The Two Kingdoms - Chapter 5

Word spread rapidly that the next generation of Defender Cultivators had been found. The entire galaxy seemed to get tipped on its ear over the fact that the Defenders were in fact the Crown Princesses, but with Claret's presence and Duals having existed before in other galaxies, eventually everyone just threw their hands in the air and gave up trying to second guess events. The kingdoms had considered keeping their identities secret, but that would be impossible to do in the long run; who wouldn't guess why the princesses were never seen with their Defenders?

Training started immediately with the Elder Defenders working with their charge to teach them everything they needed to know in order to use their magic in battle as well the physical skills they may need. Some, as was common, took to the physical combat better than others. Veronica, Asheria, Arista, and then Julianna ranked at the top of the list for their generation; again, not uncommon. The Lead Defender would always be strongest. Suspicion over the possibility of future princesses meant that neither Melissa nor Krysta felt any surprise to see Asheria and Arista following right behind Veronica in skill; twins usually followed Leads, unless one happened to be Lead, such as in Tessa's case.

However, only a bare select few people even knew about the potential future princesses. And with how busy things rapidly got, there became no time for a big meeting to get everyone on the same page. Matthew and Quint left in June of that year, Year 8, in order to return to Celia so that Matthew could finally Activate the dormant Seed inside his younger sister. She had finally turned twenty-five and could rule. She could have been Activated at any age, but the process could so greatly weaken the person Activating her that they had put it off as long as possible. Quint went along to ensure that Matthew had someone to protect him during that weakness, and they left behind their accepting and yet surprisingly cranky wives.

A month ticked by, and confusion mounted among the Elder Cultivators of both Defender and Ruler status as both Hannah and Genevieve became unusually hormonal. Hannah had never been the even-tempered type—Light elements ran hot—but she hit a new level entirely. Genevieve, known for her patience and self-control, seemed even more out of sorts.

During a playdate for the young Cultivators at Protea Kingdom, Sara watched Hannah snipe at nearly everyone and finally demanded in sheer exasperation, "What is wrong with you, Hanny?"

Kacey looked up from where she had been shooting marbles with Robert and said in mutual exasperation, "She's going to have a baby!" As the room came to a screeching halt and all eyes turned to her, she pointed at Genevieve. "Her, too!"

Sandra cleared the room in nearly a single bound to grab Hannah's shoulders and search her with magic. The answer came a bit blindingly, though she had not doubted Kacey's ability to sense the new life even at range. "Oh my goddess," she managed to say a bit weakly. "Hannah's pregnant." She grabbed Genevieve's arm and felt the same wild pulse. "Gen definitely is too." She evaluated both and the development of life inside them. "Assuming the normal route of Delphinium always late and Protea always early, Hannah should deliver in November and Genevieve in December. Evan and Robert will share their birthday months."

Both princes brightened and looked utterly delighted by the news. Evan, however, was the only one who did not feel surprised. Neither did Arista, Asheria, or even Melissa and Krysta. The latter admitted, "I had suspected this might be what was going on. A black protea blossomed on Hyacinth's palace grounds."

"At least that explains the hormones," Amanda groused.

"She didn't ground you," Robert groused back.

Genevieve and Hannah stared at each other and then mutually sighed. Genevieve spotted Liena in the doorway and demanded of her, "Did you know?"

Liena cocked a brow. "Of course." She leaned against the frame of the door and smiled. "I am the High Priestess," she reminded her queen gently. "I sensed the new life almost as soon as it formed. And I had seen it would happen, so it did not surprise me. You both carry daughters. The lineage shall be safely passed along through their bloodline."

A bolt of sheer terror swiftly went through Genevieve and her hands clutched at her still flat belly as if to protect the sleeping child inside. She immediately had Tessa's arms going around her, and she clung onto her twin with all her strength. Perhaps it would not be her granddaughter after all. Perhaps her coming daughter would be the one. She could not dismiss the possibility, not with all the other unusual events.

Messages were immediately dispatched to Celia to alert the kings as to their coming daughters. A message from Celia's king came back in return, to cheer the addition of new granddaughters to his family, but he warned that Matthew may not be fit to travel for another few months. The process had taken more out of him than anticipated.

Months ticked by without word from Celia, and the queens' pregnancies advanced. A few days before Robert's sixth birthday, almost two weeks late, Hannah went into labor. Liena tended to her personally with Sandra as an aide, and Sara remained steadfastly by her twin soul's side. The baby born that day looked as much like her mother as she did her brother, possessing familiar white hair and light gold eyes, and a creamy skin complexion. Within a few minutes of her birth, the Flower Mark of Delphinium appeared over her heart, which surprised none.

What did surprise everyone was that Robert's Flower Mark did not fade into the familiar outline of a Deactivated Ruler. Both brother and sister stood as Activated Ruler Cultivators, meaning both possessed the full potency of their lineage. It was highly unusual for any world; no generation ever had two Activated heirs at the same time. A Ruler who Activated another would effectively Deactivate their own Seed, hence the utter weakness they could suffer. Yet both Delphinium children had fully Activated Seeds of their own.

Moreover, the new princess had something else entirely to her Flower Mark. Wrapped around the center of the blossom was a pure white crown. It radiated such heat and light that it nearly seared the air. Her entire body brimmed over with untapped magical potential. Liena handed the newborn to Hannah and said, "You have birthed an ultimate being, Hannah."

"The Apex of Light." Hannah looked down at her daughter and felt nothing except overwhelming love and a bit of grief. She would never have asked this fate to have befallen her child, or Genevieve's child. Her suspicions of before had gelled into certainty as soon as she had learned she was pregnant. Knowing what would come, however, had not prepared her for the reality. "Her name is Sayena."

"Lovely." Sara pressed a kiss to Hannah's sweaty forehead. "Well done, you. Should I get the little ones? Robert has been anxious to meet his baby sister, and Asheria has certainly been affixed to your side the whole time."

Hannah smiled up at her. "Please do, though I don't think it will be a new meeting. Robert and Ashe alike would talk to Sayena, and I would swear she could hear them. If she was restless, they calmed her."

Sara left the room for a few minutes and then returned shortly with the four Dual Cultivators of the Light planets as well as Robert. The prince immediately climbed up onto the bed beside his mother, and sheer wonder filled his eyes at seeing his baby sister. He knew her. Somehow he knew her. He had missed her, too. He didn't question the strange oddity of missing someone he had not met; they had surely met somewhere before that he did not remember. He gently reached out to touch Sayena's hair, and she peered at him sleepily before smiling. "May I hold her?" he asked Hannah eagerly.

"Scoot in, love." Hannah showed him how to hold the newborn and then wrapped her arms around him to help give extra support. He almost did not need it; the utter reverence with how he handled his sister spoke volumes. "Come here, girls," she added to the Cultivators peering over the top of the bed. "Climb up. There's room."

All four clambered up and then scooted in as close as they could without crowding Hannah so that Liena could continue to tend to her. Asheria hovered right at Robert's elbow and fought the urge to demand he share. "She's so cute!" she said to Hannah. "She looks like Quint!"

Indeed, though both Delphinium children had the coloring of their maternal lineage, they had features that more closely resembled their father. Hannah felt well-pleased with how the genetics had fallen; nothing made her happier than to see tiny replicas of the man she loved. He had kept her on her toes for years, and she looked forward to many more.

Robert saw Asheria eyeing him and smiled. "Your turn." He handed over Sayena without fuss and then looked at Julianna solemnly. "Now you have to stop bothering me because Sayena needs you more."

Julianna eyed him. "We'll still bug you. You get into trouble!"

Asheria barely heard them. She had been transfixed by the tiny baby in her arms. Love ached inside her heart and soul until it welled up and overflowed in a never-ending wave. This princess needed her, and Asheria needed her in turn. They shared half a soul, would forever be complete near each other rather than apart. Unlike lover soul mates, twin soul mates could feel their full force and fury of emotion from any age. Perhaps because lover souls also felt desire, and that could only truly come with adulthood. "Just like I saw," she whispered. "I was blessed to be one of the twin souls."

Veronica frowned at Hannah. "Robert deserves a twin too!"

Hannah nodded. "He does, and I believe that one exists. For Evan as well. We are not yet sure how to search for such a person, though. For now, you Dual Cultivators will protect both High Prince and High Princess with the assistance of the Elder Defenders until we can determine our best course of action."

Another month ticked by and Evan prepared for his sixth birthday. Genevieve, near ready to burst at only eight months pregnant, grew more agitated by the day. Knowing she could go into labor too early, even for a Nature element, the Elder Defenders closed in tighter around her. Hannah spent most of her time on Protea to help as well, and Sayena and Robert's presence did, to some extent, help soothe Genevieve. At the least, they soothed her unborn daughter. The baby had a force and will that could be felt in the air around her mother.

No word had come from Celia as to Matthew and Quint's status. They had left only a few weeks before to return to Blossom Field, and not a single bit of communication had been received. Tokala and Claret had their worlds' border patrols on constant lookout for the familiar ship, but nothing had yet been seen. With evil beginning the familiar encroaching once more, tensions ran high as the Defenders waited to be called to battle, potentially to protect their kings' lives.

Liena had spoken to no one of her visions of the kings' future. She had known it would be futile. She simply stayed near to Genevieve as a silent support, ready to deal with whatever fallout may come.

A week following Evan's birthday, the Elder Defenders including Claret, the Dual Cultivators, and the Delphinium Royal Family all visited Protea. Liena had just carried in a tea tray when she stopped dead in her tracks. The tray slipped from her fingers, but Krysta had already been leaping forward. She managed to grab the tray before it hit the ground. She gingerly put it down on the table and then turned back to Liena as others gathered close. No one said a word.

Liena abruptly came back to herself. Her brown eyes looked briefly shocked and then shifted to fierce and determined. "Tessa." She turned toward the Lead Defender. "The kings are in danger! You have to go to them!"

Tessa frowned. "Are you sure? What did you See?"

"Just go," Liena ordered. "As High Priestess, I am ordering you to go. While a Caretaker always knows if their Cultivator is in trouble, a Caretaker cannot be sensed in return unless their mate is a Defender! Rulers don't feel their Caretakers in danger! Genevieve and Hannah won't feel anything until their mates are near death, and it will be too late! You have to go now!"

Tessa nodded sharply. "I'm sure as hell not going to distrust your Sight!" She turned to her partners. "Claret, Krysta, Jessie, Amanda—you're coming with me. Jess, call the Caretakers to meet us to go along; we may need their extra gifts or skills. We will save our kings from anything." She ran for the door, and the four she had commanded stayed right on her heels. Determination burned inside all of them.

"Liena?" Hannah whispered. "What did you See?"

Liena shook her head sharply. "A chance to change something else I had Seen." Her fingers clenched together. "I have to try. I have to try to change destiny."

The others exchanged a quick look. No one, ever, had changed anyone's destiny. Not even their own. Could Liena? Certainly, she had a gift unlike any other.

Genevieve felt a sudden blinding pain radiating from her womb. A familiar pain, if alarmingly more powerful. Terror turned her skin glassy as she grabbed at her belly. "Liena?" she whispered. "Tell me you saw this too."

"To an effect." Liena stepped forward and calmly took command for she knew it was needed. "Hannah, Sandra, I will need you to aid me with Genevieve. Sara and Melissa, take the Dual Cultivators with you to Evan's room for now. Asheria, care of Sayena falls to you." She looked at the remaining Cultivators in the room. "I will call for someone if they are needed."

No one hesitated to do as ordered. The High Priestess of Protea automatically become the one in charge of the kingdom should queen or king be unavailable. On Protea, even Hannah acquiesced to Liena in place of Genevieve or Matthew unless given permission otherwise. Everyone began to move swiftly.

Hannah hurried to Genevieve's side and told Liena, "She's too heavy for any of us to carry. With the additional baby weight, not even Tessa could move her now."

"I am aware." Liena hurried to the door of the drawing room and looked down the hall. Sure enough, a familiar figure stood at the end. "Captain Lieu!" she called. "I need you to help me move Genevieve to her room!"

The Captain of the Royal Knights immediately moved to join her. It was never a hardship for him to be by the lovely priestess' side. "I'm yours to command," he told her simply.

She ignored the double entendre as she pointed at Genevieve. "Carry her and come with me."

Lieu Vanguard calmly lifted Genevieve into his arms and followed Liena through the castle to the queen's grand suite of rooms. He placed Genevieve on her bed and then returned to the hall. After the two other Cultivators had entered the room along with Liena, he shut the door and took up guard. His green eyes narrowed only a bit. Premature birth so soon was not safe for mother or child, even Nature ones, but he knew the odds lay in their favor. All of the galaxy, even the universe, knew what the birth of this child meant.

Genevieve bore the stronger risk of her and her daughter for she would willingly sacrifice her life for her child as needed. Liena would not let her, and neither would Hannah or Sandra. They worked as a team to support Genevieve through the pain-filled hours, unwilling to lose either one of them.

It had been pouring rain outside since early morning in one of Protea's very rare storms, but as the newborn princess took her first breath and let out a terribly annoyed cry, the rain began to cease. A hush fell across the face of Protea as the baby's power spread across the world in an encompassing wave. Liena, unfazed as always, merely took care of the baby while Sandra tended to Genevieve.

Genevieve had slumped against Hannah, but when her daughter was offered, she found the strength to straighten a bit and hold out her arms. The baby she found herself holding had the familiar black hair and pink eyes of her maternal lineage, but, like her brother, had features reminiscent of her father.

She was a surprisingly big baby for being born early! She would never have been born safely if she had gone to term. Unlike most babies, even Sayena, the newborn princess seemed to scorn the fragility that clung to all newly born children. Perhaps an aspect of her Dark core, her Protea lineage, or perhaps even an echo to the warrior nature of both her parents; there was no knowing. And, most significantly of all, the Flower Mark over her heart bore a black crown wrapping about the protea blossom. The Apex of Dark had at last been born as prophesized.

"What's her name?" Hannah asked softly.

"Shanae." Genevieve skimmed a finger down her daughter's cheek and drew sleepy, and cranky, pink eyes her direction. "You little hellion," she murmured. "If I didn’t know better, I’d say you chose this moment to be born on purpose." She took a sudden sharp breath and her head jerked toward the bedroom door.

It banged open to reveal Matthew. He was visibly weak, more than a little bloody, and only stayed on his feet because of Tessa and Laura's support . . . but he lived. His lips trembled as he smiled at his wife. "Sorry I'm late, Gen."

"You're here," she managed to say. "You're alive. That's all I could ask." She fought back the tears burning her eyes as he moved closer. "We make beautiful babies, Matt." As he eased onto the bed beside her, she leaned against his arm. Through the ragged tears in his tunic, she could see the now Deactivated symbol on his chest. An outline where there had once been full color.

Liena could not tell if she wanted to cry or to laugh. Had she thwarted Destiny after all, or had she played into a larger master plan? She could not tell. Had no desire to figure it out. She would only be grateful that she had done whatever it was she had done. If she had kept her mouth shut, had taken the first vision as set in stone—as all were—the kings would have died. Yet . . . perhaps she had not been wrong then, either. Neither Matthew nor Quint had seen their daughters be born, though they would at least see them grow. "You're a mess," she told Matthew finally.

"The entire scene was a mess," Tessa admitted tiredly. "We arrived to find Matt incapable of protecting himself thanks to Seed weakness, and Quint . . . well, I want to give him a damn medal. He was protecting Matt without thought or consequence to himself. He's pretty bloody, too. If we Defenders had been even a minute later . . ."

"You weren't," Hannah told her fiercely. "And that is what matters." She gave Genevieve and Matthew both a kiss and then rushed to her feet. "I need to see my husband!" She dashed out of the room, tears already running down her face. Too many emotional rollercoasters for her liking over the last day. She would probably cry off and on for the next few hours.

Sandra looked at Liena and got a nod. She nodded in turn. "I will leave Matthew to Liena and go patch Quint back together. It won't be the first time," she added in a grumble as she hurried out.

Tessa leaned against Laura as her wife slid an arm around her waist. "We will go get Evan and the other girls, and bring Claret as well. We will put that entire incident behind us, pretend it did not happen. Liena saved the day this time, not us." She smiled at Liena. "You would make a good Defender."

Liena smiled back as she finished healing Matthew. "Only a good one. I would not be great. I'm better suited where I am."

"Hmm, fair enough." Tessa dropped a kiss on Genevieve's head and then left the room with Laura to go find the children as well as their eldest partner. It was time for tradition to carry on, and for Arista to finally meet the twin she had so longed to know.

Matthew took a long breath as he accepted his daughter from Genevieve. The baby looked up at him for long moments and then contentedly snuggled into his arms. Love ached and overflowed inside his heart. "I want her to be like you," he told Genevieve thickly. "I'm asking for such trouble by saying so, but I do. Evan is more like me. I want our daughter to be more like you."

"Shanae," Genevieve told him on a smile. "Her name is Shanae." Her lips trembled as she wavered between laughter and horror. "And you would inflict my personality on her future Caretaker?"

He leaned down to kiss her tenderly as their daughter rested peacefully in his care. "It hasn't done me any harm."

Liena watched the family for a moment and then smiled. "I will spread word of the birth." She left the room to give them privacy and found Lieu still standing loyally in the hall. She told him only, "'tis done. Everything is fine." She started to walk away down the hall, yet was not surprised when he fell into step beside her. "Captain." She turned around and linked her hands together without looking at him. "I am flattered by your attention, but I am not interested."

"Liena." He caught her arm and waited until she reluctantly looked up. "Don't put me off in that way. You must surely know I am in love with you. Please tell me why I don't suit you. Is it the age difference?"

He was ten years her elder, forty-one to her thirty-one. "No." She took a long breath and met his eyes directly. He deserved to know the truth. "Lieu, you are not my soul mate. I have met my soul mate, but I can never be with him. I am not your soul mate."

"No, you're not," he admitted equally, and readily. "I don't have a soul mate, Liena. My soul is . . . not properly developed, I suppose. Most humans without power are that way. We don't get the gift of a soul-deep love. But we can love with all of our heart." He let his fingers tangle in her messy brown braid. "I could make you happy, my priestess. Maybe not to your soul, but at least through your heart. If you cannot have one, let me give you the other. No one will ever love you the way I do."

"Maybe I'm not attracted to you," she countered calmly. "Did you think of that?"

A smile kicked at his lips as his free hand lifted and he lightly flicked a finger over the rapid race of the pulse in her neck. "No." He slid his hand up to cup her cheek. "Let me court you, Liena. You spurn all suitors, but let me be one. I know that we can be happy. If you can't give me your soul, at least give me your heart and body. I will treasure you for all of our days."

She drew a long and ragged breath. Did she have the bravery to try to reach for happiness? Could she settle for less than everything? Was it even fair to Lieu? The years of loneliness caught her as she murmured, "I don't know if I even know how to be happy with someone that way."

He tenderly brushed her lips with his. "I will teach you. I will court you for a century if needed, Liena."

"Alright," she finally conceded. "You may court me. We will see what happens. Now, let me be. I suspect Quint needs my Spiritual Healing gifts. His soul surely took a battering in his effort to be Matt's bodyguard while knowing he risked himself as Hannah's Caretaker. I will not let him bear guilt or lingering nightmares for his decision."

"I will come with you." His tone booked no argument. "I know what happens to spiritual healers, Liena. You will need someone to tend to you when it is done. I wish it to be me."

Healers healed by taking in the ailments of their patient and either mending them, as a physical healer did, or expelling them, as a spiritual healer did. Physical healers such as Sandra or Kacey endured painful bruising proportionate to the severity of the wounds they sought to heal, and the bruising would fade within a few seconds.

A spiritual healer such as Liena would endure violent sickness as her body processed the emotional wounds into something physical that could be removed. It could last many minutes, unfortunately, depending on how terribly their patient suffered. Trying to ease the damage done to Quint's soul by him being forced to decide between two people he held a deep emotional loyalty to would take a terrible toll on Liena.

Liena could only sigh. "Very well, but it will not be pleasant. Come along, and behave yourself."

He hid a smile as he followed her. Sometimes he felt as if she bordered on being both Light and Dark; she certainly showed characteristics of both.

Genevieve had just finished nursing Shanae when she and Matthew heard a knock on the door. They looked up and smiled as Tessa opened the door to let in the four children and Claret. The young Dual Cultivators clustered around the edge of the bed as Evan climbed up to sit beside his mother and father. Claret stayed with her fellow Dual Cultivators, and her lavender eyes looked warm as she smiled at Genevieve. "It's never easy to lose a queen," the Statice Cultivator said, "but it is always easy to love a princess."

"We're loveable sorts," Genevieve agreed on a bit of a grin.

Evan leaned over her arm to look at his baby sister, and wonder filled his pink eyes. She seemed to be watching everything avidly, almost as if she understood the things she looked at. Her eyes would fix on something, study it intently, and then move on. When her eyes fell on her brother, her face wrinkled into a distinct expression of joy.

"This is your baby sister, Evan," Matthew told his son softly. "Her name is Shanae. You must be her tree branches, Evan. She will need you to support her."

"Like Robert and Sayena." Enchanted, he reached out to touch Shanae's hand, and she grabbed onto his finger with a gurgle of happiness. The punch of love he felt for his little sister was staggering but comfortable. He had missed her. How was that possible? How did you miss someone you had never met? She needed him. "Can I hold her, Mother?"

Genevieve handed over Shanae with a smile. Evan had held Sayena frequently enough to know how to handle a newborn. He proved it anew by adjusting his grip perfectly to handle his sister, even though she was quite a bit bigger than her slightly elder counterpart of the Light. Genevieve had wondered if the age difference might make things difficult, but it seemed to have utterly no effect. The love and devotion in Evan's eyes could have been no stronger if they had been twins. She gave it fifteen years—max—before they forgot the difference entirely.

"Us too!" Kacey demanded.

Claret bit back a smile as she helped the three smaller princesses climb up onto the bed. She herself sat at the foot and let the warmth of love for new life banish the eternal echoes of sadness for the queens she had lost. Life ended, and life continued. Such was the way things went in her existence; after millions of years, she had seen much of both. It was one of the reasons she stayed in the Hall of Records more often than not. By staying apart from time, she could protect herself to some extent.

Still, as she looked at Shanae, she felt a surprisingly powerful well of love. More than she had ever felt before in her life. She just knew, somehow, that she had never loved a High Princess the way she would love this one, and she would never love another the same way again. Was that, too, a sign of events to change? She did not know for she did not know her own future. She could only wait and see what would happen.

The other three princesses had scooted close to Evan and Shanae. "She's so cute!" Delilah happily sighed. She looked at Kacey. "We will protect her, right?"


Shanae’s face suddenly clouded up and she began crying loudly, startling her brother and everyone else alike. Genevieve hastily took her back and tried to rock her, but she just did not want to be calmed. Matthew tried to rock her as well, but she wanted him no more than she did her mother. Her cries grew in volume, and she waved her fists in the air. She clearly wanted something.

The pained look on Arista's face at the sight of Shanae's suffering was what finally clued Genevieve in. She had almost forgotten about the little black protea blossom blooming safely beneath the spruce tree in the Hyacinth garden. "Arista, scoot closer."

Arista did as told and found herself unexpectedly handed the crying baby. Shock filled her face, and she hastily shifted her grip to have a better hold. She stared at Shanae wide-eyed, her heart breaking. This most important person in her life was upset, and she couldn't do anything to help. "Don't cry. Genevieve!" She shot a pleading look at her queen and king. "She doesn't like me!"

As if to dispute that very idea, Shanae's tears stopped as suddenly as they had begun, and she stared up at Arista with wide-eyed wonder. She gave a happy gurgle and reached up to pat at Arista's cheek, and the rough and tumble princess stared down at her contented face in surprise. Something, some odd little click inside her soul, seemed to fill her heart with emotion that nearly overwhelmed her. This most important person needed her, and Arista needed her in turn.

Genevieve and Tessa exchanged a smile. They remembered that moment themselves. At the least, it finally made sense why the High Princes had not found a twin soul among the Dual Cultivators. They were not truly the heirs to their worlds for they could not pass along their magic to their future children as more than a flavor of elements. Their sisters, however, would bear the next heirs to the Cores of Light and Dark. That ability to pass along magic made them highly valuable and in more need of protection, the likes of which only Defender Cultivators could provide.

Still, that did not mean the boys didn't need guardians of their own. The Defenders would always protect them, but they needed guardians dedicated only to their defense. This incident with Matthew and Quint had proven that more than a bit painfully. It had genuinely never occurred to anyone that the kings may need separate guards, for it so rarely happened they went somewhere their queens—and therefore the Defenders—did not. The two High Princes would be at even more risk, for their sisters needed the Defender Cultivators more. If the princesses went one place, and the princes another, then either the boys would be unprotected or the defenses across all four would be minimized by a double split team of Defenders.

Too, the princes deserved the same powerful love that their sisters would receive from the Defenders. They were still children of Protea and Delphinium, and Cultivators of that lineage always needed to be loved with a force not usually found in others. Perhaps because the lineages descended from Destiny and Love themselves—there was no knowing for sure. Once things finally settled down, the search would have to begin.

In the meantime, Genevieve leaned against Matthew and savored the feel of his arms around her. It had been far too close a call. Quint was not the only who deserved a medal. Liena, truly, did as well. She had somehow done the impossible, and she had ensured the younger High Rulers would never suffer only having one parent. That, too, came as highly unusual among Cultivators. And as odd as the times had already become, that was one change that neither Genevieve nor Matthew ever wanted to see.

* * * * *

Orion went looking for Shanta as he felt her pain churning inside his soul. It had been too close for anyone's taste. He had seen it too late for anyone in the Realm to even consider stopping the events. No one in their plane had predicted how things would fall; only Liena's vision had given anyone warning, and only Liena's subsequent one had prevented a tragedy. He half wanted to give her a medal himself.

Instead, he sought his wife to give her comfort. Far, far too many millennia had passed for Shanta to easily handle the arrival of her long-awaited heir. Of course, she wouldn't say a single word about it. Her Dark core meant she preferred to take in the pain of others rather than share her own.

He found her sitting on a bench in their garden and staring sightlessly up at the sky. Tears poured down her cheeks. He sat next to her without a word and pulled her into his arms. She turned to cling onto him, and her tears soaked his shirt as the sobs began to tear out of her against her will. He said nothing while he held her. He knew the value of purging emotions held inside for far too long. It was grief for what would happen, fury for what had happened, and a strong dose of fear for what would happen after it all ended.

He could only hope that Shanae didn’t also inherit Shanta’s single-minded determination to keep all her pain to herself. Goddess help her soul mate if she did. From first-hand experience, he knew it wasn’t an easy role to have. Yet as Shanta lifted her head to give him a look of indignation that he wouldn't let her cry alone, he knew that he would want no other task than to be the one who gave her a shoulder to rest upon.

©Stacy J. Garrett. Do not reprint or redistribute without permission.

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