Tales of loathsome tyrants and prophesied saviors aren't nearly so appealing when you are a royal bastard with a prophecy hanging over your head.


The fire cackles in the workroom fireplace. Geddis dances lightly around, happier than usual thanks to her father's visit and the receding Shadow. "The fire on you!"

After that cackle, Geddis laughs at my startled jerk, which further rips the blouse I'm trying to repair. I'd heard her coming, certainly, but I didn't expect her to mimic the gryphon.

She laughs again at my wide-eyed look. "What kind of spellcasting is that?" she scoffs. "That's no spell. His years as a bulging bird must've sent his mind a little—" Geddis motions 'crazy', still grinning.

She's the crazy one! Sweat beads on my palms as my body temperature rises. "It's a curse!" I snarl at her foolish ridicule.

Geddis starts with her own surprise at my response, her bewilderment revealing that she had expected me to share her good humor. "But I asked Father and Silva, and that's not a spell—"

"It's a key." No, not the spell. The spell—a curse—can only be woven on a nine-day-old infant, but once bound, the child is slave to the binder for life. Anyone with key access from the binder can trigger it.

Grandfather had successfully bound a number of young elves on accident, back before he'd found how to use his stolen control of Yuoleen's kingdom to his advantage. He'd toyed with the spell for years before he realized it for the curse it was. The accident was that Mother was bound, along with every elf of that kingdom whose ninth day after birth fell during one of his practice sessions.

I don't hate Grandfather as much as I once did. He was power-hungry, not cruel. Mister Woad taught of a myth that the Crystal-elves—Queen Yuoleen's kingdom, Marsdenfel—knew where the human Crystal is.

When I consider what I know of Grandfather, that fits his actions. He didn't have the best intentions, but he probably didn't have the worst ones, either. He must have been bitter indeed when he realized how his intended legacy would unravel, as Father killed him to take Mother. I can pity Grandfather.

There is no excuse for Father.

"...A key?" Geddis asks finally, revealing her ignorance.

A prophet for a father and prophetess for a sister, and she doesn't know this? I hear the residual anger in my own voice. "An activator. A trigger."

"Oh." She looks uncomfortable. "What does the curse do?"

I swallow. "Burn. You." I concentrate on pulling out the ruined stitches from the blouse to prepare the garment for restarted repair. "It burns you away to ash at the caster's bidding." My voice sounds funny even to me.

An apologetic look from Geddis meets my glance. "Oh," she says, with an embarrassed smile. "I'll fix that." She shrugs. "My fault it's so torn up, anyway."

The internal heat remains in my veins. I don't trust myself not to lose my temper. She's terrible at sewing, but I can always fix it after I settle.

I hand her the blouse and head outside. The cold temperature and languid plants will cool me, calm me. I need to cool down.

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