#luke harper Tumblr posts

  • bolieveinthebuzzardsoftheshield
    20.01.2022 - 5 days ago

    Wow. I haven’t been on Tumblr since the day Brodie passed. I never thought that would happen, since Tumblr was basically my life for like 8 years. But I think part of me was just scared because I know the things people(trolls) say just to get a rise out of someone and I’ve heard some horrible takes on Brodie/his family. And I’ve had my share of horrible things said to me on this site. But I love Tumblr. I met some of my very best friends on here, I met people who loved wrestling as much as me. So, I’m back. But not without a cool story. I met Brodie back in 2017, and our photo got on the WWE site. The above comment is from his wife who told me a story of how he came back to the hotel the night we met, talking about me and how I impacted him. In December, I met Amanda in person. She talked to me for probably 45 minutes, sharing stories, hugging me a ton of times and saying “I’m sorry I gotta hug you again.” She was so sweet and incredible. Now she follows me on all my social media 🤯🤯 And we plan to meet up in Orlando during Revolution weekend. I forgot just how incredible wrestling is, and the freaking amazing people you can meet because of it.

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  • abcdefghijklmnopqrstuvwxyzed
    12.01.2022 - 1 week ago

    So I've been really inactive for a while, so I figured it was time to post something, but my creative juices aren't flowing, so here's the people who (in most, if not all) I ship in the batfamily:

    Dick and kori (sometime Barbara, depends)

    Jason and Roy (I prob won't use this much, but it's there)

    Tim and Bernard (or Steph, depends on the time frame or situation)

    Damian and himself

    Duke doesn't have one yet :(

    Barbara and Dick (sometimes)

    Steph and Cass (or Tim, it depends)

    Cass and Steph

    Bruce and Selina

    Alfred had a family, but he's old :(

    Kate is a single lesbian

    Luke I have no clue

    Basic post, but I can't think of anything, and I figured I should probably not post something

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  • noesapphic
    03.01.2022 - 3 weeks ago

    The Cursed Heiress, Chapter Thirteen: In the Name of Love

    Author’s Notes: 

    I’d like to dedicate this chapter to my friend @missameliep​ for not only encouraging me but also helping me improve as a storyteller and person and I’m so thankful for your friendship. I hope you like it, dearest! 

    English is not my first language, so please forgive any typos/grammar mistakes 

    This series contains certain mature themes, so it has a +15. Read under your own advise. 

    If you happened to stumble on this chapter or want to know more about Joanna’s joruney, here’s the masterlist! And if you want to read more of my work, here’s the general masterlist! 

    Summary: Joanna’s father is dead, and on the day of his funeral, many things will start to change, for war is coming. 

    Characters: Joanna Mills (OC) Dominique Foredale, Briar Daly, Ernest Sinclaire, Annabelle Parsons, Prince Hamid, Luke Harper, Theresa Sutton, Bartholomew Chambers, Duke Richards, Elias Bernhill (OC) 

    Rating: PG-13 

    Warnings: Minor character death, language 

    Word Count: 19.2k 

    Reading Time: 45-50 minutes 

    What is grief, if not love persevering?

    The night the earl had died, Joanna fell asleep of exhaustion of the events—the battle she had, the duke, Mr. Sinclaire’s story, the Coventus, her father and now… all she wanted was peace. But she wasn’t granted that.

    During the night, she had three nightmares: one, where she was stabbed in the chest by Thomas and he succeeded and took over the world and destroyed everything and everyone. Other one, where she joined his ranks and ruled over the world, enslaving humankind, including the ones she grew fonder of. And the third one, where her power killed her and she died on Mr. Sinclaire’s arms, the others crying and the world did not notice.

    She woke up, gasping for air. All three possible endings terrified her and she went to drink some water when she touched the mirror and she dropped heavily on her knees: a war, a gruesome one. Tired soldiers. Heavy armament. Hunger. Cold. Deadly boredom. Then, someone powerful signing a treaty, looking defeated and ashamed. Then, he and his family leaving the city. A flag being burned down—she could barely see it. A new one rising: red, with a half-moon and a star. Then she saw herself, crying in a graveyard. “I’m sorry, my sun, I could not stop it from falling. Your empire and legacy is no more,”

    She had just seen a glimpse of the fall of an empire. Which one? She did not know. But after these dreams and premonitions, she dared not to sleep.

    Joanna hadn’t slept or eaten at all that past week. All she did was cry, throw knives –sometimes doing rather noticeable holes on the wall—and lay on the bed, motionless, paler than usual and cry until noon. She could not bear it. Nor accept it. She just got her father, after so many years, and now… he was just gone. Just like that. And not even the Goddesses gave her the chance to know the man who gave her life and loved her unconditionally. She sobbed once more, so sore and light that if she fainted, she’d just go along with it.

    Briar had been stubborn about keeping her alive, despite her pleas to let her rot and die, which ended with her yelling at her to get her arse up and start living again. But that was the last thing she ever wanted to do. She’d live for the rest of her life without her father and her mother doing Gods-know-what while she needed her the most. They haven’t had the ‘How the hell are you alive?’ talk, but they would.

    Briar came again with soup and a glass of water with generous amounts in each of the recipients. Joanna groaned weakly and dropped her entire body into the mattress again.

    “Enough moping, Joanna! Edgewater needs you for your father’s reception today!”

    “What part of let me fucking die don’t you understand? My stepbrother may as well keep Edgewater and the throne of England for all I care,” she grunted, her voice barely audible.

    Briar sighed as she sat before her, “Look, Joanna, I cannot phantom what you’re going through, but you must accept that—.”

    “Leave me alone!” She roared, her eyes glassy and bright topaz. Briar gasped before nodding, too hurt by her words to even notice what was behind her tears.

    She slumped on her mattress again, now crying again, fisting her pillow as she screamed on it, the pillow so cold her whole body shivered. She noticed a familiar, warm hand on her back, and was about to recoil when she saw her Aunt Nya’s face, now sad and dressed in mourning “Fey, my darling…” she embraced her tightly. She did not move, but neither expressed any wish to unhand her. She just cried silently, barely feeling anything at all, “How do you feel?”

    “That’s the thing, Aunt Nya! I don’t feel sadness, or anger, or anything, it’s like I’m empty inside and I’m not able to feel anything anymore! How can people live when such a remarkable man that had made such an impact is dead?! I don’t understand!” She sobbed again loudly, not caring if the soulless Countess heard her. She never cared for that woman’s feelings towards her and wouldn’t start now.

    “The death of a parent is always one of the most painful things. Though a soulmate’s death or a child’s death is much more devastating, your pain is just as valid, but you mustn’t let rage take all over you. Let it through, but never take over, alright?”

    She nodded before she sighing “I guess I cannot mop forever. The world’s fate is at stake, I cannot let my foes win. I’m tired, but I must keep going. Afterall, I have a lifetime to have a little peace. I shall make it through today… for him. For Father. And if I must pretend that I’m holding it together, even if it’s for a few hours… I will. But only because he would’ve done the same for me. That doesn’t mean that as soon as the guests are gone I will be the same. I’m damn entitled to mourn in my own way, whether these hyenas see it proper or not. In the end, this is what the London society is about, isn’t it? Appearances, pretty and demure smiles and white lies everyone wishes to believe. And if I must play their game in order to honour my father’s name, I will. That doesn’t mean that I won’t weep and have my moment with my father. Bastard or not, I am family, damn them and their idiot breeding rules.”

    “May his soul rest among angels, and I’m certain he’ll teach them a thing or two.”

    “Oh, Joanna, you are so much like him… and Nya… thank you. For being here today for us,”

    “I came here representing my family and… well, my brother Fabian asked me that if should the earl pass away and he were already gone, I’d go on his behalf. They were good friends,”

    “The young Mr. Crochane was a breath of fresh air. May he rest in peace, too,”

    “Thank you, Dominique. I shall leave you two to talk,”

    She squeezed Joanna’s hand tightly before leaving. Dominique turned to her granddaughter “Your perseverance is just like his, my dear…” The woman strid into her room, wearing with an admirable poise her mourning gear.

    “Lady Grandmother,” She curtsies to her and offers her a sad smile, a smile that falls quickly “I cannot imagine what is like to bury your son… I’m so sorry for your loss,”.

    “As am I for yours,”

    “I’m… not sure what to do. I’ve never mourned a familiar before.”

    “You mourned Mr. Coleman’s death,” She observed.

    “A lover is not the same as your kin, Lady Grandmother,” she said, her eyes now filled with tears.

    “It is indeed the greatest pain I’ve ever felt, but even if I don’t feel like it, I must honour him by being resilient and perseverant, like he was in life,”

    “Indeed,” She sighed “What will I do now?”

    Dominique placed a hand on her granddaughter and made her look at her, “You will survive and make it through the day, as you’ve always done. After all, you come from a long-lasting line of strong women,”

    Joanna chuckled bitterly “Funnily enough, I do not feel strong enough to even talk to people I like,”

    Dominique placed a hand on her granddaughter’s shoulder and told her “I can only imagine how you must feel, but you must be strong. Edgewater needs you, to show how a dignified heiress you—,”.

    “I don’t want Edgewater anymore. No estate is worth so much tears and suffering and struggles.”

    “You’d really let it fall to the Marlcasters?” Dominique asked, horrified.

    “Don’t know, don’t care.”

    “Joanna!” Dominique looked at her concerned, “I will pretend that I did not hear—,”

    “That’s the thing, Lady Grandmother! You never listen to what I have to say, nor what I feel! It’s all about you and your stupid ambitions that only benefits you! And I’m not some doll and Edgewater is not your dollhouse! We’re all human beings, with hearts, thoughts, ambitions of our own, dreams. And I’m tired of pretending that I’m fine with this grotesque season where I am put a price due to my breeding and status, where what I think or want for myself doesn’t matter. Where wits and goals are dismissed by money and status. Ever asked how am I doing genuinely? If I really wish to marry? If there’s someone waiting for me back home, the real home? If I’m in the mood to throw money away buying a dress I will use just once? No, right? Well, Lady Grandmother, no. I do not want to inherit this. I’m not fine, I’m far from fine. I don’t want to marry that pathetic boor of Duke Richards or anyone from the court. Yes, there’s an entire family of mine waiting for me back at home. NO, I DO NOT LIKE THAT FUCKING DRESS AND I DO NOT WANT TO GO TO A PLACE WHERE NO ONE WANTS ME THERE,” She inhaled, trembling of anger, “You’re asking me too much. To give up who I am, to be exact. To deny my own true nature, to be alright with being seen like some men-pleaser and baby maker. To put up with bigotry and unfair bullying. To give up my beliefs. To be alright with people walking all over me. To endure literal predators hovering at me because they’re richer than you. Well, I’m not that woman. I cannot be that woman, nor I will be.” She pointed at herself violently, “and trying to please you and have your approval is killing me inside. Every time I do that, I feel so much self-hate that I wish to blow my fucking brains off!! So, for once, I beg you, let me be me. I don’t want to accept dishonest condolences from the people who wish me rotting on the streets or wish me ill, or to be observed like some decoration or pretending I don’t have a soul or personality that is made for court life only. I’m not demure, obedient, silent and unbothered. I am not meek and stupid and air headed. I’m not a doll waiting to have an owner. My life is not to be defined by my husband’s wealth and breeding and the number of children that I will bear. Which I do want to, but not like this. I refuse to pay that price. I refuse to reduce my existence to a man’s need of an heir and someone to be their fucking mother.”

    “Joanna, I did not realise—,”

    “If I asked you to describe me, you’d get it all wrong! I’m not demure, or penitent, or ladylike, or obedient, or accepting and forgiving. I am opinionated, I get mad, I know things that a debutante shouldn’t know, I’m untamed and true to myself and my beliefs. I don’t forgive easily. I live my womanhood however I feel like. I like reading forbidden things, and I love being free. And if inheriting Edgewater means to cut off my wings to replace them with chains, then I don’t want it. I won’t have it, not with that price.”

    “But, the law—,”

    “FUCK THE LAW AND THE MORON WHO MADE IT,” She snapped. She took another breath and squared her shoulders, “I will continue this charade, but once the season is over, I will renounce my claim and pursue what I really want: live and enjoy my life on my own terms and laws, with the people I love and unapologetically. I will do what you haven’t done before: I will be free. You either support me genuinely or stand out of my way, because you won’t hold me back this time. Not anymore.”

    “Joanna, I—,”

    “Get out, Lady Grandmother.” She whispered, tears filling her eyes.

    “…Very well.”

    As she got out, the figure on the window sat on Joanna’s bed. She looked at her and asked “What do we know about him?”

    “He’s indeed alive and in France, currently doing some espionage. He knows about you, but he doesn’t know about the earl’s… passing.”

    She looked at her and said “Gods, Mama, say that he’s dead,”

    Odessa sighed, now looking hurt, “I just can’t believe it just yet. It all happened so quickly…”

    “I can’t imagine what it’s like to lose the love of your life and father of your child.”

    She winced before asking “What do we know about the girl? Is she really the chosen heiress?”

    “She is. I felt connected to her. And I know who’s the biological father.”

    “Who?”

    “Ernest Sinclaire of Ledford Park.”

    “I sense that there’s something between you two,”

    Joanna sighed “It’s not that simple,”

    “Why? You like him, he obviously likes you. What’s holding you back?”

    Joanna slumped on her bed, “Where do I even begin?”

    At the church, Joanna walked to the family seats, looking the perfect portrait of a mourning lady. Her mother was also there, at the back, dressed as a servant. She seemed to cry very silently, so silently that none of the staff even noticed. She had a veil that covered her face and her gloves back on her hands. Her red hair was perfectly coiffed and even prepared a speech.

    “Hello you too, Countess Henrietta. Mr. Marlcaster,”

    “You’re in our seats,”

    “Suck it up, Bitterta, I’m family. Blood relative, in case you’ve forgotten. Firstborn daughter. The heir of the house.” She tried to speak, but she lifted her hand, “You may sit away from me if you please, but I. Am. Not. Moving. The only way is grabbing me by the hair and making me. So choose. A spectacle, or get through this amicably.”

    The countess scoffed, and put on the hurt lamb face. But her mother was faster than the countess, “You stupid little girl! Who do you think you are? You should know your place and go back to your whoring at your pig farm while you can! Edgewater will be mine, to hell what the earl wanted!” She gasped when she realised what she had said aloud and Joanna took her opportunity. She pretended to be hurt and gasped.

    “You… don’t care about my father? I—I… I just wanted us to be a family. I even considered you a mother,” she heard a snort. Probably her mother, “and had grown fond of you.” She sniffled, “I get it. Mourn, if you will, and I will leave your space… Mama.”

    She held back her smirk and looked for familiar figures. The four of them were there. She decided to follow her heart and reached for Mr. Harper. He quickly took her hand and without saying a word, they went to their seats. He sat with the servants, near her mother.

    “Your Highness, I cannot imagine what you’re going through right now… losing so many people in less than a year…”

    Joanna sniffled, “I wouldn’t wish it on anybody. Not even Duke Richards.”

    “Shouldn’t you be with your family?”

    Joanna’s face hardened “Those who I consider family are all dead now.”

    Luke looked at Joanna. She placed her hand on his and held it tightly. As Bishop Monroe gave his speech about Joanna, she remembered the many times she was mocked because there wasn’t a man to take care of her. The many times she could hear her mother cry, holding a stack of letters. The many times she thought that loving her was a death sentence. When she first met him. Their picnics at the lake. Their commentary of Latin and philosophy. Their laughs. His questions about her mother’s adventures. Showing him funny spells. Their silent reading sessions. When she said goodbye to him.

    When he died before her eyes…

    Her heart accelerated. A knot formed itself on her ribcage and gasped for air. She stopped hearing the bishop’s voice. She stopped feeling Luke’s hand. She felt hot.

    “I… c-can’t…” She got up abruptly and ran away from the crowd, gasping for air, before she fell on her knees. She tried to get some air, but she couldn’t. She felt like she was dying. She felt five presences behind her, but she could not think about that now. Her breath was short and ragged, trembling violently.

    “I don’t—I don’t want to die,” She cried out.

    She felt something was off, and she closed her eyes. She felt a violent tremble all over her body, and finally gave up to the darkness.

    “I think she’s coming back to her senses now…”

    “…So many emotions bottled up…”

    “…heard the quake of the ground, Mr. Marlcaster?”

    “…something’s off with her,”

    She woke up in a sofa, a room away from the crowd. She looked around and saw Aunt Nene there, looking like she did an extenuating work waking her up, “What happened?”

    “You had a panic attack. You fainted, and before that, a bit of your power busted out of you and made the floor tremble. Your friends were worried,”

    “They were?”

    “Yes. May I call them in?”

    “…Leave that to me, Aunt Nene.”

    Later that night, Joanna and the Dowager Countess stood on the staircase, watching swaths of gentry folk enter the parlour. The dowager stiffened, a small, concerning look on her face. Joanna sighed “Worry not, Lady Grandmother. All that I wanted to say to you has been said. And I’m in no mood to argue again.”

    She nodded stiffly, “Do you feel better, dear?”

    “Yes, just a bit tired, I guess, but nothing that a glass of scotch shan’t fix.”

    “If you say so… I must rest now. I can’t take any more well-meaning condolences…”

    “Sleep tight, lady Grandmother.” Though the tension was high and Joanna felt like walking on eggs—not to mention she was sure her grandmother hated her—they both seemed to agree to leave the conversation for later. And they’d have a lot to talk about.

    She curtsied to her before making her way to the parlour, but before she has the chance to enter, she hears someone whispering her name. She whips her head to find Mr. Harper, and she smiles at him for a brief moment “I’m glad I caught you… The countess would have my head if I came inside,”

    “You people should start to stop being scared. She’s all bark.”

    “Easier said than done. But what I wanted to say is… should you need me… you can find me by the stables.”

    “It’s your safe haven. If I didn’t find you there, I’d worry,” then, she fumed “you ought to be mourning him, not be forced outside like some stranger! My father would’ve wanted you there.”

    He gave her a small smile before clearing his throat, “Aye, but in this case, I’m grateful. In a way, tending to the horses helps me grieve.”

    “Like a coping mechanism.”

    He arched a confused eyebrow and Joanna shrugged, “Psychology slang. What I mean, is that it’s your way to go through the tunnel of grief and find the acceptance of the loss of someone who you held in high regard.”

    “That’s an interesting way of seeing grief,” he commented.

    “It’s the way, you people just haven’t given it a name just yet.”

    The silence nearly killed her before he spoke up again, “I have a song I wish to share with you. Come find me later if you wish… we can escape for a while and we can remember your father together.”

    “I will spare it a thought,” She stood on her tiptoes and kissed his cheek for a brief moment before leaving to the parlour. She could swear she felt him smile.

    She scanned the room, looking for familiar faces when Mr. Chambers approached her. She gave him a weak smile, “Lady Joanna, may God rest your father’s soul and bless yours.”

    “Mr. Chambers, you’re a sweet fallen angel, as usual. I am grateful for your friendship and kind words.”

    He smiled gingerly “You flatter me unjustly. You look a proper lady tonight. Your father is smiling upon you, I’m sure.”

    “I do what I can to honour his memory and legacy.” She gave him a saddened smile “He would’ve been glad for your presence tonight.”

    His face fell “The earl was one of the first people who helped me navigate this society… I’m forever indebted to him.”

    “I haven’t realised that the two of you were close. The loss of a mentor is always awful.”

    “Not as much as a father’s loss.”

    She looked around before whispering in low voice “May I ask some… delicate matter?”

    He nodded before turning his head on her “What is it, Lady Joanna?”

    “Is it true? That you’re familiar with Marianna Howard and her daughter?”

    He gasped surprised “How do you know about them?”

    “I know it all, Mr. Chambers. Even the girl’s father,”

    He looked flushed, sparing a small stare to Mr. Sinclaire, “He doesn’t know yet. Miss Howard begged me to give him an audience in private, the three of them.”

    “And she shall have it. It is their destiny to find one another. He must know… but not now. Not yet. He isn’t ready for her yet, but he will be ready.”

    He was about to ask something “I… will leave you to your guests now.”

    She didn’t even bother. She didn’t want to push her luck just yet. She looked around the parlour, where she spotted Mr. Sinclaire and Prince Hamid sharing stories, about her father, she was sure. She too spotted Miss Parsons, frowning at Miss Sutton and Miss Bowman, and Mr. Marlcaster brooding by himself.

    She decided to join the men, who were deep in an anecdote “Do you remember the look on the Duke Northumberland’s face?” Prince Hamid asked.

    “He couldn’t have picked his jaw up with both hands even if he wanted to,” Mr. Sinclaire finished.

    “Well, that sounds like quite the scandal, go on.”

    “We are reminiscing the time your father fell asleep in Parliament,”

    Joanna snorted silently, incredulous “He what again? My responsible and dutiful Father, falling asleep in Parliament?”

    “We were both stunned when it happened…”

    I can imagine…

    “He must have been dreaming of the proceedings…” Continued Mr. Sinclaire, “When his name was called, he sat bolt upright and gave the proper speech without any faults.”

    Joanna bit her cheek, but in the end, she couldn’t help it. She let out a fit of laughter, her hand on her mouth to muffle the sound, doubling in laughter at the image. When she caught the sight of the men, she flushed and cleared her throat, looking away, but the men did not see scandalized by it.

    “It is refreshing to see you laugh at such a dark time, my lady. You’ve made me forget for a moment about my pain,” Commented Mr. Sinclaire.

    Hamid looked pleased and amused “I’m pleased that our small tale could make you laugh in such a hazardous time. It is always a delight to see you laugh,”.

    Joanna smiled for a brief moment, it seemed like a shadow. She looked up to them and nodded them thank you.

    “Your father was a most honourable man,” Said Mr. Sinclaire, his face now saddened. Joanna had remembered how much he had lost as a boy. She wished she could squeeze his hand.

    “Even in his blunders.” Hamid commented, gaining a guffaw from Joanna.

    “I’m relieved that he shall remain alive on our memories.”

    “For years to come.”

    “I’d venture centuries.”

    A group of noblewomen passed by her. They looked at her from head to toe before moving on. Joanna scoffed, clearly annoyed “Have they no shame or respect whatsoever? Oh, wait! Every titled noble is just like that.”

    “It cannot be easy for you to have so many eyes on you when your heart’s heavy.” Hamid sighed.

    “If you need to get away, I can take you to Ledford Park. It’s much more… inviting than a room full of gentry.” Mr. Sinclaire offered.

    “The stars provide me great solace. If you would like to go stargazing with me, I will be here waiting.”

    Joanna gave them a ghostly smile “I shall spare a thought to your requests.”

    They nodded their heads to her and she kept doing her rounds around the parlour. She walked over the trio of women.

    “She looks a proper lady today…” Miss Bowman mused.

    And you have that ugly dress still on.

    “I would hope so. It’s the earl’s funeral, after all…”

    Coming from you, that’s rich.

    “Miss Bowman, Miss Sutton, I cannot believe the two of you.” Miss Parsons snapped, an icy glare on them. Joanna looked at her with a surprised but pleased look.

    “Do you really have to gossip about my appearance at my father’s funeral? Don’t you two have something better to talk about…or do?” Joanna said, now glaring at them two.

    “Oh, Lady Joanna…” Miss Sutton threw her arms around her and she allowed it, patting amicably her back, “I’m so, so sorry, you must be so sad.” So many so’s. Her grip became even tighter.

    “I am. Thank you for your compassion and kindness, Miss Sutton.”

    She patted her back a few more times before she released her “Would hearing the latest news about Miss Holloway’s sister cheer you up?”

    “I won’t let you turn this day into a gossiping event, it’s shameful.” Miss Parsons spitted. Miss Bowman and Miss Sutton were stunned into silence by Miss Parsons’s sudden snap. Her face fell “I can’t stand to be part of this chatter and eyeing each other. Escape with me later if you wish… I’d love to show you my favourite Edgewater room. It always lifts my spirits.”

    How long has it been ever since they had a nice moment together? This could be a great opportunity to show her more of her powers and put her in contact with her kind… and biological father.

    “That sounds lovely. I shall consider your proposal.”

    She squeezed Miss Parsons’s hand before leaving the group.

    She saw Mr. Marlcaster by himself, with a glass of scotch, staring at the window “Mr. Marlcaster... I’d ask you how you feel, but since it’s a stupid question, I just wanted to say… I’m sorry. I don’t know how this must be for you… after your biological father’s death…”

    He looked up to her “You… remembered.”

    “You know, I do pay attention when you speak.”

    He swirled his glass, accidentally spilling. She gave him a handkerchief and helped him. He nodded her thank you, “He was the only father I ever knew…”

    “I know the feeling very well.”

    “I’ve lost two fathers…”

    She placed her hand on his elbow and gave it a squeeze “I truly am sorry. I cannot begin to fathom what it must feel like.”

    “I…Thank you, my lady. It’s really kind of you.”

    She sighed before confessing “Just because I’m always collected and seem in control does not mean I am not capable of empathy or to have feelings or thoughts. I am a human being, just like you, with the same beating heart and soul. You, me and everybody. Some of us are just better at hiding the feeling of wanting to scream and send everything to hell and curl yourself in bed, not facing the world for a long time.”

    He swallowed “I… did not know we had so much in common…”

    “I’m not that bad, sir, when you get to know me. Some people say I can be quite nice to be with, just like you. Everybody is a handful in their own way, and that’s fine. We’re not perfect.”

    “Perhaps… you’re not so bad.”

    She chuckled “Likewise.”

    He stared to the ground “I’m sorry… for your loss too.”

    “Thank you, brother.”

    She studied him carefully before giving him a small hug. At first, he resisted, but then, he gave in and joined her embrace, “Should you need someone to smash things or just talk or be with you… you know where to find me.”

    He nodded and finished his scotch “I’ll try my best for you as well… but first, I need more scotch.”

    He staggered off to refill his glass. She turned around to watch the room and saw some people clutching their hearts. She looked around to chat with other group when she heard some people whispering her name. Not standing it anymore, she went out to breathe some air.

    “I can’t stay another moment with those hyenas…”

    She thought again of the all tempting offers of the four people she needed to see. Ernest’s tour to Ledford Park… stargazing with Hamid… Luke’s song… and Annabelle’s favourite room in Edgewater…

    “I must get away for a while… and have a sincere talk…”

    She decided to go to Mr. Sinclaire first. She saw him standing with Miss Sutton, his lips pursed in a thin line, enduring her ceaseless chatter. His eyes softened at the sight of hers.

    “Can you believe the countess did not shed a tear during the service? I know she’s a bit… intense. That just seems unheard of from a widow.”

    “I, um…” He tried to say.

    “Maybe she has already shed all the tears she could muster… If my Mr. Marlcaster were to die… Oh, I can’t even bear the thought!”

    “Miss Sutton, my dear, while Mr. Sinclaire is clearly entertained by your interesting conversation, I’m afraid I must nick him from you. There is some matter of vital importance I must speak with him right away.” She gave her the most convincing ‘I’m serious’ look.

    “Yes, I’ve been waiting… a few hours to talk about that matter. You must excuse us, Miss Sutton.”

    She seemed to take the hint and nodded “Of course, excuse me…”

    He let out a slow sigh of relief as Miss Sutton scurried to the next conversation at sight.

    “I appreciate the rescue, Lady Joanna.”

    “Funny, I thought that the rescuer of the night could be you… I’d love that Ledford Park tour if you’re up to it.”

    “Certainly.”

    He escorted her out of the manor and into the crispy night. After a short walk, her eyes went up the big, imposing manor… she chuckled, impressed. It was a tall and large manor, made of white marble stone and with an impressive architecture.

    “The famous Ledford Park… it’s one of the most impressive manors I’ve ever beheld.”

    “Thank you, my lady, though I have very little credit for its architecture. It was built during the Renaissance by its founder.”

    She squeezed his arm, “It turned out beautifully.”

    He smiled at her and led her through the gardens, its flowers welcoming her presence. He cleared his throat “I’m still getting used to… well, your hidden world.”

    “It can be a lot, yes.” She stopped on her tracks and sighed “Though I did say the truth back there… there is something I must talk to you about. It concerns who you are… and your destiny.”

    “What do you mean?” He asked, now looking at her attentively.

    “Back when you summoned the sword… it’s just the tip of the iceberg of what you can do. You’re descended from a powerful bloodline of Nighthunters, bound to protect mortals from the evil monsters that lurk in the shadows. It’s similar to magic, but with certain works… it takes years to learn all the tricks.”

    “You mean… I can do magic?”

    “In a way, yes.” She nodded at his sword “The sword is blessed with elven magic. Only a firstborn Sinclaire may have it, for the firstborn has the needed power to wield it. You, for that matter, are the new wielder of the sword, as your father was once, long ago, and as it shall be with your firstborn.”

    He chuckled bitterly “I do not have a firstborn of my own.”

    She took a few steps behind and threw him a ball of ice. He gasped and put both hands in front of him, shielding him from the impact! A blue shield appeared from him and melted the ice. He gasped, staring at his hands.

    “To harness the power inside us, we must have control over our emotions and instincts first. Your instinct of survival saved you from me freezing you to death. Just as your primal emotion of punching someone can be lethal if not well dealt with. That’s the secret of controlling magic. Emotions. Motives. Instinct. Intentions. Those four are the keys to true power. A man who can control oneself is a powerful man.”

    “It’s all it takes?”

    “And practise.” She snapped her fingers and a small ball of light appeared on her hand. “You must visualize what you want to show or do. Focus on it. Ask your inner self to summon it.”

    He closed his eyes and snapped his fingers. And again. And again. A small butterfly came out of his fingers and he chuckled “It’s incredible. Am I really able to do that?”

    “Yes. Try something else. You can get a memory from me.”

    He closed his eyes and placed his hand on her cheek. Her mind wandered back to the carriage, the puffy scenery, their bodies together, nearly pressed against one another, her pupils blown wide and her heavy breathing. The image of her under him. Her warmth. But this time, he did not pull back, but against him, gaining a gasp from her, almost feeling her bust against his chest. His lips almost touched hers when he took off the hand.

    “Hm. Could’ve sworn you enjoyed that new version.”

    “I… did not meant disrespect to you, my lady.”

    She placed her finger on his lips “You cannot disrespect me if that’s what I want too.” She saw how he lost his breath for a moment, blushing furiously.

    He cleared his throat “About your closed-in feeling… I had a similar sentiment when my father died. The quiet anguish of having all eyes trained on you is an intensely personal time.”

    “Those bunch of egocentric hyenas whispering about you even in your darkest time is mostly rude. It is frowned upon not to talk about the deceased during a funeral. Many are kicked out in The Circle for disrespecting the mourning moment to a grieving kin or close acquaintance. Poor Nya would be beyond scandalized if someone talks about something that isn’t the deceased or to express condolences.”

    “How does one grieve in your city?”

    “It’s an emotional and personal process. There’s a private mass where the family says goodbye, no matter if you’re a bastard or a new-born. It’s rude to deny a member of the family their rightful place there and it is encouraged to leave the bad blood for the day. We bury our dead sooner. You have a whole night to prepare the body and then we get it to the Holy Chapel where the family mourns and says its goodbyes and things left unsaid for four hours before the public mass. Until dawn, the chapel is open and then we bury it. In my family’s case we have a special pantheon for our members and bury them there. We leave a token or a letter and we burn it there, for it represents that you’re sending it to your loved one. Then we host a dinner with people who were close to the deceased, they stay over and, in the morning, we have some drinks in the gardens and everyone expresses their condolences with either a story or something that reminds us of them and build an aisle. My deceased uncles, Fabian and Niklaus have their own at my house’s garden with their best portraits. Each member of the family has a portrait. I shall have mine when it’s time. Every October we gather to honour our dead and fallen ones. It’s quite a lovely ceremony.”

    “That’s a beautiful way to mourn someone, and with far more respect to the family.” He said frankly.

    “What was your father like to you?”

    “My father was an upstanding and honourable man. He treated the responsibility of upholding the family name with grave importance. Most importantly, he taught me that it isn’t a man’s name what makes him great, but his character.”  

    “He sounds like a wise man one would like to have around.”

    “In a word, yes.” He smiled.

    They walked in a wistful silence around the gardens when Joanna cleared her throat.

    “There is something else you must know… about your future and destiny.” She took a deep breath “Nya may have mentioned you, but there is a girl that will soon come to your life. She will be all alone and… you’re all she has. She has an important role in both our lives.”

    “What do you mean?”

    “Just…” She cleared her throat and looked around the gardens “Did your grandmother design the gardens here as she did with Edgewater?”

    Ernest noticed her wish to change the subject and he obliged. He’d have that conversation with her later “The way I’ve heard it, she buried the roots of every plant with her own bare hands.” He said proudly.

    “She had a way with nature. I love this view.”

    As they moved further into the gardens, they found themselves a gurgling fountain. Mr. Sinclaire quirked a smile “I was… a rather sullen child—,”

    “You’re a rather sullen adult, but continue.”

    “Yes, yes. When I got into a mood, my mother would bring me into this fountain and make a wish. She said that it was easy to sulk when you couldn’t put a name to your gloom, but once you spoke your wish, you had a goal to guide you forward. Now, it’s difficult to me to be anything but hopeful in this place.” He beamed.

    “Wise counsel indeed. We should give it a go!” She suggested. Mr. Sinclaire produced two coins from his coat pocket and gave one to her “Will you indulge me a demonstration?” He turned to the fountain and momentarily ruminated over the coin, which he held poised between thumb and forefinger “Allow me to guess, you’ll wish for me to stop being so secretive about everything.”

    “Not exactly, but you’re close.”

    He turned back to the fountain and raised the coin to his lips. He kissed it, and tossed it into the burbling water. She chuckled.

    “Are you prepared, or do you need an additional demonstration?”

    “Will you let me do the wish or you aren’t done being a smartass?” She chided back.

    Joanna repeated his actions and decided to tease him “I wish to be kissed by the beau beside me.” She kissed the coin and tossed it over the water. She glanced at Mr. Sinclaire, whose gaze had turned into a longing one. He took her hand and slowly raised it to his lips, then pressed a gentle kiss on the back of it. She grabbed gently his cheek and begged him close “I’m not a clueless virgin. You won’t scandalize me or disappoint me if you wish to kiss me there. You have my full consent.” She drew with her thumb his lips, then kissed his cheek sensually, then placed her hands over his chest. He swallowed hard, his eyes darkening before clearing his throat.

    “It is not that I don’t wish this, it’s just… I am aware of your experience, but my respect for you is too big to disrespect your persona that way. I would ruin you. I—,”

    “I don’t care about what those bunch of vipers have to say. I know well what I want and I normally get it. Or you don’t wish to have me?”

    He drew a breath “More than anything in the world. That’s why I must do right by you.” He said it without thinking.

    She whispered to his ear “It’s my life. My body. My bed where you’ll come. I get to decide whom I bring to my bed, not them. And I know that you want it too.”

    She could feel how he lost his breath “Not yet, my sweet. Not yet.”

    Her face turned to his, now as close as they were in the bridge “Very well. Now escort me home before I regret it and transport you somewhere private where no one shall disturb us until I’m done with you.”

    He nodded, swallowing hard before walking home, at a respectful distance. He seems to mull over something before calling her name “Lady Joana… that is, Ledford Park is at your disposal, should you need comfort again.”

    “I’m counting on it.”

    He began to lead her back to Edgewater. Back in the foyer, he kissed her hand and slipped away to retire to Ledford Park for the night.

    She took a deep breath and weaved back to the parlour and walked up to Miss Parsons and Mr. Chambers, who were in the middle of a rather awkward conversation.

    “It’s been, uh, quite a warm April, hasn’t it?”

    “Mr. Chambers, my dear friend, while Miss Parsons is clearly enjoying the conversation, there’s a girl emergency that requires Miss Parsons’s assistance right away. You understand, don’t you?”

    “But we were having the most riveting conversation.” Miss Parsons teased.

    “I quite understand, my lady. I have, uh, pressing matters to address with Mr. Konevi.”

    Joanna smiled charmingly “Of course. Tell him that I said hi!”

    He politely bowed his head to both women and walked over gingerly to Mr. Konevi. She smiled at them and grabbed Miss Parsons’s arm, “Let’s get out of here before these hyenas notice that we’re away.”

    “Let’s away, yes!” Miss Parsons beamed.

    Miss Parsons playfully took her hand and ran towards the stairs, into her father’s study. Joanna chuckled bitterly, remembering their times there before all of this entire mess in general. The familiar scent of tea, old wood and leather chairs swirled right into her nostrils and a tear escaped her eye.

    “Ahh, this room feels like home. I’ve been meaning to show it to you for ages!” Miss Parsons said, giddy.

    “No need for that. Here’s where I met my father for the first time…”

    “Joanna! To think that you’ve been keeping it from me all this time… Isn’t it a wonderful place?”

    She nodded to herself “It really is.”

    Both women laughed and nodded to themselves. Joanna traced with her fingers the spines of the books, stacked tightly on the bookshelves.

    “I can’t imagine not meeting my father until I was grown… What was that like?” Miss Parsons asked.

    Joanna sighed, “It was… bittersweet. All the journey, I asked myself why didn’t he come looking for me before. Was I not enough to him? Did he consider me a mistake? Would he laugh at me and use me as a charity for the estate reputation’s sake? Would he kick me out once he got to know me? Would he lock me up? But then, I came into this room… and the fear washed itself away. How gentle, how kind, how nurturing and loving he was… the way we had so much in common and the million topics we talked and the plans made for when the season was over and we had the rest of the year ahead of us… tea in here while discussing who was a better poet or our favourite Tudor consort and why, my mother’s shenanigans… it was all magical. And to be deprived of that so suddenly… no matter for how long I live, I know it will always hurt. This day will always hurt. The day the man I loved the most died before my eyes with so much left unsaid and pending things. My only hope is that time passes fast so we may find each other and be a happy family again, this time the three of us. Not Countess Henrietta, no society, no rules of decorum… just us, being free and happy.”

    Annabelle ghosted a smile “That’s a beautiful sentiment. Your father was unlike any other men of his station. He cared dearly for every person in his life.”

    Joanna smiled sourly, nodding in agreement, the pain of loss too unbearable.

    “Ah! I have a wonderful idea! We should paint your father. I’ve been itching to paint again.” She suggested, her usual beaming smile on her face.

    “Well… my psychologist does tell me that putting all my emotions in crafting when I can’t put them into words can be good for me.”

    Miss Parsons blinked, not understanding a word “I’m sorry?”

    “A psychologist is a doctor of emotions and damaged minds. Their speciality is to help you have more emotional intelligence and power over your emotions without damaging anyone or yourself in the process. It’s scary at first, to share your deepest thoughts with a stranger, but it’s for the best. They’re trained to do so. They never judge or mock you, but understand you and through a connection between patient and psychologist. I think they will be the future of society, though it’s a long way before they’re noticed.”

    “That…sounds kind of nice, actually. Will you introduce me to one?”

    “When you visit The Circle, I promise you, it will be the first thing that I will show you of its society will be her.”

    “Wait, her? As in a woman?” She asked, shocked.

    “Yep! Both women and men can be doctors and nurses and surgeons and… well, everything they wish to be.”

    “E-even artists?”

    “Especially artists. It has been a rising of female artists since the Baroque.”

    “Your city truly sounds like a dream,” She squealed “you’re really tempting me to escape there and make my way into the world!”

    Joanna placed her hand into her cheek and whispered “I’d love nothing more than welcome you into the city and help you thrive into Dracarian Society,” They looked at each other intensely before Joanna cleared her throat, “So, um, shall we paint?”

    “I was hoping you’d say yes… I confess I grabbed your easel out from your parlour early today.”

    Joanna chortled, “Snagging my things already, are we?”

    “Can you blame me?” She beamed “You’re learning so quickly, I’m confident you’ll catch his likeness!”

    Joanna looked away shyly “I really hope so.”

    Miss Parsons let out a rather loud squeal “Let’s set up over there.”

    “Why, someone’s eager, alright.”

    She stood the canvas on the easel and mixed the needed colours. She closed her eyes, recalling her dear father’s features, his smile, his kind eyes, his grey hair, … For a small moment, she could feel his presence, beaming at her… she lifted her brush and started painting.

    “Back when I first started calling on Harry, I used to sneak in here and read. He liked to joke that I came here because of the books instead of him.”

    “I mean, what’s a man compared to a whole universe of fun that does not disappoint you at some point?” Joanna teased.

    “I get your point, but Harry never disappointed. He was also very different from many men in court. He was a delight to have around, and never asked anything of me.”

    “You’re fond of him. He seems far more likeable than me.”

    Miss Parsons looked at her intensely, “No one is as delightful or likeable as you, Joanna.”

    Her heart thumped at a deadly speed, threatening to get out, making her gulp. She took a deep, steady breath before continuing painting, her brush tracing delicately in the easel, “Ahem, so, why didn’t you simply use your estate’s library?”

    “Your father had the best books. His library is full of philosophy and politics and theory… all of my favourites.”

    Joanna smirked “A woman who nurtures her mind is a woman after my own heart.”

    Miss Parsons winked at her “Likewise.” Feeling bold, with her free hand she lifted it and trailed her hand over her arm sensually, licking her lips and biting her lower one. Annabelle’s breath got caught and traced her fingers over her knuckles, “Joanna, we’ll never finish the portraits if you continue flirting like that.” She teased.

    “Trust me, love, I can do way better… I’m just warming up.”

    She caressed with her lips her knuckles and focused on the painting, leaving her panting faintly. She cleared her throat “One day I snuck here to read ‘An Enquiry Concerning Political Justice’ by William Godwin…”

    “I sense that it didn’t end up well…”

    She nodded and fumed “I was just grasping his thesis in the third chapter… When Countess Henrietta snatched the book out of my hand!”

    Joanna rolled her eyes so hard she thought she’d become blind “Ugh, Bitterta again. Is her life so boring and uneventful that she has to torment people?”

    “Right?! All I wanted was peace! Anyways, she told me the book was improper for a lady to be reading, far too studious. Do you believe it?”

    “Actually, I do. Grown-ups tend to tell us women that we shouldn’t be smarter or too studious because we’d get ‘wrong ideas’ and end up in a bawdy place, when all they want is to indoctrinate us into being submissive, quiet and obedient towards them, therefore, they avoid being questioned and even called out when they’re being horrible with you. If you’re smart, you will be able to perceive what they do right and wrong and they will no longer have the power to give you the ideas they want to give you, especially about men and marriage.”

    “That’s a really impressive observation, Lady Joanna. And you’re probably right. She slammed the book closed and shooed me off the room… But your father was on the other side of the door!” She smiled “he said if I wanted to discuss Godwin, I could always sneak into his study after my visits with Harry ended. We started meeting weekly at three for discussions, and he’d give me a new book to read each time. I’m convinced it was the greatest secret tradition ever.”

    Joanna smiled at her “My mother insisted on educating me like a true lady. She taught me oratory, politics, science, mathematics, physics, physical education of all sorts, singing, dancing, architecture, literature, history of all kind, war tactics, … There isn’t a book in my library in The Circle I did not read or memorized by heart. Though I refused to paint and play the pianoforte, but I play the violin quite cleverly.” She winked.

    “And the men in your life never said a thing?”

    “They encouraged and participated in my education! I also learned Atticus Greek, Classic and Archaic Latin, French, Hebrew, Russian, Pre-Columbine languages, Spanish, Prussian and many other languages.”

    “Wow! You really are an accomplished lady! I don’t think I could learn all of that, especially being fluent in ten languages! You must be the most educated woman I’ve ever met!”

    “Well, I’m not the first.”

    Miss Parsons sighed “I wish I were that smart.”

    “Annie… you are smart, in your own way. I’ve met people who have bachelors and degrees of the best schools but in society they’re poor buffoons. In fact, there are different kinds of intelligence, both intellectual and emotional. And I’d love to teach you all about ethics and morals,” she winked “It’ll be one of the most interesting dates.”

    “A date, you say?”

    Joanna decided to make her laugh, imitating the countess’s high falsetto “A woman studying something that isn’t about being submissive and obedient and demure?! My, it is indeed a scandal! Oh my, you youngsters will be the death of polite society! Ohh!” Then she pretended to faint, thing that made Annabelle laugh loudly, and she joined her.

    “I hear Miss Parsons has been filling her mind with politics! How dreadfully scandalous for a lady!”

    Joanna adopted Duke Richards’s exaggerated high tenor voice “Indeed, my lady! Women ought to be stupid, meek and obedient to do my bidding! Oh, I can hardly stand the image! Excuse me, ladies, but such scandal requires me to go back to Wankerland, where I am King of Pathetic! Excuse moi!” And levelled her thigh up, as if hinting to show off his friend and marched through the door and pretended to slam, “Oh, my! I am such a big wanker that I cannot fit in the door! Guess I’ll get drunk by fantasies that will never become true, such as a lady enduring my endless talking about me until I am too drunk to even think!” She sat on the floor and jumped, “Oh, I forgot! I don’t think because I have no braincells!”

    Miss Parsons was red with laughter, on the floor, barely making a noise as she laughs, clutching her stomach. Joanna crawled at her, crying of laughter, both on the floor, the painting forgotten.

    “I did not know you were such a comedian, Joanna!” She said between laughter.

    “Another part of my education. It’s called: most men are stupid.” She fitted another laugh.

    Annabelle laughed again, coughing out of dryness because of the amount of time laughing.

    “I feel like I’m ten again.” Joanna commented.

    Annabelle nodded, wiping her tears off the face, “We should continue the paintings.” She giggled “I’m not seeing Duke Richards entering through a door the same again.”

    She peeked over her painting “Joanna! Your painting is coming out beautifully! You make a quick study…” She seemed certainly impressed.

    “I happen to have an excellent teacher.” She winked.

    Miss Parsons looked her own painting and furrowed her brows “Oh, posh! Your painting is turning out better than mine!”

    Joanna teased her again, “At long last, I dethrone the queen!”

    They both giggled, “You’re terrible! I’ll still beat you to finish, though!”

    Joanna snorted “You do realise I have super-speed, right?”

    “But I have experience by my side!” She sticked her tongue out.

    “Well, I’m not going down without a fight!”

    Miss Parsons turned back on her painting, her nose scrunching up in concentration. Joanna reached out and curled one curl of hair around her finger sensually. Annabelle leaned in her caress, her paintbrush slowing “Joanna, I can’t concentrate with you doing that… Wait, was it your plan all along?”

    “Maaaaybe…”

    “You tease… we’ll never finish if you don’t focus! Try all you wish, but I will finish first! I can’t help that I’m such an accomplished lady!”

    She drew her last words with a sense of importance. Both women shared a laugh and turned back to their paintings.

    “I wonder, did Harry ever join you and my father in the study?”

    “Harry was not the most… studious man. Your father liked that I wanted to support Harry in that way.”

    Joanna frowned “Shame. At least he was smart, wasn’t he?”

    “Socially smart, yes.” She sighed, her expression falling “After Harry died, our meetings slowed, and the ones we did have took a different tone. And now…”

    “You feel guilty about skipping the meetings with him and have this regret in your heart.”

    Annabelle nodded, “I think I know how you feel now. I thought I could make it up to him, but…”

    “Life and London happened.”

    Annabelle smiled through tears “You have this ability to read me like a book.”

    Joanna squeezed her hand, “I’m just observant and perceptive. Alas, we still have each other. You don’t always lose, you can also win, and if you need me… I’ll be there. I will always be there for you.”

    Annabelle beamed at her “Your company is what has kept me sane through all of this.” They both wiped each other’s tears and focused again on the paintings, adding the final touches and standing back to survey them. Joanna smiled satisfied to herself “Oh, Joanna! This is so lifelike!” She gasped, clearly impressed by her friend’s actions.

    “I must thank my incredible memory and recent events for the outcome.” She smiled, proud of herself.

    “And a wealth of natural talent.” Miss Parsons added.

    She looked at the painting and caressed it, now feeling his presence behind her, “I’m certain he would’ve loved to see these.”

    “Absolutely! You should hang it in this room!” Annabelle suggested.

    “Only if you hang yours in the Edgewater room of earls and countesses.”

    She smiled at her “Deal. There’s a space over the fireplace that would be perfect for it.”

    She nodded “It’s though as he left that space for me only.”

    Both women took each corner of the painting and hung it over the wall with care and smiled to themselves.

    Now you shan’t be forgotten, Papa.

    “I wish I could’ve thanked him once more for bringing you into my life.”

    Joanna smirked at her “There was a first time?”

    They both chuckled as Joanna hugged Annabelle by the waist. She kissed her temple and both women admired their work and all the memories within.

    “Annabelle… thank you. For being always there for me. I don’t know how I could’ve gotten through all of this without your aid.”

    She smiled at her “You talk me up too much… But I feel the same way, Joanna.”

    She smiled at Annabelle and took her hands, drawing small ghosts on her knuckles “My father would’ve certainly loved the idea of us painting together.” She sighed “All he ever wanted for me was to be happy, and I can’t think of more joyous moments than when I’m with you.” She didn’t even think about it, she just said it.

    “Oh, Joanna, are you trying to give me heart flutters?”

    “If that were the case, I would do… this.” She lifted her hand and caressed the road of the vein of her arm and kissed it with sensuality and longing, “And this…” She kissed her wrist and with one swift movement, grabbed gently with one hand her cheek and the other went to her curls. With her thumb, she traced her lips and massaged her hair, gaining a gasp from Annabelle. She kissed her cheek. Her other cheek. Her jaw. Her earlobe. The hand on her hair went to her waist and drew circles on it, her lips merely inches away. Miss Parsons happily obliged as her hands went to the back of her neck and their lips nearly touched, already savouring it…

    When suddenly, the door slams wide open! Joanna and Annabelle jump back and both glare at the arse who interrupted their moment.

    “Have any of you seen where Mr. Marlcaster is? Miss Sutton has sent me on a wild goose chase for him. I swear.”

    Joanna gave her an icy glare that could’ve melted her insides in seconds “I don’t know where the dingus is and I don’t give a flying fuck. Go elsewhere, he is not here.”

    “And wherever he is, he may want to be left alone… so he can grieve in his own way.”

    “Now fuck off and don’t come back.” Added Joanna.

    Miss Bowman shrugged, trying not to show her fear towards Joanna’s deadly glare that had wakened an ice cold on her back, and wandered off the hall, continuing her search.

    “Now that the annoying minion is gone… where were we?”

    Annabelle took a deep breath “We should better leave….”

    Joanna cleared her throat “Of course. I’d hate to put you through more trouble.”

    She took a last look at the painting and hurried downstairs.

    “I’ll return to the guests now.” She squeezed her hand and scurried off, leaving her alone in the foyer.

    She grabbed her bottle and gave it a rather generous chug before considering what to do next.

    Her eyes went back where Mr. Harper had scurried off before, the door still open. She glanced around before going to the promised place. As she approached the stables, she heard a beautiful song with a mournful theme, drifting towards her with the soft breeze.

    “Your voice, which guided me so far, now fades to memory…”

    That must be Mr. Harper.

    Entering the stables, she saw Luke with his fiddle, sitting on a stool, singing to the horses. Bellefleur neighed at the sight of her owner. Mr. Harper stopped playing at the sight of her “Lady Joanna.” He smiled.

    “Mr. Harper, that was a lovely song. I’ve missed your music since our tea in London.”

    “You only must name it, my lady, and I shall sing for you.”

    Joanna smiled at him, “I’m counting on that. Though, why are you playing such a lovely song all alone?”

    “I have the horses to keep me company. They have been on edge since your father died.”

    “Haven’t we all?”

    “Their reason is that the earl used to visit the horses every night. It’s how I got to know him.” His face fell “They have taken notice of his absence, and they miss him. I was playing them a song to calm their nerves… and mine too.”

    “This must be difficult for you… I know how much you respected my father.”

    “Aye, more than any man of his station.”

    Joanna chuckled “I know what you mean.”

    “I’ll miss having him around the stables.”

    Her face fell, “You and everybody.”

    Mr. Harper rose and extended his hand to her “What say we go outside and enjoy the cool air of the night?”

    “My answer is yes.” She took his hand and allowed him to guide her outside.

    Mr. Harper led her through the gardens, near the lake. She looked at the water, now dark blue and then, to the path they just came from.

    “You said that my father used to visit the stable. How come I never knew?”

    “It seemed to be some sort of ritual to him. Horses have always been important to Edgewater, and that legacy was important to the earl. He took notice of my way with animals and we talked through the evening.”  

    “I get it, you know,” Joanna said, looking at the sky, “having a legacy to protect at all costs. I used to visit the stables in the Circle, to check that this was real, that I was indeed an Imperial Princess. I, too, shared interests with the Empress. She said that my family’s castle was the most beautiful she had ever witnessed on her 955 years of life.”

    “How is she like? The Empress, I mean.”

    Joanna chuckled “Sweet. Wise beyond her centuries. With a knack for knowing what might happen next. Even when her husband, the emperor, was still alive, she was just as important as him. There was a royal bard that compared them to King Arthur and Queen Guinevere.”

    “I never made it to The Circle. I had many chances, but my patron was fearful of what they could do to me in there.”

    Joanna scoffed “The Circle is not London. We are very open-minded. Sure! There’s an arse who has a narrow mind and still lives in a cavern, but there are many of those everywhere. They wouldn’t reject you for what you think. We’re just weary of mortals because of the genocides and burnings, but not because of your race or upbringing. It’s such nonsense to hate on someone for being different! Not to mention exhausting. No other person on the planet is the same. We’re all unique. The sooner you humans own it up, the better.”

    “That’s the secret of a thriving civilization?”

    “Exactly.”

    Mr. Harper smiled down to her “You will be a great Empress.”

    “Why do you think so?”

    “You know your history. You are wise, and look out for your people, and you’re fearless and inspiring, and likeable. How could you not be a good Empress?”

    They walked through several paces, staring at the moonlit plants.

    “So, Mr. Harper, I believe I was promised a song?”

    “Aye, you were, though you heard some of it.”

    “Did you write it? Impressive.”

    “I surely did. I started writing it after your father passed… though I confess I do not know how to finish it.” He looked at her through the eyelashes “I hoped you might help me.”

    “I’d love to. Let’s hear it, then.”

    Mr. Harper released her arm and placed the fiddle within his chin. He guided his bow across the strings, eliciting the same haunting melody she heard before.

    “Your voice, which guided me so far, now fades to memory… And though I carry you in my heart, it seems you’re lost to me. If I could, I’d follow you to the realms beyond my sight. But in lieu, I’ll think of you, as you pass into the night.” Mr. Harper’s hands and voice went still, and looked at Joanna expectantly.

    “I think it should end up as ‘To show me how to be someone who you would be proud of.’”

    Luke looked at her with fondness “He was proud of you, you know that, right?”

    Joanna chuckled bitterly, “I hope you’re right.” A half-smile spread all over her face, and she drew out a sigh “You know, I’ve played many instruments, but never the fiddle.”

    “I’ve taught many fellow soldiers the basics. If you see that as a worthy instruction, I would be happy to do the same for you.”

    Joanna smiled at him “It never hurts to learn more. I pretty much dominate the pianoforte; this should be a piece of cake.”

    Mr. Harper handed her the fiddle and placed it gently against her chin “When using the bow,” he started explaining, now his voice in a teaching tone, “let the weight of your hand provide the power. Use your muscles only to provide guidance.” He stepped back and waited for her to begin. Joanna placed the bow on the strings, a beautiful melody coming out of her hands, a melody about how one was lost in oneself, yearning to find their place in the world. Luke beamed at her, “I knew you could do it, though I’d like to provide you some guidance. May I?”

    “Please.”

    Mr. Harper moved behind her and placed his hands over the neck of the bow, covering her own hands. Joanna couldn’t just ignore the pressure of his body against her, the solidity of his muscles. She hummed pleased “Like this.” He moved her hands, tilting the bow and drawing it effortlessly across the strings “You will certainly get the hang of it with a bit of practise.”

    Joanna decided to be a bit coy, and started to move in tandem with Mr. Harper, allowing his hands to guide hers, creating a beautiful melody “It’s beautiful…” She commented.

    “Aye, like the woman who made it.”

    Joanna smirked at him, pressing her body against his, gaining from him a muffled squeak “Give yourself some credit, my dear Mr. Harper.”

    He cleared his throat and stepped aside. Joanna took the hint, thanking him for his guidance. He responded humbly “My fiddle and I are at your disposal, should you ever desire another lesson.”

    “What if what I desire is you?”

    He swallowed hard “Don’t do that, my lady.”

    She looked at him with intensity “Do what exactly?”

    He looked at her, his eyes burning with yearning and reluctance “Don’t give me hopes that I know will never become true.”

    She grabbed his chin and whispered “If someone is to choose whom I want in my life, it is me, sir. Not them.”

    She returned the instrument back to Mr. Harper, who ducked back into the stables to stow it. The few moments he was gone, Joanna took an earnest look at the large estate, weighing her options. When would be the right time to tell them? That the true heir was alive? That she wouldn’t be Countess, but Empress instead? That their lives were about to change… forever? That a war would start at any moment, any time?

    She envied those mortals who when they closed their eyes, they saw only darkness. When she did so, she saw too many things: she saw mayhem, possibilities of all kind, she saw the future and the past. Too many things for her own sanity.

    As Mr. Harper emerged, Joanna realised a reality she had been trying to delay for too long, her eyes welling with tears “Luke…”

    “What is it? Are you alright, my lady?”

    “Thomas… my father… everybody I loved, love and will love will die at some point, while I will live forever. I will always be all alone. Which means I’ll never be happy… or able to fully commit, knowing that the person will die at some point.”

    He moved closer to her and placed a comforting hand on her arm, “You will be far from alone, my lady. You have your family, Briar, Miss Parsons… and you have me. Others care about you… even Mr. Sinclaire seems to be warming up to you, and I’ve never seen him being so amiable with anyone, save your father.”

    Joanna chuckled between tears “All of them will die, in, what, eighty years? For you that’s a lifetime. For me, I will be only beginning my life.”

    He gave her arm a comforting squeeze “Even if we do all die in the end but you, we will all be glad to be beside you and some of us might have families of our own… even you, if that’s your call.”

    “I… won’t deny that the family might start growing at some point… The loneliest man of the ton will finally be able to form his own family.”

    Mr. Harper frowned “What do you mean, my lady?”

    She took a deep breath “I cannot say much, but… the Goddesses have chosen my heir, and her father is among us.”

    “Who is he?”

    Joanna sighed “I cannot tell you; but no, he isn’t aware that he has a living firstborn daughter… yet. But he will. With time. And my guidance.”

    She glanced down at his hand, still on her arm. A big storm was coming, yes, but she didn’t mind. As long as she had him by her side, she’d be fine.

    “May I know her name?” He asked of all sudden.

    “She doesn’t have one… yet. I was thinking Tatiana, or Colette, or Eleanor.”

    “Whatever name you choose her, I know you’ll be a great mother figure to her. Is he at least married?”

    Joanna frowned “I’m sorry… I wish I could tell you all about it, but I can’t. I made the mother a vow to keep her secret safe from everybody. It’s not personal, I swear.”

    He nodded “I understand.”

    She gave him a thankful smile and cleared her throat, wiping out the tears away. Battling against her own common sense, she leaned her head against his shoulder. He reached up to stroke her own hair “We are all so fortunate to have you here, Lady Joanna.”

    “Mr. Harper… Luke… Thank you. You’ve taught me today to worry about the future when it comes. I shall now look at what I have certainty about: the here and now.”

    “I am pleased of being of aid.”

    She leaned and kissed his cheek tenderly. Mr. Harper stiffed for a moment, not expecting such an improper behaviour, but he did not seem displeased. His cheeks were burning, but he felt in heaven for a moment, like he had been lifted to it. His cheek felt cold the moment her mouth left his skin, his heart beating at an impossible rate.

    They stood there for a moment before Joanna stared at the lights of the imposing manor.

    “I regret to say this… but we should head back, for our sakes.”

    “Aye, that’s likely for the best. If it would please you, I’d like to walk you to the door.”

    Joanna smiled at him “I’d love nothing more.”

    Mr. Harper obliged and accompanied her back to the entry of the manor. She bid him adieu and returned to her guests, one last person in mind before doing what she had been waiting for a long time.

    She took a deep breath and walked straight to Prince Hamid’s direction, chatting animatedly with Mr. Konevi. He was gesticulating widely, but as soon as his eyes saw Joanna, he dropped his arms, his beam visible from the other side of the room “I hope I’m not interrupting something too interesting.”

    “Not at all! Mr. Konevi, I will finish my tale another time. No story is a match for the company of a handsome heiress. You understand, no?”

    “Absolutely, Your Highness.” Replied Mr. Konevi, a coy smile on his face. Then, he left them both with a respectful bow and headed in direction of Mr. Chambers.

    “If it’s not too late, I’d love to take up the offer of going stargazing with you, if it still stands.”

    “’If it still stands?’ It’s leaping of joy at your acceptance!” He beamed, a wide smile touching his corners.

    The prince offered her the crook of his arm and she took it wistfully “Let’s away.”

    “Yes, let’s.”

    Prince Hamid led Joanna to the lake, right into the stillness of the night.

    “You keep a strong face, Lady Joanna… Stronger than I could have. What drives your perseverance?”

    “Honestly? I’m not doing so well. I’m just putting through a polite face and try to contain myself from screaming and crying and kicking like a small child. I’ve done this before, but that does not mean that I will ever get used to it. It happened when my uncles Fabian and Niklaus died, but I barely remember them and I was a child. This is different. Just as it was different when my poor sweet Thomas died. Every death hits different. But this one hurts too much, and it’s hard… the what-it-could’ve-been deaths always hurt, especially when it comes to kin.”

    Prince Hamid sighed “I know what you mean. When my grandfather died, even if I tried, I couldn’t be so brave. If it weren’t for my uncle, I don’t think I could’ve carried on…”

    The two of them reached the lake and the soft light of the moon washed over her. The prince stopped on his tracks and cupped his hands to the sky, pretending to hold the moon “Isn’t she handsome tonight?”

    Joanna chuckled “Haven’t you heard what happens to foolish men who wander at night in a lonesome field at night? Do you really wish to be devoured by some wolf or predator?”

    Hamid looked at her with a twinkling mischief on his eyes “I wouldn’t mind if a certain panther decided to devour me. I cannot think of a more delicious death.” He winked.

    Joanna laughed with a surprised smile “We’re at a funeral and all you can think about is that? Or you’re simply messing with me?”

    He winked at her “You’ll never know.” They both chuckled before clearing their throats; not before looking at one another and looking away. Hamid wasn’t the first man who suggested her that—she had plenty, in fact—but she always rolled her eyes or slapped them, but with him, it was different. He was different than any other man she ever met. And she wanted to do things well and proper. She just hoped he’d see her that way too.

    “Do you find everything the most marvellous thing on Earth?”

    He smiled at her “Ah, but out of the world’s greatest beauties, you are its masterpiece.”

    She smirked at him “Do tell,”

    His smile grew wider, reaching its corners “Where do I even begin? Your perfect hair, as fiery and beautiful like a bonfire, your eyes, the reflection of the sea—,”.

    Joanna giggled, shaking her head as the prince described her the way he saw her. If only she were half of the woman the prince saw in her “I appreciate it, but I’m hardly any of those things.”

    He looked up at the moon and then back to her “You remind me of her. The moon, I mean. You have two sides: the light one that everyone sees, drawing the men’s paths and making our nights less lonely, ethereal and complexly beautiful.”

    “What about the dark?”

    “The dark is the part not everyone pays attention, but it’s still a part of who she is. Without a bit of dark, there wouldn’t be any light. You need some darkness in order to shine. The darker she is, the shiniest she—and you—shall glow.”

    She looked at the prince through her eyelashes, not daring to meet his graze “Do you really think so?”

    He lifted her hand and kissed it gently and tenderly “I know so. Besides, I’ve always found myself drawn to the moon. She helps me feel steady when I travel.”

    Joanna chuckled bitterly “I feel everything but steady right now.”

    “Perhaps you should lean into that feeling.”

    She leaned forward, wryly, and the prince copied her, but softly fell all the way onto the ground! Joanna laughed surprised, biting her lower lip, trying to muffle without much success the sound “Are you quite alright?”

    “I have never felt better! You should join me, my lady! New perspectives are good for the soul!”

    “If you insist…”

    She lied next to him in the grass and sighed as she looked at the sky. Prince Hamid turned to her “You are like Atlas, carrying the world atop your shoulders.”

    Joanna chuckled bitterly “It does feel like it… There is so much to do…”

    “Stars can be helpful during tough times. It could help you focus on them.”

    “Hm. I’ve studied them and their compositions, but never seen it as something therapeutic.”

    “Look at the stars… In all of my travels, I’ve learned hundreds of stories about them. They can be quite powerful! How do they make you feel?”

    Joanna looked at the stars and took a deep breath, before opening her eyes “They make me feel… nostalgic. Back in the Circle, they say that the stars are the remnants of our ancestors. Their soul goes up to the sky and remain there.” She sighed “Watching over us, making sure we’re happy and all those things, you know?”

    “That’s a curious yet beautiful insight. Your people are really advanced and wise.”

    She chuckled to herself “We still have to learn many more things. We’re far from perfect.”

    Hamid looked at her “But you’re willing to learn. Not every nation can say the same.”

    Joanna chuckled “It’s never too late to learn from your mistakes.”

    Knowing that this was a painful subject to her, Hamid changed the subject “The stars can tell many things about yourself. Your past, present and future are mapped out in the sky.” He smiled.

    Joanna snorted “You should know by now that the stars have very little to do with the future and what could happen.”

    “Eh, a man can dream.” Then, he frowned “As I told you before, I struggled greatly with my grandfather’s death when I was young. I cried for hours the day he died…”

    “…Until your uncle taught you about the constellations.” Joanna finished, not skipping a bit.

    He smiled at her gratefully for the memory, “I never knew those little dots held stories! I was so distracted, my tears dried.”

    “I’m sorry for your grandfather.”

    The prince looked at her and considered it for a moment “Perhaps for this night, we shouldn’t focus on what we’ve lost… For we have gained so much as well! Why not think of those things?” The prince picked her hand and played with her fingers, calloused with war and training and hard work. “I have so much to be grateful for…”

    A small cluster of stars, almost in a shape of an arrow, called her attention. She pointed at them “That’s the Pleiades, isn’t it?”

    “Good eye! My favourite! We must be kindred spirits, you and I.”

    Joanna smiled at him “We may be.”

    “If I remember well, it’s about a group of sisters.”

    He beamed “Yes, it is. Or at least the legend says it. It reminds me of my sisters back at home.”

    Joanna looked at him with curiosity “Sisters? Like, in plural? How many do you even have?”

    “Yes, I have five! We were all attached like glue to each other when we were little. I miss them dearly when I travel. Looking at the constellation helps me feel like my sisters are here with me.”

    “Don’t you feel outnumbered or bothered with so many women back at home?” She asked in a teasing manner. He laughed loudly.

    “They can be quite annoying, but I love them with all my heart, even when they’re as gossip as a widow.”

    Joanna giggled “You must’ve grown with many gits at your door declaring their love to them.”

    Hamid chuckled “They didn’t lack suitors, no. Two of them are married and with children, but the others are yet to be married. My sister, Sevim, is quite rebellious. Won’t settle for a man who won’t support her writing career.”

    “Hey, good for her! If a man won’t accept all of her, he doesn’t love her enough.”

    Hamid smiled at her “My thoughts exactly.”

    “I may have a theory of where did you learn how to flirt so brazenly…”

    “You’re not wrong.”

    “Am I ever?” They both chuckled “Tell me more about your favourite constellations.”

    “Anything you wish, my lady. What would you like to know about?”

    “Hmm… how about one about lovers.”

    He smiled teasingly “You can be quite romantic. A woman after my own heart. These are Altair and Vega…” Hamid pointed at two small clusters of stars, separated by the milky way, “According to Chinese legend, they were madly in love with one another… But their parents disapproved. They separated the pair… forever.”

    Joanna sighed “No matter what, history is bound to repeat itself, it seems…”

    “I don’t know how anyone could pull apart two people in love… it is the greatest treasure the world holds.”

    “And the purest feeling as well.”

    Prince Hamid lied flat on his back and both of them took in the vast look at the sky above them.

    “My people believe the stars burn bright because they’re filled with the souls of the departed,” he smiled at her “somewhere in the sky, your father and mother are smiling down on you.”

    Joanna frowned, looking at him “Uh… Who do you think saved you at the races?”

    He seemed now confused “Another aunt of yours?” His eyes went wide open “That was your mother?!” He lied back again “No offence, but… she looks so young!”

    Joanna giggled “She’d take it as a compliment. How she came back… it’s quite difficult to explain.”

    “Go on.”

    She told him everything: Elias’s scheme, how he had planned to kill her, how he buried her somewhere no one could ever find her, the dagger, the war coming, the Coventus… everything. During ten minutes, the prince was silent, listening to the lady and her adventurous tale “…And I am confident that the Gods want you to fight beside me, aside from other three people. And my army.”

    “This is… my tongue cannot express it well enough! Of course, I’d love to fight beside you, my lady. I would do it even if destiny wanted me away from you. But who are the others?”

    “Mr. Sinclaire, Mr. Harper and Miss Parsons.”

    “Miss Parsons?”

    Joanna snorted “Don’t tell me that you don’t think women can fight.”

    “It’s not that! It’s just… unexpected. I don’t doubt Miss Parsons—I’d be damned if I dared to underestimate that woman—but I did not see it coming.”

    “One of the brigades of the knights of the Empire are all women. And they’re just as deadly or more than the men’s brigades.”

    His eyes went wide with excitement “I must meet this brigade!”

    Joanna giggled “Soon you will.”

    Suddenly, they saw a shooting star streak across the sky!

    “Quick! Make a wish!”

    She closed her eyes and said to herself

    I wish to form my own family someday…

    She knew it’d never happen again. When Thomas stabbed her with a dagger, she had died, activating her vampire side, and vampires couldn’t have children. And even if she relied on her wolf and faerie side, the Gods would never allow her to bear a mortal’s child at any circumstance.

    But only time could tell. Most of them had children with mortals. Why would she be any different?

    She hoped that they’d be benevolent on her. How unfair was that they could have many children and she couldn’t?! It would be quite hypocritical of them. Especially Zeus. Not to mention awfully rich of him.

    “I wish to be with the ones I love.”

    Prince Hamid smiled “That is my wish as well.” He rolled over and took her hand in his. He tenderly played with her fingers and placed a kiss on her wrist. He could almost feel her pulse quicken. “If I may confess… I have been wishing for that since we met.”

    Joanna snorted “You wished to be alone with a complete stranger?”

    He smiled at her slyly “And how could I not, when said complete stranger is a dashing, alluring and most handsome woman my eyes have ever contemplated?” The shooting star winked brightly, then vanished into the darkness. “In my travels, I have heard that the shooting stars represent both endings and beginnings. But I like to think that someone in the Heavens is thinking of you.”

    With her hand, she traced the path of the star and sighed “I miss you too, Father. Very much.”

    The damp chill of the earth took over her body and shivered slightly.

    Prince Hamid’s face fell “I suppose mother earth is telling us we’ve been gone too long.”

    She looked at him “Mother Earth has bigger worries than us.”

    She wiggled towards him and then in his arms, resting her head lightly on his chest. She could hear his heartbeat quickening beneath his chest, and felt his muscles flex beneath her as he placed his hands on her back. She looked at him with yearning and her pupils went dark and her lips separated. He pulled her even closer…

    “Can I tell you a secret?” He whispered. She nodded, “When we are apart, and my heart longs for you… I always look at the moon.”

    “Oh, I know this one. Because it gives you reassurance that we are not so apart and we will always be under the same star.”

    He feigned disappointment “Don’t tell me I’m not the first man who has told you this.”

    With a movement of her body, he was pinned in the grass, his hands still firm on her as she leaned and whispered “You’re the only one who has meant them.”

    “Really?”

    She nodded, her hand tracing his strong jaw… then his neck… then his chest... she could see his dark eyes were now blown pupils, his chest heaving, full of longing and a bit of desire, licking his lips.

    He lifted his head, trying to reach hers, his firm hands begging her close, their chests together, both their cheeks red and breaths ragged, waiting for the other to make the move.

    The prince tried to seek any signal that he was crossing a line, but all he could see in her was that she wanted him to take her there, and he might. One word and he would. His hand travelled to her hair and begged her even closer, too many unspeakable thoughts racing his mind, her word only holding him back. If she were to take him right there, he’d be all hers for the rest of the eternity of his body, mind and soul. Only hers. As it had been since that moment at the opera. He ventured that even before, as if Allah had placed him on his realm to be with her. He would not complain at all. On the contrary. He was ready to dedicate the rest of his life to worship her for the rest of his life, with virtues and sins included, no matter what, come what may.

    He swore he heard her whisper his name, now with a far more vulnerable and desiring tone… he only needed to finally lock lips with her and he’d be all hers in matter of mind, soul, body and being.

    When a duck loudly quacked, startling both of them out of the moment. Hamid pulled back and shook his head, “My lady, I forget myself. I think that is duck for ‘it is time to go inside’.”

    “Do you really care for what a duck has to say?” She seemed bothered.

    He gulped and caressed her face “I do not wish to ruin your reputation and good name or offend you in any way, my lady.”

    She whispered in his ear “Let me worry about my reputation and good name.”

    He inhaled sharply “My lady… do not mistake me. I yearn for this more than anything on earth, but we could be spotted and it’s your father’s funeral. It’s just… not the right time, my lady. Not yet.”

    She sighed, nodding as she got up and brushed off the detritus off her dress and hair “Fine, you have a point, but I’ll take the ‘not yet’ when time comes.” She winked.

    He smiled at her “I shall await every day for that occasion.” The prince offered the crook of her arm and she took it “Shall we?”

    Back in the foyer, prince Hamid bid Joanna goodbye.

    Looking for any signal of being watched, she ducked back out and raced towards the graveyard, where her father’s body now rested. She made sure no one else could see her and finally broke down in tears. She got on her knees, clutching her father’s ring and sobbing more loudly than she cared to admit, she started to talk “I still don’t understand why the hell did you leave us. We had so many things to do… so many things left unsaid for the rest of my life…”

    “I know the feeling,” She whipped her head to find her mother, in a beautiful Dracarian mourning dress and knelt down with her daughter. They both cried in silent, leaning on the other’s shoulders and mourning him together.

    “Will it always hurt so much?” She asked to her mother.

    “Not always. It will always hurt, but one day, you’ll heal from the burning pain and learn how to live with it.”

    When Joanna retired to her room, Odessa was left with him at last. Or, well, what was left of him on Earth.

    “I always wondered, all these years… why, Vincent? Why didn’t you fight for me, for us, if your love was so deep? Why did you just… gave up on us? Turned your back on me, on her? Do you have any idea of the damage you caused? How much I…” she inhaled sharply, shakily, finally saying those words out loud “how much I needed you beside me? To raise her? Love her? Give her the infancy she deserved? I never understood. I thought our love was the rare one that really could move mountains, yet you shitted your pants the moment we were threatened and ran away from the beginning.” She took a deep breath “You made me happier than anyone else on earth, yet you broke my heart like I never thought you would be capable of so. After all I confided you, open you a heart that had been caged for five hundred years to then throw it all away for your daddy’s approval… I was angry at you. I really was. I still am. I thought you didn’t care at all. We could’ve fought back. I had the sources.” She punched the ground “Dammit, a whole empire waited for you! A family that saw who you really were, not what you expected you to be! And you chose them over us! OVER ME!!” She did not know what she said next.

    She spent the next hour yelling at his grave, from calling him out to try to understand why to then beg him to come back to her. She had never felt like this before, and she hated it. Her heart ached in a way that burned her alive, slowly, agonizingly, excruciatingly. She cried and cried, over and over, finally letting go of everything she bottled up for twenty-one years.

    “…And the worst of it is that I will never have the chance to tell you face-to-face!”

    She wailed, now lying on the ground, her heart heavier than the universe itself.

    And, for a few hours, she slept like a new-born, thing that hadn’t happened in a century and half.

    A few days later, Joanna, Briar and Darcy were walking down the hall together. She paused at the entrance of her father’s bedroom and tears pickled on her eyes.

    “A week later, and I still can’t believe that he is truly gone… it all happened so fast…”

    “It’s odd not finding tea service or a fire in his room.” Briar added.

    Darcy whined, joining the sighs of the ladies. Joanna scratched his ear.

    “Shame that he never got to meet you…” She heard a meow and the little panther came out of the room, a sack of letters on her mouth. She tried to give them to Joanna. She chuckled “My father trained you well, didn’t he?”

    Briar’s attention was now on the little panther “Oooh, she’s so adorable! Aren’t you a little panther that will never eat me alive? Yes, you are, yes you are!”

    “Let’s focus on these letters. If this pretty girl says they might be important, they must be! Let’s go!”

    They rushed towards her room and she locked it in a way not even the countess could come in.

    “These span years.”

    “Look at this one! It dates before I was even born! I wonder…”

    She picked the yellowed envelope and started to read:

    17th of April, 1795

    My dearest,

    I write to you with a mixed heart, for I just found out that I am with child. Your child, borne in our love.

    The thought of raising your child cheers my heart, for it was what I always wanted, but also breaks it, for you won’t be able to see them grow. No matter who they become, they will always be a reminder of you and the fact that you and I are no more. The elders are angry and my world has just fallen apart. I do not know what to do. For the first time in centuries, I’m terrified. I really wish you were here to guide me. You were always the voice of reason of us both.

    After the dreadful annulment, your father told me not to write, but pardon my language, he can stick his threats up to his tight arse. I do not wish anything from you. It’s been me against the world for nearly eight centuries, I won’t stop now. But it cannot stop me from lamenting that you will never get to see our sweet, beautiful babe.

    Forever in your heart,

    Mary.

    When she finished reading, she observed Briar sniffling with Darcy in her arms “Some things never change.”

    “Leave me be, it’s just so tragic!”

    “Very well, we shall read them all.”

    “Thought you’d never say it!”

    “Even I am curious of what happened through her eyes.” She admitted. She caught one and gasped “This was from my birth!”

    “What does it say?” Briar asked.

    She ran her fingers through her mother’s letter and started reading:

    12nd of April, 1795

    My dearest,

    She has arrived. Our little, precious girl is now part of this cold, cruel world that has dared to separate us. She was born as the morning birds sang and the people in the village protested about how unfair the big cities are with them—she will indeed become an opinionated woman with a fighting spirit, I can tell.

    I have named her Joanna Feyre Anissa Julia Devonne Celestia, but when I nurse her I call her JoJo, like my good friend Juana de Trámstara, or known as Joanna The Mad. I figured to have a laugh at history about the name Joanna—many controversial women in history were named like that, and by how I plan to raise her, she’ll cause many turmoils among those idiotic grown men—like the dingus of your father. She has your smile—and what a smile! I pray to the Gods that she inherits your unconditional kindness and a bit of my wits—she’s so beautiful, she will cause quite a stir, and you know the price of being poor and beautiful.

    I am well aware of the danger of writing to you, but I think you’re entitled to know about her. I have moved to a small village called Grovershire so she and I may be a family. Elias volunteered as a guardian. I know what you must think: he was the one to rat us out, but he is trying to redeem himself. He really is. And I believe him.

    I pray to the Gods that we may be someday three.

    Yours,

    Mary

    “I did not know that you had six names! I wonder who that Juana the Mad was…” Briar exclaimed.

    “A new thing that you know about me.” She sighed “I wonder what would’ve happened if father ever read those…”

    “Do you think he would’ve been able to join you in Grovershire?”

    A familiar voice interrupted the women “Knowing that hopeless romantic, he would’ve cancelled his marriage to that sniper and made me his Countess and you, the Lady of the House. He was more than a dreamer; he was a firm believer of love.”

    Briar gasped “Miss Mills! You’re alive!”

    “No, I’m a ghost. Boo!” Odessa teased the young woman.

    “Why is your hair now brunette?”

    Odessa smirked “I’ll tell you one day over that tea you so love.”

    Briar looked to the woman “Do you think… it would have been a chance to be a family?”

    Odessa’s face fell “Perhaps, but it is too late to lament of impossible what-could-have-been. We must focus on the present now. But please, keep reading. I know those letters by heart.”

    She picked a letter from the middle “Oh, look, my first birthday!”

    Odessa smiled as she leaned on the window.

    12nd of April, 1796

    My dearest,

    I did it. I survived my first year with our precious Joanna without your guidance. On challenging days, I think of you and your patience. I cannot replicate it to perfection, but I do my best.

    Joanna has walked for the first time and said her first word: Papa. Which, I confess, I tried not to cry. I was overjoyed but… what was the point of saying that word when you’re not there to be as overjoyed, cover her in kisses and ask her to repeat it while you boast to everybody that your daughter’s first word is Papa? It burned my stomach alive, but when I saw her, smiling and laughing, I could not help but smile too. When she walked towards me, I saw the firmness and determination to get to me no matter how many times she fell. That was so you… I’m completely whipped about her. She is a female incarnation of you.

    She is so dauntingly similar to you; it breaks my heart and makes it soar at the same time. People will start noticing how little alike me she is. I’ve had to make up a story about how I ended up in here. I never liked changing names and making up backstories and change places, but it’s the place to be me. If anyone asks, my name is Ellen Mills. Only one person knows my other undercover name.

    Yours come what may:

    Mary

    Briar wondered “If being apart was so painful, why write? Wouldn’t that reopen the wound?”

    Odessa placed a hand on the young woman’s shoulder “When you love someone so much, it does not matter how bad it hurts or burns you alive, you never lose hope of seeing their face again and tell them the things left unsaid. It is the magic of true love, dear girl. You will know it when the right man comes, no matter if it’s tomorrow or forty-seven years later. If I learned something with Vincent, it was that, no matter how old you are, there’s always time and chance to love. The funniest part is that you never know where it’ll catch you, it just does, and when it does, you pray your Gods every night it never lets you go, no matter the circumstances.”

    Briar nodded “You always had the wisest advices, madam.”

    Briar handed her a letter that hadn’t been so touched by time, unlike the others.

    “This one is… dated years after!”

    She picked the letter and began to read

    31st of August, 1800

    My dearest,

    Forgive me for not writing in a long time, but the lack of response made me lose hope of hearing from you and not the mongrel of your father.

    I write to you because Joanna has been asking for you, and often. As her curiosity grows, my persistence weakens by the day. I have been trying to give her a solid answer, but nothing has come to mind: many lives lying to half of the world, and I cannot bring myself to lie to my little girl so brazenly without my heart breaking in a million pieces. It is an utter injustice that she shall never get to know the great man who sired her.

    I yearn to hear your words, your voice… I yearn for you like no other. Even if I have tried to get her a father figure, they all remind me that they are not you. They are not enough. They lack what you, and only you, have. She does not lack candidates of men willing to raise her, but it is me who is so reluctant and demanding. But can you blame me? I want the best for my girl, and the best is you, my dear. No matter what, our souls remain connected for the rest of eternity until we reunite again. Come what may.

    Each stroke of the quill feels like a flog on my heart, but I have borne worse. I’m not giving up on you, Vincent. As long as I write, there will be solid proof of our love.

    Yours till death,

    Mary.

    “Now you know both sides…”

    Odessa sighed “It’s a pity that you knew about it so late and in such circumstances.”

    “’Tis.”

    She stared at the yellowed letters resting on her lap.

    “How do you feel, now that you know the full story?” Briar asked.

    “I feel… I feel angry.” She looked at her mother “You did nothing wrong. Your intentions were good. You loved and respected him, and were influential and powerful, and knew how to run an estate. Why tear you apart?” Tears prickled at her face.

    “Because he saw a mere singer when he looked at me. Not either of those traits.”

    Joanna looked at her mother “It’s a good thing that you assured my grandfather’s fate. Should he had lived when I did, I would have struck him down myself.”

    Briar gasped, horrified “You’d kill your own kin?”

    Joanna spit on the floor “He is nothing to me.”

    Sunny whined. Joanna heard footsteps.

    “We should hide these, and so should you, Mama.”

    “Give them to me.” She said instead.

    “What?”

    Odessa looked at her daughter “I’ll need them if I want to clean your name. That little girl needs a good family.”

    Joanna nodded “Very well. Now, run! The footsteps are growing more impatient. It must be Bitterta.”

    Odessa nodded and jumped off the window, disappearing from the view as Henrietta busted into the room “Give me my letters back!”

    Joanna smirked “Too late, Bitterta. They’re in better hands and in their way to clean my name. You’ve lost. I win.” She got closer to her “I always win. Do you hear me? Al-ways.”

    “As if any judge would believe you.”

    Joanna’s smile grew wider “I have friends too. Powerful ones.”

    Henrietta snorted “Like who? The wealthiest baker in London?”

    She grabbed her letter from her reticule “The Tsar of Russia. This is a copy of his letter to the Prince Regent, confirming him of my parent’s marriage.” She tried to snatch it, but she was faster “Ts, ts. Don’t grab things that aren’t yours. Or didn’t your mommy teach you that? Was she so awful at motherhood as you are?”

    Her face turned red “How dare you talk to me like that?”

    Joanna smirked to her “What are you going to do about it? Go on, tell me, weakling. I’m dying to know what a whining old hag like you could do to me.”

    “This isn’t over!”

    “It is. And I result winner. So… I’d start packing your things if I were you. You won’t step foot here while I live.”

    “What would your father—,”

    “DO NOT TALK ABOUT HIM AS IF YOU EVER GAVE A FUCK ABOUT HIM.” She yelled, her eyes now bright topaz, the floor trembling. The countess’s face went white and gasped before running away.

    “Joanna,” Briar called “I know these are hard times for you, but you’ve been acting weirdly for a long time. Every time something like that happens, the floor shakes and people run away and call you a monster. You come with brutal wounds that should kill you and survive without being in bed for weeks! Some people call you Highness! Not to mention that in the letters, your mother mentions to have lived thorough centuries!” Briar looked at her “I need to know: why is this happening? What is that secret that you’re keeping from me?”

    Joanna sighed “I guess it is time you know.” She took a deep breath “I am no ordinary girl, that you know. But I’m neither human.”

    “What?”

    She sat on the bed and told her everything: her origins, her powers, her mission, her plans, her mother’s shenanigans and even the next things to happen in a matter of weeks.

    “So… you’re a Goddess. All kind of foul creatures exist. You were destinated to meet them all, Harry’s alive and in France and… Mr. Sinclaire has a bastard daughter that is the future Empress of the Empire?” She paced around, taking it all in “I just… this is… why didn’t you tell me sooner?”

    Joanna sighed “I could not take any chances, not after the witch-hunt. I thought… I’d scare you away and you’d give me up to the authorities.”

    Briar scoffed, clearly offended “You thought that I’d judge you and rat you out? Me, of all people? Me, your best friend?!”

    “I know, and I’m sorry. You’re in all your right to be mad at me. I wanted to tell you but… the timing wasn’t right. People get hurt when they know of this world, Briar.”

    “Oh, you think me weak because I’m human and mortal?!”

    “I never said that.”

    Briar had been crying of rage and disappointment “A few moments ago, I thought that our friendship meant something to you. Turns out, it doesn’t.”

    Joanna got up and placed her arms on hers “It does, Bree! You’re one of the best things to happen to me, and I really wanted you to know! But my mother… I did it to protect you. I’ve watched too many people die in this world and I wouldn’t forgive myself if something happened to you.”

    “Well, turns out you’ve hurt me before this ‘world’ ever had the chance.”

    “Bree—.”

    But she stormed out off the room before she could muster those words.

    As she came out, Joanna slumped on her bed, crying, not caring for now who could see her. But when she closed her eyes, what she saw was too much.

    Elias paced down his own cave, a smirk on his face and a projection of London. He looked at his army, a rather numerous one “My dear acolytes, in two nights, we shall take London and burn it to the ground, starting by Opera St. James…”

    A small boy raised his hand “And then what, sir?”

    He smirked ruefully at the boy “Then… we kill Vunera. With the blood of her loved ones, we have extracted and by Samael’s Blade, she shall be dead… alongside Planet Earth and everything she worked for. And after the Earth, we’ll go for the ENTIRE UNIVERSE!”

    The army roared as Elias laughed wickedly, and smirked to her.

    Joanna jumped off the bed, panting and gasping. This couldn’t happen. She had to prepare them somehow. But how? They’ve never fought a magical war before, and they didn’t have proper training.

    Mother.

    She wrote to the Empress’s secretary and gathered her things. Then, she went to find Briar, clutching the necklace. She slammed the servant’s door open and scanned for Briar. She also beckoned Mr. Woods “Briar, Mr. Woods, I require your immediate service.” She regained breath and gave them the supplies “I need you to find my mother and make sure her paperwork makes it to London and then go to a safehouse. Mr. Woods, you must protect Miss Daly at all costs. I shall reward you handsomely if she’s alive when I come back,” she sighed “if I come back. Now, there’s no more time to waste. And the rest of you, gather my father’s men! I have a feeling that they will try to take Edgewater. Backup and war supplies will come shortly. Come on, go to work, everybody!” She grabbed Briar by the arm and took her to a small corner despite her protests. She placed the necklace on her hands. It had a bright topaz stone, guarded with a strong, heavy iron and looked at her in the eyes “Look, danger is ahead and a battle will break soon. I must ensure your safety. When you feel that the battle breaks and comes into the safehouse, grab this as tightly as you can and repeat the next words: reppellio demonium averno. And loudly so it works. It will keep you safe. Now, hurry! Try to get to London before the 4th of May.”

    “In three days? Why?”

    Joanna sighed and looked both ways before looking at Briar again “Because in that night, the most gruesome and difficult battle will take place. And there’s a chance that I might die.”

    Without saying another word, she ran off to her father’s study and started writing Flying Letters and waited at the lake.

    The four people gathered with urgency at the Edgewater Lake, where Lady Joanna waited impatiently. It was Mr. Harper who asked “What is it, my lady?”

    “It is time.”

    “Time for what, my lady?” Prince Hamid asked.

    She just looked at the road to London and sighed “I had hoped we had more time to prepare you all, but we must make haste.”

    “Prepare us for what?” Miss Parsons asked.

    “Tell us, my lady.” Mr. Sinclaire pleaded.

    Joanna looked at them all “We’re at the edge of a big war. The world isn’t safe for you anymore. We’re going to the only safe place to prepare you and keep you safe.”

    “Where is that, my lady?” Hamid asked.

    Joanna turned her back on them and closed her eyes. She channelled her force and incantated the spell. A minute later, a portal with a forest that showed the way to a fantasy kingdom appeared “We’re going to my home. The Circle, capital of the Dracarian Empire.”

    Mr. Harper chuckled shockingly “The greatest empire of them all…”

    He was the first one to go in, eager to know personally the empire he had grown up reading about. Prince Hamid’s excited curiosity followed. Then Miss Parsons. She offered Mr. Sinclaire her hand “Shall we?”

    He stood there in silence before nodding “Let’s go.”

    And trespassed the portal, that closed itself after Joanna got in.

    During the journey, Mr. Sinclaire’s grip didn’t falter and they arrived in a small forest. An imposing marble wall was before them. Two rather tall guardians stood there, intimidating, but Joanna didn’t flinch and introduced herself to them. The guardians’ eyes went wide and bowed before her “Your Imperial Highness, it is an honour to have you back. I take these are your guests?”

    “Yes. We must go in. A war is coming and they are in need of training.”

    The other guard looked at them and asked her “Are they who I think they are? The Empress’s prediction is true?”

    “Yes, Aberama. They are my Four Holy Saviours. They’re finally here.”

    The guardians rapidly opened the doors and bowed to each of them “It’s an honour to open the doors of your awaited homes, my lords… and lady.” They bowed one more time before they passed the walls and closed before them. Joanna smiled at them, extending her arms “Welcome to the heart of the Dracarian Empire, The Circle; my home.”

    Duke Richards paced impatiently, ranting and throwing things “How the hell a mere bastard could be more powerful and influential than me?! ME!! I’m the Duke of Karlington, she should fear me!” He looked angrily at his minions “You had one job! Learn all of Lady Joanna’s secret to coerce her to be my wife! And you failed!!” He threw a jar to them and the younger one whimpered “You are both useless! You won’t get any coin from me, and I shall destroy you! GET OUT!”

    “No wonder Joanna defeated you. You have no self-control and don’t know how to find the right man for the task at hand.”

    He whipped himself to the white-haired man “Who are you and how did you trespass this house?”

    “It’s quite easy. And as for who I am… I am the solution to all your problems.”

    He scoffed “And how could you be my solution?”

    He smirked “Because I know Joanna Mills like she were my own daughter. I have raised her and made her who she is nowadays. I know exactly her weaknesses and strengths. Work with me… and you shall have everything you ever wanted and more.”

    Duke Richards smiled sinisterly “This is what I needed. What is your price?”

    He got up and took the duke’s arm “I want the Crochane family’s heads on a spike and Joanna’s powers for me.” The duke started gasping and choking, his veins turning black as he fell on his knees and looked at the man. He smiled ruefully “For now on, I own you, Tristan Richards of Karlington. You live… and you die according to my will and pleasure.”

    With that, he got into his body and the duke screamed for help, but it was too late. He dropped on the floor and passed out.

    Several minutes later, he got up and looked at himself in the eyes and laughed wickedly. He was no longer the Duke of Karlington. He was Elias… more powerful than ever. With one movement of his hand, down to the floor, the so feared cross appeared and yelled “Raise, my children! War is upon us! At the end of the week, we shall have the entire universe at our disposal. Darkness shall reign one more time, and I shall be the King of Kings!” He laughed loudly, wickedly as all types of dark monsters came out of the ground, his eyes turning black and the sky darkening “I am coming for you, Vunera.”

    #playchoices fanfiction #desire and decorum #desire and decorum au #the cursed heiress #oc: joanna mills #ernest sinclaire#dominique foredale#annabelle parsons#prince hamid#luke harper #ernest x oc #luke x oc #hamid x oc #prince hamid x oc #annabelle x oc #cfwc fics of the week #usersclara#tw: language #tw: minor character death #+15#theresa sutton#donna bowman#duke richards #oc: elias bernhill #supernatural au
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  • scrivenerspen
    29.12.2021 - 3 weeks ago
    #rip brodie lee #one year already felt like a century #you've been missed #brodie lee#aew#luke harper #all elite wrestling
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  • the-sara-voe
    28.12.2021 - 4 weeks ago

    Introducing: Dr. Harper Cardith

    We finally get to meet our main character! Sweet but stubborn as all hell, Harper knows how to get it started and finished. If you have read the fic so far, you already know who Harper is, but does the rest of team?

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  • msnikkimoneypenny
    28.12.2021 - 4 weeks ago

    So in remembrance of Brodie Lee. In case you didn't know Big E and Cody Rhodes were there while Brodie was on his death bed in his final days.

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  • gabree-undead
    27.12.2021 - 4 weeks ago

    Dragon Gate Gate Of Victory 2011 Tag 8 2011.10.13 Brodie Lee vs. 鹰木信悟_哔哩哔哩_bilibili

    Un anno fa mi svegliavo leggendo la notizia della morte di Brodie Lee.

    Sembrava una di quelle notizie random che accadono ogni tanto su Total Extreme Wrestling (gioco di simulazione in cui sei il GM di una federazione di wrestling reale) invece era la realtà.

    Nello stesso anno, Brodie si era rinnovato alla grande interpretando un nuovo personaggio in AEWA dopo essere stato licenziato dalla WWE e sembrava che finalmente dovesse ottenere il successo che meritava.

    Chi ha conosciuto di persona Brodie Lee lo ricorda come un ottima persona e un marito esemplare (come sempre in questi casi ma dalla moltitudine di foto e ricordi mi piace pensare che fosse davvero così) oltre ad essere un più che discreto pro wrestler.

    Mi piacerebbe che quando ricorre l'anniversario o il giorno della morte di uno sportivo o dicun artista si faccia un buon uso dei social diffondendo quanto più possibile materiale affinché tutti possano approfondire

    Never forget

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  • blaringloudandproud
    27.12.2021 - 4 weeks ago

    Damn its been a whole year. We miss you Brodie

    #pro wrestling#aew#aew dynamite#aew rampage #all elite wrestling #brodie lee #mr brodie lee #rip brodie lee #jon huber#luke harper
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  • vibezzonerrythang
    27.12.2021 - 4 weeks ago

    One year ago today we lost a beloved legend in the wrestling world but more importantly an amazing human being in Brodie Lee. We continue to send our love, prayers and comfort to his family and friends 💛. We miss you, Brodie!

    #celebrities#2021#pro wrestling#wwe#wrestling news#wrestling#wwe superstars#December 2021#December 26 #rip brodie lee #Brodie lee#jon huber#Luke harper#CZW #combat zone wrestling #world wrestling entertainment #world wrestling news #world wrestling #all elite wrestling #AEW#AEW wrestling #Brodie lee forever #ring of honor #wrestling legend #a great human #thank you#memories#wrestler#pro wrestler
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  • thebestintheworld
    26.12.2021 - 4 weeks ago

    Brodie Lee (Jon Huber) December 16, 1979 - December 26, 2020

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  • aaronamos
    26.12.2021 - 4 weeks ago

    💜

    Sidenote: check the likes. United in the love of this man.

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  • msbigredmachine
    26.12.2021 - 4 weeks ago

    Brodie Lee forever.

    Luke Harper forever.

    Jon Huber forever.

    #1yearon

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  • beingallelite
    26.12.2021 - 4 weeks ago

    x

    #brodie lee#jon huber#luke harper#john silver #the dark order #twitter: john silver #aew #all elite wrestling #posted on: 12.26.21
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  • beingallelite
    26.12.2021 - 4 weeks ago

    x

    #brodie lee#jon huber#luke harper#evil uno #the dark order #twitter: evil uno #posted on: 12.26.21
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  • beingallelite
    26.12.2021 - 4 weeks ago

    x

    #brodie lee#jon huber#luke harper#alan angles #the dark order #twitter: alan angels #posted on: 12.26.21
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  • beingallelitemedia
    26.12.2021 - 4 weeks ago
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  • the-shadowbro-in-the-darkness
    25.12.2021 - 1 mont ago

    On the 26th of December 2020, the wrestling universe lost one the greatest wrestlers in the modern era. John Huber a.k.a Mr. Brodie Lee f.k.a Luke Harper. May you rest in peace

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  • our-happygirl500-fan
    20.12.2021 - 1 mont ago

    So I get why Selina would spend thanksgiving with Bruce since they’re dating & I get why Kate & Bette would spend thanksgiving with the Wayne’s since Kate’s Bruce’s cousin & Bette is Kate’s niece.

    And since Crystal Brown hasn’t been seen in comics since 2014 after abandoning Steph the Wayne’s are probably the only people Steph can spend thanks giving with anymore.

    But I don’t get why Barbara, Luke & Harper are spending thanksgiving with the Wayne family instead of their own. Is Jim working on Thanksgiving? Does Luke not want to spend Thanksgiving with his family because of Jace/Tim since they don’t get along? Is Cullen doing something else & thats why Harper’s not with him.

    Don’t get me wrong Luke & Harper are cool cameos but my first thought when seeing Harper at the Wayne Thanks Giving Table was to wonder where Cullen was & why she wasn’t spending thanksgiving with him

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