Duchess is unattached, as I understand?'” I giggled. “‘Your brother is curious to meet her you know, and she’s more lovely than I expected.” I slid my hands up his chest.

“Do you think I’m lovely,” I whispered. He kissed me.

“You are the most lovely,” he said softly. “And I want you every minute of every day.” I exhaled as he pressed into me. “I won’t leave you,” he whispered in my ear. “I won’t do it.” I kissed him. His lovemaking was hard edged and hungry tonight.

“Damian,” I said softly, and stopped him as he tried to start again. “No,” he looked at me. “Please, just hold me.”

“Alright,” he said softly. I snuggled close to him.

“I wish I could help you,” I said softly.

“You do help me,” he whispered. “Just being near you helps, really.” I smiled and pressed my forehead to his. “Today was awful.”

“Yes, it really was,” I whispered, “how are Elaine and Dorian?” He sighed.

“Worried,” he said softly, “their parents were going to be coming over, but they probably won’t now.” He sighed. “Lainey asked after you actually.” I smiled.

“What did Eric need?” I asked.

“Hm?” He whispered, carefully kissing my hands.

“You said you were helping Eric, tonight, what did he need?” I said. He frowned.

“Just the usual things,” he said and stretched. “And now there’s the added wrinkle that he basically wants to move into Annalise’s rooms which could be tricky, without a public engagement.” I nodded.

He was lying to me.

I didn’t know why. But he was.

With All Due Respect

Marina

I started to get undressed when I felt Damian’s lips against my neck. He undid my necklace clasp and then began unlacing me.

“I’ve been thinking,” he said softly.

“Mm,” I closed my eyes.

“I may resign my post,” he said, “and go to work for my father. Then I could live here, but still sail.” I turned around and kissed him deeply. “Nothing’s final, love.”

“That you’re even considering it is my victory,” I whispered and he walked me back to the bed. “Damian,” I said gently, “let me undress.”

I want to undress you,” he said softly, pulling my gown down. “I hate that you ever wear clothes.” I giggled as he kissed me.

“I’m sorry M’Lady,” a guard ran in. I sat up and pulled my dress, “Commander Dugarry is here.” I stood up.

“Did she say why?” I asked. He shook his head. I exhaled. “We’ll be right down.”

“Meaning no offense,” he mumbled, “She’s requested Lieutenant Lestoff remain here.” I looked at him worried, but he nodded.

“Alright,” I said and walked downstairs. Athena was staring at me. “What is it?” I said softly. “Thena,” I said softly. “Why didn’t you want Damian to come?”

“The ships are here,” she said, her voice dry. I stared at her wide eyes. “Some admiral has already come ashore to speak to Lisette.” I stared at her. “I’ll speak to Lefty, but he can’t leave, Eric and Raymond are sequestered at the palace too.” I swallowed.

“And the others?” I said.

“At the barracks, the same situation,” Athena said softly, “until we know more, we can’t risk.” I nodded. “Do you want to tell him?”

“He’ll want to go to Eric,” I whispered. She nodded. “Can’t we escort him?” She shook her head.

“No, I’m sorry, these are the orders,” she looked so sad. It’s moments like these that I remember that she’s a soldier, first and foremost. “Marina,” she said, “be quick about it.” I nodded and hurried back upstairs.

“What’s wrong?” Damian looked at me. “Rina,” I swallowed.

“There are ships,” I said softly, he exhaled, “I have to go to the palace, Athena said you have to stay here until we know more.”

“You don’t think,” he whispered, “Marina,” I swallowed. “I didn’t send for anyone.”

“No one thinks that,” I said, “but Athena has orders.” He exhaled. “I’m sorry, I know.” He pressed his forehead to mine. “I have to go.”

“I know,” he whispered. “I love you.” I nodded and grabbed a cloak and Athena and I moved quickly up the beach to the palace and into the throne room. Annalise had changed. I smiled. The Crown of The Goddess was on her head, and she was in her green battle dress.

“Where is he?” She asked Athena.

“Being held in the dining room,” Athena said simply, “we wanted everyone here first.” I walked over and kissed her gently on the cheek.

“Are you alright?” I said. She nodded. “You can do this.”

“Right,” she mumbled and settled in on the dais. Martin, Athena and I flanked her, Aaron standing vaguely off to the side. The guards opened the doors, and a man in a highly adorned Phanian navel uniform.

He was tall, and dark skinned. His hair was twisted into dread locks and he had an almost arrogant smirk on his face.

“Your Majesty,” he said, “my apologies if I disturbed your sleep.” Annalise had her steely Sword Face, as I’d come to call it, on. “I am Admiral Kieran Franz.” I swallowed and looked at him, trying to get any sort of read, but he felt blank. “I am here as an emissary from King Daniel.”

“You are welcome Admiral,” she said, “I am confused, though, is King Daniel unhappy with his current emissaries? I can’t believe that the prince and my honored cousin were somehow lax in their duties here.” I glanced at him, seeing if he would call the bluff, that Raymond and Eric were both conspicuously absent. “And if you’re an emissary, why is there a fleet of war ships blocking my harbor?”

“This isn’t a blockade,” he said, “should anyone wish to enter the harbor they will be allowed to pass.” Athena snorted. “Of course Lady Athena, that would be a concern of yours?”

“I’d be curious to see you try to stop my grandfather, sir,” Athena said. I looked at her with caution. “However, yes, it is good to know.”

“Of course,” he smiled. “Regardless, we haven’t come to disrupt, but we believed there was some cause for concern when it came to Prince Eric and Lord Raymond.” Annalise’s eyes narrowed. “Where are they, now, come to think of it?”

“I didn’t feel the need to wake them,” Annalise said. His face flattened. “But of course we can send for them.” She nodded to Aaron who walked out of the room. I swallowed, but my throat was dry. Something was very wrong.

“Oh, good, it’s you, Franz,” Eric smiled walking in. He looked amused, which made me nervous. “Here I thought my brother was serious about an invasion.” The Admiral scowled at him. “You’ll have to forgive Lord Raymond, he’s been spending a good deal of time at the University and isn’t in the palace at all this evening.” I exhaled, relieved. “Your Majesty,” he smirked at Lisette. “I hope you’re well.”

“Well enough,” she said gently. “And yourself?” He grinned.

“Eminently satisfied, thank you,” he smirked. I looked at Athena who rolled her eyes.

“Your Highness,” The Admiral cleared his throat, “The King And Queen had concerns,” Eric’s eyes narrowed at him.

“You are suggesting that my brother and sister in law sent a flotilla of war ships because they were concerned about me?” He said. “I’d rather you not insult me, or Queen Annalise with such pretense.” I inhaled, I’d never really seen Eric be royal before, it was a bit mesmerizing. “I assume there’s at least a letter?” The admiral nodded. “Good then, when I know what my brother wants of me, and what I intend to do about it, I will inform you.” He looked at him. “You’re dismissed.”

“I outrank you, boy,” The Admiral growled. “You’re barely a captain, I won’t be dismissed.” That’s when Annalise stood up. She was practically floating.

“This is my kingdom, Admiral,” she said, “you’re in this room, your men on that beach on my permission.” She glanced at Martin and Athena. “May the gods have mercy on you if you think two of Cornan’s champions can’t handle you.”

“Of course, Your Majesty,” he said and bowed. “I’ll take my leave and await an answer.”

“Do that,” she said and he turned and left. She sighed and collapsed into Eric’s arms. He laughed. “He seems pleasant.”

“Oh very,” Eric nodded, “always liked me too.”

“I missed something,” I said.

“From not speaking to happily in love in an evening,” Martin sighed, “I am very grateful to not be young anymore.” Eric looked at me.

“Is Lefty alright?” He asked. I sighed.

“I don’t know,” I said, “I ran over here.” He sighed and looked at Martin.

“You think Lefty’s the one who got us here?” He said. Martin sighed and shrugged.

“Believe it or not your highness,” he said gently, “I don’t rule out anything when there’s half an armada on our doorstep.” Then he looked at me. “Athena, please send a few guards to the manor and to the university. I think it will set everyone’s minds at ease if Lieutenant Lestoff and Lord Raymond are here.” Athena nodded. “Your father too?” He asked.

“No,” I croaked. “No, I don’t think that will help.” This was my father’s greatest fear, I realized. I swallowed and sat down, dazed.

If war was coming, I didn’t know what would happen next.

The Plan

Marina

I was still angry with Annalise when I got home that night after dinner. I’d sent Mercy to help her get dressed and done little more than nod and smile at dinner. When we got home I started going up to go to bed.

“Rina,” Papa said, stopping me, “I think we need to talk.”

“Alright,” I said and followed him into the library. “What is it that you want to talk about?” He sighed and sat down.

“Aaron said today you’re considering going to Tumona?” He said. I sighed.

“I knew you’d object,” I said. He frowned. “I want to see where you’re from, and furthermore, I think you should go with me.”

“I won’t go back there,” he said. I sighed. “If I didn’t go back when it could have spared us all,” he closed his eyes, “why would I go now?”

“Because I can’t go alone,” I said softly. He looked at me and sighed. “Because I might have to spend the next year lying and maneuvering in a place I don’t know. A place I do know won’t be safe for me.” He looked at me.

“What are you planning?” He asked. I sighed.

“If Annalise refuses the prince, or if he decides he can’t take her,” I shook my head, “well, her anymore, I’ll go back with them. I’ll present myself for the alliance,” he wrinkled his brow.

“And your Lieutenant doesn’t mind this plan?” He said. I pressed my lips into my mouth. “Don’t misunderstand me, it’s not a bad plan. It’s actually quite a good one. Daniel could always be distracted by something new and shiny.”

“Damian doesn’t love the idea,” I admitted. “But he understands it.” He nodded. “The excuse of visiting Tumona, well, that simply makes the most sense to get me there.” I sat down. “I do want to go though. I want to see Vacana, see the temple. It feels important.” He smiled.

“Marie and I left for good reasons,” he said softly, “they’re not,” he exhaled, “it’s not a good place, for girls like you. The sisters there, the temple,” he shook his head, “it’s cold, and detached. They don’t want Seers to be human, to feel.” I looked at him. “I don’t want to see you hollowed out.” He was sitting on the couch now, he looked exhausted. I knelt in front of him and took his hands.

“Papa,” I whispered, “I won’t be hollowed out, I’m not,” I looked at him. “We don’t have to be afraid.” He pressed his forehead to mine. “I’m strong, you raised me strong. The Goddess made me strong.” He smiled softly. “And it may not happen at all.”

“Oh my sweet girl,” he said softly.

“Besides which, surely Queen Elana has changed a few things?” I said. He snorted. “She’s your cousin and Raymond seems human enough to me.”

“He got out young,” he said, “and he’s a boy.” I laughed. “My cousin,” he exhaled. “Her mother, even more so, will take kindly to my returning to the island.” I smiled.

“You’re overthinking this,” I said, “I promise.” I kissed his forehead. “I’m going to bed.”

“You can tell Lieutenant Lestoff he can simply escort us home, rather than slip in through the servants quarters,” he smiled coyly at me. I blushed.

“I have told him that,” I explained, “but he still thinks you don’t like him for some reason.” He laughed. “Good night.”

“Good night,” he said. I walked upstairs and undressed and tried to stay awake waiting for Damian, but instead fell almost instantly to sleep, and even more importantly, for the first time in what felt like ages, I dreamt.

I was standing on a beach. Not our beach, one covered in rocks, the sea in front of me had drifts of ice. A large wave was forming, and a girl was standing next to me. She was dressed all in black, even veiled in it, except for her very vivid brown eyes, which met mine.

“You see how unsettled they become?” She said, her tone was even, calm, as if we were finishing a conversation we’d been having for a while. “The Dark Lady will fill the vacuum of chaos, as is her right.”

“But if she rises,” I choked out against the cold air. The other girl shrugged.

“Who can say?” She said. “But hurry, will you? I’ve grown bored.” The wave crashed taking me with it and I tried to scream but instead found myself choking on sea water.

“Marina,” Damian’s panicked voice called me back as I woke up, gasping for breath, and screaming, shaking, and sweating, “Marina, please, calm down, love,” I met his eyes and sobbed, and he pulled me close. “Oh my darling,” he sighed, “was it bad?”

“Awful,” I said. “I saw,” I swallowed and realized I couldn’t tell him. Something about, her, felt like a betrayal. “I can’t remember, but it ended with a wave taking me.” He nodded and stroked my hair, I rested my cheek against his chest. “I tried to wait for you.”

“The Dream didn’t want to wait,” he said with a dark chuckle. I missed him. “And you were busy today, plotting.” I looked up.

“You’re angry with me,” I said. He looked at me again and kissed me softly.

“No,” he said, “I’m angry at Eric, for thinking he could ignore Annalise’s desires because of his own insecurities. I’m angry that I’m the son of a ferryman and whore so I’m dependent on him to give you what you deserve. I’m angry that Daniel is rash and stupid and would rather force unhappiness on all of us than acknowledge his daughter’s fate and ability.” I kissed him gently. “But I’m not angry with you.”

“We’d be together in Phania,” I said quietly. “It would have to be secret, but,” he laughed, softly this time, but still that humorless dark laugh.

“Maybe,” he said, “but more likely they’d keep me busy, away from you. They likely know about us by now, and if you’re there for Eric,” he sighed, “they won’t want me near you.” I looked at him. “And that would be worse than leaving you here, being close enough, just out of your sight. Or even worse in the same room but not able to touch you, or talk to you.” He sighed. “Torture.”

“War would be worse,” I said softly.

“I know,” he said. “Maybe they’ll make up.”

“Maybe,” I said softly. “I hate this.” He exhaled. I kissed him gently. “My father said you don’t have to slip in, you know.” He smiled.

“It will be good practice.” He teased. I swallowed and clung to him until we were both sleeping.