Crystal drew away laughingly as Soleil sniffed back her tears. “Is this really you, blubbering like a fool?” But her misty gaze was proof that she wasn’t as unaffected as she pretended to be. Waving to the couch, she said, “Go sit down and tell me how it happened.”

“What do you want to know?”

Taking out several canisters from her cupboard, Crystal said, “The heartkeeping, for one. I thought you were against it?”

“I was.”

Crystal nodded understandingly. Any kind of union with a demon was detestable, after all. “Then you tricked the demon into it?”

“Oh, no. I d-didn’t have to. You see, at first, I had planned to die rather than trap the marquis into a forced union with me. But then when I lay dying in his arms, he told me…he loved me.”

Crystal stilled. “And you believed him?”

“Not just that,” Soleil said shyly. “Actually, I love him, too, and…w-we want you to be our godmother in our wedding, if you are fine with that.” She bit her lip. “I know you do not think much about his kind, but he is only half-demon—-”

Crystal’s fingers shook as she reached for another canister in the cupboard, one that was hidden all the way in the back, behind taller jars and bottles.

“And if you give him a chance, I truly believe you will see he is not that…bad,” Soleil finished awkwardly. She held her breath when Crystal turned towards her, bearing a tray of drinks, and exhaled in relief when she saw the resigned smile on the older woman’s face.

“If it is what you say…” Crystal sat down across her and offered Soleil a cup of tea. “Then perhaps I do need to meet him.”

“You’ll like him,” Soleil said earnestly. “I’m sure of it.” After taking a sip of her sea, she lowered the cup back to the table, asking slowly, “But you know…you never did tell me how you managed to acquire the knowledge about my curse.”

“I made a trade.” Crystal’s tone was light. “Of useless things that I hold on to but have little value in the world.” Before Soleil could ask more questions, her former instructor changed the subject, asking about her thoughts on Zari.

Over an hour had passed by the time Soleil left Crystal’s office, her mood even better because now she had secured the older woman’s promise to give Ilie a chance. Everything was going so smoothly, it was almost scary. She pinched her own cheeks, just to be sure she hadn’t lost herself in another nightmare, and was reassured by the pain she felt.

She went to Zari’s dormitory next. Knocking on the girl’s door, she said, “Zari?”

“Soleil?” The door opened completely. “Please come in.”

Once inside her student’s bedroom, she looked around her in appreciation. “You’ve got a good eye for decorating, Zari.”

“Thank you.” Zari smiled widely. “I heard congratulations are in order.”

She blushed. “I didn’t realize news could travel so fast.” She paused then reached for the girl’s hand, squeezing it as she said feelingly, “Thank you for your warning. You were completely right. It made me think of the right place to die, and who knows? Maybe if I hadn’t chosen that place, things would have been different—-”

Zari was visibly bewildered. “I don’t understand.”

“The shade of blue you saw in your vision,” Soleil reminded her. “Do you remember now? All those blue shades? I was in such a room last night, but the curse was thankfully lifted.” She squeezed Zari’s hand again. “So thank you.”

“I’m g-glad to help.”

Soleil’s smile faded. “You don’t sound like it, though.” In fact, Zari’s face appeared too pale, she realized. Elation over last night’s events completely forgotten, Soleil slid into teacher mode and asked in concern, “Are you alright? Do you feel anything?”

“It’s not that.” Zari shook head. “It’s just…I messed up. I thought you knew, or I thought I told you. I—-” She bit her lip.

Unease skittered down her spine. “What is it?”

Zari inhaled sharply. “In my vision, there was nothing about a curse, Soleil. There was just you, fighting for your life, because someone – and not a curse – was trying to kill you.”

TO TREAT EVERY THREAT like it was real, to never assume anything was a lie or a truth, to always search for clues—-

These were some of the first rules she had learned when studying in ANEX. These were rules responsible for keeping Soleil and her team alive, and she would never risk breaking any of them. Lives depended on her, too many of them, and no risk was too little to take when it came to saving and losing lives.

But if it was only Soleil’s own life concerned—-

Perhaps it was because she felt giddy and overwhelmed by her first taste of love, Soleil found herself breaking all the golden rules with Zari’s warning. It was possible for soul seers to be wrong, couldn’t it? After all, only God was perfect, only God who was omniscient.

Tags: Marian Tee Fantasy
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