Over to the east, in the Brotherhood's mansion, Cormia waited in the library for the Primale and whoever it was he thought she should spend time with. As she paced from couch to club chair and back, she heard the Brothers talking in the foyer, discussing some upcoming fete of the glymera's.

The Brother Rhage's voice boomed. "That bunch of self-serving, prejudicial, light-in-the-loafer¡ª"

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"Watch the loafer references," the Brother Butch cut in. "I have some on."

"¡ªparasitic, shortsighted motherfuckers¡ª"

"Tell us how you really feel," someone else said.

"¡ªcan take their fakakta ball and blow it out their asses."

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The king's laugh was low. "Good thing you're not a diplomat, Hollywood."

"Oh, you gotta let me send a message. Better yet, let's have my beast go as an emissary. I'll have him rip up the place. Serve those bastards right for how they've treated Marissa."

"You know," Butch announced, "I've always thought you had half a brain. In spite of what everyone else has said."

Cormia stopped pacing as the Primale appeared in the library 's entrance, a glass of port in his hand. He was dressed in what he usually wore to First Meal when he wasn't teaching: a pair of perfectly tailored slacks, cream tonight; a silk shirt, black per normal; and a black belt, the buckle of which was an elongated, golden H. His square-toed shoes were buffed to a shine and bore the same H as the belt.

Herm¨¨s, she thought she'd overheard him say at one meal.

His hair was loose, the waves breaking on his heavy shoulders, some in the front, some down the back. He smelled of what the Brothers called aftershave, as well as the coffee-scented smoke that lingered in his bedroom.

She knew precisely how his bedroom smelled. She had spent a single day lying beside him in his room, and everything about the experience had been unforgettable.

Although now was not the time to remember what had happened between them in that big bed of his when he'd been asleep. Hard enough to be in his company with a whole room between them and people out in the foyer. To add those moments when he'd pressed his naked body to hers¡ª

"Did you enjoy your dinner?" he asked, taking a sip from his glass.

"Yes, indeed. And you, your grace?"

He was about to reply when John Matthew appeared behind him.

The Primale turned to the young male and smiled. "Hey, my man. Glad you're here."

John Matthew looked across the library at her and lifted his hand in greeting.

She was relieved by the choice. She didn't know John any more than she knew the others, but he was quiet during meals. Which made his size not quite as intimidating as it would have been if he'd been loud.

She bowed to him. "Your grace."

As she straightened, she felt his eyes on her and she wondered what he saw. Female or Chosen?

What an odd thought.

"Well, you two visit." The Primale's brilliant golden eyes shifted her way. "I'm on duty tonight, so I'll be out."

Fighting, she thought, with a stab of fear.

She wanted to rush over to him and tell him to be safe, but that was not her place, was it? She was barely his First Mate, for one thing. For another, he was the strength of the race and hardly needed her concern.

The Primale clapped John Matthew on the shoulder, nodded at her, and left.

Cormia leaned to the side so she could watch the Primale going up the staircase. His gait was smooth as he went along, in spite of his missing limb and his prosthesis. He was so tall and proud and lovely, and she hated that it would be hours before he would return.

When she glanced back, John Matthew was over at the desk, taking out a small pad and a pen. As he wrote, he held the paper close to his chest, his big hands curling up. He looked much younger than the size of his body suggested while he labored over his letters.

She'd seen him communicate with his hands on those rare occasions he had something to say at the table, and it dawned on her that perhaps he was a mute.

He turned the pad to her with a wince, as if he were not impressed with what he'd written. Do you like to read? This library has lots of good books.

She looked up into his eyes. What a lovely blue color they were. "What is the difficulty of your voice? If I may ask."

No difficulty. I took a vow of silence.

Ah... she remembered. The Chosen Layla had said he'd taken such a pledge.

"I see you using your hands to talk," she said.

American Sign Language, he wrote.

"It's an elegant way of communicating."

It gets the job done. He wrote some more and then flashed the pad again. I've heard the Other Side is very different. Is it true it's all white?

She lifted the skirting of her robe as if to give an example of what is was like where she was from. "Yes. White is all we have." She frowned. "All we need, rather."

Do you have electricity?

"We have candles, and we do things by hand."

Sounds old-fashioned.

She wasn't sure what he meant by that. "Is that bad?"

He shook his head. I think it's cool.

She knew the term from the dinner table, but still didn't understand why temperature would have anything to do with an apparently positive value judgment.

"It's all I know." She went over to one of the tall, narrow doors that had glass panes. "Well, until now."

Her roses were so close, she thought.

John whistled, and she looked over her shoulder at the pad he was holding face-out. Do you like it here at all? he'd written. And please know you can tell me you don't. I won't judge.

She fingered her robe. "I feel so different from everyone. I am lost in the conversations, though I speak the language."

There was a long silence. When she glanced back at John, he was writing, his hand pausing every once in a while, as if he were choosing a word. He crossed something out. Wrote some more. When he was finished, he gave the pad to her.

I know what that's like. Because I'm a mute, I feel out of place a lot of the time. It's better since my transition, but it still happens. No one judges you here, though. We all like you, and we're glad you're in the house.

She read the paragraph twice. She wasn't sure how to respond to the last part. She'd assumed she was tolerated because the Primale had brought her in.

"But... your grace, I thought you had assumed the mantle of silence?" As he flushed, she said, "I'm sorry, that's not my concern."

He wrote and then showed her his words. I was born without a voice box. The next sentence was crossed out, but she was able to get the gist. He'd written something like, But I still fight well and I'm smart and everything.

She could understand the subterfuge. The Chosen, like the glymera, valued physical perfection as evidence of proper breeding and the strength of the race's genes. Many would have viewed his silence as a deficiency, and even the Chosen could be cruel to those they viewed as beneath them.

Cormia reached out and put her hand on his forearm. "I think not all things have to be spoken to be understood. And it is well obvious you are fit and strong."

His cheeks bloomed with color, his head dropping to hide his eyes.

Cormia smiled. It seemed perverse that she should relax in the face of his getting awkward, but somehow she felt as though they were on more level footing.

"How long have you been here?" she asked.

Emotion flickered across his face as he went back to the pad. Eight months or so. They took me in because I had no family. My father was killed.

"I am so sorry for your loss. Tell me... do you stay because you like it here?"

There was a long pause. Then he wrote slowly. When he flashed her the pad, it said, I like it no more or less than I would any other house.

"Which makes you displaced like me," she murmured. "Here but not here."

He nodded, then smiled, revealing bright white fangs.

Cormia couldn't help but return the expression on his handsome face.

Back at the Sanctuary, everyone had been like her. Here? No one was at all. Until now.

So do you have any questions you'd like to ask about stuff? he wrote. The house? The staff? Phury said you might have some.

Questions... oh, she could think of a few. For instance, how long had the Primale been in love with Bella? Had there ever been any feelings on her side? Had the two of them ever layed together?

Her eyes focused on the books. "I don't have any questions right now." For no particular reason, she added, "I just finished Choderlos de Laclos's Les Liaisons Dangereuses."

They made that into a movie. Sarah Michelle Gellar and Ryan Phillippe and Reese Witherspoon.

"A movie? And who are all those people?"

He wrote for quite a while. You know television, right? That flat panel in the billiards room? Well, movies are on an even bigger screen, and the people in them are called actors. They pretend to be people. Those three are actors. Actually, they're all actors, when they're on TV or in the movies. Well, most of them.

"I've only glanced into the billiards room. I haven't been in it." There was a curious shame to admitting how little she'd ventured out. "Is television the glowing box with the pictures?"

That's the one. I can show you how it works if you like?

"Please."

They went out of the library into the magical, rainbowed foyer of the mansion, and as always, Cormia glanced up to the ceiling, which floated three stories above the mosaic floor. The scene depicted far above was of warriors mounted on great steeds, all of them going off to fight. The colors were outrageously bright, the figures majestic and strong, the background a brilliant blue with white clouds.

There was one particular fighter with blond-streaked hair that she had to measure every time she passed through. She had to make sure he was all right, even though that was ridiculous. The figures never moved. Their fight was always on the verge, never in the actuality.

Unlike the Brotherhood's. Unlike the Primale's.

John Matthew led the way into the dark green room that was across from where meals were taken. The Brothers spent a lot of time here; she'd often hear their voices drifting out, marked by soft cracking noises, the source of which she couldn't identify. John solved that mystery, though. As he passed by a flat table that had a green felt covering, he took one of the many multicolored balls on its surface and sent it rolling across the way. When it ran into one of its mates, the quiet knocking explained the sound.

John stopped in front of an upright gray canvas and picked up a slim black unit. All at once an image popped up in full color and sound came from everywhere. Cormia jumped back as a roar filled the room and bulletlike objects rushed by.

John steadied her as the din gradually faded, and then he wrote on his pad. Sorry, I turned the sound down. This is NASCAR racing. There are people in the cars and they go around the track. The fastest wins.

Cormia approached the image and touched it with hesitation. All she felt was a flat, clothlike stretch. She looked behind the screen. Nothing but wall.

"Amazing."

John nodded and put out the slim unit to her, jogging it up and down as if encouraging her to take it. After he showed her what to push among the multitude of buttons, he stepped back. Cormia pointed the thing at the moving pictures... and made the images change. Again and again. There seemed to be an endless number of them.

"No vampires, though," she murmured, as yet another broad-daylight setting appeared. "This is just for humans."

We watch it too, though. You get vampires in movies¡ªjust not good ones usually. The films or the vampires.

Cormia slowly sank down onto the sofa in front of the television, and John followed suit in a chair next to her. The endless variation was enthralling, and John narrated each "channel" with notes to her. She didn't know how long they sat together, but he didn't seem impatient.

What channels did the Primale watch, she wondered.

Eventually, John showed her how to turn the images off. Flushed from excitement, she looked toward the glass doors.

"Is it safe outdoors?" she asked.

Very. There's a huge retaining wall surrounding the compound, plus security cameras are everywhere. Even better, we're insulated by mhis. No lesser has ever gotten in here, and none ever will¡ªoh, and the squirrels and deer are harmless.

"I'd like to go outside."

And I'd be happy to take you.

John tucked the pad under his arm and went over to one of the sets of glass doors. After he unlatched the brass lock, he swung one half of the pair wide with a gallant sweep of his arm.

The warm air that rushed in smelled different from that which was in the house. This was rich. Complex. Sultry with its garden bouquet and humid warmth.

Cormia got up from the couch and approached John. Beyond the terrace, the landscaped gardens she'd stared at from afar for so long stretched out over what seemed to be a vast distance. With its colorful flowers and blooming trees, the vista was nothing like the monochromatic expanse of the Sanctuary, but it was just as perfect, just as lovely.

"It's the day of my birthing," she said for no particular reason.

John smiled and clapped. Then he wrote, I should have gotten you a present.

"Present?"

You know, a gift. For you.

Cormia leaned her body out and craned her head back. The sky above was a dark satin blue with twinkling lights marking its folds. Wondrous, she thought. Simply wondrous.

"This is a gift."

They stepped out of the house together. The flat stones of the terrace were chilly under her bare feet, but the air was warm as bathwater, and she loved the contrast.

"Oh..." She breathed in deep. "How lovely..."

Turning round and round, she looked at it all: The majestic mountain of the mansion. The fluffy, dark heads of the trees. The rolling lawn. The flowers in their orderly sections.

The breeze that swept over it all was gentle as a breath, carrying a fragrance too complex and heady to label.

John let her lead, her cautious steps carrying them closer to the roses.

When she got to them, she reached out and petted the fragile petals of a mature rose as big as her palm. Then she bent down and inhaled its perfume.

As she straightened, she started to laugh. For no reason at all. It was just... her heart had abruptly taken wing and was soaring in her chest, the lethargy that had been plaguing her for the past month lifting in the face of a bright surge of energy.

It was the day of her birthing and she was outside.

She glanced at John and found him staring at her, a little smile on his face. He knew, she thought. He knew what she was feeling.

"I want to run."

He swept his arm toward the lawn.

Cormia didn't let herself think about the dangers of the unknown or the dignity that Chosen were supposed to wear along with their white robing. Casting aside the great weight of propriety, she hiked up her white robe and tore off as fast as her legs could carry her. The springy grass cushioned her feet and her hair feathered out behind her and the air on her face rushed by.

Though she remained earthbound, the freedom in her soul made her fly.

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