Liria felt herself relaxing for the first time in months. The taut knot of muscle at the back of her neck began to loosen as she reclined gratefully in the steamy waters of the hot spring. Leaning back against the marble lip of the pool, she closed her eyes and sighed luxuriously.
She didn't stir when the sound of light splashing could be heard nearby. Having recognized the careful plodding of her friend's bare feet on the stone floor, Liria knew that Devon had entered the water. There was a moment of silence, during which she assumed her companion had seated herself on the low benches running along the outer edge of the pool, when a sudden deluge washed over her face.
Sputtering, Liria wiped her eyes and sat up straight. When she could see clearly, she gazed in shock at the woman sitting nearby. At the expression on her face, Devon arched a dark brow and pursed her lips.
"What?" she asked innocently.
Liria softened, a smile twisting her lips. "You're obviously feeling better."
Stretching, Devon yawned and arched her back. "I really needed this," she responded.
"Mmm, we both did," Liria agreed.
She stopped to gaze around herself. "This place is so beautiful. I've never traveled outside of Hoffenshire before all of this, you know. Thank you."
Devon looked surprised. "I can't imagine you've enjoyed much of your time away from home."
"I would have died there," Liria said simply. "Whether Rothschild reached me or not. Out here--with you--I have a chance to do more than I ever thought possible. That deserves a thank you, I think."
The dark-haired woman was beautiful when she smiled. A light of innocence flashed in her eyes, and for an instant a crack appeared in the stone cast of her face. Liria felt as though she was given a gift each time she had the opportunity to see it.
"Well, a trip to the Continent was a great idea, if I do say so myself," Devon murmured, leaning back and closing her eyes.
Just then, two more women walked into the bathhouse. Large potted ferns swayed gently in the breeze sneaking through the open door. The spacious ceiling was the perfect conductor, echoing the sounds of their easy chatter. The women were older, and Liria politely averted her eyes when they removed their flowing robes.
The conversation stopped abruptly, a loud squawk immediately following. Liria glanced at them in time to see the larger of the two elbow her companion. She was staring open-mouthed at Devon. Her brown hair was piled loosely on top of her head, slightly askew, giving her a quizzical look that was almost comical with the perfect 'o' of her rouged lips.
"That's her!" she gasped.
Devon's eyes flew open at this, but otherwise she remained still.
"You're the tart I seen making eyes at my husband," the woman accused.
"You have me mistaken for someone else," Devon replied, unruffled.
"Oh yeah?" the woman snorted, placing a fist on one meaty hip. "Then why has my Lyle been going on about 'that raven-black hair, those blue eyes'...and why did I see you draped across his arm yesterday at the market?"
Liria interjected then, "Pardon me, but that's impossible. We weren't even here yesterday."
The woman hardly spared her a glance. "I should rip out that silver tongue of yours," she spat at Devon. "Yank out that hair strand by strand. What do you think of that, you trollop?"
Liria watched as Devon easily unfolded herself from her seat, crossing the waist-deep pool of water silently. Climbing out, she stood before the woman, her bare skin glistening with moisture. An angry red scar marred her left side at her ribcage. Not two months old, it only made her form more formidable.
Naked, Devon appeared even less vulnerable than when she was fully armored. Her lean body was taut with muscle, her movements as controlled as those of a predatory animal. Next to the older woman she seemed to be chiseled out of stone.
The woman leaned back, already intimidated by this suggestion of lethal strength. However, Devon did not allow her to skulk away without a more coherent threat.
"I invite you to try," she murmured.
Liria coughed, masking a chuckle. Sensing it was time to make their retreat, she rose to her feet. The air above the water was much cooler, and she instantly puckered with gooseflesh.
Reaching her friend, she placed a hand on one arm and said, "We should take our leave."
Devon stalked past a fruit stand, still incensed. None of Liria's consoling remarks could calm her anger. In fact, the girl's amusement over the entire situation made her attitude any blacker.
"How can that fat wench even think I'd be interested in whatever she'd married?" Devon snapped.
Liria glanced up from the apple she'd been examining. "That's unkind," she chastized. "I'm sure Lyle is...very handsome. Anyway, you shouldn't call people names."
Devon refused to be mollified by her attempts at humor. "There's something odd about this place," she decided.
Liria gazed around, taking in the broad street filled with shoppers, the elegant stucco exteriors of surrounding buildings arching up toward red clay roofs, all accented by flowers and plants not native to her own home. Her open face was enchanting with its appreciative expression.
"Genoa has to be the most beautiful city I've ever seen," she said. "You're letting an unfortunate circumstance dampen your spirits."
Devon glanced toward a group of women nearby. Their hurried chatter was unlike any language she'd ever heard. It sounded like complete gibberish. With a start, she realized they were having a perfectly normal conversation, speaking backwards.
"Definitely odd," Devon reiterated.
When Liria opened her mouth to reply, she was suddenly tossed forward as a man walked into her from behind. Devon grabbed her arm to steady her, instinctively pulling the smaller woman to one side to place herself nearer to the possibility of danger.
"Excuse me," Liria sputtered apologetically, anxiously eyeing the man to see if she'd done any damange.
He paid her no mind as soon as he spotted Devon. His dark eyes widened in shock, and another emotion that she really didn't like to see. He swallowed, his thickly protruding adam's apple bobbing up and down spasmodically.
"My love," he gasped.
"What?" she heard Liria question.
Devon nodded grimly, unable to escape the focus of his devoted gaze. "Lyle," she guessed.
"I knew you wouldn't forget," he said fervently, making her groan in discomfort.
His hands, large and heavily knuckled for such a gaunt man, reached forward to shakily grasp at her hand. Devon took a step back, quelling the urge to grab him and break his fingers. She understood instantly that he was just as much a pawn in some greater madness as they were beginning to be.
As she slyly attempted to disentangle herself from his advances, Devon thought she heard a burst of laughter to her left. She held up one hand to stop Lyle's approach and glanced back over one shoulder. While much of the traffic completely ignored their little tete a tete, one figure nearby was openly amused by the situation.
When he noticed her looking at him, he ducked back behind a cart, losing his smile. Seconds passed, but he did not reappear. Devon returned her attention to Lyle, momentarily nonplussed.
"I can't believe I've lived my life without the warm light of your face," he said. "It's been only darkness until now."
"Um..." Liria interrupted, clearing her throat. "I think I better go ahead, wait for you at the tavern."
Devon glanced her way, frowning at the younger woman's renewed humor. "Yeah, fine," she replied.
She turned back toward her would be swain, feeling a pang of sympathy. "Lyle," she said, grimacing at the way his face brightened at the use of his name. "Don't you think it's strange, that you feel so strongly about someone you've never met?"
Lyle looked confused. "What do you mean?" he asked. "I adore you."
"You don't even know me," Devon protested.
"I do," he argued, his head bobbing as quickly as his adam's apple.
"You see, I was right!" a woman shouted, triumphant.
Sagging with frustration, Devon spotted Lyle's wife quickly approaching. He looked shocked, then dismayed at being discovered.
"You've got a lot of nerve, you little harlot," she snapped.
Devon's brow rose at being referred to as 'little.' She stood taller as the woman approached. The wider woman didn't pause at this threat, however, instead walking right up to her and actually thrusting her bosom against her intimidatingly.
"I want no trouble, Madam," Devon said, thinking of how her father would laugh to hear her say that.
"You got it, bitch," she spat. "Shut up, Lyle," she snapped when her mousy husband opened his mouth to say something.
Devon was shocked when she reeled back to throw a meaty fist at her. Stepping aside easily, she watched Lyle's wife rush past with the momentum of her punch. Unfortunately, the woman did catch something--a stand of fish laid out nearby. As she sprawled out across it, a splintering crash signaled the relative weakness of the stand in conjunction with her weight. A moment later the entire contraption went crashing to the ground.
The merchant behind the stand immediately began shouting at her. Lurching to her feet with pieces of raw fish hanging across her front, she took a swing at him. Lyle moved forward to help his wife, and caught one on the chin. As Devon backed away from the ensuing chaos, she spotted at least three more such fights erupting nearby.
Then she heard the same braying laughter that had stilled her a short time before. Devon turned on her heel and was able to spot him standing in the middle of the street. His common clothes and dirtied appearance marked him as a peasant. But it was clear to her then that he was something more than that entirely.
When he noticed her watching, his smile slipped a bit. He executed a cocky little bow, then turned and shambled up the street. Thoroughly annoyed, Devon followed. The crowd in the street proved a bit of a challenge, mainly because the people were acting so strangely. She was distracted by a man walking by on his hands a moment and lost sight of her quarry. But she soon found him again, just by listening for that queer laugh.
Devon saw him lay his hands on the shoulders of an elderly couple. The small woman immediately turned to her husband and spit on his face. Shocked, the man returned the favor by shoving her into a puddle of mud. Angry, Devon shouted at the odd fellow, "Stop this!"
Surprised, he glanced in her direction. Quirking his head to one side, he gazed upward in contemplation before snapping his fingers. "You're not the only one who sees the truth. Come and find me, we'll sit a spell," he dared, disappearing entirely.
Devon's eyes searched the crowd for any sight of him, but in vain. She wondered at his comment for a moment before realizing where he'd headed. "Liria," she murmured, rushing forward.
Liria plunked her mug down on the bar with a satisfied sigh. The mulled wine was very light--she'd not repeat the row she'd had at Laric's house in Woelfel. Out of the corner of her eye, she spotted a woman sitting nearby staring at her. She ignored it for a moment, not wanting to start anything without Devon around. But it soon unnerved her to the point that she could no longer pretend she hadn't noticed.
Turning toward the woman, she said, "Can I help you?"
The tiny redhead broke into a wide grin that seemed to split her face in two. Her dark eyes seemed to accentuate the flurry of freckles dotting her skin. Shaking her head in amazement, she held out one hand. Liria drew back minutely, not willing to accept it.
"It's me," the woman said. "It's Kylia."
Liria frowned. "Hello," she answered.
"It's like looking in the mirror," the girl marveled. Standing up from her stool she came closer to examine Liria carefully. "Father told me, but I didn't dare believe him."
"I don't understand," Liria said.
"Sister!" Kylia exclaimed. "How can you not recognize your own kin?"
Liria shook her head. "I have no siblings," she denied.
"But you do. Our father, Kaleb, told me the tale many times. How he was forced to leave you behind so many years ago. I was born only two years later. My mother died in childbirth."
"I'm sorry," Liria murmured. "But you're mistaken."
The woman was irritated then. "Think you're better than me, don't you? Big traveler with your fancy clothes."
Liria glanced down at her threadbare blue dress in confusion. "We don't look anything alike," she protested.
Kylia's face screwed up in anger. "Think I'm in it for the gold? Well, well, the truth comes out at last," she muttered. She grabbed Lyria's mug and gulped down the rest of her mead, eyeing her spitefully.
Liria breathed a sigh of relief when she saw Devon approaching. The taller woman immediately stepped between the two of them, nearly blocking her “sibling” from view. “If you would excuse us,” she said grimly, turning to pull Liria away from the bar.
“You don’t know how glad I am to see you,” Liria cried. “That woman believes that I’m her long lost sister—she thinks we share the same father.”
Devon regarded her for an instant before responding, “Might you?” It was a clear reference to her mother’s profession, and Liria felt her face grow hot with sudden anger. The taut expression on the dark-haired woman’s features slipped a bit, showing her remorse. “That was uncalled for, I apologize.”
Liria shook her head. “My mother never saw anyone outside the three boroughs,” she murmured. She felt a sharp pain, remembering how hard her mother fought to keep them fed and clothed. “The people here—they’re all mad.”
“Not mad,” Devon answered. “Cursed would be a better word for it, I think.”
Eyes widening, Liria’s mind reached back to recall something she’d seen on her way here to the tavern. Even when attempting to consider it consciously, it seemed bent on slipping away from her entirely. She frowned, trying to concentrate, but Devon’s abrupt flurry of movement before her distracted her once again.
“And I think I know the cause,” the dark-haired woman snarled, leaning sharply to one side and grabbing a nearby patron by the scruff of his neck.
Tossing him back against a support beam near one corner of the packed room, Devon easily held him in place with one arm. A table full of diners nearby didn’t even flinch at the ruckus. “You want to explain things for us, friend?” Devon challenged him.
The man swallowed nervously, but couldn’t seem to swipe the leering grin from his face. He looked as though he might dissolve into giggles at any moment. Beardless, his brown hair stuck out from his head in spiky clumps. He wore the rough, faded garments of a commoner. Standing barefoot before Devon, he was several inches shorter than she. Liria still had to look up into his face, however, and she peered at him curiously.
“Do you have a pint and several hours?” he replied. Amazingly, his voice remained jovial, though it was clear that Devon was consciously restraining herself from throttling him on the spot.
“What have you done to these people?” Liria questioned.
He shook his head. “Only the will of my lord. Killing me won’t do any good,” he added, giggling lightly. “He’ll only find another to mete out his punishments.”
“And who is your lord?” Devon asked.
The man sighed. “Weary travelers, you should never have come to Genoa. Do you learn too much, you might never leave.”
Devon tightened her grip, making him gag. “Who are you, and who do you work for?” she purred. “Those are simple questions, peasant.”
“All right, I’ll tell you, but release me first…I do poorly without air.” He gasped when Devon let him go, slumping down against the beam in relief. “It’s a bad idea, crossing Oberon,” he muttered.
“Oberon?” Liria blurted. “The King of the Fairies? He’s behind this?”
The man’s shoulders dropped, his head bowing momentarily. “No, I am. ‘Tis my fault, anyway. This is why I’ve become the fool.”
Devon’s gaze never left his face, but Liria glanced around them cautiously. The other patrons didn’t seem to notice their topic of conversation. “Don’t bother,” he said. “They can’t see Puck, not in their state.”
“That’s you? You’re the fool of Oberon?” Devon asked.
“How can we see you then?” Liria asked immediately after, unable to help herself.
Puck looked at her in disdain. “She can see me because she’s a warrior, with the senses of one who notices what others ignore. I don’t know why you can see me.”
Liria’s eyes narrowed. “Funny.”
“What could you have done to make Oberon punish an entire city?” Devon asked.
Reaching into his shirt, the man pulled out a locket on a gold chain. He opened it, allowing them to see the tiny painted portrait inside. The jewelry was obviously worth a lot of money, and so intricately designed it seemed apparent that it was not meant to be touched by human hands.
Inside, a woman of haunting beauty was portrayed staring out at her audience with a faint flicker of a smile on her face. She had a dark and exotic beauty that was visible in painted form, suggesting that in person she was truly a sight to behold.
“She’s beautiful,” Liria breathed.
“She was my wife,” Puck said, his voice catching a sorrowful tone for the first time. At their glances of disbelief, he quickly closed the locket and returned it close to his heart. “My name was Piero, then. She was the only daughter of Queen Titania.” He sighed, a heavy sound that made Liria’s heart twinge with sympathy. “They hated me. Oberon, and Titania. They thought she’d live a degrading life as a scullery maid, that she deserved much better. But that was why Cira was so special. She found happiness in the smallest of things. Her kindness was something…now that I know them better, I understand that it’s something Oberon and Titania would never be able to recognize. They could only see her living as a mortal and despise it.”
Devon nodded thoughtfully. “So they started tormenting the people of Genoa, trying to force her home again.”
“It obviously didn’t work,” Liria added. “What happened?”
“Cira blamed herself for the pain she saw. She’d grown so close to the mortals here, made so many friends. She hated being the cause of their anguish. When her parents refused to listen…to stop what they were doing and let her live as she wanted…” Puck trailed off, clearly pained by what he was about to say. “She threw herself into the Eastern River.”
Piero and Cira
“Most likely causing her parents to blame you, and the rest of the people here,” Devon said. “So now you’re trapped in this enchanted place.”
“I don’t understand,” Liria said. “How could the river kill her, when she was a magical creature?”
“Any being can die, if it’s her will,” Devon responded. “She couldn’t live with that pain anymore, but couldn’t return to the world she’d left behind. There was no other choice for her.”
Puck suddenly stood straight. “He comes,” he whispered. His face virtually beamed with happiness. Liria gazed at him in confusion. How could he be excited that the creature who had enslaved him was returning? “You should not be in his path when he arrives,” he added, nearly writhing with amusement.
At that moment, he disappeared once again. Devon whipped around to face the door, but there was no evidence he’d ever been there at all.
“What should we do?” Liria asked.
“I’m going to find this Oberon and talk some sense into him,” Devon replied evenly.
Liria shook her head. “Are you sure that fighting is really the answer? How are you going to stop an immortal, anyway?”
Devon pursed her lips. “It’s my language,” she finally said. “He’ll understand it.”
“Wait,” Liria stopped her. “I think there’s something else we can…why can’t I remember?” she murmured, furious with herself. “There’s always another way to approach any situation. Maybe Puck can—“
Shaking her head, Devon moved to make her retreat. “Puck can’t do anything for us. He’s too deep into the spell. Maybe when he remembers his love for Cira, he appears to be normal once again, but he’s lost that piece of humanity, that…that conscience required to know what’s right and wrong. I don’t think he’ll ever regain that completely.” She paused, regarding the smaller woman steadily. “I want you to stay put. I’ll take care of this.”
“No arguments,” Devon said. “I didn’t get you back just to put you in danger once again.”
Liria watched her leave, frustrated. She spotted a woman standing near the door, watching her. It wasn’t her “sister,” but she knew she’d seen her somewhere before. When the woman realized that Liria had noticed her, she quickly pulled the door open and returned to the street outside. In that instant, Liria recalled what she’d seen as she walked toward the tavern earlier that day. She smiled to herself, knowing what she could do to help.
“You have your language, Devon,” she murmured. “But I think mine is called for now.”
Catching up with the strange woman, Liria grabbed her by the arm. All of her intent, her will to stay the stranger's progress, sent a tingling sensation across her skin. When she touched the other woman, a shock of energy passed between them. Liria knew then that she was right about who the young woman was.
"Take me to see Queen Titania," she said.
The woman's pale eyes widened, and she shook her head in mute disbelief. Liria nodded, feeling another burst of warmth course through her and into the other woman.
"Yes," she said.
"You think to stop me with that bit of steel and snarling attitude?" Oberon asked.
The King of the Fairies was a magnificent beast, aged and dignified, boasting a fabulous mane of grey locks and a peppered beard. He appeared soon after she began screaming for him. She'd found a small courtyard away from the main streets to make her case. He stood on the lip of the fountain at the very center of this open area between two small clusters of buildings.
Devon shrugged. "It might be enough," she said.
He laughed then, surprising her. "You're entertaining, for a mortal. Perhaps I've found a new fool to take the place of that foul little man."
Drawing her sword, Devon shook her head at him. "That shall not be the end of this," she disagreed.
Oberon sighed. "Very well, let your assault begin."
She paused at his invitation. Considering Liria's warning, she wondered briefly if she should have brought the fledgling sorceress along. Perhaps another magic user might be better suited to this battle. She dismissed the thought as soon as it had come. Liria was safer right where she was--back at the tavern.
"Come closer, little one," the queen urged.
The floral scent of Titania's bower was intoxicating. This coupled with the high-pitched whispers of the tiny beings flitting around her gave her a weary light-headedness. The fairies hovered around their soverign with an unerring devotion.
Liria took a step forward, revealing more of the queen's features behind the veil of flowers cascading down from the intricate boughs that formed a canopy above her head. She was an older woman, but one who exuded a quiet strength, and beauty far beyond the realm mortality.
When she saw Liria clearly, her eyes widened and she beamed with pleasure. "You are one of Nature's chosen," she exclaimed. "I haven't seen one as strong as you in many years."
Liria blinked, confused. "Chosen?" she asked.
"Come, sit beside me," Titania invited, patting the cushions nearby.
Frowning, Liria did as she asked. The silken texture of the queen's pillows were heavenly. She'd never actually felt the expensive fabric before, and took a moment to run her fingers across a purple sash.
"You are perplexed," the queen said. "Do you fear me?"
Shyly, Liria shook her head. "You despise mortals," she said. "Why did you agree to see me?"
Titania smiled. "I find a few among your number amusing," she answered. "But yes, the vast majority of humans are detestable."
A flurry of giggles followed this pronouncement. One of the fairies came close to her face, trying to get a better glimpse of her. Liria could distinguish the curves of a slender body with the constantly shifting orb of light. She resisted the urge to sigh in frustration. How could she persuade the queen that what she was doing was wrong?
"Do you know..." Liria paused, knowing her line of questioning had passed into the purely selfish. "Why was I chosen?"
Titania laughed, delighted. "Who can know the whims of Nature?" she answered. "Your abilities are the truth, why is no matter."
Liria bit her lip. "I spoke with Puck," she broached.
The queen's face changed instantly, growing sour. "That man's birth is the bane of my existence," she hissed.
"He told me about Cira. About your loss," she added.
"My child," Titania whispered, bringing a hand to her middle. It seemed an absent-minded gesture of which she wasn't quite aware. "She deserved so much more from life. More than marriage to a human pig farmer."
"Cira loved Piero," Liria explained. "She was happy to be anywhere he was, and it didn't matter how much or how little he had."
Titania looked as though she'd swallowed something bitter. "How do you know?" she snarled. "You weren't there."
"I know you're exacting revenge for your mistake by torturing thousands of people. Genoa has been crippled by your vengeance."
"Good," Titania purred, leaning back. "Their lives are not worth hers."
Angered, Liria snapped, "Cira thought so."
The queen gaped at her in shock. "How dare you?"
"She took her own life rather than watch you bring pain to other people. How would she feel if she knew you've continued on in her name? How will your unborn child feel, growing up amidst so much hatred?" Liria gambled.
Amazingly, the queen did not react with anger. Instead, tears welled up in her eyes, and she touched a hand to her stomach once more. The fairies stopped where they flew, moved by this turn of events.
"It is Oberon who presses forward," she whispered sorrowfully. "He is much changed since Cira left us. We've hardly even spoken in years. His visits to me are...cold, and impersonal."
"He doesn't know that you're pregnant?" Liria asked. When Titania shook her head, she blurted, "You're the only one who can stop him. Please, my friend is with him now."
The queen smiled gently through her tears. "Your friend may be dead," she warned.
Liria placed a hand on Titania's. "Not Devon."
The queen sighed. "Very well, I shall try."
When they appeared, it was to see Devon flying across the courtyard to land in a crumpled heap against a far wall. The area itself was in shambles, with bits of debris scattered about and large cracks marring the stone walls around them. Liria took a step forward, wanting to see if Devon was injured, but Titania glided toward her husband, gently pushing her back.
"Do not interfere, little one," she murmured.
Oberon paused upon seeing his wife. "Why have you come?" he thundered, frowning.
Devon raised herself up on her hands and knees, shuddering briefly. She appeared to be preparing herself for another assault. Alarmed, Liria rushed forward to crouch beside her. Putting an arm across her shoulders, she attempted to keep her friend down.
"No," she whispered when Devon resisted. "Let Titania try."
The queen stepped before her husband, holding her hands out entreatingly. "Leave the mortal woman to her fate," she pleaded. "And come with me again."
Oberon gazed at her in wonder. "Do you now grow warm with emotion, only to waste it on them?"
"What do you mean, Husband?" she questioned.
"You have been as ice to me since they stole our child."
Titania made an odd, choking sound. "I was in grief."
"You put yourself away as completely as did Cira herself," he rumbled. "How else am I to rouse you but to put the villains under heel?"
Sighing, she said, "I was wrong, Oberon. Truth be told it was a human that pointed my blind eyes in the proper direction. Our child should not be raised in such an atmosphere."
Startled, Oberon replied, "You taunt me now?" When she shook her head, a strange smile crossed his lips. Liria almost shivered, the expression looked so foreign to him.
"Leave them," Titania repeated, "to err on their own. We shall adjourn once again."
He hung his head briefly. "I do tire of these ceaseless magics. Very well, Wife." He cast an angry glare toward Devon, obviously warning her that her life was a gift for him to bestow. Liria grabbed Devon's arm once again before she could run at him just for spite.
The king vanished with a plume of smoke, leaving his weary wife behind. Titania glanced around herself, taking in the damage they'd caused. Then she spoke, her voice steely. "Piero."
A brown figure shambled forward carefully from the shadows. Liria started; she hadn't even noticed him watching from the sidelines. "I no longer claim that name," Puck said tonelessly.
Titania inclined her head in acknowledgment. "Very well," she responded. "Your bondage has been broken. Do as you will, and perhaps one day you'll see her again." With that, she vanished as well, leaving the three of them alone in the courtyard.
Devon heaved herself to her feet, shrugging off Liria's concerned examination. "I'm fine," she muttered. "I almost had the timing right for the bastard, too. Few more minutes..."
Liria shook her head. "That wasn't the answer, Devon. Admit it."
Smiling wryly, Devon shrugged. "You were right," she agreed, scratching her head. "Amazing as that is."
"Hey, let me enjoy it while it lasts, all right?"
Liria's smile faded when Devon turned toward Puck. He appeared more solid suddenly, and seemed to have aged several years in the last few moments. His hair now hung listlessly, his coloring growing sallow, and his stature had somehow been reduced. But his eyes were as bright as ever, staring back at them with an inquisitive air that had not been driven from him as mortality returned.
"What will you do now?" Liria asked.
Puck gazed up at the rooftops a moment, pursing his lips. "I don't think I'll stay here," he answered frankly. "I've always wanted to travel."
"Well, maybe now's a good time to start," Devon said, her voice uncharacteristically kind. Liria glanced up at her, returning the smile that instantly flashed her way.
"I'm almost glad Talia hates traveling by ship," Liria commented several hours later, as they made their way out of the city. "She would not have liked me going to see Titania like that."
Devon snorted. "You think I did? That was a bold move, Liria, and not one that I particularly condone."
"You take risks all of the time," Liria protested.
"Well, that's different. I perform according to my training. You're not schooled--"
Liria interrupted her. "That is complete hogwash. You're just upset because I was right. My plan worked."
Devon couldn't help but smile at the self-satisfied smirk on the smaller woman's face. "Fine, it worked," she said, adding, "Next time I might have to implement leg irons. Just to keep you in place, you see."
"Hey!" Liria cried. "You're about as funny as Puck." Glancing forward, she grinned impishly. "Race you to the boat." She was amazed when Devon joined in on the game, but decidedly less so when the dark-haired woman won.
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