Actions

Work Header

Warlord of Glacia

Work Text:

~~

 

Morton’s thoughts were clouded by his worry over Karla, especially as her moontime was bothering her more than usual this time around. He promised to check out the altar that held a gate, as the Priestess was hearing things she shouldn’t.

He froze when he came off the landing web, seeing bodies strewn about.

*What in the name of Hell had happened?*

He grit his teeth as a thrum went through his Ring of Honor. At least it was more of an inquiry and not a call to action. Either way, it snapped him out of the shock of seeing the carnage to properly wrap himself in an Opal shield. He contemplated activating the shield in the Ring, but that would summon the other boyos- and alarm Karla. He didn’t want to do either of those things just yet.

As he probed the area, he was able to sense several living people still, but did not sense any immediate danger to himself. His back stiffened as a memory tickled at his brain. A memory that always remained at the forefront of late.

His first reaction, his instinct, was to rush forward to help any survivors, until his training kicked in. Whatever had happened here was more than he could handle alone. And now he could sense that there was something more than the slaughter felt wrong about this place. Lucivar would have his head if he did anything without someone to assist him.

He took a step back, intending to catch the Winds to head to the nearest village and bring back help, when an Eyrien came around the corner of a building and saw him.

"Lord Morton?" the Eyrien called.

This was not an Eyrien he recognized, and he wore a darker Jewel than he did. He tensed, ready to leap onto the closest strand of the Winds to run.

"Lord Morton!" The Eyrien raised a hand and hurried toward him. "Thank the Darkness, you got
Yaslana’s message!"

The name was enough for him to move towards the Eyrien instead of away. "What happened here?"

"We’re not sure," the Eyrien answered, stopping a few feet away. "Yaslana found tracks heading away from the Dark Altar. He took some of the men and followed them." He looked over Morton’s shoulder, his face stamped with concern. "Didn’t you bring any Healers?"

"No, I—"

He should have realized it was a trap. As soon as he was close enough, the Eyrien released a blast of the Green that shattered his Opal shields. As quickly as his shield was down, three arrows were piercing his body. Two more arrows were heading towards him just as the Ring of Honor thrummed into action and Jaenelle’s Ebony shield was erected around him. As the arrows hit the shield, they turned to ash as they were incinerated by the Ebony.

"There is something you aren’t telling me," Morton said, staring at his cousin’s angled features.

"You do not ask a Black Widow what she sees--."

"To Hell with what I am not meant to do," Morton snarled. "And to Hell with Protocol. I am not talking to you as your First Escort, Karla. I am talking to you as your cousin!"

Karla’s face fell and Morton almost wanted to cave under the sorrow. He almost wanted to beat himself for causing that look, but he would not back down. Something was burdening her soul and he refused to let her face it alone. She was his family and he loved her. She was one of the two most important women in his life.

"I’ve seen my death," Karla whispered. "And it is coming soon."

Morton paled. "When? How soon?"

"Soon," Karla said. "No exact time, but soon." She turned sad, almost hollow eyes to him. "War is coming."

Morton used Craft to keep himself up right. The arrows hadn’t struck a killing blow to him. Nothing would stop him from getting to the Winds and getting the Hell out of there. The wounds were painful, but not life threatening. An arrow in each leg and one his shoulder that was high enough to not have hit any vital organs.

Suddenly he felt a deadly cold filling in his limbs and knew what it had to be. Poison on the arrow tips. But how virulent a poison?

When he looked at the Eyrien, seeing his mouth twist into a cruel smile, he got his answer. The poison was meant to kill.

"High Lord," Morton said. "I need to speak with you."

Saetan SaDiablo looked up from the paperwork on his desk, wearing his half-moon reading glasses to look at the Warlord of Glacia with a critical eye. He carefully removed his glasses and leaned back in his chair. He steepled his fingers, resting them against his chin, the black-tinted nails indicating him as one of only two male Black Widows apparent.

"Is this Court or informal?" he questioned, his voice giving nothing away.

"I do not come to you seeking council with the Steward of the Dark Court or the High Lord of Hell. I come seeking council with the High Priest of the Hourglass."

That had Saetan sitting ramrod straight, a cold seriousness washing over him. Why would Morton need to speak with the High Priest?

"Speak," Saetan commanded in a softly dangerous voice.

"I know you are not a natural Black Widow. Karla explained that. I need you to teach me what you did to adjust your body to the poisons," Morton said.

Saetan’s eyebrow arched sharply, fear spiking in the pit of his belly. He slowly rose from behind his desk, formidable in his appearance. He would not yell, he would not delve into this man’s mind and find the the information he needed. He would be calm. Because this was Morton, and he loved him as he loved all the coven and the boyos.

"Lord Morton, I think you better explain."

Morton stumbled, going to his knees as the poison struck. His fingers tingled as he fell to the ground further. He tried to swallow, but it was difficult. His vision was clouding, but he had enough strength to send out a pulse through the Ring of Honor. He also called out to his Queen. *KARLA!*

"Break the shield, finish the kill. Ensure that once the body is dead, he won’t transition," he heard the Eyrien say. His vision started to darken around the edges and he focused on one of the lessons as Saetan began to teach him.

"Even a Black Widow can be harmed by a poison their body is not used to." He was mixing a small concoction. "A poison meant to kill must be added in such a way to weaken the body. A Black Widow can take on much, but the body will eventually weaken if a poison is introduced and mixed so the body can not fight it off."

"And a non-Black Widow?" Morton asked.

"We will begin slowly. Poison meant to make you violently ill," Saetan said. "Mixed with a drink here and there, forcing your body to build up a tolerance." He glanced at Morton, giving him a serious look.

"A snake tooth may be needed, allowing you to concoct a venom right for your body to help adjust," he said.

"You mean become a Black Widow?" Morton hadn’t thought about that, or what it could mean.

"It may be necessary to keep you safe. And to avoid what you are so diligently trying not to tell me."

"A tangled web, once confided, can not be shared unless the Black Widow wishes it," Morton murmured, his resolve strengthening but feeling itchy under the High Lord’s too-knowing gaze.

"I know."

Darkness finally overtook Morton. He could only pray that he had not made a grave mistake and that he would be found before the poison did irreversible damage to him. Before he succumbed to the darkness closing in on him, he sent a warning to one of the people that mattered most to him. And a message to the other.

KARLA!

’Mina, I love you...

~~

Wilhelmina Benedict felt her heart pound as a soft whisper drifted through her mind. Morton’s normally deep voice sent shivers up and down her spine, even when spoken in the softest of ways, but this felt like a good-bye.

No, she thought to herself. No, you can’t tell me that then...

Even as she reached out towards him, she felt something different, something shifting. Her fingers suddenly felt as if they had no nerves in them whatsoever, and the embroidery she had been working on slipped from her fingers and fell to the floor, forgotten.

~~

Daemon Sadi snarled in frustration when he felt the tingling coming from Jaenelle's Ring of Honor. He hadn't yet learned how to interpret all the information that could be absorbed from the Ring. He recognized this particular sensation as a call for help, but had no idea where the call was coming from.

"Do you--," he said, turning toward Khardeen. The intense blankness in Khary's eyes, the sense of focused listening, stopped him from saying anything more.

"Morton," Khary said quietly. "And Karla." He lunged for the door.

Daemon grabbed him. "No. You're needed here." Something niggled at the back of Daemon’s mind, something that Saetan had shared with him about Morton but the buzzing from Jaenelle’s Ring of Honor was making it difficult to focus. On the rage filling him, forcing him to the killing edge was overriding a lot of other emotions and thought processes.

"That's not the way it works," Khary said sharply, breaking into Daemon’s thoughts. "When one of us needs help--."

"You all take the bait?" Daemon asked just as sharply. "You have a pregnant Queen who can't defend herself without risking a miscarriage. Your place is here. I'll take care of Karla - and Morton." He studied Khary. "Who else will have heard that call for help?"

"Everyone in the First Circle who lives in the western part of Kaeleer. The Ring has more of a range than if we were trying to reach someone on our own, but the alert wouldn't be felt beyond that. However, every male who felt that call for help will relay a warning through a communication thread to the First Circle within his range."

"Then relay this message to the First Circle as fast as you can: 'Stay put. Stand guard.' " Daemon paused. "And locate Jaenelle."

"Yes," Khary said grimly. "The Queens need to be protected. Especially her."

Satisfied, Daemon rushed out of the house and swore. He couldn't reach any of the Winds from here.

He started to run down the drive, then turned toward the sound of pounding hooves. Sundancer slid to a stop beside him.

*I heard the call,* Sundancer said. *You must ride the Winds?*

"Yes."

*I can run faster. Mount.*

Grabbing a fistful of Sundancer's mane, he swung up on the Warlord Prince's bare back. It was a short but harrowing ride. The stallion chose the fastest route to reach the nearest Winds without regard for what lay in his path. Daemon's legs were shaking when he slid off Sundancer's back.

Before he could say anything, the stallion pivoted and was gone.

*Fight well!* Sundancer said as he raced back to Khary and Morghann's house.

"You can count on it," Daemon replied too softly. Catching the Black Wind, he headed for Glacia. Along the way, he tried to ignore the feeling in the pit of his stomach of what he would find. Terrified of what was laying in wait, he dreaded the idea that he would have to deliver the news to his Queen and love that one of her beloved Sister’s was dead. Or that he would have to deliver the news to the woman that was essentially his sister-in-law that the man she loved as much as he loved her sister was gone to her forever.

~~

As an Arcerian alone, Kaelas had the ability to move from roof to roof effortlessly and without notice. Being a Red-Jeweled Warlord Prince and trained in the ways of human warriors by an Ebon-gray Jeweled Eyrien Warlord Prince, Kaelas was a silent and deadly threat. He witnessed Morton fall, sticks with feathers on them protruding from the Warlord’s body.

He sent out a small tendril of power at the depth of his Red to Morton. The first thing he sensed was the Lady’s shield, which was not a problem. Like all the males of the Lady’s First Circle, regardless of four footed or two footed, he had the ability to safely slip past her shield. There was a part of him that felt immediate relief when he gently touched Morton’s mind. The body was not dead, but he was weak. So weak that he didn’t respond to the faint touch of the kindred’s mind to his own.

Regardless of Morton’s living state, he was a Brother of the Court. And Brothers looked out for each other. Kaelas would take care of this two-footed Brother and ensure he got to Lady Gabrielle or the Lady. He suspected that Lady Karla was in danger and she would need to be protected once he safely got Morton to where he needed to be, then he would figure out the next step to take out the bad humans that had intruded on Lady Karla’s territory.

Looking in the opposite direction, he saw the Sanctuary that held the Dark Altar. Near it was a large, old tree that wouldn’t wake again. The pale humans would have cut it down and burned it in their fires. They wouldn’t need it now.

Using Craft, he opened the Sanctuary door, letting it swing as if it hadn’t been latched properly.

Leaping from the roof, he circled around the backs of the human dens, air walking so that he would leave no tracks. Just because the sight shield made him invisible was no reason to be careless. Playing "stalk and pounce" with Lucivar had taught him that.

Thinking of Lucivar, he remembered something else: never show your full strength to an enemy until it was needed.

His Birthright Jewel was the Opal. Morton's Jewel of rank was the Opal. Yes, that might confuse the winged males.

With a burst of his jewels, the tree exploded- causing wood and snow to fly. The Sanctuary door slammed open and the Eyriens began to scatter, looking for whatever caused it, all the while looking towards where Morton lay.

"What about that bastard?" someone called.

"Leave him," the Green-jeweled Eyrien said. "We’ll finish the kill later. He’s not going anywhere."

Moving in a stalking motion, Kaelas kept himself aware of where the winged humans were. Giving himself a burst of speed, he reached Morton and slowly approached. The Lady’s shield recognized him with a hum and gave way to allow him closer access.

Sniffing the air, Kaelas backed away in confusion. While Morton was not dead, he smelled wrong, much like bad meat that was poisoned to kill or incapacitate the kindred when a human wanted to hurt or gain a new pelt. Sniffing the air again, Kaelas now knew why Morton seemed so faint. He also knew that he should have been dead from whatever was causing him to smell of poisoned meat, yet he wasn’t.

He didn’t have time to decipher the implications of why Morton had not fallen to the Darkness. He couldn’t, and wouldn’t, set his teeth into poisoned meat even if that meat was alive. Settling an Opal shield around Morton’s arm to protect both himself and the human, he carefully closed his jaws around him. Using craft he floated Morton in the air and put a Red sight shield around him. He took off for the nearest place to catch the Winds. He had to hurry. Morton needed help as quickly as possible, but Kaelas also had some hunting to do. The winged Warlord Prince would know his fury, and then he would deliver him to Yaslana to ensure that witness had been made. For Karla, and for Morton.

~~

"Mother Night," Daemon murmured as he stepped into the room. He had just cleaned up from helping with Karla’s healing, his body weary after such a horrific experience. He was certain he would walk into this room and find Morton’s dead body returning as demon dead. Instead, he was writhing on the bed, in obvious pain but very much alive.

"Prince, I need you to focus," Jaenelle said, her midnight voice washing over his senses. Straightening, he gave her a single nod and moved over to her side.

*Can you focus?* a deep voice so like his own slipped into his mind.

*I have to,* Daemon responded. He gave the quickest of glances to where his father stood nearby, wondering how the High Lord could be so calm as he watched.

*How is he even surviving?* Daemon had to ask. It was pricking at his subconscious again, the memory of what his father had told him but his focus was once again pulled.

*That explanation is better left after the healing,* Saetan returned. *There is a chance that he may still not survive.*

*Karla can’t deal with losing him, not in her condition,* Daemon said.

*Karla is strong and understands how difficult this healing will be, despite the ramifications if he does not survive,* Saetan said. *The person who I worry for if he does not is Lady Benedict.*

That piqued Daemon’s curiosity a great deal, but a cry from Morton and a soothing croon from Jaenelle had him pushing it to the back of his mind. That was another discussion best kept until later. For now, his Queen needed him as another hard healing began.

~~

It had been almost three days since the attack on Glacia that left in question just how Morton and Karla were going to come out of this. Lucivar had called upon Daemon to come with him to Arceria after Kaelas had informed him that "human help" was needed. That alone had scared Lucivar to have the Arcerians call on them. It wasn’t until they arrived and had seen the little girl, a lone survivor, that they understood why human help was needed.

"Did we do the right thing?" Daemon asked as he and Lucivar air walked above the deep snow toward the place that was designated as an official landing web. They weren’t making that effort just to avoid floundering in waist-high snow; tracks might have shown an enemy where the Arcerian dens were located. Even if they hadn’t respected the animals themselves enough, they knew it was necessary to keep the girl safe as well.

"What else could we do?" Lucivar replied. "The girl has lost her mother, her village, everyone she knew. KaeAskavi’s the only friend she has left. There are pockets of fighting going on throughout Glacia now, so placing her in another village... There’s no guarantee she would survive the next time a place is attacked. Marian and I would take her to live with us, but ..."

Daemon shook his head. "You were right about that. She wouldn’t be able to handle being around Eyriens right now."

Which was why Lucivar had insisted that Daemon come with him to Arceria in the first place, not to mention the minimal amount of healing craft the other man had. Neither man had wanted the girl to be frightened beyond what she already was feeling. The fact that she had been so silent as it was scared them both.

"And we can’t take her anywhere else," Lucivar added grimly interrupting Daemon’s thoughts. "Not until we know if this attack was part of Hobart’s attempt to regain control of Glacia or if it’s something more."

"I’m sure it was both," Daemon said grimly. There was something about what he had seen when collecting Karla that had resonated. This reeked of Dorothea, and by extension Hekatah, but he knew of the history with Hobart as well.

"You said the girl was physically all right?" Lucivar questioned again. He would deal with the ramifications of his brother’s murmurings later.

"She sprained an ankle, but the Arcerian Healers have the Craft to take care of injured limbs. Other than that, she was... unharmed." He couldn’t say the word "rape." He would never forget the fear that had jolted through him when he had crawled into that den and seen Delia—fair-haired, blue-eyed, ten-year-old Delia.

Admittedly, she didn’t look anything like Jaenelle, except in coloring, but that had been enough to cause the memories of what had happened in Chaillot thirteen years ago to come rushing back at him. His hands had trembled as he’d cautiously examined her for injuries, as he had used a delicate psychic probe to answer that particular question. His hands had also trembled because she had been gripping a stuffed toy cat in one hand and a fistful of KaeAskavi’s fur in the other—which meant the cat had been literally breathing down his neck.

It was the way she had held onto KaeAskavi that had forced him to leave her there. She needed to feel safe in order to heal—and snuggling up to four hundred pounds of muscle and fur obviously made her feel very safe. The young Arcerian cat had given him a quizzical look, sensing how shaken the Black-jeweled Warlord Prince was, but a psychic grumble from his father had him biting back any questions he may have directed towards the Lady’s mate.

Lucivar rested a hand on Daemon’s shoulder, once again bringing him out of his thoughts, helping to shake off the past. "A few weeks among the Arcerians won’t hurt her. At least this way she can be ’mothered’ without feeling like she’s letting someone take her mother’s place."

Daemon nodded. "Are you going back to Ebon Rih?" He, himself, had been planning to go to the Keep since Jaenelle was on her way there with Karla, Morghann, and Morton.

Lucivar shook his head. "The High Lord asked me to report to him at the Hall. This side trip has delayed that report for a couple of days, so I’d better get my ass there before he decides to take a piece out of it."

"Then I’ll go with you."

When they reached the place where they could catch the Winds, Lucivar hesitated. "How is Karla? I didn’t get to see her before they left for the Keep."

Daemon stared at the unbroken snow. "She’ll live. Jaenelle thinks she can heal the legs enough for Karla to walk again."

"Jaenelle thinks she can?" Lucivar paled. "Mother Night, Daemon, if Jaenelle isn’t sure, what was done—"

"Don’t ask," Daemon said too sharply. He made an effort to soften his voice. "Don’t ask. I... don’t want to talk about it." But this was Lucivar who was asking, so he tried. "There’s no antidote for witchblood. The poison had to be drawn into some part of the body in order to save the internal organs and then drawn out. It ... killed a lot of the muscle, and that muscle had to be..."

He had to take a few deep breaths as he thought of the withered limbs that had been healthy legs.

"Let it go," Lucivar said gently. "Let it go."

They both took a couple of unsteady breaths before Daemon said, "The sooner we make our reports, the sooner we can go home." For him, home wasn’t a place, it was a person—and right then, he needed to know that Jaenelle was safe.

"Wait," Lucivar said. "What about Morton?"

Daemon felt another chill go through him. He glanced at his brother, for the first time feeling every one of his 1700 years weighing on him.

"He should be dead, Prick," Daemon said. "But somehow he survived the arrows coated in poison. It’s good you are going to see father, because there are some answers only he can give as to how Morton is not among the demon dead right now. He told me something and I can’t seem to recall it or what it means."

~~

Chilled to the bone, Saetan listened to Lucivar’s and Daemon’s reports. He would have liked to believe Lord Hobart had hired a company of Eyriens to help him seize control of Glacia, would have liked to believe the attack on Karla and Morton were strictly a Glacian concern. But he’d had other reports in the past seventy-two hours. Two District Queens in Dharo had been killed, along with their escorts. A mob of landens had attacked a kindred wolf pack that had recently formed around a young Queen. While the males were dealing with that threat, some Blood had outflanked them, killed the Queen, and vanished, leaving the landens behind to be slaughtered by the enraged males. In Scelt, a Warlord Prince, a youth still not quite old enough to make the Offering to the Darkness, had been found behind the tavern in his home village. His throat had been slit.

Now he sat with his sons, both wanting to know what needed to be done, but also why Morton was not amongst the demon dead. Why he hadn’t joined the ranks of their eldest brother. There was such a fine line, at times, when it came to what could and could not be revealed. The problem was, he had two Warlord Princes in front of him that would call bullshit if he dared to attempt and use Court phrases to avoid revealing too much of what Morton had told him. The same phrases used between himself and Morton as his training had begun so the younger man had not felt as if he were betraying his Queen when revealing why he wanted said training.

"High Lord," Daemon said, his voice too smooth and knowing.

"You realize that much of what I know I can not reveal," Saetan finally said. While they may not like it, sometimes honesty was the easiest approach.

"Why?" Lucivar asked too calmly.

"All the years you have known Jaenelle and how closely she keeps her secrets as a Black Widow and you need to ask?" Saetan questioned him. Lucivar cursed softly, starting to prowl across the floor of his father’s study.

"What can you tell us?" Daemon asked.

"I have been giving Morton private lessons on the Hourglass Coven’s craft," Saetan said.

"You’ve been turning him into a Black Widow?" Lucivar asked, pausing his pacing movement.

Saetan steepled his fingers, glancing at his sons. He still would not divulge too much, but he would tell them this. "In a sense," he said. "He requested information on poisons, I have been helping him in that regard. The outcome has been that he is becoming a Black Widow."

"Mother Night," Lucivar murmured.

"That’s why he didn’t succumb to the poisonous arrows," Daemon said.

Saetan rubbed his fingers against his chin, carefully wording his next response in his mind until he spoke aloud.

"That is why his body was able to hold out until help arrived," Saetan said. "But whether he succumbs to the poison is still yet to be determined."

That gave Lucivar pause, his head turning to look at the High Lord. "You don’t think he’ll survive even still?" he asked.

"How a Black Widow handles a poison is depending on their own natural poison," Daemon said.

Saetan slowly nodded, his eyes getting a slightly distant look. "And most Black Widows can handle milder poisons, those used to kill any other person not of the Coven," he said, his voice cold. "Sometimes those same poisons can kill a Black Widow in training."

"Which Morton is," Lucivar said, a chill stealing over him.

"Worse," Saetan said, finally leveling a gaze on his sons. "He is not a natural Black Widow who has only had a few months of training in a Craft that he was never meant to be a part of. The very poisons he was consuming in order to adjust his body may end up working against him in the end."

~~

The moment she heard that Morton was at the Keep, Wilhelmina had not hesitated to catch the nearest Sapphire wind and head straight to his side. She had dropped from the winds and was through the door swiftly; just as swiftly as her sister was stopping her.

"‘Mina," Jaenelle said quietly.

"Where is he?" Wilhelmina said, her voice frantic. Jaenelle was the only person, besides Karla, who knew how she felt for the Warlord.

"‘Mina, listen," Jaenelle said again.

"Jaenelle, where is he?!"

"Lady Benedict, listen!" Wilhelmina fell quiet, hearing urgency in her sister’s tone.

"Morton is okay, so far," Jaenelle said quietly. "But it’s bad. I... I don’t know if he is going to make it, even with all I’ve done."

Tears immediately filled Wilhelmina’s eyes. She swallowed and shook her head. "No," she said quietly. "No, he has to."

"I just need you to be prepared, sister," Jaenelle said. "He looks near death now, but if he is taken care of and if he rests as he should..."

"I’ll take care of him," Wilhelmina easily said. "I know Karla was injured and with all that is going on..."

Jaenelle smiled softly, squeezing her sister’s hand. "Come," she said. She led the brunette through the halls of the Keep to the bedroom they had arranged for Morton, which was just down the hall from his cousin. She allowed her sister a moment to gather herself before letting Wilhelmina into Morton’s room.

Wilhelmina immediately felt her stomach drop at the sight she was met with. The vibrant, but quiet man she loved looked gaunt and gray, close to death. Tears formed in her eyes as she slowly walked over to the bed, almost afraid to touch his hand.

"Tears won’t help him," Jaenelle said softly. "Your love will."

Wilhelmina swallowed the lump, a tear slipping onto her cheek. She slowly lowered herself, reaching for his hand. She could feel the warmth of her fingers pulling out of her body in response to warming his. She had a vague memory after Jaenelle left and Daemon had released the Black in Chaillot of touching the fingers of a dead body. It came rushing back to her as her fingers closed around Morton’s fingers. She pushed it away as quickly as she could. She refused to believe that Morton would die, not when they had too much to live for together. Finding more strength than many gave her credit for, Wilhelmina slipped her other hand beneath Morton’s and let her own body heat warm him even a little.

"Come back to me, my love," she whispered. "You have too much to live for. Fight." Though silence was all that answered her, she refused to give up. She lowered her head, pressing her lips very lightly to the back of his hand, ignoring how the smell of death clung to him. He wouldn’t die, couldn’t. Not yet. They had a future to live for, a future to create together. She would not allow Morton to give up without a fight.

~~

The entire Dark Court was in an uproar. Targeted attacks had been occurring in various territories ever since the revolt in Glacia. The trusted members of Karla’s court were currently holding most of the revolters at bay that weren’t strong enough to do much more. Those responsible had been predominantly handled, but Hobart had not been found. It had been determined he found a good place to go to ground, that even Jaenelle was unable to find him.

Yet.

She had become increasingly quiet and shut herself away more often than not. When she did come out of her solitude, she was so quiet that Saetan and Lucivar had briefly wondered if she had sent one of her elaborate shadows in her place.

Sorrow had quickly filled Saetan as he listened to the males of the Court talk of battle plans and what needed to be done next to protect their own. How easily the centuries could melt away when the same evil that had permeated the blood created a festering wound that had never fully healed. It scared him that he could let his eyes unfocus and he would see the males of the territories of yesteryear making the same plans, his once living son amongst them. Andulvar and Prothvar, too, had been in the thick of it all.

He had hoped they would never be in this place again, but as reports had continued to roll in from varying territories, he knew that the situation in Glacia had not been isolated. Something that had been further driven home after Kalush had been attacked while walking in her own capital city, only the Ebony shield in the Ring of Honor she wore keeping her and her daughter from being killed. They had almost lost Aaron, who had bordered on insanity upon arriving riding the killing edge with such intensity that the slaughter had been brutal.

They faced the destruction of all they held dear once more, just as they had so many millenia ago. Those who fought now, caused the case did not remember as they were of the short-lived races. The few long-lived that did remember mourned for the loss they would face once more.

Saetan suspected that the outcome of this destruction would cost the Blood more than they could ever realize, and it made his heart ache with such pain that he didn’t even know where to begin to heal it.

~~

Khardeen took a moment to still himself before rapping gently on Morton’s door. A frown puckered the skin of his brow when he heard a female voice he wasn’t expecting telling him to enter. He pushed open the door and stepped inside.

Wilhelmina looked over to the door, her hands still circling Morton’s on the bed. She had used Craft to float a small footstool to her so she was not putting pressure on her knees, but she didn’t want to sit in a chair that would cause her to bend over or lift Morton’s arm too high. She was worried about causing him pain, but also knew that she would catch Hell from Jaenelle if she was bent in half to keep from hurting him.

Khardeen walked over to the pair, his eyes haunted as he studied his friend where he lay. He knew how horrible the healing had been with Karla, but after facing that he hadn’t been able to stomach the idea of assisting Jaenelle with Morton as well. Thankfully, Jaenelle had insisted that Karla had needed him more than Morton did as he kept vigil over the Glacian Queen while Jaenelle and Daemon attempted to save Morton’s life.

But save it for what? Or have they? It was an internal thought he would never voice. Only the small rise and fall of Morton’s chest indicated that he was not, in fact, one of the demon dead and the wounds that had pierced his skin were no longer there also showed that he was very much alive. He only prayed to the Darkness that he would remain so.

"Lord Khardeen?" Wilhelmina said quietly, her voice a little rough from obvious crying.

"I wanted to see how he was doing and if he needed anything," Khardeen finally said, pulling his normally mischievous blue eyes from his wounded friend to settle on the woman at his side.

"He just needs time," Wilhelmina said. "To rest and recover, to..." She bit her lip, her throat closing as she felt tears forming again.

"Lady?" Khardeen asked quietly. "Do you need anything?"

Wilhelmina was quiet, the tears that had begun to form quickly filled her eyes and spilled onto her cheeks. She finally tore her eyes away from Morton’s too-still form to look at Khardeen.

"I need him to live," she whispered. "I need him to be okay because I need to tell him I love him. He can’t die, not when I didn’t get to tell him that I love him too."

Khardeen immediately moved to her side, wrapping his arms around her. He felt Wilhelmina stiffen at first then she was folding into him, her head resting on his shoulder. A soft sob escaped her and he rubbed her back.

"When did he finally tell you?" Khardeen had to ask.

"Just before he lost consciousness," Wilhelmina said. "I felt him whisper in my mind."

"Mother Night..."

"Why is this happening?" Wilhelmina asked, her voice cracking as she pulled back, brushing her fingers over her cheeks to wipe her tears. "Everything seemed so wonderful."

"I wish I knew the answer to that," Khardeen said. "If we had the answer, maybe we could find a way to make it all end."

"I can’t lose him," Wilhelmina said, a sob pulling from her lips again. Khardeen’s hold on her tightened, his hand moving along her spine as he watched Morton where he lay. He sent up an offering to the Darkness that Morton’s life would be spared. He had too much to live for, too much to do. And he offered a small thank you that the woman one of his best friends loved did, in fact, love him in return.

"I’m sorry," Wilhelmina said, pulling back from Khardeen’s embrace. "I sniffled all over you."

"You aren’t the first female to do so," Khardeen said, offering a soft smile. "A few of the coven have, and Morghann certainly has. You are one of us and we are here for our own."

His words twisted something in Wilhelmina’s heart, giving her pause. In all the time she had been in Kaeleer, beyond the attentions Morton had given her, she had never felt welcomed or wanted with her sister’s coven. Now she was being given assurance that she was a part of them, that they would not abandon her. It broke her heart but she felt the pain she had been carrying since she was a child starting to bleed out, replaced with something else. She wasn’t sure what, but she knew it was something she had been craving her entire life.

"You should go find Morghann," Wilhelmina finally said. She turned her head and saw his face shutter some. "She needs you now. We all need those we love."

"We’ve fought," Khardeen whispered, his voice filled with sorrow and regret. "We all have."

"You can’t," Wilhelmina said. "We all need one another. Especially now."

~~

The first few nights were the worse. Morton didn’t regain consciousness, but he he thrashed in his sleep. The movement only served to cause him pain, something he couldn’t escape from in sleep. Wilhelmina’s very limited knowledge was mostly fueled by Jaenelle’s instruction as she checked on him, or that of Daemon’s when he would come in to assist. He had taken it upon himself to assist in Morton and Karla’s recovery whenever possible.

Almost two weeks passed before Morton, finally, started to come around. Wilhelmina had wondered for some time if he would ever come out of it and survive. She never left his side, ensuring that he had food whenever possible, insisting he drink the broth that would keep him healthy as well as water to keep him hydrated.

He would mumble incoherently; she would soothe him. It was the same thing for days on end. The only time she slept was when she was forced to by Daemon or Khardeen. Every time she fought it because she was terrified that if she didn’t stay awake to watch him, he’d slip away in the night.

Finally it was obviously that he would be fine. He had a recovery ahead, but he finally was out of the woods enough that they could declare that the poison would no longer be in danger of killing him.

On that day, Wilhelmina collapsed into a bed beside him and slept without fear of what she would find when she woke.

~~

"What are you doing?" Wilhelmina demanded as she hurried to put the tray in her hands down and push Morton back onto the bed.

"I should be with my Brothers," Morton said, trying to shrug off her hands. His body was still weak from the poison that should have killed him.

"You can barely stand, let alone fight," Wilhelmina said, easily pushing him back to the mattress, despite his attempts to wave her off. "You’ve been saved once, don’t go off and--."

"And what?" Morton demanded, anger lacing his words. "Get myself killed? Karla’s fighting to even be who she was again despite all that Jaenelle did for her. Glacia is under attack, Kalush and Arianna were almost killed. Jaenelle isn’t opening to anyone and Sadi keeps her sequestered--."

"Prince Sadi loves Jaenelle and loves this Court," Wilhelmina said firmly, but quietly. "Whatever she is planning or arranging, she doesn’t want us to know yet. So she is ensuring that Daemon is doing exactly what is necessary. Keeping the rest of us at bay."

She retrieved the tray she had been carrying and set it on a nearby table near the bed, before picking up the bowl and spoon. She scooped the healing broth up to offer it to him, but he turned away. She clenched her jaw.

"You need--," she started to say before Morton interrupted.

"Why do you care, Lady?" Morton said bitterly. "Why care now?"

"Because you need to eat something and I am taking care of you," Wilhelmina said.

"Because your Queen and my healer said so, hm?" There was such bitterness in Morton’s tone. The festering wound on his heart had been building since he regained consciousness and found Wilhelmina seeing to him. She had yet to mention the confession he had sent to her before succumbing to unconsciousness. He had thought that their tip toeing around one another had been a quiet dance of mutual interest, but all it appeared was one sided as she had diligently been his nurse while he was recovering and nothing more.

Wilhelmina’s anger snapped and she slapped the spoon into the broth, splashing them both with the warm liquid. She spat out a curse as she set the bowl down and grabbed a towel, mopping at her gown before wiping his chest, neck and face. Her lips lifted in a sneer when he tried smacking her hands away, anger radiating from him.

"Answer me," Morton growled when Wilhelmina rose from the bed.

"Why should I?" Wilhelmina snapped. "You are being an ass right now and need to eat then sleep."

"Oh of course, because you know so much about healing, what with no caste besides a witch," Morton sneered at her. When he saw her spine stiffen, he realized too late that he had said the wrong thing, allowing his frustration and anger to inflict pain on the woman he loved. Even if she did not return his sentiment, he had no right to hurt her because of it. And Saetan would have his head if he knew what he had just done.

Wilhelmina slowly turned, doing her best to hold back the tears that wanted to fall, but one treacherous droplet slid down her cheek as she stubbornly lifted her chin to the man.

"I am going to chalk that up to your frustrations over being confined to bed and unable to assist the other First Circle males with what is going on," she said, her voice strong but shaking. "Because the man I fell in love with would never be cruel on purpose."

Almost ready to argue and apologize at the same time, Morton felt the air leave his still working lungs at her last statement. "You... you love me?" he asked, his heart start to pound.

"Of course I love you," Wilhelmina said, anger replacing the hurt she felt. "And I thought you loved me based on the message you sent to me after... but maybe I was wrong."

"Wilhelmina, I--," Morton started as she moved to the tray of food, covering the bowl to keep it warm and placing a spelled bubble around the bread to keep it fresh.

"Rest, Lord Morton," Wilhelmina said, slamming an emotional shield in place so quickly that Morton visibly flinched. "When you are up to it, your food is here. I will come and check on you later."

"Lady Benedict." He tried again but she simply ignored him; her spine so straight that he worried she would snap something if she moved wrong. She never looked at him again, moving so quickly across the room that he barely had time to shift on the bed to even consider rising to stop her. Then she was gone.

With a frustrated moan, Morton slumped on the mattress. His eyes closed, internally berating himself for making a mess of the entire interaction.

"Great, Morton. Just... great."

~~

Karla glanced over to the door where her cousin leaned heavily on a cane as he entered the room. She felt such relief at seeing him up and moving, that she was able to push away the visions of her tangled web that showed death so easily. She knew, immediately, that her web, and his insistence to know what it contained, had saved his life. If not for the poisons he had been slowly consuming, he never would have survived the arrows that had pierced his body. There was something about how he stood, almost shielding himself, that she realized there was something bothering him.

"Cousin," Karla said, her voice a bit rough from the crying she had succumbed to when the pain had been the worst. She was lucky to even be alive, that much she knew.

"How are you feeling?" Morton asked, slowly making his way into the room. He could already feel his body tiring, which frustrated him to no end. Jaenelle had told him it would take time for him to regain his strength. Unlike his cousin, however, he would fully recover in time. Karla’s poisoning had been slow and deliberate, and when the final mixture had been included... well he knew she was lucky to be alive. Looking at Karla’s face, he knew that she knew it as well. Whatever ramifications she would face in the wake of it would be worth it to simply be alive.

"I’ve felt better," Karla admitted. She had days where she could joke about what happened, but she quickly learned that the humor was not wanted. And it simply hurt those around her.

"What about you?" Karla diverted attention from herself. "Working with the High Lord saved your life, Jaenelle said."

"I’m healing," Morton said. "Going to take time, but I am healing."

"Why didn’t you tell me what you were intending, Morton?" Karla asked. "When I told you about the web, why didn’t you tell me you were going to go to Uncle Saetan and ask him to make you a Black Widow."

"My intent wasn’t to become a Black Widow," Morton said. "But I did want to find a way to keep myself from being taken advantage of or killed when I should be protecting you."

"You could have died in the pursuit of this!" Karla said hotly. "I still could have lost you, so could have Wilhelmina!" Karla had been one of the few that knew of Morton’s affections for the dark-haired beauty. Her eyebrow arched sharply when she saw the wince that slashed across his face.

"What did you do, cousin?"

Too quiet. Why did she always have to speak in a too quiet voice? Why couldn’t she be straightforward and put him in his place? Didn’t he need that push, that immediate slap for what he had done?

"I... was cruel," Morton admitted softly, his voice full of shame. "I didn’t allow my mind to process what I was going to say before it left my lips. I said something she didn’t deserve."

"What did you say?" Karla asked. She felt an anger she never thought she would feel towards her cousin burning in her belly, but she had been listening to Jaenelle when she explained how scared her sister had always been, how inadequate Wilhelmina felt in comparison to Jaenelle. Who wouldn’t feel such a thing upon discovering their sister is Witch and realizing the amount of power that person held within their body?

Jaenelle had also confided that Wilhelmina felt as if she were less because she held no other caste. Yes, her jewels were darker once she made her Offering, but she was still a witch with no caste and Jewels that would be considered quite a disappointment in comparison to her sister. It didn’t matter that her Jewels outranked Morton’s, giving her the advantage when it came to Protocol; he was the First Escort to a Territory Queen and in the First Circle of the Queen of Ebon Askavi’s court. Wilhelmina had accepted an offer into the Second Circle, though she knew it had been a hesitant move and only done because of her familial relation to Jaenelle.

"What did you say, Morton?" Karla’s tone took on a sharp edge, warning her cousin that his answer would most likely displease her.

He wasn’t a fool, normally. He heard her tone, knew that his answer would anger his cousin a great deal. He knew he had a lot to make up for all because he was hurting; both physically and emotionally.

"I was an ass," Morton said quietly. A felt a slash of cold wash over him; knew stalling would do him no good. He barely heard the door behind him open. "I lashed out. Basically made her out to be a no one because she doesn’t have a caste beyond being a witch." The last of his words were spoken in a barely audible tone.

"You what?" Karla said coldly. "How dare you."

Morton couldn’t look at his cousin, visibly flinching away from the cold tone. "I’m sorry," he whispered.

"Sorry doesn’t take the words back, Warlord," Karla said. "Why would you--."

"Karla."

Mother Night, please no... One of the last people that Morton wanted to know about his stupidity was the High Lord.

"Did you hear?" Karla asked, the coldness in her voice not thawing as she addressed Saetan.

"I did," Saetan said. "But you should be resting."

"This can not go unpunished, High Lord," Karla said. "The words--."

"Cut a deep wound," Saetan said, walking over to the two people. He was fully aware of Morton shrinking away from him as he stood beside him. In Karla’s anger, she couldn’t taste the sorrow and remorse rolling off of her cousin. In her anger, she only wanted to defend a slighted Sister. While he knew that Morton understood that, he did not need his cousin’s anger to add to his own personal berating.

"Do you--," Karla started, pausing as Saetan lifted one hand. The slender fingers curled towards his palm until one remained straight. The black-tinted nails were a stark contrast against the paler skin of his palm.

"Lord Morton and I will discuss what he said," Saetan said. "In the meantime, I want you to drink the healing brew that Jaenelle ensured you had enough of and I want you to rest. I may need your assistance in corralling the rest of the coven and the boyos. I believe they want to embark on round two of trying to convince Jaenelle to go to war."

The way Karla’s face paled concerned Saetan beyond anything he possibly imagined. Especially as she leaned over to take the healing brew without being prodded to do so. Glancing sideways at Morton, he inclined his head, indicating the other man follow him. He was glad that the young Warlord didn’t protest and followed the High Lord into the hallway.

"She’s pissed at me," Morton said, his tone sounding as if he were ripping his own heart out.

"So I heard," Saetan said mildly. He sighed when he saw Morton wince. "I do not blame her, Warlord. You said something quite cruel and it will take much to repair the damage you created for yourself."

"I wasn’t thinking," Morton said immediately. "It just... I let my sore heart..." He looked away, shame washing over his body. "I was an ass."

"Yes, you were," Saetan said bluntly. "But not all is lost. Lady Benedict does understand that you were hurting, but unfortunately you struck the one part of her that has always been a very sore subject for her, especially considering who her sister is."

"I know," Morton said. "I just..." He ran his fingers through his hair. "There is no excuse. I should stop making them."

"I partially agree," Saetan said. He smiled slightly at the confused look in Morton’s ice blue eyes. "I do not think you are necssarily making excuses, at least not wholly. But you should stop hiding behind them. You need to make amends."

"I don’t even know where to begin," Morton admitted.

"An apology is as good a place as any."

~~

It had taken Morton quite a bit to garner the courage to go in search of Wilhelmina. He had considered waiting until everything was resolved regarding the purge, but he knew there was too high of a chance that he would still not survive.

Or worse that she would not.

He finally found her, stroking Jaal’s head as he walked into a garden sanctuary at the Keep. He had to admit that he was surprised to see the kindred Warlord Prince, as many of them had retreated. He worried over just why, hoping they would not pull away from their human friends in a time when they all needed one another.

"Lady," Morton said softly.

"You should be resting, Lord Morton," was all she said, her fingers still lazily stroking Jaal’s head sorrowfully. Ever since Dejaal’s death, Jaal had befriended Wilhelmina and would seek her out to ensure she was doing well. He had come to care for the Lady’s sister and the young woman his son had died defending.

"I wanted to see you," Morton said.

"Why?" Wilhelmina asked. Her fingers had dropped to her lap. A quick nuzzle to her cheek had Jaal retreating and trotting out of the gardens. He knew that the conversation was one between the two humans. A soft smile tugged at the corner of Morton’s lips at how different father and son were. Had it been Dejaal, he would have remained, humans needing privacy be damned.

"I would say to apologize, but nothing I say can take away the words I said," Morton said. "I can only hope that you can forgive me such a heinous act and move past it."

"Why did you even say it?" Wilhelmina whispered. "Why cut me in such a way that you knew..." She bit her lip to still the tears that wanted to fall. She had thought that, perhaps, her tears had finally dried up. She was wrong.

"I was stupid," Morton said. "I was hurt."

Wilhelmina turned to him, tears splashing onto her cheeks, but confusion was clear on her face. "Hurt? By what?"

"After I woke, you never mentioned what I last said... I thought you were trying to..." Morton swallowed hard, realizing now how silly his rationale sounded. "I thought you were trying to avoid it, because you didn’t feel the same."

Wilhelmina slowly rose from the bench she had been sitting on, a single brow arching upwards towards her hairline. "That has got to be the most ridiculous thing I have ever heard," she said.

"I know..." Morton would have scuffed the toe of his foot into the dirt if he didn’t think his still weakened legs would give out on him and send him tumbling to an inelegant heap on the ground.

"How could you think, for even a minute, that I didn’t love you?" Wilhelmina asked.

"Well... you never really said," Morton said, practically mumbling.

"I’m not the most demonstrative person, Morton, you know that," Wilhelmina pointed out. "It took me weeks to even gain the courage to say hi to you when you said it to me, or have you forgotten that part?"

"Well, no, I--," Morton started.

"I had no idea how you felt or if there was a mutual attraction, let alone even love," Wilhelmina continued. "I never felt truly welcome here, why would I put myself on the line, so to speak, and admit that I love you?"

"Instead you would want to hide it?" Morton asked, indignation forming. "You’d rather--."

"Not get my heart broken, yes," Wilhelmina finished, her voice cracking and making Morton pause. "That’s what I was trying to avoid. When I heard you tell me..." She swallowed hard. "I needed to focus, Morton. When Jaenelle showed me what happened- the healing, how you looked after wards. I needed to focus. I had to focus on ensuring you were as well as you could be before I dared to..."

"‘Mina," Morton started.

"You still broke my heart," Wilhelmina whispered. "Those words broke Morton’s heart. "You used the one thing that I always knew I was lacking as a weapon with the intent to hurt me, and you did. You hurt me. You broke my heart."

Morton tried to catch her arm as she skirted past him, her head down and her shoulders already shaking. "Wait..."

"I can’t," Wilhelmina said. She paused enough to speak, but didn’t turn to him. "I don’t know if I can ever push away what you said, no matter how hurt you were. I don’t know if I can unfeel the hurt you purposely inflicted because of your own." Before he could stop her, she was gone.

~~

"Are you going to hide from him forever?" Wilhelmina paused, not daring to lift her head. That was a voice she was not expecting to hear, admonishing her. In fact, if she was honest with herself, she suspected that Lucivar would care less about what went on with her then anyone. She always felt that he saw her as being nothing more than a pawn to be used against Jaenelle by Hekatah and Dorothea. Or even by their own biological family. Hadn’t that been the case and had resulted in her falling in love with Morton, but also grieving the loss of Dejaal?

"I don’t know what you are talking about," Wilhelmina said.

"Yes you do," Lucivar said, stepping out into the gardens, the shadow finally giving way to his features. "You are hiding from Morton."

"I am not," Wilhelmina said. "Avoiding, maybe, but I am not hiding." She spun to face him, her face twisting into incredulity.

"And since when did you care?" she asked, her voice filling with a heat that Lucivar had never heard from her. From Jaenelle, yes, though that alone should not have surprised him in the least to hear it from Wilhelmina.

"I care," Lucivar said. "Because you are acting like a wounded--."

"Don’t you dare," Wilhelmina said. "Because you have no right. You have never cared about me and my emotions, so do not claim that any sense of care you are showing has anything to do with me."

Lucivar’s face screwed up slightly, not in anger, but confusion. "That’s not true..."

"Yes it is true," Wilhelmina said, the words spilling from her lips without pause. "You never cared. You made sure I ended up here only because I could be used as a tool against Jaenelle. And I almost was when our grandmother came here and Dejaal ended up dead, because of me. You can’t stand there and tell me you never blamed me for that."

Lucivar didn’t even get the chance to respond before Wilhelmina was continuing her rant.

"You kept me safe because it meant keeping Jaenelle safe," she snapped. "Well now what do you do? Why aren’t you with her? Why aren’t you preparing for whatever is to come so that people don’t end up hurt or dead? Where were you when Morton and Karla were poisoned?!"

"You are blaming me for that?!" Now incredulity was filling Lucivar’s voice. They had no way of knowing what would happen.

Or did they? Had they simply ignored any sign of what Jaenelle or Karla had seen? Had Saetan ignored his gut when Morton had asked him to teach him about poisons? If they had pushed, would they have been able to prevent everything so far?

"You blame me for so much, why can’t I do the same?" Wilhelmina said, the bitterness in her voice so unlike the woman he thought he knew. But there was such sorrow in that tone as well, that Lucivar had to pause and rethink his own opinion of her. Hadn’t his father even admitted to him that he had resented Wilhelmina because if not for her, Jaenelle could have escaped Chaillot sooner and never be faced with the vicious rape in Briarwood which led to his manipulation of thinking Daemon had been responsible? Hadn’t they debated over and over how if that had not happened, how Daemon could have been spared his long journey in the Twisted Kingdom; a trip he had been the catalyst of when he thought, and believed, that Daemon was capable of destroying the one person he was born to love with everything inside of him?

"We don’t--."

"Don’t you dare lie to me," Wilhlemina bit out. "I may be just a witch with no other caste and I may not be as dark jeweled as you, but I am no idiot despite what my grandmother tried to claim so she could control me. I can sense emotions as well as the next. I am unwanted."

"That is not--, Wilhelmina wait!" But even Lucivar’s quick reflexes weren’t quick enough. The pain in his chest and his gut were gnawing at him as he caught a glimpse of her face as she ran past him, fleeing into the Keep. Tears had been streaming down her face and the pain radiating off of her was a clear indicator of exactly what she thought of how most thought of her. And when Lucivar was honest with himself, it was his fault for not making things right in the beginning. Now with the storm coming, he only hoped he would be able to make amends when this was all over. If they all survived.

~~

Shortly after they last spoke, Wilhelmina began finding random bouquets of flowers strewn about in places she could find, but most had been arranged in her rooms. Some were accompanied with cards, others her favorite type of fudge. Sometimes it was a single flower, sometimes it was a large array of blossoms and usually all were most of her favorites. Only two people knew that information, and considering Jaenelle was quite preoccupied with other matters, it only meant one thing.

This revelation is what had Wilhelmina almost stomping down the hallway to the other end of the wing where Morton’s rooms had been made while he recovered. Her fists were closing and opening in frustration. The back of her mind was nagging at her that this was not a bad thing to be experiencing. The problem was, her heart ached, and the irrational part of her brain that was trying to protect her from further heartache was out and out pissed at Morton’s attentions. It was that part that was driving her at that moment.

"How dare you! Where do you th--." Walking in on a naked man had not been a part of the plan! Her cheeks flaring red with embarrassment, Wilhelmina spun so her back was to Morton. She felt slightly silly in doing so, considering how much of his naked form she had seen while she had been nursing him back to health, but with how her body instantly reacted to seeing him, she knew this time was very different. And this time was very similar to the first time she’d ever seen him fully naked after one particular call to arms had brought all of the boyos from their bed in the middle of the night and she got a good glimpse at what all of them wore to bed. Namely nothing at all.

Morton didn’t move at first, but he couldn’t help the grin that started to form as Wilhelmina blushed and spun away from him. He could detect a shift in her psychic scent, indicating just what she thought about his unclothed form. It gave him a thrill. The problem with things now, however, was he was still healing and sometimes his body liked to rebel against him to remind him of a few things. Like now.

As he reached for the loose pants he was going to slide on, his legs gave out and he landed on the floor with a grunt of pain. Wilhelmina was by his side immediately, her slender arm slipping around his waist and helping him up.

"Easy," she said quietly.

"Just when I think I’m okay to do normal things," Morton said, letting the frustration over his slower recovery show in his tone.

Wilhelmina shook her head, the ends of her dark hair brushing against Morton’s skin. He had to suppress a groan and prayed to the Darkness that his body didn’t offer a very swift betrayal to what her touch did to him, even one as minor as it was.

"You are recovering," she reminded him. "I know how bad it was, Morton. By rights, you should be demon dead now." Without even thinking, she grabbed the pants he had been reaching for, then lifted his legs to slip them into the material.

"I know," Morton said, his cheeks brightening with a sliver of embarrassment as he saw, and felt, his cock stiffening even slightly with her so close. She took note as well, her cheeks darkening further. Wilhelmina helped Morton to his feet and kept him steady as he pulled his pants in place. It did little to hide his obvious arousal.

"I... I should go," Wilhelmina said, her voice husky and her psychic scent betraying what she really wanted to do.

"Please don’t," Morton said. He wavered as he tried to step in front of her, resulting in her catching his waist. She tucked her tongue at him and maneuvered him to the bed, urging him to lay down.

"Don’t go," Morton said again, his voice a whisper.

Wilhelmina looked up, finally looking at him. She had been trying to avoid doing so. Her hurt and anger hadn’t dissipated much after the disaster of him waking up and being more coherent enough to say the hurtful things he had. But her heart fluttered and she couldn’t ignore the fact that she did love him.

"I..."

"Please." His voice was a plea and his fingers found hers, immediately interweaving them together to keep her from leaving.

"You... you broke my heart," Wilhelmina whispered, tears filling her eyes. Her head ducked down and she stared at their entwined fingers as if she had never seen something like that before.

"I know," Morton whispered, his own pain over his actions coating his words. "I’ll spend the rest of my life making it up to you however I can."

"I don’t..."

Morton’s hands moved from hers, cupping her face. He lifted her head, making her look at him. His heart ached as tears slipped from her eyes and splashed onto their skin. He could see the pain in her eyes, and it burned his gut that he was the cause of this.

"I love you, ‘Mina," Morton said, his voice rough with emotion. "I will spend every moment of every day showing you that and making what I said right. Even if you can never forget what I said, I hope you can forgive me enough to show you that I me--."

The reaction he got was not one he had expected. He had expected her to wrench away from him, to maybe say yes and take it slow. What he had not expected was for her to cut his words off as her lips claimed his. He wasn’t complaining, by any stretch of the imagination, but he was stunned. Thankfully, his brain was not so slow to recognize what this was and his eyes closed, giving himself over to the kiss.

Morton finally forced himself to break the kiss. "‘Mina," he whispered. "‘Mina, stop."

"I thought..." Her cheeks flushed bright red and she tried to pull away quickly, but Morton was able to stop her.

"I want," he said quietly. "Oh how I want. I just... you’d be disappointed right now and I don’t want that." His cheeks were colored now. Admitting to such a shortcoming was embarrassing.

"Oh!" Wilhelmina blew out, understanding settling across her. She shifted so she could sit beside him, reaching for his hands.

"I doubt I would ever be disappointed, but you are still recovering. I don’t want to be the cause of any sort of relapse," Wilhelmina said.

"Can I, at least, hold you?" Morton asked. A soft smile ghosted across Wilhelmina’s face as she helped Morton lay back. Slipping her shoes off, she stretched out beside him, carefully resting against him as his arms wrapped around her.

"That you can do."

~~

"She didn’t react at all?" Chaosti asked Surreal as she informed the boyos and the coven of the package that had been delivered which had held Saetan’s finger.

"Not a bit," Surreal practically spat out. She was well beyond furious over how indifferent both Jaenelle and Sadi had been.

"Could it have been one of her shadows?" Sabrina asked.

"Why send a shadow to handle something so delicate?" Falonar asked, his body practically vibrating with anger.

"Why is Jaenelle doing anything that she is?" Chaosti snapped. "Why is Sadi letting her do any of what she is doing? She apparently is not thinking--."

Karla hissed at Chaosti, snapping her fingers sharply. "Watch what you say, Prince."

Surreal looked over at the woman. "Doesn’t he have a point?"

"No," Karla said. "It’s about time all of you looked and thought and remembered a few things. The boyos’ instincts are pushing them toward battle. They can’t change that any more than they can change being male. And the coven is made up of Queens whose instincts are urging them to protect their people."

"Which is exactly what they should be doing!" Surreal shouted. "And you don’t seem to have that
problem," she added nastily. Then she glanced at Karla’s covered legs and regretted the words, especially when Morton snarled at her. The man might be injured and healing as well, but he would still protect his cousin and Queen.

"When Jaenelle was fifteen," Karla said. "The Dark Council tried to say that Uncle Saetan was unfit to be her legal guardian. They decided to appoint someone else. And she said they could ’when the sun next rises.’ Do you know what happened?" She looked to the rest of the coven and boyos. "Do you remember what happened?"

Surreal noted the coven paling slightly and the boyos stiffened. She glanced to Wilhelmina and saw the confusion on her face and how Falonar glanced to the boyos, caution filling him as he saw their reactions. She finally stilled her own movements, then shook her head at Karla.

"The sun didn’t rise for three days," Karla said mildly. "It didn’t rise until the Council rescinded their decision."

Surreal sank to the floor. "Mother Night," she whispered.

"Jaenelle didn’t want a court, didn’t want to rule. The only reason she became the Queen of Ebon
Askavi was to stop the Terreilleans who were coming into the kindred Territories and slaughtering the kindred. Do you really think a woman who would do those things has spent the past three weeks wringing her hands and hoping this will all go away? I don’t. She needs us here for a reason-- and she’ll tell us when it’s time to tell us." Karla paused. "And I’ll tell you one other thing: sometimes a friend must become an enemy in order to remain a friend."

Karla was talking about Daemon. It was the thought that ran through all of their heads. Surreal shook her head. "The way he’s been acting--."

"Daemon Sadi is totally committed to Witch. Whatever he does, he does for her."

"You don’t know that."

"Don’t I?" Karla said too softly. Surreal stiffened as a single term floated through her mind. Black Widow.

"She’s right," Wilhelmina said quietly. She may not hold any caste, but she knew Daemon and had always known his devotion to Jaenelle, even from her childhood.

"If there is anything we can be sure of," Wilhelmina said. "Is the Sadist’s devotion to Witch."

"But to what end?" Aaron questioned. "Just what can he convince her to do that she wouldn’t tell us? Or what would he do for her if she asked?"

None of them could answer, because all of the answers left them sick at the very idea.

~~

None of them had time to revel in the fact that Lucivar, Saetan, Marian, and Daemonar were okay. None of them wanted to know why Daemon looked both haunted and hopeful, yet none of the boyos would go near him. Not after hearing Surreal had gone with him to Terreille and none of them knew what had been planned. They all fell over themselves to greet Lucivar, but kept a polite, and hostile, distance from Daemon.

It pained Saetan to see and knew that it would have to change. Sending a quick command to Lucivar, who almost denied him, they flanked Daemon as they followed Draca down into the chamber where the Dark Throne stood. Saetan felt his heart drop into his stomach at what lay on the seat.

Draca picked up that something from the Throne’s seat, hesitated, then turned to face them. Daemon froze. She was holding Jaenelle’s scepter. But the metal was all twisted, and the two Ebony Jewels were shattered. Not just drained.Shattered. So was the spiral horn.

"The Queen of Ebon Asskavi iss gone," Draca said quietly. "The Dark Court no longer existss."

Someone began screaming. A scream full of panic, rage, denial, pain. It wasn’t until Lucivar and Saetan grabbed Daemon and held him back that they all realized the person who was
screaming was him.

Morton felt Wilhelmina slump, her legs giving out as she heard news of her sister. His legs were still weak from the poisoning and he went with her, ensuring to keep her cradled as closely as he could. His fingers slid into the dark curtain of her hair, pressing her to his chest as sobs started to take over. They were nowhere near what Daemon was experiencing, but the level of anguish that rolled off of her was enough to twist a knife in his gut.

*Maybe I should not have survived,* he thought to himself. *Maybe my presence helping the demon dead would have avoided this. She would have lost me, but how can any of us survive losing Jaenelle?*

He felt a slight bite of sharp nails grip his shoulder and his head turned to stare into the tear-filled eyes of his cousin. The look she gave him practically screamed that she knew what he had been thinking and to not travel that road. Tears that had been building in his own eyes finally spilled onto his cheeks. Carefully maneuvering herself, Karla wrapped her arms around both Morton and Wilhelmina as he rested his head against the top of the woman he loved. It served to make Wilhelmina cry harder, and the tears the two Glacians had been holding back were finally released as the rest of the Dark Court began to absorb the meaning behind the price of what was lost to ensure their safety.

~~

"What was the point of it?" Gabrielle demanded angrily while tears fell unheeded down her cheeks. Chaosti was at a loss as to how to help his wife. "What was the point of offering the memories if they weren’t going to do any good?"

Wilhelmina lifted her head from Morton’s shoulder, her fingers resting on his leg. She saw Surreal raking her fingers through her hair. Wilhelmina thanked the Darkness that Surreal and Saetan had been able to heavily sedate Daemon after Draca’s announcement. He couldn’t have tolerated any of this right now.

She could tell that they all would have liked to have found out more about the memory ritual that Ladvarian had requested of them, but they all were more intrigued by the fact that Tersa seemed too calm and undisturbed-- and also a little angry. It would take someone mucking up something very important to make Tersa angry.

"Yes, Tersa," Karla said testily, her sorrow finally haven given over to anger. "What was the point?"

"Blood is the memory’s river. And the Blood shall sing to the Blood," Tersa replied. Gabrielle said something succinct and obscene.

"Shut up, Gabrielle," Surreal snapped.

Tersa was sitting on the long table in front of the couch, next to a pile of wooden building blocks. Surreal crouched down beside her. "What were the memories for?" she asked quietly.

Tersa brushed her tangled hair away from her face. "To feed the web of dreams. It was no longer complete. It had lived, it had grown."

"But she’s gone!" Morghann wailed.

"The Queen is gone," Tersa said with some heat. "Is that all she was to you?"

"No," Karla said. "She was Jaenelle. That was enough."

"She was my sister," Wilhelmina whispered, her head resting against Morton’s shoulder again.

"Exactly," Tersa said. "It is still enough."

Surreal jolted, hardly daring to hope. Those words actually gave them all pause, their gazes intent on Tersa. It was Surreal who reached out and touched Tersa’s hand, waited until she was sure she had the woman’s attention. "The Queen is gone, but Jaenelle isn’t?"

Tersa hesitated. "It’s too soon to know. But the triangle kept the dream from returning to the Darkness, and now the kindred are fighting to hold the dream to the flesh."

That brought protests from Gabrielle and Karla.

"Wait a minute," Gabrielle said, glancing at Karla, who nodded. "If Jaenelle is hurt and needs a Healer, she should have us."

"No," Tersa said, her anger breaking free. "She should not have you. You could not look at what was done to that flesh and believe it could still live. But the kindred do not doubt. The kindred will not believe anything else. That is why, if it can be done, they are the ones who can do it." She jumped up and ran out of the room.

Wilhelmina felt her gourge rise. She looked over at Gabrielle and Karla, frightened at how pale they were. "What... what does she mean?" Though in her own way she suspected that she already knew the answer. She had seen how bad Morton and Karla had been after Jaenelle’s healing for poison. She could only hazard a guess as to what had been done to Jaenelle after unleashing and reabsorbing her full strength.

"It means that we need to have faith," Karla finally said. "In Jaenelle and in the Kindred."

~~

Wilhelmina had needed time. After speaking with Saetan and Geoffrey, she had needed time. Even seeking Morton out would be too difficult and Jaal was wherever the kindred had taken Jaenelle. She felt truly, and utterly, alone at that moment.

It had pained her to hear the news Saetan had delivered. That Leland, Philip, and Alexandra were dead. Despite so much, one single act had decided their fate. She suspected that Alexandra, more than any of them, would have been washed away during the Purge of the Realms that Jaenelle had wrought. Leland and Philip had most likely been executed by those that remained, for allowing things such as Briarwood. Anger in the wake of everything that had happened would have given way to violence. And her mother and stepfather would have paid the price. If Alexandra had survived the purge, she too, would have paid the price. Saetan had been as gentle as possible, had tried to reassure her, but the emotions that had swamped her senses after he told her they were gone had been to much and she escaped as quickly as she could.

Now she sat, alone, with her thoughts. Despite her love for Morton, despite knowing he had survived, she felt completely and thoroughly alone. They still had received no news on Jaenelle and Wilhelmina began to wonder if she would ever truly return.

She was the only one in her family left. Lowering her head, she succumbed to the sobs that had filled her chest, and she left herself mourn the family she had loved, yet most never truly had loved her in return. Only one had loved her enough, but had always been far beyond Wilhelmina’s reach. She mourned the what-ifs and the could-have-beens. She only hoped that she could rebuild herself from the ashes of yesteryear.

~~

"Anything?"

Wilhelmina looked over as Morton walked to her side. She slowly nodded, but she felt almost hollow in a way. Lucivar had sent a note that Daemon had been summoned to where Jaenelle was. She was ready to come home, but she still had a long way to go before she was healed. There was a hesitancy in Lucivar’s words that suggested the sister she loved was not the same anymore.

"Love?" The sound of that word coming from Morton still made Wilhelmina’s heart lighten. She gave him a soft smile.

"Lost in my thoughts," she said. "Prince Yaslana sent word. She’s ready to come home, but she still has to heal a good deal."

"Tersa was right," Morton said. "Only the kindred could believe enough to make it work."

"But we were never given a chance," Wilehlmina whispered. "And now we’ll never know. How can Jaenelle ever take that? The knowledge that we may not have been able to believe in her enough to heal?"

"We can’t focus on that," Morton said, folding into the seat beside her. His arms came around her and tugged her to his chest. "We have to focus on her healing and the future."

"Yes," Wilhelmina said. "Yes, we do need to focus on that now." She wanted to push away the hurt that so little faith had been placed in them, but it made her wonder at how true that lack of faith was. Would they have easily given up on the woman they all claimed to love and had waited for? Could she have given up on the only person, besides Morton, to love her without condition?

"Stop," Morton whispered. "I can feel your turmoil."

"She’s my sister," Wilhelmina whispered. "I know you all love her, but she’s the only family I have left. I just need to see for myself she is going to be okay, no matter how weak or hurt she looks right now."

"She’s not your only family, love," Morton said, his hand brushing along her arm. "You have me."

Wilhelmina lifted her head. Morton was looking down at her, his eyes full of a love she never truly thought she would find.

"Mor--."

"Marry me, ‘Mina," Morton said. "Marry me and we’ll never face the word alone again, no matter what happens."

Wilhelmina’s breath caught. She never expected this from him. She didn’t doubt his love, not anymore, but she never expected him to want to be her husband. She knew she had wanted him to be, but she hadn’t dared to hope it’s what he wanted as well. Now she had her answer.

"Yes, Morton," Wilhelmina whispered, her eyes filling with tears. "I will marry you." A kiss was all he gave her for a response. It was all she really needed.

~~

Wilhelmina had to take a moment. Daemon had come to let her know that Jaenelle wanted to see her. It had been three long months since the Blood had been purged from the Realms before Daemon had received word that Jaenelle was ready to return and heal. It had been almost two months since Daemon had brought her home, but hadn’t really let many see her so she could rest. Those who still felt tense towards Daemon for his actions leading up to the purge hadn’t taken well to being kept away from her. At first Wilhelmina had been one of them, until she realized something.

Jaenelle’s rest and recovery was more important than their need to see her. Hadn’t that been why the kindred had kept her apart so long?

Finally she tapped gently on the door, hearing the soft rumble of a male voice granting her access to the room. She pushed the door open, stepping inside. Daemon was just rising from the side of Jaenelle’s bed as she turned towards them.

"‘Mina," Jaenelle said, a tired smile crossing her features. Her voice was quiet, obvious exhaustion still present. She was so thin, her hair cropped short. She was just barely recognizable as the woman she knew. It was the most glorious thing Wilhelmina had ever seen.

"I’ll go ask Mrs. Beale to make some tea to be brought up while you two talk," Daemon said. He leaned over to brush the lightest of kisses, fighting the frown that wanted to form as Jaenelle’s skin colored every so slightly from the touch.

Wilhelmina nodded to Daemon as he passed before moving to the bed. She quickly sent a message to him on a staff thread.

*How careful must I be?*

*As gentle as possible,* he said in response. *She bruises very easily, but don’t let that keep you from being close. She’ll sense and know you are being overly careful. She just wants to be treated as normally as possible.*

She gave a silent acknowledgement as she carefully perched herself on the edge of the bed. The smile she gave her sister was warm, but shaky. She still worried for her little sister, and for once in her life, she felt like the protective big sister. For once she actually felt as if it was her responsibility to protect Jaenelle, not the other way around. She carefully slid her hand beneath Jaenelle’s and rested their hands on her own thigh.

"You look well," Wilhelmina said.

"Oh don’t lie," Jaenelle said. There wasn’t accusation in her tone, only slight amusement. "I know I look horrible."

"You look tired and injured," Wilhelmina said. "But you look well. And better than any of us had hoped since we thought we--." Sudden tears clogged her throat. It took her a moment to clear them away enough for her to resume speaking. "Since we thought we would never see you again."

"It was the only way," Jaenelle said softly. "Something had to be done and it was the only..." Remorse filled her voice and it had Wilhelmina shaking her head quickly.

"I’m not accusing, sister," she said quietly. "We understand, in theory, the burdens of who you were and what you were. But as Tersa reminded us, the Queen is gone but Jaenelle is enough. She was always enough. We didn’t want to face the idea of losing her."

Tears slipped from Jaenelle’s eyes. Wilhelmina could feel the joy from her sister, so she knew the tears were not those of sorrow or regret. They might come later, because of what was lost, but she understood that they would always love her regardless. There might be setbacks to come, as Wilhelmina could even sense that the deep well of power that Jaenelle once had was now blunted, but they would love and accept her regardless because she was Jaenelle. She was still Kaeleer’s Heart, their heart. That was all they needed.

"There is a glow about you," Jaenelle finally said, regaining some of her composure.

Wilhelmina blushed, looking down at her sister’s hand. "Is there?"

"I take it you made amends with Morton?" Jaenelle asked.

A soft smile formed on Wilhelmina’s face as she thought of the man she loved. She finally lifted her eyes to her sister. "He asked me to marry him."

Jaenelle’s fingers tightened on Wilhelmina’s hand, a soft smile forming. "He did?" she asked. "Oh please tell me you said yes!"

"I did," Wilhelmina said.

"Oh ‘Mina, that’s wonderful!" Jaenelle said. "When will it be?"

"We’ll marry when you are well," Wilhelmina said. "We want you to--."

"No," Jaenelle said.

Wilehlmina’s face fell. "What?"

"Sister..." Jaenelle started.

"No," Wilhelmina said. "No, we will marry when you are well and that’s final." She stopped as she felt her sister’s nails gently prick her skin. It was meant to hurt or to push venom into her from Jaenelle’s snake tooth, merely to gain her attention.

"Sister, I have no idea when I will be well," she said. "And I can not-- no, I will not expect you and Morton to wait until I am for you to be wed."

"But... we want you there," Wilhelmina said, her voice almost meek, hurt flavoring her words.

"I will be," Jaenelle said. "Even if Daemon has to carry me in and if I have to be seated the entire time. Or even if I have to leave early to go to bed. I will be at your wedding."

"We can wait, though," Wilhelmina tried again.

"‘Mina, listen to me," Jaenelle said quietly. "So much was lost, so much has changed. The happiness you and Morton will share as you wed will be the sign of a new beginning, a new future. One where we can all begin to heal and move on. Especially since we thought we were going to lose Morton. In reality, if not for him and Papa, we would have. You saw the damage done and what happened. You know--."

"I do," Wilhelmina said. "I know we should have lost..."

"But we didn’t," Jaenelle said. "And that, in itself, is a miracle. The Darkness was kind to us, sister. And your marriage to him is a sign that we will all be okay now. It may take some of us longer to be physically okay, but we will be okay. And the sooner we can celebrate that, the sooner we can start to put this all behind us."

"You promise to be there?" Wilhelmina asked.

"Not even the kindred would deny me seeing my sister’s wedding to one of my Brothers."

~~

The day of her wedding had arrived and Wilhelmina was shaking like a leaf. She had no doubts that Morton would be waiting for her by the Priestess, nor that their family and friends would be sitting amongst those to witness. The entirety of the former Dark Court, all the kindred that saw them as family, many of the Eyriens, and those considered family were all in attendance waiting for this day.

Yet Wilhelmina was shaking. So much that she didn’t hear the knock on the bridal suite door, nor that door opening. She was too busy focusing on trying to hook the necklace behind her neck. It was no surprise that she yelped and jumped as Lucivar spoke behind her. She dropped the necklace. The only thing that kept the necklace from falling and shattering on the marble beneath her feet was Lucivar’s quick reflexes with Craft.

"Need some help?" he asked as he pulled the necklace to him.

"Thank you," she said, her voice wobbly. She turned so her back was to the Eyrien, pulling her hair out of the way so he could hook the necklace.

"I didn’t mean to startle you," Lucivar said. He looked at their reflections.

"It’s... it’s okay," Wilhelmina said. "A bit jumpy. Not sure why."

"Pre-wedding jitters," Lucivar said. "I had them, so did Marian. I bet if you ask Morghann, Khary, Chaosti, Gabrielle, Aaron, and Kalush, they would admit to having them too."

Wilhelmina nodded. She smoothed a hand down the front of her wedding gown before lifting her head to look at their reflections. "Why are you here?"

"I uh... I came to make amends," Lucivar said.

"I don’t..." Wilhelmina tried to turn but Lucivar caught her slender shoulders, stilling her movement.

"Please," Lucivar said. "Wilhelmina... I was wrong. I never should have let things get to a point where you thought I only saw you as a means to get to Jaenelle. You are right, I did at one time, but after you started settling in and after you were almost killed by the machinations of your own grandmother... I knew you were more than simply Jaenelle’s sister. You became mine too. Only I was remiss in not telling you that."

"You don’t have to s--," Wilhelmina said.

"Yes, I do," Lucivar interrupted. "I need to say this, because it’s the truth. I’m stubborn. I have no refinement, no polishing, but that doesn’t give me the right to have overlooked something so important. I’m sorry."

"I... thank you," Wilhelmina said, tears forming.

"You’re welcome," Lucivar said. "Father said you were going to walk by yourself up the aisle."

She nodded. "It’s going to be too hard, as it is, for him to simply watch. I didn’t want to burden him--."

"He wouldn’t have seen it as a burden," Lucivar interjected.

"Still. He shouldn’t drain his strength. It won’t be quite sundown enough for it not to have an effect," she said. "So I will..."

"Be escorted by me," Lucivar finished.

"What?" Wilhelmina said.

"I’ll give you away," Lucivar said. "Wilhelmina, you are family. I was wrong to not show you enough now, but let me do this. It’ll be one way for me to prove what I say. Morton’s a good man and deserves your love as much as you deserve his. Please let me be the one to escort you to there?"

Wilhelmina’s eyes filled with tears. She gave Lucivar’s reflection a shaky smile. "I’d like that. Brother."

~~

When Aaron, Chaosti, and Khardeen had gotten married, Morton had known they were nervous. He’d asked them afterwards how they had gotten over it. Each man had described what they felt slightly differently, but all agreed that the moment they saw their brides, a sense of calm washed over them so completely that nothing else mattered but her as she walked towards them.

At the time, he had thought they were simply saying that. However, now he stood on his own wedding day, his entire body vibrating with nervous energy. The shift in music changed, indicating the ceremony was about to start. Morghann, heavily pregnant with her child, Gabrielle, and Kalush had agreed to stand with Wilhelmina while their husbands stood with Morton. He started to think, even more, that Khardeen, Aaron, and Chaosti had been wrong about what they felt.

Until Wilhelmina came into view on Lucivar’s arm. Suddenly that calm they spoke of engulfed his entire being. The music, voices, even the faces faded out of Morton’s world. The only thing he could focus on was the woman he was to marry, gorgeous as ever in a lovely cream colored gown with a veil covering her dark hair and flowing down her back. A bouquet of lily of the valley was clutched in her hand, her fingers flexing occasionally against the crook of Lucivar’s elbow until he covered her fingers with his own and giving them a gentle pat. As her head lifted, that calm settled Morton even further as their eyes met. The same must have happened to her, because he saw any signs of edginess she had shown melt from her body. A soft, gentle smile curved the corners of her lips as she gazed at him.

It was the most wonderful thing in the world.

Morton was barely aware of anything, his fingers slipping around Wilhelmina’s as she took her place beside him. They were barely aware of hearing Lucivar state he was giving her away. They barely heard the Priestess speaking about love and the commitment they were to have to one another. They listened just long enough to recite their vows and promise to treasure one another forever. They focused away from one another’s faces long enough to focus on slipping the plain gold bands onto their respective fingers. They were only just aware of the Priestess proclaiming them husband and wife before they came together.

As they came together, nothing mattered anymore. They didn’t need to listen even a little, nor did they have to focus on anything but one another. As Morton’s lips claimed that of his wife’s, he let himself get lost in her just as he sent a prayer of thanks to the Darkness for allowing him the chance to know this moment.

One small moment, a single bit of knowledge that could have broken him or made him came from one small request by the Warlord of Glacia.

That request had given him everything in the end.