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This was all highly irregular. Eterna behaved as if she had never seen a coat in her life. And her twin, “Shade,” was oddly unresponsive, as if something were wrong with her, or as if…

Alethea swallowed uncomfortably, reaching across her bond to Leto. The wolf padded out from the cover of the grass, looking between them all thoughtfully as her faerie’s hand settled on her head. “This is Leto, my familiar. I know some people are frightened of wolves, but Leto is quite gentle.”

“A pleasure,” Leto said, to punctuate the point.

Is she…real? Thea thought to her familiar, fingers carding through her soft fur. But the wolf had no guesses. The girl smelled real enough, but there was something…

Not to mention, they didn’t seem the least bit phased by their nudity. Frustrated, maybe, in the way Thea could be frustrated when a pencil snapped or a sock lost its mate. But they were shameless, unapologetic, and she found herself thinking back to the island and wondering if they were drunk or worse.

They didn’t seem drunk, though. Perfectly clear-headed, even.

“To be honest, I have never heard of a dremote, or…digitizing. But if anyone here can fix it, they’ll be at the castle.” She forced a smile, trying to look supportive, then began leading Midnight in the direction she had indicated, Leto falling into step beside her. Here, the conversation stalled. Alethea considered herself a fairly adept conversationalist, but everything about this encounter was so strange, she wasn’t sure where to begin. Perhaps if she knew a bit more about them? “Forgive me, but you two seem to be a long way from home. Where are you from?” If I’ve even heard of where you’re from. Guy had talked about remote worlds, but their conversation had focused mostly on the topography. Alethea didn’t remember him saying anything about “digitizing.”

“Well, I suppose you buy them, or borrow them from a friend,” she answered as best she could, though she was struggling to understand the line of questioning. “Before that, they are crafted by tailors, which can take some time. I think there are some shops here that sell ready-made clothing, but I have never been to one.” It was a bit embarrassing to admit, and even more embarrassing to realize she’d never really thought about it. When she wanted a dress, a dress was provided. A seamstress would come to her room and take her measurements, and bring fabric samples and sketches, and in a week it would be presented to her. Lately even that much effort was rare, as Mordred provided for her every need, seeming to anticipate when something new was in order. And, of course, they were all in his colors.

She pushed that line of thinking from her mind.

“Here, give me a moment to tie him,” she murmured as they arrived outside the kitchens, a door flung open and the smell of baking bread seeping out. Her fingers deftly knotted the reins on a nearby post, and then she brought her lips close to his ear and told him, “please just behave, I’ll be back soon” in a low whicker. She wasn’t sure why she hid this power – it wasn’t strange, here, to be able to talk to animals. But it seemed like something Eterna and Shade would not understand. 

Alethea turned, smiled again, and ushered them in through the door. 

The kitchens were busy, as usual, and everyone was blessedly too preoccupied to notice them as they strode through and into the hall. She led their strange party through servant’s passageways, winding back and forth, until they reached her rooms and, thank the gods, her closet.

She closed the bedroom door behind them, and then flung the closet wide.

“Let’s see…I hope you like blue…”


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