The seven sisters were carried into a private infirmary. Joru did not like the idea of keeping her in such a place, but she would want her sisters, he had no doubt of that.
The eldest was still quite ill, but the blood of her mate and the skills of the little Laquazzeana, Bronwen, were keeping her alive.
Two more cousins had followed through the portkey, their Adrastos mates at their sides. They had greeted their aunt and cousin guardedly, but it was clear they were well-acquainted with Alaun and her sisters.
They were introduced as the head of the Woalds.
The goddess had bid them come.
He did not understand it, but he suspected it had something to do with that key.
But first…he turned toward the Laquazzeana healers. “Can the poison be removed?”
They stared at him for a long time—well, the elder did. The younger was almost blind. He had met her before; she had saved his sister Danae’s life—and that of his niece Zephra. “Joru…it is nothing we are familiar with yet. But we will certainly try to cleanse it from my cousins.”
“Raijlun is an ancient healer. He has come to help, as have I and my male.” It was the Laquazzeana Adelais who spoke. She was the aunt of his female, and they very much favored each other.
Ambrea was waking, her male guarding her closely. Alaun tried to climb out of the narrow bed and go to her sister. Joru held her in place easily. “You do no one any good by straining yourself.”
Ambrea’s male helped her to sit. He had said very little, just hovered over her closely. Joru understood.
“Alaun…” her sister smiled at her. “I knew you would do it…”
“Why did you send her, Ambrea?” the sister with the sword demanded. The healers were having difficulty keeping her in the bed next to the small girl’s. She kept wanting to go to that child to hold her. It was obvious the little one was frightened. “I could have gone. It would have been safer.”
“Because it wasn’t for you, Kell. It was for Alaun. She was the only one who could find the key. And could find him.” Ambrea was weak; everyone had to strain to hear her. But she spoke with confidence. “Alaun had a destiny, just as do the rest of us. Finding the demon was hers. And bringing the key. That was what she was supposed to do now. And that key saves all of us.”
“How?” Kellis demanded.
Ambrea smiled weakly. “The goddess will tell of it. It is a story Mother told me. One she learned from her own mother. And so on. And they told each of their sisters. But it’s not my place to tell it now, but the goddess’s. And Aunt Adelais.”
Rix held Ambrea, same as Joru held Alaun. The sister Kellis solved the problem of the bed by moving the little girl to her own lap. Soon the other sisters had piled on to the foot of Alaun’s bed, just to listen.
The Laquazzeana Adelais and Bronwen stood. The goddess stood where she could touch Ambrea and Alaun where they lay.
It was she that spoke.
“The day Haliophux took so much from us, I was with Nelciana, the goddess of family. We were preparing for her wedding day. She was to wed my twin. We were dressing, and we had friends with us. Daughters of servants who had lived with our family for hundreds of years. We did not run alone that day. Those girls were of the family Woald.”
Her hand ran over Ambrea’s hair. The girl’s cheeks pinkened some. When the goddess looked up, there were tears on her cheeks. Tears that fell into pearls next to the girl’s hand. “They were the only Dardaptoan family that I did not create when I arrived here. Because…because they came with us.”
“That is why the family of Woald is the oldest of Dardaptoans,” Adelais added. “And why we have most always been matralinial. Until recent times.”
“But that has been corrected.” Adelais put her hand on the leader of the Woald’s shoulder where she stood next to Ambrea’s bed. “The one who is meant to lead the Woald now leads. As she should.”
“But how does this have to do with us?” the little girl asked. The goddess laughed and reached for her. She took her in her arms and just held her.
“We are getting to that,” the goddess said, as the little girl took a big long breath. When she exhaled her cheeks glowed with health.
The child giggled. She looked so much like Alaun that Joru felt warmth go through him as he imagined the spawn they would one day have.
The goddess turned back to the sisters and the cousins. “I did not create the Woald, so they have always been different. Been close to my heart. Which was one reason their line has suffered as it has. As we ran, Haliophux cursed them to always be the humble and the meek. And to have little in the way of healers. Today, we have Cayri and Iahanna. That they were born so close together is itself a miracle. One of your cousins, Kea Jareth, came to me yesterday. She brings news.”
Alaun shifted slightly in his arms. Joru looked down at her, to check. She coughed again, sending fear racing through his heart. “Female?”
“I hurt, Joru.”
Adelais, the healer Laquazzeana the keeper of souls, came to her. She leaned Alaun forward and put her hands upon her back. Over her lungs. Alaun breathed deeper after that.
“Dear Alaun, you have always scared me when you were ill.” She looked at Joru as she continued to speak. “She was a frail babe. One…Alita…and I fought to keep upon the earth. So tiny. I am glad she has found you, and will be happy now.”
“I will do all that I can to see that she remains that way.”
The goddess shifted, her arms tightening around the now sleeping child for a moment, then she moved the girl back to her sister Kellis’s arms. Next it was Kellis’s turn to be touched by the goddess.
Joru almost saw the power spark between them.
The goddess stared at her and then nodded. “Yes. As I suspected. Kellis…follow your heart. It will not lead you wrong.”
Adelais laughed at the confusion on her nieces’ faces. “Iahanna, Cayri, sit. This is a story your grandmother told me decades ago. It has always been passed down to our line. Now it is my time to tell it.” She began to speak. “The Woald had come with the goddess and it was with nine of them that she sent out nine tears. Contained within those tears were nine souls of the sisters of the Goddess. The Woald Nine traveled far and wide. Two mated with Nellano Druids. One never mated. Her line died out, but her soul has been reborn in this generation. We do not know who.”
The goddess put her hand on the Laquazzeana’s shoulder. Joru had to turn his head at the light that passed between them. “I will finish, Adelais. You sit. Rest, for the son of Deki is making you ill. I can feel it.”
Adelais gave a secret smile. “He is. But it is a happy feeling now.”
“Yes.” The goddess turned back to them all. “I sent out nine of my attendants, into different worlds to keep them safe from Haliophux, as he had vowed to come for all Dardaptoan blood. The Woalds then were not Dardaptos, but Woald. It mattered. But the souls of my sisters are still out there. And they need to be retrieved. That is where your bloodline comes in, Iahanna. For it will be only from those you lead now who can do this.”
The goddess shook her head. “I do not know which. I only know that it will be soon. And Haliophux will not be the one seeking these souls. But others.”
“What do these souls even look like?” Alaun’s fieriest sister asked. “How would someone even know what they have?”
Joru sensed the goddess’s earlier words had frightened this one.
“They, you, whomever, will know,” the goddess said.
“So…how do we find out who? And why are we all here?” she asked again.
The goddess took each of the girl’s hands in hers. “You will know. When the time comes for you, Kellis. You and some of your sisters will be chosen. Not Alleah, she is too young. Not Ambrea–she has a different path with Rix. Not Alaun. Her part in this quest is done. She was just to bring me the key. This key, kept in this box, has been passed from Woald to Woald. It is it that which will unlock what happens next. To Cerian. And to those who come after you.”
“Cerian’s out there?” the quiet sister with a speech impediment, Jume, asked. “I…watched for her on the streets. I wanted to bring her with us to our new place, but she was gone.”
“Cerian’s destiny has begun. She was…taken…to another world. I do not know more than that. Just that the key must be turned. And it has to be one of the Woalds to turn it. And one who is of great heart. Alaun, the task is yours.”
“Do I have to?” Alaun asked softly. “It will change everything, won’t it?”
The goddess nodded. “Yes. And that is why you were chosen. Because you, and your sisters, understand that this key…this key changes everything.”
Joru kept his hands on his female as she took the little key she had almost died to get. She put the key in the small lock on the box the goddess held.
A hot light nearly blinded him as the building around them shook once more.
A wind came that blew the light and heat away.
And then it was over.
“That’s the end?” Alleah asked.
The goddess touched her golden hair. “No, my dear babe, it is just beginning.”
His arms tightened on his female as Joru echoed those words.
This was just the beginning…