Tuesday, June 29, 2010

A Budding Leaf: Chapter 1: On The Morning


As in the Days of Old
When Established are the Firsts
When Mantles are worn in Honor
Of an Ageless, Endless, Birth

When Sinister comes walking
Again to wield his Knife
Faceless, always Changing
Never given Birth

Orethyn has Covenanted
A Promise to end Grief
When Again the Darkness Gathers
Truth would plant a Seed
A mighty Gift is Woven,
To End what never Ends
That Man might live Forever
Chaos must be Freed…

…And Three will see it Through,
The Budding Gardener to Harbor Hope
The Tempest Guardian to Guide her
His Lost Seraph to Ensure the Hope
Never to Deny her.

Only Three, will see it Through.

Chapter One
On The Morning

Leaf sat up abruptly with eyes wide, breath short and staring blankly. A small sigh escaped her rosy lips, unnoticed. Shaking her head to clear it, Leaf looked around in confusion. She thought she could still smell the blood. Her quiet voice sounded too loud in her sleepy ears.

“Was I dreaming? I can almost remember…” She screwed up her face in concentration; the rusty scent disappearing as though it’d never been. “Nope. It’s gone.” Shivering, she glanced out the open window, gauging the hour by the amount of light there was already.

“Well that’s fine! If I don’t hurry to the kitchens I might not get breakfast upon the fury of Nora.”

At that, the ten year-old red-head jumped out of bed and pulled a simple dress on over her under-gown. Taking a brief glance in the mirror, Leaf made certain her short hair wasn’t sticking up in back by means of a quick application from the contents of her water basin. She hobbled awkwardly out the door of her small but charming bedroom.

One shoe on and the other in progress, Leaf nearly fell flat on her face while trying to hop-skip as quickly as she could to the hall. Finally getting both feet in their prospective shoes, she sped by a liveried servant who was polishing a suit of armor in the hall. The man smiled knowingly and Leaf recognized the familiar hump on the left shoulder in her haste.

Good old Robert. He'd covered for her absences often enough when she took a hankering to explore the old passages and corridors of the declining castle. He’d said she reminded him of his granddaughter, Enilla. That would have been fine except for one thing…
Enilla was only four years old.

“Slept in again, young miss? If you hurry you may yet beat her there.”
Already passing him, she waved her thanks while flashing an impish grin over her shoulder. Leaf continued her forty-yard dash down the drafty hall of the castle.

She was very small for her age, though quite solid, and to her own grief was often mistaken for a younger child. However, when the need arose, she could put a surprising turn of speed in her small figure. On top of that, her size came in handy when she went exploring. Leaf just couldn’t figure out why she was so short compared to everyone else…
She returned the well-worn thought to its nook for another time.

Flipping aside a large, and particularly ugly tapestry, Leaf took the hidden stairs two at a time trying to make up for lost minutes. The heavy cloth depicted the scene of some obscure and outrageously muscled lord bearing a large slain boar across his shoulders. She supposed whoever had chosen the revolting tapestry had wanted to make certain no one looked too closely.

She was lucky to have found her secret stair at all. It’d been pure chance, tripping on the runner in the hall that day and nearly breaking her fool neck on the stairs revealed by her tumble. All for the best though. It’d certainly gotten her out of no few scrapes since then.

Leaf listened carefully at the base of the hidden stair, determining by sheer practice and sharp ears that the coast was clear. Upon her arrival from behind a swing-hinged cabinet in the kitchens, she observed a commotion at the back door leading to the gardens. She heard Nora’s familiar booming voice well before she saw the Chief Cook’s considerable backside making its way into the kitchen. She waved her notorious stirring-spoon like a switch as she yelled at someone outside. Leaf couldn’t help but overhear what all the fuss was about.

“…And don’t let me catch that young rag-a-muffin anywhere near my kitchens again!” the large woman bellowed. “Do you hear, Master Jonah? I’ll not stand for any fool running amuck in my kitchens, and with dirt on his shoes, the young scalawag!” she sounded positively scandalized.

A man’s patient voice was heard from outside. “Yes, ma’am. It won’t happen again, I assure you. Young Temy didn’t mean any harm; he’s new, see. He just got a little excited about his first delivery of vegetables, Mistress Nora. We’re very sorry…”

That would be Jonah, her friend, the Chief of Grounds: just a fancy name for a gifted gardener. Jonah had no need for impressive titles. He did what he loved best and that was all that mattered to him.

Leaf patted her face with a kerchief and stuffed it back up her sleeve. More beads popped out immediately. Not my fault. Those twin ovens roaring made the ill-ventilated kitchen something about a degree or two above sweltering. She was trying her best to pretend as if she hadn’t just dashed in when Nora turned forcefully around and eyed her up and down.

The fierce cook must have seen something of a guilty look on her face, because she began waving her spoon all over again.

“Late again I see! Never can count on good help these days; no one has enough brains to fill a pea pod around here. Wash up! Breakfast serves no one without hands. Hurry up, girl! I need you yesterday- lots to do!”

“Yes, ma’am!” Leaf flashed her most impudent grin and Nora quickly swung her infamous spoon towards the girl’s bottom, missing only by a blessed hair. Leaf just laughed and skipped quickly off. Nora sighed with exaggerated exasperation and went back to her stew pot; but not before Leaf caught sight of a merry twinkle in the lively old woman’s eye. Nora was definitely more bark than bite- though the girl’s backside had born testament to the fury of that wooden spoon whenever she happened to cross the invisible line.

Leaf busied herself by rolling up her sleeves and eating her oatmeal as fast as she could swallow and get the wooden spoon back into the bowl for more. So absorbed in her food, she couldn’t help but jump when Nora’s booming voice rose just behind her.

“You can start by dumping the refuse, girl!”
Leaf saluted smartly, leaving the bowl in the deft hands of Susan- who was on dish-duty today, and hurried to gather up the refuse basket in the corner. She headed outside with basket in hand and walked toward the tool shed, humming to herself. The second the cool breeze touched her face, Leaf took a deep breath and sighed in relief.

The gardens at Ganolly Castle were by far her favorite place to be. Though admittedly, the castle library was a fierce rival for her affections. It being late summer, most of the perennials were in full bloom; it gave one the impression of walking through rainbow-colored clouds… Of course in the case of the back-walk, the flowers only lasted as far as the tool shed. Most of the grounds by the kitchen were reserved for the vegetables and fruits that graced the castle’s tables every year.

Leaf looked upon the gardens with personal pride. After all, she was at least partially responsible for this year’s bountiful crop. Or so she told herself. This was the first year she’d been allowed to work the gardens with Master Jonah, becoming fast friends with the wizened gardener. He’d told her personally that she had a special touch for growing things, and that this was their best harvest in years.

Apparently, even Lord Martin Ganolly himself had commented on the flourishing gardens. Her face positively glowed with the remembered praise. It wasn’t often she had anything at all to do with her “aunt and uncle”; Martin and Elizabeth Ganolly had been kind enough to adopt her, giving her a home and an education. She hardly expected the lord and lady to spend any idle time on her. They had a grown son who would one day inherit the castle and its lands, and it was in him that they understandably invested most of their efforts and affections.

Arriving at the shed, Leaf walked around behind it to the refuse heap. Immediately she spotted the grubby little boy huddling by the shed’s wall, obviously hiding. Leaf smiled kindly.

“Ah. Young master ‘scalawag’, I presume?” She paused expectantly. “Well?”
The young boy simply nodded and Leaf noticed his tear-stained cheeks.

“Oh come on now, Mistress Nora isn’t so bad once you get past her pricklies. She runs a tight ship and has a lot of responsibilities. She can’t let little things slide or ‘everything will come crashing down on our heads’, so she says.” She tried another encouraging smile.
“Well, up you get.”

Leaf held out her hand and helped him up and saw him straightened out; then proceeded to toss the contents of the basket on top of the heap. The boy Temy stood shyly by, watching her quietly.

“I’m Leaf, by the way. And trust me; I know as well as you the wrath of Mistress Nora. She doesn’t let anyone slide off the grease pan.”
The boy’s mouth dropped open.

“Surely not you, mistress? Of cose I know you; they say you are the Lord and Lady’s niece herself. They say you are pwactically a lady yeself.” He made this last pronouncement with a loud sniff followed with an arm wiped across a dripping nose.

Leaf tried hard not to notice the gleaming drip. “Ha! You flatter me. However, I, not unlike yourself, was an orphan. They merely adopted me into their family. But as you can see,” here she patted the empty basket meaningfully, “I get no special treatment.” She smiled in good humor. “But I like it this way. I get lessons every other day; and besides, can you imagine how bored I might be with nothing to do?” She paused.
“So you’re new here, huh? Guess Master Jonah needed more help than my once a week I take it. Are you up from the orphanage? Well? Speak up.”

He shuffled his feet uncomfortably. “Now jus’ a second, milady Miss! I am jus’ from the o’phanage Miss. They said they needed some help and would give me a place to live, m’Lady. They din’ say I was taking anyone’s place, honest!”

“Well I can’t imagine just who they are, but they seem to say a lot of things. Be calm silly! And I thought I told you my name? It’s Leaf… and I’m no lady!” She muttered to herself, “Much to this household’s dismay, I imagine.”

Leaf remembered the last child the Ganollys picked from the orphanage. Her name was Amelia. The young girl had helped Nora in the kitchen for a year and a half, until one of the staff had found a good home for her.

Leaf heard terrible stories about the orphanage house. Though she herself was an orphan, she’d never gone there for some reason. Admittedly, none of the stories she’d heard came from the mouths of the orphans themselves. They were probably just too scared to talk about it.

Most of the stories were told in secret whispers by one boy, who was a member of the staff’s son, Japo Wacabee. Like how it was really a converted old church that was terribly haunted. The backyard was supposed to be the city’s cemetery.

She wasn’t sure she ever wanted to go there. Leaf shuddered to think about how it would be to grow up in such a dismal place, and felt a pang for this scrawny boy in front of her. She took a mental note that she wasn’t much bigger than this “scrawny boy” and sighed inwardly. It was a good policy of the lord and lady to pick an orphan every other year to come to the castle for a little education before finding them a home.

Just then, Jonah, the head gardener, came around the corner of the shed.
“I thought I heard voices back here. Hello there Leaf! Ah, there you are, Temy. I see you’ve been helping Mistress Leaf with her chores. Good lad. You’ll do just fine, certainly. I’m sure you wouldn’t be worrying about being sent back to the orphanage in shame.”
He winked, smiling kindly. The boy smiled back shyly and with no little amount of uncertainty.

“Of course not! Well, Leaf, how are things for you? Studying your lessons as hard as you’re working?” He winked again.

Leaf smiled back at him broadly. “Of course! What else might I be doing?”

“Well, certainly not standing around jabbering when there’s work to be done. You better get back. I thought I heard Mistress Nora working herself into one of those fine tempers of hers. Something about some unnamed little girl who has about one minute to get back there before she…”

Eyes wide, Leaf was running before Jonah ever finished. She could hear him laughing though!


Leaf strained her wiry muscles heaving open one of the large, stubborn windows in the castle library. The whole thing seemed to resist being opened- but she nearly had it. Leaf winced at the screech that accompanied her last slightly successful shove. That’s all I need, she thought as she stepped back brushing her hands off on her dress and grimacing at the dusty streaks left there. I’m sure Maron would understand if she came in here and found the entire window broken. She sent me here to dust, not to dawdle and destroy.

Leaf sighed as she took in the extremely dusty and large library. The sunlight streaming through the window seemed to catch a thousand of the tiny motes floating in the air, bursting them into crystalline flames. It made the atmosphere a little more lively.

“So much dust and so little time.” Her voice sounded muffled despite the size of the room. Well, there’s no time like the present. Tucking her hair behind an ear she bent down and picked up her choice of weapons. In this case they included a feather wand and a dust-cloth.

Normally, the library was her favorite room to be in at Ganolly Castle. Well, it still was, she admitted to herself with a smile. There were much more arduous chores than this. At least she could still look at the books while she dusted them; even if she couldn’t read them right now.

And there were other interesting things on the tables and display shelves here that she never got tired of looking at. Like the large and beautifully crafted ship that dwelled inside an even larger and equally beautiful crystal urn.

It was truly incredible, that. Oh, she had heard of other places that used cheap bottles of glass
and built little wooden toy-boats inside of them; apparently they filled them with some special liquid afterwards that wouldn’t evaporate. But this was very different and much more interesting. For instead of water at the bottom, there was a perpetually swirling white mist that the ship somehow floated on. It was made to look like a ship that sailed through the sky of all things. Leaf thought it was brilliant. Supposedly it had been a gift from a Scholar of some renown who had ‘visited’ lord Martin’s castle during the time of his great-great-great-grandfather’s rule, or some such.

The story went that there was an unfortunate and mysterious illness plaguing the man. The lord’s gardener had found him one morning lying in the squash-bed, feverish and talking incoherently; his rich clothing torn and muddied. Lord Martin’s some-odd great grandfather had then sent for his healer, a Master Anin, who then proceeded to heal the stranger. Anyway, in the end the man had turned out to be some special Scholar of Manna. He’d offered the crystal urn with its flying ship as a gift of thanks to the then-Lord of Ganolly. Artfully made through the use of manna, it was a kingly gift indeed!

It required a great deal of Manna, time, and expertise to make objects of magick; which meant that it was rarely done. Now, sadly, the lovely urn sat mostly forgotten beneath an unhealthy blanket of dust.

Above all else, Leaf loved to hear stories about the famous airships of Narndenae. Fondly she caressed the urn as she wiped it clean, all the while gazing wistfully at the magnificent airship floating effortlessly inside. She wasn’t really sure she believed those stories. After all, she had never seen an airship. Nora and Maron both claimed to have ridden one, once; long ago before coming to Ganolly Castle. They had both sounded matter-of-fact enough that she half-believed they were telling the truth. Either way, it was her dream to someday travel in an airship. She hadn’t found any books about airships in Ganolly’s Library yet, but that didn’t mean one didn’t exist. Leaf had yet to discover even a hundredth of the books the library held. It was enormous, after all. She was determined to find one, though. Someday.

Randomly picking one of the many leather encased tomes off the shelf so as to better dust beneath it, she glanced at the title. The words “Dawn Lorealyn de Floreyn” stared back at her in shining silver. Intrigued by the title, she observed the leather covers were dyed a mysterious midnight blue and felt soft and worn, though it was obviously well taken care-of. Something about the book pulled at her. She thought it looked promising. Unable to help herself, she eagerly flipped through its’ pages, face falling in disappointment.

While there were some intriguing pictures she could make neither head nor tails of, the words were written in some language she didn’t recognize.

Sighing regretfully, Leaf carefully replaced the book to its’ home and moved on. Karla would have her hide for a coat if she disturbed the proper order of her cherished books. She longed to ask Karla about books on airships, but the Keeper of Chronicles never seemed to be around when Leaf had free time to read. She was grateful, though, that the antiqued woman trusted Leaf with her books. Knowing Karla very well, she was always surprised when she allowed her so many freedoms in the fascinating library. Perhaps the bespectacled woman sensed a kindred spirit in the little redhead who loved her prized books so.

The sheer number of shelves full of books made it impossible to clean them all before supper, let alone lunch- which was all the time she had. But Maron would certainly know if she hadn’t made her best effort.

The sun had become noticeably brighter by the time Sarah came to fetch her, and the room considerably less dusty. She couldn’t say much for the air outside the tall window though. Hopefully no one had been walking below while she was beating out her dust cloths.

Sarah was one of the kitchen help and was a very sweet woman in her late twenties. It was common gossip in the castle that she was in love with the old shepherd’s son, Rylan. She had never married, and everyone knew she was waiting for that young man in particular to finally ask her hand.

Rylan and his father were in charge of the large flock of sheep that grazed the many hills surrounding the castle. Though they were technically a part of the castle staff, he and his father preferred to spend most nights out under the stars with their flock. At least, they used to. Of recent, it seemed Rylan had been making frequent visits to the castle kitchens, on one errand or another. Leaf liked Sarah, and hoped the silly man would soon ask her to marry.

Leaf had been standing at rest with a knuckle to her back when the woman came in. A flour-sprinkled apron was still wrapped around her slender waist, honey-colored hair wrapped in a neat bun. She spied the fiery-haired Leaf standing beside one of the five columns supporting the library’s second level and waved. Leaf sighed with relief. Her throat felt as parched as the scrolls she’d been dusting and she eagerly looked forward to drowning it with some cold water freshly fetched from the well.

“Am I finished then, Sarah?”
Sarah smiled sympathetically. “Not exactly, Leaf-lee. Nora says you’ll have to eat your lunch on the way.”

“On the way? Am I going somewhere?”

Sarah gave her a quizzical look. “Did you not tell Mistress Nora you would walk with Temy to the orphanage to bring the children their lunch today?”

Leaf smacked her forehead with a vexed exclamation. “Oi! I can’t believe I forgot the orphan’s luncheon was today! And here I am, cleaning for Maron at a promise to her as well!” She quickly untied her own apron and, with duster and filthy rag in hand, dashed past the bewildered young woman standing with hand still on the door handle. The young woman rushed to catch up to Leaf, who was nearly running.

“Oh, Sarah! Is Nora just furious with me?” she called back.

The woman panted to keep up and talk at the same time. “No. It’s still an hour to midday. If you leave soon, even walking you’ll make it in plenty of time as long as you don’t dawdle along the way. Can we walk now, Leaf-lee? I’m afraid serving in the kitchen these past years has done nothing for my youthful stamina.” She said this with a tight smile. Leaf slowed down, noticing for once how difficult it was for her tall friend to keep up. She wondered briefly if she herself would ever feel so tired when she was older. Wasn’t growing up supposed to give you more energy?

“Forgive me, Sarah. I thought it was later than that.”

Sarah was quick to regain her good humor. “‘The time passes slowly while working and lonely.’ No need to apologize, it isn’t your fault I wasn’t clearer when I came to fetch you. Truth is, I suspect Mistress Nora knew you would be late if left to your own devices. That’s why she sent me ahead to fetch you now.” She paused before continuing.

“Not that it’s any of my business, Leaf, but it seems you make a great many promises and commitments with nary a thought as to how you can fit them all inside a day.” When Leaf didn’t immediately respond, Sarah glanced at her sideways while they walked.

“Forgive me, Leaf. I shouldn’t pry. Your heart is in the right place, I know. It was only out of the best interest of a friend that I say a word.” She hesitated. “You’ve seemed very distracted lately.”

Leaf looked up at her friend and smiled. Good, sweet Sarah. She never thought to treat Leaf like a child, despite her small size and age. Sarah was one of those that treated Leaf with the respect she felt her mature nature deserved. Though perhaps she should be considered a child, Leaf had a very good head on her shoulders and was not easily intimidated by anyone. She was also very independent and fully expected others to treat her as an equal, though they may be many years her senior. She sighed inwardly.

“Don’t be sorry, Sarah. It’s only the truth.” She sagged as she walked. “In all honesty, I haven’t been sleeping well, lately.” And the less said of that, the better. “I seem to have become a bit reckless, I know.”

Sarah winked conspiratorially. “Well, I haven’t exactly gotten much sleep these past few nights either.”

Leaf grinned. “I saw you and Rylan walking down by the garden brook ‘neath the full moon last night.”

Sarah blushed. “You did? I hope you weren’t spying, Leaf!”

Leaf winced. The truth was, last night she’d been exploring a new passage under the castle that brought her out near the old stone gazebo in the gardens. The only problem is that she wasn’t allowed out of bed after dark. Everyone knew about her explorations, but if it were discovered she was doing it at night, they would probably forbid her from it altogether. For some reason, everyone at Ganolly Castle seemed overly protective of her.

It had certainly come as quite a shock when she nearly stumbled onto the path in front of the strolling couple late last night. It was only with a great effort on her part that she was able to sneak away undetected.

Leaf swallowed nervously. “I wasn’t spying! I- I was having trouble sleeping and decided to sit by the window for a time. The breeze relaxes me, you see, and I just happened to notice movement down below.” She swallowed again. “That’s all.” Leaf hated lying, especially to a friend. But she knew Sarah would want to know about the passage and she wasn’t willing to impart that knowledge. Not just yet anyway.

Sarah nodded suspiciously. “You’d have to have eyes like a hawk!”

Leaf shook her head. “Not with a full moon like that one. You two stood out very clearly in that light.”

Sarah surprised her with a smile. “It’s alright. I just wanted to be the one to reveal the wonderful news to everyone.” They passed a row of gleaming suit armor and Leaf was surprised the radiance coming from her friend’s smile hadn’t set the hall aflame.

“Dear Sarah! Did Rylan finally ask your hand?”

The woman just could not stop smiling; her face threatened to split in two. “Yes! And don’t tell me how you guessed- I don’t want to know. Just don’t tell anyone else, okay? I want it to be a surprise!”

Leaf answered her smile with one of her own. “Don’t worry, my lips are sealed. And I am so happy for the both of you!”

So used to taking her shortcuts, Leaf felt a little odd taking the long way down to the kitchens. She found it a rather pleasant change, however, from dusty tunnels and dim back stairs.
They were walking abreast some lovely, arched windows now; they let in the hazy, glowing light of summer and the color from blossoming flowerbeds outside. Not to mention the refreshing breeze gusting through- which was more than welcome after all that dust. Woman and girl alike left each other to their own thoughts until they rounded the last corner to the kitchens.

The kitchens consisted of two connected rooms. The Outer room held three large, heavy wooden tables where all the food preparations were made. Many hooks had been set along the heavy beams that ran across the low ceiling, and dangling from these hooks were all manner of kitchen utensils and cooking pots. Where there weren’t cooking utensils hanging, bundled herbs and spices of every description hung drying upside down. This made it a simple matter for those preparing food: One simply reached up for the wanted spice and broke off a dried branch to rub between the palms in a practiced way over the dish being prepared.

The Inner room of the kitchens housed the two large ovens and the oversized fire pit. One could spit an entire cow in that fire place, though it was uncertain as to whether or not the sturdy spit dog could run the wheel for something that cumbersome.

This was where all the cooking was done for Ganolly Castle,although there was rarely the need to use all three fires at once. The only exceptions were on special occasions and holidays when large numbers of guests from Ganolly came. A row of three stone tub-sinks ran along one wall; one of which had a grilled hollow beneath for a small fire. Water from the well was brought in and heated in the stone tub above for washing dishes. The opposite wall was lined with cabinets filled with dishes and silverware. The pantry lay beyond the inner room, containing a full larder. In the farthest corner half-hidden in shadows, nestled the cabinet behind which lay the hidden stair Leaf was fond of using when she was sure she wouldn’t get caught.

When Sarah and Leaf entered the outer kitchen, she found Nora putting the finishing touches on a very large picnic basket. There were only five orphans in residence at the old church, but she supposed there was meant to be enough food for any who attended the luncheon considering adoption. She truly hoped they would every one of them find good homes today, though her ever practical mind made her certain that would never happen. There was always hope that a few might be given that gift, at least.

Nora eyed her up and down with a loud sniff. “Dusty from top to toenails I see. Been rolling in the dirt again, girl?” She made a fuss over brushing off Leaf’s dress and straightening her out. She jerked her head to a bucket of water in the corner. “Go get a drink and try and clean-up a bit.” She bestowed Sarah with an exasperated sigh when the woman just stood there smiling at nothing. Her booming voice made Sarah jump a foot.

“I’m glad that whelp finally asked you to marry, girl, but if you don’t get your wagon rolling I’m gonna empty that bucket there over your head to clear it!”

Sarah gasped and shot Leaf a wondering stare before hurrying back to the inner kitchen. Leaf just shrugged as she dipped the large ladle in the cool water and lifted it to her lips gratefully.
Nora had a way of knowing things.

The plump Head Chef glared after the departing woman until she was well off and gone to check the bread. She spoke to herself then, “As if it wasn’t perfectly clear on her face that she finally got her man.”

She glanced at Leaf, who was watching the cook while she washed her face and arms. She gave Leaf one of her rare smiles.

“I am glad, though. Those two were getting troublesome. Maybe now they’ll settle down and get their minds back to the work at hand.” She seemed to realize her slip into civility and leaped to remedy it with alacrity that had Leaf jumping to take the basket and practically running for the door.

Nora shouted at her back as she hurried through the inner kitchen to the garden walk. “Mind you find Temy right away and get a move on, girl! AND NO DAWDLING!”
Leaf ran to find the orphan boy, lugging the huge basket awkwardly in her arms.


Nora watched the small girl vanish with no small amount of satisfaction. The round cook had appearances to keep up, and a reputation that could be ruined getting sentimental like that. She really did care a great deal about the people of Ganolly Castle, especially Leaf. They were her people, here. The only family she had ever really known aside from her sister, Maron. She would do anything in her power to keep them safe; which was no small thing.

If- no, when the servants of the demon discovered the girl’s whereabouts, it might take every last drop of her power and her sister’s combined to keep Leaf and the others from harm.

It seemed like a lifetime ago when she and her sister had made their own foretelling in the form of their tattoos. They had barely begun to come into their powers then. Though Maron was the more gifted of the two in that area, Nora had her own strengths. It had been she, after all, who discovered the means of salvation that could save them all from the fate that awaited them.

As much as it pained her to admit it, Nora knew she would let every last person in Ganolly Castle die if it meant keeping the girl safe.

The cold fact was, if Leaf died, the world would die with her.

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