Lina glanced out of the window as she washed the dishes, doing her customary scan to ensure that the children were okay. Her eyes narrowed and her body tensed as she noticed a figure approach them from the road even though she felt no malice. Still, Lina dried her hands on her apron and raced to the door, “Stay alert.” She called to Gourry as she reached the doorway. It was a beautiful day so Lina had left it open to let the breeze come in, and was now happy she had as it allowed her to see that she had no need to worry. Instead, her anxieties lessened significantly as she saw it was her daughter, Attie, home from her latest adventure.
Before Lina’s oldest daughter, Dianna, had died, Lina had been certain that she would have felt it if anything happened to her other daughters when they were away from home. Yet that horrible day had been so chaotic and Lina had been so stressed and worried that she couldn’t even remember the moment when she had realized Dianna was dead. Perhaps it was her minds way of ensuring she move forward rather than staying stuck in the moment. Regardless, all she recalled from the day was a blur of fear, anxiety, anger, and grief.
And its legacy was her complete inability to relax completely when her remaining daughters were out of sight. If anything happened to Attie or Min, when would she learn about it? Sure, she got letters, which brought some measure of relief. They were alive at least when they were posted. But what if something happened between then and when she received them? And when would she know?
But for now, it was enough to know that if she were to ever have to relive her worst nightmare, it was not today. Attie was there, smiling broadly as she hugged Pomona while her friends stopped their game to watch. Lina moved down the porch and threw her arms around her, “You’re home.”
“Yes.” Attie said as she wrapped an arm around her while the other one held Pomona, “It’s good to see you.”
“Where’s Zel?” Lina asked.
“I’ll explain later.” Attie replied as she pulled away, “After you let me see my newest sister.”
“Brother.” Pomona corrected with a grin, “And just wait till you see him! He’s so cute! He’s inside with Daddy.”
“What?” Attie exclaimed as Lina steered her inside the house while Pomona went back to her friends.
“Yeah, your father and I are still trying to wrap out heads around it. He’s not even a blonde!” Lina explained with a laugh as she entered the house. And despite her flippancy, she had mixed feelings about the surprise her son had evoked.
She knew exactly what she was doing when she entered the depth of the vaults in the Sorcerer’s Guild to take the fertility statue before they left Zefiel City. But she wasn’t leaving without it. Even as she did it she knew it wasn’t rational. Yet losing Dianna had torn such a large hole in her heart that she was desperate for any way to fill it and perhaps to get her back. She and Gourry had had four girls, who for all intents and purposes, could have been identical twins even if their personalities were different. Surely lightning would strike a fifth time, and then they would have their daughter back.
And, if they were truly lucky, the new baby would be just like Dianna, except uninhabited by Shabranigdu.
Yet is was as if from the moment he was born he decided to make a forceful statement that he would not be the child they had lost by his looks and his gender. . In many ways it was a good thing for it forced them to let go. But Lina could not deny that she mourned a little over how her firstborn was gone for good even as she celebrated his birth.
Attie’s eyes widened, “Well then, now I really must see him!”
“And so you will.” Gourry said as he came out of the nursery holding his son.
Attie picked him up, “Well, Mom, for once you have a child who looks like you.”
Lina folded her arms across her chest, “It’s about time I guess.”
“What are you calling him?”
“I take it he’s free of the passenger?” Attie asked.
Lina nodded and felt a lump form in her throat. That she was grateful that for the first time she could raise her family without having to protect her other children from Shabranigdu’s rage warred with the feelings of just how deeply she missed her daughter. Not to mention how guilty she still felt that she’d been too late to save her. That she hadn’t realized something was off when Dianna was called away on a mock emergency to lure her from the house, and that she hadn't left with Dianna to make sure everything was alright.
Lina turned away and threw open a cupboard and took a deep breath as she attempted to stop herself from going over all of the things she should have done, “Are you hungry?”
“Starving!” Attie replied.
Always sensitive to her moods, Gourry came up and started to rub her back as she started fixing Attie some lunch while Attie cooed over the baby. “Is Zel okay?” Gourry asked.
He’d better be considering what he cost us. Lina thought to herself as she cut the loaf of bread with more force than necessary.
“He’s fine.” Attie said. “We’re taking a break from each other.”
That snapped through her anger. Lina turned around to look at her, “Why?”
Attie shrugged, “He wanted to get married and start a family. I didn’t.”
Lina and Gourry exchanged a look, “If you’re worried about what we think after what happened….” Lina began.
“Is it so hard to believe that I just don’t want to get married?” Attie snapped.
“No, and it’s fine.” Gourry said consolingly.
“I saw your cousins. Jula, Ketcher, and Nona. They have beautiful families.” Attie said to change the subject.
Lina listened quietly as Gourry asked her some questions about her travels to the Elmekian Empire, and then asked as she sat a plate in front of her, “Did you visit your sister on your way here?”
“Yeah.” Attie said as she handed her brother back to Gourry, who took a seat beside her, “Min and the boys are settling in great.”
After they had left Zefiel City they had traveled to Saillune, where Lina decided to call on some favors with the queen she had once fought beside. And considering that Min and her husband both had excellent qualifications and experience, Queen Amelia had kindly given Min the position of Court Sorceress and made Drake Ambassador to Zefiria. While Amelia had insisted on giving Lina and Gourry positions as well, neither of them wanted to stay in the capital city. Saillune attracted too much trouble, and they felt as though they had lost enough.
So they settled in one of the outlying cities. Lina had sold the fertility statue to some healers in the temple for a large sum, enough for her and Gourry to live comfortably for some time without having to worry about work, provided they manage their resources well. Lina didn’t bat an eye over having stolen it from the guild. There was no price tag on her daughter’s life, so the whole city owed her a debt as she saw it. And it allowed them to still see Min and their grandsons often, though, it wasn’t daily like it had been.
Attie bit her tongue a little before she continued, “I also stopped by Zefiel City.”
“Did you?” Lina asked as she took a seat at the table, “How are your grandparents?”
“They’re making it work there.” Attie said as she dipped her bread in the stew. “And Gretelle did seek me out. She’s been wracked with guilt ever since that day.”
Lina’s eyes narrowed, “Good.”
Attie munched on her lunch for a moment, “I also talked with Aunt Luna.”
“Whatever she has to say, I don’t want to hear it.” Lina snapped.
“Would you rather her make the trip up here then?” Attie asked as she licked her fingers.
Lina sighed, “What is it then?”
“The Mazoku know about that the walls separating Shabranigdu and his human host are growing thin. And they know about the spell to reveal those who have him in their souls.”
Lina felt her heart skip, “They’d better stay away from us.”
“Watch your back.” Attie said as took another bite of bread.
“Always do.” Lina replied as she met Gourry’s eyes from across the table. He looked just as shaken as she felt.
Luna had told her when Dianna had died that events would force her back into action again. But Lina had done everything in her power to prevent it. And now, it looked like she had some new worries, far sooner than she wanted them. She and Attie were the only ones who knew the spell. What if the Mazoku sent someone after them?
Lina suddenly felt her energy leave her as the knowledge sank in that there was something on the horizon. And in her bones, she knew it was going to be bad.