AN are at the end of the chapter this time.

SHADOW MIRROR

PART TWENTY-SIX: WHERE THEY BELONG

Diary,

I think this will be the last time I ever write in here. I'll miss being able to share my thoughts with someone who can't talk back, but I can't do this anymore. The book is almost out of pages, anyway. When I am Queen, I don't think I'll do much writing. When I am Queen, I don't think I'll do anything much at all.

I'm terrified. The wedding is in two hours. I don't know what to do with myself. I'm going to get dressed in my pretty white wedding dress, and walk down that aisle, and meet a man that I don't love and who doesn't love me. Then we'll spend the rest of our lives together. He'll go out and fuck my sister, and I'll stay home and produce babies for him.

...In a way, I'm happier than I thought I would be. Orpheus is alive. He can do whatever he wants, now- he's free. Maybe he'll find a nice girl. Who isn't someone like Amia. Maybe I'll pretend, once in a while, that girl is me. If I do... it's nobody's business but my own.

Amazing, how easy it is to get resigned to all this. How easy it is to tell myself that living in a cage won't be so bad.

Amazing, how I don't even know what I need to do anymore.

Fiona.

***

//shall I at least set my lands in order?

london bridge is falling down falling down falling down

poi s'ascose nel foco che gli affina

quando fiam uti chelidon o swallow swallow

le prince d'aquitaine a la tour abolie//

Fiona put down her quill. Flipping through the pages quickly one last time, it was hard to believe that everything in the book had happened. Had she been such a brat? Had she been so happy? Had she been so lost? The words were like a dream to her.

The past few days had been filled with solitude and order. She had been quickly escorted to a lavish suite in the castle of Beauxlorge and confined there while arrangements were made for the coming wedding. They didn't want her to escape, and the chains of marriage were heavier than anything else that would keep her from running away again.

She hadn't seen Marcus or Mikaila much. They were both rather ashamed, she guessed. Although Fiona ate with the prince at night, he said only enough to her to convince everyone else that he was a good and loving fiancé. Mikaila was also staying in the palace, but her rooms were in the other wing. That had been Marcus' idea.

In general, people seemed to believe that she had run away due to anxiety over her marriage. She said nothing. She was afraid of finding out that they knew the truth.

Living the past few days had been like being a ghost. The people of Beauxlorge had never been fond of her. At best, she was tolerated. She had no chance of going outside the palace- she was escorted everywhere. Other than her guards, no one noticed she was there.

Closing the book, she stood up and threw it into the fire. It wasn't important anymore.

A knock sounded on the door, and someone stepped into the room holding a tray of tea and sweets. "It's a beautiful day, isn't it?" asked Mikaila gently. "Perfect for your wedding! You must be so happy."

"Absolutely," spat Fiona. She wasn't that happy about the facade everyone was determined to keep up, but breaking it would be worse. "I'm ecstatic. What do you want?"

Mikaila smiled at her. "I only thought I would come and talk to you," she responded. "It's been such a long time since we've seen each other. I've been so worried wondering where you've been! A helpless young girl, all alone and defenseless... It must have been hard on you."

Holding back anger, she shrugged apathetically. "Well, I survived." Her sister moved to open the window, and looked quizzical when it wouldn't turn. "The windows in my rooms are locked. I don't have the keys." They were on the seventh floor, but Marcus hadn't taken any chances.

"Oh, dear..." Mikaila said, looking down to the ground below. "I am sorry about that. It must be dreadfully hot in here without a breeze."

Fiona was shocked to discover that she wanted to cry. "No," she replied. "It's cold."

Mikaila lay the tray she carried onto the table and gestured to it. "I brought you something to eat," she said cheerfully. "See? It's your favorites." She laughed lightly. "But don't eat too much, or you'll get fat!"

"Don't worry," Fiona said, sitting down and looking over her lunch, "I won't." She took a sniff of the tea. It smelled stronger than usual, with something that almost made her woozy. She wouldn't be surprised if it turned out to be drugged.

Her sister closed her eyes. "I'm sorry," she whispered. "For everything."

Fiona closed her own eyes and drank deep.

***

"Don't you think we should be going back to pick them up soon?" asked Seraphim worriedly, biting into a carrot. He looked around the room. "I mean... well, if they're already done, it's not as if they can tell us, and it has been a long time..."

Millenia shrugged her shoulders. They had been avoiding the subject since the trio had left, but it couldn't be done with forever. "They can get off the island by themselves," she responded quietly. "It's possible that Fiona would rather not come back to see us. It might not be very pleasant for her. Someone pass the butter?"

Carefully grasping the plate of butter with his hand, Seraph put it down nearer her. He looked somewhat embarrassed. "You're probably right. I'm sorry I brought it up... I'm just worried about them, that's all."

"That's fine," Millenia said. She spread the butter over her bread and took a large bite. "So am I. We all are."

"I guess we'll find out what's happened soon enough." Ember heaved a sigh and changed the topic. "Who cooked, anyway?" he asked, turning to Millenia with a playful frown. "This was too good to be your food."

"I resent that remark," answered Millenia, taking a sip of her drink with a fake angry huff. "I'm getting better, you know." She stood up, brushed some crumbs of food off her shirt, and pushed her chair in. "If you'll excuse me, I'm off to find a place where I am appreciated."

Seraph pointed to the door. "I think Eon's watering the garden," he said with a shy smile. "He said he wasn't hungry."

"I'll bring him out something," the brown haired woman said with a contented smile. "Thanks for the meal, Seraph!" She headed out the door with a plate of food in her hand, grabbing a shovel that someone had left leaning on the wall.

Ember blinked. "Oh. You made the food? My compliments, then. It was really good."

"I broke a few jars," Seraph replied with his eye cast down to the table. "I'll buy some new ones for you next time I'm in town."

"Don't worry about it," said Ember, patting him on the back. "I'm not worried about dishes. I got them with the house, anyway. Save your money for your arm." He grinned and polished off a piece of bread. "How's it coming?"

Seraph grinned back. "Um, Jonath and I started the framework yesterday. It's working really well. We're starting out using wire, and then we can build everything on later. We're going to have clasps that sort of stick into my shoulder and hold it together..."

"Won't that hurt?" Ember asked, raising an eyebrow.

"It'll hurt a little," the boy replied with a shrug. "But it's the only way I'm going to be able to operate it. Otherwise, the nerve endings... I'm not even sure how we're going to *do* those, but I guess we'll think of something..."

Ember looked at him and laughed. Somewhere along the way, he had stopped being a terrified nervous wreck and had become someone else entirely. "You're really happy now, aren't you?" he asked.

"I like working with him," replied Seraph, turning slightly red. "I like being able to do the things I want without feeling guilty. I want to make things, you know?" He stood up and smiled. "I'm going to go fix some bits. Do you want to come see?"

The white haired man shook his head. "Thanks, but I'll just stay here for a while," he responded. Seraph nodded and headed up the stairs to his room.

"I'm home," a female voice declared loudly. Kryken materialized in the room, carrying an empty basket. She sniffed the air and looked around. "Where's lunch?"

Ember gave a little wave and pointed to the table. "Right here," he said quickly. "Welcome home. Haven't you eaten already? I thought you said you were going to eat lunch with Maya."

Kryken put the basket down and sat on her chair with a thump. "I did eat with Maya, but she can't cook and I'm still hungry." She helped herself to the display of food. "Where's everyone else? Did they finish already?"

"Yeah," Ember replied, handing her a fork. "Seraph's upstairs and Millenia's outside with Eon. I'll take it things worked out with... um... Kicha."

The watersprite sat back in the chair and stared blankly at the ceiling. "They did," she responded. "We figured it out. Maya's going to be her birth mother. Vyhen is her father from a one night stand, but he fell onto the rocks near shore and died. I'm Vyhen's sister." She gave a tiny smile. "As loathsome as that is, Maya wanted us to be related somehow."

"What do you think of it?" asked Ember quietly. "The whole thing." He hadn't heard much of the story, but a little bit had been enough. Kryken had gone through a lot before becoming the bratty little girl he had known.

"I don't know." Kryken's chair fell over with a thump, and she ended up with her back to the floor and her legs in the air. She didn't even really seem to notice. "I'm glad I don't have to be her mother. I hope Maya takes good care of her. ...I think I wish I had forgotten everything. I was happier when I was with all of you, living a lie."

Ember sighed and held out a hand to her. "It was happy for us, too," he said. "Even with everything else, it was nice to be family." A long silence hung in the air after he spoke. Neither of them made a sound. The sun came out from behind a patch of cloud and filled the room with light.

At last, Kryken grasped his hand and pulled herself off the floor. "Acantha's dead, isn't she?" she asked. "Did you kill her? Are you free now?"

"She died," Ember replied simply. He really didn't want to revisit that place in his memory.

"I thought you didn't," Kryken said with a warm laugh. "I knew you couldn't kill her. I'm glad. I don't want you to be that way." She did a little twirl around the room. "Even if I'm different now. Even if we aren't family anymore, I don't want you to be that way."

Ember grabbed her and threw his arms around her shoulders. Even though she was somewhat taller and far older now, he still felt as if he was hugging a child.

"That's not true," he said softly. "We're still family. No matter what happens, we will always be a family."

A warm, gentle breeze blew through the room. It was Acantha. Although she could barely stand leaving, she was on her way to something far more urgent.

***

It was as if everything was happening from a great distance.

Fiona could see what was going on, but it was too far away from her to matter much. This little thinking bit of her seemed trapped deep inside her stomach. She knew this was important. She knew that the only thing keeping her from terror was the drugged tea. Even that seemed distant.

She was walking slowly down the aisle of the church in her wedding dress. The dress was a pretty pale lace thing- she remembered choosing it herself, thinking it was pretty. It was also rather heavy and itchy.

All eyes were on her. Quietly, organ music played in the background. Quietly, she finished walking and took her place next to Marcus. Her bridesmaids, girls she didn't even know, were behind her. The priest was in front. There was no way out.

Unwilling to see anything more, she sunk deeper into herself as the ceremony began. Nothing could reach her anymore. Nothing mattered. If she could only get through these few hours, nothing would ever matter again...

In her heart, a voice spoke.

"What the hell do you think you're doing? Get out of here, you stupid girl! Don't you know what's going on? Go back out there where you belong and do something about it!"

The words were jarring. Fiona awoke from her self-imposed depression. In her heart, a place that looked like nothing, was imprinted a black haired woman with golden eyes holding a live crow tightly in her arms.

"Who are you?" asked Fiona vaguely. Her body's lips moved far away in the church, but that was all.

The woman looked to be struggling to keep the crow under control. "I'm Acantha," she said, with a roll of her eyes. "You may have heard of me." Fiona was about to ask more questions when she shook her head. "Don't. There's not much time."

Fiona, extremely confused, couldn't help herself. "Acantha? But... I've never even met you. Why are you here?"

"I told you, there's not much time." Acantha sighed. "Just know that I'm paying back a favor to someone who needs it. In other words, I'm telling you to do something rather than sit around in your head pitying yourself. Get out of here, will you?"

"Where would I go if I did?" asked Fiona in reply. "I have nowhere to go. I have nothing to do. This is all there is for me- I'm just trying to accept that, that's all. This is going to be my life from now on. I have nothing."

The crow in Acantha's arms began struggling twice as hard. She hit it with a scornful look. "You haven't lost *anything,* you stupid girl. Not unless you honestly want to stay here and get married. Orpheus is still alive."

"Orpheus wouldn't want to see me," she said dully. "It's not as if he wants to be alive. He'll probably commit suicide the first chance he gets. I wouldn't blame him, really. This is just the way things are." A pause. "He has always belonged to her."

Acantha gave her the mental equivalent of a slap, still holding the bird tightly. "That's bullshit and you know it," she snapped. "Nobody belongs to anyone else. The past is in the past. Right now, you're as likely to be loved by him as anyone. Don't waste it. Go!"

"But..." Fiona protested weakly.

"Didn't I say there's not much time? Go! I mean it! Forget about the witches! It doesn't matter what they say! If you want to be happy, then just go!" The crow was practically out of her arms now, and she was twisting around wildly to keep it from escape. "He loves you, you idiot!"

That was what did it. Fiona was sure she was lying, knew it probably wasn't true, but the words themselves gave her such a rush of feeling that she couldn't stand it. There was no way she could spend her life as the Queen. She had to leave. "Thank you," she whispered.

"You're damn welcome," Acantha hissed back, sounding almost in pain. "Tell Ember I... no, on second thought, don't tell him anything..."

The bird finally escaped. As it rose up, flying triumphantly into nothingness, Fiona saw that she had been mistaken. It wasn't a crow- it was a black dove. She looked back. Acantha was gone.

Uncertainly, but filled with power, she rose back to the surface and became part of her body again.

***

The church was filled with silence. All eyes were on her. Fiona wondered what part of the ceremony they had reached, looked around wildly for some sort of hint. Apparently it was her turn to speak.

"And do you, Princess Fiona of Demihart, promise to..." the priest prompted almost silently.

Fiona, grateful, gave him a smile and nodded. Whereas before she had been depressed and unsure of her own acceptance, she felt suddenly happy. Now she knew she was on the right track. "Oh! Alright," she said, with a little sheepish grin. "No, actually, I don't."

A ripple of quiet shock went through the people in the pews. Ladies whispered behind their fans. Behind her, she was sure, Mikaila was stunned. Marcus stared at her.

"I don't," she repeated, pleased with the sound of the words. "I don't. That's my answer. I don't want to marry you, and I don't want to live here, and I don't want to spend my life in this world. And, legally, you can't make me."

Marcus took her hand and smiled. It was a fine act, hiding the horror in his face. His eyes shone. "I know you're worried, Fiona, but... It will be alright. You know you don't really mean it. This is just your nerves talking..."

"Absolutely not," replied Fiona with a little smile. She couldn't really help feeling delighted, as sorry as she felt for him. "This is my heart talking, Marcus. There's a difference."

"I thought we had this all worked out," her fiancee said, looking so betrayed and heartbroken that she felt even sorrier. Not all of this was an act. He needed her as his wife- even if it wasn't because he loved her.

Fiona shook her head. The lace veil brushed her cheeks annoyingly. She pulled it off and threw it to the ground. "You thought wrong," she said simply. She turned to the church and saw Mikaila near the back. "By the way," she asked the assembled crowd, walking up the aisle, "did you know that Prince Marcus is in love with my sister?" It was an admittedly cruel question, but she was going to go crazy if she didn't ask.

Nobody said anything. In fact, most of the assembled looked rather surprised. It was one of the happiest incidents of her life. "Well, then!" she said. "Now that you know, don't you think that they should get married instead? Someone should start a petition."

"Fiona..." whispered Mikaila, who was managing to blush and cry and smile and look terrified at the same time.

"Goodbye," Fiona responded slowly. "It's been nice knowing you."

As soon as she exited the church, she looked behind and made sure nobody had followed her. Then she burst into tears. It was only for a little while. She promised herself that this was the last time she would cry about her old life.

Then, breaking into a run, she made a mental list of things she needed. The first was a knife (thinking about what she was planning made her slightly sick, but it would make things faster). The second was a teleportress. The third... she racked her brain, trying to think where Orpheus might have gone, and finally settled on a location to start with.

Fiona didn't know what would happen, but she had to try.

***

Orpheus let his head fall to his chest and took another gulp of beer. It was ironic. For hundreds of years he hadn't wanted to get drunk. Now that he was actively trying, alcohol on an empty stomach only seemed to make him sick.

"Are you all right, sir?" asked the girl at the bar counter. "You don't look well. Can I get you some water?" He shrugged and leaned away.

This was, of course, the place where he had first met Fiona. He couldn't have thought of anywhere else to go. There simply wasn't another place. Going back to see Ember and the others hadn't even crossed his mind. He and Lekka had split up sometime after getting back to the mainland. He wasn't welcome much of anywhere.

Besides, he needed to be alone.

He still believed that he had made the right decision. He wasn't good enough for her. The thought itself was laughable- that a girl who wasn't important at all could become so precious to him. Even if she had, though, it still wasn't enough to offer. What if her prince didn't love her? He could still provide more for her than Orpheus ever could. Sometimes that was just the way things were.

"I'll take that glass of water," he mumbled to the bartendress. Maybe it would help clear his head. Whatever he was going to do, he'd better think about it before he left.

He could always kill himself. He could do it, now. He had checked- the small cut on his arm hadn't healed up, and he had ended up bandaging it to stop the blood. It would be the simplest answer to the problem. He wouldn't have to worry about Fiona anymore.

And he would be with Sasha. Sasha, who had scared him badly with her insanity and her talk of love and devotion. He refused to end up that way.

He had loved her, yes. But that had been a long time ago. It had become a constant in his life, something that he could hold onto through the changing years. By the time he met Fiona, it had just been a habit. He hadn't even realized he didn't really think about her anymore. His mind had been taken up by other things. Things that were still alive.

Things that he should try to stop loving. That brought him back to square one- what to do now.

The door opened, footsteps sounding lightly on the wooden floor. The girl at the bar stared at the newcomer with more than a little surprise. "Aren't you...?" she asked, trailing off. "Where have you been? It was almost a year! You left without a note! What's happened to you...?"

"Something came up, Charity," an unmistakable voice replied softly. "Sorry."

Orpheus felt like he was dreaming. With a terrible slowness, and his heart beating hard in his chest for the first time in many centuries, he turned around on the barstool and faced Fiona.

She was wearing the remains of what had once been a wedding dress. The garment was covered in sweat and mud, the lace fraying at the edges. The sleeves and the skirt looked as though they had been cut almost entirely away. She was barefoot. On her face were dirty tear-tracks.

Her hair had been cut raggedly at the neck. No longer weighted down, the remaining strands sprang up from her head and framed her face awkwardly.

"You..." he started, staring blankly. "You got a haircut."

Fiona grinned ruefully and nodded. "It was kind of a hack job, but I didn't have much time. Anyway, it was time I cut all of this. It was... you know, slowing me down." She took a deep breath. "How have you been?"

"Not great," he replied. "The wish worked, but I can't seem to get drunk and I'm not sure what else to do." This was almost definitely a dream. Reality didn't work this way. Even so, just the sight of her made him ache. "And you?"

Giving a small shrug, Fiona gestured to her tattered dress. "Me neither. I ran out on my wedding. But at least I got this dress out of it, right?" She gestured to her ears and neck. "It came with matching jewelry, but I gave it to the teleportress. I was in a hurry."

Orpheus stared at her, then at the floor. "I'm sorry," he responded. "...About the wedding."

"Actually, I enjoyed that part a little bit." Fiona grinned, a tear making its way down her cheek and leaving a clean path on her face. "I was mean, I guess, but... I enjoyed it, so..."

"Fiona." Taking a deep breath, Orpheus tried to search for the right words to say. "I..."

Fiona shuffled her feet nervously. "Um, Orpheus..."

They began speaking- babbling, really- at exactly the same time.

"When I first met you, I never thought I could feel like this. I don't think I noticed the world around me when you weren't there. You were the first person to get close to me in six hundred years- I didn't let myself connect with people before this, but I felt like you would be convenient enough to wish for me... I'm sorry I thought that, I didn't really-"

"- care about anyone but myself back then, because it was hard to get over what had happened in Beauxlorge. I didn't understand you, or the way you thought. I was only trying to learn from you. When you told me who you were, and what you had been through, I was so scared... I didn't want to kill you! By then, I think I was-"

"- starting to think of you as more than just a bratty little girl. Even then I began to treasure you. The more you asked of me, the more human I felt- like I could go along with being a hero, like people mattered to me more. It was like coming out from under a spell. And when I looked at you, I felt like you were the reason this was happening to me. Then-"

"- we met Amia, and I got really scared. I felt like I was going to lose you. It was hard for me, because even then I felt like this about you. She was going to take you away from me. I couldn't stand it. That's why I ran away- I couldn't stand feeling like this about you. It was like my heart was going to explode if you were around any more. But, you know, I missed you so much... you came to get me, and I was so happy... It was-"

"- like coming home. Having you back again. That was when I started to realize you were too important to me. I wanted to stay with you, to keep you around me, to not die anymore. It was kind of a new thing. It was the first time I had felt anything like it in a long time. I wished it didn't matter so much, I tried to stop looking at you and thinking about you, but-"

"- even if it was painful, I had to stay with you. I didn't want to kill you. I didn't want you to die. I just wanted to be together with you, like we were... with Lekka and Jonath and the others, and with you too... But I couldn't have it, so I tried to pretend I didn't want it. I still asked you not to go. I needed to feel like I could touch you before you-"

"- got taken away. I thought it was best. He could offer you more. But-"

"- as hard as I tried to accept it, that there was no chance, I-"

"- still couldn't-"

"- manage to-"

"- make my feelings-"

"-disappear, and I- "

"- love you."

"I love you."

Then there was nothing more to say. Orpheus wasn't even aware that they had become entertainment for the entire bar. His eyes were locked on Fiona. She was looking back at him, eyes wide with shock. He imagined he must look the same way.

"I mean it," they both said in unison.

He didn't even know who started moving first. It was three long steps across the room to her, two seconds to wrap his arms around her shoulders. She turned her head up, found that she could reach, then gave a little frown and hopped.

When their lips met, he knew he wasn't dreaming.

***

Lekka, watching the mirror burn in a fire that would melt ceramic, looked up to the sky and gave a satisfied smile to the sky. The thick black smoke that had spread from the fire at first had given way to a pale grey. It was almost over.

As she poked the fire with a stick, a procession of ghosts rose from her and one by one floated out into the world again. She was finally left alone in her head.

Somewhere in the world there was a voiceless long-legged boy looking for her. Although she couldn't quite sense it exactly, now that she was only an ordinary little girl again, she had the most beautiful feeling that things were all right with the world.

She wished she had brought some sausages to roast, but things couldn't be *all* perfect.

// datta. dayadhvam. damyata.

shantih shantih shantih//

***

THE END.

FINAL AUTHOR'S NOTES:

Well... it's been fun.

Looking back, this isn't a great story. I started writing about three years ago, and it shows badly. Some of the character bits I'm not happy with- Fiona's sudden change from a brat, for instance, when I realized I didn't want a bitchy main character. I suspect I could also have been a lot less melodramatic at many points.

On the other hand, it was my first major original work, and I admit to being proud of it despite its faults. I was happy writing in the SM world, and I hope you were happy reading it. I'd like to thank all the people who have supported me by reviewing almost every chapter and providing me with energy to keep going- not naming names, but you know yourselves. ^_^;; You guys really helped me out when I wanted to just quit writing and move to Brazil.

I'm going to be writing a prequel (which won't be very long, fortunately) about the Grey Mages- specifically the ones in the museum of Part Twenty. It's going to be an interesting experience for me. If you want to learn more about Grey Magic, Grey Queens, and Maidens, you should check it out. Don't hold your breath, though. It won't be out until probably February.

If you want to read other Saturn stuff, which is newer and hopefully better, I'm going to be starting another fantasy series at some point in the future. "Desperate For Mercy" was great to plan out, is going to be a lot of fun, and is probably even weirder than Shadow Mirror. Although it won't be quite as dark, there'll be plenty of angst and character torture for all you sick people to enjoy. (Yeah, okay, me too.)

Anyway. They all lived happily ever after, the end! ...Well, except for Acantha, anyway, but she died happily ever after, so it works out.

Again, it's been fun.