Flash Fiction: Grown Strong (1025 words)

Cerise found Mione in the west corner, which was not such a great surprise. Mione had held apartments there for the last three decades, a set of rooms comfortably seated in the rounded corner of one of the old constructions. The tangled porches and stairs and open walkways of the palace had knotted around it more wings and roofs were built, but her little windows were always clear, a smattering of shining glass, refusing to conform to the grid of the common rooms on the walls that had risen up around it. Mione liked to wander in the places she knew well, keeping watch, or just reminding herself of what was there, and Cerise often had to walk in circles, up and down the levels, looking for her.

Today, Mione had paused on the fourth floor porch, hands on the railing as she looked down on the paved, knotted street. Cerise caught up to her, and walked slowly, letting the sound of her heels on the wooden floor announce her. She set her hands on the rail beside Mione, and paused.

“Good morning,” Cerise said.

“Good morning,” Mione repeated dully. She hadn’t looked up from the street, but her gaze shifted gently from side to side, not really intrigued by anything.

“I hear Leonathan is home,” Cerise said.

Mione snorted. It was an unusual sound from her, and Cerise blinked quickly, not sure what it meant.

“I’m sure you have,” Mione murmured. “I’m sure you’ve heard other things, as well.”

“I did,” Cerise agreed. “After all the times we were thrown together when we were small, I don’t think anyone even thinks that it’s gossip anymore, telling me about you. We’re close enough cousins. So, they told me that you welcomed your son home, ran from the room, and haven’t seen him since.”

Mione looked at her carefully, and there was slow regret in it, as if she had spoken too quickly. “I’m sorry,” she murmured. “I’m…” But she didn’t finish her statement. Cerise wasn’t sure if it was out of apathy, or a lack of words. Mione turned back to the open air in front of her.

“I met his new wife,” Cerise said. “Chaela.”

Mione took a deep breath. “And?”

“She surprised me,” Cerise said.

Mione laughed, quietly, but it was as sharp a sound as her snort had been. “Oh, yes,” she said.

Cerise hesitated. “I liked her.”

Mione nodded. It wasn’t really agreement, just acknowledgement that that was a valid opinion.

“You don’t?” Cerise asked.

Mione went still, then took a breath, and slowly smoothed her fingers against the rail. “I might like her,” Mione murmured. “She’s still settling into her new home, and I’m still settling in with her. It’s too early to tell.”

Cerise paused, and nodded to herself. She doubted that Mione could see it out of her the corner of her eye. “He broke tradition,” Cerise said.

Letting out a long breath, Mione straightened her shoulders.

“She doesn’t even have a keimon in her family for generations,” Cerise said. “Leonathan told me he checked. Nothing for five generations.”

Mione still said nothing.

“Does it bother you so much?” Cerise asked.

Mione looked at her quickly. “Does it…” she repeated, as if she didn’t understand the question until she started to repeat it back. “No.”

Cerise tried to smile, encouraging her to go on.

“He told me about her before he left,” Mione explained. “He told me he had married a girl on the mainland, and asked for permission to bring her home. I told him to bring her back with him. He loved her.”

Cerise waited patiently for her to go on. When Mione held her silence, she murmured, “Then what is it?”

Mione collected a breath, and Cerise wondered if she might not answer the question at all. She watched Mione’s face, saw her lining up her thoughts and steeling herself to hear them spoken out loud, so she waited, and took a deep, quiet breath of her own.

“She had a baby,” Mione said. “A little girl.”

“What?” Cerise said dumbly.

“Don’t look like that,” Mione said. “Or do…” She shook her head, quick, to change her thoughts. “She’s not hidden away anywhere,” she said crisply “They couldn’t bring her back with them. They lost her.”

“What happened?” Cerise asked.

Mione was shaking her head again. “That doesn’t much matter. It was sad and horrible, but not my tragedy to tell. But she Showed.”

“What?”

Mione clenched her jaw for a short moment. “That little girl Showed. Chaela said she was born, and she was screaming, and Chaela calmed her down for the first time, and held her, let her sleep. Then, she woke up and started screaming again, and her hands glowed ice white, sparked, and she lit her blanket on fire.”

Cerise blinked quickly. Sparks usually came later. The heat that set fires usually came later. That first glow was almost always a tame thing, and when it wasn’t, they had always assumed that they just hadn’t seen the first time. Cerise stared at Mione. Both of them had Showed when they were four months old. And they’d kept that a hot enough secret from the rest of the world that didn’t expect it before a child turned five. She blinked fast, and wasn’t sure what to say.

“Are you sure?” Cerise whispered.

Mione met her eye carefully. “It scared Chaela,” she whispered back. “She didn’t know what was happening. I don’t know why she would lie.”

Cerise closed her mouth carefully, and thought of nothing to say.

“We have married keimon to keimon for hundreds of years,” Mione said, her tone heavy and slow as she looked back down at the street. “Tradition. We’ve become so strong.”

Unsure what she was saying, Cerise turned to her slowly.

“My son just married a girl with no keimon blood at all,” Mione said. “And her daughter might actually have Shown in the womb.”

Cerise took a sharp little breath. She couldn’t imagine how that was possible.

Mione looked at her, eyes wide for just a moment. “What have we done to ourselves?”

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