Maybe it was unusual for Earth's'guardians, but Kit had absolutely nothing against being several thousand feet up in the air in a metal tube that probably shouldn't have been able to fly in the first place. It gave him a wonderful view of whatever province they were currently passing over, although after a bit, Manitoba and Saskatchewan and Alberta all started to look pretty much the same and the few patches of clouds they had passed through were interesting enough to look at. He spent a few minutes wondering just what a cloud felt like, concluded that he'd have to ask Sarah or Stormwing, and then ended up fidgeting as his body thrummed with nervous excitement.

He unwrapped a chocolate bar as he considered the collection of letters before him, dating back four years. The fact that there was food on the plane might have swayed his opinion somewhat, but not very much. Sure, the peanuts were nice to munch on, and a drink or two was always good, but in-country flights had yet to achieve the culinary heights of trans-continental trips. At least, not in third class.

"Whatcha looking at now?" Jenna asked from the seat behind him, and he stifled a groan by taking a large bite of chocolate. He wasn't quite sure how they had managed it, but through wheedling and pressuring the other passengers, his two charges had wormed their way into the seats behind him. He had the sleeping woman next to him to thank for not having them right next to him – the dark-haired woman had been one of the first on, and her eyes had already been drifting shut when she'd stood to let him by to his window seat. She was quite soundly asleep by the time Jenna and Lara had made their way that far up, her headphones snugly over her ears, and at a sharp look from the enshira, the two girls had decided to leave her alone.

"Letters." Here, on the typical blue-lined, red-margined white paper of all students, were Aria's set, along with the dozens of pictures she'd sketched in the margins. On the same sort of paper, but in a rather more slanted hand, rather shorter letters from Shadow, always ending with a reminder that he was always welcome back at Cal'asan Home. Stormwing's, a smooth, round script on a crinkly writing surface that he didn't recognize, came sealed in Aria's letters, sealed with blue wax. And Sarah's, a comfortable semi-scrawl that featured little scenes and scripts of arguments she'd had with her nobles. His connection, along with the Chain, to the world of the Guardians and mythics.

"Who from?"

"Friends."

"Can I see one?"

"No." He traced an amused finger over one of Sarah's sketches of Lord Devirren, his mouth wide enough to swallow all the other people in the image as he shouted that Queens didn't fight. The other people were small and indistinct, and Sarah herself was staring somewhere else, obviously tired of the man. Kit couldn't blame her – the Lord had never been one of his favourite mythics. But still, later letters talked about her weaponry class, so it was plain to see who had won that argument. He flipped to that letter, which featured a set of sword-wielding fey girls jumping up and down upon the gigantic, rather squashed Lord.

"Why do they have wings?"

Rather than responding immediately, he wondered if it was possible to freeze her vocal cords without damaging something important. Remembering that it had never worked on the gossips, he sighed again and snapped, "Because they're fairies."

There was a pause. "No need to be sarcastic."

"No need to be reading my mail over my shoulder," he pointed out acidly. "Don't you have anything better to do?"

"I finished my book."

"You only brought one book? To camp? You're going to be awfully bored." Unless she was in a group like his. Then, unless she had been to such a camp before, she'd probably spend a lot of time running. Really, really fast. "Talk to Lara, then."

"She's sleeping. And the rest of the books are in my suitcase, so I can't get to them."

He shook his head, resigned to the inevitable. "What book were you reading about, then?"

The brown-haired girl began chattering about the book – historical fiction, set in the English Civil War – and he promptly tuned her out, only listening just enough to know when to make the appropriate sounds. Girls weren't idiots – and if having been through a war with three female Guardians hadn't proved that to him, spending four years as the honorary male gossip of the Kierstha region had – and they always somehow seemed to know when he was actually answering them or just guessing.

The Earth's'guardian sighed to himself, wishing he'd been as clever as the woman next to him. Falling asleep was a lovely way to avoid having conversations on a plane – it had been the way he'd managed to fly from Ontario to British Columbia without talking to his mother that first time. But since Lara and Jenna had been poking him and talking to him ever since they got on the plane, it was rather pointless to even try pretending. Next time he was definitely hitching a first-class ride, even if he had to explain to his mother why he could afford it, with all the lovely details about his Guardian magic included. Hyperactive teenaged girls were not fun, especially when they couldn't figure out when it was time to be quiet.

"This is your pilot speaking. We are now descending at Mackenzie Airport, and will be landing in minutes. Please fasten your seat belts and fold your tables, and thank you for flying Air Canada."

The announcement was enough make Jenna fall silent as she began shoving belongings back into her backpack and poking her friend, something that Kit could have hugged the pilot for. Except, of course, for the fact that he was in coach and would have had to make his way through the dreaded business and first classes, as well as getting through the door and explaining to the pilot just why he was hugging him. All in all, it was probably for the best that he wouldn't be hugging the pilot any time soon, but if he had been within arms reach and aware of the situation, Kit would have hugged him.

He carefully folded his letters and replaced them in their envelope before wrapping the remained of his chocolate bar and sliding it into his backpack. He checked under the table to ensure that he hadn't dropped anything as he folded it, and then snapped the seat belt shut and sat back. As the plane began its slow descent to the tarmac below, one of the few things that he disliked about planes, he glanced over at the woman next to him and realized that she would need to be awakened. He tapped her shoulder.

"Meh?" She blinked a bit, shook her head and then adjusted her ponytail with one hand, checking the watch on her other wrist. "Oh. We're here?" She shook her head again. "Of course we are. That's why you woke me up." She removed her headphones, blinked a bit more and then, suddenly and inexplicably, grinned at him. "Ready to go?" Now it was his turn to blink, wondering if maybe it would have been better to have one of the overly chatty teens next to him. "I'm driving you to Goldenwood, enshira," she explained.

"Oh. Sorry, I just…" He trailed off and waved a hand. "You're Chain, then?"

"Used to be. I graduated a few years before our lovely encair arrived, so I never really got to meet her. You know how it is with these things. I knew Shana quite well, though. My younger sister was part of her Chain."

"Are you going to Cal'asan Home?"

"No. Work calls, and I must needs answer." She grinned again. "Even though the Chain is fascinated by Perkzilla, I doubt that they'd appreciate more than one of her, so I'm more than a little busy."

"You work at Goldenwood?"

The plane chose that minute to touch down, and the next few minutes were full of scrambling as everyone on the plane rushed to get their carry-on luggage, their bags from the carousel below, through the cordoned lines to customs, where they were checked for any inter-province smuggling, and then to their waiting rides. X-ray technology be damned, it was all metal when it came down to it, and while he could hardly claim to be a metalsmith of any skill, the ores still recognized him as Earth's'guardian and decided that maybe they didn't need to show the slightly suspicious-looking plants in his suitcase, or the oddly shapes lumps of metal. He nearly patted the detector as his items passed through, but the security guard was staring right at him. So he settled instead for patting the rubber conveyor belt as his bags came through, sending a mental thank-you to the metal detector.

"Lara! Jenna!" He waved the brown-haired pair over. "This is our ride!" He looked sideways at her.

"Ashley," she offered, pulling out a keychain from her recently acquired bag. "They're your sisters?"

"Lara's my sister. Jenna's her friend. I didn't know they were going to be coming," he added in a slightly plaintive sigh. "It just came up at the last moment."

"Younger siblings are far more trouble than they're worth," Ashley agreed. "That's no problem, though. I will simply survey them to death."

"Survey – What?"

But dark-haired Ashley had already descended upon the two teens, brandishing a clipboard and pen. "Have you ever been to Goldenwood before? No? So this is your first time, and you're how old? Fourteen, both of you… Now, some of these questions don't apply because you've never been to Goldenwood before, but I'll ask you some of them… Just follow me to the car, please. Jenna, do you spell that with one n or two? Two… And Lara, only one r, right? Very good."

Kit not dense. Even if he had been dense to start with, having four years of gossip-related attention heaped upon him would have changed that. So he concluded, with the same sort of common sense that had enabled him to accept the fact that he was a Guardian within minutes of discovering the term, that being surveyed to death was a rather unpleasant form of torture, and that he would never mention the possibility to another gossip. The teenaged girls, strangely fond of filling out epic questionnaires in order to determine who would make the best boyfriend for them, would probably appreciate the idea, but for the sake of every male in the school, he wouldn't mention it.

Of course, it was always possible that Ashley had already told the rest of the Chain. Hoisting his bag over his shoulder and following after the girls, he decided it would be bets not to mention the idea to the former gossip, just in case she hadn't.

"That's great!" Ashley was saying, scribbling furiously on her clipboard. "Now, one last question. Does the idea of Goldenwood appeal to you because it's set in British Columbia, or for other reasons?"

Lara and Jenna looked blankly at her.

"Is it the location? If there was a second Goldenwood-esque camp in Ontario, would you go there? Or was it mostly the opportunity to leave your province that appealed to you?"

"I don't know," Lara said. "The plane ride was great, of course –"

"But Ontario would be closer, and then we wouldn't have to spend so much time at the airport," Jenna retorted.

"We wouldn't have to spend any time at the airport," Kit's sister pointed out in a dry voice that somehow reminded him of himself. "But yeah, being closer to home might be better, especially since more kids from home would be there, you know?"

"Yeah. A lot of kids were looking at the flyers for Goldenwood that we'd received, and most of them sounded pretty interested, but the cost of the flight put a lot of them off, and the rest had family trips planned. One in Ontario would make it more… I dunno, accessible?" Jenna suggested.

"I knew it!" Ashley crowed delightedly. "I knew it! That for you, marketing division!" She snapped her fingers briskly, and then, snapping them once more, "And that for you, Perkzilla." Chuckling gleefully, she strode out to the underground parking lot, looked around once and then evidently spotted her car, a rather battered looking blue car that had definitely seen better days in the far-away past. After struggling with the stiff trunk for a few minutes, they managed to get their luggage into the car, although it was a near thing.

Accepting the passenger's seat, Kit asked, "So you work for Goldenwood, then? Why were you in Ontario?"

"I had to talk to the lawyers," the dark-haired woman explained, buckling her seatbelt. "Look over the land and whatnot before I signed the deeds."

"Deeds?"

"I'm opening a partner camp to Goldenwood in Ontario. My mother, of course, thinks I'm crazy, but the Chain approved her idea to open Goldenwood, now didn't they, and her mother though she was crazy. So I've got –" She glanced into the rearview mirror and began backing out of the parking spot, making sure Jenna and Lara were busy with their own conversation as she did so. "– trayve'lair caid permission for the area. They're glad to be getting back in touch with the Chain – it's been a while since they've seen many people who weren't kin."

"Your mother owns Goldenwood?" Dammit! He was being dense, wasn't he? But he hadn't known that the gossips actually owned Goldenwood, though it would explain why there were entire groups composed solely of gossips, who would disappear to Cal'asan Home the minute Perkzilla and company turned around.

Ashley laughed, and then muttered something rude that he hoped he would never hear from Lara when a brown station wagon cut in front of her. "My mother founded Goldenwood, enshira. I own it now."

He wasn't entirely sure what to say to that, so he reached into his backpack and retrieved the partially eaten chocolate bar. It was, after all, the safest course of action.

Sarah blocked low, then twisted her wrist sharply and disarmed her opponent. The girl – a dark-haired fairy with nearly black wings – shouted something undistinguishable and then went scampering to retrieve her sword from where it rested a few feet away. There were whoops and cheers of encouragement, but the redheaded fey Queen reached it first and stood over her student. "Do you yield?"

Tandri grinned up at her. "Did I expect anything else? You're the swordlady, not me." True enough. The dark fairy might as well not have a sword some days, and her good days weren't all that much better. But, given a bow and arrow, she would happily shoot anything you asked her to, with an impressive range. "Can't you teach me how to do that?"

The Fire's'guardian shook her head. "I need some secrets of my own," she mock-grumbled, and then helped her up. "But you really need to work on your balance so that you can concentrate on your grip on your sword." She looked around the room at her students. "I'm not going to be here for the rest of the week."

Ilsari – damnably stubborn, damnably noble and damnably good at weaponry – began removing her armguards before answering. "Yes, swordlady. You're going to visit the rest of your iawyth, except we don't know this, and if anyone asks us where you are, we don't know. The official explanation for your disappearance will be out tonight, and we're supposed to act as surprised as everyone else."

The redhead nearly sighed, but at least Ilsari had decided to work with her this time. One of two heirs to Caisal, one of the lordings nearest the capital of the fey nation, the fey woman would follow through with whatever course of action she had chosen until it became impossible. So, when she had decided to attend classes under the fey Queen, she had turned her formidable will against that of her parents, pressuring them into challenging Derriven over the enari's right to teach a class. But when Sarah had refused to let her fight horseback before she mastered the basics on the ground, the chestnut haired woman had vanished from classes for a month, only reappearing once she could do everything Sarah tested her on. The flicker of Fire magic that lurked within her might have had something to do with it, the Fire's'guardian had concluded.

"Don't forget to walk three, maybe four laps of the room before you start back to your rooms," she reminded them, only to have them chant, "Yes, swordlady," as she left.

She grimaced as she stepped out of the weaponsroom. She might very well be present for the next week's classes. A streak of bad luck and procrastination had teamed up to the effect that she hadn't gotten the official explanation for her disappearance – "Guardian business", wonderfully all-encompassing excuse that it was – to a reliable source. Reliable, basically, being anyone who she could trust to give the message, be believed and who wouldn't try to convince her that it would be much better for her to invite the Guardians to her realm, rather than going to the human World. What was wrong with humans? She'd thought she was human for most of her life, after all.

As though apologizing for keeping her so long, the perfect messenger stepped into the sunlight, red and gold beads clacking against one another as his braided red hair swung. Pyrshalyn didn't even seem mildly surprised to see her standing there, instead offering her an easy smile. Dressed in his brilliant red clothing, with his red-gold hair and wings, he was the image of a Starsinger and, to Sarah, at least, strikingly similar to Alsan Starfire, the Fire's'guardian from the time of the Worldmaking.

"Got anything to eat?" he asked.

Food: definitely the prime concern of any practicing mage. Especially with the more powerful mages, such as the Guardians, when forgetting to eat could cause drastic weight loss. When Aria had begun her training, she had eaten almost a quarter of her weight in a day, and had still felt hunger pangs in the middle of the night. Kit, after the massive healings he had performed after the war against the Foul One's Heir… Well, she'd only seen him a week later, and he'd looked like a recovering anorexic. Aria, on the other hand, had seen him near the end of the battle, skeleton-thin and bedraggled. Even the next summer, when the Guardian's had met up for a few precious days, there was still a lingering trace of the skeleton he had been in his appearance.

She spread her arms and wings wide. "Starsinger, I may have granted you access to the kitchens you would have pillaged in any case and promised you a feast every time you come to visit, but that doesn't mean I'll have something for you to eat when I've just left my class." She pretended to be considering something, and then smiled at him. "However, I might be able to find something for you if you were to do me a small favour."

"Favour?"

"Nothing bad," Sarah assured him, before remembering that Pyr would probably agree with anything she asked if it was to get the better of the fey. No matter that he himself was fey. He was probably the least fey a man could be while still having wings. "I'm going to Cal'asan Home for a week, and I need you to tell the Lords and Ladies why I'm not going to be around."

He grinned at her. "Is that it? I thought it would be something hard." Then, looking mischievously thoughtful, he added, "But when you get back, you have to agree to have a feast."

She scowled. "Do I have to get dressed up?"

"But of course!" Her expression darkened even more. "After all, how better to get out of being Queen for a month or so then by telling everyone that your vas'tray and fellow Guardian is getting married to your brother the Shadow?"

"Pyrshalyn, you are…"

"Absolutely brilliant," he said cheerily. "I guess I won't be seeing you for a bit, then, swordlady."

"If all goes well."

She was still smiling when she shifted so that she no longer had wings and strode off to her chambers, where Stormwing would have a World Gate ready within less than an hour. She took off at a run – she still had to recover Aria's wedding present from its hiding place! She was so preoccupied that she didn't even notice the slight shift of the ground beneath her, as though a large creature began to awaken from a long sleep.


-waves- Heya! I actually managed to update within a month. -ignores all mock-gasps- Anyways, I hope you enjoyed the chapter!

Reviewer replies:

Wolfie: -laughs- Well, I've yet to consider killing my parents over my name, so I suppose they did something right there. :) I'm sure the two of you'll come up with plenty-fine names. So, how many months is this? There will definitely be more Aria in this story, and yeah, she is a great character. -grins- But I'm biased, of course. :)

Mya von Dor: Aww, thanks. I'll try to get more updates out as soon as possible... No more waiting a month between updates for me!

Casey Drake: Thankee kindly, ma'am! ;)

Phoenix: Spaghetti has never really been a breakfast food for me, or cold pizza. Mainly because if I'm that desperate for breakfast ideas, I'll also be too lazy to reheat the spaghetti, and on a day when I'd have leftover pizza, my parents - who strongly disagree with that idea - would probably explode. And what a mess that would leave in the kitchen...

Alexei: Yum. Pumpkin pie! And turkey! And stuffing, and roast beef, and corn and... Er... Yeah. Hey, food is food is food. -nods sagely-