Gwyn opened her eyes.
A hazy world of pink swam in her vision as a pale heart-shaped blob wreathed by a strange lime-green mass hovered in the middle of her line of sight. She blinked. Once, twice, thrice. Slowly, the familiar pink fabric of her canopy bed came into focus. The pretty drapes stirred gently as a soft breeze came in through the window, the night sounds of home riding that gentle whisper of wind. The strain on Kara's face became clearly visible as Gwyn distinguished her features from the thick mane of hair.
Landen's princess said the first thing that popped into her head. "You promised to have a hot guy wake me up the next time I had a bad dream."
Which caused —why, she couldn't begin to guess! &mdashKara to burst into tears. She frowned as she pushed herself up, puzzled at the strange weakness in her body. "Uh, Kara? I know it wasn't the wittiest I could do, but it couldn't have been bad enough to —"
That was about as far as she got before Kara put her into a death grip. Well, Gwyn supposed it was meant to be a very tight hug, but when the person hugging you was the daughter of a man as muscular as Lune...
Well, it's not like I needed all that air in my lungs anyway.
Kara was murmuring something under her breath. Gwyn tried to catch the words as circulation to her brain was cut off by the force of the moon princess' hug. "Stupid dummy, stupid dummy, stupid dummy..."
Gwyn tried to object through the fierceness of Kara's embrace. The best she managed was a breathless squeak. "H-hey...!"
Not that the moon princess paid her ineffectual protests any mind. She didn't seem to have the strength to push her friend away, either, so Gwyn went for her secret weapon. Her fingers rested on Kara's ribs and attacked.
"G-Gwyn!" The yelp that issued forth from her coeval's mouth mingled laughter with protest. The moon princess was ridiculously ticklish, had been so for as long as they'd known each other. Tickling had always been a potent way to put an end to anything Kara did that annoyed her, and unfortunately for her friend, she had the edge. Gwyn knew all of the taller girl's weak spots even as Kara lacked the knowledge of where to counter.
The one thing she hadn't counted on, though, was that her friend would be enough stronger than her to stop her attack. It took a while, but her body was so strangely weak that Kara managed to pin her down. An experimental twist was countered as the taller girl's body weighed down on her. Gwyn eyed her friend. "Were you always this heavy? You might want to lay off on the pastries, Kara."
That familiar face crumpled into a hurt expression. Her friend whispered in bruised tones, "Why are you so mean?"
Confusion brought a frown to her face. "What are you talking about?"
Kara apparently ignored her. "I've been sitting by your side for two days—"
"Two days? What are you—"
"—I've barely got a wink of sleep since we came to Landen, I've been so afraid, afraid that you would never wake up, that something bad had happened to you, so afraid of Ada—"
The moon princess suddenly clammed up. Gwyn stared at her, read her emotions in every twitch of her face, every flicker of her eyes. Slowly, she pushed the two of them up and latched onto Kara's hands before the girl could even think of flight. "Why don't you start from the beginning?"
So she listened. She listened as Kara told her about the diving expedition to recover Orakio's sword, how only Gwyn and her twin had gone into those murky depths. She listened as Kara explained Dark Force had been bound by that black blade and its release had sent Gwyn into a mania before she had lost consciousness. She listened as she was told about her return from the depths, of the stillness akin to death she had lingered in for three nights. She listened as Kara related Adan's anguish and the moon princess' own frenzied worry.
She remembered none of it, but it certainly helped explain where her mind had been. Dark Force was freed. It should have shaken her more, the idea that the demon that had destroyed Palma was on the loose, but she still remembered her resolution to vanquish the demon. Her eyes wandered her room and noticed an opened notebook on her nightstand. Kara's?
"...then your father and brother got into an awful fight in the middle of the court, and they were just screaming the most terrible things at each other. Your father blamed Adan for your mother also falling unconscious, and I was so certain they were going to fight it out right there if your grandfather—"
"Pawpaw is here?" Gwyn interrupted excitedly. "Is Nana here too?"
Kara stared at her in disbelief. "You...Dark Force is free and you're asking about your grandparents?"
Gwyn shrugged. "We'll kill Dark Force."
Irritation pricked at her as her friend continued to show her doubt. Kara still hadn't told her the two things she wanted to know, but now was not yet the time to strike. "Continue the story, please."
"Well, your grandfather threatened to toss them both into the dungeons and... what's so funny?"
Oh, how she wanted to laugh! Kara's upset expression was enough to tell her that the moon princess didn't see the humor, but oh, it was just so funny! Her grandfather threatened to throw people in the dungeon for temper? Hilarious!
"I'll tell you later. Continue."
"Well, your grandmother forbade your father and brother the sickrooms and-"
Now. "Why are you afraid of Adan?"
Kara's mouth opened and closed in an imitation of a fish out of water, her light blue eyes filled with dismay. Her friend had obviously thought that she'd forgotten her little slip of the tongue. The moon princess tried to look anywhere but at her. Impatient, Gwyn caught her coeval's head and glared into her eyes. "Well?"
Wary was the mildest way to describe Kara's eyes. "I've...I've never seen him like that. Even when we fought those Punishers in Terminus, I wasn't afraid of him, but when he just started screaming all those awful things at your father, I...I didn't know him. It seemed like they were both ready to kill each other. I don't know what I'd do if he ever screamed at me like that."
Gwyn sighed as she released Kara. "Don't be silly, Kara. Papa and Adan were just upset over Mama and me. Adan would be just as upset if something happened to you."
"Would he? Would he really?" The tears were back in those light blue eyes. "How do you know? He could just be toying with me. He hasn't even said he loves me yet!"
"Are you really this insecure?" Gwyn asked. She shook her head and took Kara's hands in her own firmly. "Listen to me. You're the first girl Adan has ever kissed, and believe me, it's not from lack of trying on the part of the chits in this court! He cares for you very deeply. He's just not the type to say something that he thinks should be obvious. If you stopped worrying so much, you'd have seen a half-dozen little things he's done to show his affection."
Those long-fingered hands attempted to flutter but were restrained by Gwyn's iron grip. Denied her nervous habit, Kara stared down at her lap. Gwyn sighed. She was more or less resigned to Kara as her sister-in-law, not out of any innate objections to the girl, but mostly because she still wasn't a fan of sharing. It seemed like a poor joke that Gwyn would be obligated to rebuild Kara's faith in what she wanted.
"Kara. Look at me." Those blue eyes peeked out reluctantly from underneath her friend's bangs. "The only way to provoke Adan like that is to endanger what's his."
There was curiosity instead of objection, so Gwyn plowed on. "That's right, his. Remember what happened in Terminus? That idiot Punisher didn't lose his hands because it was the quickest way to end the fight. He lost his hands because Adan was furious that he tried to hurt you."
That seemed to cheer the moon princess up for all of a few heartbeats before that face crumpled again. "But..."
Exasperated by Kara's perverse refusal to listen to reason, Gwyn felt like shrieking. Instead, she managed to be civil. Somewhat. "But what?"
"You hate it."
Gwyn stared at the bleak expression on her friend's face. "What in the world are you talking about?"
"You...you yelled at me and yelled at me after I kissed Adan in the Kensai camp. And you've been really mean to me ever since we were in Frigidia. It felt like you didn't approve, like you were making fun of my feelings for Adan, and wanted to get rid of me. I...I..."
"Kara, I'm Adan's twin. Do you really think that if I wanted to get rid of you, you'd have gotten any kisses in Skyhaven?"
"Yes, I know about that," Gwyn said, ignoring the blush burning her friend's cheeks. "Now while you turn that noggin of yours to answering my question, here's another thing for you to chew on. When have I ever been good at sharing?"
"I didn't hit your head that hard when we fought over the cookie platter," Gwyn said tartly.
Kara smiled ruefully as she rubbed her head. "I got you back later."
"So it was you! I always knew Adan would never fill my shoes with slime!"
The giggles were a much better fit than the gloom, Gwyn decided. She let them run their course before she continued. "Now that we've established I am not very good at sharing cookies, I'll admit I'm not very good at sharing my brother, either. However, I am willing to try, but only with one person. You."
Her coeval looked surprised. Before she could open her mouth, Gwyn added, "There's a condition or two attached, though. You have to stop worrying so much. You also have to be my little sister."
"Little sister?" Kara objected. "I'm older than you!"
"True, but I'm smarter, more mature, more sophisticated, and just so much cooler," Gwyn said airily, eying the notebook on her nightstand. She had a good hunch about what was in there. Not only notes about their journey, but also...
"Smarter? You're not smarter than me! You didn't even know what callipygian was until—"
Her hand darted out like lightning and seized the notebook before Kara could finish her sentence. Her friend froze for a full heartbeat before she seemed to understand her mortal danger. The moon princess lunged at her, but Gwyn had expected that. She pushed herself back against the head board and Kara sailed right by. Her coeval landed on the floor with a thump that gave Gwyn enough time to read what was on the page.
"You know, Kara, this poem is pretty good."
The landing seemed to have knocked some of the wind out of the taller girl. A grunt emerged from the floor as a hand latched onto the bed's side. Gwyn began to read aloud.
"The sky is on fire
or is that my heart?
Why does the moon shake
as the void becomes indigo?
The sun is a red ruby
hasn't that always been so?
Otherworlds hold the stars
weren't they always twinkling there?
The velvet moonlight dances
but I've only eyes for you."
Another hand appeared on the edge before Kara dragged herself up. "Was there a reason for that?"
Gwyn shrugged and gestured. Kara turned her head in the direction of the door. The moon princess turned redder than the tikal on Gwyn's forehead.
Adan was standing in the doorway, staring into the room. His face was set in an expression that would have made dragons quail, but Gwyn could sense his relief at her revival. His hand was bloody. A consequence of his rage, perhaps? She glanced at Kara and thought of something that made her smirk. "You're scaring your bride, big brother."
"I am not scaring my brid—" Adan's eyes, so like her own, widened in alarm. "I mean..."
Her laughter met his lame attempt at denial. Gwyn tapped her forehead and grinned at her twin. "Twin sister, remember? Do you really want to try that?"
Adan frowned. "If I am scaring my bride, I'll apologize."
Joy suffused Kara's face and lit the room up like the noonday sun. Gwyn sighed. Well, at least someone was happy. "Carry me to Mom's room. She'll be awake by now."
"Why do I have to carry you?" Adan objected.
"You're really not going to make a sick girl walk, are you, big brother?"
Her twin sighed, defeated, as he came over to the bed. Adan squatted down near her. Gwyn climbed on her twin's back and amiably put her arms around her brother's neck. He stood up with care, wary of hurting her. She nudged him with her knee. "Come on, come on."
"Are you sure you're sick?" Adan muttered.
"Very sick," she assured him. "Come on, Kara. Let's go say hi to Mom."
As they walked down the corridor, Gwyn thought about her nightmare. Wherever it had been, the place was real. Laya had been the one to rescue her from that unending darkness. Just as importantly, she knew that the dream man did not serve Dark Force willingly. Those awful thorns said more than any words.
We'll save you, Uncle. I promise.