"You're here to see Ruin?" asked Anica, and her face was a momentary stormfront.
"I had heard from Grandfather something of what happened when he first arrived here. I was... curious about what you had partaken with him. So when the Twiceborn passed into the depths of Duendewood, I sought him out and discovered for myself."
"...And he went along with it, of course," said Anica. She was still frowning, but her expression was relaxing from anger into resignation.
"Of course," whispered Aesa softly, but loud enough for Anica to catch. Just as he did with us.
Anica sighed and sat back. "I apologize. Please continue."
"I'm not here for him," said Rita. "I'm here because Grandfather thinks he should know the full number of his children... and I think also in case something happens here. I think He wanted me placed to defend his temple, should the need arise."
"Will you?" asked Werendril.
"With my children here?" Rita started to rise, but Werendril made a calming motion.
"It was a request," he said. "I do not doubt you."
Rita settled back. "Are we... rivals?" she asked.
"No," said Aesa firmly. "Do you want Ruin? As a... mate? A long-term partner?"
Rita frowned, but the expression was thoughtful. "No. I wouldn't mind more of... but no."
Aesa glanced at Anica, raised her eyebrows, and then turned back to Rita and nodded. "We are in much the same place-of-mind." The phrase was elvish, but Rita didn't appear to have any difficulty translating. "That being so, we are not rivals. We might, I hope, be partners."
"Partners?" asked Rita, looking slightly dubious.
"Everyone here defends the children. All of our children. To the best of our ability, whatever it takes. We keep this place safe. And we work together to do it."
"I am not accustomed to working together," said Rita. "In the jungle..."
Anica raised her eyebrows. "Are you saying you've never needed assistance?"
"From--?" Rita cut off abruptly, blinked several times in rapid succession, and then said: "No. I am not saying that. And I have fought alongside others... once. Forgive me. I see the need, but I need time to adapt to the idea. And I suspect we will need to practice hunting together before was can assist each other to best effect."
"That's what I was hoping for," said Aesa. "We know you're stronger than any of us. But you're still safer, the children are safer, all of us are safer if we're all fighting together."
"I see it, Chosen of Amun. I hear Grandfather's wisdom in your words."
"Then perhaps we should rest for now," suggested Werendril. Tarric, who was casually leaning back against him, nodded agreement. "This is not easy, and I think we all need a bit of time to... adapt."
Rita considered, then nodded.
"Then if you'll come with me," Aesa said, and rose to her feet, "I'll take you to a place where you can rest."
"The nursery has them in a room with my daughter and Anica's son, and no others."
Rita frowned. "Do they have claws? Scales?"
Aesa shook her head. "No, but one of the lesser mages apparently figured out a way to drop some magical protection on them. I think they'll be safe with each other."
"Let us look in on them first," said Rita, "and if all is well, then yes: I shall rest."
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