Sorry for the long wait. I was a bit busy with Nation Novel Writing Month, but now I finished, so I will continue writing this.


Chapter One: The Same But Different

(Disclaimer: Most of the characters belong to Tamora Pierce as well as the settings.)

Everything was ready. I boarded the ship back to Tortall, the country I had been raised in, but not the one that I called home. My hands clenched at the thought of returning home for more than a visit. The pictures that formed in my head were haunting. All I could see in my vision was mass chaos it seemed like everything was in the hand of the Black God.

"I hope you're with me on this one, Kyprioth," I said to the Trickster. When I was young and naïve, Kyprioth took advantage of me and used me as a pawn in one of his greatest tricks. It was because of him I nearly died several times in the short time I was there. Because of him, I was shaved bald and beat bloody on a ship before I was sold into slavery as part of his plan. But because of him, I grew up and learned responsibility. I formed a family and finally saw eye to eye with my mother.

I looked down at my family from the ship. Alanna's face was buried in Nawat's tunic. I saw her quiver. Nawat must have seen the look on my face because he smiled sympathetically at me and shook his head. I knew that look. It was the look my Da used to give my mother when I was upset with her. It hit me then, that I was going to turn out like my mother, and my daughter, me when I was younger.

"I'll write!" I said loudly directing my statement to my tear-soaked daughter. "I'll miss you." Strange. A few years ago, I would have never thought of saying that but after having children, everything changed. "Tell the twins that I'll miss them too." Nawat nodded. I could see in his eyes that he didn't want me to go, but Dove had asked me to take a look at the situation.

Alanna sobbed harder and ran from Nawat's hold. I watched helplessly as she ran through the crowd, which rippled around her to give her room.

"I'll talk to her," Nawat promised. The gangplank was drawn, we were leaving.

The wind was salty and chapped my face miserably. It had been awhile since I last sailed on the ocean. I forgot how much I missed the rhythmic slapping of the waves against the side of the boat. Just then, a thought came to my mind; it made me smile at the thought of my mother on a boat.

"Well, this should be interesting," said an all too familiar voice. I spun to meet Kyprioth's gaze. He looked the same as he ever did. His hair was still salt and pepper – more salt than pepper, that he kept short. A mischievous look gleamed in his large brown eyes; a normal feature of his.

"Ah, you decided to come?" I said, slightly sarcastic.

"You can't have fun without me," he retorted, matching my tone. "My sister will have a fit when she finds out I'm there." I rolled my eyes. He was always starting trouble. "As you may not know, I have some unfinished business with a friend over there."

"What is it this time? Did your friend steal your godliness too?" I shook my head at him. "Can you ever keep rule over your things?"

"If you were funny, I would laugh," he replied crossing his arms. "But no, to answer your question. In fact, I don't think I can tell you."

"I won't tease you," I lied knowing that it wouldn't work; he wouldn't give in. I just enjoyed giving him a hard time.

Kyprioth laughed. "You can't trick me, Aly." He bent closer to my face. My vision was destroyed by his over-powering eyes. "I'm the trickster god, after all." I rolled my eyes at him again. He raised a pointed-arched eyebrow at me. "Do you doubt me, Aly?"

I snorted and shook my head. "Of course not." There was a hint of sarcasm in my voice.

"You'll see, Aly. This will even make you laugh."

"I'm not here for a laugh," I said, but he was gone before I knew it. "Jerk."

My feet were hesitant to step off the gangplank. In all honesty, I never thought of coming back to this place for longer than a visit. "Aly," I heard my mother call. I saw her coming to me from a distance, through a rather large crowd. I could barely recognize her with her white hair dominating over the red and the wrinkles that diminished her features. Her purple eyes were about the only thing that stayed the same. They were just as bright as they were when I was a young girl.

"You're looking well," she said. I reached out and hugged her tightly. She was a short woman but she was broad still muscular from her days as a knight of Tortall and the King's Champion. From what I could see, she was still in all of her glory; her age was just a number in her mind. People stood back with respect from all of the things she had accomplished as a young woman. "Your father is waiting."

"Let us go see him," I said taking my mother hand. Holding onto my mother helped me get over my fear that I felt. "So how is everything here?" I asked as we walked down the busy streets.

My mother sighed heavily. "It's hasn't been too well," she said not meeting eye contact. "We don't understand what is going on, entirely. Just since last year, the new king has been doing some outrageous things. I knew the boy since he was born and he never acted like such a fool before. Even his wife is scared."

Ah, the king. He was my Godfather, Jonathan's son. He went through knight training with my mother's friend Kel. From what I remember of him, he was a decent man, kind, understandable and a great leader. What had changed?

"Aly," I heard my father say. Seeing him almost made me want to cry. It had been a good five years since I last visited anyone in my family. I missed him terribly. He was the only one I could go to for advice. He was one King Jonathan's spymasters, along with my grandfather, as I was with Queen Dove.

I hugged my father tightly. "Are you ready to go home?" I looked up at him about to tell him that this wasn't my home, but he cut me off. "I mean your old home," he corrected. I nodded.

He led me up to the rather large house that I hadn't seen in years. Whenever I would visit, it was never back at my childhood home, it was in some remote area so we wouldn't run into controversy with citizens but it never worked. A few times they would come over to where I dwelled but I wouldn't let that happen too often. My mother hated ships and always got sick on them.

Everything looked the same. Tapestries still hung in the halls, the rugs were still the same blue as they were when I was younger, except, they looked newer. I wondered if they were replaced. My brother Thom greeted me with a great hug. Oh how I missed my older brother. He was a mage, but it was hard to tell with all of the muscle he had gained since I last saw him. I knew that he had to be working outside as he always did when he was here and didn't have his nose in a new book.

"It's been too long, Aly," he told me, kissing me on both cheeks. "The children want to meet you." Children? I had remembered that my brother had gotten married but I wasn't informed of these children. I was eager to meet them. "Ryan!" I heard him call.

A little girl in an emerald dress appeared from a room off to the side. Her auburn hair spiraled down her back and bounced with every movement. She couldn't be more than four. As she stood next to her father, she eyed me head to toe then curtsied.

"This is my oldest daughter Ryan," Thom said, placing a light hand on her slim shoulder. "She had been keen to meet you. Ryan, this is your Aunt Aly." Aunt Aly, that was something strange yet nice to hear. I would have curtsied but I was wearing breeches, not a dress, so instead, I bowed.

"It's nice to meet you," I said to her, crouching to get to her level. "Maybe later, you can show me around the place, I haven't been here in so long. I'm afraid I have forgotten my way around," I lied. She giggled and nodded, her auburn curls bobbing as her blue eyes sparkled. I could see a resemblance of Celine, Thom's wife, in her face.

"That's a pretty necklace," Ryan commented. I touched the thing around my neck. That was no necklace. It was Trick. He popped his head out and looked toward Ryan, or so I thought. I couldn't tell where his eyes were. "Oh," she said with surprise.

"Oh," Trick mimicked. "Who is this girl?" he asked me turning his faceless head at me. I could see the lips that he formed but they were slowly disappearing. Back when I was younger and learning how to be an adult during the rebellion, Tkaa, a basilisk friend of ours, brought these little darkings to me for support and to help me spy on certain people.

"This is Ryan, my brother's daughter," I told the darking. I wasn't planning on using him I just wanted company on the ship ride here. He was also my only connection to home. I sighed at the thought of home. "Ryan, this is Trick."

"Hello Trick," the little girl said. There was curiosity in her eyes.

"You brought the darking with you," my mother said with amusement. "Why?" Oh, right. I had forgotten that my father and I left my mother in the dark about everything that's been going on. He told me that she was still loyal to her country. I understood fully but it was going to be hard to sneak around her. She had eyes like a hawk especially for her own children. It was that motherly instinct.

"I needed the company on the ship," I told her with a crooked smile. "It would have been a boring voyage." Trick melted back into his original formation around my neck.

"Let us show you where you are staying," my brother said. I could see that he was preparing for taking over my parents post as Baron. "Celine will meet us later. She's caring for our younger children. It's their nap time." He answered my question before I could ask. "Alan will be here in two days. He sends his apologizes for not coming sooner."

"I understand," I told him. I felt a little upset that my own twin didn't come to greet me, but then again as a knight, he had many duties. I could still recall my mother when she was still fighting in the war that ended during my absence. She was never there. My father raised me instead of my mother. It caused a big wall between us that we didn't manage to tear down until I was an expected mother. However, I did miss her greatly during the time I was torn from my family.

We went through a series of halls. I remembered this place clearly. My father used to teach me his cunning ways in this very dwelling. I sighed. Those memories were long gone. The only thing I wanted to do now was get everything over with so I could return home to my family.

Another thought popped into my head. Was that how my mother felt whenever she had to leave? I was going to have to ask her one day when I had time.

My room was the same as it was when I was living there before. It was as though no one had touched the room except maybe to dust it. My family left me be to my room, telling me that they will have my things sent up to me that night. I flopped down on my bed.

Trick trickled off my neck and formed into a blob next to my face. "Nawat wishes to speak to you."

I rolled over as Trick readied himself to pass the messages. Nawat's face swam in my mind. I missed him already. "He wants to know how things are here," Trick said.

"Tell him that I just arrived. My mother told me that things were different. There is something strange going on but that's all I know for now. I'll tell him more when I get to it." Trick nodded as though mocking. "How are the children?" I couldn't resist. I had to ask. Being a mother made me very worrisome. At a time like this, it was something that I didn't want.

"The twins miss you, but they are fine. Alanna is dreadful. She locked herself in room." There was a pause. "He asks if you want to speak with her."

I shook my head. "Not now," I told Trick. I didn't think I could handle it. "How is he?"

"He is well," Trick said. "But says it's not the same." There was another pause. "Dove is nervous. Secret told me that she spends most of her time pacing in her chambers. Everyone is nervous."

"Tell everyone I'll be fine," I told the darking. "Don't forget, I still have old connections here."

"Nawat knows, but says still be careful. They need you to return safely," Trick said. "He had to break the connection. Alanna was near."

"Okay," I told him. Trick relaxed a little as though long the distance was rough for him. I must have looked sad because he rubbed his head against my cheek. "Is there any other news from Secret?" I wanted to know. Trick shook his head.

A strange feeling washed over me.

Though everything looked the same, it felt different. I felt as though I didn't belong here.

"We had better make this a quick visit," I told Trick, sitting up from my bed. "I don't like the feel of it here." Trick climbed to my shoulder and formed into a necklace again, resting his head near my ear.