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Mourning of Doves

   
"Your people done admirably in their research, but I'm afraid that they never quite nailed down what a Name is," the Lady said, ignoring the whole discussion previous. Which Jasper was grateful for, because then he would have had to either scrape and scamper in front of Ruve, or piss her off. And that was on his long list of things never to do.

"Mortals constantly redefine themselves and Tobias, for all of his creative modifications, is no different. Yes, the demon has grafted himself onto him, but Tobias's Name can still be learned. First, you must get a very good look at what it is now. Then, you must take it apart piece-by-piece. And that can only be done correctly in the different places that Tobias changed himself."
The Lady shrugged and looked out over the mountain-scape again. "A lengthy and complex task, but it is the only way you can make Tobias whole again. He was born to be a vessel. Normal divine means will be worthless in freeing him."

Great. Now Amanda was privy to that, too. As if Cady didn't feel guilty enough about it. Braiden rubbed his face a little, suddenly feeling tired. He loved Cady dearly (a somewhat disturbing amount, actually), but she brooded and worried about things she couldn't change or fix. More than was healthy, certainly. Now, how to say what he felt he ought to say without upsetting her more/again...

"Yes, that happened, and neither you nor Toby was there,"
he put out a hand for Amanda's shoulder, ready for it to be rebuffed before it could settle there. "I'm sorry, 'Manda, I saw Toby and thought you were in actual trouble because of him. It's not you I didn't trust, it's him. I know he hates Cady and me, and I was worried he'd do something to you to-" No, that wasn't the right tack. He frowned a little. "I was just worried. I wish you'd said something before, I guess, but that's not really fair."

A light sigh escaped him as he realized what he'd been doing for the past few weeks. More accurately, what he hadn't been doing. The other thing he hadn't been doing. "We haven't actually talked in a while, have we. About anything."

Cady let Braiden talk as she collected herself, allowing her eyes to close for a moment to hide her pain. She'd never be allowed to move past the break with Derek. Someone would always pick at that wound, reminding her of her moment of panic, her shitty timing. And she'd never be able to heal.

When she spoke, her voice was low and weary. "I do have a problem, Amanda. I've got crap for timing and I've been letting my emotions rule me. I ended things with Derek in the wrong place, at the wrong time, because I was frightened and panicked. The morning after Braiden proposed, I tried sharing my joy with Sam, but that only hurt her. And now," the corners of her mouth twitched into some mix of grin and grimace, "I've hurt you by being an overbearing, overprotective, meddling almost sister-in-law."

The grimace eased into a sad smile. "Family is the most imporant thing in the world to me, even though the only family I had growing up was my dad. So I'm sorry that I overstepped my bounds. All I can do is promise it won't happen again." Cady cleared her throat and pushed away from the wall. Her smile warmed as a little as she gave the prince an understanding look. "I can go see what the guys have found if you want to stay."

"I can take care of myself and you know it. You've known me where to hit boys and I figured the rest out for myself." Amanda winked at Braiden, the tension leaking out of her. "And yeah, you've been busy. I'd be angry, if your fiance wasn't so hot." She giggled and stepped forward, worming into Cady's arms for a hug.

"You're the best over-protecting, domineering, servant-scaring sister-in-law I could hope for," the princess said softly, kissing Cady's cheek. "But I don't have any friends. I know Toby doesn't like you guys and I really don't care that much why. He doesn't look at me like I'm royalty or a precious teacup to put on a shelf somewhere. Just like you don't see Braiden like that. You understand, right?"

"Or Amanda could come with us," Braiden said with a little chuckle. "She's not a precious teacup, after all. Best way to know what's going on is to be there, right?"

Cady blinked as Amanda wrapped her arms around her middle, and squeezed back, a tear leaking from one eye. "I do understand," she answered, her voice just as soft. She gave the princess a crooked smile. "You're the most rambunctious, conniving, charming imp I've ever had the good fortune to know... and all I could ask for in a sister-in-law... and a friend."

Lifting the brim of Amanda's cap, Cady planted a kiss on the girl's forehead... and swept the hat from the younger girl's head. With a flip of her wrist, the sorceress flopped the hat onto her own head, twisting it for a jaunty angle. "Randale and Kalem have found something of interest. Elenna made it sound like they needed to see us right away, so here's the question: do you want to get cleaned up a little before we go find them, or do you want to come like this?"

A huge impish grin spread across Amanda's face. "Randale will freak out if he sees me like this. Let's go."

As it turns out, Randale did freak out. His face turned several interesting shades of red as he sputtered and stammered, staring at the street urchin that was his sister. Served him right, Amanda thought with a smirk, as she deliberately got the dusty seat of her trousers on some of his nicer blank parchments. His small stuffy study was even more cluttered than usual. New piles of books loomed precariously near the wall. The two tables were buried underneath a sea of papers and scrolls. Heatless candles flickered everywhere, never shedding wax, never endangering the precious materials.

Kalem was there and he lifted his head while the prince sputtered, face lighting up at the sight of Cady. "Ah, Cadence. I was just about to send for you."

"I think you already sent for her,"
Amanda said, feeling helpful.

The mage blinked. "Ah, right. Excellent. We think we hit on something new, as far as finding your friend. Are you well? You look well. Is something different about your hair? That was my point, you know, that finding the demonlord was going to be near impossible. That's what I told Derek when he pestered me, but he said that he was going to try any way, stubborn boy. I quit, by the way. Officially."

"Good news,"
Amanda said, walking over and giving Randale a big hug. "You're no longer the craziest absent-minded man I know."

"I take exception to that,"
he said, finally calming down enough to speak. "As well as the filth you're tracking everywhere. Were you gardening?"

It was really the wrong time of year to be wandering around with no shirt on, Braiden decided. Neither Amanda nor Cady gave him even half a minute to duck anywhere and grab one, though. They just bustled on ahead, and he followed them, figuring whatever Randale and Kalem had to say, he'd have to hear it second-hand if he took a detour. It meant he was getting a lot of eyes on him, which was fine. Who knew what they thought of what they saw. He was still fairly bloody.

Rather than send Randale into apoplectic fits, he stayed behind both women and leaned against the now-closed door casually. Not that Amanda wasn't doing an admirable job of that already, but the blood would probably send Randi right over the top as he contemplated it all dripping and smudging and oozing on things. "Yes," he answered his brother with a smirk. "She was out digging up adventure. I hear the flowers on that are a lovely shade of purple this time of year."

Cady tried to hide her chuckle by clearing her throat. Kalem made it much easier to hide her mirth. The more the mage spoke, the more his student's brow puckered. As he finished, Cady crossed the room and put a hand on the old man's shoulder. "Kalem," she began, trying to sound lighthearted, "thank you for the compliment, but you're going to have to start at the beginning on the rest of it."

Her eyes remained on Kalem, but she directed her words to Randale. "When was the last time he ate or drank or slept?" Try as she might, she couldn't keep the concern she felt out of her voice.

"I'm fine, Cadence," Kalem said stiffly.

Randale was sputtering again, because Braiden's comment had made him look over. Amanda smirked and spun quickly out of the way as he rushed over to Braiden. "What happened?" he demanded, reaching to grab his younger brother's shoulders for a good shake before he thought better of it, jerking back.

Amanda sniffed lightly, then made a face. "I'd say Randale hasn't slept in at least two days."

Kalem rolled his eyes. "Both of us are grown men. You'd do well to show respect to your elders."

She snorted. "Please, gramps. I live around dragons. You don't get respect until you're in the quadruple digits of age."





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