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Stavier, alone of all of us, knew Sejia wasn’t dead.  He was certain of it.  Honestly at the time I thought he was indulging in a rare bit of wishful thinking; I was fairly convinced that she was dead, as I didn’t think even Kuvasei could make something like that up.

She’s good.  I have to give her that.  Even if I had believed her alive, I would not have expected her to reappear in the form of ditzy romantic Meara Dawnspear.  Meara was just so… so plain. And for someone who loved crass, gaudy displays as much as Sejia Stillhart, such a subtle mask was unexpected.  Still, it does explain why Meara spent most of her interview with me asking about the men in my life rather than about me personally.

I still don’t quite understand her motive in kidnapping Westel – especially since that seems to be the act that will ultimately collapse her pretty little house of cards.  For Stavier, the abduction was the final piece in the puzzle he’d been contemplating for weeks; for Westel, the kiss she laid on his lips just before she stabbed him and fled was the only clue he needed.

Westel brought his theory to me first, and I all but dismissed it.  He told me Stavier knew about it, and so I did the only thing possible: I immediately contacted Stavier via talisman to verify Westel’s story.  I wanted to punch him through the goddamned thing when he confirmed that Westel was correct: Sejia lived, she walked free, and she had been dating my daughter in the guise of Meara.  My Kuvasei has been having nightmares for months about Sejia’s death, and all this time the bitch has been conniving Kuvie to braid her hair and fetch her mangoes!

I forgive Stavier now for not telling me immediately.  But at the time, I was livid.  I demanded that he come meet us.  Liealia came as well, and we talked.

The hardest part of dealing with this woman has been the fact that I never directly deal with her.

If she were to attack me directly… with knives, or poisons, or whatever else have you… I could handle her.  If I could get her out in the open where I could let loose with fire and shadow upon her… I could handle her.  But she never threatens me.  She never attacks me.   Intstead she goes for those around me, poking, stabbing, seducing, enticing them into whirlwinds of pain until they ruin themselves.  And there’s only so much I can do to protect the ones I love from themselves.

Westel loved her once; loved her with the same surety that he loves me, convinced that somewhere inside her blackened heart is a core of goodness worth nurturing and protecting.  He’s angry at her now; angry and hurt and frightened, though his fear manifests as increased fury.  She’s taunted him, damaged and betrayed him; she’s toyed with his feelings and with his daughter, and last week she drugged him and threw him to the proverbial wolves as part of some sick game she’s playing.  He hates her… and yet he wouldn’t be capable of the hate he holds for her if he’d never loved her.  If part of him didn’t love her still.  Every time she waltzes back into his life I see his walls go up and his rage boil over and, though I trust that he would not stay his hand now to spare her, I know it still must cause him heartache to see her come to harm.

Kuvasei’s attachment to her I have spoken of before.  How Kuvasei agonized over her decision that Sejia had to die if she were ever to know peace… and how Kuvie tortured herself with the guilt when she thought the deed was done.  I may never admit this aloud, but even as Kuvasei is the reason I wanted Sejia gone forever, Kuvasei is the reason I was thankful to hear that Sejia was alive.  The weight that lifted from Kuvasei’s shoulders when she realized that she hadn’t actually done it…. Intellectually I know that Kuvasei only believed she had done it because Sejia drugged her and planted the suggestion.  But at that moment, with Kuvasei sobbing tears of relief to wash her guilt away… at that moment I could have kissed the woman.  Now my daughter sleeps soundly in the next room, free of nightmares for the first time in weeks, and I am grateful for the respite.  But now that I know she is back, I know we must watch and prepare for her to try to worm her way back into Kuvasei’s life again…

…unless the Tribe has their way.  The Burning Tusk Tribe is an organization I respect deeply, even though I seem to end up on opposite sides of crucial issues with them far more often than I would like.  Individually their members tend to be straightforward, honorable, trustworthy sorts, and I have never doubted that Kuvasei and Westel are safe and provided for within their ranks.  With her deception as Meara, Sejia has harmed all of them – not only those members she has touched directly, but the stability of the Tribe as a whole.  The suspicion in their eyes is familiar: if one of their own could so betray them, could not others?  And what of those not of the Tribe?  Stavier and I have always been welcomed to their gatherings, and yet when we came to collect an item of his that “Meara” had had on her person, the unspoken message given to us was clear: Outsiders Unwelcome.  It is my hope that once the furor dies down and life returns to normal that we will again be welcomed on our own merits… but I will understand if that is not the case.

Liealia.  Sejia doesn’t even have to try to hurt her to cut her deep, and I’m certain she’s laughing her ass off at the effect she’s had on Stavier’s lady wife – Liealia was acting like a spoiled child the other night, and a passive-aggressive little bitch, and she was actively provoking me to violent action.  “Liealia’s been hurt worst of all,” said Stavier, trying to excuse her, and I should have called him more sincerely on his bullshit.  Liealia did not ask for this, but that does not mean her pain in this is greater!  Still, I understand where it comes from – he feels guilty.  Lia is his wife, and he should have better protected her.  And I understand her rage… and later, on reflection, I understood that her vitriol towards me was born of her feelings of impotence married with her need to lash out and hurt something.  I’m a safe target – she knows I can take it, and she won’t be damaging a relationship she values by attacking me.  But the next time Liealia taunts me, I will not let Westel hold me back.  I believe such an outing would be good for us.

Stavier is the one who has been hurt most this time around.  And yes, he left himself open for it; yes, we all told him that playing with fire was bound to get him burned.  But none of us predicted what she could have done to him – I think the worst he or anyone expected was that he might get a wounded ego and an injured pride.  A briefly broken heart when she was killed.  I’m not certain even Sejia could fathom how badly she has hurt him.  And yet he soldiers on; wields his reason as a sword and his logic as a shield, allowing himself to feel nothing until this is all over.  Liealia might be crying and screaming and throwing the biggest tantrum, but I see Stavier standing there still as a statue and there’s no question in my mind who has been hurt the worst.

…no, I take that back.  The person who’s been most hurt by Sejia’s manipulations is the innocent child she carries. The child whose death many would call a necessary sacrifice to see Sejia’s threat ended once and for all.  Stavier’s child, compelling him to protect a woman he cannot trust, out of the purest, highest, oldest duty a man can hold — even at the cost of his marriage and his own happiness.  This child who, even before it is born, faces either a life without its mother (for there are those calling for Sejia’s execution as soon as she gives birth) or a life of knowing exactly what its mother is, and how reviled.

Me?  I’m just a spectator.  I hurt, but not in the same way as any of the others; I will help where I can, but I know that for the most part I am quite helpless.  I can be an ear, a shoulder,  a punching bag, an embrace, a mother, a lover, an advisor, a friend.  I shall do what I can to stem the tide of chaos swirling around me.  I do not know how to stop it… but perhaps I can ease the effects, untouched as I am, in the center of it all.

A strange sentiment coming from me, now that I think on it.  Perhaps Garrot is right, and I am going soft.