Sybil, Aspen, and I arrived at the north gate to Skiron’s compound. The aurae were milling about. Sybil’s eyes lit up as she saw them.
“The aurae came back?” she asked. “They left when mother kicked them out, soon after I started talking.” They used to knock me down, but they were only playing,” she recalled.
We opened the gate, and the qiqirn came yapping up, his little frame bulked out. I smiled and reached out to the demon dog, petting my hand against his furless back. He still only had tufts of hair on his tail and feet.
“Got a little chubby, didn’t you? Are Chinook and Föhn feeding you well?”
“He eats so much I’m surprised he isn’t bigger!” Föhn said, appearing beside me.
“Nice wings, Khione, and I see you’ve found some Lost Ones.” She gestured towards Sybil and Aspen.
“Yes. I found them, and they found me. As for the wings, well, that’s a long story.”
“Pft. Long story, nothing. Alcholoë set you on fire, Skiron transferred his power to you, and you phoenixed out of the flames with new wings,” Sybil blurted out.
Föhn’s eyes darted back and forth between Sybil and my wings as she processed, blinking repeatedly.
“You found him?” was all she could say. I reached for her hand, finding it was easier to keep the cold inside of me instead of on my skin.
“We found him, but for now, he is gone. He has entrusted me with his powers, but I fear I’m really not going to do well with them.”
She led me towards the cauldron, where Chinook and a couple of other aurae were focusing on filling it with small bursts of air. When it filled, they could tip it to help the seasons transition.
“Khione! You’re back!” She stopped and ran over, then spied Aspen and Sybil.
“You brought mortals here?!” she squeaked and then vanished into the air. Aspen and Sybil burst out laughing.
“They’re Lost Ones, Chinook. They spent their childhood between here and Gryph Camp.” Chinook reappeared with a sheepish grin on her face.
“Well, okay then. Hi!”
“I’m Aspen!” And then the two of them were babbling on and on, two endless pits of bubbling energy.
“Khione,” Föhn asked, “if you have Skiron’s winds, could you fill the cauldron? It would go a long way to help us do the job in his absence.”
The image of Skiron telling me I could do it, even as he faded to nothing, passed through my head. I could do it. I just had to focus and control the wind and get it into the cauldron for them. I agreed with a nod, determined to do it. For Skiron. For the Aurae.
I concentrated on the northwest wind, and it charged towards me. Whoa. No, not at me. Into the cauldron! The cauldron! I argued with it, as it charged every which way, just as determined to disobey me as I was determined to get it where I wanted it.
After a few shoves and blow backs, I finally wrestled control and pushed the now-chilled wind into the cauldron. I filled it as much as I could, the cauldron trapping it as the Aurae watched curiously. Controlling Skiron’s winds was about willpower, not emotion, and though I found it challenging, as long as I didn’t give in, the winds would bow to my will.
“That…was intense. You’re really frosty, Miss Kia, but thank you.” Föhn bowed with gratitude. “We can now release it to counter the North and West winds to balance it out for a while!” I smiled but felt slightly weak, and she was right. My forehead and arms were covered in a thicker frost than before. I pulled my cold inwards, allowing it to recede to a light fractal pattern, like lace on my skin.
Sybil led the way into the manor, pointing out things that she had done or things that had moved since the last time she had been there. She was comfortable here and seemed happy, like a weight had been lifted off her shoulders.
The Aurae had cleaned the manor and returned it to its former glory, though there was no sign of Uncle Skiron. I had thought he may have returned here, but it was also Alcholoë’s home. He’d be avoiding places where she’d be able to find him since he didn’t know that she hadn’t survived.
Aspen and Sybil made dinner in the kitchen, looking every bit the best friends she said they were. They were relaxed and comfortable with each other, and the aurae seemed to enjoy their presence here too. The manor was busy, and I struggled to remember the last time I was around so many.
Sitting around a large dining table laden with food, Aspen, Sybil, and I told the story of how we found Skiron, how Alcholoë was possessed by a dark magic that warped her mind, and how Artemis had defeated her.
Sybil turned to me and asked, “What did she mean when she set you on fire?” I winced, the feeling of being aflame still painful.
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“She said, ‘How does it feel to be abandoned by your father after all you’ve done? He’s still hiding out in Hyperborea. Isn’t he ashamed of you, the princess of disappointment?’ What did she mean by that?”
“Oh, that.” I mused, debating how much to tell them all. “Well, I am not my father’s favourite child. When I was found to have powers, I wasn’t able to control them, and I caused a lot of problems. He grew frustrated with me and cast me out of his domain until I learned.” I stabbed the snow peas on the plate. “I was initially sent here, to Uncle Skiron, to learn, but I still failed to control it. After seeing me fail to improve and finding out I was friends with the Prime of Trickery and the Son of Hermes, he revoked my title. I am not allowed to return until I can prove I am worthy of being his daughter.”
I took a sip of the wine as a dozen girls looked on, open-mouthed.
“What?” I asked the group, and they all spoke up.
“You just rescued a god from a deranged harpy!”
“You saved Sybil from her, too.”
“And you killed the Mahaha!”
“And befriended the Qiqirn.”
“You were lit on fire!” Chinook shuddered. “On Fire!”
“And faced a big fear with Artemis,” Aspen said quietly.
“If you aren’t worthy of his domain, no one is,” Sybil said, holding her head high.
“You should go there and take it back!” Föhn said.
I smiled sadly and lowered my head. My dark locks fell forward, and I saw the streak of white in them, a stark reminder of the past.
“I can’t go back. I’ve done some terrible things. Alcholoë wasn’t wrong, Sybil. He is ashamed of me. I am a disappointment in his eyes, and I don’t think time will change that.” The girls looked ready to defend me, and I smiled at them all.
“Thank you for believing in me, ladies, but please, enjoy your dinner. I’m sure you all have more stories to tell.”
I left the table early and retired to my uncle’s room. The aurae had cleaned it and set up a new bed. I shifted through his belongings, wondering If I could find where he had disappeared to. In his nightstand, I found a journal and set to reading it, hoping maybe it would help me figure out how to control the extra powers I had assumed. I flipped back to the beginning and skimmed through.
I paused about a third of the way in when he had written about me.
The princess has been exiled by my brother to learn to control her powers. She is very strong. Able to compete with my winds and even the strongest of the Anemoi. I think he fears the power she wields. She lacks confidence in herself to control the storm inside. With practice and time, she will be a fierce warrior princess. By exiling her, he has secured his role as gatekeeper to Hyperborea. I am trying to teach her that her emotions are her strength, but she is still young and wild, and a little belligerent. She is leaving to find herself with the friends she made. I will let her roam the world free for now, but I know she will be back. With confidence, she will be a queen and a force to be reckoned with.
I felt the tears again. They did not freeze, and wet snow fell from above me. My uncle’s powers were intertwined with mine, leaving my core warmer, and my powers seemed buried beneath his.
Because I hadn’t learned to control my own powers back then, now I couldn’t control either of ours. I was still a failure. A disappointment. The wild child who played with tricksters and thieves instead of learning to lead.
The irresponsible mother who gave her son up out of fear.
The careless woman who went and got herself cursed, suffering a great deal of pain.
I was called a queen once. My story has been told over the years. Twisted though it was, it didn’t change the fact that I had done those things. Things that I would never be forgiven for.
I would never be worthy.