Chance had bathed for hours in the floral waters of the Heaven Stone temple trying to remove the stale stench of earth, as much for his own sanity as for others, but removing the grime didn’t dissolve the pull earth had on his heart. He felt tainted by more than that world alone. Seeing Bea in Karian’s arms at Coldfall had left a stain on his soul that he couldn’t reach, couldn’t scrub clean. He would have to work harder to overcome the haunting image of the hurt in her teary eyes before he faded into the portal flames. Even now, when summoned by the queen, he couldn’t think straight. How long had it been since his return, since he tried to eradicate earth’s lingering scent and her memory? He had lost track once he disappeared into the elder quarter to avoid questions, becoming one with the wilderness as he did when first started training with The Order. The escape felt brief. He should’ve reported to the queen when he returned, but ran, hid, not wanting to be found. Beithir, of course, knew all his secret places. So here he was, full of dread at facing Alithia’s mother. What questions would she ask of him? What had Saras told her? Would his parents disapprove? He hadn’t seen them either, and it shamed him, but how could he face them, look his father in the eye?

As he walked through the wide corridors of Seelie Court to the Queen's Hall, heads politely turned desperate to avoid any further intake of a place they hated. Even now, the strength remained. He had missed the sweet smell of home, but not the hierarchy snobbery of Court life. He didn’t want to be here, Beithir normally took care of such matters, but due to his personal communications with the Queen, as Beithir explained, expected only him. The conversations on earth with her had been easier, brief, no physical contact. Their communication purely vocal, using the energy grid of earth’s ley lines that often proved temperamental, for which he was thankful. But now, in person, would she see the truth through his eyes of love for Bethany, and through her, his disconnection to Alithia?

He nodded at the guards outside the throne room, the queen now alerted of his arrival. As he waited, he wondered whether Eliseis would see straight through him, of how he betrayed his own heart in the initial seeking of her daughter. That Bethany had become more important than his mission on earth.

“Will you inform the queen of all your endeavours?” Saras’s voice a sharp nail dragging over a sore. Chance couldn’t help but admire his knack of verbal attack with perfect timing, seemed to be his speciality. “Including your own conduct at the glade, Commander?” he quipped. He wasn’t in the mood for threats and had not forgotten how many Heaven Stone fell under his blade in the Woods.

“We are at war. Lord Karian is an enemy of our Court. His family are the reason that our race diminishes, and if rumours are true…” He trailed off raising one eyebrow, deliberately leaving the sentence open to innuendo. Chance’s stomach knotted; he had heard the slander too but refused to give Saras the pleasure of knowing it. Did it mean his parents had heard too? The image of Karian’s hands upon Bea’s stomach in the glade flashed through his mind. He refused to believe it was anything but a display of misplaced love, a kindness, but the whispers of Bethany, a human, carrying an Unseelie child made him sick. He was about to retaliate when the doors flew open. He had only seconds to recompose himself, no doubt Saras’s intention.