Author's Note: This chapter contains allusions to child abuse and lesbians... and poor Jade, and Rose shows off what a dirty perv she is. Just kidding. Do I have any Rose fans? If so, in that case, I apologize in advance for Chapter Seven. Also, ALL of this chapter (all 20 pgs of it) takes place on Wednesday. Sorry, but Wednesday turned into a monster. I'm not happy with the last scenes, but overall this is one of my favorite chapters. With Leslia and Amber in the story, all the key players have been introduced (ho boy, there's a lot of characters). Uh, Happy Thanksgiving to those who celebrate it.

Chapter Six: Faith


Shell sat on the floor in the upstairs prep room with his back against the wall as he quietly plucked away at the strings of his harp, tuning the instrument. Beside him, Jade was pretending to be absorbed in a book he was reading and Rose was letting out the hem in one of her older robes. In the center of the room, Saffron paced back and forth nervously. She'd been doing that for just about as long as Shell had been awake.

"Saffron, please stop pacing." He said, for once in his life trying to be completely serious.

Saffron stopped, on the far side of the room, paused, then turned to regard her three paramours. Jade glanced over the top of his book and Rose stopped her own work to look up. "Sorry." Saffron apologized, even as she crossed the room again. "Sorry. I just... I can't stop worrying about this. I don't know how you three can be so calm."

Shell shrugged. "It's not worth the effort to worry about things we can't change. What happens will happen and it will be all right in the end."

Another pause, at the other end of the room, and Saffron sat down heavily on the floor, bringing her knees to her chest as best she could. "I wish it were that easy. I don't like putting blind trust in the future. It's just not my style."

"It's not blind trust." Rose chimed in, just as serious as Shell. "The doctor said the medicine would work, and it's not like Jade's never been sick before. He's always gotten better again."

Jade set down his book and moved to kneel beside Saffron, wrapping his arms around the young woman reassuringly.

"I know. I know. You just... never expect these things to happen. And now... with the baby on the way... I don't know what I would do if you weren't here anymore, Jade. If any of you weren't here anymore." Saffron responded, voice shaking. "Maybe I'm just being overly emotional, but I just... I just..."

Jade reached up quietly and wiped the tears Saffron hadn't noticed away from her face. Where smooth fingers had touched, so too did his lips.

"It's not the end of the world." Rose said. "It really isn't, Saffron. You know we'll do what we always do – get on with our lives and accept the situation."

Saffron stood abruptly, nearly knocking Jade over. She crossed the room again without looking back. "I know." She murmured, more to herself than the others, before casting a glance over her shoulder at them. "I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I need some time alone to think. I'm going to ask for permission to go out this afternoon. I'll see you later." With that, she departed.

The day before, Emmer had called Greater Reaston Nautical Research Center and set up a chance to meet with the director of internal affairs. So, that morning he called Kade to let the young man know that he wasn't going to be into the office that day, and to please take messages from anyone who might call him that day.

Greater Reaston was a town several kilometers south of Waverly, near the coastline, and many lesser nobles kept vacation homes there. It was a small town, but beautiful in the way it invoked the history of Waverly. The research center was equally beautiful, a large, classic looking building, whitewashed, trimmed in blue. It gave the place a warm, personal feeling.

Inside the brightly lit, equally welcoming lobby, the receptionist, a young woman who looked vaguely Kokian to Emmer, greeted him kindly and immediately took him to a conference room on the second floor. "Lord Dartey, the director will be here in just a moment to speak with you. May I bring you something to drink in the meantime?"

"Water's fine." Emmer assured the woman. She bowed slightly and left.

Not more than a few minutes later, the door opened and an older woman, the director with whom Emmer had made the appointment with, walked through. She was a lesser noble, in her early forties or so. She had an open, inviting air about her. "Lord Dartey!" She greeted, just as warmly as the receptionist from earlier had. "I am so glad you could come. I am Verena Mishta, the director in charge of the slaves here. It's very nice to meet you."

"Thank you, Director Mishta. It's very nice to meet you as well. I must say that I appreciate you taking the time out of your schedule to humor me in my odd request."

"No, no, not at all." Mishta assured with an easy smile. "Thank you for coming all the way down here from Waverly City. It's not everyday that a high noble takes interest in one of our slaves. I would be more than happy to assist you as best I can."

"Very well then, I will make this as short and sweet as possible. The slave I contacted you about, the Bot named Amber, I would like to purchase her."

Mishta's smile vanished, and the woman shifted uncomfortably. "I'm afraid we do not sell the contracts on our slaves unless the slave desires it or there are extenuating circumstances such as behavioral problems. As strange as it may seem, we care very deeply about our slaves and the work they do here, especially the talented Bots like Amber. We won't give them up for just any noble with enough money, If you will forgive my bluntness in saying so."

Emmer shook his head and smiled in understanding. "No, that's fine. Perhaps I should explain myself a bit better. Amber is related to one of my slaves. This slave... he means a lot to me, so I promised I would do this for him."

Silence. Mishta sighed. "A strange request. Academic slaves do not come cheaply. I will not pry into what this slave of yours means that you would spend so much on a slave. It is not my place. However, I still will not offer the contract until I have Amber's permission."

"May I speak to her, then? I would like to explain the situation. I am sure she will agree, once she understands."

"Very well." The woman nodded and stood. "I will allow you to speak with her privately."

It didn't take much work on Saffron's behalf for her to convince Lord Pattington to give her permission to go out into the city for the day, but he did make her take one of her paramours with her. Saffron picked Rose, because the younger girl was not only good company, but wouldn't try to pry into her thoughts like Shell and Jade would. It wasn't that Saffron didn't appreciate how much the two young men cared for her, but she just didn't want to talk about her emotions.

Rose, thankfully, felt much the same way when it came to her own emotions, so she understood what Saffron was going through.

There was some sort of festival or fair going on in one of the parks near the border of the Lesser Noble's district and the Commoner's district, where the Star of the Earth Temple was located. The park was decorated with light, pastel colored streamers and banners, and booths advertising crafts and home-cooked foods lined the park walkways. The girls weren't allowed to carry money on them, but that didn't mean they couldn't take a look around at the sights.

They walked down the sidewalks, largely ignored by the commoners around them, passing by stalls and merchants selling paintings, jewelry, clothing, foods, and even soaps all made by hand. Rose paused next to a table where a wizened looking old woman was selling elaborate decorative hair pieces meant to be worn on special occasions. One was decorated in tiny, intricate butterflies of all different colors. Saffron picked it up to take a closer look at it, even as the old woman behind the table glared at her.

"If you're not buying, don't touch." The old woman barked.

Saffron set the clip back down. "I'm sorry about that." She apologized, and grabbed the sleeve of Rose's robe, pulling the younger girl away. Once they were out of earshot of the booth, Saffron muttered, "Crabby pretentious freeborns. It wasn't like I was going to steal it."

Rose chuckled. "You never know, Saff. We've got plenty of hiding places in our day uniforms for hiding things." The teenager teased, gesturing to the ankle length white robes they wore. The cut of them was more concealing then their evening uniform, affording plenty of hidden pockets.

"And you know what those pockets are for, right?" Saffron grumbled. "Not stealing, that's for sure. I have no desire to be executed for thievery."

"Of course not. Pockets, of course, are for storing lubricants, hair ties, make-up, your paramour's hair clip that she thought she lost, rope, snacks that you're not supposed to be eating, if you're Jade you stick your notebook and pens in there, combs, love notes, and other completely necessary and awesome little items." Rose answered with a mischievous grin.

Saffron laughed. She couldn't help it. "You're a regular pack rat, aren't you Rose? Now I know where to look next time my eyeliner goes missing."

Rose smiled back, and dared a quick peck on Saffron's cheek. "You know you love me."

The older girl was opening her mouth to respond, when a large force hit her in the middle of her back, bowling her over. Rose sort of caught her on the way down, and both girls were sent sprawling across the pavement. Rose immediately sat back up to check and see if Saffron was all right.

Above them, the person that had knocked them over had frozen in place where he was, and the commoners at the festival paused to take a look at the accident. Rose, not used to being the center of attention (except among her paramours), tried to ignore the crowd, turning her attention instead to Saffron, who was curled up in a tight ball on the ground, the sleeve of her robe over her face.

"Oh, sweet mother of earth! I'm so sorry!" The man above them, a full-blooded Kokian if his dark hair, tanned skin, dark eyes, and unusual accent were anything to go by, cried, hovering over Saffron worriedly. "I wasn't paying attention to where I was going. I'm so sorry I knocked you over. Are you okay?"

Rose couldn't help but stare at the man in confusion. Why was he apologizing to them? Why didn't he just yell at them and go on his way? He didn't need to stick around. "She's fine." She muttered, still leaning over Saffron. "You just scared her, is all sir. She'll be fine in a minute." Ignoring the man, Rose leaned down to whisper in Saffron's ear. "Saff. Saff, it's Rose. We're in the middle of the park and people are staring at us. It's okay, it was just a person not paying attention and they ran into you. You're safe. You're safe."

This wasn't the first time Saffron had had a panic attack, but she still didn't have them very often. It tended to be Shell who got them more easily, since, according to Saffron, he'd once been hurt very badly by the master who owned both her and Shell before Lord Pattington did. Still, it wasn't like Rose was a stranger to them – she had them too, as so did Jade. It was what made them so comfortable with each other, because they understood what it was like to experience unexplainable terror form the smallest, most mundane of occurrences. Such as being run over by an overly apologetic Kokian in the street.

Saffron rolled over and uncovered her face. Her eyes were open, but still a little glassy. Rose brushed her bangs off her forehead and patted her cheeks, trying to get Saffron's attention. The girl blinked, the last traces of panic fading away.

The man who'd run into them, however, continued to panic. "Oh shit. You're pregnant aren't you? I'm so sorry, I really should have been watching. Really should have. You are all right, aren't you, miss?" He knelt down beside them, not seeming to notice the way Rose moved in between him and Saffron, trying to discretely keep him away from her paramour.

Rose helped Saffron sit up, and the older girl turned to see the man who'd hit her for the first time. "I'm fine, sir." She said, smiling reassuringly. "I'm sorry I got in your way."

"No, no. Not at all. I should have been watching. I could have hurt you." The Kokian insisted. "Please, let me make it up to you somehow."

By now, Saffron had noticed the stares of the onlookers, and was becoming just as uncomfortable by them as Rose was. She shook her head at the man, and began to climb to her feet. "There is no need to do that, sir. There was no harm done." Rose stood as well, and the two girls bowed low to the man, before turning and walking away. They headed quickly off the main path, down a dirt trail into a wooded area that afforded them some privacy.

Alone, the two girls stared at each other for a moment. "What was that about?" Rose asked, referring to the Kokian.

Saffron shrugged. "I don't know, but I do know that I need to sit down somewhere for a while. I'm still feeling a little shaky."

Rose led the other woman to a nearby bench and forced her to sit down. "Don't push yourself. Are you sure you're all right, Saff? I mean, he did hit you pretty hard."

"No, he didn't actually. I was just caught off guard. For a moment, I felt like I couldn't see anything at all, and before I knew it, I was panicking. I didn't mean to." Saffron apologized.

Rose just looked at Saffron strangely. "You do know that it's called a panic attack because you can't predict when they'll happen, right? Don't worry about it. That's what I'm here for!"

Footsteps, and the crunch of leaves under boots, caused both girls to glance up in the direction from which they came. It was the Kokian. He'd followed them. Rose couldn't help but frown.

"Sorry. I didn't mean to interrupt anything." The man apologized, again. "I didn't realize before, maybe because I'm new to the country and there is no caste in Kokia, but you are... slaves?"

Rose and Saffron exchanged incredulous glances. Hadn't it been obvious? Their uniforms had Decadence and Lord Pattington's symbols on them, and they had around their necks the identification tags all slaves who went out on public were required to wear. Saffron said, slowly and carefully, "Yes, we are slaves, sir. I'm sorry you didn't realize before."

"No, no. Please, don't be sorry for anything. It does not matter, I should have been paying more attention. Are you truly all right? You weren't moving, and when I saw that you were pregnant... I was really afraid I'd hurt you."

"I assure you, sir, I am fine. I... panicked... when you hit me in the back, but I was not hurt."

"Still, please allow me to make it up to you. In Kokia, it is not right that I do not try to make amends. I know this country is different, but I feel indebted to you."

Both Saffron and Rose shifted uncomfortably at the words, with Saffron looking to Rose for help. "Listen, sir, Saffron and I are slaves. That means we're property. You don't owe us anything."

The young man shook his head at that. "No, say nothing of the sort. I will buy you something to eat as a way to repay the debt. I refuse to take no from an answer." He insisted, but the smiled he gave the girls was genuinely friendly. The two slaves shrugged at each other. Why not? They nodded. "Perfect! My name is Leslie, by the way. It's very nice to meet you."

Amber turned out to be a young woman who looked barely old enough to have completed training, a fragile, skinny looking thing with the grace and bearing of a Companion – had scarring across her face not ruined her for that type of life. She wore her rough cut blond hair back up in a messy ponytail, and a pair of small wire frame glasses framed large brown eyes. Her working robes were slightly frayed and speckled with ink stains.

After Mishta showed her in and introduced her to Emmer as a man who owned a relative of hers, she left the two of them alone. Amber bowed once, quietly, and took a seat in one of the chairs far away from Emmer, relaxing into it with bored ease.

Amber didn't waste time on pleasantries. "I must say, this is not a position I ever expected to be in. To have a noble show up out of nowhere and ask to speak with me – you gave my paramour quite the scare." She told him, her soft voice amused. She folded her arms across the table and leaned forward.

"I'll admit it is an odd request, but you don't seem terribly concerned by this. In fact, you look like you were expecting it." Emmer replied, noticing the relaxed posture and irreverence for the difference between their ranks.

Amber shook her head. "You mistake apathy for expectation. Honestly, I could have cared less what you wanted, but you claim to own my brother, so therefore I am obliged to listen to you."

"How do you know it's your brother I own?" Emmer asked.

Amber rolled her eyes. "Unless you're going through all this trouble for one of my former paramours, then Jade is the only family I have."

"Jade is your brother, then? I didn't actually know. Jade only told me that he knew you."

"Yes, we're twins." Now Emmer could see the resemblance between the two even more clearly. Without the scarring across her face, Amber had the same ethereal androgynous beauty as Jade. "Now I am curious. If you own my brother, how did he tell you about me? He doesn't know how to read or write."

"He does now." Emmer shook his head. "I don't own him anymore. It's a very complicated story, but I need your help."

Amber leaned forward across the table, resting her chin in her hands as she regarded him with piercing brown eyes. "Go ahead and enlighten me then. You don't own my brother, but he gave you my identification number and asked you to find me. So you did. Why?"

"I made a mistake." Emmer told her, simply. "At one point, Jade belonged to my sister Charlotte, but I fell in love with him. He was... sweet, affectionate, and so beautiful that sometimes he didn't even look real to me. He was like something out of a dream. But Charlotte... There was so much happening in her life. She couldn't keep Jade anymore, so she sold him. I tried to convince her to keep him, but she refused. It wasn't supposed to happen like that, though. He was supposed to be bought by another noble as a Companion, but he was sold, instead, to a brothel. I made a mistake, and it hurt him, so now I'm trying to make up for it. He asked me to find you, so I did."

The slave had listened quietly to what Emmer had to say, her face expressionless. "That is the most bullshit I've ever heard in my life, and I work for nobles, so I know bullshit." She told him calmly. "You, Emmer Dartey, are a bastard. You really expect me to believe that you, a high noble, would go out of your way to help a slave you claim to love? You are either the biggest idiot of a noble in the world or there's more you're not telling me. I may look young, but I assure you that I am not stupid, and neither is my brother."

"There is more, but it's not important right now. Do you want to see your brother or not?"

"No." Amber replied, her voice cold.

Leslie bought the girls tea from one of the vendors, chamomile for Saffron and green tea for Rose, both without sugar because, as the one who'd introduced herself as Rose explained, they had to watch what they ate. As he stood in line for the tea, he pulled out his cell phone and checked the time. 2:15 in the afternoon. He was officially late for class. Oh well, missing one day of class wouldn't spell the end of the world. Besides, he really did feel sorry for running into the two girls, and causing one of them to have a panic attack.

The girls were still in the hidden area off the main path, sitting on the bench, when Leslie returned carrying the drinks. He was a little surprised, because he half expected them to run off again. This country confused Leslie, who'd been born and raised in Kokia, and was only in Waverly City for school. He'd been told a few times, by his peers back home, his cousin who lived here, and even by his classmates, about the slaves here. His peers and his cousin had told him that they lived in wretched conditions, and that many of them had some sort of mental or physical trauma, but these two strangely beautiful young women, fit his classmate's description much more accurately. They looked healthy, smiling and laughing with each other as he drew near. The pregnant one, Saffron, even waved at him.

"Thank you." Both girls said, in stereo, as they accepted their drinks. Leslie sat down beside them, holding his own tea (black, with sugar and milk both).

They sat in silence for a few minutes, simply drinking their tea. Leslie had questions he wanted to ask the girls, but he was afraid of offending them. Finally, he worked up the courage to ask what he hoped was a simple, harmless question. "Do you two come out into the city often?"

Saffron shook her head. "Not very often. Usually only to go to the temple once a month, or to the clinic every couple of months."

"I see. Why not?"

Rose shrugged. "We need our master's permission to go out, and the commoners and nobles around here don't like seeing slaves in public very often. I think it annoys them."

"Rose!" Saffron cried. She turned quickly to Leslie. "I'm so sorry. Just ignore her. She doesn't always think before she speaks."

The girl named Rose was frowning, her lower lip pushed out in a pout as she folded her arms over her chest. Leslie laughed and waved off the apology. "No, don't worry. I want to know what you think. I came to this country to study as an engineer, but I want to know more about the country as well. So you don't get to come out very often, then? May I ask why you're out today?"

"One of our paramours is sick." Rose chimed in, before Saffron could silence her. She was sitting the furthest away from Leslie, so she had to lean over the older girl to speak. "Saffron needed some time on her own, so we came out to get some air and think. And maybe go to the temple to pray for him."

"I see. What is this paramour? I do not recognize the word."

Rose thought for a moment. "A paramour... I guess is kind of like a lover. It's another slave who you think of as being like family. I don't really know how to explain. But, um, Saffron! Yes, Saffron's one of my paramours."

As though that explained everything. Leslie was still confused. Saffron rolled her eyes and set her tea down beside her. "Paramour," she explained, with an annoyed glare towards Rose, "is what we call the slaves we take as partners in sex. It is hard to explain, but... part of it is that we aren't considered people, so technically it's not cheating on partner if you have sex with a slave. Therefore monogamous nobles will sometimes sleep with their slaves. And slaves don't have the right to refuse. Most slaves don't accept the idea of monogamy, because of that. We do practice fidelity, though."

"Yeah, we're a lot more... hmm... committed than most nobles are!" Rose chimed in. Saffron smacked her arm lightly, a warning to watch her mouth, before she turned back to Leslie. When Saffron wasn't looking, Rose stuck her tongue out at the older girl.

"I see... so you two are paramours. And you have another paramour who is sick?" Leslie asked. He could feel a headache beginning between his eyes. So much that didn't make sense to him!

"Actually, we have two more paramours. There's four of us in our circle. Some slaves have larger circles." Rose, again, probably trying to be helpful but really only succeeding in confusing Leslie more.

Saffron stood up suddenly with a sigh. "I'll be back in a few minutes. Please wait for me here, Rose." She said, and with a quick bow to Leslie walked off. Leslie rose to follow her, but Rose grabbed hold of the sleeve of his tunic.

"Don't." She warned, tugging him back down on the bench gently. "She needs to be alone right now. Even though she keeps saying she's all right, you really did terrify her earlier today. She hates having her back touched."

Leslie stared after the young woman for a moment, before turning back to Rose. The brunet slave sipped her tea quietly. "Why doesn't she like having her back touched?"

Rose glanced down at her hands. The sleeves of her robe covered the back of them, but her manicured nails could still be seen from underneath. Quietly, and without looking at Leslie, she said, "Saffron says it makes her feel helpless. She didn't really tell me much, but Shell – one of our paramours who knew Saffron when she was a child – says it's because their old master used to throw her into walls if she got in his way."

Leslie wasn't sure how to respond to that. "I'm – "

"Don't!" Rose interrupted him. She glanced up at him, her expression pleading. "Don't say you're sorry. Please. I never know what to say in return. We're slaves, and sometimes bad things happen to us. We can't let people know that it affects us, even if it does. Because broken slaves are worthless. I appreciate that you've talked to us and tried to get to know Saffron and I. Believe me, it's nice to be able to talk to people other than my master and my fellow slaves, but please don't try to treat me like an equal."

Silence followed for a few moments. Carefully, Leslie reached up to cup Rose's face, forcing the girl to meet his eyes. "Rose... I don't know how to not treat another person as an equal."


A simple answer, but it floored Emmer to hear it spoken so calmly. Amber glared at him coldly.

"Why?" Emmer asked, confused. He'd expected her to agree easily. He was offering to reunite them, after all.

"Because I won't be so easily swayed by pretty words and promises of love and forgiveness, or by pretty words that have absolutely no value when spoken by one such as you." Amber sneered as she leaned across the table. "Jade was raised to believe that the only happiness he'd ever obtain would be in the arms of a noble. I know better. He'd be better off without you in his life!"

"Amber." Emmer said, trying to interject and explain himself.

"No, be quiet. I don't want to hear what you have to say. You claim you love him, and what reasons did you give? He's affectionate and sweet. Did it ever occur to you that those traits are not part of his natural personality? He was trained.

"Jade and I were never separated from each other. Even after I became scarred from illness and started training as a Bot, Jade and I shared a room with each other. Tell me, Lord Dartey, do you know how Companions are trained to be so affectionate and docile?" Amber asked, her voice cold.

Honestly, Emmer had never even thought about it before. He knew that some Companions were bred or genetically engineered to carry certain traits. He'd assumed docility was one of them. He shook his head.

"Every training center is different. From what I understand, Meadow Haven is one of the more humane ones." Amber went on. "A Companion's training begins when they're four, at which time they're trained not to speak. Trainers do what's necessary to stop the child from talking. Anything from ignoring them when they do speak to gagging them if that doesn't work. You see, the goal is not render them completely unable to speak, which could be done with either drugs or surgery, but deter them from the act so strongly that it took almost two years for me to fully regain my speech. They're intentionally kept illiterate and not taught any sort of sign language. You see, if they can't communicate, then they must rely on their owner to communicate for them.

"From there, Companions are taught dancing and how to play several instruments. They learn the basic lessons on submission and pain tolerance, and how to be comfortable with their bodies on display, but the next stage of training doesn't happen until they're twelve. It starts slowly. A trainer will blindfold the Companion-to-be for a few hours, while all the Companion has to do is lie there and listen to the trainer read a book out loud, or something similar. After a week, they bind their hands and feet so they can't move. It's still not too bad, because they know the trainer is right there with them, touching them and talking to them. It's the earplugs that are harder to deal with, because now they can't see, move, or hear the trainer, but the trainer makes sure they know they're not alone. The trainer always keeps contact with the Companion. Reassuring touches, like stroking their hair or kissing their foreheads. It keeps them grounded.

"It's when they stop touching them that things get difficult. You see, humans need stimulus. Our brains like knowing what's going on, and we naturally like being near each other. When you cut a person off from the world completely, their brain tries to compensate for the lack of sensation. But it's psychologically painful for them. The trainers know this, they even know how to measure how much a Companion can take before he or she will go crazy. So, without warning, they stop touching them. After the first few sessions spent without physical contact, the Companion reacts by trying to bargain with the trainer. The desperate ones even try to break the law by attempting to entice the trainer into sex with them, because even at twelve years of age, Companions know that their power is in their sexual abilities. But the trainer doesn't accept. So they fight, and they fight, and they fight.

"I was down the hall, in a classroom with other Bots. We were learning algebra. All of a sudden, one day, I heard a scream from down the hall. Our trainer left the room to see what was wrong, and when she came back, she asked me to come with her. My brother had started screaming as soon as they put the earplugs in. He hadn't made a single sound in over seven years. They thought they'd lost him – that he hadn't been strong enough for the training. I was told to say my goodbyes, because they were planning to euthanize him. A slave whose gone feral can only be killed. I managed to convince them not to, and one of the healers backed me up on my stance. So they agreed to try again. Jade knew all this, so the next time they tied him up, he shut down his whole world and didn't make another sound.

"It takes less than three weeks worth of sessions, three hours each day, before even the most stubborn Companion stops fighting. And as soon as all the Companions in the class stop, that's when the sessions end. You know what they learn from the experience? They learn to crave physical contact so badly that they're incapable of being alone. It hurts them, emotionally, when they can't be near another person. The training scars them so that, no matter what a master does to them, a Companion always desires their master. They also learn that no matter what someone with power does to them, they have to accept it. They can't live any other way.

"So tell me, Emmer Dartey, how many times did my brother come to you looking for physical intimacy? Did you think he actually ever wanted it? Did you think Companions actually want the life they get? The good ones are just better at pretending they do." With that, Amber got up and walked around the table until she was standing in front of Emmer, her scar damaged face mere inches from his own. "I've heard of you, Lord Dartey. You're prominent in the world of software and computer manufacturing. We use your products here in the lab. But nothing – nothing – you or Jade could ever say will convince me that I should listen to you. Tell Jade that I love him, but I don't trust you."

With that, Amber walked out of the conference room, the door slamming shut behind her. She didn't even bow, Emmer realized belatedly.

Emmer hadn't even realized Jade had a sister, let alone any other family. He wondered how much more there was to the silent slave that he hadn't bothered to learn, and if it was too late to start now.

First, however, he had to convince Amber to trust him.

Charlotte was home alone for the afternoon, with just baby Ivan for company. They were in the nursery, and Charlotte was having fun just playing with her son, when Lady Jennifer Faulk called her.

"Hello Jennifer." Charlotte greeted casually, grabbing the cordless phone off the changing table. Jennifer was a friend of the family, so Charlotte felt comfortable leaving off her title.

"Charlotte! Hi! How are you?"

"I'm fine. I'm taking the afternoon off to take care of Ivan so Dove and Leala can go visit the Star of the Earth Temple in the southern nobles district. Emmer's also gone for the day, so you're out of luck if you're looking for him." Ivan reached up to try and grab the phone from Charlotte, who shook her head and set him down in his crib. She put one of his stuffed animals in there with him, hoping that would distract him long enough so she could have this conversation.

"No, I was actually calling to talk to you. I was wondering if you were busy this afternoon."

"Oh! Um, yeah. I'm not busy at all." Charlotte wondered why Jennifer was asking, but didn't say anything. "Except that I'm taking care of Ivan. I don't really feel comfortable letting one of the servants take over. They aren't trained at this like Dove is, you know?"

"I don't, actually." Jennifer replied with a laugh. Charlotte smiled back, even though Jennifer couldn't see it. "But that's fine. I was wondering if you wanted to go for a walk with me in the park. You can bring Ivan. I'm sure he'll have lots of fun looking at the birds there. And, I haven't gotten a chance to see him since his official birth presentation."

Charlotte laughed lightly at that. "All right then. I would be delighted to go with you to the park. Just let me know where and when."

"How about near the marina entrance in half and hour? Or is that too soon?"

Charlotte glanced up at the clock. 2:15 pm. She could do that. "Yeah, sure. I might be a little late, but I'll be there around that time. I need to pack a bag for Ivan and leave instructions for the staff."

"Okay. I'll see you in half an hour."

Thirty minutes later, Charlotte arrived at the entrance to the marina along the Iris river and found Jennifer already there waiting for her, dressed nicely but casually in a pair of comfortable slacks and a cream colored tunic that accented the warm chocolate color of her skin. She smiled and waved when she saw Charlotte, running up to take Charlotte's bag from her.

"Hello Charlotte, hello Ivan." She greeted, taking the time to ruffle Ivan's soft and sparse brown hair affectionately. Ivan reached out for her from the carrier on Charlotte's back.

"Hello Jennifer." Charlotte greeted, as Ivan made a happy cooing noise.

"Aww... He's so cute!"

Charlotte grinned. She loved when people complimented Ivan. "You can hold him if you want. He liked to be held." She suggested, already unfastening the straps of the pack so she could lift Ivan out.

"Really? You don't mind? Oh, but I'm afraid I'll drop him." Even so, Jennifer was reaching out eagerly to take the baby from her.

"No, of course not. I'll show you how to hold him and everything."

A few minutes later, and the two were walking along the riverside. Charlotte was carrying the baby carrier and her bag while Jennifer had her hands full of a very happy Ivan. Jennifer was a natural with the child, bouncing him and making him laugh and coo with every movement.

"Emmer told me about you and Lilya." Jennifer said after a few minutes of no conversation.

Charlotte shook her head. "I don't think it would have worked out in the end anyway. Lilya was always such a dreamer, and a voice for the commoners. I had a hard time understanding her sometimes. It felt like she existed on an entirely separate planet. I was always thinking about my family, and she was always dreaming so much bigger than that." Charlotte laughed a little at that, the sound clear of any bitterness or regret.

"You must have really loved her, though, from the way you talk about her." Jennifer kept her eyes on the babe in her arms, and didn't really look up at Charlotte as she spoke.

"I did." Charlotte agreed. "Whatever Emmer might think, I was very serious about Lilya. However, it's never a good idea to dwell on relationships that don't go well."

They departed from the main path without words, and headed down a side path that led to a gazebo overlooking a pond. Jennifer was fond of the location, because it offered a peaceful, picturesque view of the park. Once they reached the gazebo, Jennifer gestured for Charlotte to sit down and sat down beside her. "Charlotte, you are one of the most amazing women I know. I've admired you and the work you do for a long time. I hope you see me as a friend of yours, and not just as a friend of Emmer because, I..." She trailed off. Why was this so hard? A few simple words, that's all it would take.

Charlotte smiled. "I do, Jennifer. And yes, I will go out with you. If that's what you're trying to ask."

Jennifer smiled back wryly. "That obvious, huh? Well, I always did suck at the romantic 'tell me you love me' crap, but I guess you knew that, since you know me well enough to guess my thoughts."

A laugh, and Ivan laughed too, reminding the women that he was still there in Jennifer's arms. Jennifer smiled at that. "All right then. Let's make it a date on Saturday, since I already know Emmer is conspiring to get you and Leala out of the house."

"Ah, yes, Lord Lockheart's party. Sure, why not." Charlotte's expression turned mischievous. "Maybe we'll actually finally kill that rumor about you and Emmer once and for all with this."

Jennifer's grin was equally full of mirth. "Or maybe we'll just start a whole new one. Either works for me."

Leslie had class, but before he left he asked Rose if they could meet again someday, Rose told him the location of Decadence, and the nights she usually worked. With a wink and a smile, she said, "You're really quite cute, you know." A rather flirtatious move, especially since he was considered a lesser noble.

Leslie had blushed, turning a bright shade of red that made him all the more charming to Rose. And then he broke her heart. "Um, sorry Rose. You're a beautiful girl and all, but I'm not really... interested... in women."

Rose had thrown her head back with a laugh, told him to come to Decadence anyway, and then waved him off cheerfully.

When Saffron returned, Rose was just finishing her tea, alone on the bench. She didn't say anything about Leslie, nor about the tear stains on Saffron's cheeks. Sometimes, it was better not to speak.

The bells of the temple rang out across the park, signaling the turn of the hour and the call for afternoon prayer. Rose and Saffron took that as their cue to head towards the temple, passing along the outskirts of the festival in the park to save time and potentially avoid another accidental encounter. They walked in silence, hands linked together as the only contact between them.

Star of the Earth temple was a beautiful, old cathedral, built long before any of the surrounding buildings. Massive arches and tall towers graced against the skyline, the effect making Rose feel tiny and insignificant as the two climbed the steps. Others were gathering as well, including commoners with children, and slaves marked by the dull gray metal tags around their necks. The acolytes, disciples of the Goddess Farrah, greeted each person with equal grace and kindness, regardless of their caste. Rose and Saffron passed through the high arched doorway into antechamber.

As per the rituals, Saffron and Rose removed their shoes, stored them on a special rack along the antechamber wall, and washed their feet at the fountains in the antechamber in silence. Barefoot, they entered the sanctuary. While Rose took her place, kneeling on a mat in the far corner of the room, Saffron wordlessly approached the alter at the front. A stone statue of a woman standing before a giant tree, hands stretched at her sides. At the statue's feet, large basin of water ran along the wall. About a meter high and decorated with flowers and ivy, the water flickered under the light from the temple's high windows.

Saffron knelt before the alter, and bowed low in prayer. For several minutes she prayed, joined by others who also knelt and bowed, presenting their own special prayers before Farrah.

Rose looked on in silence, her own words of prayer forgotten as she watched her paramour rise and approach the alter. At the feet of the statue was a basket full of small floating candles in the shape of flowers. Beside them, a single candle flickered. Saffron took one of the smaller candles, lit it carefully, and set it into the pool of water with a final bow to the goddess. Her prayers complete, she returned to Rose's side.

As the bells rang, the sanctuary continued to fill with other parishioners; some who simply took their places on mats in the room, and some who, like Saffron, had prayers to offer before the goddess.

A young man, only a few years older than Saffron, entered the sanctuary as the last of the bells faded in the distance. He wore the tags of a slave, the gray metal in stark contrast to the dark color of his tunic and the rich brown of his skin. Beside him, a small girl dressed in a blue robe embroidered with white geometric patterns held onto his hand. She wasn't a slave, and that was what caught Rose's interest as the two knelt on the mats beside them. Her clothing was far to nice for her to be a commoner, which meant she must be a noble of some sort. Curious. Rose wanted to know more.

Saffron pinched the younger girl's arm through her robe, and Rose turned her attention forward with a pout. An acolyte was lighting the candelabras that lined the walkways between the different sections of the sanctuary. The priest followed behind the acolyte, and took his place before the alter.

"Rise, children of the earth, for here you are in the goddess' hands." The priest called out to the crowd. The parishioners rose at the words, and Rose instinctively reached out to help Saffron stand as well. Beside Rose, the young noble stumbled to her feet as well, clinging to her attendant's arm like a lifeline. "Children, we come together before the goddess, as descendants of those long forgotten. We come not as nobles, commoners, or slaves, but as equal in Her eyes."

"In Her, we are equal." Saffron murmured as the crowd echoed. Rose remained silent. She didn't like the call and response at the beginning of the services.

"We come weary, and lost, as the downtrodden and the weak, but in Her there is no weakness, only strength."

"In Her, we find strength."

"Welcome, friends, to the Star of the Earth Temple. Please, join me in prayer." The priest turned, and held his hands up to the statue of Farrah.

The service progressed in quiet reverence, as song followed prayer, and the calming chants of songs Rose and Saffron knew by heart. When they were finally seated, asked to reflect in silence and open their hearts, Rose dared a quick peek at her surroundings. The young slave (who was very attractive, in Rose's opinion anyway) had his eyes closed in prayer, even as the little girl beside Rose looked just about ready to fall asleep, much to Rose's amusement. Or, at least, she did, until the priest called out.

"Now I would invite the young ones forward, for in the eyes of the goddess, you are celebrated." The priest gestured with a smile. Throughout the sanctuary, children (slave and commoner alike) rose to their feet and rushed forward toward the priest. In that instance, the contemplative silence of the sanctuary was replaced by the elated cries of children. They surrounded the priest, chattering excitedly with him, though the older ones, those nearing their teenage years, kept a respectful distance, and acted in manners more befitting of young adults. The young girl, however, remained in her place at her attendant's side.

"Would you like to go too." The slave at her side asked. The little girl shook her head, instead moving closer to her attendant for comfort.

Saffron smacked Rose's thigh lightly, reminding her, again, that is was impolite to stare. Rose glared at her, but Saffron simply returned her gaze impassively.

The priest was listening to the children as they spoke, but his eyes cast around the room, searching for something. Finally, his gaze rested upon the girl in the back with them. "What's this, children, I see we have a new face in the crowd." The priest said with a smile. Gently, he parted the crowd of children and strode towards the back corner of the sanctuary, the children following behind. As the parishioners looked on, the priest knelt before the little girl and took one of her tiny, delicate hands in his much larger, age wrinkled ones. "Welcome, child. I have not before seen you here."

The girl smiled shyly, but kept herself firmly pressed against her slave's side. The slave smiled at her reassuringly. To the priest, he said, "She is Leala, my charge."

Dove came to pick Leala up from the school as soon as classes let out, just as he did every day. Waverly Nobles Academy was a prestigious, primary education school situated on the border between the lesser and greater nobles districts. From there, they traveled by car to the border between the lesser noble's district and the commoner's district, to where the temple was located.

"Normally I walk there, or take the subway." Dove explained as they were driven by one of the Dartey family servants. "But it's a very long walk for a young girl."

Leala nodded, playing with her book bag nervously. "What's the temple like?" She asked quietly.

Dove described it to her, and the image in Leala's mind made her think about fairy tale castles of lore. Such a building actually existed? Dove also explained about the rituals in the temple. "The people who follow Farrah's teachings don't believe in castes, so even though most of the parish are commoners, there are still a great number of slaves who attend as well. No one should ask you for your rank, but if they ask for your name, only give them your first name."

"What if they don't like me?" Leala asked. She set her bag on the floor by her feet and turned to regard Dove. "What if they don't want me in the temple because I'm a noble?"

Dove wrapped one arm around Leala is a brief side hug. "Leala, the temple is under its own private jurisdiction. On sacred grounds, rank is unacknowledged. Just remember that, in there, even the children of slaves are equal to you, and be polite to everyone. You'll be fine. They will love you."

It was such a strange concept to Leala, and she wasn't sure it was a good thing. People were born in different castes. That's just the way it was. Charlotte had never really explained they how or why of it, but Leala always took it to be the absolute truth. Yet, Dove claimed that there were people who didn't believe in that system. It confused her.

They arrived at the park where the temple was located as the service bells were ringing. Leala left her bag in the car and accompanied Dove across the park to the temple. Even from the far side, she could see the rising spires, almost as tall as the skyscrapers of the lesser nobles district. There were spectacular, stone arches carved with winged guardians, both beautiful and hauntingly frightening in appearance. Large stained glass windows depicting nature, flowers, trees, and animals, and a woman with her hands outstretched at her sides.

"When we enter the temple, just follow my directions. It's important to stay very quiet in the beginning, because people will be praying in the sanctuary, and we don't want to disturb them." Dove explained.

"Why do they pray?" Leala asked curiously. She'd heard of praying before, because Dove sometimes prayed at night, but it looked kind of boring, the few times she'd seen him doing it.

"Because they have concerns they want to bring before the goddess. Family the want to pray for, concerns with their jobs or their friends, or some come to ask for forgiveness for not living in Her ways." By that time, they came to the bottom of the stairs, easily three times Leala's height. The effect was intimidating to the young girl. Dove smiled at her awe. "Let's go, Leala. Remember to follow me."

It was a terribly strange experience for the girl, who didn't know how to react to the acolytes' greetings. She stumbled after Dove, self consciously removing her school shoes when she saw Dove do the same, and setting them with his on a rack along the wall. The stone floor of the antechamber was freezing against her bare feet, but at least the water in the fountain where Dove helped her wash her feet was warm. Why did she have to take off her shoes and wash her feet just to enter the sanctuary? She wanted to ask, but remembered Dove's instructions to keep quiet while others were praying, so she didn't say anything as Dove led her into the sanctuary. The stone floors in there weren't any more comfortable, but at least there were mats designed to be knelt upon in rows throughout the sanctuary.

Dove led Leala to a row of mats along the far wall of the sanctuary. There were a few people already there, and Dove directed for Leala to kneel down beside a pair of young slaves dressed in plain, but well made white robes. The moment they were on the floor, Leala clung to Dove's tunic, shyly casting curious glances around the room, her eyes falling in curiosity on the statue at the front of the room and the floating candles flickering in the water at its feet.

The young woman next to Leala, a pretty brunet with a soft, round facial structure and large, doll-like brown eyes, kept stealing glances at her. Her companion, an equally pretty strawberry blond with pale skin and a smattering of freckles across her nose pinched her, and the brunet looked away with a pout. Leala tried not to stare at them, because that was rude, but they were both far more beautiful than anyone Leala had ever seen before.

Leala stumbled through the service, alternating between bewildered confusion and boredom. Prayer, she did not understand. Dove said it would be fun! But it was terribly boring instead. When it came time for the priest to call the children forward, Leala was so confused by everything going on around her that she simply clung to Dove's tunic and tried to make herself look invisible. Even when Dove asked her if she wanted to join the other children, she simply shook her head and remained where she was.

Her plan to remain hidden and unnoticed failed, however, when the priest spotted her anyway and moved across the sanctuary towards her. "Welcome, child. I have not before seen you here." The priest said, as he knelt down in front of Leala and took one of her hands in his.

Leala shrunk even further against Dove. It wasn't that the priest was terribly frightening, but he was new and unknown to her. Dove smiled at her reassuringly, and turned to the priest. "She is Leala, my charge." He explained to the priest. Leala offered a hesitate smile in return.

"Welcome, Leala, to the Southern Temple, Star of the Earth. Come, join us. We are always pleased to welcome new members." The priest tugged on her hand lightly, and hesitantly, Leala let go of Dove's tunic and allowed the priest to lead her to the front. The other children, whether they recognized her clothes or not, ignored her rank and gathered around, talking quickly.

They greeted her warmly, introducing themselves and bombarding her with questions about herself. "Where are you from? Do you live around here? Have you ever been to a temple before?" Leala couldn't bring herself to do more than smile shyly as the priest instructed the children to sit with him at the foot of the alter. She took the opportunity to glance into the pool, watching the flower shaped candles flickering brightly against the calm pool.

"Why are there candles in the water?" She asked, without thinking, and then stopped. Oh no! What if she made herself look stupid in front of all these people? She didn't want them to think she was ignorant!

The priest smiled. "Come, sit down. Would someone like to tell Leala why we light candles?" Several of the children raised their hands, including a dark haired girl only a few years older than Leala, dressed in a plain black tunic and slacks, gray slave tags around her neck. The priest nodded to her. "Yes, Violet. Go ahead."

The slave girl, Violet, turned to Leala with a friendly smile. "We light the candles to remind ourselves that no matter how insignificant our troubles may seem in the grand scheme of things, Farrah can still see and know them." She didn't sound at all like the other kids in Leala's school did when they stopped to explain things to Leala. They sounded snobby, like they were better than her because she didn't understand. Violet was friendly and conversational. When she smiled at Leala, the young noble smiled back.

In the back of the sanctuary, Dove watched Leala anxiously. He'd raised the girl, so he knew how terribly anxious she got around people she didn't know. It wasn't until Leala relaxed that Dove felt comfortable enough to do the same.

The pretty brunet beside him laughed quietly when Dove finally stopped straining to keep an eye on Leala. "You're really worried about her." She whispered quietly. Her companion glared at her, but the expression was gentle, fond, even, as though she really hadn't expected anything different.

Dove let out a hesitant laugh, that was more of a cross between a chuckle and a sigh. "Attendants get that way about their charges, sometimes." He explained. "Especially very special ones like my Leala."

"Your Leala?" The girl laughed. "Not that I speak with nursery attendants often, but I've never heard one who spoke possessively about the noble children they help raise."

"Well, like I said, Leala is very special to me. She's... not like other noble children." He turned to regard the brunet with a smile. "I'm Dove, by the way. It's very nice to meet you...?"

The brunet smiled. "I'm Rose. The grumpy, quiet one beside me is my paramour, Saffron. It's a pleasure to meet you, Dove."


Leala ended up having a lot of fun. The priest told the children a story about how Farrah gave birds the ability to fly, and land animals the ability to run. About how She gave insects hard shells and fish gills to breath underwater. But the caterpillar had no special gift from Farrah, and felt that Farrah had neglected him and thought less of him. So the caterpillar ate and ate and ate until he became very sleepy. Before he went to sleep, he told the goddess that even though She might not have given him a gift of his own, he still loved Her. When he woke up, he tried to wiggle around to find some leaves, but couldn't. Frightened, he stretched out as far as he could and, strangely, brightly colored wings stretched out around him. With great elation, he realized that the goddess had given him wings with which to fly like the birds in the sky.

The priest told the story well, gesturing and using different voices for the different characters. Leala laughed alongside the other children at the silly parts, and felt sad when the caterpillar was left out of Farrah's plans. Finally, at the end of the story, the priest said, "In the confusion of our lives, it's easy to feel like we've been passed over by the goddess. What does the story of the butterfly have to teach us about our own special abilities?" He glanced around at the circle of children, once again falling on Leala. "What do you think, Leala?"

Leala glanced around at the other children briefly, trying to see if any of them would have a better idea of what to say than she did. Did the priest really expect Leala, a girl who had never even hear the story off Farrah and the butterflies before, to be able to figure out what the meaning of the story was. "I think it means..." She trailed off quietly, trying not to think about making a fool of herself. "I think it means that we've all got a special ability, but sometimes we have to grow into it. Butterflies come from caterpillars, and baby swans are ugly. Maybe the same thing is sometimes true with humans."

"Very good, Leala." The priest praised. The other children echoed the words. Leala relaxed with a smile, and blushed lightly at the praise. But it felt nice, to be able to get an answer right, without someone criticizing her for it. The discussion continued in that vein for another ten minutes or so, until the priest dismissed the children to return to their families, Leala was reluctant to leave, but returned to Dove's side still smiling.

"You see," Dove whispered in her ear, "It's not that bad."

Leala shook her head, and leaned against Dove. "It was fun." She mumbled.

After the service, Saffron left quickly but Rose lingered behind to speak with Dove. The little girl who was with him, Leala, clung to his side shyly, even as other children came up to her to say hello and, even once, invite her to come play with them. "It's a very different experience, being in the Temple of Farrah, isn't it?" Rose teased her gently. Noble or not, the girl had made a good impression on the other children simply by being polite.

The little girl nodded. "It's strange, but kind of nice." She told Rose. "Everyone's nice."

Rose laughed. "Now if only it were the same outside the temple. Even though Farrah asks all people to treat one another with respect, sometimes its only the dedicates who follow her ways. At least, in the temple, rank has no meaning."

"I like that. I wish the rest of the world didn't have a caste or rank!"

Dove and Rose laughed lightly at Leala's earnest words. "I think many people would agree with you, there, Leala." Rose said. "Hold onto your dreams and ideals. Someday, they might make a difference."

Dove glanced around quickly. "Where did your paramour go?" He asked. They were standing in the antechamber, where many other parishioners were gathered in fellowship.

Rose shrugged. "I think she's outside. She's been very emotional lately, because she's thirteen weeks pregnant and we just found out that our paramour, the father of her child, is very, very sick. I'm sure she just needs some alone time."

"Ah, well. I will be sure to include him in my prayers in that case. What is his name?"

"Thank you, Dove, I appreciate that. His name is Jade." Dove cast her a strange look at the name, and Rose wondered about that. It wasn't like Jade was a terribly common name, but it certainly wasn't strange or anything. "What? Is there something wrong?" She asked him, her voice carefully neutral bordering on curious.

Dove shook his head. "No, it's just that I knew someone named Jade, a long time ago. You saying his name made me think of him. May I ask what your paramour's illness is?"

"We just found out he has an immunodeficiency disease. For the time being he's all right, other than being a little tired from not sleeping enough these last few weeks. But, well, it's never easy to know that a loved one is sick."

The older slave nodded in understanding. "I had a paramour with a disease like that, many years ago."

Rose cocked her head to the side. "How did you learn to cope with a situation like that?" She asked sympathetically.

Dove just shrugged a bit. "I was lucky, I guess, because when I couldn't cope, she was more than strong enough for the two of us. People will surprise you with their ability to go on living, even when the situation seems hopeless."

Rose smiled gratefully at the words, but quietly she said. "I don't know if I could do that."

AN the second: The scenes in the church need revisions like woah, but the task is too much for me to do while still keeping on track with NaNoWriMo, so you'll have to live with it for the time being. Grr... I hate when scenes I write don't come out the way they're supposed to. Reviews if you've got them. Thanks again to Proctista for being spectacular, and to everyone else who alerted and favorited the story. I swear there's more slash than femmeslash in the next chapter. Honest!

Next Chapter: Jade writes a letter to Amber, Dove figures everything out, Rose has a breakdown, and Decadence is struck by tragedy. Meanwhile, the nobles have a party and Leala reveals that she's smarter than even she thinks when she makes friends with a slave girl who has more in common with her than she realizes. It's a turning point in this soap opera of broken promises, shattered lives, and captive hearts.