The Castle Whitestone library was beautiful, and more than a little intimidating. It was rare for Vex to find her way here without Percy, and on those few occasions she was never quite certain where to begin. But today he was engaged in his workshop -- aiding Taryon in his efforts to recreate Doty -- and so Vex had come on her own, determined to muddle through as best she could.
Sunlight streamed in through the high windows, and the lanterns had already been lit, so it was both brighter and more cheery than Vex had expected, and soon she discovered the reason: Cassandra de Rolo, sitting in the plush window seat, a large volume balanced open in her hand. Vex started to back away, but Cassandra looked up, and smiled. "Ah, Vex'ahlia." She set a bookmark in the book before snapping it shut. "What brings you here?"
"Oh, you know." Vex waved a hand in a small circle, taking a breezy tone. "Nothing in particular. Just wondering what's here." She approached Cassandra carefully, while taking pains not to approach too carefully. Though the girl was almost as intimidating as the library, it would never do to let her know. "And please, it's just Vex."
"Of course." Cassandra set the book aside and leaned forward, elbows resting on her knees. It was the most casual Vex had ever seen her, and Vex found herself relaxing in kind. "I hope you've enjoyed these past few months in Whitestone. I'm sure it seems dull in comparison to many of the places you've been."
Vex laughed. "Believe me, I was ready for some dull. After you've fought ancient dragons, visited the elemental planes and the Nine Hells..." She shrugged. "You'd welcome some boredom too, I'm sure."
"That makes a great deal of sense," Cassandra said. "In fact, when you put it that way, I know exactly how you feel."
"I suppose you would," Vex allowed, thinking of everything Cassandra had endured over the past few years. Boredom would indeed be preferable to life with the Briarwoods.
"Well." Cassandra stretched, leaning back in her seat. "I, for one, am glad some of you decided to stay put for a bit. Not only for Percival's help in keeping the place running, but for the opportunity to know his friends a bit better. Particularly you." A smile grew across her cheeks. "Since you are to be on the Whitestone council, after all."
Vex's face warmed. She doubted that her title was the only reason, but as far as she knew Percy had not yet talked to his sister about their relationship, and she wasn't about to open that conversation on her own. Instead she returned the smile. "As do I."
Cassandra patted the cushion of the window seat, and Vex accepted the implied invitation, settling into the opposite corner. "In truth, that's why I'm in the library. My first Grey Hunt was considered a success, but..." She shook her head and folded her hands in her lap. "I can't help but wonder how I might have approached it differently if I'd known more about Grey Renders. Could I have negotiated a peace with it? Convinced it to stay on as a protector?"
"Mm." Cassandra nodded, expression thoughtful. "We've received no sign that Pelor looks on your actions with disfavor. But still, I think I understand."
"Well." Vex checked the view out the window; it looked over the palace gardens, lush with green. "Regardless, I would like to learn about the creatures who live in these woods, fair and foul, as well as the subjects of past Grey Hunts. Next time, I will be better prepared."
Cassandra bowed her head. "A worthy goal, Lady Vex'ahlia. If I can provide any aid?"
"Thank you, but that's all right," Vex said. "I'd hate to interrupt your relaxation time. What are you reading, if I may ask?"
"Oh, just a bit of frivolity." Cassandra picked up the book and showed Vex the title on the spine: The Lady in the Tower.
Recognizing the book from her mother's library, Vex chuckled. "Ah, the classics."
Cassandra grinned, and the smile lit up her face. "Terrible, I know. But it's my favorite bit of epic fiction. Romance, mysterious strangers, daring escapes -- it has it all. I re-read it every couple of years."
"My mother loved it, too," Vex said. "I read it once, but I confess it got a little long for me. When I read stories, I prefer books with a bit more action."
"We have a whole section of those, too." Cassandra waved toward a distant shelf. "Father and Julius devoured adventure novels, when they had the time, and so did our sister Whitney."
"Oh really?" Vex leaned forward. "And what about Percy?"
"Ah, Percy." Cassandra chuckled. "Nose in a book at every opportunity, but almost never a fictional one. He read about history, and other cultures, and practical things. Did you know, he taught himself Celestial one winter, just because he was bored?"
"I know he understands Celestial, but I didn't realize that was why." Vex looked over toward the desk in the center of the room and pictured a young Percy sitting there, poring over books by candlelight, and she smiled at the thought.
"All right." Cassandra set the book aside again, then got to her feet. "I'm due for a break anyway; let's find the Whitestone histories and see if we can't help you with your hunts."
Vex sat up. "Are you sure?"
"Happy to help." Cassandra reached out her hand, and Vex took it, standing up and following her into the stacks, ready to explore her new role, and her new home.