Part of this was supposed to be part of last chapter, but it was starting to drag out. Besides, this is the final chapter of Moonstone Fragment, so it may as well end with a bang. 8D
Also, clearing up an issue I should have thought to clear up way earlier in the story. Brown eyes are genetically unheard of in the Zebak—maybe even impossible—so when Forley mentions using special eye drops to hide his….. Yeah, I probably should have said at some point before now that he has special eye drops to hide his brown eyes. Sorry about that. :/
(Hence, a lot of subconscious eye imagery ended up in this chapter. :P)
A final note—Zeel isn't just a made up name, you know. It means enthusiasm. ;D
Chapter 14: The Great Reveal
There was a cluster of other children at the meeting, brought along by eager parents who hadn't been able to leave them at home. Zamiel had tried at first to make Vivi remain with them, playing and out of trouble in a different room. He had quickly found—as Star had warned him—that this was all but impossible.
"I'm not just a dumb little kid like them, you know," she had protested. "I'm big! I can do stuff! I'm here to be with the rebellion, not a bunch of house rats."
Zamiel had frowned, all too aware that those parents didn't like the way this loud, obnoxious child talked about their well-behaved children.
"So, you think you're grown, do you?" he had asked with a very forced smile.
Vivi had crossed her arms and stuck her tongue out at him. "I'm sneakier than you are, that's for sure."
Clearly seeing that it was no use, and that Vivi would do as she pleased no matter what she was told to do, Zamiel had given up and let her have a seat with the grown-ups. She had plunked herself down between Forley and Zeel, who she liked and trusted, and knew better than most of the people there. Star was certain, though, that she had probably robbed half of these gathered people in the past, and could probably even remember what she had stolen from them.
It was a decent crowd for a first meeting. There were nearly twenty newcomers, all of them faces that Star recognized from around Southside. Many of them were regular customers of Thora's, or at least related to them. That gruff female guard with the migraine was there, wearing a nice dress that Star never would have thought she might own. There was that unfortunate young man with arthritic hands, gingerly flexing his fingers while he wasn't using them. There was that young mother, too—the one whose little son had lung problems, who had been forced to bring him along to the meeting. The boy was now in that other room with Zane's children, and the two or three others who had been brought along.
Zione had just put away her fiddle and sat down to join the gathering. The beautiful bard magic that had called them all there was gone now, leaving a serious silence in its place. While the large group gladly helped itself to the food and drink that had been brought up, there was little talk. Mostly, there was silent eating and drinking, and a sense of breathless waiting for the true business of this meeting to begin.
Zamiel graciously allowed his guests to have their fill, and waited nearly half an hour before he rose and cleared his throat. All eyes turned at once to him, waiting with anxious excitement for him to speak.
"This is… Truly, such an honor," he began slowly, his eyes sweeping over every face before him. "The summons we sent to you was only a hunch, something we hoped dearly would take hold. We passed around more than forty notes, exactly the same as the ones you received. Whether our invitation was declined or merely not understood, we may never know; but only the nineteen of you present have answered us. It is more than we had ever hoped for.
"And so, on the behalf of Central Control squadron C-57, I welcome you with a glad heart—to what we hope will be the first of many such gatherings."
The nineteen newcomers looked around at each other in wonder, marveling that their mere presence could be such an honor, and sometimes murmuring suspiciously about those who hadn't answered the summons.
"Listen," Zamiel continued, clapping his hands. "As you know if you are here now, I am captain Garased, and I lead squad C-57. As you will also know, we have been making plans in secret to spark a city-wide rebellion against our mutual master, the Dragon Lord. The ten of us cannot do this alone. Our objective this night has been to gather loyal, determined friends, who we hope to train as our leaders and allies."
Several people gasped in alarm.
"Leaders?" scoffed a woman in a worn apron. "Just look at us! Blacksmiths, bakers, roof menders, gardeners, homemakers—do we look like leaders to you?"
"Not at this precise moment, no," Zamiel agreed coolly. "But in time and with some direction, I can see each and every person here playing that part, each in his or her own way. We have suddenly become many—many skills, many talents, many experiences. There is a wealth of knowledge between the lot of us. We may be very different, one to the next; but if we can learn to work together as a team, as my squad has, we can become unstoppable."
"Ah, I see," said a man with rough, calloused hands. "And once we become leaders, we take our training and use it to lead others. And we train more leaders to lead still others, and so on and so forth, until we have multiplied tenfold."
Zamiel nodded at the man. "It was the aim of the ancient Dragon Lords, when they enslaved men like my ancestors to their service. Central Control multiplied rapidly in those days, once they were unable to escape it. Now we shall turn the tables, and play the same old trick on the Dragon Lord."
"I do like the sound of that," mused the arthritic young man. "It makes plain sense, of course. It will take no small amount of caution, though."
"Which means that progress will not happen overnight," Zamiel agreed. "It will have to unfold slowly, over several months, as you carefully choose and train your own people. Finding faithful people is hard; but every person knows a few. And each of those few know a few, themselves. As our experienced friend here has said, it will grow from there."
The people murmured together for a moment, most of them sounding to agree and even be excited.
"Very well, then," said another unrecognizable guard. Her hair was long and loose, but still crimped from being tightly braided all day. "You are only a young captain, Zamiel, but you have always proven yourself to be clever and capable. More than that, I have never known you to let your men down, not even in the face of brutal punishment. I am willing to trust you, and follow your cause. What did you have in mind, as far as this training of yours?"
Zamiel smiled his thanks and continued, "Some of us already know what it is to lead others. Whether through military commands, or managing hired hands, or raising families. This is a good place to start, and a way that many people here can be of help immediately. The best course of action I see is—"
"Now wait just a moment," snapped the woman in the worn apron. "Not all of us here have agreed to this. What if we don't want this training? What if we can't lead others?"
"I'm not forcing anyone to do anything," Zamiel insisted. "I'm only trying to say, this is a place to start. We must start somewhere."
"Well, I don't want to do this," the woman said dourly. "I've no knowledge of leading others, and frankly I don't want it."
"I meant no offense, ma'am. What would you rather do?" he asked sincerely. "If you have something specific in mind, we would all be glad of it."
"I want to fight," she answered immediately. "Put a blade in my hand and let the enemy come! I am not afraid."
"Yeah!" Vivi squealed suddenly. "I'm not afraid, too! We can fight together, lady. It'll be great!"
Zeel clamped her hand on Vivi's shoulder and forced her to sit back down, giving her a warning look. "Talk of fighting can come later," she said in a grave voice. "At the moment, we've only a handful of unorganized people, few weapons, and no plan. Blind enthusiasm won't save us."
Most of the nineteen turned to look at Zeel in surprise. Like general Azan, they only knew her as a tame, soft-spoken widow who never raised her voice, and certainly never spoke so sharply or plainly. Seeing her speak out at all must have surprised them. Few of them knew Vivi, either, and they must have wondered how the two were suddenly so familiar.
Zeel's words hadn't pleased the rough, worn woman. She scowled in anger and confusion and crossed her arms.
"I came here tonight on behalf of a family who is hanging on by a thread," she growled. "I came here believing there was a plan in place, ready to be put into action. I came prepared to fight, to give my life, if I had to. Instead I've found this—a cobbled together band of rebels with no plan to speak of, asking me to be patient when I am already at my wits end."
Several of them thought about this, slowly nodding in agreement. Many of them were young men and women, who had perhaps some to the meeting hoping the same. Suddenly, many of them looked impatient and unsure of themselves.
"That is a valid point," Zamiel answered after a moment. "We are all tired of living this way, and impatient to change it. That is why we must start at the beginning, and carefully plan our future. Our freedom hangs in the balance. It is worth being careful for, and doing things properly the first time."
"What is the point, then," the woman demanded sullenly, looking down at her hands. "We will never get anywhere, at that rate. It is hopeless."
Even those who had agreed with her impatience looked puzzled at her despair. They exchanged glances, wondering over her change in mood when she had been so passionate seconds before. Star could see clearly that the woman was crushed with disappointment.
Zamiel came and knelt beside her, placing his strong hand over hers. "There is hope, my good woman. We are far from alone in this fight."
The woman shook her head without looking at him. "I fail to see that. We are cut off from the world, and they from us. They fear and despise our people. No one else in the world cares what happens to us."
"You might be surprised. A few friends of mine are present tonight who just might change your mind."
Nearly everyone at the table began glancing among themselves, wondering which of them Zamiel meant. The worn woman scowled up at him in confusion.
"I don't understand you," she grumbled. "I don't know what you're talking about."
Zeel glanced at Star and Forley, then nodded. It seemed to have been decided that the moment had come. She began to climb to her feet, reaching for her daughter.
"Star, help me up," she commanded, calling the girl by her real name. Star did as she was told without a word, feeling a thrill of excitement. Already, the rest of the gathering was staring at them in confusion, wondering what had gotten into them.
All at once, the woman they knew as Ferienne was gone. The soft voice and vacant eyes and drooping shoulders had come to life before them. The woman facing them stood so straight and tall, so full of life and confidence and fire that she could have been a warrior. Everything about her was suddenly breathtaking.
"You know me," she said firmly, not just to the worn woman, but to the whole assembly. "I am Zeel Moakel, daughter of the Plains, and I am here to help you."
She paused and allowed the gathering a few moments to gasp or exclaim in surprise. Her face remained firm and unmoved; but Star knew that it was just another mask. On the inside, she knew that her mother had been waiting patiently to see just what kind of sensation she would cause, and was now smugly pleased with herself.
"But you vanished," someone cried out. "Vanished, without a trace! They were saying you might have perished! How have you done this?"
"With a little help and some careful thinking, is how," Zeel answered plainly, crossing her arms. "If you knew the tales as well as you should, you would know that I can hide myself anywhere I wish, for as long as I wish. I did it once. I've simply done it again, that is all."
"But your mark—" began another person, only to be cut off by Star and Forley. The two couldn't stand it any longer and had begun laughing. Star rubbed at the false mark on her face and then showed the crowd her smudged fingers.
"They aren't real," she explained with satisfaction. "It's only black henna, and sometimes black kohl when it starts to fade."
Now it was her turn to relish her work. She picked June out of the crowd and gave her a wink.
"We came from the west, ourselves," Forley told them all with a gracious bow. "On a rescue mission that hardly went as planned. You know me as Brahna, fisherman-turned-baker; but my name is Forley, and I have, in fact, been a baker all my life. My father's name is Allun—perhaps you've heard of him?"
There came another inevitable wave of gasping and exclaiming. Some people were even very pale. Of course they had heard of his father; Allun was a favorite of anyone who read the stories. The man was a celebrity in Habaharan, even if he would never know it. And now Forley was standing before this band of rebels, smiling pleasantly at them and looking exactly like his father would have.
"Well, if you think that's remarkable," Zeel said proudly, "perhaps you haven't met my lovely daughter. She is here in this room right now."
These people were already dizzy with shock, and now some of them looked like they might faint. Almost all of them turned their attention right to Star, the only one of them who hadn't introduced herself. She could see alarm in their faces, too:
Daughter? Who might have been her father, then? Where was he?
Hoping she wouldn't frighten these people to death, she grinned and dropped a polite curtsey, deciding to be brief and to the point.
"I am Star of Rin, daughter of Rowan the Titan, chronicler and writer of books."
It dawned on her that if she had been fully Zebak, like her mother, she would have had a family name to give the gathering. But Rin had never held such a tradition. Their children were only ever given one name, a name that was all theirs and theirs alone, followed by a title that changed with time. A child called herself by the names of her parents. An adult called herself by what kind of work she did—fletcher, blacksmith, writer, farmer of corn or wheat or barley. It was their way of identifying and understanding each other.
For now, Star was in between the two. She was still a child who needed her parents' care and guidance; but she also knew what she was meant to do, and she had worked hard at it from an early age. Therefore, her name and its title were long and complicated. Not at all like her mother. Many people also knew the story of Zeel's parents, the Moakels, and what had happened to them. So much could be known of her, just by that one word. It was so much simpler, yet so much bigger.
Long as it was, her name had been more than enough for the gathering. Nearly every guest jumped to his or her feet, jewel-colored eyes wide, hands over hearts and gaping mouths. As Star had expected, one person, who had been growing paler and paler, finally fainted.
Star couldn't blame them for being so excited. Her presence—her very existence—meant so many things to them all at once. Her father was the Earth Titan, who had made his way into their city as a boy; and now she was here, herself. Unlike him, though, she had stayed. She had seen their troubles, seen the dangers they faced every day, and she had stayed with them. She had shared those troubles with them, and treated them kindly. She knew them. And they knew her.
And they now knew that her father was not Zebak, that he was in fact their perfect opposite, and all that went with that. Her being alive in a distant land would have infuriated the Dragon Lord. Living here, in Habaharan, right under the Dragon Lord's nose, put her in terrible danger at every second.
And yet she had settled herself in the thick of these troubled people, and she had stayed.
She scanned the crowd until she spotted June again. The girl was as badly shocked as the rest, but there was a look in her pale green eyes. It wasn't anger or delight or grief, but something else. Something Star couldn't quite see properly from the distance.
I've seen that face somewhere before, she thought. But where…?
She hadn't asked directly, but she felt the medallion under her dress grow a bit warm, and a memory flowed into her mind. It hadn't been too long ago that Vivi had guessed for herself who Star's father was, and a similar look of awed disbelief had come over her young face faster than her usual cheeky grin.
Ah, yes. That's the face, she thought with a smile. It means so little to me, sometimes. To me, Rowan is just papa—my father, who has sung to me, and healed my cuts and scrapes, and tucked me into bed for as long as I have lived. To these people, he is a Titan with divine power. His stories have given them strength and hope. If he were here in my place, they would look to him and see their savior.
Well, papa isn't here. I am, and so is the Earth sigil. I only hope I can be a good replacement…
Star was still smiling patiently, and the gathering was still in an uproar, when a voice suddenly broke over the noise.
"But wait! It gets even better."
A door in the wall had opened from the inside, and there stood Alanis, grinning for the first time in months. Leah was bravely peering out the door from inside the room, fiddling nervously with her spectacles. Zizi was peeking out from behind her, anxious to see what was going on, but afraid to show his unmarked face.
Of course there came another round of noise from the crowd. There might have been a chance of Star and Forley lying about being from the west; they looked enough like the Zebak to be pulling an enormous practical joke on everyone. Now that they had seen Alanis and Leah, with their pale skin and eyes of brown and emerald, there was no mistake, and certainly no joke. Bhlai House was full of Rinfolk. It had been for months, and none of them had suspected for an instant in all that time.
None of them had seen such pale skin before, Star realized. They had never seen brown eyes like Leah's, either. It must have seemed to them as incredible as anything else.
Forley was chuckling to himself as he strode to the open door. "Leah, come on," he called to her. "Come out and meet everyone. You've been practicing for this."
Slowly and very cautiously, Leah began inching toward her brother's outstretched hand. She kept her eyes fixed on Forley's and didn't dare look to either side, as Thora had told her to. Keeping her focus locked on her brother in this way, she came close enough to take his hand and move nearly all the way into the crowded main room.
Those who knew Leah well were impressed and very proud of her. She was shaking a bit but standing tall, looking shy and awkward but not panicked or anxious. It was clearly still an effort for her, and she didn't dare look directly at the gathered people, but she had done so well. Forley was beaming with pride as he put his arm around her.
"This is Leah, my sister," he told the people. "We don't look much alike, but you can tell. We share our father's eyes. At least, we do when I don't have colored eye drops in mine."
Their friends and family all laughed lightly at his joking—especially Ofelia, who had supplied him those eye drops on his first night in the city. During the day, his eyes were dyed pale blue to match Star's, because they were pretending to be brother and sister. At night, when the dye had faded and his eyes were dark again, it was suddenly clear as day who his sister really was.
Unused to all the attention, Leah waved feebly, mumbling hello, and continued to not look directly at the people. She was using all her strength to keep herself together. She had done so well, but was plainly starting to lose her nerve. Seeing this, and that she wasn't going to speak up, Forley gave her a squeeze.
"Don't worry about her, she just has a problem with crowds is all," he explained. "But she's working very hard on that, so that she can be a part of this, too. It means much to us both."
"It means much to me, as well," Alanis agreed, leaning playfully on his shoulder. "Are you going to introduce me, or had you forgotten I was here?"
"Of course I hadn't," he smiled back. "I was only saving the best for last, is all. Everyone, meet Alanis."
"The last of us, I assure you," she added with a polite bow. Then she straightened and strode to stand boldly beside Star. "I have famous parents, too. Strong John is my father."
Alanis and Star grinned at each other, nearly shoulder to shoulder, both imagining how very like their own fathers they must have looked. The crowd had quieted down a bit, perhaps used to surprises by now, and mostly just marveling at their unexpected allies in silent awe. Perhaps some were looking at the two girls and thinking that this was exactly how they had pictured some of their favorite characters from their favorite tales.
Already, Star could tell that tonight had done Alanis a lot of good. Being seen and appreciated for who she was—it was all she had ever wanted it. Now she would have it. These people only knew her brother and sister as a brave, skinny boy and an overly curious little girl. No one here knew what they had grown up to do, or exactly who they had become. No one here would compare her to them.
Besides, like Star, Alanis was here, with them. Her brother and sister were not. Real and brave and magical as they truly were, they were only as helpful as characters in a fantastic story.
Suddenly, Vivi jumped to her feet and puffed out her chest like a bird.
"And I'm Vivi!" she cheered. "You can't forget about me!"
Zeel made a face at the child and rubbed her temple. "Vivi, you have lived your whole life in this city. You aren't from the west."
"I know, but you still can't leave me out," the girl insisted, fists on her hips. "I'm important, too, you know. Anyway, I got excited."
Peevish as she was, her outburst was just what the gathering needed. Most couldn't help but laugh, amused by the girl's earnestness. Some of them had calmed themselves enough to take their places on the floor again. Star liked the look of this at once, and turned to help her mother back into her place.
Now that those very interesting introductions were out of the way, there was a great deal to explain. It would certainly be best if everyone was sitting down to hear it all. The people seemed to sense this also, because once a few people started sitting down, the rest all collected themselves and followed suit. Even the sour woman in the worn apron looked cheered, and very interested.
Star made a little room for Alanis to sit beside her, and then looked to see what Forley and Leah were doing. He was trying to tug her toward the circle of seated people, but she wasn't budging.
"Come on, its only for a little while, and you're doing so well," Star heard him insisting. "It's going to be fine."
But Leah was shaking her head, remaining rooted in place just inside the door to her hidden room. "No. Not yet. I'm not ready," she told him, face flushed and nearly panting.
"I don't want you to miss anything."
"I'll just stay here. I can hear everything from right here. I'll be alright. Thank you."
Forley didn't look happy to leave his sister hoovering there, apart from the group like a ghost, but he finally gave up and went back to his place. Looking over his shoulder, he couldn't help smiling to see that Zizi had run to take his place. Leah scooped him into her arms and sat his small weight on her hip, so that he could watch and listen with her. Some people must have wondered who the dark, unmarked little boy was, and if he was also kin to them somehow.
Seeing everyone amazed but settled again, Zamiel cleared his throat to gain their attention. He, too, looked very pleased with himself.
"As I said," he told them, "we are not alone in this fight. These young people of Rin came into our city intent on rescuing a beloved mother, and ended up trapped here with us, instead. In that time, they have invested themselves in our troubles, and in our rebellion. You have all come to know Zeel, Star, and Forley as the friends they are; and in little time, you will know Alanis and Leah just as well."
Still smiling proudly, Zeel lovingly patted her daughter's hair. "You have much to thank them for already. Star was the one who wrote the book you all love so much. Believe me when I say, Rowan of Rin is the perfect truth, and she worked very hard to make sure of it."
One woman in the crowd ducked her head a bit before saying, "We wouldn't doubt that for a second, miss. True or not, I feel it had inspired us all. I daresay, it was much of the reason we all came here tonight."
Star felt pride swelling in her heart. "That was what I had hoped for, when I first began writing down my father's stories. I had supposed it was meant only for his people, who sometimes need to be reminded of what matters. I hadn't dreamed before that the stories would find such a use in this place—I had never dreamed to be here at all, a year ago. But written words have always been my great talent, and I always knew that I would do great things with them. I'm glad that it has helped our people so much."
"The printing press certainly helped," Zan added from down the circle. "She had guessed before that she would have to make copies of her book by hand, because they have so few machines in the west. Discovering the library down the street and the press in its basement brought her more joy than I could have believed possible."
"We have other plans to be of use, if our fine leader will allow us," Forley continued. "We've recently come across a pair of magicites of our very own, and we plan to begin training with them as soon as we can. We could work wonders among the people with such tools, if we can think of a way to do it without being caught."
Zamiel cleared his throat again, a little more harshly this time. "That is a discussion for another day, my friend. Your being here and willing to help us is more than enough, for now."
"There are things we can for you right now, too," Alanis added quickly, seeing a place where she could be useful. "I know a thing or two of leadership, myself, and would be happy to teach anyone who wants to know more. I've also been taught of armies and battle strategies from my father and teachers, and from my sister. You will remember Annad as an accident-prone child, but she has grown into a fine and clever warrior. She has taught me everything she knows. I think she would be proud to see you learning it, as well."
It was strange that Alanis would mention her sister and even praise her so, when she was so glad to finally be out of her shadow. Still, on a normal day, she loved her siblings and often looked to them for guidance. She had been so angry before, it was easy to forget that she missed them very much, and that being without their good sense sometimes made her feel unsure of herself.
Tonight, she was honoring them and all they had given her. She didn't seem at all unsure of herself, now. For that, and for all she had offered so readily, Zamiel looked impossibly relieved.
"So, you see," he said, "we have magic and might on our side already. All that is left is to put it into action, one step at a time. Yes, our progress will be slow; but it will happen, and it will move in a steady direction."
He knelt by the worn woman, who had spoken all their fears and frustrations, and took her hand. "There are people in this wide world who care about us. They are here with us, and they have been aiding our cause all along. Tell me, good woman, what is your name?"
Slightly ashamed of herself, the woman kept her eyes fixed on her lap. "It is Dania."
"Then listen to me, Dania. We are all afraid. The days to come will be filled with danger, and we are all afraid. But we are all more afraid of the days to come should we do nothing. These children of Rin would rather die fighting for what they believe in, than languish here another day as we have. There is something to be learned in that, but lady Moakel is also right. Blind enthusiasm won't save us today. There is a way to have both. It won't be swift, and it won't be easy, but it could save us all. I know what a cruel thing it is to ask you to be patient with us; it is a cruel thing to ask of anyone living in this city. But can you not try?"
Finally, Dania lifted her eyes and faced him. She kept her lips pressed tight together, but she squeezed his hand and nodded.
"Very well, captain. I will believe in you."
"I thank you for the consideration. It is a hard thing for us all. Believe me, there are many people here who would rather try their luck storming the palace right now. Our small friend here could probably do it all on her own," he said, jerking his head at Vivi. She stuck her tongue out at him again, but he ignored her continued, "That day will come in time, and I hope that you will be there with us when it does."
Dania managed a small but fierce smile for him. "I will be. That is a promise."
Reassured, Zamiel left her and returned to his place at the head of the circle.
"Slow as our progress will be, there are plans in place. I'm no stranger to clever strategies, either. I've spent the last many months making all sorts of plans, and plans within each one. There is a task for everyone present, and something each of us can take into the streets tomorrow morning. It will all require caution, cunning, and no small amount of charm; but we are a team now, Rinfolk and Zebak alike. Such an alliance has never been seen before, which I believe is a good omen. If we work together, we can pull this off. Together, we can win our freedom once and for all."
And to this, after all that had happened and all that was sure to come, not one person could help but cheer for their brave new leader.
No, obvious as it may seem, Zamiel is NOT working for the Shadow Lord. That is also a promise.
Yes, the ending of Rowan and the Travelers inspired the ending of this chapter. It's the last one, after all! 8D
Also, I am adding a "story thus far" to the beginning of each book, because it dawned on me recently that I was stupid not to in the first place. Though it is overdue, I am adding one to this book, also. :P
Sadly, I don't have a sneak peak of Star's Journey: The Night Watch for you. I will warn you, though, Iris of Fisk has an awful lot to do with it. ;D