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How Many Miles from Babylon

Chapter Text

Nissa Premiere looked at Michael, her King, the old soldier, who had picked the eldest of the twelve dancing princesses. Not the prettiest, not the cleverest, but the one with the greatest will. The first of them.

He grinned at her and reached over with a weathered old hand to take the first sip of her cup. He always took the first sip of her cup, and the last sip. He always had the first slice of her meat. The first crust of her bread. He ate little else at their feasts. That was why there were so many courses. He knew what kind of feast she wanted to give him. He was an old soldier. They enjoyed their campaigns against each other. Eventually, she was going to win.

When the banquet was over and the dancing would begin, it was always signalled by the sharp shots of rifles. Three of them in quick succession. He always smiled at her when the rifles were fired. The silver and gold and diamond branches were always prominently placed on the table.

Nissa Premiere smiled sweetly in reply, "Where were you shot again?"

His answer was always different. This time he replied, "The thigh." It meant he wouldn't be dancing that night. Neither would she. They had made another child together in her Queen's bed that did not descend into the floor. Another type of battle. The baby weighed her down. Her shoes with thick and comfortable. They would not wear out for years.

There were prince's heads on pikes above the castle gate. The first one was the head of the prince she'd once worn out shoes with in a magic palace when he'd come to disrupt Nissa Premiere's wedding dance. It sat first in the line; it was followed by the heads of the dead princes that she'd given cups of drugged wine. Ambassadors from those countries smiled at her coolly as she stepped down from the dais on her King's hand.

She smiled coolly back. They would never go to war over princes on a wall, but it was good for them to see who they dealt with. She looked across the ballroom and saw her sister, Iya Secunda, dancing. They nodded at each other, allies in a long war.

Nissa Premiere was no longer the first of dancing princesses. Nissa Premiere was the Queen.

Chapter Text

The night was warm. Iya Secunda went outside to dance on the white and black tiled stones under great yellow paper lanterns. The vast gardens below disappeared into the inky black. She could hear the fountains splashing in the distance.

She longed to slip away into the dark. She knew her prince was waiting for her just on the edge of the trees.

But there were three guards watching her from three sides of the courtyard. She was the second princess. If her sister, Nissa Premiere, died in childbirth, the King would want for his wife. If she and Nissa Premiere didn't succeed in poisoning him first.

Iya Secunda turned away from the fountains and smiled at a frightened boy. She said, "I will dance with you." He hadn't asked.

She never let them ask. She could not marry or move on until Nissa Premiere had a son, maybe two. Her sister had already had three daughters. They lay in beds in a room where the King thought the floor was secure.

Iya Secunda wore out her dance shoes every night.

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Siva Terce read to her three nieces in their beds. They were lined up in a row. Their heads peaked out of their beds.

The nursery was on the far side of the palace. Far from the sound of the music and dancing. That was good. Siva Terce had stopped up her ears with wax and sat by the side of the banquet hall or courtyard before her nieces were born.

Now she read them stories. They always incredibly dull and boring and full of moral virtues.

Her nieces giggled at her over the covers. The stories weren't for them.

They were for the nurse whose eyes fluttered closed. When she was snoring, Siva Terce softly closed the book and held her finger to her lips as she always did. Her nieces nodded and slipped out of bed. They did not put on dancing shoes. They did not put on dresses. They did not slip through a door in the floor to a magic land across a lake to go dancing.

The sound of music made Siva Terce scream.

Siva Terce pushed the eye of a cherub in the hearth and a door opened in the wall. They climbed a stairway up and up into the night sky. Maria asked, "What will we eat there?"

"Diamond stars, "said Siva Terce.

Magda asked, "What will we drink?"

"Sky milk," said Siva Terce.

"Why do we have to go back each morning?" asked Stella. She was already made of more star dust than the others, even though she was the youngest.

"Because we cannot go far enough each night to make it into the vale of stars." Silva Terce smiled at her nieces. "So eat and drink. Eventually, when you're strong enough. We're not going back."

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Tammuz Forte tugged at the chains that held her to the wall. She had been caught dumping star dust that her nieces trailed back from the sky on their slippers into the river. She had been caught with blood her hands. Everyone said that she'd killed Elu Sextilla's latest bastard child. As if she would kill her niece. Though perhaps telling everyone it was a demon's child had been a mistake.

King Michael had wanted her killed. He wanted answers, which her head on a pike could not give. Or least that was what Nissa Premiere had argued. So Tammuz Forte hung from a wall in a deep dark place under the earth. She had hooks under her arms and cupped between her thigs. She had chains around her wrists and ankles.

She counted the stones in the wall and tugged at the chains.

The Queen of Night pushed back her hood and became visible. The stars in her hair sparkled in the dank dark cell, or perhaps it was the moon shining from her eyes. Sometimes she appeared as an old woman. Sometimes, as she was now, she was as beautiful as night mist suspended in moonlight.

Tammuz Forte blinked at the sudden light. She said, "Mother, have you come to take me home?"

"Not yet," said the Queen of the Night. "Have you grown strong pulling at your chains?"

Tammuz Fort reached across herself and with both hands, snapped the chain wrapped around her right hand.

"Very good," said the Queen of the Night. "When you can snap it with one hand, then leave together." She whispered a word and waved her hand. The chain was whole.

She raised her hood and vanished. Tammuz Forte went back to tugging at her chains.

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Ave Quintilla went down to the river. It was easy. She was the fifth princess. There was only one guard assigned to watch her and he had a lover.

In the afternoon, she would go down to the town and pretend to go shopping. She would spend all day and into the evening, until her guard drooped. He slipped away from her to the tavern.

She slipped away from him to the river. It was full of star dust.

The river was glowing. There was a boat there at the docks. Her Mother sat in the boat. She said, "Come daughter. Come with me down the river."

Her Mother was dead. Ave Quintilla knew that.

Ave Quintilla would get in the boat. They would sail down the river to the place where the princes were still dancing with their white bone faces. They were cursed to keep dancing for as long as the princesses had slipped away to dance.

Ave Quintilla cried, as she did every night. She said, "Why are you showing this to me?"

"Because I told you to climb the stairs and instead you went into the earth to go dancing and this is the price," said Mother. She put her hand on Ave Quintilla's arm.

Ave Quintilla turned her face into her mother's arms. She said, "Why am I the only one of us who has to pay it?"

"Because you are the only one who answered when I called you to come to the river," said Mother. She kissed Ave Quintilla's forehead. "There, there. I love you still. Even this won't last forever."

Mother rowed them back to the shore. The temple bells rang in the distance and the town crier called the hours. Ave Quintilla ran back to the palace to slip into her bed. She resolved not to go to the river the next day.

As she fell asleep, she could hear her mother singing.

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Elu Sextilla slipped away from the bright lights and the music. The guard who was supposed to watch her was drunk on the first press of wine. He followed her with lurching steps as she went for a walk.

Her Demon Prince, smiled at her from the shadows. Unlike other men, his smile drank the light. He wrapped his shadow stuff around her. The guard didn't even see.

Her lover whispered in her ear, "I wooed you with dancing once."

She kissed him. "Yes." Her lover was made of shadows. His kisses were deep and drowning.

"I rowed you across a wide lake," said her Demon Prince. He lowered her into the dark soil.

"I know. I wish you'd pushed me under that dark water," said Elu Sextilla.

The guard sat down with a sigh and drank some wine from his bottle. He was soon asleep. He was certain there was nothing to see. It had been years since there were prince's heads added to the gate by an angry king.

Elu Sextilla gasped in her Demon Lover's arms. She gasped as he moved his darkness in her.

"But it was here that I put a child in you." He was the absence of light and sharp voices like knives.

"Five times and this is the sixth," she put his hand on her belly, "And five times my sisters helped me conceal the births. Five times, I left my babies for you in the woods where you planted them in me."

"Except for the first one. That was in my home. Except for this time." He handed her a knife made of night. "This time, I will take you home to be my bride. This time, I will hold you under the waters until they fill you up with their dark burning depths."

She laughed a sweet laugh and slit the guard's throat. There was hardly the moonlight to see the blood on the ground.

She skipped away along the moon road. Although, any who saw her would have thought she walked alone.

They would have been incorrect.

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Tishrei Kore had left the palace as soon as her sister married. It was easy. She was the seventh daughter. There was a power to such a thing.

Her dancing slippers, the only shoes she was allowed, were soon shredded. Tishrei Kore walked barefoot until she came to a place where a lion and a unicorn were arguing over a pair of boots and a cloak. She said, "I will help you decide. Both of you go across this meadow. The one to run across the fastest will have them."

As soon as they went to the far side of the meadow, she put on the boots and cloak and disappeared. She recognized a cloak of invisibility and flying boots when she saw them. A black fox, who was nearby cleaning his paws, said, "That was very clever. I will go with you."

Tishrei Kore wasn't used to being alone. She'd always had eleven sisters with her. She picked up the fox and flew into the sky. "My mother always said is you don't agree with someone, walk a mile in their shoes. Then you're a mile away and you have their shoes."

The fox looked out over the fields spreading below. "Your mother sounds like she was a wise woman."

"She's not dead, you know," said Tishrei Kore. She didn't want to say any more about her mother. She had a way of hearing everything.

The fox said, "My apologies." He watched the landscape speed by. He said, "You know that cloak belongs to Hades, Lord of the Dead, and the boots to his nephew, Hermes, Lord of Thieves. Eventually, they'll want them back."

Tishrei Kore said, "I'm sorry I can't hear you over the wind." It wasn't actually that windy, but the fox licked his paws slyly in response.

Now Tishrei Kore and the fox had many adventures over the years that aren't relevant to this story. The one that was occurred many years later when they came to a palace ruled by six demon princesses.

Tishrei Kore was fairly familiar with demon palaces, and specifically this palace, having danced there every night for years when she was little more than a girl. When she'd been only a little younger than the girl who had run away the day of her eldest sister's wedding.

She was feeling nostalgic for that girl. The fox said, "It's would be a foolish thing to go in." He grinned sharp teeth. "Let's do it."

He put on the tricorn hat with the feather of the phoenix, which they'd acquired on a previous adventure, and said, "Page Boy." He turned in a page boy with black curling hair and clever little hands.

"Hmm… no," said Tishrei Kore. "Last time you wore that you were almost eaten by a lion."

"Gigolo, then," he said and turned into a handsome young man with a fairly obscene codpiece and clever long fingers.

"That works. There's bound to be dancing," she said.

They went up to the palace shining silver and gold by a black glassy lake. She stood a moment on the shores of the lake and looked down into the waters. She saw her sister there. She almost put her hand in the water, but the fox said, "Even I say, better not."

"You're right," said Tishrei Kore. "I have to respect my sister's choices." She turned back to the path that led up to the palace.

When she was admitted, Tishrei Kore said, "I'm your Auntie visiting from the Underworld where I live with the Lord of the Dead."

"Hmm…" said the youngest demon princess in a dress of purest night, "that seems unlikely."

"Sister, of course, she's our Auntie," said the eldest demon princess in a dress that burned with red embers, "look at her."

"Well…" said the third demon princess in a dress of crackling blue ice, "it does make sense. Lord Hades is here for the Equinox ball.

The fourth demon princess in a dress of green flickering flames laughed. "She can't have expected him. She brought her lover."

The fox leaned forward and lied, "I'm French."

The fourth demon princesses nodded. "Oh, that makes sense then."

The youngest demon princess but one said, "It's fortunate that you are our Auntie, or we'd have to steal your soul." She drew her gloved fingers over her necklace where the souls of princes glimmered in dozens of gems.

The fox looked sidelong at Tishrei Kore. "I said this was a bad idea."

"You said it was foolish and we should do it," said Tishrei Kore under her breath. She also said a word that she might not have when she was younger and less well travelled. More loudly she said, "Nieces, as pleasant as this is, you mentioned a ball. It's been years since I've gone dancing."

"Of course, Auntie, this way," said the eldest demon princess with a wave of her many gemmed hand.

As they went, Tishrei Kore admired the gems. She said, "May I borrow your rings? You can wear my rings made of a giant's bones."

"I would love to," said the eldest demon princess, trading her soul rings for bone then and there. "Where did you get them?"

Tishrei Kore smiled modestly. "I really couldn't say."

The fox leaned over and lied, "She killed the giant."

"Oh, unfair. I never get to kill anything but princes," said the youngest demon princess but one. "Auntie, can I dance with your Gigolo?"

"That's why I brought him," said Tishrei Kore. "But first, could I borrow your necklace of souls. I'll trade you my necklace of troll's teeth." They traded necklaces and the youngest demon princess held out her hand to the fox, who took it with a laugh and wink for Tishrei Kore.

Tishrei Kore danced with a prince or three. Her boots were not made for dancing. She didn't trade them for slippers though the demon princesses offered. She did trade the oldest demon princess but one Tishrei Kore's dragon's scales hair clips for the soul pins in her hair.

"May I have this dance," said Hades, Lord of the Dead. "I'm told that you are my wife. You are wearing my cloak."

"I'm fairly certain that it is my cloak now, and I never said we were married," said Tishrei Kore. "I implied we live together in sin." She grinned with souls on her fingers and neck and nestled in her hair. It's not my fault these young girls missed my innuendo. Demons were much more lascivious in my day."

Hades spun Tishrei Kore out on to the dance floor. He was a very good dancer. He knew how to moves his hips. How to draw her arm high and tight as he spun her. They danced for hours. She floated on air. The music shifted from waltz into samba. The floor caught fire.

The demon princesses clapped.

Hades picked Tishrei Kore up into his arms.

She asked, "What are you doing here?"

"I see it's no longer relevant, so I'm kidnapping you. You mentioned something about sin," said Hades.

"So, I did," said Tishrei Kore. She kissed where his neck met his shoulder as he carried her across the burning floor. The fire went out as he passed.

"Lovely party," said Tishrei Kore as they left the palace. Hades put her down in his chariot pulled by eight fire breathing black horses.

The fox ran and dived into the chariot, his codpiece stuffed with gems. "Leave. Leave now, before they notice."

"Relax," said Tishrei Kore. "They have bigger problems. What with the giant and troll and the dragon." There was the sound of angry screaming inside the palace.

Hades snapped the reins and the horses dove into the burning crack that opened in the earth. "Hmmm… I never thought to just steal them."

"You never do, Uncle," said the fox. "Kidnapping, yes. Theft, no." Tishrei Kore elbowed him. "What? He never does."

The fox threw soul gems on the floor of the chariot. Tishrei Kore crushed them under her boots while Hades drove. When the chariot was more than full, the fox pushed the princes out and jumped after. He said, "I'll escort these fools the rest of the way. See you at the palace."

Tishrei Kore wasn't paying attention. She was trying to distract Hades from his kidnapping. She succeeded. She managed to keep her cloak on, if none of her other clothes. If they hadn't been invisible, they'd have given quite a show.

Luckily, the horses knew their way home.

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Chesheva Edel heard the old wounded soldier, who they had mocked and meant for death, reveal the secret of their nights. It was as if scales were removed from her eyes and she saw that the reality that was around her was just an illusion. Both her life as a confined princess during the day and as a frenetic dancer in the night.

She saw that the branches that the old soldier had plucked were not made of gold, silver and diamonds. They were made of bone, amber and pearl. She saw that they had been living once and now were dead.

She tried to explain this to her sisters, but the words that came out of her mouth had no meaning to them. She could understand them, but was as if the ability to speak had fallen from her with illusion. It filled her with sorrow that her sisters, to whom she had been so close, could not understand her.

Her father was crying as she spoke. Guards moved to take her arms, but her sisters clustered around her. Her eldest sister, Nissa Premiere, said, "We will care for her."

Her father said, "This is your fault. You were the one who led your sisters astray."

Chesheva Edel tried to say that this was not true. That they had all made their own choices. No one could understand her.

They were still arguing all the way to Nissa Premiere's wedding to the old soldier. All the way to the ball that followed.

Iya Secunda laughed when she heard the music play. "Father, you only have a problem with us dancing when you can set the tune."

Siva Terce screamed and held her hands to her ears. Chesheva Edel tried to tell her sister that the pain she felt came from desire for what had been lost. Something they'd never really had.

She was still garbling words when their princes came. She did not see them as she had before. She saw that they were dead men. She wept for them. She wept for the princes who had died trying to learn their meaningless secrets.

She said, "They were only worn out slippers," but no one understood her.

Father had the head of the eldest Prince cut off and placed on the gate. Father couldn't see the prince was a skeleton already.

The remaining princes were cursed to dance for the same length of time they had danced with the princesses.

Chesheva Edel said to these skeletal princes, "Follow me."

They did. They walked out of the palace. They walked a long time on the road. Chesheva Edel put aside her silken dress for one made of wool. She walked down the roads with the dancing skeletons behind her. Sometimes, people saw what was really there. Mostly they didn't. In time, she learned to speak and be understood again. But she did not regain the scales over her eyes.

One day, she came to the place where she had once danced each night. She saw it as it really was. She saw the lake of burning tar. She saw the great arching bones of what she had once taken for a palace.

In the palace of bone, there were six demon princesses fighting a giant, a troll and a dragon.

Chesheva Edel said, "Hello, I am your aunt."

The eldest demon princess lowered her ruby sword and said, "Then you're not welcome."

The youngest demon princess pointed her diamond pike at Chesheva Edel and said, "The last aunt who visited stole all the souls we'd been collecting to quench the lake where our mother, your sister is trapped."

The third demon princess jabbed an amethyst spear at the dragon. "She left us these monsters in their place."

"I don't like her idea of family feeling," said the youngest demon princess but one.

Chesheva Edel looked at the monsters they were fighting and said, "But they can't hurt you if you don't let them."

"Uh, by standing behind a large shield," said the oldest demon princess but one, who blasted the giant with an opal wand.

"No," Chesheva Edel walked up to the monsters and she named them. "The giant is pride. The troll is fear. The dragon is anger." She walked between her nieces and the monsters. The dancing skeletons followed her. She walked through the illusions that her nieces were fighting and they were gone. She turned around. "See. They can't hurt you if you don't let them."

"But what about the burning lake?" asked the youngest demon princess but one, who turned her silver spear into a hair stick and bound up her hair away from her neck. "What about our mother?"

"She's trapped her by own desire," said Chesheva Edel. She went down to the burning lake, but Elu Sextilla didn't want to see her. "The only one who can free her is herself."

The demon princesses put away their black armour and put on travelling clothes. "Where are you going?" asked the eldest demon princess.

"Where the road takes me," said Chesheva Edel.

"Better than here," said the youngest demon princess.

"That's a matter of perspective," said Chesheva Edel, "but we can discuss it from the road."

Chapter Text

At first Kisle Danielle hadn’t noticed. She had gone back and forth with her sisters into the gold, silver, and diamond woods, over the lake and to the palace and hadn't thought anything of it.

In all honesty, she couldn't even have said when they began. They simply were doing it.

In the same way, Kisle Danielle couldn't have said when all life above lost its splendour. As if everything that was not the palace by the lake was gradually turning grey and flavorless. Wine had no savor. Cake was dry dust in her mouth.

The most splendid celebration with fireworks and swelling music was dull. She only felt alive when she was dancing and eating and drinking in the palace by the lake. She hardly even noticed the princes trying to solve the mystery of the slippers. They didn't even seem real to her. They looked like cut outs being moved around a child's theatre.

Then he happened. The soldier, who followed them, who told Father what was real and what was not.

Kisle Danielle screamed that she wanted to go back. That nothing was real. Her next oldest sister, Chesheva Edel, must have felt it too. She started speaking gibberish. Kisle Danielle said, "Let me take her back to the palace by the lake. She'll be fine there. We'll all be fine."

Father sealed up the passage.

Then everything was grey. Kisle Danielle drifted. There was no reason to get up from sleep. In fact dreams and waking slowly merged. She slept more and more. One day, she woke and her sister, Ave Quintilla, was sitting next to her crying.

Kisle Danielle asked, "What's wrong?"

Ave Quintilla looked up abruptly and wiped at her tears with the back of her hand. "You've been asleep for three months. I've been pouring star dust and river water down your throat through a tube. You've been living on nothing but star dust."

"Hmmm…" said Kisle Danielle, before she drifted back to sleep.

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Teve Esther realized that she had been consorting with dead men when her sister, Cheshva Edel, danced out of the throne room with a line of skeletons dancing behind her.

What was strangest was that her sisters behaved as if nothing unusual had happened. Except for Kisle Danielle, who was screaming that she needed to go back to the palace by the lake.

That and while she knew perfectly well that she'd been going dancing at night, she couldn't remember when she'd been sleeping, or when they'd started to go dancing, or even why she'd accepted the gold, silver, and diamond trees as perfectly ordinary.

This, Teve Esther decided required some thinking. She went to the room that she shared with her sisters. Except Nissa Premiere, who had to marry Michael, the soldier. Except Tishrei Kore had run away the day of Nissa Premiere's wedding, and of course, Cheshva Edel, who marched away at the head of a line of dancing skeletons.

Kisle Danielle was drowsing in a chair. She was often asleep these days. Ave Quintilla was reading to her. Elu Sextilla had slipped away to be with that lover of hers. The one who had gotten her pregnant, and Teve Esther had no idea how much longer they could keep that hidden. Odd how it was easier to hide the swell of a girl's body into a woman's than to hide worn out shoes.

Teve Esther said to Ave Quintilla, "Do you remember our mother? I don't, but I'm almost the youngest, but for two of us."

Ave Quintilla looked frightened. She said, "You mustn't summon Mother, whatever you do!"

Which was an odd response, since that hadn't been Teve Esther's question, but come to think of it everything had been odd for as long as Teve Esther could remember. She couldn't even remember when Father had died. He'd been executing princes one day, and the next Nissa Premiere's husband was King, and Nissa Premiere was Queen with a baby on the way.

Naturally, this meant that Teve Esther needed to summon Mother. She waited until there was a ball. There was always a ball. Michael and Nissa Premiere were always sparring by throwing dances, which was an odd way to have a marriage, but then he'd married the most stubborn of all of them. She gathered the things that she'd need. She didn't even question how she knew. She just knew. A feather from a black crow. A candle of white beeswax. Star dust from a back stair. A withered lily flower. She burned the feather and dust and flower by the candle flame and said, "Mother?"

"Yes, Teve Esther," said an old woman with long white hair dressed high on her head, or she might have been young, or she might have had a skeleton's gapping eyes and wide grin. All and any of them were dressed in a black gown made of stars and sky.

"Are you dead?" said Teve Esther.

Her mother laughed. "Of course, not, I'm Death, not dead."

"Oh," said Teve Esther. "That makes a certain amount of sense. Have you come for the ball?"

"You did invite me, which I might add is better than any of your sisters have done," sniffed Mother, "not even your sister who's living in sin with a lord of the dead."

As they were headed down the wide grand stairs, Teve Esther blurted out, "How did you and Father meet?"

Mother grinned. "I meet everyone eventually. I simply met him early. Although, he never did quite understand me. That's why we split up."

"After twelve daughters," said Teve Esther.

Mother shrugged, and picked up her skirts to better glide through the door into the grand ballroom. "We were more apart than we were together."

"But you're together now?"

Mother laughed. "Sweetheart, every child of parents who are separated imagines that, but no. We're not together now that he's dead."

They went inside the wide ballroom with is silver mirrors and gold foil on the walls.

Nissa Premiere on the throne turned quite white. "Err…" said Teve Esther, "everyone isn't going to die because you're here are they?"

Mother gave her a long hollow eyed look. Then laughed. "The questions that come out of your mouth. Now, let's take a turn around the room."

Teve Esther danced a time or two, but truth be told, it had lost its appeal. She wasn't even sure she'd ever really loved to dance. These days she had two left feet. She watched Mother dance. She even danced with Michael, while Iya Secunda laughed and laughed at his dazed expression.

Iya Secunda said, "He might remember meeting her when he was wounded. But maybe not."

Mother returned to where they were standing. She nodded at Iya Secunda.

Iya Secunda nodded back, and scooped up some poor man to dance with her.

Mother sighed. "She still hasn't forgiven me for making Nissa Premiere older, as if that wasn't time's fault."

When the evening came to a close, Teve Esther said, "Don't go."

"But my dear, I'm always here," smiled Mother.

Teve Esther put her hands on her hips and said, "Don't go!"

Mother held out her hand. "Let's go for a walk."

Teve Esther took it and that was the last that kingdom saw of her.

Chapter Text

There was a ball every night at the castle. Sheva Heure wondered if Michael meant it as a kindness or as a volley in an ongoing war. She knew that Nissa Premiere would never give way.

Or so it seemed until the night that Teve Esther spent the entire night of the masked ball ball with a mysterious woman in a red mask, and disappeared. It was a night of disappearances. That night Siva Terce and the young princesses disappeared from a locked room. That night Tammuz Forte broke out of her cell.

A night of sickness too. From then, many of the young men of court fell to coughing bright blood. Then old men too. From the men to the women, the sickness spread. 

Nissa Premiere was one of them.

She couldn't enjoy that her king lay also ill in his own bed. 

Iya Secunda concealed their illness. She put it out that the King and Queen had withdrawn with their children while the sickness was about. She lied to the ambassadors of kingdoms who hated them for what had happened to their princes. 

Sheva Heure was glad she did not have to stand where Ilya Secunda stood. She couldn't have lied so coolly. But still, she felt that she had to do something. Sheva Heure went to Iya Secunda and said, "What can we do?"

Iya Secunda brushed her hand along Sheva Heure's cheek. "I don't know. Every day, more fall sick. The rattle in Nissa Premiere's lungs gets worse. I'd ask Mother for help, but," she shrugged, "her help isn't really helpful. I'm inclined to think this is her fault. Someone should have warned Teve Esther not to summon her."

Sheva Heure had never known their mother. Nissa Premiere was more her mother than some stranger could ever be. She said, "Can't you think of anything?"

She felt Iya Secunda's sigh. " Nissa Premiere once told me that there was more to the kingdom below than just the palace we once danced in. Perhaps you could find something there." She shook her head at Sheva Heure's questioning look. "I can't go. I have to stay and hold the court together."

Sheva Heure asked Ave Quintilla to go with her, but she shook her head too. "I need to stay to care for Kisle Danielle."

"I'll bring back something that will help her too," said Sheva Heure. 

"Then you will need to turn back time," said Ave Quintilla.

Sheva Heure went to the only sister who was younger than herself, Adara Nocte, who said, "Of course, I'll come. Someone sensible has to come with you. I'll gather some supplies." 

Sheva Heure wasn't used to being the oldest princess. She nodded and said, "That sounds fine."

They unsealed the trap door under Nissa Premiere's old bed in secret. It had been years since the trap door could move. The passage was full of dust and spiders.

They went down the once familiar stairs to the avenue of gold trees. Sheva Heure knew what lay down the avenue, but dancing would not help. She said, "That way," in the opposite direction, although she wasn't sure at all. 

Adara Nocte said, "How do you know that we'll find the cure there?"

"Because I'm the eleventh princess, not the twelfth," said Sheva Heure in her best imitation of Nissa Premiere.

Adara Nocte laughed. "That's no reason. Anyway, in all the stories, it's always the youngest or the oldest who has an adventure."

"Well, which way do you want to go?" asked Sheva Heure getting exasperated.

"That way." Adara Nocte pointed in the direction they were already walking. 

Sheva Heuere sighed. They went through the golden trees. They came to a garden where a woman was tending ruby flowers. The woman said, "Hello. I've seen you. Years ago. Creeping back into your beds around dawn." The woman blushed. "That's who I am. Aurora of the dawn."

"Pleased to meet you," said Sheva Heure. "Do you have any fruit that could cure a sick person?"

"I'm afraid not," said Aurora. "If you keep going that way, there's a vineyard. Maybe Siduri the winemaker can help you."

"Thank you," said Sheva Heure. They went on their way.

They came to a splendid vineyard where the leaves were made of jade and the ruby clusters of grapes hung from the vines. "You there, thieves," said a woman's voice. They turned to see a woman holding a golden spear pointed in their direction. "Get away from my grapes."

"We don't want your grapes," said Sheva Heure.

"Ah." The woman put up her spear, "I'm Siduri the winemaker. I need all my grapes if I'm to make the wine of the gods."

"Can this wine cure illness?" asked Adara Nocte.

Siduri laughed. "No, it makes you very drunk." She tilted her head. "Are you looking for the secret of immortality?"

"Not exactly," said Sheva Heuere.

"No," said Adara Nocte, who shrugged at Sheva Heure. 

Siduri pointed her spear towards a path around the vineyard. "Go that way. You'll come to a wild firth of the sea. There used to be floating rocks to take you across, but some hero broke them years ago. On the far side, you'll find the garden of El. Eating of the fruit of those trees will cure any ill. Her daughters guard it and a dragon guards her daughters."

"We'll think of some way to get there and past the dragon," said Sheva Heure, who was in no way confident.

"Really?" said Adara Nocte.

"Yes, we will," said Sheva Heure decisively. 

They took the path to the wild firth of the sea. They saw the dust and tiny floating rocks by the shore.

"That's that. We'll have to go around. How far do you think this firth goes?" asked Adara Nocte.

"No," said Sheva Heure. She felt in her bones that they would be just in time, but there was no time to lose. "We have to use the rocks."

"But how? They're broken and if even if we get the bits together, I can tell you from experience, two people is heavier than one."

"We will think of something," said Sheva Heure. She said, "What did you bring for supplies?"

"Food and blankets," said Adara Nocte, who spread out a blanket and pulled some cheese out of her pack. 

"That'll work," said Sheva Heure. She grabbed the blanket. 

"Hey, the cheese," said Adara Nocte.

"The rocks," said Sheva Heure, who wrapped the blanket around the floating rocks and folded it tight and bound it with her belt.

Adara Nocte picked up the cheese and brushed off the dirt. She took a bite. "Now it's salty."

"It doesn't matter," Sheva Heure with a growing sense of panic. "We need to get across." They carefully perched on the blanket. 

"Now, what?" said Adara Nocte. "All we're doing is floating."

Sheva Heure carefully climbed off the floating rock blanket and broke some fronds off a palm growing nearby. "We'll wave these like paddles."

"That won't work," said Adara Nocte. "I really think we should walk around the firth. This doesn't look like it's a safe way to travel."

"It's the only way," said Sheva Heure. Waving the fronds didn't work, but holding them as sails for the wild wind that gusted through the firth did. They soon came to the other side.

On the other side, a hundred headed dragon reared up from behind some rocks. "We are the Ladon. We protect the Maidens of the West from heroes come to kidnap them!" The heads variously spat fire, lightning, yellow mist and so on.

Sheva Heure stood frozen. She tried to think what her sisters would do in her place.

Adara Nocte coughed. "We're not heroes."

"No, we're not," said Sheva Heure, but then was struck by the imprecision of that remark. "Well, we're on a heroic quest to save our sister and the rest of the court, but were not heroes."

The Ladon roared. "We will not be fooled. You are here to seduce one of the Maidens of the West."

"We're women," said Sheva Heure.

"Oh," said the Dragon. "Uh, never mind." The dragon nodded all hundred heads and walked away from them around the curve of a high stone wall. 

They walked along the wall in the opposite direction. Neither of them argued about walking away from a hundred headed dragon. They came to a gate guarded by a woman with brilliant golden wings and wearing golden armour. She held a flaming sword in her hand. "Who goes there?"

"Hi, I'm Sheva Heure, this is my sister, Adara Nocte. We're princesses." 

The woman pushed back her helm. "Then you may enter. All women are welcome in the garden of El. All that is forbidden is to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil or from the fruit of the tree of eternal life." 

"Do you have a tree of healing the current sickness that's killing you, but won't make you live forever?" asked Sheva Heure. "And if you do, can we have some of its fruit?"

"I wish I could help you," said the woman. "I am Aegle, the dazzling light before sunset. I don't spend much time in the garden. Perhaps one of my sisters, Ertheia of the last golden glow of day or Hesperethusa of the purple hour, can help you."

"I hope so," said Sheva Heure.

They went through the gate. Adara Nocte grabbed Sheva Heure's arm. "Now that we're here, you can't just blurt everything to everyone. We may need to steal the fruit."

Privately, Sheva Heure thought it was too late to keep silent about their quest, but all she did was pull free her arm.

They went through the garden until they found a woman with great wings of burnt orange. She held a glowing rake. But she didn't know of a tree that could heal an illness. She directed them to her sister Heperethusa at the center of the garden.

They came to the center where two trees grew with closely twined branches. There were signs that read "Dangerous. Do not eat!"

A woman with great purple-black wings was perched in one of the trees pruning it. Sheva Heure looked at her and thought, "I did not mean to lie to the dragon." 

Hesperethusa smiled sweetly at them and flew down from her perch. "You mustn't eat of these trees."

"I know," said Sheva Heure. Her heart beat fast in helpless longing. She repeated what they were looking for, while Adara Nocte glared. 

"We don't have anything like that," said Hesperethusa. Her wide wings wafted the air.

"That's it for that quest," said Adara Nocte, nonchalantly sitting down next to a fallen fruit.

"Please, we've come so far," said Sheva Heure. She came closer. She dared to reach out and take Hesperethusa's hands. She felt the spark as their hands met.

"Oh," said Hesperethusa. 

"Oh, said Sheva Heure. She felt love blooming in her heart.

Hesperethusa whispered, "The Maidens of the West are forbidden the love of a man."

"I'm not a man," said Sheva Heure.

"I know," said Hesperethusa, who kissed her.

Sheva Heure broke away from the sweetest of kisses. She said, "I… I…" she looked at the sap dripping from the trees. "Is it forbidden to taste the sap of the trees?"

"No," said Hesperethusa, leaning forward for another sweet, sweet kiss.

"Why do you think tree sap will cure anyone?" asked Adara Nocte, getting up and crossing her arms. Sheva Heure ignored the lump in her sister's pocket.

"Because it can't hurt to try," said Sheva Heure. She looked into Hesperethusa's purple eyes. "Can you help me?"

"Of course," said Hesperethusa. She kissed Sheva Heure's fingers.

"It won't work," said Adara Nocte. Sheva Heure made her empty a bottle of wine in the grass. She said, "That's a waste of perfectly good gods wine." 

They gathered sap from the tree of eternal life in the bottle. 

Hesperethusa said, "I can carry only one of you."

"Fine," said Adara Nocte. "I'll walk and probably die on the way back." 

Hesperethusa swept Sheva Heure up in her arms. They flew across the wall and the firth. The dragon roared, "Liar!" But they were soon past. They swiftly came to the avenue of trees and carefully folded Hesperethusa's wings through the opening in the floor. 

Hesperethusa looked around. "This is a very interesting room."

"It was once," said Sheva Heure looking at the twelve beds in their rows. They ran through the palace to the Queen's room. They found Iya Secunda holding Nissa Premiere in her bed. Iya Secunda was crying and rocking their sister.

"No," said Sheva Heure. One last breathe still rattled in Nissa Premiere's throat. Sheva held the wine bottle up to her sister's lips. A golden bead of sap dripped into her mouth. She blinked, once and twice and three times, and sat up in her bed.

She asked, "Is there enough in that bottle to cure the rest of the court?"

"I'm sure there is," said Sheva Heure. There was. They even after some consideration spared a drop for the King. He blinked at Nissa Premiere, who said, "You may start checking your drinks tomorrow. Today let there be peace." They shook their accords.

However, when they gave the last drop of golden sap to Kisle Danielle, she didn't wake. 

Sheva Heure said to Hesperethusa, "Maybe if you take her back to El's garden."

"I can only carry one," said Hesperethusa.

Sheva Heure kissed her. "I will follow after."

Hesperethusa carried the sleeping Kisle Danielle down the stairs and into the avenue of trees. She flew away on wings of twilight. 

Sheva Heure followed more slowly on foot. She almost expected to pass Adara Nocte on the way, but she didn't. She went through Aurora's garden and Siduri's vineyard. She came to the wild firth. Hesperethusa was there waiting on the sandy shore. On the far side, she saw Kisle Danielle waving from on top of the dragon's back.

"You're here," said Hesperethusa. 

"Yes," said Sheve Heure, who decided to waste no more time on anything but a kiss.

Chapter Text

Adara Nocte felt like a failure. A failure as a princess. A failure as a youngest daughter. No, that wasn't quite right.

She didn't feel like she was a princess. She didn't feel like she was a youngest daughter. Everything should have fallen into place. That's how it worked for the youngest daughter. Instead, all her life, when she'd expressed how she'd felt or thought, one of her sisters would tell her that she was wrong. Except she'd been right about the last prince, who hadn't been a prince. At least she hadn't had to marry him. That would have been a mess.

Adara Nocte left the fallen fruit she'd found. She didn't know if it was from the tree of knowledge or immortality. With her luck, it would be the knowledge of good and evil.

She went outside of the gate of the garden and she got on the floating blanket that had brought her across the stormy inlet. She wanted to float back across. She wanted to go home. Actually, no. She had nowhere else to go.

Naturally, the wind pushed her out to sea. She looked at the freezing cold waves and the rapidly receding rocky coastline. She told the seagulls keeping pace with her. "I'm going to die."

They didn't disagree. That was a nice change.

"I don't know what to do." Adara Nocte drew her knees up to her chest and wrapped her arms around them. The wind blew in her face. The sea sparkled. The sea gulls wheeled away and headed to shore. She kept drifting. "I just…" She shivered in the wind. "Everything is supposed to work for me." The sun glided towards the blue line of the horizon. "I'm the youngest." She wiped a tear from her cheek. "It's stupid to cry." The sun slipped lower and lower. She wiped her cheeks. The sun slipped burning bright on the horizon and was gone into a glowing burnt orange sky.

She shivered.

The first star of evening came out. Then another and another. The band of the Milky Way stretched over her head like a ribbon across the black hair of night. While low on the horizon, seven stars danced up from the horizon and into the sky. She found herself crying again as she thought to herself that once, she and her sisters had danced like those stars.

They danced closer and closer, until one of the stars, who sounded just like her niece, Stella said, "Auntie, why are you crying?"

"She's crying because we don't dance together anymore," said Siva Terce, who had disappeared with Nissa Premiere's four daughters just before the sickness consumed the court.

It made her angry. "I'm crying because I'm going to die. I told Sheva Heure that this was a bad way to travel. Just like I told you that I heard a noise in the avenue of trees."

"Not that again," said Tammuz Forte, who had been disappeared in an entirely different way into the dungeons by King Michael. "Let it go. That was years ago. It's time to move on."

"Can we help her?" said Magda.

"I don't want my Aunt to die," said Maria.

"By all means, don't help me on my own account," said Adara Nocte.

A voice she didn't know at all, laughed. "Adara Nocte, you've come the farthest. But you've always had the farthest to go. We'll help you, because we love you." The stars danced around her and lifted her off her blanket full of floating rocks and carried her across the sky.

Adara Nocte felt tired and grumpy. She said, "I hate being a princess. I wish I could be someone else."

The voice she didn't know said, "I know, sweetheart, but not much longer now." The stars set her down on a dark shore where the waves gently lapped and left her there. She called after them, "You could have taken me home." She poured sand out of her shoes. "Now I have sand in my shoes." She sighed. "Fine."

She brushed the star dust into a pouch from her hands and feet and came to a bit of a realization. She was now a he.

Adara Nocte said, "Mother, was that you? How did you know that's what I meant? That I've always felt out of place in my own body. That..." She didn't finish.

There was no one to answer. The stars had faded from the sky and it was daylight.

Adara Nocte followed a road that led away from the sea until he came to a town around a castle. He saw a sign in front of a cobbler's shop that read, "Apprentice needed".

He thought, "I could hardly do worse as a cobbler than I did as a princess." He went in. There was a harried man sitting with pile of leather in front of him.

He said, "Boy, please tell me that you're here to be a cobbler. Do you know anything about shoes?"

Adara Nocte shrugged. "I know how to wear them out."

"Good enough," said the man, "I'm Tomas, and this how to cut a piece of leather for a shoe."

There was as it happened quite a lot of art in making shoes. Adara Nocte quite liked it. He liked working with his hands. He would talk to the shoes as he made them. He told the riding boot that they would grip tight. He told the sturdy walking boots that were made for walking as far as they had to go. He told the ladies slippers that they could practically fly as they danced.

Sometimes Tomas would laugh, "And I thought I was busy before I took you as an apprentice. Now I'm twice so. Every time you make a shoe, the customer comes back for three more."

"You could pay me three time as much," said Adara Nocte with a wink.

Tomas said, "So, I could and I shall." He went to get the coins right away. Adara Nocte bought new clothes to suit his position as a cobbler.

Now one day, Tomas sent Adara Nocte to the castle with an order for lady's slippers for the princess. As he delivered the order, he asked, "How many princesses are there here? There are enough dancing slippers for a hundred princesses."

"What you haven't heard?" said a footman, in surprise. "There's only one princess. Every night, she's locked in her room and every morning, she wakes up and we find that her slippers have been worn out."

A chamber maid pipped up, "King Alexi is beside himself. He's offered his kingdom and his daughter's hand in marriage to any who can solve the mystery."

"And I suppose, he kills anyone who can't," said Adara Note with a sour turn to his lips.

"Oh, you have heard about it," said the footman. "We've gone through six princes so far."

Adara Nocte sighed. "Is it possible to see the King?"

The chamber maid laughed. "Only if you intend to solve the mystery."

"Take me to the King," said Adara Nocte.

King Alexi looked like he was sitting on a burr on his throne. He took one look at Adara Nocte and said, "Maybe a cobbler can succeed where princes have failed."

"Perhaps," said Adara Nocte, who had wondered something for a very long time, and he hadn't thought to ask when he had the chance. So he asked this King, who he didn't know. "Why does it matter so much that you'll kill princes over it?"

"I'll kill a cobbler too," said King Alexi. Then he rubbed his face. "She's all that I have left of her Mother. She used to run and bounce around the castle. Now she wakes up as worn out as her shoes every day. She sleeps all afternoon. She never laughs anymore. She doesn't want to go into the sunshine. She…"

"You're losing her," said Adara Nocte. A tear rolled down his cheek for his father, who had died so long ago.

"Yes," said King Alexi, who wiped a tear from his own cheek.

"Let me see the princess," said Adara Nocte.

Princess Tiara was just yawning awake from her afternoon nap. "Oh, another one," she said.

"That's right another one," said Adara Nocte. "You're breaking your father's heart you know."

Princess Tiara shrugged. "He's holding on too tight."

Adara Nocte sighed. Because he remembered that feeling of being trapped in a room. Of wanting only to dance the night away. He shook his head. He much preferred being a cobbler.

That night, the servants put him in the bed where the princes had been sleeping, and locked him in the room with the princess.

Princess Tiara said, "Would you like some wine."

"Sure," said Adara Nocte. He spilled it on the bed. The sheets were black and no one would notice. He pretended to fall asleep.

He watched Princess Tiara stand on her bed and pull down a trap door in the ceiling. She climbed up the ladder.

Adara Nocte poured out some star dust and rubbed it on his face. "Make me invisible." He winked out of sight and even the darkened room, couldn't be seen in the mirror. He followed up the ladder.

The ladder squeaked at his first step. Princess Tiara stopped up above him. Adara Nocte thought, "Listen to your instincts. Turn around."

She didn't. She kept climbing.

They ladder let out in an amber lined room.

Adara Nocte plucked a great piece of glowing amber off the wall with a pop.

Princess Tiara stopped. "Who's there?"

Adara Nocte thought to himself, "Listen to your instincts. Go back."

Princess Tiara kept going. They went through a room lined in shining pearls. Adara Nocte plucked a great shining pearl off the wall with a pop.

Princess Tiara stopped. "Who's there?"

Adara Nocte thought to himself, "Listen to your instincts. Go back."

Princess Tiara kept going. They passed through a room lined with intricately carved ivory. Adara Nocte snapped off a piece that showed twelve ladies dancing.

Princess Tiara stopped. "Who's there?"

Adara Nocte thought to himself, "Listen to your instincts. Go back."

Princess Tiara kept going. They came to a ballroom full of laughing people. Princess Tiara clapped her hands and ran to a handsome Prince. They danced together. Adara Nocte followed them.

When Princess Tiara put down her wine glass, Adara Nocte would drink her wine. He'd shake his head when Princess Tiara would gasp to see it emptied. He danced behind her on the floor. He'd been a very good dancer once.

Princess Tiara looked behind her. "Who is there?"

"There's no one behind you," said the Prince with devilish smile. "But if you'll go with me to the next room…"

Princess Tiara giggled. "Not tonight. Right now, I want to dance."

Adara Nocte felt ill. He'd giggled once. He remembered Elu Sextilla had always slipped away with her prince when asked. He remembered helping his sisters conceal that she was pregnant at their Nissa Premiere's wedding. He wondered where Elu Sextilla and her children had gone. But supposed there was too much water under that bridge.

Adara Nocte went to the next room. He wasn't surprised by what he found. There was no one to hear as he pulled off a piece of the wall with a pop.

He left Princess Tiara to the ballroom and went back through the rooms and down the ladder. He sprinkled star dust on himself and said, "Make me visible again." He pretended to be asleep when she got back. He was glad that the wine was only damp, but decided if he ever needed to do that again, he'd pour it at the feet.

The door was unlocked and he was taken to the King.

King Alexi said, "Well?" He looked as if he hadn't slept. He looked as if he had spent all night worrying.

"Do you want to fix this or do you want to know the truth?" asked Adara Nocte, getting to what he felt was the heart of the matter.

"I want my baby to be well again," said King Alexi, who got up to pace around the room.

"First, she's practically an adult," which earned him a wry look.

"You're not a parent."

"No, I'm not. But here is what you must do. Tonight, throw a ball for your daughter and invite all the princes that you haven't killed, and for that matter everyone else. I'll make your daughter some shoes for the ball."

"She has hundreds of slippers."

"I'm making her some shoes," said Adara Nocte. He tapped the side of his nose. "Trust me, I'm a cobbler."

Adara Nocte went back to the shop and worked all day on a very special pair of shoes. One was made of amber and the other of pearl, and all over sprinkled with star dust. He whispered to them as he made them. He said, "Trust your instincts. Love whatever you that you are."

He brought the shoes to the palace.

Princess Tiara took the shoes in surprise. "They're beautiful."

"You'll find they're very comfortable too," said Adara Nocte. "Also," he tapped a foot on the floor. "They won't wear out as quickly."

Adara Nocte was given clothes for the ball. He liked them very much. They were much nicer than what he had been wearing and better than any dress he'd worn. King Alexi said, "Now what?"

"Now, you dance the first dance with your daughter, and then you let her dance with whoever she wants to," said Adara Nocte, who was watching the door.

King Alexi danced with his daughter. Princess Tiara looked up at him and they talked the entire dance.

"Probably the first time they've actually talked in a while," said Adara Nocte to no one in particular.

At the door, a footman announced, "Prince Ba'al of the West." It was the prince from the night before.

Adara Nocte sniffed and then straightened. Because immediately after, the footman announced, "Tishrei Kore with Lord Hades and guest." He almost went to talk to his sister. But Chesheva Edel came through the door next. Followed by twelve dancing skeletons, and six demon princesses in full armor. Tishrei Kore and the demon princesses started to argue.

Adara Nocte decided to follow Prince Ba'al and prayed that his family wouldn't knock down King Alexi's palace.

Princess Tiara was staring up at Prince Ba'al with a happy smile. But when she took his hand to dance, her shoes wouldn't move.

Adara Nocte handed what he'd found in the last room to Princess Tiara. He said, "This is from Prince Ba'al's palace."

"Not in any room I've seen," said Princess Tiara, holding the skeletal hand with the rings still on its fingers. Princess Tiara asked, as if in a daze, "What's in the room beyond the ballroom?"

"Haven't you guessed," said Adara Nocte. "It's made of maiden's bones. His palace is made of things that were alive."

"No," said Princess Tiara. She dropped the hand to the floor. Her shoes tapped. A warning. A message. Adara Nocte saw the moment the truth made its way from her feet to Princess Tiara's head. "You were going to kill me."

"I still am," said Prince Ba'al, looming larger and larger, and the room was filled with red light, as he began to burn.

Adara Nocte put some star dust in his palm and wrapped it around the flames that made up Prince Ba'al's wrist. He said, "You're an ass."

Prince Ba'al stopped burning and became an ass with red fur. Adara Nocte said, "I'll just take this guest to the stables."

King Alexi said, "How did you do that?"

Adara Nocte shrugged. "I'm a very good cobbler."

It wasn't entirely easy to get the ass out ballroom. Prince Ba'al brayed at Adara Nocte and would not move.

Chesheva Edel said, "I can take him for you."

Adara Nocte looked at his sister for the first time in many years and said, "Thank you."

Chesheva Edel smiled and led the ass away.

Then there was dancing. Even seven stars came. It wasn't his entire family, but Adara Nocte put down the carved ivory with the twelve dancing maidens on a table and said, "Its close enough," and asked Princess Tiara for a dance.

Chapter Text

Art work for the 12 princesses

Nissa Premiere was the eldest, and most stubborn of them all. She was the one who drugged the princes.

Nissa Premiere

Iya Secunda was next. Never to be the first.

Ilya Secunda

Siva Terce loved music once. After, to hear was to scream. It was why she turned to the sky.

Siva Terce

Tammuz Forte was chained to a wall below the earth. She grew strong there.

Tamuz Forte

Ave Quintilla heard her mother's call to the river.

Ave Quintilla

Elu Sextilla slipped away with her lover.

Elu Sextilla

Tishrei Kore ran away the day of her sister's wedding.

Tishrei Kore

Chesheva Edel felt the scales fall from her eyes and saw the truth.

Chesheva Edel

Kisle Danielle fell into a dream.

Kisle Danielle

Teve Esther realized that she lived a very odd life.

Teve Esther

Sheva Heure believed in eleventh hour rescues.

Sheva Heure

And Adara Nocte, the youngest, that one had far to go.

Adara Nocte