Originally published on December 31, 2015. Unbeta'd.
All chapters have been edited, so if anyone finds errors please let me know.
I own nothing of the Black Jewels Trilogy or any of the following novels. All rights go to Anne Bishop. Thanks for Reading!
Dawn came earlier than Arina had anticipated. It was only a little past five when the sky started to brighten outside the wide windows of her room and the girl sat up in bed, somewhat bleary-eyed. She had gotten a good five hours of sleep, but the night before she had barely slept at all, from nerves, and before that she had been sleeping for extremely long periods of healing sleep, and her body was really feeling that today. She would need a few nights of normal sleep in order to feel less like she was pushing through syrup. This odd sleeping schedule needed to stop so she could start functioning normally again. She stifled a yawn as she got out of bed and stretched out.
When she came out of the bathroom five minutes later, having splashed her face with cold water, she was much more aware. After slipping on a backless shirt and formfitting pants that Jaenelle had given her, Arina bound her hair in a tight plait to keep it out of the way and stepped onto her windowsill. She closed her eyes and reached for her Dream, careful not to completely lose control of the shift.
Another four minutes later, she was winging her way over the trees, wrapped in a sight shield. She had left a note for Janos in case he woke up before she returned and found her gone, but she didn't think it likely. He was still young enough to need a lot of sleep, and the girl had wandered around the Hall enough for the canine Warlord Prince to know the difference between her being gone and her being gone. Though he probably wouldn't be happy about her going off into strange territory completely along. The probable reactions of the other males (Lucien and Farostel) was something she didn't even want to think about.
The jungle was gorgeous. Not that she had expected any different, but looking at pictures of the Conga and the Amazon didn't even begin to compare. Dropping down into the trees rather than just staying above them gave her the chance to practice tighter maneuvers, as well as letting her look around. The sheer variety of the plants and animals was mind boggling. Arina kept an eye out for panthers and jaguars in particular, but never saw one. Not that she really could anyway, considering the speed that she was moving at and how dense the cover was.
Two hours later Arina returned to her room to shower and get ready for her first day in Hayll's court, thankfully before Janos had woken up and found her message. Mentally compiling a map of the surrounding jungle with a resolve to start drawing it out as soon as she could, Arina tugged on a pair of semi-formal jeans and a light blue short sleeved shirt for the day ("Dress decently, but keep in mind that you will likely end up working in a garden at some point, so be reasonable about it") before wandering down the stairs and into the kitchen around eight. Reyna was already there, yawning widely but making sausage, cheese and pepper omelets for the two of them, plus some extra sausage for Janos, who sniffed at it excitedly.
"Morning!" Arina chirped at the other girl.
Reyna squinted at her unhappily. "Damn, you weren't kidding when you said you were a morning person. Urgh." The shorter girl turned back to the stove and poked at the food grumpily. Today she was wearing orange—not obnoxiously bright, more of a brownish orange with threads of lighter pumpkin running through it. She had on a pair of brown leggings under a ragged skirt—she really seemed to like those—and a matching shirt.
"Do you want to switch off making breakfast?" Arina asked as she hunted around for plates and silverware.
"No," Reyna grumbled. "It helps me wake up." After that she clammed up, refusing to talk anymore as they sat down to eat, Reyna clutching a cup of coffee desperately while Arina sipped at a chai tea that Reyna had brewed for her. It was surprisingly good, too. She still had every intention of making her own orange juice, but this might just become a second breakfast drink as well. Or just an anytime drink—it had caffeine in it, which was a selling point that orange juice lacked.
It was only when they were finally on their way to the Principia that Reyna really seemed to wake up, sipping at her third cup of coffee. Arina was nursing her second cup of tea.
"Sorry, 'Rina," she started. Arina blinked a little at the shortening of her name. "I should have properly warned you—I am really not a morning person."
"It's fine," Arina laughed. "Honestly, Jaenelle, Rose and Lucien are all monsters in the mornings. It takes Rose at least five or six cups of coffee to start functioning for the day, though Lucien only needs four or so. Apparently, waking any of them up is such a bad idea that it isn't even to be contemplated. I'm pretty used to it."
Reyna floundered for a bit over the easy way that Arina referred to the Dark Court. Despite knowing that the silver-eyed girl hailed from the Hall, it was still a shock when she dropped those names in casual conversation, with such familiarity. "Anyway, you said you were an early riser yourself. How early are we talking?" she asked finally.
"Dawn, usually. I'm used to getting up at five-ish every day, sometimes seven if I'm sleeping in. I think, before very recently, the latest that I've ever slept in was nine. By this point, unless I'm healing from something, I don't know if I'm even capable of sleeping in much later than seven or eight. It doesn't really matter when I went to sleep, either. I still typically wake up with the sun." Catching the look of abject horror on Reyna's face, Arina burst out laughing. "It's ok, really. I don't need that much sleep, to be honest. Four or five hours, and I'm usually good to go. About once a week I try to go to sleep early and sleep a full eight hours, but it isn't a big deal. Besides, that gives me so much time to get stuff done, it's amazing."
Reyna shook her head in silent disbelief. "Eating and sleeping are my favorite parts of the day," she informed her housemate. "You are so strange to me," she lamented, rather dramatically.
Reaching the Principia, the two girls and Janos veered off to where the group from last night were slouching against the wall. Except for Quinn, who was leading against a nearby pillar with nearly perfect posture. Reyna made a noise of derision in his direction. "Isn't he disgusting?" she demanded of the group. "Mr. Prim-and-Proper at ass-o'clock in the morning—"
"It's nearly nine, Reyna," Quinn interrupted dryly.
"—Acting like it's a reasonable hour to be awake when clearly it is not—"
Arina stopped listening to her housemate, who continued to rant, as she and Janos went over to stand with Quinn. "So, you're a morning person too, huh?" she murmured.
Quinn snorted. "Very, yes. Although Reyna considers anyone who likes to wake up before noon a morning person, and would in fact never wake up before one in the afternoon if she had her way. I've been up since six—I am fairly certain she thinks I am not human. What about you?"
Arina laughed. "Well, I'm usually up around five, so she thinks I'm even stranger than you are," she told him.
He grinned a little bit. "Five? That's dawn, isn't it?"
"Usually," she agreed. "Pre-dawn, actually." She waved a hand a little dismissively. "I used to have to get up at that time to get to school, and eventually it just became part of my routine. I almost can't imagine sleeping any later than dawn. Part of it is that I don't need that much sleep, which helps me wake up so early."
"You don't need sleep?" Quinn demanded, stunned.
"Not exactly. It's a form of insomnia, but it's partially genetic. I only need about five hours of sleep a night, usually a little less. I used to sleep normally, but after I started school, I started to sleep less and less. At one point I was only sleeping for about two hours each night, but I figured out pretty fast that that wasn't going to work." Arina shrugged a little. "I figured out my limit eventually. It works well for me. Of course, if I don't sleep at all one night, then I'm going to need more sleep than usual the next day in order to make up for the lost hours, but I don't actually make a habit of not sleeping at all. It's a lot easier to get things done when I don't need to sleep as much, so I've never bothered to try sleeping more. I probably could, now that I no longer have to wake up so early, but it's useful."
Quinn stared at her wordlessly, then sighed and shook his head, muttering something under his breath that sounded an awful lot like not my business. "I just love the morning, myself. Sunrises are glorious." He finally offered.
"Oh, they really are! Especially here, where it filters through the trees and lights up the flowers and reflects off the streams…it's like nothing I've ever seen before."
"It's even better in the deep jungle," Quinn told her, and the two of them started ranking their favorite sunrises while everyone else tried to wake up properly.
A few minutes later, Lady Irena and several of her Court came into the room, and everyone fell silent and turned to face them.
"Good morning, everyone. I'm glad you have survived your first night and made it back here." There was a rather awkward silence, as all the trainees looked at each other in confusion. Arina raised an eyebrow.
Irena clapped her hands and drew everyone's attention again. "Last night you were separated into groups and assigned a member of the First Circle to shadow. Everyone that is being shadowed is in this room. Find your Circle member to shadow. Welcome to the Court."
Arina, Quinn and Janos were joined by a Healer from the city of Mael, and a Warlord from a small town called Risa, in the northern part of the Territory. Cassie and Alex, as they introduced themselves. The five of them were trailing behind the Steward as he swept down the halls, moving at a fast clip. He ushered them into an office—his office, obviously—and motioned for them to take seats before he sat down himself and looked them over carefully.
"I am Markus Grinalli, the Steward of the Court. You are shadowing me because two of you have expressed an inclination towards becoming a Steward, and another will end up working closely with a Steward. Unfortunately, I am busy enough that I can only work with you in the mornings, so in the afternoons you will be shadowing one of the Ladies of the First Circle instead. Do you have any questions at this time?"
The four humans all exchanged somewhat wide eyed looks. Both males looked excited, Cassie looked somewhat apprehensive, and Arina's eyebrows had shot up. Janos just thumped his tail against the floor a few times in contentment. He hadn't been looking forward to spending the next few months cooped up in an office.
Cassie cleared her throat a little bit. "Should I really be in this group?" she asked. "Should I try to switch with another Queen, or something?"
Markus looked at her a little bit sympathetically. "No, there is quite a bit that you can learn from me. I am mostly doing this because very few men have interest in the Steward's position, and I like to encourage that. That doesn't mean that you are out of place here, or that you would do better in a different group. These groups are selected very carefully by our Black Widows, and you all have something to offer each other."
The teens, who had started to relax, tensed back up. It wasn't exactly an easy feeling, knowing how much care went into the choosing of these groups. A lot was riding on it, clearly.
"That isn't meant to be a threat," Markus observed. "Now. Shall we get started?"
Over the next two weeks, Arina's life fell into another pattern. She was beginning to expect that most of her life would be held in patterns, with the odd exception.
Mornings were spent indoors, in the Steward's office. Markus Grinalli was a grueling taskmaster. Arina had never been so grateful for her years of studying random things and honing her memory. She had had no idea how much work went into the court, or how extensive the scope was. The Steward—obviously—had to keep informed on everything that happened inside the court, but also everything outside of it. As part of the Territory Court, he also had to be aware of the bigger events happening outside the Territory, every event that impacted Hayll, and everything inside the Territory. That meant a lot of paperwork, a lot of meetings, and a lot of writing.
Both Quinn and Alex were taking entire books full of notes, looking entirely too excited for what they were doing. Cassie and Arina were scrambling to keep up with the rapid demands that Markus was giving, though Arina was trying to listen closely as well, and neither of them were in the least bit excited about it either.
Janos would go to sleep. Both girls tended to give him nasty looks on occasion, though Markus simply ignored him.
Then they would get a very short lunch break before one of the Queens in the First Circle, a Healer Queen, came to collect them for their afternoons. That was considerably more enjoyable, as they would spend about a third of their times in various gardens, where the older Queen would lecture them about the different plants in the area—they worked mostly in the Healer gardens, but there were still flower beds around as well—and this time it was Arina and Cassie hanging onto every word while the males just followed along and did as they were told. Another third of the time was spent going over Court protocol, which was very different from regular protocol, and covering different interactions and possible scenarios. The rest of what they did was essentially practical application of everything that they were learning both from the Steward and from and the Healer Queen, whose name was apparently Saralea. They tended to get partnered with the group that Mirabelle had been put in for that part.
Then after dinner—which was always in the Principia and everyone attended, there were specialized lessons. The males who were also training to be guards, or in fighting had lessons in that, Healers had specialized lessons, and the Black Widows had much more personalized lessons from the Hourglass. Arina and Reyna would return to their cottage and find a member of the Hourglass waiting in the upstairs workroom for their lesson. They would spend about three more hours with her—and they were never given an actual name for her, so they just called her Priestess—before they would finally be done with the day. That was usually around ten to eleven at night, and they started at nine exactly every day. Not an easy schedule.
Arina always ended her day by writing letters to various members of her coterie from the Hall: always Lucien, almost always Farostel, and everyone got at least one letter every week or so. She also started writing more often to Augustine as well, which had been somewhat surprising to her, but they grew closer with every letter. This was also the time that she would read the letters that she had received from the others before falling into a deep sleep, only to get up early to fly and begin the day again.
Most of the younger women, like Reyna, Cassie, and Arina, were amassing quite a list of flowers and herbs and plants that they wanted in their own homes and were often comparing between them; Arina had started planning out the Starfire gardens and grounds. Three weeks from the first day, the 'apprentices' of the court would get the weekend off, and Arina and most of the women were planning to go shopping on the first day with their first paychecks, and then Arina planned to head to the Manor and start working on it. Quinn, Reyna and the rest of the group that Arina had meet the first night had volunteered to come with her and help out.
Arina had hastily and somewhat desperately vetoed that particular suggestion, however, seeing as none of her coterie from the Hall had yet to visit, and honestly, they did get first rights. She didn't even want to think about how they would react when they found out she let other people visit first, and none of them would be able to visit for another month. She had already arranged for them to come on her second weekend off, but she wanted to get some things done first.
Thankfully, all the Hayllians had understood her reasoning and let the subject go, but it was pretty clear that they were expecting visits on the third weekend off.
Which was fine, whatever. And actually, having the manor to herself the first time she really went to visit was arguably a very good thing, as she could take all the time she wanted to explore, without having to worry about guests.
On the Friday three weeks after the apprentices' started at the court, Lady Irena dismissed everyone who was not an actual member of her Court for the weekend at noon.
Arina and her female friends went straight to the city right next door to the Court, armed with their paychecks and searching for plants. A couple of the males followed along behind them, mostly bemused and holding various plants that the girls had handed to them. Arina was thrilled to find seedlings for almost every type of flower and most of the herbs and other plants that she wanted. Everything else that she wanted was being collected by the cadre, who would bring them when they came to visit in a few weeks.
And really, she was only going to get the grounds and gardens started. Her grounds were large, and she had no intention of doing it all on her own, so she made sure that she only took what she would be able to plant in the next two days.
Of course, she was also due to start her moontime this weekend—likely even tonight—not that she intended on mentioning that particular tidbit to anyone. It wasn't like she wouldn't survive. Besides, Janos would be there, just in case.
With that thought in mind, and checking the time, Arina paid for her seedlings and wished everyone well on their weekend off before heading off to catch the winds. Quinn looked like he really wanted to follow her, but just watched her go with narrowed eyes.
It was exhausting, being around so many people all the time. Thank goodness she had the weekend pretty much to herself.
The manor was every bit as beautiful as she remembered. Walking in to drop off her bag of clothes and things, Arina found a note written by the former housekeeper, Mrs. Iden, telling her that the house had been thoroughly cleaned just a few days ago, and had a list of people who she should talk to about staffing the manor, as she was going to stay with Lady Starwood.
Arina sighed in slight annoyance but sat down to write out letters to the people Mrs. Iden had suggested, knowing full well that if she put it off until later then she might not get people in time, and she would need to have at least a skeleton staff for when the coterie came to visit, or they would complain to her (and worse, their parents and Jaenelle). Far better to just start hiring a staff now. Janos bounded off to explore the house while she was busy with the notes, knowing that she wasn't going to be going anywhere for a little while. Once that was finally accomplished, Arina put the letters in her bag to send as soon as she could get them to a mail service, and vanished the list before heading back out the door to take care of her plants, despite finding all of her furniture in the room right by the front door. After all, the plants needed to be taken care of right away.
Setting her hands on her hips, Arina surveyed her grounds, and then eyed the group of plants sitting around her door. Picking up a few of the climbers, she left the porch and headed towards a little copse of trees, humming under her breath.
It was immensely soothing to take the hours kneeling in the dirt, hands caked with soil as she guided the plants into their places (and in the case of the climbers, attached them up walls and trees). Janos had come back out of the house after an hour or so and flopped down on the grass by her, putting his head on his paws as he watched her working.
By the time that she finished planting what she currently had available, Arina had significantly relaxed. She was no longer concerned about how she was going to handle everyone showing up on her next break, or how things were going at the court. It was a beautiful evening, it was quiet, and everything was fine. All she had left to do this weekend was move around some of the furniture and make plans for what would get done on her next break—when she would have a bunch of boys to move her things around for her, instead of having to do it herself. Because as much as she would like to get it done on her own, it was completely implausible, ridiculous, and silly. It would make them happy to help, and who was she to deny them that, really? Admittedly, it had taken her a while to come to that conclusion, which was somewhat embarrassing. Arina sighed as she wondered—not for the first time—when she would stop making decisions based on Earth's culture instead of this world's. It was starting to get downright horrible, and it needed to stop happening before she got into a really bad fight with her friends over it.
It wouldn't have been that hard to have one of the boys stay with her this weekend. And she was likely to get an earful when she got back to the Court and they realized that she had started her moontime, alone, in the middle of the jungle, in a deserted mansion.
Yes, not her greatest plan.
Arina tilted her head back to the sky and basked in the sunset, before climbing to her feet. It was definitely time to head inside. No need to tempt fate by staying outside at night in a place she wasn't familiar with yet, and coming up on a time when she couldn't use her Jewel and only had a puppy with her. A big puppy, but still.
She had taken about two steps back towards Janos when the dog shot to his feet and started barking wildly as he charged towards her. Arina only had time for her eyes to widen, then something hit her back and knocked her down. She twisted and managed to hit the ground on her back—and found herself face to face with the huge black cat crouching on her chest. She froze, heart hammering, and Janos was panicking in the background but Arina's focus had narrowed to the neck of the cat, and everything else seemed like it was coming to her from far away.
There was a Sapphire Jewel around the black panther's neck.
Darkness be merciful—the Kindred who had Dreamed her had found her.
Arina hesitated on the porch of the Principia, worrying at her lip. Janos bounded in front of her and waited at the door, turning to look at her with what was undeniably a smug expression. Arina made a face at him, then sighed and continued moving towards the door. The shouting from when she had come back to the Court last night, on the second day of her moontime, was practically still ringing in her ears, and all of her male friends were furious with her. Even Quinn had been yelling at her, and she had thought that he was pretty easygoing.
The other girls were upset with her that she had so badly upset the boys, and it was just unpleasant. If she thought that she would get away with it, she would have just stayed in bed all day today.
Slinking into the main room, Arina fidgeted over by the wall, carefully not looking in the direction of Reyna and the others.
It was a long, very awkward day. The Steward seemed to be mostly amused at Arina's plight, and Saralea seemed sympathetic, but neither were even remotely inclined to help her out. Cassie was determinedly staying out of everything, and Alex had had a whispered conversation with Quinn and then started giving her judgmental looks.
Quinn was ignoring her.
It was somewhat disturbing to realize how much she had come to rely on his friendship during the past few weeks. She was hurt by how he was treating her—which was what he was aiming for, and she knew it, but that didn't help. She already knew that she had messed up.
By the time that the day was over, Arina was virtually in tears. She fled back to her house as soon as she could and closed herself in her room. She had a pile of letters on her desk that she was writing to her coterie, but she hadn't managed to write anything since she arrived at Starfire Manor. She still hadn't come up with a good way to say, 'hey guys, so I stayed at my completely empty house in the middle of the jungle during the first days of my moontime, and while I was there I ran into the giant jungle cats that helped create me, who were all about the same size as the kindred tigers, while I was completely defenseless except for a puppy. How was your weekend?'
Lucien and Farostel would arrive with an hour of getting that letter, and she wouldn't put much money on the others taking much longer. Even Reyna wasn't talking to her, probably because she didn't want to get caught in the middle of things, and Reyna's brother was angry at Arina too.
She really did need to figure something out to send the boys though, before they started to panic. She had already missed two days of letters to Lucien, and Farostel would be concerned when he didn't get his usual letter either.
Hell's fire, having people who actually cared about her was so much work. It was unbelievable, how much she depended on Lucien and the other's letters to her, and she did know that at least Lucien and probably Farostel needed her letters in return.
She never used to care what other people thought of her. And here she was, literally in tears because her friends were mad at her. This was terrible and she hated it.
Picking up Lucien's latest letter (which included a worried question of if she needed anything or if something was wrong since he hadn't gotten a letter yesterday) Arina curled up under the thick comforter of her bed, dragging Lucien's blanket around her shoulders and hugged the letter to her chest as she cried. Janos whined at her from outside her locked door, but she easily pushed aside his demands to be let in and ignored him. After a little while the noises stopped as Janos went away, and Arina went back to ignoring everything.
It was several hours later when the door opened, but Arina didn't notice it until someone cleared their throat politely to let her know that they were there, as she couldn't use her Jewel to sense them. Furiously wiping at her face to try to clear her vision, she started to flail upright in complete indignation, but a hand pressed down on her head and stopped from moving. Arina hissed, then froze as fingers touched her ears—her ears that flicked away and pressed against her head in her displeasure.
"So, you are Witch. I thought so, but Reyna wouldn't give anything away, so I wasn't certain." Arina twitched away from Quinn's hand on her head, but he just moved his hand down to rest on the covered lump of her shoulder instead. Arina stared at the wall and resolutely refused to look in the male's direction.
"And you aren't talking to me. Alright. I've put a few things together, from what you and Reyna have said, and how you act. So I'm going to tell you what I think, and then you can tell me if I'm right or not." Quinn hesitated. "Please.
"I've known that I belong to you since I met you that first night, but I don't think you recognized the pull. Lady Saralea told me that the knowledge of that bond is instinctive, and not taught, and that a Queen would only not notice it if she had been…emotionally wounded to the point where she taught herself not to recognize bonds as they formed." There was a pause where Quinn was either gathering his thoughts or waiting for a response.
"You only lived at the Hall for a few months at most before you came here, that much I do know. But before that…you never had anyone that you could trust before you were taken in at the Hall, did you? Not a single person. That's why you didn't trust us to go with you, because you have conditioned yourself to not rely on anyone. You were fine before, so you would be fine this time."
Arina curled just a little bit closer inwards, but her ears swiveled towards his voice.
Quinn hesitated. "You aren't used to having anyone around, and you aren't used to anyone being close enough to you to be upset if you were in danger. So it wasn't that you were deliberately putting yourself in danger or you telling us that you don't want us, it was that you haven't adjusted to being someone that people worry over."
Arina was quiet for a long time, but Quinn seemed determined to wait her out this time and just sat there, stroking her hair in the quiet. "…yes," she finally whispered, and squeezed her eyes shut.
"Thank you," he said gravely. "You didn't want anyone to know that you are Witch. I think that's both because you didn't want anyone pretending to be your friend, so any friends you made liked you for who you are, not because of what you are…"
Arina opened her eyes again to stare at the wall, focusing on the glitter thrown by the sunset on the sequins on her pillows. "And?"
"You want to prove to yourself that you are capable in and of yourself. Without relying on being Witch."
"Why are you here?" Arina whispered. "I don't understand. You're angry at me, aren't you?"
"I was. I am. But I've been writing to Prince SaDiablo—"
"What?" This time, Arina succeeded in flailing her way upright, accidentally smacking Quinn in the face when he tried to help her and finally settling against her headboard where she could see him. "What do you mean, you were writing to Prince—are you talking about Lucien?" Arina was almost shrieking by the last part. "You've been writing to Lucien and you didn't tell me? He didn't tell me? Why? Since when?"
"I wanted to get to know him, considering that we will be working together eventually."
Arina stared at him, eyes wide and reflecting the sunset.
"I wrote to him last week, and we've both sent a couple of letters since. Arina, are you angry?"
"DID YOU TELL HIM ABOUT THIS WEEKEND?"
"Oh no, oh no, oh no."
"I just got his reply after you left the Principia."
"Oh no. Please tell me that he isn't coming."
"He isn't. After all, he will be visiting you at Starfire next weekend, so I imagine that he will just wait to talk to you then."
Arina stared at him, utterly expressionless.
"He actually let slip a few things. It's how I pieced this together, honestly."
Arina curled her lip back over her fangs and hissed at him.
"So I'm going to forgive you, conditionally."
"Oh, really?" Her voice had dropped from a shrill and hysterical tone to a furious croon. "Is that so. Conditional. Forgiveness."
"We understand that this was a one-time instance, wanting to give your older friends first visit rights, and that you are still getting settled. But Janos is not an adequate guard for you. In fact, Lady Delanio agrees, and she's written to Lady Angelline. Janos is leaving tomorrow to train with the wolves in their Territory."
Arina's eyes widened in shock, but Quinn moved on quickly before she could regain her bearings, eyeing the vicious looking claws that had appeared on her hands with some wariness.
"So I've told the others what I've told you, and we've agreed on a plan. Every morning, I will meet you here and escort you to the Principia. After Court is over, then either Hunter, Jace or Raleigh will spend the evening with you. They will leave after dinner, but I've given Reyna a spell orb keyed to your signature that will send me an alarm if you leave the house unattended. You are a Queen, and Witch, and you need protection. If you are unused to that, then we will help you get used to it."
Arina gaped wordlessly.
"We want to help you get used to having people around that you can depend on." Quinn insisted.
"So you are going to put me in a cage, try to paint the bars gold, and tell me it's for my own good?" Arina snarled.
"No! You can do what you want and go where you want, just with company."
She stared at him. "Get out."
Quinn hastily got to his feet and took a quick step back at the ugly tone of voice. He called in two letters and carefully laid them at the foot of her bed before backing up to the door. "One of those is from Prince SaDiablo, and one is from Lady Angelline. They should explain things a little more clearly. I will…see you tomorrow."
He bolted out the door just before she reached the point where she wanted to throw something at his head. Leaning against the closed door, the Prince listened to the sound of something shattering and a violent shriek, sagging slightly.
"She's not going to forget this," Reyna told him softly from her doorway. "You have, essentially, backed her into a corner. She won't be able to let that go."
"She needs to stop being foolish. If this is what it takes to make her realize that she needs to be protected sometimes, than her hating me is a price I am willing to pay."
"Even if she won't let you in her Court?"
"Yes. Even if."
Reyna shook her head a little. "You males are so strange. She apologized, you do know that, right?"
"She respected the males at the Hall enough to let them guard her, but she doesn't trust us."
"It's been two weeks, and I saw that letter that Prince Lucien sent you. She didn't trust them that much."
The next morning, Arina was on her fourth day of her moontime and able to use her Jewels again. The first thing that she did was try to locate the spell orb, but she suspected that Jaenelle had her husband shield it after she had made the thing, and there was no way that she was going to be getting past a Black shield at this point. She didn't find anything, which only made her more sure that she was right.
Arina crouched at the window of her room, watching the shadows of the jungle. Supposedly the orb would go off if she left unaccompanied. But the thing is, if Jaenelle made it than she wouldn't have been able to set is specifically for males that she had never met. So it should only go off if she went a certain distance without being accompanied by a male Jewel. And conveniently enough…here one was.
Challa, the panther that had first found her on Friday, halted at the edge of the trees and looked up at her. Arina was absolutely certain that even if someone else was watching that exact spot of shadow that they would see nothing, despite the feline being unshielded.
These cats would probably get along very well with the Arcerians.
Taking a deep breath and hoping desperately that she was right and Quinn wasn't about to come running, Arina launched from the window and glided down to swoop over Challa's head and into the trees, the great black cat running under her shadow.
Instead of flying randomly, trying to see as much as she could, this time Arina followed the lead of the cat that had spent his entire life inside the jungle and knew it better than any human could imagine.
It was almost beautiful enough to quell the rage growing in her heart.
But then the sun was rising too high, and she had to turn back to her cottage to get ready for the day, and she could feel Quinn waiting outside her house, between the jungle and her window.
"Are you here to tell me that I've broken my parole and am now under house arrest?" She asked him, landing on a branch above his head, her eyes frozen over. The branch started frosting under her fingers, and Quinn stared up at her with an open mouth.
This was the first time that he had seen the full image, she realized. Last night he saw the fangs and ears and claws, and maybe her slitted eyes, but now he saw the wings and the tail as well.
"You are beautiful," he breathed.
"I," she said pointedly, "Am going to kill you if you don't tell me why you are here in the next thirty seconds. It's only, what, 6:30? You. Should not. Be. Here."
"I got here early. I wanted to talk to you before we left for the day. But you weren't here. The alarm didn't go off." Quinn said.
Arina smiled at him, showing all her teeth. "It will only go off if I leave unattended. I was not. Challa was with me."
Challa jumped from another branch and landed on top of him, one huge paw on Quinn's throat with the claws very close to his pulse point. The Hayllian male stopped breathing.
Arina tilted her head. "Wouldn't you agree that I was…well protected, Prince?" the unveiled hostility in her voice was enough to have Challa pressing down further with the paw on his chest and snarling. Quinn resisted the urge to shield—he would be dead before it could settle, that much was obvious.
"When did you meet…Prince…Challa?" Quinn managed to get out.
"Friday. Before my moontime started, if you were wondering. He lives near Starfire and came by to see who would be moving in. His people were some of the strongest Dreamers to create me, you know. He knew who and what I was right away."
She left out the part where he introduced himself by knocking her over. It had, after all, been much friendlier than what was happening right now, and there had been no hostile intent in it.
"He and several others stayed and guarded the manor—and me—while I was vulnerable. How did you think that I had gotten back to Court?"
Reluctantly, the cat got off the human and started circling around instead. Quinn gasped for breath, but wisely didn't try to get up.
"I hadn't thought about it, Lady Valini." Quinn said, resorting to formality and protocol.
"Well, consider it. Perhaps you should ask Prince SaDiablo why I am so unused to the need for protection, in the meantime, as you seem to be sharing quite a bit with each other. Do not come early again. I spend the mornings stretching my wings, and frankly, you couldn't keep up with me anyway. I have Challa with me. I don't want to see you a minute before 8:30. Now I need to get ready." Arina swept over his head and through her open window before slamming it shut loudly and yanking the curtain over it.
Challa snarled at the human one more time and melted back into the trees. Quinn closed his eyes and tried not to cry in the face of his Lady's hatred and fury.
This didn't quite get where I had planned, but this is a good enough stopping point. Next chapter will cover at least the coterie visiting Starfire manor. Please leave a review on your way out!