After finishing my tea, I took my time uncorking and sniffing at different bottles as I worked out just how much of the truth I should share. I had no intention of lying. I liked Jenner too much already to do him that disservice. But, until I knew more—or at least until Reve wasn’t around—omissions had to be made.
Ultimately picking out something which smelled like a spicy raspberry mead, I filled my cup and sat back down. I took a deep breath through my snout scarves, and then a long drink. Then I started with where it all began for me, in this world, at least. In GreatHall, before the altar.
Leaving my otherworldly origins out of my recounting entirely, I allowed my coven-mates to fill in the blanks on their own. My hope was that they’d assumed I’d been left with just enough foundational information to have the basis of a personality. That I was still the Original Zia, minus most of her memories. A slate wiped clean, but still the same slate.
Jenner’s straight-forward warmth had taken me completely off-guard. I’d assumed by their keeping their distance initially that the whole coven was already against me. But now, noticing the way he would occasionally turn his head away from me and take a deep breath, or hold his drink close to his snout to inhale its scent…I was thinking perhaps I’d misread them. Well, some of them, in any case. And now that I felt this way, felt welcome, even…I didn’t want to ruin it by suddenly confessing myself an alien to them.
Noticing my avoidance of the fact, Destrien gave me a few covert looks…but never said a word. They all listened well, in fact, because every time someone tried to interrupt with a comment or interjection, Jenner silenced them with that look of his, or a slash of a finger in their direction.
When I got to Seri and Original Zia’s final encounter on the rooftop, I hesitated. More than anything, I wanted to just tell them all the whole truth. But I also knew it wasn’t the smartest thing to do, and I’d already messed up enough in this world as it was.
So I left out the part about her spotting the hints of a Sigil on Seri’s back when she went over. Everything else I recounted more-or-less as I’d read—everything that was relevant, at least. Erek shifted uncomfortably beside me whenever his name came up, feeling guilty, perhaps, for his treatment of the original Zia.
I drank as I talked, and by the time I reached the end of my story, I’d edged beyond tipsy.
For a moment, everyone was silent. Jenner sipped his tea, set his cup down on the stone, and looked at Reve, who met his eye grudgingly.
“Did you take part in the creation of this sigil against Zia’s name?”
The Topaz straightened their spine.
“No. Actually, I tried to dissuade them of the idea.”
Jenner raised an eyebrow.
Reve scoffed. “Because it’s illegal, of course. I wanted us to be better than that. To take the legitimate path in everything we did. Unfortunately my elder siblings have never listened to me, much.”
Somehow, I didn’t get the sense they were lying, though their tail flicked in agitation against their feet.
The Jasper nodded in curt acknowledgment.
“And were you ever aware of any plans Seri may have had to harm herself?”
Reve’s chest rose and fell with their ragged breath, their pupils narrowed even as their eyes went wide, though they seemed to be looking at nothing in particular.
“She…she had some…radical ideas. It was that Opal who gave them to her. I—I can’t remember his name. I was always talking her down from them.” They laughed a bit, in that extremely sad sort of way that some people have. “She was always way too ready to give her all for everyone else.”
I finished off what was left in my cup and hurled it at them. They growled and flared their wings as it bounced off their chest, beginning at once to rise to their feet.
“You knew?” I hissed. “You knew she had thoughts like that and didn’t go to anyone? Didn’t even consider that when you decided I was a cold-blooded murderer? When you decided to publicly punish me for it?”
“Hey now,” said Jenner, plucking up the cup as it rolled down the mossy incline and setting it aside. “I made these myself.”
“I did everything I could to stop her,” snapped Reve. “As I’ve said, no one ever listened to me, before the Gem. No one but her. And I did get her to see reason, in the end. She promised me she’d changed her mind. That she agreed with me. That she could offer the most to the world by remaining in it. And she wouldn’t…” their voice broke, and they took a deep, trembling breath, looking up to meet Jenner’ steady gaze. “She wouldn’t have lied to me.”
The Jasper settled back, hands resting upon his knees and sympathy in eyes as he regarded them. Asho and Imbris exchanged a look.
“She may not have lied to you,” said Erek. “But if I knew Seri at all, she absolutely would have worded her promise in just such a way that she could still do exactly as she wanted without breaking her word and without your even realizing it.”
Reve snarled wordlessly at the Sapphire.
“You can’t deny it, can you?” pressed Erek.
My tail flicked. It almost pleased me that he was standing up for me, in his own way. But the smugness of his tone got to me.
“While we’re settling issues amongst us, Erek,” I said, reaching to reclaim my cup and snatching back the bottle of delicious raspberry stuff. “Let’s talk about how you called me a coward when you found out what she—what I did? After everything? After I had no one?”
I refilled my cup and passed the bottle off to Imbris, who’d been motioning excitedly for it. One tear trailed down my cheek, and then another.
Erek gasped, edging sideways and further away from me.
“How could I not be upset with you after you threw away everything? Every moment we’d ever shared?”
My fur prickled.
“How can you not be more understanding when you know exactly how you treated me before I resorted to that? When you knew how much you meant to me?”
Erek’s mouth moved, but no words came out.
“I…I was hurt.”
Jenner locked eyes with him.
“Do you truly consider Zia, your childhood friend, your coven-mate, to be a coward?”
The Sapphire sucked in a sudden breath, and he shook his head.
“No, no I don’t. I…I don’t have the evidence yet to prove her claims, but I don’t have adequate reason or right to make that particular claim, either. I should not have said it.”
“Very good,” said Jenner. “No doubt there’s work to be done still between you going forward, but it’s a start.”
“But are you sorry?”
Everyone’s eyes snapped to me again as I glared at Erek. He glanced nervously at Jenner, who merely raised his brow-scales expectantly.
“Are you sorry for calling me that? Are you sorry for how you treated me?”
Erek’s nose scrunched almost imperceptibly. He took a deep breath.
“I am sorry for calling you a coward, Zia. But I don’t have reason yet to be sure my treatment of you was unjustified, before, and I was under the influence of—”
“Those seemed more like ‘yes or no’ questions,” observed Imbris, before taking a drink from her newly-filled cup.
“I’m sorry,” began Erek, and everyone seemed to hold their collective breath. “But I’m a person who requires evidence before I come to any kind of conclusion concerning—”
Asho and Imbris, now leaning against one another, groaned loudly enough together to drown him out.
“You know what, fine,” I said, tossing back another drink before shoving myself to my feet and setting the cup aside. “I wasn’t going to show this to anyone because there’s a lot of very private, very personal stuff in it. But you want evidence? Fine!”
Stalking off to the back of the suite, I found my trunk, yanked it open, and dug out the green journal. Returning to my original spot, I smacked the book down at the center of the scoop beside what remained of the food pile.
“This is a journal I kept before giving up my memories. Any time you want, we can go to the school Truthseer and confirm that I didn’t fake any of it. These were my real thoughts and feelings at the time. This is what I went through.”
Asho’s eyes went wider than the cups we were all drinking out of.
“That’s your private diary?”
Scrabbling forward in a sparkling blur, they snatched it up, positioning themselves behind and just ahead of Jenner so he could read over their shoulder. Imbris squeezed up beside them to one side and Destrien to the other. But Reve stayed where they were, as did Erek, who seemed to have suddenly frozen in place. I snatched my cup back up in one hand and a sweetbun in the other and sat back down, hard, as far as I could from both of them.
“Oh these drawings are lovely,” breathed Imbris as Asho thumbed through the first several pages, pausing occasionally to scan the entries. I stuffed the sweetbun into my mouth and began to chew.
“Aaaw,” they said, pausing on one page and pressing the tip of their claw to a passage. “Erek is so cute, I swear. He says the dumbest things in his sleep. Honestly who dreams of hugging a cactus? At least he seemed happy about it.”
The Sapphire pressed a hand to his forehead, rubbing it as though in exasperation, though I suspected he was just trying to hide his face.
“Stick to the relevant parts, perhaps?” he suggested.
Imbris’s violet eyes snapped upward, fixing on him.
“Aren’t you going to come and have a look at your evidence, kohai?”
“There’s hardly room for me.”
“Oh, here,” said Destrien, extracting himself to pick over the food pile once more with Scruffy, ever-hopeful, at his side. “I’m sure someone will read the interesting parts out loud for me.”
“Of course,” said Asho.
Reluctantly, Erek took the Garnet’s place, while at the same time Jenner extracted himself from the rest of them—going over to sit beside Reve.
“There’s something I need to know,” he said—his voice low, though not so much that it was difficult to hear him over the ongoing commentary of the others.
Reve stared up at him, seeming almost more exhausted now than angry or anything else.
“Do you still consider yourself a Pathmaker?”
Reve’s wings flared and dropped again.
“I…I do not know. Clearly, those who looked beyond the Rend were wrong, somehow. I don’t rejoice in this war.”
“But you’re still in love with the idea of the other world, of Gems unmined, subtypes untold—”
“I’m in love with the idea of bettering our condition!” they interjected.
“Of course,” said Jenner. “But I will need you to assure me, right here and now, that you will cease all associations with them immediately, and be a Pathmaker no more. Your allegiance must be to this coven, and we will not abide their ways.”
For a moment, I was sure Reve would refuse. But they seemed to swallow back their initial response, though their hand clenched into a fist beside them.
“I assure you,” they said. “I declare myself no longer a Pathmaker. My allegiance lies with this coven. “
“Thank you for that,” said Jenner, standing up.
While Destrien reclined with his back against Scruffy, feeding him the occasional morsel of the roast-beast remains he was finishing off, the others seemed to reach the end of my journal.
“Oh,” said Asho, blinking at the last page. “It ends before your sister—”
I sucked in a breath through my teeth. “The journal that’s in is…really, really personal. I’ll show it to you, if you need to see it, but…”
“No,” said Jenner, putting up a hand as he crossed back to his original spot. “You’ve given enough of yourself, tonight. Until there’s a very good reason for us to, we’ll not need to paw through all of your private, innermost thoughts and deepest traumas.”
“Hey!” Asho exclaimed as Jenner plucked the journal from their grip, handing it back to me.
“No,” he said again, finally filling his cup with something harder than tea and tossing it back. “Now that we’ve at least begun to address all of that, there’s another matter which we ashai must bring forward. There is a difficult truth behind your placement in our coven, and it’s best you learn it now.”