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Conqueror Rising: Chapter 1.2

by Snoink


Solea did not like large parties. At all. They were too big and noisy, the clothes always felt stiff and overly formal, and she didn’t know most of the people there. Had her sister— or stepsister, rather — not been the guest of honor, she probably would have skipped it entirely.

However, she felt bad for losing her temper earlier. So she came to the party earlier than she normally would have, holding Alainna’s neatly written paper in her hands and wondering whether she had made a mistake coming here at all.

There were people around that she knew, of course. There were the girls from the boarding school — a swanky school that they had both been enrolled in as soon as Alainna was found to be the Lady. There were several Swans, some of which she knew and some of which were new to her.

And then there was her father — the human father, Theron — sitting quietly at the table, all alone. In front of him was an untouched glass of wine and he looked just as awkward as she felt.

She slipped down quietly and sat next to him. “Hello, Father.”

He smiled. “Hello, Solea. It’s quite a party, isn’t it? Your sister seems excited about it, anyway.” He nodded at Alainna, and Solea could see Alainna excitedly talking to a whole bunch of finely dressed people who had just arrived.

“Good. It’s her birthday, after all.”

“Francine seems to like it too. At least, she insisted on helping with the preparations. See? She’s helping organize the flowers.” He pointed to her and smiled. “You know, when I first saw her, she was organizing flowers too. A lovely flower shop with lovely arrangements, but she was the loveliest thing in there.”

Solea glanced at her stepmother, who was standing precipitously on a ladder, barking out last-minute instructions, before the festivities began. “And here we are, sitting in the corner and hiding from it all,” Solea said.

“I prefer to think of it as admiring the view,” he said, giving her a wink.

“I suppose,” Solea said. Then, more nervously, she asked, “Where’s the Black Swan?”

He raised an eyebrow at her. “I assume that you are talking about Uclepidies, your father?”

Solea grimaced. “Who else?”

“He said that he’s going to be a little late. It took him a little longer to find the gift than he’d thought.”

“Find the gift?” Solea asked suddenly. “He’s getting Alainna a gift?”

“That’s what he told me.”

Solea’s stomach sank, but she tried to smile anyway. “I am never going to live it down. I just told Alainna that she shouldn’t expect any gifts from the Black Swans. I told her that my father hadn’t even given me a gift.”

“What? Uclepidies hasn’t given you a gift? That doesn’t sound right.” He frowned. “What about — no, wait. He gave that to your mother.” He stopped and considered it more. Then he shrugged and gave Solea an apologetic look. “If it makes you feel better, he hasn’t given me any gifts either. He’s not good at gift giving. It’s very difficult for him to move around and he doesn’t want to possess me just to pick out gifts.”

“But Alainna is the Lady, I suppose,” Solea said hollowly. “And the Lady needs gifts.”

“Oh, child,” he said, sighing. “Don’t be jealous of your sister.”

“Stepsister,” Solea corrected grimly. “She reminds me of that every time I call her my sister. And you are her stepfather.”

He shook his head and leaned closer to her. “Listen,” he said. “There will come a time when she will need you and your help more than you will possibly understand. The prophecies about the Lady are clear in that regard. Right now, things are nice and everybody is giving her gifts and parties and other nice things. But there will come a time when that is not the case, and when that happens, I hope that you will be there for her.”

Solea shrugged. “If she wants my help, I’ll be there to help her. Though, I doubt she’ll want it. She doesn’t seem to want anything from me.”

“That’s all I ask,” he said. “Just be there for her when she needs it most. And I can tell Uclepidies that you would appreciate an occasional gift, if you would like. I don’t mind being possessed by him for that reason, especially if it will make you feel better.”

“Oh no! Please don’t mention anything to him!” Solea said quickly, panic rising in her voice. “I mean, if he wants to give me something, he can, but—” She stopped, feeling confused.

“You don’t want to feel like an afterthought?” he suggested gently.

Solea’s face burned with shame. “I know I should be grateful,” she murmured, slouching back as if to melt into the chair. “It just feels strange still. I was completely happy to be your daughter.”

He smiled. “I understand. So does Uclepidies, for that matter, though you probably don’t want to hear that right now. That was one of the reasons why he gave you to me to raise. A boring life can be a very nice life, though I am afraid that my life hasn’t been very boring for a long time.”

“How long were you possessed by the Black Swan before everyone found out?” Solea asked shyly.

He tilted his head and looked thoughtful. “Let me see. Uclepidies possessed me about a year before you were born. And you were ten when everyone found out. So I suppose that makes it eleven years. Usually, it only takes days for people to figure it out, weeks if the possession is convincing enough. The fact that it took years for people to figure out the deception is a remarkable feat.” He laughed and shook his head. “I was kind of mad about it at first, actually,” he admitted, his eyes twinkling. “Everybody liked the possessed me better than the real me. Especially your mother. I am fairly certain that this is why they refused to consider the possibility that a Black Swan had possessed me.”

Solea felt shy. “Did I like the possessed you better too?”

He laughed. “Oh, yes! Especially you. When you were a baby, you would scream in my arms unless Uclepidies took over. You preferred him when you were very little as well, and you always seemed to know the difference, though you couldn’t verbalize how it was different. It was only when you got older that you learned to like me. And then, when you were ten, everything was revealed.”

“And then everything became strange.”

“Sorry. It was a bit of a mess.” He sighed. “Trust me. If it were up to me, I wouldn’t have had a heart attack. And then Francine wouldn’t have panicked as much as she did. And then Uclepidies wouldn’t have had to step up and provide for us so that we didn’t become homeless. And then there wouldn’t be that suspicion by the other Swans that you were a Conqueror. And then you wouldn’t have — well, you know.”

“Been tested and retested to see if I was a Conqueror?” offered Solea bitterly. “Only to find out that I was actually a Conqueror, and that I was going to be executed at the ripe old age of ten, since I must have been possessing Uclepidies. After all, why else would he have been helping us otherwise? Only to find out that oops! They made a mistake and I actually wasn’t really a Conqueror and instead I was a Black Swan’s daughter, and that the only person who was being possessed was you.”

“I’m sorry. It was a mess.” He sighed and rubbed his temples. “I’m sorry I wasn’t able to help more during that time.”

Solea snorted. “You, out of all people, don’t need to be sorry about anything. You were deathly ill when the worst bit happened. That’s why Uclepidies came in the first place.” She paused. “Uclepidies probably isn’t at fault either,” she admitted grudgingly. “It wasn’t like he could talk to them very easily anyway. And even if he did, they probably wouldn’t have believed him.”

“They did not.”

“But the White Swans!” she fumed.

“It was not their finest moment,” he conceded. “Though, they have tried their best to make it up to us.”

“By imprisoning me in the finest lady’s boarding school?” Solea said sarcastically.

He smiled. “Yes.”

“I’m pretty sure that they only did that because they found out that Alainna was the Lady around the same time,” Solea pointed out. “Otherwise, they probably wouldn’t have bothered.”

“But the only reason why they checked Alainna was because of your association with her,” he reminded her. “Otherwise, they probably wouldn’t have cared about her either.” He suddenly perked up. “Hello! It looks like the Black Swans have arrived.”

There was a flurry at the entrance and suddenly a loud group of men, all in jet black cloaks, came in, laughing and chattering together in their special Swan language. Solea frowned and tried to listen to them, but they were too far away to understand what they said, other than hear their barking laughter. They had transformed into humans for the occasion, and they walked with a strange gait and seemed to be in a competition to walk into the ball in the silliest way possible. Behind them, a group of six women, also Black Swans and also dressed in black cloaks, followed them in a determinedly more solemn walk, which only made the scene even more ridiculous.

“Are they drunk already?” Solea asked incredulously. Then she frowned even more. “Can Swans even get drunk?”

“I suppose we’ll find out in just a moment. They’re coming towards us right now.”

Indeed, five men had already started coming over, laughing riotously with each other. “Voice!” one cried out in the regular language. “Are you Uclepidies’s Voice?”

“My name is Theron,” Solea’s father said immediately, with a short yet formal bow.

“But you are the Voice, right?” one of them asked.

“Where’s Uclepidies?” another one asked.

“He’s not here yet. He’ll be here soon though,” Theron said.

“But where is he?”

Theron grimaced and closed his eyes. “A couple of blocks away, near the crossing,” he finally said. “At least that’s what he said.”

“Sounds like he needs some help. Dip?” another one said.

“I’ll go fetch him,” one of them said. He bowed politely and headed out.

“Dip?” asked Solea strangely.

“Yeah, short for Diplomat,” one of them said. “He’s the respectable one of us, and don’t you ever forget it.” The others laughed uproariously at this.

Solea glanced uncomfortably at her father, who also looked quite uncomfortable. She was about to politely bow out and excuse herself quietly when one of the Black Swans noticed her.

“And you’re our niece, I suppose?”

“The favorite niece, by far,” one of them sniggered. “Though, the other one was the Conqueror, so don’t let it get to your head.”

“You’re the spitting image of your father, Uclepidies,” another one said. “Except your neck doesn’t have a gaping hole in it and your face isn’t mostly melted off.”

“Don’t forget the wings.” He made a fake grimace, as if part of his face had already been melted, and waggled his fingers helplessly.

“And the feet.”

Solea turned pale.

“Will you stop?” Theron said sharply. “It’s not her fault that Uclepidies is as broken as he is. You don’t need to rub it in.”

“What?” one of the Black Swans said in mock horror. “Are you say that it’s not her fault that her father fell into a cursed acid lake thousands of years ago in an ill-fated attempt to rescue the Conqueror?”

The Black Swans laughed.

Theron glared at them. “That wasn’t funny.”

“The next generation always pays for the sins of their parents,” one of them said scornfully. “That’s why Diamea forbids children for taking punishment for their parents. They already suffer enough. Besides, we were just playing. Uclepidies doesn’t mind. At least, he hasn’t said anything to us yet about it.”

There was a moment of silence and then the Black Swans suddenly burst into laughter.

“Get it?” one of them said, laughing. “He hasn’t said anything! It’s a joke because he’s dumb.”

Theron frowned. “That wasn’t very funny either.”

“Is something funny?” a familiar voice came from behind Solea. She turned quickly at the voice and burst into nervous giggling.

“Archondid!” she said, standing up quickly and almost knocking over her chair in the process. Archondid started giving her a short bow, but before he could finish it, she wrapped her arms around his neck and gave him a quick kiss on the cheek.

“Watch out, Eurodities will be jealous,” Archondid teased her. But he gave her a quick kiss back on her cheek and waited patiently until she stepped back from him, brushing her hair nervously from her face. He grinned at the other Black Swans, who were scowling at him. “Behold, the favorite uncle,” he said, bowing to them formally. “Not that I have to work very hard at it, knowing you clowns.”

“Overachiever,” one of the Black Swans said, shaking his head. “Always have to show us up. You weren’t even content to stay a White Swan, you had to bleed into a Black Swan, just to show us up.”

“And what a pretty Black Swan I am, don’t you agree?” Archondid said, smiling broadly. The Black Swans all laughed.

“Sure, sure. Definitely the prettiest Swan of us all. You’re Solea’s godfather too, right? How did that even happen?”

Archondid shrugged. “Uclepidies came to Eurodities and me and led us over to Solea when she was just born. Once we saw her as a baby and realized that she had lost her mother, we took pity on Theron and took care of them both for a couple of months. So Theron chose us for godparents.”

“I think I made a good choice,” Theron said, making a short bow to Archondid.

“So, a serious question for you,” a Black Swan said to Archondid, tapping his index finger on the table. “When you met the man, did you not realize that Uclepidies had possessed him?”

“It never came up in conversation,” Archondid said delicately. “Besides, they needed a lot of help. Between taking care of a newborn and planning a surprise funeral, it was a bit of a blur, to be honest.”

It was silent for a moment, and Solea felt her cheeks grow red at the mention of her mother. That was the worst part about being a Black Swan’s daughter, she thought miserably. It was hard enough knowing that her mother had died when she was born when she had thought that her father was only a man. But at least death was a reality that all humans faced. Had Theron been her real father, she knew that Theron wouldn’t blame her at all for her mother’s death and that he just accepted it as Diamea’s time for her mother to die. And she knew that Theron viewed her as an improbable blessing that came out in the face of tragedy.

But Swans? They were immortal. They married for life. And losing a spouse was considered a tragedy beyond all possible tragedies. Thus, losing a spouse for a Swan, even if they gained a mortal child from it, was like starting a never-ending cycle of death. Even her Black Swan uncles, who would happily joke about her Black Swan father getting his face melted off, would never say anything bad about her human mother because death was never something to joke about. The very fact that Uclepidies had chosen a mortal woman as a wife was seen as a tragic accident.

And her birth was seen as a tragedy in the making.

And so, an uneasy silence ensued while the Black Swans looked around, pretending to not be bothered. Then one of them brightened.

“Hey, look! Dip’s back.”

And indeed, Dip had come back, carrying a small bundle of spiky black feathers in his arms. When Dip finally sat down, a black head popped up from the bundle of feathers and blinked rapidly around the room.

“Uclepidies!” the Black Swans all cried in unison.

The Black Swan bowed, still blinking.

“He’s blind in this room, and he can’t see where you are,” Theron whispered to Solea. “It’s too bright.”

Solea looked at Theron uneasily and stepped forward, curtsying politely to Uclepidies. Somehow, the fact that Uclepidies was the only one who was still in his Swan form made her even more embarrassed. Not that she had expected him to come as a human. She had never seen him as a human in her life. He was too broken. Even as a Black Swan, he had to be carried in if he didn’t want to be crawling on the floor with his wings splayed out. As a human, it would be impossible for him to move at all. And yet, the obvious difference between him and her Black Swan uncles, who had all transformed into humans for the occasion, still mortified her.

“Hello, Father,” she said awkwardly.

Uclepidies gave her a low bow.

And that was it, Solea thought strangely. That was all they could say to each other. Uclepidies couldn’t speak to her without possessing her father — the human father, that is, she corrected in her head — and he wouldn’t do that unless he was asked to, since it wasn’t polite to just possess anybody without a good reason. And talking with her wasn’t a good enough reason. So, other than perhaps asking him an occasional yes or no question — and what sort of question would she ask him anyway? — that was the end of any potential communication.

And yet, it would be considered rude for Solea to leave him now after they had just met. And so she settled back uncomfortably in her chair. Archondid sat next to her while her father moved to be closer to Uclepidies.

Then something strange happened. Uclepidies, upon seeing Theron, took out a small package wrapped in paper from his feathers and tossed it to him. Solea raised her eyebrow and glanced at Theron for any information, but Theron only glanced briefly at the package and slipped it into his pocket without comment before sitting back in his chair.

“What was that?” Solea asked, gesturing to his pocket.

Theron frowned. “What was what?” he said in a distracted voice. Then, when Solea only narrowed her eyes, he shrugged and tapped his lap to indicate that Uclepidies could sit there.

Uclepidies shook his head and hopped into Dip’s lap instead.

Dip smirked and ruffled the feathers on the top of Uclepidies’s head, letting his fingers dip in below the soft downy feathers underneath to preen them with his fingers. Then he nodded his head to Solea. “I’m sorry I missed introductions,” he said politely.

One of the Black Swans laughed. “We didn’t have introductions,” he said. “We figured that the less she knows about us, the better.”

Dip glared at him. Then, to Solea, he nodded politely and said, “I am one of your many uncles. My name is Alonso, though many call me Diplomat, or Dip, for short.” He nodded to the other Black Swans around him, who laughed. “It’s a bit of a long story, I am afraid, and not a very pleasant one. It was a name given to me by the Conqueror, and I am afraid it has stuck ever since. But never mind that now. You are Solea, correct?”

Solea nodded.

Alonso waited for Solea to say more. Then, when he realized that she was done speaking, he shifted awkwardly and turned to Theron. “And you are the Voice? Theron, if I remember correctly?”

“Yes,” Theron said, nodding politely. “We’ve met before, though it’s been a couple of years since we’ve last talked.”

Alonso nodded. “I remember. It is good to meet with you again,” he said politely. Then he added, “It’s been a long time since we’ve been able to speak with our brother, Uclepidies. Your presence is most appreciated.”

“Oh, stop it,” one of the Black Swans said, annoyed. “We all know that Uclepidies was a jerk and that it was a gift from Diamea that he was struck dumb at all.” He turned to Solea and bowed to her. “My name is Tarygen. And your stepsister is the most annoying woman that I’ve ever had the pleasure to meet. Do you know what she sent to all of us?”

Before Solea had the chance to answer, he took a paper out and slammed it on the table. “A wish list,” he said. “The infernal girl sent us a wish list, of all things. As if we were simply made to do her shopping!”

Solea blinked. “She did what?” Then, out of morbid curiosity, she picked up the paper. In a childish scrawl, Alainna had written:

To whom it may concern:

Since I am inviting you to my party, I only think it’s fair to let you know what sort of presents I would like so you know what you should get me.

I would like:

- Jewelry (preferably lots and lots of big and valuable diamonds)

- Magical items that are very fine and valuable and rare

- Other fine things fit for the Lady that you can think of, preferably things with diamonds.

Thank you,

Your mother,

The Lady

“Oh my,” Solea said. She read it a second time and felt her face grow red. “She sent this to you?”

“She didn’t even bother writing my name,” Tarygen fumed. “My name! It’s clear that she just wanted diamonds. The brat.”

Uclepidies tilted his head toward the letter and peered at it. Then he shook his head and closed his eyes.

“Did you get a letter like this, Uclepidies?” Tarygen said. When Uclepidies shook his head again, Tarygen added, “I assume you wouldn’t be idiotic enough to suggest this sort of behavior. It’s abhorrent, even by your standards.”

“I can assure you, Uclepidies did no such a thing,” Theron said with a frown, glancing at the letter over Solea’s shoulder. “This sounds very much like something Alainna would decide to do by herself, without any sort of consultation.”

Archondid glanced at the paper and shrugged. “I think all of us, besides Uclepidies, that is, got that letter. I just ignored it. Besides, the White Swans are putting this party together for her. I think we all agreed that a party was certainly enough of a present for a sixteen-year-old.”

Alonso smiled. “Well, we Black Swans decided to give her each a present. A joint gift by all of us that she could remember us by. Well, all but Uclepidies anyway,” he amended, nodding to the Black Swan in his lap. “He couldn’t very well join us anyway, even if he wanted to, I’m afraid.”

Uclepidies looked up at Alonso and tilted his head curiously.

“The fact that we’re giving her a gift at all after that display of impudence is too much for this brat,” Tarygen muttered. “Especially not the gift that we’re giving her. It’s too nice for her and yet she wouldn’t appreciate it at all.”

“Not now, perhaps, but in time she will learn to appreciate it,” Alonso said. “She is the Lady, after all. We mustn’t be mean to her.”

“We’re Black Swans,” Tarygen said. “We’re supposed to be mean. That’s the whole point of our entire existence. To bleed people for their sins and to eat the flesh of sinners!” He laughed and his laugh made Solea shudder.

“Nevertheless, we mustn’t be mean to her,” Alonso reminded him firmly. He tousled the feathers on the top of Uclepidies’s head. “Did you get her a gift? She is your Voice’s daughter, after all.”

Uclepidies nodded and shook his wings. A parcel wrapped in red velvet cloth fell out.

Alonso picked up the gift and turned it in his hands. “Interesting. It feels soft. I assume there are no diamonds?”

Uclepidies shook his head.

“She will be disappointed then,” Alonso said, putting the present down on the table gently.

Solea stared at the present. Then, hating herself for her curiosity, she picked it up and turned it over in her hands. She probed it, trying to feel what could be inside, but it was soft and the velvet only made it seem more formless. Then she looked up at Uclepidies. He was watching her gravely.

“Clothes?” she suggested, trying not to seem like she cared too much about the present. “She did say something about wanting another gown, I think. A purple one, the color of Diamea’s eyes. That way, it could match the diamonds that she has already. Or the diamonds she expected to get from the party.”

Another Black Swan snorted. “The Lady’s not very smart, is she? Diamea’s eyes change colors with his mood. Everybody knows that. Finding a dress that is the same color as Diamea’s eyes is easy as trying to color a rainbow.” Then, to Solea, he bowed. “The name is Ryahn,” he added.

The effect of pulling out a present had a wondrous effect. Almost immediately as the gift had been pulled out, Alainna came over to the Black Swans, smiling and nodding as graciously as she knew how.

“Hello and welcome!” she said in the Swans’ language. Her accent was stilted and strange, just as the language headmistress, Madam Burl, had taught them, and Solea cringed at the words. Solea had tried to convince Madam Burl several times that the accent that was a horrid accent that all the Swans secretly hated, but they were all too polite to say anything. But of course Madam Burl hadn’t listened at all and had insisted that Solea speak in the dreadful accent in class, otherwise Solea would be docked points and possibly fail the class. And of course, Solea couldn’t fail the class — imagine, a Black Swan’s daughter failing a class in her father’s language!

And yet, here was Alainna, speaking in this accent. The Black Swans looked at each other in delight and then, much to Solea’s horror, they mimicked Alainna’s accent. “Hello and welcome to you, Lady!” Tarygen said, giving her a sweeping bow that was so overdone that Solea thought he would fall.

“What a lovely party!” Ryahn said in the same accent, giving a similarly absurd bow.

Alonso bowed normally and nodded to the letter that Tarygen had thrown onto the table. “We were just talking about the incredibly thoughtful letter that you sent to us, informing us what we needed to get you for your birthday,” he said, his accent thankfully normal. “It was quite informative.”

Alainna beamed. “I am glad you found it useful,” she said. “I thought you might like it.”

Solea grew red. She almost considered taking Alainna aside and explaining the insult, but then she thought better of it, and looked to Uclepidies, hoping that perhaps the Black Swan would have mercy on her idiotic stepsister and give her the hint somehow. But, if he did give her a hint, she couldn’t tell. She couldn’t read the Black Swan’s body language. So she looked at Theron desperately instead for help. However, Theron was studiously observing the floor and appeared to not have any interest in the conversation.

“Of course, you know that your presence was a gift in itself,” Alainna said quickly. Then, nodding to the present on the table, she asked, “Is that for me? Or for Solea? I noticed that Solea was looking at it quite closely, so I was slightly confused, but it is my birthday, so maybe I misunderstood something.”

Solea turned bright red. “It’s a present from Uclepidies to you,” she muttered.

“Oh really?” Alainna exclaimed loudly. “A present from Uclepidies? To me?” Alainna laughed. “And here Solea told me that her father rarely gave any presents. In fact, if I recall correctly, she told me today that he hasn’t given any presents to her — his own daughter! — at all. And yet, he was kind enough to find this grand present for me? What an honor!”

All heads snapped towards Solea — including Uclepidies, who stared at her with his unblinking red eyes — and it was all that Solea could do but stare at the floor. If Solea could have melted into the floor, she would have.

There were many things that Solea probably should have said. Perhaps she should say something gracious to Uclepidies and claim that she had never meant it to be an insult, and how she had merely been preparing Alainna for a possible disappointment, just in case, since Alainna was so fixated on gifts. That seemed like a reasonable response. That would be the gracious thing to do. But tears filled her eyes and Solea knew that she wouldn’t be able to say anything without crying. So she bit her tongue and stared at the floor, humiliated.

Some of the Black Swans started to laugh.

“It’s very smartly wrapped too,” Alainna continued. She touched it and frowned. “It’s very soft. I wonder what it could be.”

“My dear Lady,” Alonso said, giving her a sweeping bow. “Before you open your dear son’s gift, may I suggest that you open ours? For I have a feeling that Uclepidies’s gift is priceless and that it will undoubtedly overshadow our gifts, as fine as they are, he being both your son and your father’s beloved. And so I would beg you to at least consider our gifts now, when they will still please you.”

Alainna looked delighted. “I would love to,” she said, curtsying quickly to him. “Where are your gifts?”

Ryahn smiled. “We made our sisters bring them in since they’re more responsible. You’ll have to ask them where they put the gifts.”

“Then I will go to them at once!” Alainna looked at Archondid suddenly and squinted at him. “Archondid! Are you with the Black Swans or the White Swans today?”

Archondid bowed. “Clearly, I am with the Black Swans right now,” he said, gesturing to the Black Swans around him.

“Yes, but did you get a gift for me? Or not?”

Archondid bowed once more. “This time, Eurodities and I helped the White Swans put on this party,” he said. “I hope you enjoy it.”

Alainna looked a little disappointed, but only a little. After all, Archondid and Eurodities regularly gave both of them gifts for Celebration and their presents were always simple and very modest. Solea guessed that Alainna was probably not expecting much from them. But then Alainna’s face brightened as she scanned the room. “The gifts are at the gift table!” she squealed. And then she ran there as fast as she could.

Alonso laughed and stood up, shifting Uclepidies to fit his arms better. “You got to love her enthusiasm. She even forgot her present! Solea, can you please grab your father’s gift? I’ll carry your father.”

“I’m not sure if I want to be anywhere near Alainna right now,” Solea muttered.

Tarygen laughed. “Of course you do. This is going to be great.” He took Uclepidies’s gift and threw it to Solea, who caught it in surprise. Then he turned to Alonso. “Remember the last time someone asked us for presents?”

Alonso smiled. “Our other niece, the Conqueror. She gave us a wish list too, if I remember correctly. A list that also included diamonds.”

“Remember how we watched all the city’s cats for a week and collected all the dismembered rats that the cats had killed? And how we gifted them all to her?”

“The look on her face when she opened it,” Alonso said, laughing. “It was beautiful.”

“Too bad we didn’t do that again,” Tarygen said balefully.

“You can’t do that,” Archondid said, laughing. “Alainna is the Lady, after all. Not a Conqueror!”

“What?” Ryahn yelled. “She’s the Lady? Why doesn’t anyone tell me these things!”

The Black Swans laughed.

“It’s gift time!” cried Ryahn as loudly as he could to everybody in the room. “Everyone head over to the table. Then dinner!”

At the word “dinner” someone in the room let out a cheer, which was quickly answered by a chorus of voices.

Solea felt a nudge at her elbow. It was Theron. “Come on, Solea, it’ll be okay.” He smiled reassuringly at her and gave her a quick half hug. And, feeling slightly better, Solea held tightly to the present and followed the Black Swans to the gift table. 


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Andrew here with a very very very very late review! So sorry about that, my life got a bit outa of control! (or more accurately, very in control, I have something on the calendar at like any given moment) But I really liked this section, I'd even say more than the last one. The black swans were both entertaining and terrible, charming and annoying, powerful and childish. Solea's father was so likable I'm afraid he'll die soon or turn evil, and I am definitely starting to like this Uclepidies character more. The exposition in this was really interesting, but there are some moments when it feels like a bit much like I wouldn't expect characters to say that much about stuff everyone already knows.

But into specifics!

Solea did not like large parties. At all. They were too big and noisy, the clothes always felt stiff and overly formal, and she didn’t know most of the people there. Had her sister— or stepsister, rather — not been the guest of honor, she probably would have skipped it entirely.

Sounds like more of a reason to skip it if anything. But I like openings like this, they tell us about our character, the scenes to come, and get us in the right vibe.
However, she felt bad for losing her temper earlier. So she came to the party earlier than she normally would have, holding Alainna’s neatly written paper in her hands and wondering whether she had made a mistake coming here at all.

I like this, the guilt helps me like Solea more.
He smiled. “Hello, Solea. It’s quite a party, isn’t it? Your sister seems excited about it, anyway.” He nodded at Alainna, and Solea could see Alainna excitedly talking to a whole bunch of finely dressed people who had just arrived.

The double use of excited could make this a little clunky
“What? Uclepidies hasn’t given you a gift? That doesn’t sound right.” He frowned. “What about — no, wait. He gave that to your mother.” He stopped and considered it more. Then he shrugged and gave Solea an apologetic look. “If it makes you feel better, he hasn’t given me any gifts either. He’s not good at gift giving. It’s very difficult for him to move around and he doesn’t want to possess me just to pick out gifts."

WOW, POSSESSION? That's a really cool extension of this idea.
He shook his head and leaned closer to her. “Listen,” he said. “There will come a time when she will need you and your help more than you will possibly understand. The prophecies about the Lady are clear in that regard. Right now, things are nice and everybody is giving her gifts and parties and other nice things. But there will come a time when that is not the case, and when that happens, I hope that you will be there for her.”

Gotta love a good prophecy. Also, looks like I'll get my wish to see Alianna humbled is written in stone hard prophesy.
He tilted his head and looked thoughtful. “Let me see. Uclepidies possessed me about a year before you were born. And you were ten when everyone found out. So I suppose that makes it eleven years. Usually, it only takes days for people to figure it out, weeks if the possession is convincing enough. The fact that it took years for people to figure out the deception is a remarkable feat.” He laughed and shook his head. “I was kind of mad about it at first, actually,” he admitted, his eyes twinkling. “Everybody liked the possessed me better than the real me. Especially your mother. I am fairly certain that this is why they refused to consider the possibility that a Black Swan had possessed me.”

That is tragic! Man, that's a really good exploration of the possession idea, and this bit of dialogue does a lot of exposition without looking directly at us and telling us info.
“Sorry. It was a bit of a mess.” He sighed. “Trust me. If it were up to me, I wouldn’t have had a heart attack. And then Francine wouldn’t have panicked as much as she did. And then Uclepidies wouldn’t have had to step up and provide for us so that we didn’t become homeless. And then there wouldn’t be that suspicion by the other Swans that you were a Conqueror. And then you wouldn’t have — well, you know.”

This adds a bit of layer to Uclepdieis that suggests maybe he isn't only bad. Also Conquerer? You are just sprinkling fun little ideas around.
“What?” one of the Black Swans said in mock horror. “Are you saying that it’s not her fault that her father fell into a cursed acid lake thousands of years ago in an ill-fated attempt to rescue the Conqueror?”

The Black Swans laughed.

They seem like lovely people- demigods? Monsters? Demons? Regardless, someone could really tell these immortals to learn some mannors
Solea blinked. “She did what?” Then, out of morbid curiosity, she picked up the paper. In a childish scrawl, Alainna had written:

To whom it may concern:

Since I am inviting you to my party, I only think it’s fair to let you know what sort of presents I would like so you know what you should get me.

I would like:

- Jewelry (preferably lots and lots of big and valuable diamonds)

- Magical items that are very fine and valuable and rare

- Other fine things fit for the Lady that you can think of, preferably things with diamonds.

Thank you,

Your mother,

The Lady


I think it would be helpful and normal form to put quotation marks or a different font around this quote so it would be easier to tell it apart from the normal writing.
“We’re Black Swans,” Tarygen said. “We’re supposed to be mean. That’s the whole point of our entire existence. To bleed people for their sins and to eat the flesh of sinners!” He laughed and his laugh made Solea shudder.

I like this idea quite a bit, that the black swans are like the fire of hell, a necessary component of justice.
Solea had tried to convince Madam Burl several times that the accent that was a horrid accent that all the Swans secretly hated, but they were all too polite to say anything. But of course Madam Burl hadn’t listened at all and had insisted that Solea speak in the dreadful accent in class, otherwise Solea would be docked points and possibly fail the class. And of course, Solea couldn’t fail the class — imagine, a Black Swan’s daughter failing a class in her father’s language!

Seems to be a minor mistake emboldened here, or at the very clunky way of saying that.
“Oh really?” Alainna exclaimed loudly. “A present from Uclepidies? To me?” Alainna laughed. “And here Solea told me that her father rarely gave any presents. In fact, if I recall correctly, she told me today that he hasn’t given any presents to her — his own daughter! — at all. And yet, he was kind enough to find this grand present for me? What an honor!”

OOOOOoooh well that's ummm, direct.
All heads snapped towards Solea — including Uclepidies, who stared at her with his unblinking red eyes — [b]and it was all that[b] Solea could do but stare at the floor. If Solea could have melted into the floor, she would have.

This feels a little clunkily written, "and it was all that" feels strange and too wordy in context, and the double mention of floor also feels clunky.
“My dear Lady,” Alonso said, giving her a sweeping bow. “Before you open your dear son’s gift, may I suggest that you open ours? For I have a feeling that Uclepidies’s gift is priceless and that it will undoubtedly overshadow our gifts, as fine as they are, he being both your son and your father’s beloved. And so I would beg you to at least consider our gifts now, when they will still please you.”

Family relations among these immortal beings are getting confusing XD.
Solea felt a nudge at her elbow. It was Theron. “Come on, Solea, it’ll be okay.” He smiled reassuringly at her and gave her a quick half hug. And, feeling slightly better, Solea held tightly to the present and followed the Black Swans to the gift table.

You're not going to tell me what the gifts are? Now I have to read the next part!
But that's all just my two cents! Hope it helps.
Like I said, really liked it. The Conquerer is something which really adds layers to this, as well as the supposed prophecy. So yeah, I'm excited to read the next bit!
Thanks, and keep writing!
Andrew




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Mon Jun 20, 2022 2:33 am
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Spearmint wrote a review...



Heyy, it's mint, back with another review! ^-^ It feels kind of weird to review this after having read up to Chapter 1.3 (it's like I spoiled a bit of the story for myself :p), but I can still write thoughts and reactions! And overall, I really enjoyed this chapter part-- it's a fun blend of dialogue, action, and more clues about the characters and the world! Alright, and now for some specific reactions...

A lovely flower shop with lovely arrangements, but she was the loveliest thing in there.

Lol, that was such a cheesy line. XD Theron seems like a kind person, though, and his relationship with Uclepidies is definitely interesting! (It's like a good, or at least neutral, kind of possession. xD)

Right now, things are nice and everybody is giving her gifts and parties and other nice things. But there will come a time when that is not the case, and when that happens, I hope that you will be there for her.

Ooh, some foreshadowing~ :] I wonder if Alainna's rough childhood will help her or harm her. On the one hand, she's experienced hardship before, so maybe she'll be somewhat prepared. But on the other hand, it might've traumatized her or something to the point of her being unwilling/unable to deal with it again... Either way, I look forward to some character growth! :D

“Been tested and retested to see if I was a Conqueror?” offered Solea bitterly. “Only to find out that I was actually a Conqueror, and that I was going to be executed at the ripe old age of ten, since I must have been possessing Uclepidies. After all, why else would he have been helping us otherwise? Only to find out that oops! They made a mistake and I actually wasn’t really a Conqueror and instead I was a Black Swan’s daughter, and that the only person who was being possessed was you.”

This seems like enough material for another book. >.> I, for one, am quite curious how the White Swans reacted when they first found out that Solea wasn't a Conqueror. :P
Also, a super tiny thing, but "why else" and "otherwise" in the sentence "After all, why else would he have been helping us otherwise?" feels a bit repetitive to me. But if it's just part of Solea's speaking style, feel free to ignore this comment! C:

“Get it?” one of them said, laughing. “He hasn’t said anything! It’s a joke because he’s dumb.”

Wow, I can really see the family resemblance to Alainna. These Black Swans are neither nice nor mature. :P Oh, and speaking of Swans, is there any difference between these born-of-the-Lady Swans and previously-White Swans? (Like, are Uclepidies' siblings more powerful than Archondid or something?)

And her birth was seen as a tragedy in the making.

:'( That's so sad... At least it seems like no one really blames Solea for her mother's death.
On another note, this story could have had a completely different direction if Solea had been the antagonist. She'd even have a motive-- the White Swans and the Lady seem like insufferable fools sometimes, so knocking them down a peg would probably be quite satisfying. Alainna's fortunate that Solea's her ally instead of her enemy! ;)

“A wish list,” he said. “The infernal girl sent us a wish list, of all things. As if we were simply made to do her shopping!”

Oh my gosh, that's just going too far hahaha. But somehow, I'm not really surprised. If anyone were to be stuck-up enough to send wish lists (and not even well-written wish lists) to the twelve distinguished (not to mention poisonous) Black Swans, it'd be Alainna. That girl would probably write to an incoming snowstorm and tell it to pretty please cover a hillside in snow so she could go sledding or something. :P

That would be the gracious thing to do. But tears filled her eyes and Solea knew that she wouldn’t be able to say anything without crying. So she bit her tongue and stared at the floor, humiliated.

I loved this part. Not Solea's humiliation (poor girl!), but the way it shows that Solea, for all her good sense and maturity, is still young. She knows the right thing to do, but isn't quite able to do it, which is honestly really realistic and relatable. Throughout this chapter, you have a great balance of humor, information, and emotional moments. C:

“What?” Ryahn yelled. “She’s the Lady? Why doesn’t anyone tell me these things!”

XD So either Ryahn is incredibly oblivious, or the fact that Alainna is the Lady isn't common knowledge yet. If it is just Ryahn being uninformed, I wonder what everyday people think of Alainna?

Overall, this was a fabulous chapter, and I hope you have a wonderful day/night! =D




Snoink says...


Ahhhhh! Thank you very much! All of your comments are very helpful, especially since it shows me what sort of things in the story are clear and what sort of things I need to explain better, haha.

Theron seems like a kind person, though, and his relationship with Uclepidies is definitely interesting! (It's like a good, or at least neutral, kind of possession. xD)


Yes! I am glad that you think so, lol. Possessions can also be pretty violent, but they have an arrangement that works for them, lol. I'm sort of sad that I can't really go into their weird story in this book... Solea is so weirded out by her strange family situation that she doesn't even really want to think about it too much. But they definitely have a weird sort of friendship with each other, haha.

Ooh, some foreshadowing~ :] I wonder if Alainna's rough childhood will help her or harm her. On the one hand, she's experienced hardship before, so maybe she'll be somewhat prepared. But on the other hand, it might've traumatized her or something to the point of her being unwilling/unable to deal with it again... Either way, I look forward to some character growth! :D


I would say... a little bit of both? I think her rough childhood has made it clear to her how she doesn't want to be treated, so she desires the respect that is owed to her. Which can sometimes work for her and sometimes not. In any case, she is not one to be pushed around and she'll be stubborn and hold her ground.

But I also think that one of the ways that childhood has kind of treated her was when she was desperately poor, romance was something that you did to gain money. And now she is supposed to marry Diamea. So she's surrounded by upper-class ladies who are... also marrying for money. So, while her mom married Theron out of love, she doesn't really like Theron, so she can't really understand why her mom would do that. And she's in this weird environment where she is surrounded by people who are marrying into money... and grew up in a weird environment where people were also fixated on money. So the idea of marrying for love is something odd to her, and... that's not good for the Lady. Because the Lady is supposed to recognize Diamea out of love.

ANYWAY.

This seems like enough material for another book. >.> I, for one, am quite curious how the White Swans reacted when they first found out that Solea wasn't a Conqueror. :P


I am lowkey sort of interested in writing a prequel to this, which would include Theron's story. The only trouble is, the way that I would want to write it would be a sort of mystery story, with Sergius (who is the POV of the prologue) looking up all the clues and interviewing with various people until the conclusion is revealed. And so it would drive its plot.

The problem is, you already KNOW the conclusion, lol. Sergius finds out that Solea is Uclepidies's daughter.

But yeah. You'll meet Sergius in the next chapter...

Also, a super tiny thing, but "why else" and "otherwise" in the sentence "After all, why else would he have been helping us otherwise?" feels a bit repetitive to me. But if it's just part of Solea's speaking style, feel free to ignore this comment! C:


Good catch! Alainna is the one who tends to obnoxiously repeat herself.

...YWS is glitchy so I'll write more replies later...



Snoink says...


Ahhhhh! Thank you very much! All of your comments are very helpful, especially since it shows me what sort of things in the story are clear and what sort of things I need to explain better, haha.

Theron seems like a kind person, though, and his relationship with Uclepidies is definitely interesting! (It's like a good, or at least neutral, kind of possession. xD)


Yes! I am glad that you think so, lol. Possessions can also be pretty violent, but they have an arrangement that works for them, lol. I'm sort of sad that I can't really go into their weird story in this book... Solea is so weirded out by her strange family situation that she doesn't even really want to think about it too much. But they definitely have a weird sort of friendship with each other, haha.

Ooh, some foreshadowing~ :] I wonder if Alainna's rough childhood will help her or harm her. On the one hand, she's experienced hardship before, so maybe she'll be somewhat prepared. But on the other hand, it might've traumatized her or something to the point of her being unwilling/unable to deal with it again... Either way, I look forward to some character growth! :D


I would say... a little bit of both? I think her rough childhood has made it clear to her how she doesn't want to be treated, so she desires the respect that is owed to her. Which can sometimes work for her and sometimes not. In any case, she is not one to be pushed around and she'll be stubborn and hold her ground.

But I also think that one of the ways that childhood has kind of treated her was when she was desperately poor, romance was something that you did to gain money. And now she is supposed to marry Diamea. So she's surrounded by upper-class ladies who are... also marrying for money. So, while her mom married Theron out of love, she doesn't really like Theron, so she can't really understand why her mom would do that. And she's in this weird environment where she is surrounded by people who are marrying into money... and grew up in a weird environment where people were also fixated on money. So the idea of marrying for love is something odd to her, and... that's not good for the Lady. Because the Lady is supposed to recognize Diamea out of love.

ANYWAY.

This seems like enough material for another book. >.> I, for one, am quite curious how the White Swans reacted when they first found out that Solea wasn't a Conqueror. :P


I am lowkey sort of interested in writing a prequel to this, which would include Theron's story. The only trouble is, the way that I would want to write it would be a sort of mystery story, with Sergius (who is the POV of the prologue) looking up all the clues and interviewing with various people until the conclusion is revealed. And so it would drive its plot.

The problem is, you already KNOW the conclusion, lol. Sergius finds out that Solea is Uclepidies's daughter.

But yeah. You'll meet Sergius in the next chapter...

Also, a super tiny thing, but "why else" and "otherwise" in the sentence "After all, why else would he have been helping us otherwise?" feels a bit repetitive to me. But if it's just part of Solea's speaking style, feel free to ignore this comment! C:


Good catch! Alainna is the one who tends to obnoxiously repeat herself.

Wow, I can really see the family resemblance to Alainna. These Black Swans are neither nice nor mature. :P Oh, and speaking of Swans, is there any difference between these born-of-the-Lady Swans and previously-White Swans? (Like, are Uclepidies' siblings more powerful than Archondid or something?)


OH SNAP.

I really did a terrible job introducing the Swans, didn't I? Especially poor Archondid! He's Uclepidies's brother, lol, so he's totally a son of Diamea and the Lady as well.

And they get more honor, basically. And they're more experienced in doing things because they are older.

Anyway... I wrote this to introduce Archondid better:

Spoiler! :
%u201CIs something supposed to be funny?%u201D a familiar voice came from behind Solea. She turned quickly at the voice and burst into nervous giggling.

%u201CArchondid!%u201D she said, standing up quickly and almost knocking over her chair in the process.

Out of all her uncles, Archondid was her favorite. He was the uncle who she knew long before she knew that she was a Black Swan%u2019s daughter %u2014 even though neither of them had known her real identity at the time. When she was only a baby, he and his wife, Eurodities, took care of her while her father worked. As a little girl, they spent their summers with her. When she had been imprisoned, he was the uncle who vouched for her. He was the one to take her home when she was freed from prison and stayed with her while she was readjusting to her new life as a Black Swan%u2019s daughter. And now he was here, and she couldn%u2019t help but think that he was rescuing her yet again.

Archondid started giving her a short bow, but before he could finish it, she wrapped her arms around his neck and kissed him on the cheek.

%u201CWatch out, Eurodities will be jealous,%u201D Archondid teased her. But he gave her a quick kiss back and waited patiently until she stepped back from him, brushing her hair nervously away from her face. He grinned at the other Black Swans, who were scowling at him. %u201CBehold, the favorite uncle,%u201D he said, bowing to them formally. %u201CNot that I have to work very hard at it, knowing you clowns.%u201D



Spearmint says...


Solea is so weirded out by her strange family situation that she doesn't even really want to think about it too much.

Haha, that's understandable! xD

And she's in this weird environment where she is surrounded by people who are marrying into money... and grew up in a weird environment where people were also fixated on money. So the idea of marrying for love is something odd to her, and... that's not good for the Lady.

Ooh... I love how you've thought so much about each of these characters. That definitely seems like a realistic struggle for Alainna.

I am lowkey sort of interested in writing a prequel to this, which would include Theron's story.

:eyes: And I mean, even if readers know the conclusion, we don't know everything that happens along the way! Could still be interesting~

He's Uclepidies's brother, lol, so he's totally a son of Diamea and the Lady as well.

And they get more honor, basically. And they're more experienced in doing things because they are older.

Ohh, I see! (I totally missed that "favorite uncle" part, oops. >.<) Thanks for the explanation! :D




What's stopping you?
— David Mamet