Aeryalday, 24th of Highbloom, 3830 AR

Duchy of Greenwood


            “So,” said Earl Marris, “The little bitch has spent over two weeks messing with her county in the bosom of the Peasant Queen’s pet duke.” He made a gesture at the men in front of him from his chair in Marris Hall. “What exactly has she done that would make you look at me all nervous like?”
            The men all looked terrified.
            “You guys are making just a little uncomfortable,” he stated coldly and his feminine eyes narrowed in suspicion. “Valenforte place is a shithole at the edge of a skeleton forest where nothing grows and along an ocean where nothing lives. Tell me exactly what she has done that she should make you so nervous.”
            His financier Peter pushed the steward Alfred forward and he murmured something at the earl.
            “What was that?”
            He murmured something again.
            “I can’t hear your inept excuses if you mumble, Alfred.”
            “She’s increased its value considerably,” he stated with an awkward rubbing of his neck, his wild blond hair hanging everywhere in that nervous way of his.
            Marris’s eyes narrowed even furthered. “What do you mean she’s increased its value considerably? Her guardian can’t be that smart.”
            “The queen fears her guardian might be—Alan Veyd.”
            “The man who murdered my father,” he whispered and leaned back. “No. Fucking. Way. Alan Veyd disappeared over ten years ago and he was on death’s door at the time after Archibald Brotain cut him to pieces.”
            “Yeah, well, uh—it’s a bit worse than just—increasing its value.” Alfred was dodging him some crazy reason.
            “How, exactly, is it worse?”
            “Well the ocean is part of the curse,” said Alfred. “The ground is part of the curse too. Because of the Peasant Queen’s unnatural ways, of course,” he added nervously.
            “Uh-huh,” he said and then gestured to him to continue. “Go on.”
            “Well—she’s still got a small city around her palace and five various towns in the woods and two by the sea…” His voice trailed off.
            “Okay.” Marris’s hands gripped his chair tightly with annoyance. “Now, I know these towns are worthless. They are farmers and fisherman only and in a land with sour land and no fish they’re basically worthless.”
            “Yeah, well, she brought down crates of roach bars and water for them at first and then—” Marris looked down at Alfred coldly and he leaned back “—had some towers too.”
            “Soilless plant towers. They’re—thirty stories tall and there is one in each of the towns to be used by farmers displaced by the Peasant Queen’s curse. She gave each one of them an amount of space based on how much land they own until the curse ends. They’re—going to make quite a profit when the plants are finished growing.”
            “Is that all?” Marris asked. His hands were gripping tighter onto the wood that began to actual creak. He did not like where this was going one little bit, not one little bit, but it couldn’t just be that.
            “She’s placed large tanks in every town for the fisherman to compensate their loss as well based on the ships they or their family owned when the curse came. They’ll make a profit as well—” Marris gave him a look and he licked his lips as well “—they and the towers will belong to her when the curse ends and they’ll go back to their oceans and lands and she’s also purchased a large fishing vessel with hover technology to fly over the cursed ocean and hired many of them command deeper ocean fishing beyond the curse and the monsters. They’re first catch was quite substantial.”
            “Okay.” Marris leaned back. “Anything else? Anything that really improves her life and threatens me?”
            “Well—” Alfred hesitated.
            He leaned forward, squeezing the chair tighter, and revealed his teeth in a savage rage filled expression. “You spill it this instant!”
            “Well, you know that the Valenforte is one of the major areas in north Greenland,” he whimpered.
            “Well, you remember how she went to each Guard Obelisk during the last couple weeks all along the Valor Road—”
            “I remember. She could do nothing for them. All their systems were burned out. The Rightful Queen won’t financially support their fixing until the Traitor Duke properly shows his support for her and her cause.” He stared up at him. “She couldn’t have fixed them herself.”
            “Well—” he hesitated.
            “Well what?” Marris almost screamed. “What the fuck is it?”
            “She recreated a system for each one that uses one quarter the power and set them up in there while pretending to have men looking through them!” he squealed super quickly.
            “She did it herself?” he asked incredulously.
            “Someone did. Maybe Alan Veyd. We don’t know.”
            “Alan Veyd had never seen the inside of an obelisk. He was refused entry when he tried.” Actually, Marris heard rumors he did get in, but he was never given the time to screw with them the way he would have needed to come up with a new system and no one knows exactly how they were made. That was years ago back before his father was murdered by Alan Veyd although he could not prove that.
            “Okay, so she put in prototype technology in one obelisk when we weren’t looking and it works?”
            “Actually—” he hesitated “—all of them work now.” Marris’s eyes bulged. “No monster can get near Valor Road making it safer than yours and-and—”
            “And what?” he gasped, his eyes bulging, his hands gripping his chair like a maniac about to go on a rampage. You better not tell me what I think you’re going to tell me!
            “Annnnnnnnd—” he took in a deep breath “—seventy percent of the trade business just went—” he grimaced “—north!”
            Marris ripped his chair limbs right off. “They did WHAT?” he cried. “We had deals! Contracts!” He pointed a finger at Alfred. “You had better be fucking exaggerating!”
            “Actually—” Alfred winced “—it’s closer to—” he winced more “—eighty…” he whimpered the last word out. “Please don’t kill me, Your Highness.”
            “I just lost eighty percent of the trade business of Greenwood to this little girl?” he cried. The duke’s wealth would balloon if he had just lost a quarter that. Ninety percent had gone west because Valor Road was no longer safe! Ninety-fucking-percent! That would give leave ten percent and the duke would, through his new little bitch, gain the lion’s share of of the trade in the dukedom.
            “Yes and several towns on your higher norther end are also petitioning to the duke claiming that—that—” he swallowed.
            “What are they claiming?”
            “That they’re actually part of Valenforte.”
            Earl Marris’s eyes were wide, his lips quivered, but he saw it wasn’t over. His eyes narrowed, his head tightened, and the words that followed were guttural and full of rage and hate.
            “Whaaaaaaaat eeeeeeelssssssse?”
            His steward blinked. “Johnny would like to—”
            “No I would not!” cried Johnny in a shrill, almost shrieking voice. “I am very much not worthy of such an honor! I have no right—”
            “WHAT THE FUCK IS IT?” he screamed.
            “Lady Juliana Flore has picked a successor.”
            “That’s a problem?” asked the earl suspiciously. “I can easily manipulate the situation to my advantage.” She did not like that because she believed that he had murdered her female claimants. The woman had the third largest land in Greenwood, one of the largest of Doran, and owned various mines on several worlds including Alan Veyd’s asteroid. She was eighty and Marris, as her cousin, was the only claimant left. “What’s the problem here?”
            “She appears—well she claims—” the steward grimaced “—to have a great granddaughter of the Flore bloodline.”
            “What?” cried Earl. “What was that?” He frowned darkly. “Are you telling me that a straight line female descendent appeared out of nowhere? That girl who cheap shot my champion and humiliated me is her great granddaughter?”
            “Valenforte—” he swallowed “—the brat is not the heir. She is welcomed into the lady’s court and the two have been making trade agreements with the duke as the third party—”
            The earl straightened his back. If that was true than he was ruined but it couldn’t be true. It could not possibly be true.
            She had no children or grandchildren: her father had made sure of that.
            “How old is this descendent?”
            “Fifteen, they say. Kept from sight to avoid being—” Alfred the steward swallowed “—murdered. She’ll inherit everything to the north west of Valenforte along the ocean to the border of your lands and will also come to possess all her holdings and businesses oversees including her clothing line of Vogue Style that the Quarranese courts are impassioned with. It’s been made official. The girl’s DNA is in the system and it matches the countess’s grandmother. It’s uh—done. She’s been made the official heir to the Flore bloodline fortune and she’s betrothed to the duke’s eldest son in exchange for her loyalty to him and he will have access to her fortune should he require it.”
            “You better be joking!” His hands were shaking, his lips were quivering, for the man was saying that he had just lost the greatest inheritance of an age: nearly a billion gray worth of money in property, businesses, equity and literal cash.
            “I am not,” he whimpered and was terrified.
            The earl stood up, his face turning red, raged drool leaking out from his mouth, and his eyes turning wild and almost instantly bloodshot. “Are you telling me that some stupid little bitch from nowhere just—”

*          *          *

            —fucked him good!” Veyd told the duke through the monitor on a secure line. “As it turns out letting your minotaur run loose through villages and murder the occasional trader doesn’t inspire loyalty and like five towns want to join me at the south below Flore’s land. Evidently, Lady Flore has little use for him too, she believes he is responsible for the death of her daughters and granddaughters as you know, and with a little magic, and bending the magic’s natural law, we can make a real winning situation out of this.”
            “You know,” said Duke Darren Vallorre, “I forgot how useful you were under your horrific shenanigans.”
            “It’s a gift I have. My enemies never see me coming.” She took a drink of Farru Fruit soda flavored Emerald Grape. “How’s Nathan?”
            “He’s fine. He’s trying to find some way to get sneak out there and steal your virtue.”
            “Good old Nathan,” she replied with a smile.
            “Any particular reason you had to spill your entire life story to her?” he asked with a sudden frown.
            “She would never have believed me if she believed I was just another thirteen year old girl.” Juliana Flore was surprisingly receptive to her story as Alan Veyd when they spoke privately for several hours drinking tea and talking about old times with her actually smiling a bit after their deal was made. They had only known each other for a year but those was a bonding year, evidently, and she had never forgiven Archibald Brotaine for what he did to her.
            “I see you’re in a dress,” he noted.
            “Yeah, women of the aristocracy always turn me into their doll.” Juliana had been no different than any of them, giggling and doing her hair and makeup and putting her one of her old dresses to see how it looked on her. “Good times.”
            “You think you can talk her down to the second son.”
            “No, I do not,” Veyd replied. “This is not the kind of woman you can ‘talk down’ to anything.”
            “She’s in the same room, isn’t she?”
            “Sure is.” Juliana was what some called “a little paranoid” and others called “a complete control freak.”
            The old woman was staring at her from beyond the flat screen monitor with that look of curiosity people had sometimes given to Alan Veyd when he did something that helped them extraordinarily well for some long plan for himself that they didn’t understand.
            “My father would like to speak to her,” said the duke.
            Veyd put a hand on the monitor and it turned it around.

*          *          *

            Duke Vallorre stepped aside and his father sat down. He was not the mastermind of this, he had to admit the thirteen year old girl with the mind of Alan Veyd had really pulled of something with this one, but he wanted some degree of input.
            Juliana Flore Keene had been a beautiful woman in her youth but a tigress. He recalled her well, those happy days when every man wanted her and every woman wanted to be her, and every mother warned them both.
            She was forcibly married into an ugly marriage by her and Marris’s grandfather who beat and raped her, once, and then came to regret it. He had an “accident” shortly afterward but left his businesses and money behind in control of her.
            The beautiful girl married a man of her choosing then who would then be murdered a couple decades later along with their children, birthed three daughters and two sons before that, and built up an empire of power outside of Doran before the curse. Outside of Doran was where intense amount of money remained and she lived for her four children.
            One by one they were murdered.
            One by one the heirs of the Flore dynasty and bloodline vanished.
            Juliana did not age well: hate and rage made her ugly and dangerous. Outliving her five children and their child made her distrusting, cold, calculating and she purged her court and her land of anybody adherent to any faction.
            She did not care a fig for the duke, the earl or either queen. She had a granddaughter and heir once, her main line, but she had died, also murdered, but rumors persisted that her killer had been caught and supposedly still screaming in bowels of her castle.
            The great granddaughter was something new entirely.
            Darren would have liked it to have been Jessica Veyd under some new disguise but even she couldn’t pull that if she desired.
            Juliana sat down and stared into his eyes with those intense green eyes of hers. Her red hair was almost white and her face sunken in and wrinkled, the body withered almost to a straight backed skeleton, but that intensity, that green fire, was still very much there.
            “Must it be—”
            “You want the power of the Flore Bloodline it must be the heir to the duchy. I can assure you my ‘great granddaughter’ will make a formidable duchess. She will even be kind for it is long before the weight of cruelty turned her heart to stone.”
            “She’s got a way with words, this one,” said Veyd pleasantly.
            “I remember you, Alan,” she said without looking. “You came trotting in one day asking me about the lich. About my twins.” The son was said to have been killed by the lich, dragged to the castle, where his sister, using the sword of the Flore Bloodline was lost in an attempt to rescue him.
            Oddly enough, she had responded well to the stranger. Nobody, aside from the queen and only in secret there, had ever really liked Alan Veyd. It was peculiar and strange, that open liking. Lance Vallorre thought it was his honesty that she respected and his fearlessness. He swore once that if he ever entered the lich’s castle he would retrieve the sword of her family but he was cut to pieces before he could.
            She had been his first investor and so made a very sizable fortune from his adventures in the Short Belt. They even called the artificial forest-temple asteroids that connected around the central asteroid the Flore Stones in honor of her and her family.
            “He is not his older brother,” said Lance.
            “He is handsome and kind and that is more than most men.” Her face fell. “I know he is not the elder son.”
            “Ah Darren,” said Veyd thoughtfully. “He was such a dreamboat.” Veyd looked up at Allayne Forne from her place in the dark corner who looked younger than before, made young again as had the queen when the first pillar had broken with the return of the princess. Her look of thoughtfulness was different than when Jessica was Alan Veyd, her dark hair framing that expression and her bright teal eyes that seemed to reflect the light of the monitor. She had trusted Alan Veyd the least of all of them up until the very end when Veyd had finally given the last thing that he had for, her family.
            Allayne Forne had spent years on Veyd’s secondary plan and the ritual was not far from where they were at that very moment Walrus 5 in another secret warehouse of Alan Veyd’s.
            Lance took a deep breath. “I would like to negotiate a larger portion—”
            “The deal is done,” stated Juliana coldly. “Do not attempt to take advantage of my heir either. She is her father’s daughter and didn’t need her first husband’s abuse to make her strong.”
            “I understand,” said Lance. “The roads are up. Jessica has made them work, the path up and down, is solid from our home down here to Valenforte and to Flore County to its west where our trade will return. However, under this agreement, your taxes will be paying at a discount and your ‘great granddaughter’ has no dowry—”
            “Your son will gain access to my wealth, businesses, and property along with my granddaughter’s body which men would pay a great deal for. She will provide him with great heirs with my father’s strength with more Flore daughters to follow my bloodline and connect to the great families of Corvo and beyond.”
            “Flore women who will now doubt inherent all of your wealth.”
            “It belongs to the Flore women of my family,” stated Juliana simply. “There would be no question of it had our genders been reversed.”
            “You’re losing her, my lord,” said Veyd. “Just accept it.”
            “Listen to your ward, Lance,” said Juliana almost bitterly. “My deal with her and Valencourt is over and done. I wish deeply to connect my family to yours but I can live without it if I must.”
            “Veyd,” Lance said softly. He did not like that deal: not one bit. It was so geared toward that woman’s benefit.
            “You can’t break deals with this kind of person,” said Veyd. “You’ll destroy the man who killed your grandson, you’ll gain yourself a war queen to help your son through the invariable war that is coming, and you will make money just not as much as you like. She’s not a miser and she’s how to spend money properly and don’t think she’s forgotten the Gray Queen’s support of the men who murdered her children and granddaughter.”
            “I don’t need you to tell me that.”
            “Clearly you do,” stated Juliana. “I will expect your grandson to greet my ‘great granddaughter’ properly as his future bride this evening when she arrives.” She turned off the computer.

*          *          *

            “He’s still an idiot.”
            “He’s just not used to bargaining from the bottom,” said Veyd. “Sometimes you just got to get your ass kicked in order to get the job done.” Veyd needed her, she knew that and their deal was solid, but Juliana didn’t need the duke and he didn’t seem to completely know that. Veyd had to pull her into that one as there was reluctance. Not a lot, and certainly more than there would have been if the first son Darren II was alive, but she understood the value of a true Flore becoming a duchess and very much desired it.
            With her vast fortune and power combined with her position as heir to the duchy the amount of leverage she would have over Earl Marris was astounding.
            “Ready to rock this?” asked Veyd.
            “Always,” she replied and she held out her hand.
            Veyd took it and Juliana led her out of the room with Allayne walking quietly behind her. Allayne’s heir and daughter, Kalea, wasn’t there but her eldest daughter was, in the station at least, ready to greet Juliana’s granddaughter as one of her ladies-in-waiting. She was promised a place in the duke’s court and a new seat and lands for the Forne Bloodline in exchange for the spell about to cast.
            It would all be secret at this point, the Gray Queen would go mad if she knew, but it was happening.
            It wasn’t the easiest sell even with the kind of spell that was promised to Juliana and the eldest daughter was engaged to the great grandson of Juliana’s personal magician Parker Flann who had been long desiring land of his own for his years of service. He was waiting by the ritual that he had studied for a day and a half nonstop to make sure it was good to go. He wanted to find a flaw, he was a natural pessimist like that, but reluctantly agreed finally that it was sound.
            “So,” said Veyd half-jokingly. “Where is Kalea?”
            “Kalea is pouting now,” said Allayne coldly. “She is the most beautiful of my true children but also the wildest. She resented being forced to marry.”
            And children too. Allayne had mentioned that Kalea did not like having children because she felt that it ruined her looks although she did love her children in her own way. She was evidently fighting regularly with her mother over everything and her mother thought her ill-suited as a lady to the point that she purposively skipped her as an inheritor for the land that Juliana granted their bloodline.
            “So you’re a countess now,” said Allayne.
            “It’s horrible beyond words,” said Veyd. “I spent the last two weeks working endlessly. I spent my working, negotiating, explaining, arguing, building and all manner of horriblty long, boring things, and if I was lucky I managed to get three hours sleep. Those damn obelisks were a serious pain in the ass.”
            “They work, though,” said Juliana.
            “Quite well and for several years I predict,” said Veyd. “I’m still having them officially repaired which leave the battery systems I put on to act as backup batteries in case of emergencies but good gods that was hard.”
            “The people are raving about you,” said Allayne. “They call the Wonder Child.”
            “They didn’t like me at first nor did they like the crate of roach bars I dropped down but the soilless towers and huge tanks of freshwater fish will more than make up for all their hardships when they work. The roads are rebuilt and I loaned a couple of vessels I had repaired to sailors to head into the ocean to deep sea fishing but good gods it’s so much damn work.”
            “And Lance will take his share,” said Juliana.
            “Well technically his son or grandson or whatever Darren is. He is my guardian after all and he’s soon to be at war and he’s greedy.” Veyd shrugged. “Sure I’ll be hemorrhaging money into his accounts but there’s not much I can do about it unless I want to make him my enemy.”
            Juliana smiled at her as they walked.
            “The Traitor will figure out who you are sooner or later,” said Allayne. “Traitor” was what she called the daughter who had betrayed her family and their kingdom.
            “That’s why I never stand still,” Veyd told her. She actually slept most of the time in her tower in Keldor where her powers didn’t reach but, in all honesty, Veyd was worried.
            Sooner or later the Gray Queen would find her. What she knew or believed was a mystery but it wouldn’t take a genius to figure out the thirteen year girl who kept preceding every threat to her power was someone who should be killed.
            They went to the room in the warehouse with the ritual, still glowing palely after thirty odd years, Veyd’s backup plan that did not quite into fruition but had kept well prepared for just in case.
            Seven circles of magic and runes lit up the entire room illuminating everything within. The window was covered at the back, the light the only part in the room.
            Veyd let go of Juliana’s hand and clapped her them together. “It begins now-oh shit!”
            The words “Where is she?” were yelled out behind her.
            Veyd decided it was time to make a tactical retreat, turned around, and almost ran face first into Queen Elliah who stood there with her hands on her hips frowning down at her. “Hi there, Your Majesty,” she said with a big worried smile.
            Elliah Dethara grabbed her by her shoulders and shook her. “You ran off!” she cried. “I told you never to run off!”
            “My feets itch, Your Majesty.” The queen eyes widened. “That was a joke.”
            “You are very valuable, Jessica!” she told her. “You can’t just run off and risk your life! That minotaur almost killed you!”
            “But he didn’t,” said Juliana and the queen looked up. “This curse won’t end itself, Elliah. You can’t shackle Jessica down and hope that she fixes Doran from Walrus 5.”
            “Juliana Flore, Veyd? What are scheming to do with her?”
            Juliana turned to Allayne. “I told her nothing,” she told them. “She has spies everywhere.”
            “I keep my eyes on my friends and enemies alike and Walrus 5 is mine.”
            “It was rebuilt by Alan Veyd.”
            “Anonymously. It’s in my name and nothing gets onto Walrus 5 without my knowledge. How do you think I kept the Gray Queen’s killers out all these years?”
            “I don’t know,” Juliana replied. “Luck.”
            Elliah turned her head and looked at Jessica who shrugged and said, “She’s no friend of the Gray Queen and her marriage to the heir of the Duchy of Greenwood will make her a terror to all her friends including Earl Marris.”
            “Her marriage?”
            Juliana’s lips curled up into a sour but very amused smile. “Haven’t you heard? I have a great granddaughter.”
            “This spell was meant for me,” stated Elliah coldly.
            “It was,” said Veyd. “I’m using it for this now because that path wasn’t taken. This seems bad but trust me. We could use the Tigress of Flore on our side and I can always remake the ritual if needs be. It have quite a bit of dragon blood left, you know.”
            Alan Veyd had hoped to use the ritual in order to rebirth Princess Lilia somehow but that plan had flaws. The bond between mother and daughter, though strong, was not a particularly physical one and any child she had would have its own soul. The golem kind of magic to create a soulless vessel birthed by her for Lilia to occupy was a journey fraught with peril of many sorts including unnatural magical use as necessity, potential catastrophic failure of mixed minds and souls, mental deformity and madness, and gods knew what else. It ended up as a plan just to save the queen’s bloodline if everything went down the tubes but Alan had found a way to save the princess without that ritual so there had been no need of it.
            But Alan Veyd kept it around just in case became useful and it did.
            “We have had our problems, Elliah,” said Juliana. “Do not bring them to my heir’s—”
            “You abandoned me when I needed you!” hissed Elliah. “I needed—”
            “And you abandoned my child!” she hissed. “My eldest daughter died because you didn’t listen to your war council! You should have called her on her bluff!”
            “She wasn’t bluffing!”
            “She killed them anyway!” screamed Juliana. “Not all of us get our daughters back, Elliah!” She turned to Veyd. “You will be one my ladies.”
            “Wait, what? That wasn’t part of the plan. I can’t be a lady! I’m struggling as a countess!”
            “It’s harder to be a countess,” said Allayne.
            “I want you close to me,” said Juliana.
            “If she’s anyone’s lady, she’s mine!” Elliah grabbed her hand. “You can’t have her.”
            “Okay, this is getting weird.” Veyd tried to get her hand back but the grip was iron tight. Juliana grabbed the other hand and held it just as tightly. “Ah shit.”
            Juliana’s face was like steel. “Her relationship to you is a secret but she is a countess of Greenwood, a ward of my duke, and I am about to become his heir’s wife. It is rather fitting that she be a part of ny court and my entourage.”
            “Hey ladies,” said Veyd. “Can you give me back my hands now? I want to go sit in the corner and sulk for a while.” They both let go and Veyd went over to the corner to sulk for a while.
            Allayne sat down beside her and smiled at her strangely. “Such a beautiful girl,” she said. “My little Alice will be one of her ladies too. You’ll be close friends, I think.”
            “It’s getting too weird,” said Veyd. “I’m thinking of cutting my hair, putting on boy’s clothes, and calling myself James.”
            “That is not going to happen.”
            “I know. It’s just kind of a joke.” She turned to her. “Did you tell Kalea what I asked you to tell her?”
            “No, she knows already,” she said soberly. “In fact, her ‘fantastic rack’s’ degradation is her major complaint about childbirth.”
            Veyd grinned and leaned back against the wall. “Good times.”
            “It’s time,” said Parker Flann, a tall, slender elderly man with dark hair split with gray, electric blue eyes and a pointed face. He was around as skilled as Allayne and deeply wanted to cast the spell himself but he didn’t know it well enough and grumpily stepped aside for Allayne. He tried, however, tried to micro manage her which did not go over well.
            “It will be time when I say it is time,” Allayne stated as she stood up. “Do not think to master over me in a ritual I have spent twenty years perfecting.”
            “Nobody,” said Parker slowly, “Has forgotten who your daughter became.”
            “And my family has suffered more than most for that,” Allayne said softly, her voice a dangerous whisper.
            “Enough,” said Juliana as she took off her dress, which was valuable, and moved into the center of the ritual in her slip. They had practiced it a dozen times and they all knew what was going to happen when Allayne started casting.
            Parker Flann gave Allayne a distrusting look and then moved into the corner.
            Veyd looked around and just before the spell went off she said, “Son of a bitch, I forgot my soda.”

*          *          *

            The spell was still being started by the Veyd was back.
            She sat and watched it for the next hour while it each circle did it’s magic and finished off in the center on its recipient.
            Juliana was still glowing in the center of the ritual when it was done, the final ring of seven dying off, and then the light faded to reveal a fifteen year old girl who had no memory of anything past that day in her fifteenth year, wearing a white nightgown.
            The girl blinked a few times, her red slightly curly wavy hair hanging down around her shoulders. “She is prettier than me,” said Veyd. “Not a pre-motherhood Kalea though but still pretty cute.”
            “Hush,” said Allayne.
            The girl looked around in the dark room, the blue lights fading out slowly into darkness, and focused on the people looking at her. “Okay,” said Juliana. “Who the fuck are all you and where the fuck did my bedroom go?”
            Veyd grinned and said, “We’re going to get along just fine.”
            “Really? I don’t know you. I also don’t know how you got passed my father’s guards.”
            Juliana stepped forward and looked around at all of them. “I don’t recognize any of you. Where are my father’s men?”
            “Short story,” said Veyd. “You lived to be eighty years or older, I’m not sure how old because you wouldn’t tell me your age and might have lied if you did. We made a deal and now I’ve made you young again with natural magic which means you remember nothing beyond this point. You can be young only once but you can be young once a thousand times.”
            “Interesting story,” said Juliana. “And why is a thirteen year old girl speaking for a room full of adults.”
            “Interesting story.” Veyd went over to the window and pressed the button to reveal the stars and turned to face her. She held up a small compact disc. “It’s time to learn who you were, Juliana Flore,” she told her. “You left this for yourself. It contains all the things your old self wants to tell your young self. I suppose I should begin with explaining that you are ludicrously rich, the last Flore and inheritor of your fortune, and you are engaged to the heir to the Duchy of Greenwood.”
            Juliana swallowed and said nothing. Her face was overflowing with suspicion and disbelief.
            “Screwing with you, isn’t it? You can read my face. You were trained to do that by your father. He was a special ops espionage soldier from Quarran, wasn’t he? He—”
            She snatched the disc and held it up. “I will watch this,” said Juliana. “Am I really engaged to Lance Vallorre? Is he not engaged to Marian Terrance?”
            “He might have been,” said Veyd. “It doesn’t matter now. The heir to the duchy is Lance’s great grandson.” Her eyes narrowed. “I’m not lying. It’s totally fucking with you.” She grinned. “There’s a room for you with a monitor on the ship down. Have fun. I’m going to watch a movie.”
            “I do have one question before I watch this.”
            “It’s the same as before.” Her face narrowed in deep suspicion. “Why are you talking? You’re a thirteen year old girl and everyone here is an adult, that one looks almost royal—” she pointed at Elliah. She blinked and looked at her and then looked away.
            “Recognized her?”
            “She looks like Princess Elliah but she’s twelve.” She blinked. “Again, why are you doing the talking?”
            “I guess I just started to yap away and they let me. It’s time to go.” Elliah put her hand on her shoulder. “You know I have to go too,” she told Elliah.
            “I know but you’re not going alone.”

*          *          *

            “Son of a bitch,” said Veyd surrounded by several of Elliah’s guards dressed in the duke’s colors in disguise and many of them were going to end up back in her county as her personal guards.
She hated being conspicuous. With them following her everywhere was like being an elephant trying to sneak through a forest.
            Juliana, her new name Juliet, on paper was the daughter of Mary, granddaughter of Juliana who had actually been killed while her mother was still pregnant with her, wearing the dress she had picked out as an older woman emphasis her red haired beauty. She curtsied before her future husband who stared stupefied at her beauty the way only teenage boys with no experience with girls ever were.
            Nathan slipped up beside her with a smile. “That wildcat going to eat him alive?”
            “Big time,” Veyd replied with a smile back.
            Following that was the formal engagement speech, formal vows, a feast, the heirs dancing together, and to look at her then, smiling as she did, Veyd became certain she wasn’t what she had been. Juliana hadn’t been lying. There was kindness in her earlier form and even sweet innocence.
            “What are you doing?” asked Veyd as Nathan took her hand.
            Nathan stood in his black and green uniform and pulled out her out onto the dance floor with the others after the engaged danced. Their dance was slow, Nathan leading her, making her feel very self-conscious.
            “Are you trying to seduce me with your talent?” she asked.
            “Wouldn’t work. You remember too much about being a man.”
            “Then why am I dancing?”
            “Because all girls love to dance.” He smiled at her and she smiled back against her control. She did like to dance, although she did not know why. There was something fun about it when you didn’t have to do the majority work and every other person in gender generally didn’t.
            Afterward, Veyd kissed Nathan deeply in the dark corners where one was looking, heart beating in her chest, but were pulled apart by Elliah’s men when they caught her.
            She got a hold of some alcohol later and went on to get drunk with some of the other girls and boys. She dropped backward onto the bed, barely able to put on her nightgown after her servants took off her dress, grinning happily up at the ceiling as she shut her eyes.
            She blinked what felt like once and a hand came down onto her shoulder.
            Veyd looked up at Juliet Flore looking down at her in the dark. Veyd looked at her for a moment, unable to see her features, then flicked on the light on her cellphone and illuminated Juliet’s face.
            She was weeping, tears running down her face, shaking.
            “He killed my children!” she whispered. “My own cousin killed my children!”
            “Marris, his father, and his father before him I think. They wanted your bloodline house and he’s your cousin. No female heirs makes him the heir.” It wouldn’t have been the first a bloodline house was savaged by male relatives who wanted the land for themselves.
            Juliet slipped under the covers and moved up against her. She wept into her shoulder several times. “I cried in front of you once. She told me she did.”
            “Once, yes.” Veyd recalled it well. It was when Alan Veyd had been tasked with going after her last living daughter who was pregnant. He had killed five men, Marris’s father’s men, to get to her. She was on what was left of a farm on old Earl Marris’s land cursed from the Gray Queen’s spell.
            That Earl Marris had raped the girl, cut off her breasts, cut off her nose, cut off her fingers, stabbed her between the legs to kill her child, the daughter Mary who was the fictitious mother of Juliet, and was found laughing as he stood there in front of her. Juliana saw what Veyd saw because Alan Veyd went in with a camera on his shoulder.
            “Oh fuck me,” he had said and then his eyes had narrowed. “You broke your word! The ransom was paid and you broke your fucking word!” That part was clear enough when he killed the last collector, Parker Flann’s brother Paul and her husband James which also necessitated Veyd’s entrance into the game, but the mutilation was a surprise.
            No one had thought he would torture the girl. They thought he was going simply not going to give her up. It was dangerous to do what he did because it allowed for returned violence.
            “I don’t know how you got past my ion cannons but I don’t care!” He pointed a bloody knife at him. “That bloodline is mine by right! No woman should inherit land over a man’s—” Veyd raised his pistol and fired. He blew the man’s favorite organ disappeared right out from between his legs and he stumbled back. He fell over, grabbed at his crotch, and shrieked like a girl.
            “Now you’re a girl too,” said Alan who would cringe at this comment years later in another life with a fifteen year old Juliana at his side. “I guess we’ll have to go with the bloodline daughters now.”
            Alan had leaned down and felt the girl’s face. Juliana’s only surviving daughter looked up at him, one eye blinded, and then he saw the veins in them.
            “Oh fuck!” Veyd pulled out his health kit which probably had nothing that could do anything for her, turned back to her and then saw the girl was dead, her one eye staring glazed up at nothing. “He poisoned her!” He turned to him. “You fucking poisoned her!” He blinked. “She’s just a girl and she was fucking pregnant!”
            “My shaft!” he screamed. “You blew off my—”
            “Fuck you!” cried Veyd and he crawled over to him and slammed his gun down onto his head hard enough to knock him out. He did not know what to do, did not like what he did do so far, and decided at that moment the best course was to drag him back to Juliana’s palace to be judged by how she saw fit instead of taking him to a joke of a court where he would be released in a week with the Gray Queen’s blessing and all that.
            It turned out to be a particularly cruel move on Alan Veyd’s part.
            Once in Juliana’s palace Marris descended into the depths under a false name after Parker Flann and other loyal men broke his face to unrecognizability as to hide his identity, ripped out his tongue so he would never be able to speak again, and hid him behind guards too dense to ever be able to see through any of that.
            He was never seen again.
            That was the last of her children and grandchildren. Her twins, boy and girl, were killed by the cyber lich in his castle, her only granddaughter was murdered in her single digits of age not long before on that dark night, the daughter of her eldest daughter who was poisoned. Her younger son was killed in a suspicious plane accident and her last and youngest daughter was murdered by Joel Marris while six months pregnant.
            Juliana’s one time cry was when he came back to her with the man who murdered her daughter. She did not weep in front of anyone but him and wept like a woman broken which disturbed so greatly that he did not even want to think of it again let alone talk about.
            Jessica Veyd swallowed and said, “If Marris were to learn it was I who took his father—”
            Juliet kissed her in the cheek softly and snuggled against her. “He’s gone now. He wanted everything from my family so now I’ll take everything from his.”
            “Cool,” said Veyd. She would never kill a son because of a father, gods knew Alan Veyd’s own father had both been scum, but the present Earl Marris and his son were both monsters so vengeance, morality and practicality were all working well together for a change.
            “You’re going to be one of my bridesmaids.”
            “What? No way. I can’t be a bridesmaid. I have no grace.”
            “You’re pretty though.”
            “That’s not the same.”
            “You’re learning,” Juliet said and then grinned. “You’re doing alright for someone who used to be a boy.”
            “That’s not the most amazing thing about me,” Veyd replied. “I also used to be a priest. True story.”                       
            “You’re also going to be one of my ladies.”
            Veyd groaned. “Why do you want me as one of your ladies?”
            “Well, you’re incredibly beautiful which makes a great ornament to my court, you’re incredibly useful as an ally because you’re so smart and talented but since you’re also incredibly inept as a girl you’ll never outshine me.”
            “Actually, that makes sense in a bitch kind of way.”
            She smiled and snuggled up against her. “Goodnight, sister.”
            “Goodnight.” Veyd shut her eyes and drifted into a long sleep.
            The next morning she found herself up jumped to another level where she was one of the highest ranking women in the duchy and one of the most eligible bachelorettes in Doran.
            “So fucking much for subtlety,” she said when she was formally inducted into Juliet’s newly formed household befitting a future duchess.



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