“Sit her down.”

Naomi was shoved into the chair, the bag yanked off of her head. Her eyes were immediately bombarded by the bright, golden light. Her eyelids fastened shut in response as she winced away from the sound of the voice.

“Look at me,” The voice demanded.

Naomi cracked an eye open, testing the light as if it were frigid water. She drew a breath, then exhaled softly, the purple and blue circles slowly disappearing from her sight. It took several moments until she could finally focus upon the speaker.

The speaker was arrayed in gold, an elaborate circlet augmenting her position on the throne that itself was on a raised dais. She swayed a hand away, whisking away the burly guards who had manhandled Naomi to the simple wooden chair. She looked every bit a penitent pauper before a figure of divinity. Naomi recognized her as Lady Eliana, the matriarch of the Sakakibara Family.

The brilliantly-clad woman rested her head on her fist, then said briefly, “I don’t know how to address you, if I must be honest,” She regarded Naomi with a look of intense disapproval, “‘Step-daughter’ sounds too legitimate. What was it that Ashessa called you?”

Naomi watched her feint a thoughtful expression, though Naomi knew she expected her to answer, “She called me…”

She called you?” Eliana interrupted, looking impatient.

Naomi gulped, “I mean that… I’m a… whore’s spawn.”

A smile tugged at the sides of the matriarch’s mouth, “Correct.”

Naomi lowered her gaze, wondering why they had dragged her out of the darkness of her cell. The fleeting images of a fiery-haired woman tormenting her to no end continued to flash into her consciousness, punctuated by the silent wing-beats of dozens of emerald and royal purple butterflies. The room suddenly began to spin from beneath her and she collapsed onto the marbled floor in front of the dais.

“How atrocious,” Eliana sighed, “Pick her up again, bind her to the chair if you must.”

Two sets of gruff hands raised her onto the chair once more, one set holding her in place as another wrapped a coil of rope around her torso to keep her from falling. Naomi was too weak to respond with anything but wordless head bobbing until she managed to raise her eyes back in the direction of the golden matriarch.

“Just kill me, please,” Naomi whispered quietly.

Her eyes were dry, but bloodshot. Her tears had refused to answer her summons after the second or third week of her incarceration, whence she had cried herself to sleep. Or was it several months? Years? Time seemed to move at a pace all its own in her cell, wrapping and clawing away at her soul as she struggled to breathe. She couldn’t recall the last time she had seen Alexa, been held by the kameira, felt safe. Or, more accurately, she couldn’t recall the last time Alexa had actually been with her or if Alexa was even real. Were the memories real?

The matriarch left out a soft chuckle, “Kill you? Oh no, you are far too valuable for that, my dear.”

Naomi’s face was gaunt, her once rosy-cheeks stretched across her face like fragile elastic; her lips twitched, her movements were slow and tentative, her eyes were unable to focus upon anything for more than a few seconds, and her head snapped in the direction of the least sound.

Naomi felt herself shiver, “What more do you want from me?”

A sudden crack met her question with the force of a Bestower. Pain seared into her head and through the rest of her body, to the edge of her toes and fingertips. She let out a sharp yelp as she winced away from the impact, her head throbbing with wildly.

“You are not here to question,” Eliana responded, “But I suppose we must cut to the chase. As loathe as I am to say it, I need you for something.”

Naomi panted and gasped–she was sure her brain had been ruptured by the blow, yet by some arcane magic she managed to process Eliana’s words. She raised her eyes weakly in Eliana’s direction, seeing three images of the matriarch speaking in unison as a trinity even as they wobbled together back into a single person.

“There is a message I need to send to my son and you shall be the messenger, of sorts,” Eliana waved her hand airily, “The Holder he now serves–Lady Shalee Lianne Cerra–are you familiar?”

Naomi nodded tentatively. The name sounded familiar, but she couldn’t remember if they had been introduced properly or if she had just read a file on the Holder. She was a well-respected member of the aristocracy of the Bleak Lands, through much of her family’s history was shrouded in rumor and mystery.

“Yes, well, I will need you to kill her.”

Naomi’s eyes widened.

“And you will be wearing my son’s body.”