Chapter 70

Major changes had occurred in the Conqueror Kingdom, yet in the weeks after the Wolf uprising, things had begun to settle into a new sort of normalcy. Of course they couldn't go back to living like they had before…not with their former servants walking the same paths the humans did, finding and performing the same jobs, and generally acclimating themselves to a higher level of society. Many humans were mortified by the very idea for many reasons, not least of which being the disease their new compatriots carried; a disease that, theoretically speaking, could be passed on during a particularly nasty bar fight. And that was certainly a viable cause for alarm because the Conquerors didn't like things being changed around on them. They were settling down, but grudgingly, and not without a fight. Anti-Wolf sentiment ran rampant through the upper class, who could scarcely stand to see them outside of servitude. However, the Wolves refused to let these sentiments keep them from enjoying their newfound freedom. It was an impasse that had the entire Kingdom on edge.

Naturally, the crime rate was up. People got into fights, they broke things, they made oaths, and both sides snarled and spat. One particularly nasty incident had involved a large Conqueror of high standing trying to knock around a female Wolf. He'd called her a bitch and slapped her across the face. She'd bared her teeth and latched onto the hand in question, taking two of his fingers and passing on her condition. After that there had been a great call for a "muzzle law" to be instated. Penelope was still trying to field that one without offending anyone to an irreparable degree.

But that certainly wasn't her only problem. There was another, equally pressing matter she was in more immediate contact with: Morry. The higher class knew he was home, and had some understanding of his "compromised" situation…but the Conqueror commoners had only heard rumors. And rumors have a tendency to snowball at an alarming rate. The Queen had heard whispers of radical underground cells popping up, apparently based solely on the assumption that "Aldrick" was probably plotting his sister's downfall this very moment.

Penelope had had to keep him out of sight for the most part, and felt terrible about it. To her it was no worse than keeping him in a cell somewhere. He was restricted to wheeling around a few sanctioned corridors, the infirmary and a single parapet for the occasional minute of fresh air. To make matters worse, in order to make sure he wasn't accidentally spotted and confronted alone, she had had to employ her mother's overprotective services. The former queen had immediately attached herself to him, and had yet to leave his side. Morry was doing his best to grin and bear it, but the strain of dealing with a woman who refused to accept his situation and blatantly refused to call him anything other than Aldrick was noticeably wearing on him. Penelope would have liked to have asked Hernan to look after him, but the Wolf had practically gone into hiding. She planned to track him down when she got the chance, but for now she reluctantly put her brother's plight on the backburner.

Things were going to get worse before they got better, and an impending confrontation with the Bastions wasn't going to help her chances of lasting through the year. The Conqueror people were traditional enough to keep off assassination attempts for the first few months. Penny knew she'd need to win them over before then if she wanted to keep things from becoming even more complicated.


The Conqueror queen wasn't the only one with problems, however. Isabella's group hadn't gone entirely unscathed, and, like the kingdom, was still trying to figure out what the present meant. True, their ordeals weren't on as grand a scale…but they were quite debilitating on a personal level, and not easily fixed.

Quill sat on the floor outside the infirmary with her back against a wall and her knees pulled up to her chest. One hand toyed with the sleeve of the plain black dress she'd been provided, the other tapped her chin absently. If she was thinking like herself, the fact that she'd finally gotten a change of clothing would have been forefront in her mind. She'd reminisce about how long and far she'd gone in the same blue number her parents had bought her last year for the summer solstice and the same tan pants she'd been able to wear since she was fourteen. The pants were still on her and stuck out from under the black cloth, drawing a few stares from several Conqueror women she'd run into. If Quill was thinking like Quill, she may have been a little incensed by that, but the feeling would flicker out after a moment or two. Quill wasn't an emotional person, and she hardly got riled up about anything. Nothing motivated her, and therefore nothing really bothered her.

But Quill wasn't thinking like Quill. Her one hand picked at her sleeve, her other tapped her chin. Her eyes stared into space. Underneath it all, her mind was churning like mad. Conflicting thoughts swirled around in her head, replacing one another, crashing into one another, generally confusing one another. Never before had she felt this strained; really strained. Quill realized she had never encountered emotions like these because these were all…real. These were real troubles she was facing, not the same old meaningless inconveniences she had dealt with at home. All of that was nonsense compared to this…and in some small way she must have been thinking like herself…because she acknowledged and then ignored that fact.

The slacker sighed and rubbed her forehead, pushing her legs out straight because they had begun to cramp up. She decided to run through everything again, one last time, to try and make sense of it all.

Ethan. He was the problem. She had managed to pinpoint that with certainty. But why was he the problem? That was what she was having trouble with. Twenty minutes ago she'd gone to the infirmary for her now daily visit. Nineteen minutes ago, he'd thrown her out and she'd come to rest against this very wall, even more confused than when she'd arrived.

Quill decided he was an asshole. She also felt this was a certainty. He was being an asshole when all she wanted was to see how he was doing. True, she tended to get a little pushy, and seemed to be the only one still trying to weasel his troubles out of him…but that only meant the others had given up too soon, right? The man needed to talk…it was painfully obvious. To her, at least. Yet in response to her badgering, Ethan was clamming up further and further. Quill felt like they were back to square one, to the first day they'd ever met: he a very disgruntled Bastion soldier on his way out of the force, and she an aggravated new soldier looking for someone to vent on. The argument they'd had twenty minutes ago was nothing compared to the explosive feud that had erupted that day…but the level of animosity seemed to have returned.

What could she do, though? Why did she feel she needed to do anything?! Quill hadn't come to terms with that question yet…and the answers weren't very forthcoming. She was nearly relieved when she heard voices further down the hall, and quickly and gratefully let her thoughts slip back into their uncomplicated norm as she rose from her seat.

Anoosha, Isabella in tow, rounded a corner and came into view. The two appeared to be having a mild argument, but that was relatively common with Isabella, whose victory over the Conquerors had gone to her head a bit. Nowadays her aura of authority had tripled in size and intensity, a fact only strengthened by every Wolf's willingness to adhere to her tiniest whim.

"I am wishing you a good afternoon, my dears," the big healer called quickly as they grew closer, wanting an excuse to cut her argument short.

Quill frowned. Norm was the only one who tended to pluralize things for no reason, so she turned and, once again, nearly had a heart attack when she found said Odder standing behind her.

"Hello Quills," he said cheerily, flashing a grin that, on anyone else, could only have signified severe mania. "Hello Noosh, Isa!" He brushed past the still trembling slacker to greet the healer and princess.

"Norman, dear! I am asking how you have been doing! I am thinking we have not seen you around lately!"

"Hakeey, hakeey," the Odder nodded. "T'Conquerors don't like me much…I stays outta sight."

"I'll have to get that Queen to talk to these ingrates about that," Isabella said, placing her hands on her small hips. "No bastion of mine is going to be pushed around!"

Norm didn't talk much, let alone laugh much. So when a bark of laughter that displayed his every last razor-sharp tooth escaped from him, even he seemed surprised. He blinked a few times and then sheepishly began to field Isabella's irate questions about what he found funny.

Quill stood against the wall, feeling put out of the conversation, and waited with uncharacteristic patience until an opportunity to reinsert herself arose. "So what brings you down here, Noosh?" she asked, trying to sound casual.

Anoosha looked a bit surprised that Quill was addressing her personally, but smiled and spread her arms in her typical accepting gesture. "Why, I am telling you I am here to check up on Mr. Zeaner, little Quill, and I am happy to say that my dear Isabella is accompanying me."

"I came t'say hellos," Norm put in. "I was bored."

This was news to the slacker. She hadn't know Norman could get bored. Quill nodded, brushing him off, and addressed Anoosha again. "Listen, I need to ask you a favor, Noosh. Are you willing to do me a favor?"

The three of them stared at her, surprised at her firm tone. Her change in character hadn't gone unnoticed, but it was still a shock to hear it firsthand.

"Y-yes, dear! Of course, I am sure I'd like to do you a favor," the healer said, a bit flustered.

"I need you to figure out what's eating Cow."

Anoosha's eyes darted this way and that before resettling on Quill. "My dear little Quill…I am sure you are aware of Mr. Zeaner's requests not to dwell on that subject!"

"I don't care. He's not getting better, and it's putting a damper on our plans."

"I am wondering what plans those a—"

"Our PLANS, Noosh," the slacker growled, cutting her off before she could punch a hole through her logic. "Now get in there and make him better!"


a/n: I's writing again. :)