I look back to the stack of question cards that is starting to get a lot smaller. “Daniel, my readers are curious, what is your mother like?”
“Well, she’s very regal, which is only expected for a queen. I think she intimidates people who aren’t part of the family. But she does have a softer side. I’ve always been closer to her than to my father. She’s the peacekeeper between us.”
“So do the two of them get along well?”
Daniel nods. “Yes. If there is one thing I would give my father credit for, it’s that he’s a devoted husband. He’s not like a lot of nobles I know who fool around with other women even if they’re married. So yes, despite how I feel about my father, my mother loves him and he loves her.”
“As long as we’re discussing family, what bothers you most about your sister?”
Daniel snorts. “Just one thing?” He shakes his head. “She’s so cruel and heartless sometimes. Definitely not someone you want to cross. She has so much disdain for those she deems below her.”
I nod slowly. “I may be the author of your story, but she even scares me. She can give quite a look of disgust.”
Daniel laughs dryly. “You can say that again.”
“Was it always this way between you two? Or were you closer when you were children?”
“As far as I can remember, it was always this way. That look of disgust? I’m convinced she had that down even as a toddler.”
“Wouldn’t surprise me.”
“How do you put up with her?” Kaden asks, shaking his head.
“With a great deal of difficulty and going to extreme lengths to avoid her when I can. Unless, of course, I want to annoy her . . .”
Kyrin raises her brows. “That sounds dangerous.”
“More and more so every day, it seems.” Daniel gives me a look. “She’s not going to show up here, is she?”
“No. Don’t worry, I learned my lesson last time.”
Everyone looks relieved.
“Why don’t we move on to a slightly more pleasant topic.” I look down at the cards for another question and then look at Talas. “Kendra would like you to describe a crete house and home life.”
“Well, one of the biggest differences between crete houses and regular houses is that they are mostly circular since we build around trees. Different rooms are often on different levels, being built where there are tree boughs to support them. No two crete houses are the same because no two trees are the same. I guess you’d say the interior is kind of like a cabin. We’re not what most would call sophisticated. Our houses reflect our love for nature—so there’s a lot of wood, leather, and earthy colors.”
“I’m jealous,” I tell him. “I’ve always wanted to live in a treehouse like that.”
He grins. “Now, as far as home life, it depends, but since most cretes have large families, our home lives are usually pretty loud and busy, but we like it that way. Family is incredibly important to us.”
I look over at Leetra. It’s always a bit intimidating to question her. “What do you like most about being a crete?”
She’s quiet a moment. “I’d say our loyalty to family.”
“And who would you consider your closest friend, besides your family?”
“Talas. We’ve always been very close. Since I’m the oldest in my family, he’s like the older brother I don’t have.”
He gives her a grin. “I love you too, Lee.”
She rolls her eyes. Usually cretes, especially ones like Leetra, aren’t so vocal about their feelings.
“So Leetra . . .” I clear my throat, unsure how this conversation will go. “Kendra wants to know how you became engaged to Falcor?” I sense her mood change as she stiffens.
At first, it doesn’t seem that she’ll answer. Shifting her jaw, she blows out a hard breath. “We knew each other since we were children. We always got along well. Once we were older, it was only natural that our relationship would progress toward marriage.”
“So you two had a lot in common?”
“Yes . . . or so I thought.” Her eyes spark.
“How are you moving forward after what happened?”
Now her eyes narrow. “Who is asking all these questions?”
I hesitate. “Um, well . . . that would be Kendra.” I shrug. “She’s just curious.”
Talas nudges her shoulder. “Come on, Lee, everyone else gets uncomfortable questions too.”
She frowns at him. “I don’t remember you getting any.”
He gives her an innocent look. “Maybe because I’m so charming. You might try that.”
She rolls her eyes again before looking back at me. “I’m fine.”
I take it that’s the only answer she is going to give. I speak carefully. “Do you think what happened has driven you closer to Elôm?”
She crosses her arms and looks about done with these questions. “In some ways. It’s shown me how foolish I’ve been about some things.”
I nod and look through the cards. I should probably let her cool off a bit before I ask her any more questions. “Ah, here’s one for me. Bria wants to know how I chose the name Elôm. I guess because it sounds a lot like some of God’s names in the Bible. When I wrote my old fantasy series, Makilien, I used the name Elohim. Elôm is very similar to that, so that was probably what sparked the name in the first place.” I flip to the next card. “Here’s a question for the whole group. What differences between our world and Ilyon strike you the most?”
They all consider it for a moment before Talas speaks up. “I’d say your vehicles and technology.”
Kaden nods and chimes in. “Yeah. I don’t even know what you do with all of it.”
I chuckle. “It is quite different. However, I would trade our vehicles for some of your dragons.” I look over at Jace. I always kind of feel bad now whenever I drag him back into the conversation. “Morgan and her sisters are curious what your dream job is.”
“Farming and working with horses.” He smiles slightly, and I can tell he’s thinking back. “I would like to return to the farm someday . . . if it would ever be possible.”
“I know you have Niton, Tyra, and Gem, and you had a bird, but what would you say is your favorite animal?”
“Horses. I’ve always enjoyed working with them.”
“Horses are very special,” I agree. I then give him an apologetic look. “Some of these questions might be a bit difficult, but why don’t we get them over with?”
“All right,” he says quietly.
“First, if you knew that you had a half-ryrik brother or sister, would you want to meet them? And would you want to meet your parents?”
“Yes,” he says without hesitating. “I would like to know more about where I came from.”
“What would you say was the worst part about being a slave and a gladiator?”
He grimaces. “Not having a say in anything I did, and being forced to do things that have haunted me ever since.”
I smile to try to cheer him up. “Here’s a question from Serena. Would you rather not have fangirls? She really wants you to say you love having fangirls.”
Kaden laughs, and Jace just shakes his head. “Fangirls are . . . odd.”
I laugh too. “It’s true, we are odd. Now Ysa wants to know if you want to kill the fangirls for their curiosity?”
Jace shakes his head again. “No, they can be curious it’s just . . . unsettling.”
“Ysa also asked me if you all could ask the fangirls questions since they’re so nosy.”
Kaden perks up. “We can ask them questions?”
I nod, then stop him as he’s about to speak. “But be nice.”
He gives me an annoyed look. “Of course. My question is, who’s their favorite?”
Marcus frowns at him. “That’s your question? You know most of them will say Jace.”
I notice Jace duck his head in embarrassment.
“All right then, who’s their favorite besides Jace?” Kaden amends.
“And what’s their favorite color,” Kyrin joins in. “It seems like we’ve all gotten that question.”
“Oh, and do they have anyone special in their life?” Kaden asks with a gleeful grin. “How do they feel about this particular person?”
I laugh and shake my head. “Okay, this could go on a while. Why don’t we just get back to the questions for you?”
“Aw, you’re ruining the fun!” Kaden says.
“You do realize we’ve been here quite a while now? If I let you all go on with your questions, we’ll never get anywhere. Now, Kyrin, here are some questions for you. If you could do whatever you wanted for a job, what would it be?”
“Oh, I don’t know.” She looks thoughtful. “I guess I would just like a family to take care of.”
Kaden looks slyly between her and Jace. I quickly move on. “What do you like to wear, and do you care about fashion?”
“I like to look nice, but I’m definitely not into fashion like so many are in Valcré. Usually I wear practical clothes since we live in the forest—shirts and pants and an overdress.”
“Here are a couple more serious questions. What do you think that the worst thing that could ever happen to you?”
She sobers. “Losing everyone I love.” She glances at Jace and her brothers.
I read the next question. “Do you love the General?”
She looks at me and considers the question for a moment. “I would like to . . .” She sighs. “It’s difficult after everything he has done.”
“So what was your first thought when you saw Jace?”
“Well, I could tell he was in a lot of pain and it made me sad. I hate seeing people treated badly. There was too much of that in Tarvin Hall.”
“Speaking of Tarvin Hall, do you miss anything about it?”
Kyrin shakes her head. “No.”
“What about the palace?”
“No. I’m very happy where I am. Happier than I’ve been anywhere, except for home when I was little.”
I switch my focus to Kaden. “So, Kaden, are you most afraid of?”
“Like Kyrin said, I would hate to lose people I love and not be able to do anything to stop it.”
“Here’s an interesting question. If there was any famous person in your country's history you could meet, who would it be?”
“Probably my grandfather, Jonavan Altair. He’s more infamous than famous, but I’d love to meet him now that I know the truth about him.”
When I look down at the next question, I have to bite back laughter. This could get interesting. “Leetra . . .”
Her eyes flash to mine and hold suspicious. “Yes?”
“Is there anyone special in your life?”
Kaden chokes back a laugh and Leetra shoots him a searing look. She straightens her shoulders and speaks coolly. “Not since Falcor.”
I quietly clear my throat. “What is your opinion of Timothy?”
The suspicion in her eyes grows, and I add on, “Was he worth everyone risking their lives for him?” I notice he’s watching her with interest.
Leetra sits stiffly, a very unamused look on her face. “Yes.” She answers finally. “He has a lot of wisdom about Elôm that we all need.”
He smiles warmly at this, but she doesn’t look at him.
“So,” I try to ask causally, “do you think you'd ever want to get married again?” I send a pointed look Timothy’s way.
Her eyes widen. “This seems an odd time to ask that question.”
I shrug. “It was just the next one.”
She tips her chin up and remains silent.
“You’re not going to answer?”
“Okay then.” I smile at Timothy. “Have you ever had a special girl in your life?” I can practically feel Leetra bristle.
Timothy laughs quietly and glances at her. “No, not yet.”
“What is your opinion of Leetra?” I catch her fiery look out of the corner of her eye and turn to her. “What?”
“Why are they so curious about what the two of us think of each other?” Her eyes narrow. “What, exactly, are they after?”
“They’re fangirls. They’re naturally curious about such things.” I hope that satisfies her. When she doesn’t speak again, I return my attention to Timothy.
He hesitates, but then answers the initial question. “I think the tough way she portrays herself outwardly hides a soft heart.”
I glance between the two of them. “And, if it’s not too embarrassing, Kendra wants to know if you can describe Leetra’s eyes for her.”
Leetra gives me a horrified look. “Seriously?”
I shrug. “Fangirls.”
Now Timothy clears his throat. He shifts a little awkwardly. “I’d say they’re a soft lavender rimmed in stormy purple that grows even deeper when she’s upset.”
I can tell Leetra is grinding her teeth together and that stormy purple is very clear at the moment. Now’s probably a good time to change the topic. “Timothy, while your new life is better, is there anything you miss about your hometown?”
Timothy lets out a breath as some of the tension abates. “The only thing I’d say I miss is the people I used to teach. I enjoyed it, and I miss being able to give them that opportunity.”
I flip to a new card. “Here’s another question for me from Ysa. She wants to know if I ever base my characters off of people that I know, or are they all completely made-up? I have sort of based a character off of someone I knew before. And there are things about Kaden and Liam that were inspired by my two brothers. Then there’s Jace, who is very much like me. Besides that, they’re pretty much all completely made up.”
I read the next question. “Oh, this one’s always interesting,” I say with a bit of sarcasm. “What is your opinion of me, your author?”
They all look at each other, and Kaden shrugs. “Well, without you, we wouldn’t even be here, so I guess we have to like you.”
“If you had a chance to get revenge for everything I’ve put you through, would you?”
Kaden and Talas share a mischievous grin. “I suppose we could throw you down in a dungeon for a while.”
“Hey! Don’t you dare. I get claustrophobic.”
“We wouldn’t do that,” Kyrin says, giving her brother a look. “You’re just doing your job as an author.”
I give her a grateful smile, and then giggle. “So what about the fangirls?”
“Oh, they can keep you company,” Kaden says with a laugh.
I ball up the question card and chuck it at his head. “Sometimes I don’t know what to do with you.” The next card contains a question for Trask. I turn to him. “If you were, hypothetically, given the opportunity to beat any one of your enemies black-and-blue, would you enjoy it?”
“That is an interesting question,” he says slowly. “Honestly, yes . . . at the time, though I’d regret it later.” He shrugs. “I know it wouldn’t be right.”
“Along the same line of questioning, if any of you had the chance to kill the emperor, would you do it or be seriously tempted to?”
They all consider this. Finally, Kaden answers. “I think we’d all probably be tempted to. Some of us might go through with it, depending on the circumstances.”
The others nod.
Before turning to the next card, I glance at the sky, only now realizing the sun will soon set. “Wow, we’re really running out of time. I do have one more typical fangirl question for Jace and Kyrin—what would you have done without each other?”
They smile at each other and then Jace answers, “I might not be here. I’m not sure what would have happened if she hadn’t come along and helped me through things.”
Kyrin covers her hand with his. “And I wouldn’t have the closest friend I’ve ever had.”
The others all smile.
“I’ve got just a couple more questions,” I tell them. “Kyrin, what is the nicest thing Kaden has ever done for you?”
“I’d say all the times he defended me in Tarvin Hall, even when it meant he would get beaten up. He was always there for me when I needed him. And he still is.”
I grin. “Brothers are awesome.” I now turn my attention to Talas. “Here’s a question from Hannah. If you were an animal, what would you be? Or what would you like to be?”
“I think you’d be hard pressed to find a crete anywhere who wouldn’t want to be a dragon. It would be tough for us to give up flying.”
“I could definitely see you as a dragon.”
I look around at everyone. “All right, one more question before it gets too late. Katie wants to know who is the best at dancing, and she wants you to show everyone.”
There is silence, and then several of the others point at Talas. He looks around at them and shrugs. “I do like to dance.”
“Care to show us?”
He shakes his head. “If I had some crete music, I would, but these fangirls will just have to find a way to attend a crete celebration if they want to see me dance.”
I laugh. “I’m sure they would love that.” I set aside the cards. “I guess that is all we have time for. Amanda does want me to give you all a message. She says you’ve all been such an inspiration for her and she’s really proud of you. Your faith, actions, selflessness, and who you are has truly encouraged her, and she loves you all.”
They all smile.
“Tell her thank you,” Kyrin says.
We all get up then, and they help me fold up the blankets and carry everything back to my dragon. As they mount up and prepare to fly off, I tell them, “I’ll see you later, back in your stories!”
“I hope good things will be happening,” Kaden calls back.
I shake my head and quote Kyrin. “Troublemaker.”