THE DAUGHTER OF DORAN

6

TRAP IN THE CORN FOREST

 

SPRING

Taliaday, 22nd of Greengrow, 3830 AR

Duchy of Calyne

(01/08/2017)

            “Gee whiz it looks like I am just super screwed and stuff,” said Jessica Veyd.
            “What do you see?” asked Emma Roster from down below.
            “Mostly a lame colorless world,” Veyd replied from her spot in the giant corn stalk that had grown south of Odwyne, pronounced Odd-Win, which was pressed against the sea to the west and the Frenton Corn Woods to the south.
            The ocean to the west looked barely blue, just a hint of blue, and the city’s painted buildings had just as little color as was the tree she was on. The sky above had no color at all but the early evening lights, regularly changed, glowed a variety of colors obscenely bright. The tower in the distance, the black tower by the sea that stretched up hundreds of feet into the sky, had been seeable long before everywhere else glowing bright blue at its base. In the darkening sky it looked like a black sword without a cross guard.
            “Do you see him?” asked Roster.
            “No,” Veyd replied as she continually examined the biker-like servants with their black helmets and black leather jackets through the scope of her gun. “That doesn’t mean he’s not there, though.”
            Considering his men were there it seemed a pretty good chance that he was.
            The Goblin had popped up over the several weeks Veyd had possession of six year old Emma Roster and had made it very difficult to get her back to her family.
            Three times Veyd had attempted to contact the family directly for a drop off and three times it all went horribly wrong. Although she had sensed the trap and gotten nowhere near them the news of “Roster’s Men” being “ambushed” or “assassinated” meant they were unmitigated disasters. Old John Roster knew well enough not to reveal the situation to the public but it got out anyway and Veyd had to be careful where she took Emma Roster.
            The first time someone imitated Emma’s mother’s voice. Veyd saw through it instantly, even though it fooled Emma, because it was far too calm. What Veyd saw of the woman on the Long Gap Bridge showed her a woman who was reasonably high strung and something about how Alfred Roster, her father, had talked about her had reinforced that feeling.
            That woman, whoever she was, was ice cold without even a hint at maternal worry.
            Veyd had approached the meeting spot in the center square of a busy city and a sniper shot blew her holographic image apart.
            The second time they tried to imitate her father but that one didn’t work quite right either. Veyd thought it was a better imitation but she guessed it’s deceit by how malleable he was. Meet her, go there, bring this, and bring that all with a “yes, of course,” and “no problem” and “right away.” She brought up a sum of money, which she actually did not want or care about, and he didn’t even blink.
            He wouldn’t have argued, it was his daughter after all, but it would have surprised him and he would have sounded held back: a man who was obeying not because of an obedient nature but of a forced situation.
            He sounded way too much like a bootlicker to possible be the real thing.
            The third time was the biggest mistake. She was speaking to the fake Alfred Roster again when she heard the distinct bump in sound, one she very much recognized and very few others would have known, and she ended up quickly opening up her Orange-O Model A3 cellphone, pulling out its chip, and standing there holding it like an idiot.
            It was a tracking device, the very kind she had used often as Alan Veyd, and it had just been used to find his future incarnation Jessica. Pulling out the chip stopped it but she would have been a fool to think that it was quick enough to stop her enemies from locating her.
            “We have to run and fast!” she had told Emma.
            And she did. She sped out of the small village from that power station down the road, turned west down the side roads, down the dirt roads, and disappeared into the woods.
            In the news she saw something expectedly creepy.
            The small town made big news because of who it involved. The old couple who ran the power station were found beaten to death with a baseball bat. The video showed a man in black with green skin beating him. He was no orc, his face clear on the video, the news calling the familiar boogeyman of Calyne by his usual name: the Goblin.
            “The first guardian,” she whispered into the dark, Emma Roster leaning up against her frightened.
            It wasn’t a goblin, but the Goblin, a nickname for a formally human monster. It played too long in the dark corners of unnatural magic. He did a particular better job, used side magic utilized sometimes called “voodoo,” but while it kept him from rotting it did not keep him unaffected but then again that had something to do with the curse more than his exotic magic. The most notable effect from wherever his survival came from was the green skin that was not the natural deep shade of the orcs but the glowing neon green of a radiated cartoon character.
            The Goblin looked up at the camera, grinned in a way that stretched across the entire face reaching all the way up to his ears, and, then snarled in a sudden hate spewed rage. He was a scrawny man shape in with no hair and pointed ears that, unlike an elf’s, looked a bit lopsided.
            Its features hidden under all that were that of the black man he had once been long ago.
            He wasn’t the only who had changed.
            Veyd had noticed, peculiarly, that parts of herself were changing and had no idea, at all, what it meant. It made no sense, had no rhyme or reason: it just did and it all began about the time she entered Calyne.
            Her hair had straightened completely reaching down to her shoulders suddenly and was getting darker daily. Her eyes were getting lighter as well and had lost the green in them becoming an icy pale blue. Everything else remained the same, the same bone structure, skin, excluding a natural paleness that had not been there, lips, nose, etc. etc.
            Emma had noticed it too and when Veyd had used her DNA idea it had changed to suit her new form. The picture she took before was exactly the same in every way except her eyes and hair matched what it was turning to, a very light blue, with jet black hair: almost the exact shade it had been when she was Alan Veyd and no longer appearing very Doranian.
            What do you know, she thought. I’m not the Daughter of Doran. She was not surprised by that but a little alarmed. If she was she could finish the curse off herself but since she wasn’t she was forced forward blind and without a champion.
            Veyd was very worried about it but nowhere near enough to be particularly distracted from her present problems and besides it was no less problematic than last time.
            Veyd did not dare try to get Alfred Roster’s help since then because he was comprised in some way or another. Since she couldn’t get close to him, and probably his father, without the Goblin knowing about it Veyd devised a new plan and went for a powerful member of Roster’s family who was not an obvious target. Once in the hands of someone in her family Emma would be fine, regardless of whoever, and Veyd could disappear again and figure out the whole Daughter of Doran thing.
            Veyd decided on Lady Emily Lanor Roster, the youngest sister of old Lord John Roster, who would have been duke if the title had not been blocked by the Gray Queen’s command, who lived in the ancestral tower house of the Lanor bloodline women that looked like a sword without a cross-guard.
            Lady Emily was the matriarch of the Lanor bloodline and was even at that moment in that tower.
            “This ends tonight,” said Veyd as she slipped her gun over her shoulder. She then slipped off the stalk, took a hold of one of the long leaves, swung with it, did a slow summersault, and landed on her feet. It came rather easily along with climbing, walking along the stalks, and other like things. She remembered as a young Alan Veyd she was far from graceful and had climbed like a skinny clumsy bear and fell often where now she scrambled up through trees and branches like a spider and had not yet come close to falling.
            At least that hadn’t come back, she thought.
            “Tonight?” asked Emma. She was five years old, a cute little thing in a cute little blue dress Veyd had bought for her and cute little normal shoes. The ruse failed as she still looked aristocratic in those normal closes, walked with her back straight and didn’t look at all right for her age in her facial and physical expressions, already a lady bred and built to give orders more than take them.
            Hiding her was not as easy as it looked and people had commented on the “little lady.”
            “It ends tonight,” she told the girl again. “Tomorrow you’re going home.”
            “If they’re there how will we get passed them?”
            Veyd looked up at the giant corn stalks fifty feet tall with their budding corn and then at her. “Remember all those traps I bought and been tinkering with?”
            Emma’s eyes narrowed in confusion. “Yes,” she replied. “Why?”
            Veyd’s lips curled up into a wide smile.

*          *          *

            Somewhere around three in the morning the girl made an unexpected call to Lady Emily Roster.
            They tracked it again and found the girl was somewhere in the giant cornstalks above town of Odwyne where the dangerous matriarch of the Lanor family, who the Goblin still drooled over, made her home.
            Doug the Mercenary was not comfortable with going right at the girl.
            He was not what scientists called a “genius” but he knew when something was “not quite right.” He didn’t like how Emma Roster’s savior kept dodging them.
            Doug had been raised by the Gray Queen as one of her personal mercenaries and sent to the Goblin to “make sure he doesn’t screw this up” but the monster didn’t listen to him and once broke his nose for speaking “too uppity” or some such.
            “Not to risk having my nose broken again,” said Dog through his helmet, “But I can’t help but feel like this is a bad idea.”
            The Goblin rolled his head and turned to him with his masked helmet. “I don’t give a fuck if the Bitch Queen has been riding your rod twenty-four seven since you were twelve! You do not give orders here!”
            “I have not—” awkward pause “—had that honor specifically.” Doug grinned behind his helmet awkwardly. “I have been ordered, you know, by the queen to, you know—” the Goblin lifted up his helmet’s visor to show Doug his glowing green face around his bright red eyes “—that this is a mistake.”

*          *          *

            Look at that one, thought Veyd as one came stumbling along the stalks clutching his stomach in pain. He came already injured.
            Veyd hidden her bike in camouflage mode and hidden Emma in one of the stalks.
            She stood in the growing darkness ahead of Emma but far to the back and pointed the rifle at the mercenary biker-looking thugs that came wandering through the trees. Now which one of his lucky number—

*          *          *

            —Wan! Help me, Wan!”
            Doug peered over the man with his night visions settings on his helmet, staring at the trap he had stepped into, still feeling his stomach twisting from the Goblin’s less than gentle punch. “Wan is not here and that is a piranha trap.”
            “A what?” cried the guard.
            “Uhh—” he looked at the razor teeth perfectly connecting to each other over his leg designed to take down a reptilian bodied creature twice the size of a bear “—hhh you’ll be fine! Yeah, no problem!” He turned to leave.
            “You fix this, Doug!” cried the man with a sudden point of his gun. “I know you have magic!”
            “I am trained—a little.” He looked back at the rifle awkwardly. “I’ll go get help.” He took steps before the gun’s hammer was pulled back. “Robert’s a doctor,” he said awkwardly as he turned to face him.
            “Robert’s a medic!”
            “That’s close, right?” Doug replied with an uncomfortable shrug.
            “Don’t you leave me, you some bitch! Now cast your goddamn restoration spell and fix my foot!”
            “I’m sure you’ll be—” he looked down at the explosion-like mess of his lower leg and almost vomited in his helmet “—just fine!” he gasped. He looked down at the barrel and saw that it was shaking. “Please don’t shoot me. I have a family.”
            “Really?”
            “Yeah, an ungrateful brat and a cheating wife.”
            “That should make you accept death rather easily,” he replied.
            “Well, I am getting a divorce—” The gun pointed more firmly at his chest and Doug opted to wait to the man bled out. It was shaking a little so how long could he last.

*          *          *

            Veyd watched at least thirteen men die in various ways over the next hour.
            One stepped in a pit trap with a holographic top and went falling to his death shrieking like a girl. She used her devastator laser, set it for a pit shape, and shot down a few times to give about six feet and put a few blades down there.
            A half dozen piranha traps did the job, severing legs in one bite and causing people to bleed to death, as the Goblin and his other people did not nothing to help. They were remarkably unorganized and individualistic. They did not care for an instant about anyone else and abandoned anyone who fell and went about their own way into the dark.
            Lasers shooting up out of the ground hidden under the dirt was another one impaling them up though the legs or right between. She could several more that way.
            She could easily move herself, DNA connected along with Emma Roster to keep the traps from harming either of them, and she could see them glowing gold through her goggles.
            Thirteen were killed by her traps, five were killed by lasers, but others were killed by a different source.
            One of them was set on fire. Veyd had no traps for that nor did she have it for electricity, ice, or acid: elementalistic magic from some other source. Its source was utterly unexpected and it’s source utterly unknown.
            It was so intense that first hit that it set one of the giant corn stalks ablaze and it burst out in giant popcorn in a flash fire. Most of the giant popcorns were bad, all black and rotting, due to the curse but they were everywhere and they set off several of the traps.
            Goddamn it, thought Veyd.
            The hours went by, one by one, mercenaries having disappeared into the darkness only to find something, a trap, or gun girl, or that third, only to hear scream out from somewhere to be followed by silence.
            Many abandoned the corn field but most didn’t: Cydra Forne had a good, powerful, grip on their imaginations and they were clearly afraid of whatever she might do to them.
            One of them appeared a corn stalk and Veyd raised her gun and fired at the same time a ball of fire hit him, lit him ablaze, and sent him shrieking through away, spinning around, and then falling over.
            It lit the area like a campfire, turning the night vision from Veyd’s goggles normal, showing Veyd a shadowed figure with fire over her hands.
            “Who are you?” asked the figure with a young woman’s voice.
            “Who are you?” asked Veyd.
            “I asked you first.”
            “I asked you second.”
            The figure hesitated for a second. “We’re both kids, aren’t we?”
            “We are,” said Veyd. The figure seemed at a loss of what to do. “What now?”
            “Well—” the figure shrugged, hands still on fire, and said, “So, did you get the Goblin or is he still wandering around?”
            “I didn’t. Did you?”
            “No but I know he doesn’t know where the girl is.” Veyd rested the gun on her shoulder and stepped into the light. “Did Emily send you?”
            The fire left her hands and she stepped into the light. She was a girl, exactly her age, dark skinned with long, dark curly hair set around a very beautiful face. Her eyes were wide the moment she saw Veyd and Veyd’s eyes went wide the moment she saw hers because she recognized her.
            From where, Veyd could not say, Veyd knew her.
            She was well off, a girl in a rich dark gray turtleneck sweater and a nice black jacket that buttoned up at the chest and black pants with fancy black boots merged with fashion and usability.
            “Okay,” said Veyd. “We’re on the same side so let’s go and, you know, kill the Goblin and figure this out afterward.”
            “Sounds good,” said the girl.

*          *          *

            “Why aren’t you dead?” cried Doug. He was sweating in his armor, the gun barrel shaking as it remained solidly pointing at him.
            “Why haven’t you healed me?”
            “Because I can’t!” he replied. “I wasn’t trained at the Myrias Academy of Magic! I had lessons in the spare time between killing sprees!” The gun was shaking and the man, with his helmet off, was sweating and not pleased. His eyes were bloodshot red, his right leg was covered in blood, and yet he was just strong enough to keep Doug’s life in danger.
            Doug had tried to open up the trap but it was one of those evil sadistic traps that let you start to open it, made a funny “DNA not authorized” voice response and slammed shut again an inch above where it last hit.
            The man shot Doug in the shoulder with his laser gun after that.
            “Look, buddy, I can’t open the damn thing and I can’t heal you! Lower the goddamn gun already.”
            “No.”
            “No? But I can’t heal you!”
            “Yeah,” said a vpoce. “He’s being countermagicked for one and for two the trap won’t open without DNA authorization.”
            “Yes, thank you, wait, wh—” he looked down at a blue blade formed out of the air moving up to his neck below his helmet “—okay then.”
            A gun barrel was pressed up against his wounded comrade’s head and he looked up at a girl in a long sleeved shirt with short, dark straight hair with the gun in her right hand. That was the target, the girl from the bridge whose face and pictures had changed, but the little black girl who had a magically conjured blade in her right hand up against his throat he had never seen before in his life.
            “Two of you now,” said the man on the ground. “Lovely.”
            “Where is Fladd?”
            “I don’t know,” said Doug. “He’s around somewhere.” He was rather disappointed they hadn’t managed to kill the Goblin but then he might not even be able to die. He was attached to the curse and it evidently kept him unharmed.
            “How about you, Limpy?” asked the target girl.
            “You did this to me!”
            “Well you were trying to kill me,” she replied.
            “I will kill you,” he told her. He started to reach into his jacket but stopped when she pressed the gun tighter against his head.
            “Are you an idiot or something?” the girl asked. “I will kill you or at the very least injure even more than you are.”
            “You don’t have the nerve.”
            “I don’t think that’s true,” said Doug quickly. “I don’t think you should—” He finished reaching for something and the girl shot him through the shoulder and arm with one long blue laser.
            “You shot me!” he cried. “You actually shot me!”
            The girl looked at Doug in confusion and he shrugged.
            “Idiots!” hissed the girl with the blade and she jerked the blade against his neck under the helmet. “Lead me to the fucking Goblin or I’ll slit your throat!”
            “If you do that you won’t have anyone to lead you to Goblin,” he replied.
            “Yeah, well, if you don’t lead us to where we want to go we won’t have anyone to do that anyway.”
            “Okay, fair enough. I think he’s probably in the cabin. That’s where you’re girl is anyway and he knows.”
            “Excellent,” said the dark haired girl, a lock of hair hanging straight down over her goggles to her chin.
            “That’s excellent?” Doug suddenly realized something. “Hey,” he said to the other guy, “If anyone asks we claim they were both professional soldiers.”
            “Go fuck yourself.”
            “Fine. Let’s never get laid again. I don’t care.”
            The target laughed, pointed the gun at Doug, and fired. Doug felt a burst of electric shock go through him and he stumbled back, the blade slicing him across the shoulder and fell to the ground. The girl shot him a couple more times and he shook on the ground.
            “That was fun,” said the target.
            “No more bullshit!” said the other. “I want that green piece of shit dead before the sun comes up!”
            They turned and went rushing off through the forest, the target moving ahead no doubt to block any traps for the black girl magician girl who was following her.
            “I’ll get up before they come back,” he said weakly and then he saw a man appear above him in the blue color of the Rosters. “Shhhhhhhit!” He tried to get up but the man’s hands came down, grabbed him, and yanked him up.
            “Take this idiot and the other one,” said the man to other men he became aware that were around him, dozens of them. “Amberwood sent the location of her traps so make sure to look through your damn visors.”

*          *          *

            The front door to the old cabin opened with a creek.
            It was simply old living quarters for the caretaker of the giant cornfield before the larger series of houses were made down at the edge of town to accommodate the larger number of needed caretakers. No one lived in there anymore and it was used mostly as a large toolshed and occasionally make out place for the teenage children of the caretakers.
            The Goblin had found the girl wasn’t where Amberwood’s cellphone had led him too and spent the next several hours cracking through the system. He found the real location of the girl in the cabin, which he should have guessed as the best hiding place for her, and went the various corpses of his men to find it.
            He shut the door behind himself as he entered and listened to the sound of weeping.
            He pulled out his curved blade in his right hand, took off his helmet, dropped it to the ground, and started toward the closet door.
            “Stupid twat,” he said as he walked toward the door.
            It was time for vengeance. It was time to rob the son of Frederick Roster the granddaughter he loved as Frederick denied him his granddaughter who was the love of the Goblin’s life.
            A granddaughter for a granddaughter: fair trade.
            Danene was lost and so would Emma. The Rosters would know his pain, know their wrong, know it all and know it well when they found the girl’s face without her head on their doorstep.
            He opened the closet door and he saw her crouched there but he knew was wrong the instant he saw it. She was not looking at him, barely awake, her eyes staring at the door passed him. It wasn’t that she was unafraid, it was that she literally did not see him, and she looked weird crouched there with one hand on the wall for support.
            “What is this?” he asked her.
            She did not answer.
            “Look at me.”
            She did not.
            The Goblin reached for and his hand went through her, flickering the image of a holographic project. The voice of Doug went through his head once repeating, I think she might be smarter than us, and then he saw the lights flashing all around him.
            “No!” he shrieked. “No, no, no!” He dropped his blade, pulled out his pistol, and spun around just in time to feel the shotgun blast him in the chest. He stumbled into the closet, fired, hit the man in the doorway, but the light blinded him and he could see no more.
            He jerked forward, his wounds healing even as he ran, and he felt bullets go across his legs. Green blood splattered the floor and he screamed, stumbled, hit the wall, and stumbled out.
            A small army of men fired into him with fully automatics. He had raised his gun, fired at one of the dozen plus men, and then bullets and lasers went him.
            Pieces of him went flying, blood splattered everywhere, and he felt his right arm go flying off his shoulder. His legs were soon cut out from under him and he fell to the floor. The bullets still coming and, even though he could not die, he could be knocked unconscious.
            And soon he was with one bullet right through the brain.

*          *          *

            “Lock him down and get Jimmy a medic!” cried the captain.
            “Good gods, you really gave it to him,” said Veyd. “I mean you did not hold back!” They slammed brutal locks on his neck and the base of his limbs which were, even then, regenerating right before Veyd’s eyes. They all had chains connected at the back which would hold him tightly when his limbs grew back.
            She felt a hand on her shoulder and looked up at the captain of the guards, a powerful man well into his later years, his very curly buzz length hair completely white, looking down at her. “You did good, kid.”
            “Good gods, look at that thing,” she told him. His limbs were already regenerated as he was dragged into the airship that soon landed in a burst of light. When he was thrown over, he was awake again, and he looked right at her.
            “I’m coming for you, little girl,” he told her in a creepy, high pitched voice and then smiled. “You’re not going to like what happens when I find you.”
            “I might be dead of old age before you get out of wherever they send you,” she told him.
            “Or you might just be old,” he said and then his smile darkened to something sinister. Handcuffs went behind his backs and ankles connecting to the chains already there.
            “Do what you want. You’ll still never get Danene.” His eyes darkened with earnest hate as the door shut and blocked the sight between them.
            “Tell me you’re going to really hurt him.”
            “Oh we’re going to really hurt him.”
            “Awesome.” She turned to him. “I guess we better, you know, go get Emma.”
            “One would think,” he replied.
            “Commanding officers just don’t have the kind of sense of humor a girl can run with,” she told him but to that he actually smiled.

*          *          *

            Emma squeaked happily at the sight of the magician girl. “Cousin Danica!” she cried as Veyd helped her down from the a mostly empty corn stalk husk she hid in her. She threw herself at her, wrapped her arms around her, and hugged her tightly.
            Veyd was staring at her with a dumbstruck expression. Danica Pare: the black apprentice of Allayne Forne? She sure as shit seems like her.
            Danica’s eyes narrowed. “Go with the commander,” she told her. “I need a talk with our friend her.”
            Emma hugged Veyd tightly once then went off with the commander who had several guards flanking her.
            “That was so much harder than it should have been,” Veyd told her. “I mean, it used to be if you saved a girl you could just take her home and everything would be great but the Goblin really complicated the whole—”
            She was spun around and Danica was staring at her intensely. “Who are you?”
            Veyd looked around, pressed a jamming button on her cellphone, and said, “You are Danica Pare, aren’t you?”
            “Yeah,” she said and then her eyes nodded. “Who are you?”
            Veyd grinned. “It’s not obvious? I’m almost exactly the same.”
            “Veyd?”
            “Holy shit, how did you jump to that?” Veyd had planned on keeping her in suspense for a while.
            “You were reaching the point of annoying that only he was ever capable of.” Her lips curled up into a smile and she took her face in her hands. “Alan, you’re a girl.”
            “I know!” she replied with wide eyes. “It’s been a blast!”
            “You woke up just like me earlier this year, didn’t you?”
            “Yeah,” she told her. “Any of the others around?”
            “No. I thought I was alone.” Danica wrapped her arms around her tightly. “I’ve missed you, you goofy whack job.”
            “Really? We only met that one time.”
            She made an “uh-huh” sound of agreement.
            “Cool.” It was Veyd’s adventures looking for Princess Lilia’s body where she met her strange friends, Danica among them. The rest of their lives had been spent relaying message through prison.
            She had been murdered by the queen’s agents trying to get another piece of the princess’s body before Alan Veyd had been released. That piece had been destroyed by the Gray Queen shortly afterward.
            She was poisoned and died very slowly, a woman around the same age as Alan Veyd and was in fact a fellow apprentice a few years ahead.
            Danica had been instrumental in Veyd’s research in the pillar of Calyne and had become a close friend of the Rosters and Lanors. At the time of her death she was the Roster’s family magician and a close confident of their affairs.
            “Goddamn Veyd, you are so pretty and cute. Well, you know, for a white girl.”
            Veyd laughed and the two threw an arm over their shoulder and started walking. “We should party like the old days,” Veyd told her.
            “My grandmother would kill me if I tried it,” she told her.
            “Your grandmother?”
            “I’m one of the Lanor girls now so I’m actually family.”
            “That’s cool. I’m an orphan from nowhere just like last time. Lame.”
            They began to chat as they walked, grinning at each other already back into their old state of mind, when they bumped into the commander.
            “Your grandmother wants to speak to you about how you headed off ahead of her army,” said the commander.
            Veyd whispered something into her ear. She grinned and said, “As a magician I felt it was my duty to disable any magical spells or traps meant to catch you or your men off guard.”
            He frowned at her for a second then turned to Veyd. “You are expected as well, Miss Amberwood.”
            “You got it, Commander.”

*          *          *

            “So, are you in trouble?” asked Veyd as they were sitting down on the long, dark red couch.
            “Oh yeah,” Danica replied. “Gran-Gran is super pissed at me. Grounded until spring.”
            Veyd laughed. “Grounded.” She shook her head. “We really are kids again.”
            It had been several hours at that point and dawn was slowly crossing the world. Veyd was surprised at how long the entire process had been and by then had managed to get her vehicle parked and ready, got all the remaining traps were being collected by professionals who were giving the codes to get into them, and had a room ready and waiting for her.
            “Worth it?” asked Veyd.
            “Oh yeah.” They fist bumped. “So you’re like a girl now. An inept male in a cute little female body with no idea what to do with it.” She pulled a lock of dark hair out from over one light blue eye.
            “I don’t know what you’re getting it but it is successfully creeping me out.”
            She grinned and moved her own hair back behind her ears.
            “Whatever, we got the Goblin and you got Emma Roster. It is good. Everything is good.” She shrugged. “No problem.”

*          *          *

            There was a big problem.
            Emily Roster was an intelligent, cunning woman who did not see through Veyd exactly but understood that there was much more about than meets the eyes about her and the friendship with Danica was something she clearly thought worth exploring since Danica was a girl who did not easily make friends. Veyd and the few other friends during that short time were the only friends she ever had except maybe Allayne Forne.
            “Hi there,” said Veyd as she curtsied awkwardly in front of her as soon as the lady had appeared. “I’m Alice Amberwood.”
            “I am Lady Emily Lanor Roster de Odwyne of Calyne.”
            She was still rather attractive, her hair a solid gray, elegantly braided behind her head while framing a beautiful dark face with few lines for her age and a body that was athletic and appeared much younger than it was. She wore casual aristocratic apparel, yellow colored which was evidently her favorite color, reaching down to her ankles in something like strips, her arms bare past her short sleeves.
            Veyd recalled that strip-style dress was the style of dress fifty years or so ago.
            “Danica,” she said and Danica looked up at her. “You seem awful friendly with this stranger.”
            “It’s the kind of friendship that comes naturally from one unrepentant troublemaker to another,” said Veyd.
            Emily Roster frowned at her for a second, not in a mean or hateful way but a thoughtful one, and said, “My nephew is coming right away. He wants to thank you. You were asking for money, I think?”
            “No, that was just something I was using to test the speaker to see his reaction. I think I already knew, though.”
            “Did you truly?”
            “He was too accommodating. He sounded like a bootlicker or a sycophant. Even if you nephew would give me everything I wanted without question he would haven’t sounded like that. It just wasn’t in his character.”
            Lady Emily smiled at her. “Have you considered going to court?” she asked. “The higher Donanian lords are white. You could go far with your race, beauty and brain if you had an aristocratic backer.”
            Veyd understood what she was getting at easily enough. Queen Elliah had done the trick herself backing up various beautiful girls from low but sympathetic families to be her eyes and ears in the Gray Queen’s court. It went on for quite a while having started before Alan Veyd’s arrest and by the time Jessica Veyd was standing there it was quite possible several of their granddaughters were playing the very same part in that court.
            The race thing was simply the acknowledgement of many of the great lords, dukes and earls, were themselves white and preferred white courtesans although there were a fair number of oriental and black lords worth noting.
            Emily touched Veyd’s face for a moment, examining it, then took her wrists and held her thumb over her pulse. Veyd knew what she was doing instantly, reading her pulse, checking to see if she was going to lie.
            “Military?”
            “Thirty-seven year veteran of the Doranian special forces. One of the few ways to avoid extreme taxation for my immediate and extended family.” She looked into her eyes. “Who are you?”
            Veyd blinked and tried to explain herself. “I am Alice Amberwood—” Emily’s eyes narrowed “—right now.”
            “Clever but you’re not an idiot and you can’t fool yourself any better than you can fool me. Who are you really?”
            “Why?” she asked.
            “My nephew is impressed with you but I am alarmed. I’ve never met a thirteen year old girl who could do what you did on that bridge and that cornfield except for Danica who is no ordinary thirteen year old girl.”
            “No she is not,” said Veyd and turned to Danica. “Can you help me out here?”
            “Emily Roster is far more formidable than you might think,” she told her.
            “Well since you seem to know, Danica, why don’t you tell me?” asked Emily.
            “It’s not place to say.”
            “It is very much your place to say, Danica.”
            Veyd looked up at Emily for a long time before she said, “She was your mother. Danene Lanor Roster.” Veyd had not, at any point in time, wanted to involve herself with the Rosters. She wanted to sneak in, break the pillar, and disappear to the next and without anyone knowing.
            But standing in front of Danene Roster’s daughter she realized that was impossible and Danica’s appearance made things equally weird. There were many forces around the pillar and maybe sneaking in and breaking it like she had almost done with Lilia would never really be an option again.
            The Gray Queen was on high alert after that near destruction and it would be forever. She had guardians now, the Goblin being Calyne, but there were others: the Gorgon, the Lich, the Creature or whatever that was.
            And that meant would need all the friends and allies she could get.
            “Who are you really and why do you care about my mother?” she asked her.
            Veyd looked at her, shrugged, and said, “Let go of my wrists, we’ll to go a private room with Danica if you want, and I’ll tell you mostly everything.”
            Sometimes you just got to pull the chute and coordinate the fall, thought Veyd. A woman like Emily Roster was going to find out the truth sooner rather than later and it wasn’t the worst thing in the world that she should know it. It wasn’t going to end well if she chose to fight her and Danica would eventually give it up since she was family and had no reason other than politeness not to do so.
            “Okay,” said Emily and she pulled out the ear piece that was hidden there. She held out her hand and Veyd took it and they went into a small room in one of the corners of the tower with a window that, somewhat disturbingly, went down along the ground in a kind artistic angular shape to show a diagonal view to the countryside below which was by then turning a misty blue. It took up eighty percent of the left wall and Veyd sat in one chair on one side and Emily on the other.
            Danica moved up behind her and patted her on the shoulder a few times before wrapped her arms around her and hugging her.
            “I’ve never seen Danica so close to anyone,” she replied.
            “We’ve known each other a long time,” said Veyd and felt herself countermagicked. “You bitch.”
            Danica grinned. “It’s just policy,” she told her. “You couldn’t cast anything at Emily without her snapping your neck like a twig if you tried but it’s better if we follow the rules.”
            “Want something to drink?” asked Emily.
            “What kind of booze you have?”
            “Want something to drink?” she asked again.
            “I’ll take a cola.”
            “I’ll take one too,” said Danica.
            She smiled in a way that didn’t touch her eyes, pressed a button on the table, and said, “Bring in a couple cans of Blue Cola for my guest,” she said. It came in moments later and Veyd popped open the top before the man was even gone.
            “Now,” said Emily. “Who are you?”
            Veyd leaned back, took a deep drink, and said, “You would last have seen me as a man named Alan Veyd.”
            She looked into Veyd’s eyes, her face revealing nothing. “Explain.”
            “I used to be Alan Veyd and now I’m Alice Amberwood.” Veyd shrugged. “Just like Danica, I woke up in my new body.”
            Emily leaned forward and said, “Tell me everything.”
            Veyd looked up and shrugged. “Okay,” she said, “But you won’t like it.”

*          *          *

            Emily burst out laughing.
            “Why is this funny?” asked Veyd. “It’s a very serious, somber situation.”
            “Because you’re such a cute little girl!” she cried. “Look at your cute little face! You’re going be gorgeous!”
            Danica was grinning at her. “Oh you’re no help,” Veyd told her.
            “You know,” said Emily, “I always knew the queen had a backer but I never knew how devoted that backer was until Danica came around.” She looked down at the ships in the harbor glowing with yellow lights. “I remember how she publically humiliated you.”
            “It was my idea and it worked, didn’t it? I was like a ninja! No one expected me, not even you, the great Lady Emily Lanor Roster.” Veyd laughed. “Of course, it backfired a bit, because Archibald Brotain didn’t suspect me either.”
            “He was never the brightest star in the sky,” said Danica.
            “It seems I bet on a lame horse with that one,” said Veyd. “The promises connected to him were insane, I was prophesized to father the Daughter of Doran and just explode into the upper class but Archibald had other plans. Oh well.”
            “The Daughter of Doran…” whispered Danica. “Is she here?”
            “I don’t know,” said Veyd honestly. She had thought she was the Daughter of Doran but the changing hair and eye color, the ones that made her look foreign, made her think differently. “I just don’t know.”
            “Look at you now though,” said Emily as she looked back at her. “You’re all pretty and cute.” She smiled. “I think you deserve to be pretty and happy. What’s it like changing gender?”
            “You know, it’s funny. I thought I was a man in a girl’s body but as time goes on I start to think of myself as a girl with a man’s memories. The memories feel—artificial almost. Not quite but I sense they’re off somehow. I’m not completely immune to the natural order of magic. It’s like they’re copies of my memories in my new body or something. When I’m not thinking about it I want to play and sing and dress up and be a girl.”
            “I got that too,” said Danica. “At first all you know is who you were and then the new memories and feelings are stronger. I’m more Danica Lanor now than I ever was Danica Pare.”
            “Using the old bloodline name, eh?” said Veyd. “So feminine.”
            “You know you’re a girl now too, Jessica,” said Danica.
            “I’m enjoying it so far,” Veyd replied.
            “You will dine with the family tonight,” said Emily. “Do you have a dress?”
            “I used to have a teal one but it vanished along my best pair of girly shoes. It’s really weird.” No one had any opportunity to steal it, it just simply vanished out of the damn motorcycle one day, and she had no idea how. “I do have a blue one. I think it will match my new eye color.”
            “Good,” she said and then her face hardened. “What is it about my mother that’s got your interest?”
            Veyd blinked. “I think we got to keep our memories for a reason that is divine in nature. There’s something else too that I can’t quite explain.” Veyd looked into her eyes and, for a moment, allowed Talia’s light to go through her eyes. The older woman’s eyes went wide at the sight of Veyd’s eyeballs glowing like two suns taking a second to cover her own eyes from the light. “That is a very high level of clerical power.”
            “Do you know what it means?”               
            “I think it means the curse is sick and perhaps the Goddess Talia means to put it out of its misery like it should have been sixty years ago. I also think Danica is part of it, maybe part of this part of the curse.” She licked her lips. “I think she’s your Daughter of Doran, maybe a champion of Calyne, which is why she’s one of you.”
            Emily looked at her for a long moment before she asked one word. “Why you?”
            “I’ve never told anyone that story,” Veyd replied. “I will tell you it one day when it’s over. I’ll be able to remember it no matter what because it had happened before I was thirteen.”
            “You never told the story on how you became a high priestess either,” Danica replied.
            “That’s because I never have,” Veyd told her. “I was trained as a kid when I was Alan Veyd but never got over level three which is, as you probably know, the most divine magic a human can muster on their own level of divinity. That shit with the eyeballs was at least twelve, maybe the chaos level of thirteen.” Veyd was deeply disturbed by the idea of going of higher and having Talia herself grant her powers and did not want to think about it.
            It was something to do with that Honovan maybe but most likely that girl, the first girl she never spoke about, from half a century ago…
            “Dining with the family, you say,” Veyd said quickly before that thought formed.
            “Yes.”
            “Sweet.”
            Veyd stood up and looked at her. “May I go to my room? I’m tired.”
            “Yes. Danica, go with her.”
            The two stepped out of the room walking down the dark walled palace. “You like soul food?” asked Danica.
            “I love soul food.”
            “You know what you’re not going to love?” she asked.
            “What?”
            “Me dressing you up like a doll because you have no idea what you’re doing!” Veyd felt chronolation hit her, let out a scream as she was yanked into a room full of female things everywhere, and was surprised to see that Emma was there clapping wildly.
            “Makeover!” cried Emma happily.
            “You monster!” hissed Veyd utterly unable to move.
            “Makeover!” cried Emma again.
            “You two are just a pair of little—” the door shut cutting off her voice from the outside.
            “This is going to be so much fun!” cried Danica with a laugh.

 


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