They concluded their visit to the Court of Dreams, much to Tove’s relief, three days later, with only minor skirmishes between Tove and her family and Tove’s family and the Scioncy.
Honestly, Tove’s family and Grey because, no matter how Grey felt about Tove, Grey still had issues with a capital ISSUES with Tove’s duo-matres and Cy.
But, really, did anyone not have ISSUES with Cy? Cy was the definition of ISSUES—especially since the Triumvirate had chosen Tove and not Cy.
As the Scioncy prepared for their departure—loaded down with gifts for the Court of Miracles, Calamities, and Nightmares, loaded down with gifts for each member of the Scioncy, loaded down with the emotional baggage of wounds that were re-opened from being back in one of the Courts—Tove’s duo-matres and Cy were nowhere to be seen; another snub, another slight, against Tove’s person.
And—that was fine.
Tove had the rest of the Scions. What did she need her duo-matres and Cy for? She’d never had a need for her family before; she wouldn’t start needing anything from them now.
It was fine.
As Tove seethed quietly to herself as the Scioncy watched as their not-carriages were loaded up with their baggage, she felt Grey’s hand slip into her own. Then, she felt Persis take her other hand as Killian and Ione stood close, close, close emanating protection and peace and security with their presence.
And, some of the deep, red rage loosened in Tove’s chest.
This was more than Tove had ever had before—these people holding her everything in their gentle hands, ever ready to stand beside her.
Her beautiful chosen family.
And, it was fine after all—okay, maybe not fine, but the wound on Tove’s soul that had been opened and re-opened and re-opened again and again and again finally started to feel like it might start to heal under the ministrations of these lovely people.
Tove could do this—they could all do this—because they had each other.
Without a backward glance, Tove, the Scions, and the rest of their entourage climbed into the not-carriages and left the Court of Dreams to its scorching and redolent fate—for now.
The not-carriages were moving silently through the Between Woods, up the Myst Road, theoretically towards the Court of Miracles.
It was always more-than-a-bit of a theoretically when it came to the Myst Roads. There was never a way to judge with any certainty that one was in fact headed towards the intended destination or that, if the intended destination was in fact the direction in which one was headed, that one would arrive in a timely fashion.
There was a certain amount of trust that had to occur with the Myst Road, but trusting the Myst was also something that was dangerous to do.
Anything could happen in the woods.
That was part of the reason that the Courts designed the not-carriages, which actually had some official, fancy name that literally no one in the history of their existence had actually called them: to traverse the Between Woods and keep courtiers safe from the hazards of the Myst.
The not-carriages didn’t always work.
Sometimes, the not-carriages went into the Between Woods and were never seen again. The Myst having taken another tithe in tribute.
Ione had to wonder if—just maybe—there was something more nefarious to these disappearances considering what they had been learning from Aedeir.
Ione wanted to ask but now did not seem to be the time since there were people with them who were not amongst those that they trusted.
Not that Ione was entirely certain that she trusted Zoii completely, but at least, Meliae had a history of being gentle, benign creatures, which was reinforced by Ione’s experiences with Zoii thus far.
Armitage and Cassius, however, were just—wild cards.
The only thing that was making Zoii mostly trustworthy in Ione’s mind was that Aedeir trusted her, which—by that logic—Ione really should trust Armitage and Cassius, but still, Ione wasn’t entirely certain about giving that level of trust just yet.
That they had arrived abruptly to the Scioncy Educational Day Camp late and from the Court of Nightmares worried Ione, but again, Aedeir assured everyone that they could be trusted, that they were friends.
But, that was Ione’s job in a lot of ways: not to trust.
That, and being a weapon.
Ione’s inclusion into the Scioncy Day Camp was largely so that she could protect Tove, which Ione would happily do, but it also meant that Cassius’ and Armitage’s inclusion could be for a similar purpose.
If Ione were told to kill everyone to protect Tove, she would. She’d hate herself and mourn (and mourn and mourn and mourn) and carry the weight of that guilt upon her soul for the rest of forever—and probably beyond that—but she would do as her Prima Princeps demanded.
Luckily, for Ione, when Tove became the Scion for the Court of Dreams and Ione was charged with Tove’s protection, Tove became the person that Ione was beholden to, giesed to. Ione was certain-sure that Tove would never ask Ione to harm those that they considered friends. However, the slightest chance that something like this could come to pass kept Ione wakeful more often than anyone except Persis knew.
Ione’s nightmare fuel was a literal possibility in her life.
And, somehow, Ione had to find some sort of peace with it.
Since Ione was in-charge of Tove’s protection, she had to maintain her guard, and there was just something so slippery about Cassius, and it wasn’t just that Cassius was an Orpheum. But, the nature of being an Orpheum meant that there was a changeability to Cassius that Ione also had difficulty reconciling—ironic since, as a Salamander and an Assassin, Ione was anything but static and stayed.
Maybe it was just some sort of Court-programmed, internalized nonsense.
Ione couldn’t be certain yet.
And, that made her itch.
Armitage, though. Armitage was a completely different set of issues.
The only thing that Ione really knew about Armitage was that they had a love of truly ugly trousers. Just—eye-searingly, horrific trousers.
Of course, Grey loved that they were bright and shiny and candy-colored. Ione would swear on a stack of something that there was more magpie than raven in Grey’s Tengu make-up, but Corvidae were Corvidae.
And—that might have been more of that Court-programmed bias speaking.
Ione was still trying to sort it all out—trying to weed out all of that poisonous presumption—really.
But, Armitage—for all of his buffoonish-ness and looking quite contrary to anything like grace—moved like Ione did. Maybe not quite so slip-into-the-shadows-and-murder-things-in-the-night-in-the-dark, but there was that level of sheer ability that made Ione think that Armitage was trained, was capable.
There was only so much that Ione could do at this point, could do until Armitage and Cassius proved without a doubt that they were friend or foe or something in between.
Ione hoped that they all wouldn’t regret the realization.