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Chickadee, Veximarl, and Zaniyah were left wondering how they should spend their time. Though travel should have worn them out, it was difficult to feel tired with so much going on. Missions started the next day, there was a new home to explore, and it felt like there was a dirty secret waiting behind each corner.

Iofea smiled at the group. “You should all go out for the evening, but it might be a bit of a wait for Gideon to come home. He’s had nothing but work to do since he became the head commander of the Starsons’ squire program.”

“That’s right! Vincent mentioned that Alton’s little brother took over for him!” Zaniyah laughed at the thought. Vincent had a lot more praise to say about Gideon than he did about Alton. While one feasted on popularity, the other preferred to keep a low profile.

Chickadee was also interested. “Millie?” He was interested in knowing if his sister was doing well.

“I mean, yeah,” nodded Zaniyah. “He would know what Millie’s been up to since he’s-” Veximarl put a hand on her shoulder and she froze up. “Uhh… Is also in charge of what the kids in the Dogfall squire program have been doing!”

Iofea nodded in agreement. “I adore Millie. She’s been over a few times. They often play around in Gideon’s room together. Every Satyrday, actually.”

“They do... What?” Chickadee pulled the scarves away from his head so that he could hear her better.

“They go over the week’s training schedule. Millie is the head representative for all of the Dogfall students, not just those that are promising squires. She and Gideon discuss the trouble that befell the merging of the two schools for several hours at a time.” Iofea smiled sweetly at him. “It’s quite adorable.”

Zaniyah sat back in her chair and played with Zikor’s tiny hands. “Dogfall kids finally taking classes at Starsons. Wow. It makes you wonder what Lydia would say about that... About any of this, really.”

The group fell into silence for a moment. Chickadee took action first, standing up from his chair and pushing it in. “Thank you for the tea, Miss Iofea. I am going to get fresh air.”

Zynn’s head peeked through the entrance of the room. “Iofea, Master Gideon has arrived home. Should I send him here?” He then wandered over to pick up Zikor.

“Nevermind,” muttered Chickadee coldly. He started to walk towards the entrance of the manor while Veximarl and Zaniyah shot a look at each other.

“Wait, hold on!” Zaniyah stood up and Chickadee glanced at her. She took a step forward and Chickadee started to run. “I said to hold on!  Ah, by the core, Chi!”

With Zaniyah chasing after him, Chickadee attempted to run faster. He wouldn’t risk casting magic indoors, but maybe he could get there first due to the short distance. A yelp squeaked out the mage as Zaniyah engaged him with a full body tackle. They rolled along the wooden floor, sliding to a stop at the foot of the stairs.

Even then did Chickadee persist. He pawed at Zaniyah in an effort to get her off of him, using the looseness of his clothing to his advantage as he attempted to squirm free. He slipped out of his jacket at first and then started to toss the scarves about his head and neck at her. Zaniyah started to catch them in an effort to use them to tie up Chickadee’s arms and legs.

Veximarl stood there, merely watching the display while waving his hands about. Chickadee was now swatting at Zaniyah with his one free hand. She had tied one of his wrists to his ankle. He then began to twist about awkwardly in an effort to free himself.

A tug given to Veximarl’s sleeve made him look down. The sight of a girl doubled his confusion. She could nearly pass for Chickadee’s double. Their only differences were that her hair was cut in a short bob and she wore less clothing. Hers was much snugger than the layers that Chickadee preferred.

“Hi! I’m Millie!” She held out her hand with a smile.

“Salutations. My name is Veximarl.” He shook her hand, and she kept a hold of it as he tried to pull it back. The grin on her face increased.

“You’re really tall. I didn’t think I’d ever meet a person who was almost as tall as Zynn is.” Her head gave a tilt to the side. “You’re actually pretty cute. What’s with those dark glasses you’re wearing? Got a secret?” She winked at him. “Is it a fun secret?”

Millie only let go of his hand after Gideon put his arm around Millie’s shoulders. He looked similar to Iofea but had gray-blue eyes. There also wasn’t that confident joy that Iofea had. Gideon was somewhat scrawny and timid in appearance, and somewhat gloomy. Not that aggressive antisocial gloom that Alton had, but the depressing kind.

“You shouldn’t bother guests like that, Millie.” Gideon then looked to the brawl happening upon the floor of his house. “Especially dangerous ones.”

“Those two?” Millie laughed at the thought. “Don’t worry about them, Giddy! That’s just Zani and my brother. They’ve been friends forever. That’s just what friends do.” She had a proud expression on her face. “Plus my brother is one of the best people ever. He wouldn’t hurt anyone… Except for that one time he got expelled from Dogfall… But I don’t even think he could hurt Zani if he tried.”

Chickadee yanked his hand free from the scarf and started to pull at Zaniyah’s hair, making her squeal out in pain. “Let me murder him!”

“There is a perfectly reasonable explanation for why Millie came here after school,” said Veximarl in a soothing voice. “You should let them explain rather than immediately turn to violence.” He gestured for Gideon to come up with something.

Gideon immediately straightened up his posture. “The students from Dogfall have been struggling with the different courses that are offered at Starsons. Since Millie and I share several of the same classes, I have been tutoring her. We have a test in our finances class tomorrow.”

“Finances?” Veximarl was surprised to learn that was a class.

“The practice of managing one’s finances for an estate or a business,” replied Gideon. “It’s important to understand what a fair payment is for employees is. We’re also taught about how much money must be brought in each month in order to uphold a certain standard of living.”

Veximarl nodded along. “I’m quite impressed that they would teach that at a younger age. I had assumed that was something to be learned at university.” Moss had taught them the basics of it, but Veximarl had never touched the subject before then. On the other hand, Veximarl had never attended a real school.

“It’s not like I’ll ever get into a university,” said Millie proudly. “I’m going to be a bounty hunter like my dad was before he met mom.” She then looked over to Gideon. “I thought were going to blow off studying and get nasty like we always do.” She tugged at the edges of Gideon’s jacket as his face flushed red.

Chickadee, who had been relatively calm up until that point, started to violently shove at Zaniyah again. They continued to struggle as Chickadee muttered long series of curses and threats against Gideon’s health. This made Gideon awkwardly position himself behind Millie, who didn’t seem all that phased by her brother’s behavior.

“Help me, Vex!” Zaniyah let out another yelp as Chickadee punched the side of her head.

Veximarl didn’t want to get in the middle of that, but he supposed he didn’t have much of a choice. “H-hold on.” He got on his knees and his hands fumbled as he looked for an opening. He then grabbed Chickadee about the waist and pulled him into his lap as Zaniyah let go.

Zaniyah rolled onto her back, chest heaving up and down as she panted and struggled to catch her breath. Chickadee was now pawing at Veximarl, but necromancer grabbed at the mage’s jaw and forced him into a kiss. It worked well enough when Gwyn had done it to him, so he supposed it would be fine for calming Chickadee down.

Chickadee froze up. He blinked several times as Veximarl broke away. Suddenly he was paralyzed due to his mind not knowing how to process this information. Veximarl let out a sigh of relief. After everything that had happened today, he wasn’t in the mood for being punched.

“So this is your boyfriend, eh, bro?” Millie bent over so she could see Chickadee’s face more clearly. “Does that mean that Alton guy and Captain Twist are here as well? I wanted to show off the new moves I learned to the captain.”

Veximarl continued to hold onto the limp Chickadee as he spoke. “He took Sybil out for a date. I believe they said they would be back after dinner.”

Gideon made an enlightened “ah” sound. “I was wondering why I didn’t hear him. Normally he’s the first thing you notice when you open the door. He’s always playing the piano.”

“It’s the same at Braytons as well,” remarked Veximarl. “He has private lessons with our barracks’ headmistress.”

Iofea had been watching from the sidelines while drinking her tea. These young ones were certainly amusing. “I was disappointed when he didn’t request any of his toys to be sent to the barracks. He claimed there wasn’t enough space in your squad room. They take up so much space. I was hoping to do some cleaning, but his room is his sanctuary.” She shrugged and started to mutter to herself. “I’m forbidden from even doing any dusting.”

Zaniyah blinked at the statement. “He has toys?”

“He’s never mentioned them? He’s quite proud of his collection,” remarked Gideon.

“We were asked politely to not go into his-” Veximarl winced at the sound of Zaniyah’s feet running up the stairs. “You don’t even know which room is his!”

“We’ll know it when we see it! Because it’ll be the fun room!” Her voice hollered from the second floor.

While Veximarl was distracted with Zaniyah, Chickadee slipped out of his arms and chased after her. The two split their efforts, opening doors and closing them quickly in disappointment. As they did that, Gideon led Millie and Veximarl to the third floor, where Alton’s room actually was.

The resident rooms at the Toval estate were larger than expected. They had a front room which served as a study and a smaller bedroom hidden behind a door. None of them made it that far, as they were busy looking about in awe of Alton’s study space.

All of the walls were covered in instruments. One such wall was simply cases stacked upon each other with labels written on the sides, while the other instruments were hung up as displays. Chickadee and Zaniyah skidded to a stop behind the other three. They took a moment to absorb the sight before stepping in themselves.

“What is..?” Zaniyah pointed to a pochette. “Wait, what is that?” She then pointed to a cornett. “What is any of- oh, I know what that is. They have those in the core.” She went to inspect a lyre that had been left on a chair.

Gideon attempted to explain. “Alton had a deal with anyone who wanted to date him. If they could give him an instrument he didn’t already own, he’d go out with them until he mastered playing it. It didn’t take long for him to build up a collection after that.”

“I get how that seems like a fun game and all, but he can’t seriously know how to play all of these, right?” Zaniyah picked up the cornett and started to blow into it.

Gideon let out a defeated sigh. “It depends on how similar it is to an instrument he already owns. The longest it’s ever taken him is a month. He says he likes the piano best out of any of them, but that doesn’t stop him from keeping all of these.”

Zaniyah’s nose wrinkled. “That doesn’t seem like good dirt at all,” she muttered.

Iofea peeked her head around the door frame. “He keeps his diaries in his armoire. Underneath the practice swords, where he thinks I won’t find them.”

A glance was tossed between Zaniyah and Chickadee. “Thanks, Miss Iofea!” Zaniyah saluted her. “You’re the absolute best. I want you to know that. I have no idea why Alton has never mentioned how awesome you are.” She let out a squeak as Chickadee squeezed past her. “Wait, wait! I want to read them first!”

“We really shouldn’t be here.” Veximarl hadn’t strayed from the door. He wanted the chance to flee in the event Alton randomly appeared “... Take them to your own room and read them later. We were supposed to prepare for an evening out.”

“Already on it!” Zaniyah came out with a stack of journals tucked underneath her arms. “Now let’s go ruin the town before the tainted beasties do it for us!”

Gideon agreed. “Starsons doesn’t officially close until late because of their dorms. Allow Millie and I to guide you on a tour and we can go out for groduab afterward. It’s a popular winter dish for the students there.”

“What’s a groduab?” Zaniyah ignored Chickadee as he took one of the journals from her.

“It’s three birds, a squab, a duck, and a grouse, which have all been deboned and stuffed into each other. That is placed upon a spit and roasted over a fire while it’s basted in herb butter,” explained Gideon. “They serve it every Iath day but we have to be there before they’re sold out. It’s very popular.”

Zaniyah’s eyes went wide. “I need to go to there…. Now. We need to go there now.” She took the book out of Chickadee’s hands added it to her collection. When he went to grab it again, she held all the books above her head. “Groduab, Chi! We need to try it!”

At both Chickadee and Zaniyah’s insistence, they skipped the tour completely and went out for food. Starsons housed students from every corner in the Crimson Region but they always had a policy of rejecting those of the core. Zaniyah wasn’t exactly interested and Chickadee had already seen it.

They sat down and were given slices of groduab covered in sage butter. They were sitting on top of a bed of mashed turnips with a side of roasted pickled figs. Despite not wanting a tour, Gideon went on to describe the school in detail. Luxury upon luxury, sparing no expense when it came to educating their students. The meal in front of him was picked at lightly, as though such a treat was a regular occurrence to him.

The food was good at Braytons, but Zaniyah had never seen the likes of what was sitting in front of her now. She nodded bashfully as a waiter came by to offer sparkling juice. Glancing over to Chickadee, it seemed like he was taking his time to enjoy the meal, but Veximarl was picking through like it was an average meal as well. Her brows furrowed, not feeling all that comfortable about the experience.

Veximarl had experienced all sorts of cuisine while venturing out with Grulick. She would barter for good meals and use those opportunities to teach him table manners and how to hide among the elite. Not that there was much of an elite east of the Crimson Range, but at least he wasn’t left feeling defenseless in this situation.

Zaniyah was distressed, and Chickadee was being more quiet than usual. Veximarl should at least consider a word of encouragement to pass on to the two. His letter buzzed from within his pocket before he could say anything. The others stared at him as he stood up with a start. Eyes darting about, he nervously muttered out an excuse.

“Apologies. I need to give my nightly report to Vincent so that Sir Moss will have it for his records.”

Highland may have sought to contact him, but he was more worried that it might be Gwyn. He was terrible at typing and the last thing he needed was either Chickadee or Zaniyah attempting to help him out. Especially while they were in this craze of intruding upon Alton’s privacy. If any of them found out about Tish, or that she was the reason he was speaking to Gwyn… The horror of it all.

“Evening,” the message began. It was indeed from Gwyn. “I wanted to thank you for eventually getting your act together long enough to save us. Even if you cried beforehand, and you fainted right afterward, I suppose it was almost great of you to finally accomplish whatever it is you do.”

Veximarl smiled to himself. “Thank you for helping me get a hold of myself. I was later informed that the others had attempted to help me as well, but they were not as successful. I don’t remember much.”

“Next time, have Mister Toval kiss you. We won’t be doing that again.”

“... I understand.”

“To get to the point, I am supposed to help the hospital tomorrow. The one you are assigned to. Will you have a list of medicinal herbs prepared for me? I will grow new ones using any dried ones you can find.”

“I will double check what they have in storage and make arrangements.” He stared at the message for a moment, debating if that was enough. “If you are in need of someone to talk to in person while you are here, I will make an attempt to make myself available. I fear I will get lost. The streets are quite confusing.”

“By letter is enough. If that doesn’t work, I’ll come to you.”

“Thank you. I appreciate it.”

“I’ll look for people muttering about some creep wandering about looking to abduct children for human sacrifices. You’re normally present whenever that happens.” Veximarl didn’t have a response for that. He was about to put away the letter when it buzzed again. “That was a joke.”

He wasn’t amused. “Goodnight, Miss Hewitt. Sleep well. I will provide you a list as soon as I am able.”

“Thank you. Goodnight, Vex.”

Veximarl stared at that last message for a moment. She had never used his first name before. Then again, Alton had always called him Vex, and he was certain Alton didn’t like him at all. She often switched between Mister Toval and Alton and referred to Moss as Remi. It most likely meant nothing.

“Everything okay with Vincent?” Veximarl jumped at the sound of Zaniyah’s voice.

“Y-yes!” He stuffed the letter into his pocket and faked a smile. “I had questions and we spent time going into the specifics. After all, Vincent’s family runs the hospital that I will be volunteering at. I wish to make a good impression. It’s important that they know that the squires under Vincent’s command are confident people who are capable of completing the job.”

Zaniyah let out a laugh. “You’re so stressed about it that your face has gone red. Don’t worry so much. After all, you worked with Lady Blu.” He nodded. “She’s one of the best in Lustro. At least, I think everyone says that… So you’ll do fine.”

Veximarl hadn’t realized it, but his cheeks were indeed burning. “She is an exceptional cleric.” His sleeve was brought to his face and he gave his cheeks a firm rub. “If we have finished our meal, we should return. We need to be up early enough to send you to the Highland estate.”

They flagged down a carriage for the ride home. Zaniyah had her legs kicked across Chickadee and Veximarl’s lap as she read one of the journals she had brought with her. Occasionally she’d snicker to herself or blush would overtake her face.

She needed this distraction. Today was demoralizing. First, she was the most useless one in the squad for a fight and now she would have to spend the following weeks disappointing every noble they meet.

Millie got out of the carriage when they passed the Cully’s weapon store. She then gave Gideon a kiss on the cheek. “You better take care of my brother, alright? I’m trusting you with this.”

“Of course, dear. I’ll see you tomorrow at school.” The two smiled at each other, holding each other’s hands as they swayed back and forth like innocent lovebirds.

Chickadee popped his head out of the carriage window. “Will see family tomorrow with Zani. After work.”

“That’ll be great!” Millie reached up to pat him on the head. “I’ll bring Giddy and we can have a great big family dinner. Do you think Sybil can make it too? Miss Zoe will want to see her as well. Oh! Not to mention that Caitlin might want to talk to her, because of all that stuff that happened, I guess.”

“Sybil is busy!” Zaniyah squeaked out as she popped up next to Chickadee. “Really busy! She has to work with the prince, and she won't be home until super late, and then she has to get up really early to do the whole thing over again. I don’t think she’ll be able to visit at all!” Chickadee’s head bobbled quickly in agreement as Veximarl glanced suspiciously between the two.

Millie laughed it off. “Make sure you two make it then. We’ll have a duel, okay Zani?” Zaniyah nodded and smiled widely.

They said their goodbyes and made their way home. As they approached the front door, they could hear the faint melody of a piano. Gideon frowned at the sound and turned towards the remaining trio.

“Alton is moping again but I guess you’re probably used to it by now. He does this all the time.” He laughed to himself as he opened the door. “It is nice to hear him playing again, even if he is upset.”

Music blasted through the door the moment it was open. Alton had only been home for a little while. Sybil had only kicked him out of the room a few minutes before the others had returned. He was sitting at a black grand piano that was covered in gold leaf images of people dancing.

The notes he hammered out were loud and quick. Its tune was both passionate and vicious. Sweat was building upon his brow, and weariness was in his wrists, but he didn’t care. He continued to play with little mind to who was in the room or how tired he was.

Veximarl pulled a small piece of paper out of his jacket and looked it over. “It appears as though Vincent has won the bet.” They all made bids on when Alton and Sybil would have their next fight and Veximarl would’ve won if they had lasted until tomorrow morning.

“Yeah, it looks like it was a bad one this time,” muttered Zaniyah as she scratched at the back of her head. “I’m gonna avoid this and head to bed now.” She didn’t want to get yelled at. Plus she wanted to read as many of these journals as she could before she left for Vincent’s estate.

“You know where your rooms are?” Gideon asked them. “My room is across the hall from Alton’s. If you need anything, let me know. We also have a butler, Zynn. He’s a bit new, but he does a good job... Anything else you need?”

Chickadee narrowed his eyes. “I want you to not touch my sister,” he replied in a harsh whisper.

The mage winced when Zaniyah hit him in the back of the head. “Let her have her fun instead of bossing her boys about. That’s how girls end up with bad guys, you know? You gotta let her have fun so she knows how to find the good ones.” She then pointed a finger at Gideon. “But if you make her cry, I will end you. Vex, you threaten him too.”

Veximarl let out a nervous laugh as Zaniyah nodded at him. He then proceeded to lean towards Gideon while lowering his voice. “You have a lovely home.” He swallowed a groan as Zaniyah elbowed him. “Please treat Miss Millie kindly. Her brother cares for her a great deal.”

Chickadee nodded at Veximarl’s statement. He watched as the others said their goodnights and departed towards their rooms. Not once did he say anything. His family was important to him and Millie and Fairy were the little sisters that needed protection. Sybil and Zaniyah were the big sisters who also needed him, but Zaniyah’s question earlier had hurt his feelings.

Had he been useless?

Zaniyah didn’t mean to insult him with the statement. She was referring to herself as not being strong enough, but Chickadee had been feeling the same as her for a while now. He went to Braytons because he didn’t want Sybil to be lonely but it didn’t look like she needed either him or Zaniyah anymore. She had replaced them with Alton and Veximarl.

The thoughts were twisting in his mind. Chickadee was strong. He was one of the strongest mages in the core and at Braytons, but his specialized abilities were… Proving to be somewhat useless. Especially when he had fainted at the start of an important battle.

He didn’t know what to make of that and the piano music was distracting him. Not bothering to go upstairs, he wandered over to the parlor. A single eye peeked around the corner, spying on Alton as he played. Chickadee couldn’t help it. His chest felt tight whenever he was near Alton. Spying on him had always made him feel better.

Alton was beautiful. Even more so when he was playing music. The pained expressions he made, the way he held his fingers aloft, even the way his back curved and tensed… All of it had a wonderful sense of elegance to it. Chickadee jumped when a clock behind him started to chime the hour, and Alton stopped his playing long enough for him to count the chimes. He then covered the keys with a lid before resting his face into the palm of his hands.

He stood up part way and noticed Chickadee staring at him from the entrance. “Were you worried about me?” Chickadee gave half a nod and his heartbeat quickened as Alton smiled. “I’m fine, really. Are you having trouble settling in? I requested that you get extra blankets and a bed warmer. Was that not enough?”

“E-everything is fine,” replied Chickadee quietly. Dealing with the rest of his squad was alright but he always struggled to speak with Alton when the two of them were alone. It was like his already limited amount of confidence had evaporated to nothing.

“I’ll walk you to your room.” Alton gave a tilt of his head towards the stairs and Chickadee followed him as he walked ahead. “I heard my brother is dating your sister. Isn’t that great?” Alton smiled all the wider. “We could be in-laws. You’re already family Chi, but it would nice to make it official.” Chickadee frowned and Alton ruffled his hair. “I’m kidding. If your sister is anything like you, I’ll end up stealing her for myself.”

He was a flirt. Alton only had interest in Sybil, and Sybil meant the end of Chickadee’s dreams. Chickadee had to keep telling himself that as they walked side by side. He wasn’t the type of person Alton would want to be with. No matter how hurtful the truth was, that’s what he had to convince himself of. The truth.

“And here’s your room.” Alton leaned against the wall just outside the door. “You need anything?”

“Not really,” he whispered, avoiding eye contact as he always did whenever he spoke to someone. “I’ll see you in the morning.”

Chickadee went to open the door, but Alton caught him by the elbow. “Hey. Wait a minute.” He froze in place. “About today... I wanted to say that all of us have things that we’re good at. We can’t be expected to carry the whole team every time there’s trouble. The rest of us have to work twice as hard just to keep up with you.

That’s why we’re a team in the first place. To cover for everything the other’s can’t do. Sometimes admitting that you’re not prepared is better than putting yourself in a situation that will get yourself hurt. Don’t worry if you can’t handle it all yourself.”

“Thank you.” Chickadee flashed a smile.

“And don’t bother crawling into my room tonight. You have to get through two doors to get to my bed and I am barricading both of them.” He ruffled Chickadee’s head again. “Sleep well.”

Chickadee closed the door behind him and walked over to where Sybil’s daggers were waiting on his table. She had sent him a message by letter to let him know that Tal and Vin were both acting strangely. There wasn’t anything Chickadee could do about it now. He would have to consult his mother.

It was the strangest thing. From what he could tell, the daggers weren’t behaving properly because Sybil’s blood iron had changed. That didn’t seem possible, but then again… He supposed anything was possible. After he consulted his mother, he would look into drawing out more of Sybil’s blood iron so that he could tune the daggers again.

Chickadee ended up sleeping well after that. The bed was overly warm, which is exactly how he liked it. He got up early the next morning and changed into the Horsetalon uniform he had been assigned. A pure white pompous outfit, with frills and shiny beads. The scarves he adored were banished, not to mention the cloak was in the shape of wings.

Why? Why was pegasus obsessed with wings? None of them could fly. It did nothing to keep him warm. Absolutely useless design.

Chickadee pulled his hair back into the bun and stuffed a wooden pin in it. He was supposed to wear several ornate braids like the rest of Horsetalon did, but he was not willing to put the effort into it. Anything that held up his hair was good enough.

The Toval family were already sitting at the dining table by the time he made his way downstairs. Adrian Toval, a stern-looking man with a neat mustache, was sitting at the head. He was flipping through a newspaper. On one side was Iofea, and the other side was Jory, who matched his father in appearance, minus the mustache.

Down the line was Alton, who was dressed in expensive clothing, similar to what he had worn yesterday. He had a stack of papers that he was reading through while sipping on some tea. Across from him was Gideon, still studying for his exam.

The nervous ones at the table were Veximarl and Zaniyah. Veximarl didn’t know books were allowed at the breakfast table, thus had no idea what he was supposed to be doing during this time of overwhelming silence. Zaniyah kept concentrating on trying not to make her feet fidget. Iofea had nothing, but she appeared to be feeding upon their nervousness. She sat there with the most amused grin upon her lips.

“Go ahead and have a seat, Master Chickadee.” Zynn patted the blacksmith’s back as a sign of reassurance. “Sybil was picked up by an escort earlier today.” That was a shame. Chickadee had wanted to see why she was mad at Alton this time. “We’ll arrange for a carriage to pick you up as soon as you are done with your meal.”

Zaniyah looked up at Chickadee and felt suddenly horrifically underdressed. She was wearing her cloak and armor, as that was what Trewarne had told her to wear. Even Veximarl was wearing a dress-like tunic that had the bright red Highland Hospital insignia on the back. It was a proper looking outfit that reeked of professionalism.

Jory looked over to Alton. “We have a meeting with the suppliers in an hour, and at noon, we have a panel testing for the Core Delights restaurant. You’ll be free in the afternoon, but we are to attend a party at the Goldson hotel this evening. They have booked you for a performance.”

Alton set down his teacup. “What is the occasion?”

“Missus Goldson is celebrating her eightieth birthday.”

“I’ll bring a violin. They’ll need to have a piano prepared in the event she isn’t in the mood. If the taste tests go well, should we arrange for Core Delights to bring food to the party?”

Jory gave a firm shake of the head. “I doubt they’ll have enough time to prepare for it. They are scheduled to do a lunch event at city hall in three days time. You’ll be in charge of the menu they’ll be serving. Try not to change it too much. That will affect what we will be serving at the grand opening.”

“I’ll keep that in mind. Thank you, Jory.”

Listening to Alton be professional and all adult like made Zaniyah feel worse. Vincent and his squad were most likely doing the same thing. Blah blah business, social speak, fancy stuff. She was only expected to hit things. Aside from carrying around Veximarl when he fainted, that’s all she’s ever been expected to do. Now that she thought about, she had gotten older, but it didn’t seem like she had grown up at all.

The thought of that was really starting to bother her.

“Zan?” She looked over to Alton, who had called out to her. “You’ll be able to take Gypsum out on your missions. He’s already been prepared and is waiting in the stable.”

“Thanks.” She gave him an overly fake grin. “Is that okay though? I’m staying at Vincent’s starting today.”

“I already worked it out with him. His brother is housed in their stables. Gypsum knows the way there.” Zaniyah tilted her head at that statement. “I’ll explain later.”

“I wanted to keep her,” pouted Iofea. “Gideon is the only one who has ever brought a girl here and he doesn’t let me talk to her at all. You’ve already forbidden me from talking to Sybil. Who am I to play games with?”

Adrian looked up from his newspaper. “I already let you take in that eye candy and his son. You’re not adopting anyone else.” She turned her pout at him. “No is no, my love.”

Zaniyah nearly laughed to herself. It was fun here. She did want to stay. Dealing with Vincent’s parents won’t be nearly as fun, plus she’d have to deal with Gwyn and Ivy. Wouldn’t it be better to stay here? Joy was all she ever really needed. Hopefully, it was meant to last.

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About the author

Adelaide West

Bio: Author of the Grimstone Series and Duck and Wolf.

I have a Twitter. I check it often, so I guess tag me anytime you want. I just don't post very often. @AdelaideGWest

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