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Chapter 3

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The bells rang out an hour before midnight, and Thorne looked up from his parchment, pinching the bridge of his nose. His candle had burned through four solid rings of wax--each marking an hour--since he'd begun, and still no Kaven. Wishing once again that the council would leave the prince be, he returned to his transcription, humming under his breath.

The lord doth fall, his blood spilled on the sands

Winning freedom for all, and hope for our lands.

Not the most clever rhymes in the world, but the ballad told the story of a minor nobleman in the western province who'd helped push back an invasion, succeeding despite his doubts of himself as a leader. The ballad wasn't terribly clear on those--and Thorne hardly wanted to give the impression he was lecturing--but the story was interesting, and had been a turning point in Ophidia's history. It was one of several he'd written out, and saved for last of the night, as it was incredibly long. Boring to sing, as well, with it's repetitive verses and uninspired chorus.

Still, Thorne reminded himself, humming again, then singing softly to find his place, the story was good, with plenty of details on the actual battle and what led up to it, and that was likely what would interest a scholar. And if Kaven fancied himself a writer, maybe he could make the tale more interesting, as well. "Not often you find an audience bored by blood, guts and gore," he murmured to himself, looking up again, angling his head to pop his neck.

Then jumped, startled, when he realized Kaven was standing in the doorway, one eyebrow raised in silent amusement. "You're talking to yourself about something more and more obscure every time I see you," the prince commented, one corner of his mouth twitching up.

Thorne grinned, pushing himself up to bow, before waving vaguely at the room. "Come in. And wait until you hear me composing. It makes even less sense, then." He slid over to ring for a page, before turning back to Kaven. "You look tired," he said softly.

It was true, too--the prince was paler than usual, and the circles under his eyes which Thorne had noted earlier were deeper than he remembered. There were weary lines around his eyes, and at the corners of his mouth. He looked much, much older than his twenty seven years, and Thorne's heart ached a little to see it.

Kaven shrugged. "You try listening to a bunch of inflated egos arguing over wheat subsidies and taxation amendments for five and a half hours," he said, snorting softly. "You'll look tired, too."

"I'd probably die of boredom first," Thorne admitted, opening the door at the soft knock. "Is there anything specific you'd like?" he asked Kaven, trying to hide his grin at the look on the page's face when he recognized the prince.

"Maybe some herbal tea," Kaven said, wincing and rubbing his temples.

Thorne raised an eyebrow but nodded, ordering that and some food, thinking Kaven looked like he could use it. Good food, the simple dishes he'd been raised on, not the rich, fancy dishes they served on the floor above. And a mug of hot chocolate, for himself. He'd tasted it only once before he'd arrived at the palace, at one of the noble's homes where he and Karesh had wintered. And when he'd found he could have it any time he wanted, well...he hadn't been able to resist.

"Thank you, Vosh, and tell Tash and Lyra I'll play for all of you tomorrow, if you can find time from your duties," Thorne finished, smiling when the boy backed out, nearly tripping over his tail in his effort to keep looking at Kaven. "I wonder if he'll remember a thing I told him..." he murmured when Vosh finally did leave.

Kaven smiled a little, reaching back and tugging the gold band from his hair so it fell free, sighing in relief as he did so. "I don't know," he said.

Thorne curled his fingers around themselves, resisting the sudden urge to go over and comb Kaven's hair out, massage his temples, ease the lines of strain on his face. Not his place. Might not be welcomed even if it was his place, after all; he had no idea of the prince's preferences for a partner. And could hardly go by Selria; it wasn't as if he'd had a choice in her.

Thorne, you're babbling in your own head, stop it.

Blushing slightly, he returned to his desk, and lifted a sheaf of papers. "I wrote down a few of those ballads for you. I'm working on another one, now. It's incredibly boring to sing--hence the cryptic talking to myself--but there's a lot about the battle, and what led up to it, and I thought that might interest you."

Kaven looked up, seeming almost surprised. "Thank you," he said, sliding forward and accepting the papers from Thorne, looking through them with interest. "There's so many...you really did all this today?"

Thorne nodded, massaging his right hand with his left, smiling at Kaven's interest. "Mmhmm. I started when Tish was through with me...took my mind off my arm," he added wryly, looking over at his left bicep. He'd removed the bandage not long before, and the fresh tattoo looked fine, but still ached.

Kaven nodded slowly, still leafing through the sheaf of parchments. "Wow," he said after a moment. "This...this was a lot of work. Thank you," he said again, smiling as he stacked them and laid them aside. "I'll enjoy reading them, though I think I'll hold off until my head doesn't feel like someone's using a sledge hammer to try to escape it." He made a face, though he looked a little tense, still, as though being honest with someone was so new that he wasn't sure how he would be received.

Thorne winced sympathetically. "Ow," he agreed. "The tea should help...and when was the last time you ate? I know I get headaches when I'm tired and hungry," he explained, blushing a little. "And if I start sounding any more like my mother, throw a cushion at me?"

Kaven's smile faded just a little. "You sound a little like mine," he said. "And...I don't really remember. I think I ate yesterday afternoon..."

"Then it's good I asked for enough for two," Thorne said, wishing he could erase the sadness from Kaven's eyes. "You miss her very much, don't you?" He had an idea that Kaven was quite a bit like his mother. No wonder he seemed to feel he didn't belong...

"I do," Kaven said after a moment. "More, now, somehow. She was..." he trailed off and bit his lip, then sighed. "She was my best friend. She used to say that one day we'd run away together, just me and her, and find her tribe again and live in the mountains and read stories and...and play hide and seek in the mists." He choked suddenly, then coughed and reached up to brush at his eyes. "Sorry," he muttered, then laughed a little. "I know it's stupid. It was seventeen years ago."

"It's not stupid," Thorne said, frowning. "Ka-" He caught himself, just, and settled for using neither name nor title. "She was your mother, of course it still makes you sad. It's...it's not at all the same, I know, but every time I'm sick, I still wish I was at home with mine. I can't imagine knowing I couldn't go back..." His own eyes had filled with tears. "I don't think time matters so much, when we lose someone we love. It dulls the pain, maybe, but it doesn't stop us missing them."

"Yeah," Kaven said softly. "Father...doesn't like me to talk about her. I think...I think it hurts him, knowing she never loved him like he loved her. But I...I do still miss her, and..." he shook his head, and glanced at Thorne, smiling a little. "Sorry. Way to bring the party down, huh? Now I see why I don't get invited to more of them." It was a joke, but it was a weak one, and Kaven wrinkled his nose, clearly aware of it.

But Thorne smiled, anyway, though he didn't laugh. "Well, you're welcome here. And I'd like to hear more about her, if you're willing to tell me." His grin turned a bit shyer, then. "Keeps me from feeling like so much of a fool when I can't seem to stop talking about my own family. And her tribe sounds fascinating...I have to admit I've never seen another with your coloring, and I suppose you get that from her?"

Kaven nodded. "Her tribe is paler than the valley tribes," he said. "They live higher in the mountains. It's wet, and it's usually misty. She was almost pure white, as was her aunt--Meema, if you remember her. She followed my mother, after she was chosen as an offering to Father." His mouth twisted wryly. "Not the most romantic story ever, huh?"

Thorne wrinkled his nose. "Not really. Not even songs can make those sound good. And I do remember Meema." He laughed, suddenly. "I got angry with her for the way she talked to my mother. I realize now she was just worried about you, and I was glad you had someone who'd take good care of you, but..." He shrugged, shaking his head. "Redhead. I have a temper. That tends to blow over in about five seconds, but I still get riled pretty easily."

Kaven grinned, suddenly, looking sheepish. "Like when I told you to call me 'sir'?" he recalled.

Thorne blushed, hiding his face in one hand. "Yes. Like that."

Kaven cringed. "Well, if I didn't say it then, allow me to apologize for that now," he said. "I was being a royal ass."

"You certainly had an excuse," Thorne protested. "It hadn't exactly been the best day for you."

Kaven wrinkled his nose, coloring slightly at the memory. "Doesn't mean it was a particularly proud moment," he said, sighing. "All you were doing was trying to help me, and I knew that, but...I needed to lash out at someone, and I'm afraid you were just too convenient a target. I'm sorry."

"I'm sorry too," Thorne said quietly. "I was...less than kind to you, when my mum asked my why I was in the hall and leaving you alone."

The smile faded a little from Kaven's face. "Oh," he said, looking down. "I'm...I am sorry. I hope...I mean, I hope your family doesn't hate me too terribly. I know I was a bit of an imposition."

"My family doesn't hate you, Kaven...er, my lord." Thorne nearly rolled his eyes at himself. "And you were never an imposition, we would've looked after you until you'd healed completely with no reservations. It was everyone around you who went a bit crazy. But it turned out for the best in...well, every way, for us. I became a bard, and my family was able to add a few additions to the house before my brother and sister starting having younglings--I obviously don't mean with each other--and my da even invested in a new flock of sheep, for the upper pastures that would grow nothing but grass. He's doing well in the wool trade, now, and the family is better off for it."

Kaven's eyes brightened, and his smile returned, as Thorne spoke. "Really?" When Thorne nodded, Kaven grinned, looking down. "Good," he said after a moment.

"We're all of us richer for having met you," Thorne agreed, wondering if Kaven was so quiet by nature, or simply because he wasn't used to being able to be free with his conversation. Either way, he didn't mind holding up both ends of the conversation.

But just at that moment, he didn't have to, for there was another knock at the door, and the food arrived. And little Vosh had remembered everything, including extra of both the tea and the chocolate. Thorne spent a few moments clearing a space on the low table to spread out the food, coiling up beside it. "One of the night cooks is from near my village, and she's been making my favorites for me," he said, identifying each dish as he pulled the lid off. "I usually eat a bit earlier in the evening than this, but not by much. It's the best thing about not being a farmer. I can sleep in past the sunrise now."

Kaven coiled himself on the other side of the table, reaching for the tea and taking a sip. He sighed. "You know," he remarked, "I've yet to find cider as good as I had in your village. Maybe we could send for a few barrels, after the orchards are harvested."

Thorne's eyes lit up. "That would be wonderful!"

Kaven smiled, and the two settled in to eat. Thorne noticed Kaven didn't take as much as he would've liked, but he did eat some, at least, before settling back with his tea. Thorne chatted idly about this and that, mostly about his village, then about the songs he'd transcribed, and Kaven listened silently, nodding occasionally, lips curled in an almost smile as the muscles in his back and shoulders seeming to relax a little. Eventually, he settled himself back against the cushions behind him, resting his head on his arms and coiling his body around himself, and before long, Thorne realized he'd dozed off.

"Well, this is strangely familiar, soldier-boy," Thorne murmured, very softly. Moving as quietly as he could, he fetched his lyre, playing very softly, all the soothing lullabies he knew, one after the other, hoping to give Kaven some good, uninterrupted rest.

And if he got to watch him at the same time, so much the better.

* * *

When Thorne woke again, Kaven was gone, and there was a blanket wrapped around his shoulders and a note sitting on the table. Blinking at the sunlight that was streaming through the windows, he shifted, reaching for the note, and pulled it closer, peering at the elegant handwriting.


Thank you for everything. Sorry I fell asleep on you, but I think I needed it.

I've informed Rivek of your status change. You may go anywhere you like. May I recommend the upper gardens? They're beautiful.

Hope to see you again soon.



Thorne smiled, touching the signature lightly, remembering suddenly how Kaven hadn't even seemed to notice, the night before, when he'd slipped and called him by name. "Hope to see you again soon, too," he murmured, wriggling all over, before stretching himself out, scrubbing his hands through his hair and starting his day.

With one thing and another, it was several hours before he made it to the gardens, but when he did, they took his breath away. He'd expected something heavily manicured and arranged, and there was a bit like that, but most of them were devoted to recreating a forest. But not an ordinary forest--this was a forest from legend, with convenient spaced clearings, trees with limbs shaped for lounging, and private nooks everywhere. Thorne whistled softly, nodding approval. First the tapestries and now this...no wonder they kept this part of the palace closed off except to a select few.

He slid forward, exploring the entire garden, before deciding quickly that he needed his lyre and hurrying back to his room to fetch it. Once he had, he returned to the gardens, settling into what he'd decided was his favorite spot: a small hollow beneath a large willow hung with moss, beside a small creek that, while clearly a cycled fountain, created a decent illusion of being real. He settled in and began to strum the instrument, listening to the sounds of the running water and the stories that flitted through his head, waiting while the words took shape and chose their tunes.

He didn't know how long he'd been singing, creating new melodies and chords and plucking them lovingly from the strings, but when he finally paused, settling for a few moments in silence, he nearly leapt out of his skin at the sound of the sigh above him.

"H-hello?" He peered up into the vines, trying to distinguish the shapes, but the angle of the sunlight filtering through the branches and leaves made it impossible.

A moment later it didn't matter; a soft rustle, and a silvery lavender tail suddenly looped out of the branches, as Kaven settled himself onto one of the lower limbs and rested his chin on his hands. "Hi," the prince sighed, looking like he'd just been roused from a pleasant dream.

Thorne grinned, relaxing, though he was still rather embarrassed to have been caught out. "Hi. You were right, the gardens are lovely."

Kaven grinned back. "I know," he said. "That's why I told you to come visit them." He nodded toward the lyre. "What were you working on?"

Thorne blushed slightly. "Um. Just something new, from a dream I had last night." The dream had been about a pale naga clan and clinging mountain mists, and one beautiful young nagi with sad blue eyes, taken from her home. He was certain he could never sing the song, but he hadn't been able to get the images out of his mind. "I dreamt of mists, and pale shapes and...and I wanted to match music to the memories of it in my mind."

Kaven smiled softly. "It was beautiful," he said after a moment. "I'm sorry I startled you, but you were so lost in the music you didn't even hear me coming, and I didn't want to interrupt."

Thorne laughed. "And I thought you'd been there the whole time!" He shook his head, blushing. "But thank you. It's not near finished yet, but I have a good idea of where it's going...and now you've heard me play more than one song, at least," he added, grinning.

"I've heard you play more than one song," Kaven said quietly. "You sing to the gardeners all the time."

"I didn't know you'd heard me..." Thorne stretched, setting his lyre aside, curling most of his tail behind him and leaning against it to look up at Kaven. "I try to play for everyone here, if I can. It's what I can offer them, and gives them something in return for what they give me."

"You play wonderfully," Kaven said. "I can see you love it, when you're singing."

"I do," Thorne replied, linking his hands behind his head. "It's...I have songs and stories inside me that I want to share, and I love that I get to. And even when I'm just singing for myself, it's a moment when...when I feel perfectly at peace with myself, when I'm at home and comfortable in my own skin. I talk too much, and I'm clumsy and awkward, and a little lazy, and I trip over my own tongue a lot, but when I'm playing, when I'm singing...none of that matters. It all goes away, and I'm just me, and it's good enough." He flushed, suddenly realizing he was rambling, and dropped his gaze. "Or that's how it feels, anyway."

Kaven considered him, a soft smile in his eyes and on his lips. "I think it's good enough," he offered. "Even when you're not playing."

Thorne's blush deepened and he would almost have accused Kaven of flattering him, if not for the simple honestly in the other naga's face. "Thank you. It...it means a lot, that I can be myself, with you, that I don't have to try to hide all the awkward and everything. That you already know all that about me. I can be all proper and correct and careful and everything, but it makes me so tired..." He shook his head. "I don't see how you do it. Having to watch yourself every minute, always knowing someone's judging how you're acting..."

Kaven shrugged, the motion making his body shift a little as he lay along the branch. "You get used to it," he said.

"I guess," Thorne said doubtfully. "I'd be worried I'd forget how to be me after awhile, though."

The change that came over Kaven's face was as startling as it was sudden. The prince's cheeks went pale, his eyes distant, and he looked more than a little scared. "Yeah," he whispered. "I...yeah, you do."

"Oh," Thorne whispered, at a loss for what else to say. He chewed his lip for a moment, then pulled himself up onto another branch, joining Kaven in the tree, the two of them hidden from view by the foliage. He curled his tail around a branch above, trying to think of a way to reassure the prince. "There has to be a way you can remember, though," he said after a moment. "What were you like when you were a kid?"

"I...don't really know," he said softly. "I guess...I was a little spoiled. Well, more than a little spoiled. I was basically raised as a prince, so it's not been much of a shift to become one officially." He made a face. "They stuck me into military training pretty much as soon as I could hold myself upright, and for awhile I thought it was what I wanted, but after..." he trailed off, and the fear left his face, but a deep sorrow rose to take its place, and Thorne wasn't sure he preferred it. "After the incident when you found me, when I got my scouts killed, I decided I wasn't responsible enough to be so directly in charge of lives like that. It sobered me up a little."

Thorne nodded, wondering what kind of reaction Kaven's father had had to his defeat at the hands of the centaurs. Probably not a good one. "I imagine it would've. That can't be an easy mistake to live with...especially when I can't see you ever wanting to hurt someone. That'd be so scary...if I'm careless, or something goes wrong and I mess up, a song doesn't turn out. At worst, I've lost a position. I can't imagine holding someone's life in my hands...I wouldn't be able to move, I'd be so afraid."

"Yeah," Kaven said, looking bitter. "Well, when I got home, Father told me this was why he'd stationed me on the borders--so I could make mistakes, learn from them, and we wouldn't lose valuable troops. Just...just 'country soldiers.' Good practice, he said, for when I'd hold valuable lives in my hands." He suddenly looked angry, and slid abruptly from his branch, landing gracefully on the ground and sliding forward to gaze into the water, hands curled into fists. "I knew I wasn't like him, then," he said softly. "I thought I could be, but...I finally realized I would never be a warrior. Not like that."

"Just...just country soldiers?" Thorne bit his lip, hard. One of Tarrifin's boys, Davon, had been in Kaven's patrol. He and Thorne had grown up together, their fathers' farms side by side, and they'd been friends.

Kaven gritted his teeth. "I'd gotten to know them," he whispered, shaking his head sharply. "I could have been one of them, if circumstances had been just a little different..." he shook his head, looking furious. "What difference could there possibly be?" he said suddenly, whirling around and staring up at Thorne. "How much difference could there be between...between me, and the rest of them? They died because of me, because my father didn't train me before he put me in charge of them. They died, and it could have been me too, and it should have been...why did their lives not matter?"

Thorne bit his lip harder against the anger in Kaven's voice, though in a way it was a relief to hear anything after all the sadness. But he felt sick himself, hearing what the lauded general thought of his folk. It was one thing to suspect, and another to be told. "I don't...I don't know. I can't understand how someone could...could separate out lives like that, give more worth to one over another..."

Kaven's expression changed some; his face grew sober. "I couldn't," he said softly. "They were...they were my friends. Maybe the only people who had ever treated me like I mattered, and not just because I was a hero's son. They were kind to me, and...and they trusted me..." he broke off, looking away again, and this time, try as he seemed to, he couldn't stop the tears that suddenly slid free.

Thorne didn't think, he simply slid down--much less gracefully than Kaven--and touched the other naga's shoulder, lightly, pulling him closer when he didn't resist, the willow's long branches hiding them both. "I'm sorry. I'm sorry you weren't trained enough, I'm sorry you lost them...that we all lost them. Davon and I were friends, at least, and I miss him still, and...I'm so, so sorry such a senseless thing had to happen, that anyone was put in that situation and..." he trailed off, biting his lip.

Kaven looked up at him, grief in his eyes. "You...you knew Davon?" he whispered. "I'm...Lady, I'm so sorry, I..." he straightened, wiping at his tears and coughing a little. "You may go, if you want," he said softly. "I'll understand."

"Oh, stop doing things like that," Thorne said, wiping at his own eyes. "Yes, I knew Davon, his father's farm was beside mine, and we were friends. I didn't know he'd been in your patrol when you were with us, but I found out soon after, and I'm still here. And I'm not going to leave, no matter how many times you offer to let me. I don't blame you, Kaven, and you're hurting more from it than I am. I just miss him; you're carrying him and the others with you."

"I don't...Why don't you hate me?" Kaven said, frowning at him, an expression of honest bewilderment on his face that made Thorne wonder if anyone had ever cared unconditionally for this naga.

"Because I like you," Thorne reminded him, before sighing. "You said it yourself. You were sent in there untrained, and it wasn't as if you...as if you did it on purpose. I saw how much it hurt you, losing them, and I saw that...that you treated my mum and me like real people. You made a mistake. A tragic one, but still, a mistake. No one's perfect, and I'm not going to judge you by one action." His lips twisted slightly. "Besides, as much as you hate yourself for it, I don't think you need help from anyone else."

Kaven's eyes suddenly welled up again, but the loathing was gone; in its place was a much simpler grief. "K-keresh was going to be a swordsmith," he whispered, arms going around his middle. "And Davon said he wanted to return to the farm, when his service was over...and Rasha was...was g-going to m-marry his b-best...his best f..." he couldn't get any further, the tears overcoming him at last; he curled in on himself, bringing his hands to his face and sobbing.

Thorne reached for him again, arms going slowly around the other naga, even as he wondered what he was doing. But custom and propriety and etiquette be hanged. Kaven was in pain, and needed basic comfort. Thorne tugged him gently in, until he could hold him, absorb the prince's shaking, hum a soothing melody

Kaven didn't return the embrace, but he didn't pull away, either, letting Thorne hold him. His sobs, which had started loud and ugly, grew softer after a time, and Thorne slowly reached up to stroke the prince's hair, a distant part of him registering its silkiness.

Eventually, Kaven's tears stopped, and he drew away, bright red, scrubbing at his cheeks. "I'm sorry," he whispered.

"Don't be," Thorne replied gently. "I'm not. You've been holding that in too long. And...I'm glad to know you care that much. It must be hard as hell, to feel things so deeply when you're not allowed to show it, but...I'm glad you can, that it didn't...didn't just close you off and make you think the same as...as your father." He shrugged slightly. "If it had...well. I might leave because of that. But now I'm even gladder that I'm here."

Kaven nodded slowly, but he didn't turn around. "Thanks," he said. "Um. I'm sorry, but I have to go. I'll...I'll see you later, Thorne."

Without waiting for Thorne to reply, he slithered away, vanishing quickly into the gardens.

Thorne looked up through the branches, groaning softly. He had no idea if he'd handled that well, no idea if he'd made things better for Kaven or worse. And then to have basically insulted the prince's father, on top of the rest...Think before you speak, think before you speak. Are you ever going to learn that lesson?

Thinking ruefully that he probably wouldn't, and hoping it wouldn't prove his ruin this time, at least, Thorne picked up his lyre again, fingers plucking out a soft lament.

* * *

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from daisygirl

Wow... That's really deep. I feel bad for Thorne because he handled the situation the way he was taught to, and beats himself up for it, believing that because the rules have changed, and he doesn't know them he made a mistake.

I feel even worse for Kaven, having the weight of so many put on his shoulders, blaming himself so much, when in reality, his father KNEW he'd make mistakes that would cost the lives of "country soldiers." That's just so cruel.

Thank you for the update, I really enjoy reading the story.
Yay update! Glad to see you guys are still doing the project. :3 Lovely writing, as always.
Oh. Oh. I absolutely adore the way you guys write. And Kaven, you dork! Jausdf;lkasdjf.nasdf;lkjasdf. Yes. That's as coherent as I'm going to get.
Dear Stars!

It's about flaming time you updated! I should poke you both for making me wait so long. Having said that however, you didn't disappoint, I loved it, and I'm totally in love with Thorne! He's beautifully great!
All I can really get myself to say is that I await eagerly the continuation. On to Chapter 4 please!
Thorne finally being able to give Kaven a hug made it all worth the wait. Reading this made my heart clench.
So happy to see this update! This was a wonderful chapter. I love seeing Kevan and Thorne's friendship grow as they get to know each other. And Thorne's dream about Kevan's mother and the song he tried to write was beautiful in the story and in the imagry
Omg... Kaven's poor soul... he really has let this torture him so... and for so long. I'm glad that Thorne's there to at least be the ear to listen and the voice to soothe. Kaven needs a friend like that more than anything. It's so good that Thorne can comfort him so that he could finally let it all out.

I can't wait for the next chapter. I have to read the outcome of this.

First Time

Brilliant! I love this story and I can't wait for the next chapter. Since you have two books written, are you going to start updating at certain intervals, like once a week or something? It's a great story, the characters are very believable. It is very easy to get drawn in emotionally to the story.

Re: First Time

That's a good idea, we should. I'll discuss it with thuri when she's back and we'll see about setting up a more consistent time.



your story rocks! i just wanted to remind you in case you forgot you haven't updated since april.


I'm just popping in to shamelessly beg for a new chapter of this. I saw this mentioned on RandomWeaver, so I jumped over and read all three chapters in one sitting and I am IN LOVE!

I just hope that this story isn't dead because it's so interesting and the characters are actually real (er, in spite of their obvious mythological state), and NO ONE has ever heard of nagas and I love them and I"m rendered so incoherent with love for this story that I've created a run-on sentence. Please, please write more of this lovely story!

October 2009

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