Chapter 2 here
Chapter 3 here.
Chapter 4 here.
Chapter 5 here.
Chapter 6 here.
Chapter 7 here.
Chapter 8 here.
Chapter 9 here.
Chapter 10 here.
Chapter 11 here.
Chapter 12 here.
Chapter 13 here.
Chapter 14 here.
Chapter 15 here.
I was supposed to see the oases?
Of course. You saw them, didn’t you?
There was just a little too much to take in. Malina put her head in her hands. She wanted –
She wanted her tutor, Yethen, who would help her through these things. She wanted her class-mates, especially Jaian, who knew what to do in situations where nothing made sense. She wanted –
She chuckled ruefully. She wanted people. She had spent so much of her life looking for a quiet place away from people, a little moment to herself. And here –
well, here, she had this cat, didn’t she? Even here, she wasn’t actually alone.
Well, Yethen. What would Yethen say?
Yethen would say you had to look at the cause of things. Yethen liked causes.
“Why? No. What? What made it so that I was supposed to see the border oases?”
And don’t say because I’m named after my ancestor, please.
The cat looked away, pointedly chewing on the fur between two of his back toes. “I, mm, I do not know,” he admitted. “I think – I think it must be because you are so close to Dominika. But I do not know.”
“So you don’t know that I’m supposed to, only that I did.”
“I know the crown accepted you,” the cat countered. “I know the castle accepted you.”
“You said the castle wanted someone, anyone. What if you just want someone, anyone, too?”
“I didn’t say – I.” The cat sat down in a huff. “It is you. I knew it was you the moment I saw you. I knew it was you. It cannot not be you.”
“What if it isn’t?” Malina tried to be gentle about asking. “What if you were wrong? What is the worst that can happen?”
“The worst.” The cat looked up at her and looked away, looked up again and looked away more firmly. “The worst is that the land does not come back into sync with the other worlds.”
“This is – this is more than a little too much, you know.” She was still trying to be gentle, but she couldn’t quite keep the sound from her voice, the little noise that her sister always called Malina’s alarm bell. It meant that fire was coming, out in the world – in Malina, it meant much the same.
“Look.” The cat stared at her. “Look, we are in a place where time sometimes curls back on itself like it is taking a nap. We are in a place which has nearly forgotten what place is. We are in a place which defies all of those things. So either you could see the oases, the border, because you’re the one who will come to fulfill the end of the Final Treaty, or you are the one who will fulfill the end of the Final Treaty because you saw the border. You are here now, Malina, Child of Dominika. You are here now, with the crown and the scepter, and whether this is the route you would have chosen for yourself, whether this is what you think the world was going to be, I am going to say to you what a cat once said to Dominika:
“The world here needs you now. Will you stand up for the challenge or will you go back to the life you knew?”
Malina stared at the cat. His eyes were golden. His expression, the way his ears were pointing straight at her, the way he was standing so as to be sure that she was paying attention, the way the tip of his tail was twitching – he was more than serious, he was intent on this.
This was the first time she had been absolutely certain he was telling her the truth, and half his truth was that he didn’t know.
She picked up the crown and put it on.
She stood, feeling half as if she were in a dream, and picked up the scepter.
Before the cat could protest, she ducked down and picked him up.
“The world here needs me now.”
It might have been the nicest thing anyone had ever said to her.