It was far easier than it should have been for Gemma to sneak onto the de Camilla manor. Hood over her face and cloak wrapped around her petite frame, Gemma shuffled through the bushes in search of a tree to climb to Maybel's room. Gemma hated that she doubted her friend, but unless she got confirmation, the thoughts would swirl inside Gemma's head until she put them to rest one way or another.

During her trek, Gemma paused when she saw Maybel through the window. She was standing in a room with Rosetta and two other girls Gemma didn't recognize. The voices were muffled, but when Gemma listened closely, she could just make out what was being said on the other side of the glass.

"I'm afraid I have to refuse," Maybel said, shaking her head. "I am much too tired to entertain you and your friends."

Rosetta held out the violin, almost as if pushing it onto Maybel. "Please, Marionette?" she practically begged. "One song. Only one. Please? For me?"

Gemma chewed on her lower lip as she tried to find some way to distract the girls and to make them forget about hearing 'Marionette' play the instrument. Finding none, Gemma felt the anxiety chewing apart her stomach as she awaited how Maybel would handle this.

Maybel stared at the violin, her eyes filled with dread. Yet when she reached out, her fingers stretched with longing. Cradling the small instrument, Maybel asked for the bow. Rosetta was happy to oblige.

What is she doing?! Gemma, wide-eyed, sunk deeper into the bushes.

As she slipped deeper into the shrubbery, Gemma watched as Maybel received the bow and positioned the violin on her shoulder as if she had done this many times before. Taking a deep breath, Maybel dragged the horsehair of the bow across the violin strings. The initial sound was rough, and Gemma had to bite the inside of her cheeks to keep from calling out to her friend.

Yet as Maybel kept playing, something began to change. The running of the bow across the strings shifted to a feathery kiss, and the noise that started to follow was less painful and more musical. It was as if Maybel was trying to reacquaint herself with an old dance partner the way things were clumsy at first put soon fell into familiar rhythm.

The song started slow and sweet, but as it progressed, the melody grew quicker and more complicated. The bow moved faster now, and Maybel's fingers did their own dance as they held down certain strings to produce the desired notes. Unable to believe what she was seeing, Gemma watched as Maybel lost herself in the song. Her eyes were closed, and her lips parted slightly. It was as if Maybel had gone away to another world, one where only she and her music existed.

When Maybel finished, the last bittersweet note echoing in the room and just barely audible through the window, she dropped the violin from its place but gripped the neck as the instrument hung at her side. Rosetta's friends applauded, pleased with the performance. However, Rosetta herself seemed furious at Maybel for expertly pulling off such a beautiful piece.

Then there stood Gemma, mouth agape. Shaking her head, Gemma fought the creeping doubts. It was as she was doing this that she made eye contact with Maybel.

Maybel quickly looked up then back at Gemma. Meet me upstairs. Gemma nodded.

After Maybel saw that Gemma understood, Maybel smiled and spoke with Rosetta's friends. She accepted thanks, her cheeks turning pink. When asked how long she had been playing the violin, Maybel answered eight years.

Eight years. Gemma frowned but pushed the answer aside. Eight years of playing the violin didn't line up with how long Maybel had lived on the run, escaping her country to come to Inonvouslee. Of course, the years could have been a lie to help with the Marionette cover. Still, Maybel's skills were good enough for the lie to be believable.

Finding the tree, Gemma hoisted up the branches and climbed quickly and quietly. She sat crouched in the balcony, and it must have been fifteen minutes before the lights turned on from the other side. Her heart hammered in her chest, but Gemma did not move until she heard Maybel's voice calling her name.

"I'm here!" Gemma called loud enough for only Maybel to hear.

Maybel, still dressed in her nice gown, threw open the balcony doors and sagged at the sight of Gemma. Without hesitation, the smaller girl ran to Maybel and tackled her. Arms swung around Maybel's waist, and Gemma's face buried into Maybel's chest.

As she held Gemma close, Maybel said again and again, "I thought you were taken. I had no way of knowing if you were okay or needed help. Oh, Gemma, I was so worried!"

"I'm okay," Gemma kept insisting even though Maybel wouldn't stop talking. "Ricardo's men found me. They're hiding me and the other missing servants. We're okay. I'm okay."

When Maybel finally pulled away, she looked Gemma in the eyes and asked, "What are you doing here? I mean, I'm glad you're okay and I get to see you with my own two eyes, but aren't you risking a lot just by being here right now? Why did you come all this way?"

"I had to see you," Gemma answered as if the response were obvious.

"You could have been captured."

"I won't let that happen again. It causes too much trouble." At the sight of Maybel's small smile, Gemma said, "I didn't know you could play an instrument, let alone the violin."

Maybel sighed. "It wasn't really something that ever came up in conversation."

"But I still don't think I should be this surprised that you play so well." Gemma shrugged. "Anyway, I was wondering . . ."

Frowning, Maybel tightened her grip on Gemma's shoulders in attempt to reassure her. "Yes?"

"Well, um . . ." Gemma shook her head. "Never mind. How's everything been going on now that the artifact has been stolen?"

"Oh, Seńor de Camilla is mad." Maybel smirked. "Little does he know he housed the very thief. Good job, Gemma, not that I expected any less."

"All in a day's work." Gemma looked around the room, feeling uncomfortable in the large, decorated space. "Only security for the remaining artifacts will be a bigger problem now that someone actually managed to steal one of them."

"Don't worry, that hasn't escaped my mind." Maybel chewed her lower lip. "We will figure out a plan as we approach our next step. I believe we might visit the home of another artifact soon, and I'll pass word to Garrett as soon as I am able." When Gemma continued to fidget, Maybel said, "Please, Gemma, if there's something bothering you, tell me about it."

Taking a deep breath before exhaling loudly, Gemma asked, "Are you keeping any secrets from us?"

Taken aback, Maybel answered, "Gemma, I don't know why you're asking this, but of course I have secrets. We all have our secrets, even you."

"Yeah, but," Gemma shook her head, "what I'm trying to ask is there anything I need to know about? Do I have any reasons to be worried? There's a lot going on, Maybel, and I don't want to be in the dark about anything."

For a moment, neither spoke. Maybel shook her head after a while and replied, "Gemma, I don't know what's gotten into you all of a sudden, but I'm not hiding anything. You know I would never hurt you or Garrett, so why are you questioning me now?"

"I- I don't know." Gemma looked around the room again and felt small. She wondered how Maybel slept all night with this overwhelming room to herself. "We all have reason to be scared, but I guess after last night, I'm more scared than I should be."

"There's no reason to be scared," Maybel reassured Gemma as she put a hand on her shoulder. "After this whole thing is over, and it will end with us getting all four artifacts, we will be free to go wherever we want and be whoever we want. All we need to do is keep holding out. Understand?"

Gemma nodded before she jumped forward and again hugged Maybel. "I understand." She held on tighter. "I love you, May-May."

Returning the hug, Maybel replied, "I love you too, Gem."


"You can't be serious!" Maybel exclaimed, bolting upright from the tea table on the back porch. "People who were taken from under your very roof, people who are committed to serving you, need you know more than ever. Certainly that small ransom isn't too much to pay to save the lives of your servants."

Seńor de Camilla glared at Maybel, his teacup held midair. While he, Maybel, and Rosetta were having their afternoon tea in the warm, cloudless weather, a messenger came to convince Seńor de Camilla that it was Ricardo's men who had stolen the artifact – which, Maybel realized with a sting, was true – and that he was willing to give back the servants he kidnapped, but only for a small price. Maybel thought her "father" would accept the offer, but instead he refused without taking a second to consider it.

"You would do well to hold your tongue, Marionette," Seńor de Camilla said. "Men do not want a wife who makes a habit of speaking out of place."

Face burning, Maybel replied, "You must have some compassion in your soul, Father. Didn't you hear the message? This man will kill your servants if you refuse the ransom. The lives of your servants, people just like you and me, are worth far more than the measly sum being demanded of you."

For a whole minute, Seńor de Camilla stared at Maybel as if weighing her words. Rosetta, for once, kept quiet. The messenger, who couldn't have been much older than Maybel, shifted his weight from foot to foot.

When his mind was made up, Seńor de Camilla turned to the messenger and said, "Tell your boss that if he thinks he can embarrass the de Camilla family name, steal one of the artifacts of our great country, and swindle me out of ten thousand silvo, he has no idea who he's dealing with. Do whatever you wish with the servants. They are no longer a concern of mine."

Gripping the edge of the table so hard her knuckles turned white, Maybel used most of her strength to keep from falling over as the messenger scurried away. She knew Ricardo wouldn't hurt Gemma, but when it came to the other servants, she couldn't be sure. It wasn't long before Maybel's shaking was fueled by anger.

Without looking back up at Maybel, Seńor de Camilla asked, "Marionette, are you going to finish your tea?"

"What's wrong with you?!" Maybel demanded, her words just above a shout. "You just condemned half a dozen people to their death! How can you be so calm?"

"Stop causing a scene," Rosetta ordered, but she was left ignored.

"All of those people you threw away like trash are innocent," Maybel continued to argue. "Send someone to bring the messenger back so you may tell him that you have changed your mind."

"Marionette, sit down!" After Maybel dropped to her chair, Seńor de Camilla said, "You seem to have forgotten everything I have ever taught you. Not only am I your father, I am the man in charge of this estate. You have no say over how anything around here is done. There is no room for questioning my decisions.

"Secondly, those servants were expendable anyway. I'll send out a notice and have their positions filled again in no time. No need to shout over a problem so easily fixed."

Unable to suspend her disbelief, Maybel whispered, "What about the families of those you sentenced to death? They won't think the lives of their brothers, sisters, parents, and children are expendable."

"Why would you even care?"

"I care because you as good as killed the people devoted to serving you!" Maybel answered. She rose from the table. "I do not feel well. I shall be resting in my room."

Arms crossed, Maybel stormed into the mansion and marched up the stairs. After her three weeks there, she shouldn't have been surprised. Yet as much as she could have seen this coming, she didn't want to believe that this man was capable of sentencing anyone to death.

"May- Miss Marionette, are you okay?"

Maybel had been wiping her eyes so furiously that she didn't see Garrett in the same halfway as she until he spoke. "He won't accept the ransom."

Knitting his brows together, Garrett asked, "What do you mean? Who won't accept the ransom?"

"My father," the words were poison on Maybel's lips, "won't accept Ricardo's offer to buy back the servants. He's okay with all of them getting killed just to save a few silvo."

Garrett shook his head. "Ricardo won't kill those he had taken, or at least I don't think he would. I mean, he won't hurt Gemma, and she would never let anyone die over something so trivial. If anything, Gemma will make sure everyone else is all right."

"I hope you're right." Maybel grit her teeth. "I just can't believe that man's pride means more to him than the lives of others. None of them ever did anything wrong."

"Look, Miss Marionette," when Garrett said Marionette's name, Maybel knew they had to finish the conversation quickly if they were to avoid being seen together, "as long as nobody gets hurt, it's okay. One way or another, we'll find a way to get Gemma involved again. Don't let this get to you. If you let it cloud your emotions, you'll have a harder time getting through with anything."

"I know," Maybel sighed. "I know." Then, without realizing she was doing it, Maybel threw herself forward and enveloped Garrett in a hug. Startled, Garrett hesitated to hug her back. Physical contact wasn't a usual part of their relationship, but in that moment, Maybel needed him close. Garrett was warmth and comfort, a steady rock she could count on. When she pulled away, it was too soon.

"I'm going to lie down," she said. Garrett, red faced, simply nodded.

After a parting small smile, Maybel continued her trek to her room. When she arrived, she collapsed on the made bed, hugged her knees to her chest, and allowed a few silent tears to fall.


The night air caressed her moonlit face. The wind ran its fingers through her ebony hair. The city was lain out before her as she sat high above. Violet chewed her lower lip, her fingers tapping against the edge of the bench.

"Must you always be so dramatic with our meeting places?" asked a voice from behind.

"Must you always be late to said meetings?" Violet returned.

"You wanted to meet on a roof. Can you blame me for having to take a few extra minutes to mentally prepare for the climb?"

"It isn't my business if you refuse to keep up with your cardio training," Violet answered as she slid her eyes to the midnight-haired man behind her. "How's the prodigal daughter doing, Kai?"

Smiling as if remembering something funny, Kai said, "Miss Marionette is a lot more outspoken than I remember. Aggressive, too. I wouldn't doubt she could give Rosetta a run for her money if she held nothing back."

"And how did she react to you at the ball?"

"Looked at me as if she's never seen me before in her life." Kai shrugged. "We weren't exactly inseparable, but I'm the closest thing to a childhood friend Marionette's ever had. She would have recognized me."

"So the girl you danced with was a spy." Violet, looking back out to the city, didn't question the conclusion.

"Or a thief, if the missing artifact means anything."

Violet chuckled. "Funny how what's supposed to be a big secret is spreading like wildfire. Boss won't be pleased."

"He'll get over it." Kai sat next to Violet. "Now, what did you want to see me about?"

Stretching her legs out in front of her, Violet replied, "It's too soon to say, but I think I may have found our new friend's weakness."


"Why do you single me out?" Gemma asked, sitting across from Ricardo. He was going somewhere for business purposes and wouldn't be back for some weeks. Even though he wouldn't say what kind of business, he did insist he and Gemma share a meal together before he left.

"How do you mean?" Ricardo responded, swirling around his wine glass for show.

"Had it been Garrett or Maybel who had to go into hiding," Gemma explained, "would you dine with them tonight as you are with me?"

"I doubt either would be as receptive to a dinner invitation as you are, Gemma," Ricardo answered.

"That isn't what I asked."

"My answer is my answer, whether or not you like it."

By this point, the grilled salmon with buttery asparagus was served. Gemma tried not to moan at how the food practically melted in her mouth.

"I take it you're a Miglorita sympathizer," she said, opening the door for conversation. It was better to keep Ricardo talking than for him to watch her eat through his mask. This way was less creepy.

"Hmm, more or less."

"How do you answer 'more or less' to a yes or no question?"

"I did, didn't I?" Ricardo chuckled as Gemma rolled her eyes. "I am fascinated by you, Gemma Albarn. What other reason do I need?"

"None, I suppose." Gemma smiled as she reached forward and took Ricardo's hand. "I can't deny how charming I am."

"Neither can I," Ricardo removed his hand from Gemma's reach, "but your flirtatious reputation follows you. How am I supposed to know whether you truly mean what you say or are merely buttering me up for some grand scheme of yours?"

"How else am I going to get you to answer my questions?" Gemma replied, cocking her head ever so slightly to the side. "I ask a lot, sure, but I'm not being unreasonable. Who are you? What is your ultimate goal? Those are sensible things to wonder. How you feel about Migloritas – don't think I didn't notice you avoided my question."

When Ricardo responded, it sounded as if he was smiling. "You are far more clever than your air-headed behavior leads on."

Gemma responded with a smile of her own. "Answer the question, Ricardo."

"Life as a Miglorita is extremely difficult. I can't fault someone for doing everything they can to survive in a society that would gladly see them fall."

That was all he would say on the topic.


Weeks after her outburst, Maybel trembled as she stood before her mirror. She, with shaky hands, pinned the shorter portion on her hair into a bun. They were traveling halfway across the country for a treaty signing between Inonvouslee and Peruon, her home country. Another of the artifacts will be there. So will Inonvouslee's royal family.

The royal family.

Over a year ago, the Night Ladrones stole the Gongoli Cube right from under the king's nose. Until Ricardo hired them to steal the artifacts, that heist was the riskiest Maybel and the twins had ever committed. Now she was going to see the king and his son again, and she feared they will look at her and know she's guilty of committing a terrible crime against them.

Maybel forced herself to exhale, the breath rough. She was injured that heist and had to send Gemma in her place under the guise of a lady from the Inonvouslee-Peruon borders. Maybel watched from a safe distance. It was Gemma who curtsied before the king and danced with the prince. Nobody would look at Marionette and immediately connect her with a petite fifteen-year-old.

When she was dressed, Maybel descended the stairs and forced herself to keep her chin high. Despite Seńor de Camilla having dined with the king on many occasions, Marionette had never once met the man ruling her country. However, Maybel would show no insecurities with meeting the king. He was no one to fear.

After all, the man whose roof she slept under was much worse.

Rosetta, who wore a lavender dress that was somehow familiar to Maybel, stood at the bottom of the stairs. Ever since the first artifact was stolen not long after Maybel arrived, Rosetta did not look at her with any signs of trust on her face. Watching every one of Maybel's movements, Rosetta frowned at her supposed sister but did not say a word.

"You look beautiful this morning," Maybel said. Rosetta frowned. "Are you prepared to depart soon?"

"Why are you talking to me like you want a relationship with me?" Rosetta asked, tone even.

"You're my sister," Maybel answered. "Why wouldn't I want a relationship with you?"

Rolling her eyes, Rosetta replied, "You're not my sister."

"I don't understand why you're so insistent in saying that I'm not your sister when I truly am."

"You're a liar," Rosetta called out, nothing in her voice betraying doubt of her own words. "I don't know who you are, but you aren't whom you claim to be.

Teeth gritted, Maybel said, "I don't know who you think you are to talk to me like that. I am your elder sister, and I demand the respect that comes with such title."

"Since when has my sister ever expected respect from anyone?" Rosetta, fist clenched, took a step forward. "I don't know who you are."

Without blinking, Maybel answered, "I'm a better version of Marionette, that's who."

Before Rosetta could respond, Seńor de Camilla entered the foyer and looked over his daughters. "Bags are packed and in the carriage, I presume?"

"Yes, Father," Maybel and Rosetta replied simultaneously.

"Good." He said nothing more as he walked out the door and approached the carriage. Maybel and Rosetta followed not to close behind. The three of them entered the carriage in silence and remained so as the carriage lurched forward and took them away.

Garrett will find me at the manor, Maybel told herself as she surveyed the passing trees. Ricardo already gave Gemma all the information he could about the place, and it won't take her and Garrett long to formulate a plan. There's nothing to worry about. Everything is going to be okay.

Yet as she thought this, Maybel could not stop her fingers from tapping against her thigh. Her palms were sweaty no matter how she tried to wipe them against her dress, and every movement in the carriage gave her a moment of internal fear.

Calm down, she told herself as she released a deep breath. She had to keep a level head if she was to manage her ability. If she let all the paranoia get to her, she was no different from anyone born without her miglior gift.

"What are the plans upon our arrival?" Maybel asked, breaking the silence and sounding a lot calmer than she felt.

Seńor de Camilla looked over Maybel. "Why do you ask?"

"I merely wonder if the others will greet us or if we will meet with them in the morning."

"The plan is for all of us to dine tonight," Seńor de Camilla answered. "We should arrive with enough time for you to rest and change into something more formal beforehand, so do not stress on making a good first impression on the prince."

Maybel's cheeks turned red. "I do not know what you are talking about," she claimed. "Inonvouslee's prince is of no interest to me."

She couldn't see him. She couldn't risk his knowing that she was not long ago a thief in the very castle. The king might not think much of Marionette, but Gemma's account of the prince proved that he was indeed clever and capable. He was described as handsome and charming, too, but that was Gemma being Gemma.

True to Seńor de Camilla's words, only servants greeted them upon their arrival hours later, the ride in total silence. Maybel didn't know if was relieved or more so worried. Until the meeting could get out of the way, there was anxiety of what the others would know.

Although not as beautiful as the de Camilla mansion, the manor in which they would stay was as elegant and fine. Maybel soaked in all the paintings and feasted her eye on the grand piano. The lobby alone made her feel small, but not in the way the de Camilla mansion did. Her fingers itched for her violin. Ever since she played for Rosetta and her friends that night, Maybel spent every spare moment with the instrument. She had forgotten how beautiful music was, especially when she was able to lose herself in it.

"You have two hours to rest," Seńor de Camilla said, snapping Maybel out of her head. "Do not be late."

"Yes, Father," Maybel and Rosetta replied. Maybel bit her lower lip. She didn't like how she responded to the man just as easily as Rosetta did.

After she had been led to her room, which was not much different from her room at the mansion save the color scheme was salmon, Maybel tried but was unable to rest. Quickly changing into a lose tunic and trousers, Maybel scanned the hallway for any oncoming souls. Empty.

Sneaking out the door, Maybel used her miglior gift to go unnoticed as she found her way to the garden. Once outside, Maybel took a deep breath of air and exhaled slowly. This was who she was. Maybel wasn't someone who dressed up, did what she was told, and made sure to always act like a lady. It was this, her rebellious heart and deceitful nature, that truly defined her.

Maybel supposed she could be a worse person than that.

Careful to avoid interacting with others, Maybel walked through the garden and took in the floral. The many shapes and colors of the variety of flowers made Maybel smile at all the beauty to beheld. There wasn't a single rose in sight, praise bless.

It was as she was smelling a golden flower that Maybel sensed a change. She froze and remained stone still as she focused on the new soul in the garden. It was eerily familiar, but Maybel couldn't figure out where she had seen this soul before. Perhaps it was one she thinly sensed in the past, like how one sees a face out of a crowd and then vaguely recognizes the face months later upon seeing it again. Taking a deep breath, Maybel pulled away from the flower and tried to maneuver her way back inside the manor.

Focusing on the soul, Maybel weaved her way through the garden. The soul was calm, easy going, but suddenly that calmness melted away. Fear gripped it.

Just keep walking, Maybel told herself. Whatever is scaring this soul is of no concern to you. Yet as she told herself this, Maybel couldn't shake the feeling she should at least see what was going on. After all, no one had to know she was there.

Turning around, Maybel held her breath as she approached the soul. However, the closer she got, the more confused she became. She sensed the soul, but there was no person in sight. Curiosity overriding logic, Maybel walked closer to the soul. Even when her senses told her the soul was right in front of her, she still couldn't see anyone around. Only a large oak stood out amongst the bushes. Trees don't have souls, Maybel reminded herself when the thought popped into her head.

Then she heard a shout of surprise. It came from above, and Maybel internally cursed. Looking up, she saw a figure dangle from one of the branches. The figure's legs were kicking wildly, and from what she could see, its arms gripped the thick branch for dear life.

I should walk away, Maybel thought. I should just turn around and pretend I didn't see anything.

"Need assistance?" Maybel asked, shouting up to the figure despite her better judgement.

The figure stopped kicking. "Uh, no. No, I don't," the figure answered, the speaker male. "I'm, er, just a little stuck. I'll find my way down eventually."

"Even if that means quickly and resulting in a broken neck?"

The man laughed, but he sounded nervous. "Hopefully slowly and with nothing broken."

Maybel sighed. "There's a branch to your left you can put your weight on. No, your other left. There you go."

"You aren't going to gain my trust only to ultimately lead me to my death, are you, my lady?" Even as he said this, the man showed no hesitation to listen to Maybel.

"I could have just left you to dangle until you tired yourself out. Why would I go through all this trouble if I wanted you to fall?"

"No reason, I suppose. I'm just trying to make conversation."

"You're not doing a good job."

"Well, how about you find something to converse about?"

After Maybel told the man where to place his foot next, she said, "I notice this manor has a piano in the lobby. Does anyone play it?"

"I'm afraid I can't answer that," the man replied, testing the branch below him. "I only arrived yesterday."

Maybel took a deep breath and tried something else. "I suppose you like flowers if you chose to spend your afternoon in the garden." Tilting her head, Maybel added, "Or maybe you like climbing trees, but you're not the best at getting down. Now move closer to the trunk and you'll find a sturdy branch just below."

"I like flowers," the man said, "and I like climbing, but I don't think those are the hobbies I should continue to pursue."

When he came to the last branch, the man dangled for a moment before he dropped himself to the ground. Slowly, the man turned to Maybel and smiled. "Thank you for your help. If not for you, I don't think the trip down would have ended so well."

Now that he stood before her, Maybel studied the man. He wasn't much of a man, as he appeared about her age. His thick, shaggy hair was sunset gold and his eyes cornflower blue. His white tunic was stained with dirt, possibly from climbing the tree, and his boots were worn from abuse.

Next she observed his soul. Still she couldn't place where she had seen it before, but she didn't let paranoia get to her. There were no traces of a typically aggressive person, but one who was kind and compassionate, not to say he wouldn't do whatever it took for the good of the majority. He was also, Maybel noticed with a snort, fearful despite now standing on the ground.

"Do I make you nervous?" she asked, her tone playful. If she couldn't avoid being seen, she would make herself as friendly and non-threatening as possible. Not that anyone would find Marionette threatening.

"You? Oh, of course not. There's no reason to be nervous when talking to a pretty girl."

"How flattering. Were you not scratching the back of your head, I would believe you had multiple opportunities to practice complimenting women."

The man blushed as he put his arm back by his side. "Forgive me. I forgot my manners."

"No harm done." Maybel smiled. "I suppose an introduction is in order." She curtsied. "My name is Marionette Saybel de Camilla."

"I know who you are, Miss de Camilla."

Maybel's spine became like iron. "Marionette, if you will."

"Certainly, Miss Marionette." The man bowed. "It is a pleasure to make your acquaintance. My name is Dezi Gabriele Alessandro, but I am sure you already knew that." When Maybel's only response was a choking noise, Dezi grinned and guessed, "Perhaps you did not know that. Interesting, considering most people know who I am without the introduction."

"Unfortunately, I am not most people." Forcing her stiff muscles to move, Maybel dropped into a low curtsy and said, "Forgive me for my ignorance, Your Majesty."