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Artica closed her eyes as she lay back on her bed. In the dark of the pre-dawn she could hear her daughter and niece's slow, relaxed breathing. It had been two weeks since she'd adopted Amneris and she'd found she could no longer imagine life without the toddler. She hadn't realised just how lonely the empty house had been until there was someone else around to bring life and make it a home.

The only regret Artica had was what it had done to her standing in the community. She could stand the lack of respect she was now facing. But the discovery of how weak her friendships here had been, that she could find herself so utterly alone for simply taking in a Clear child, that cut deeply. Artica had thought she'd made a home for herself in Ronduin, a place where she was welcomed rather then merely tolerated, and now she found herself facing a new version of Sparkstrike.

Rising from the bed, Artica pulled on her robe and padded barefoot over to the window to watch the fiery sunrise. The colours sent her mind off in the direction of Tres, and the misery of their own childhood. Being an outsider and an outcast in her own community was nothing new to Artica, but the memory of what Tres had been put through chilled her heart with an entirely new force. The thought that Amneris, her sweet, innocent daughter, might suffer the same fate her sister had made Artica feel violently ill.

But what could she do? Moving was an option, but a dangerous one. Even if she could find and a afford a home somewhere Amneris was accepted, what work would she be able to find to support them? She was a soldier, a warrior. Outside of the military, the only job she was fit for was mercenary or guard – neither job exactly suited for a single mother with a toddler to care for. She had limited healer training, but not even close to enough to set herself up as a healer. Tavia and Tavin would allow them to stay, but it would be uncomfortably cramped and finding a home of their own was highly unlikely.

No, it seemed that staying in Ronduin was the best of a bad situation. And she had breakfast to make, before the girls woke up, so there wasn't time to be sitting here and pondering what she couldn't change. Gemma's arrival had been a life-saver, she could leave Amneris home safely and not have to worry about someone attacking the child. But that didn't help raise her spirits when she looked through the cupboards and realised they were once again nearly out of food. Even though she could have once afforded to keep her cupboards well stocked, it was now all Artica could do to perchance a day or two's worth of food at a time and keep them feed from pay to pay.

Her pride would not allow her to test Cascata's offer of assistance, not after the somewhat cold shoulder the Leader had shown her over the last two weeks and she knew turning to her family for aid would probably lead to Tres or Zap doing something stupid.

But the empty cupboards told her they wouldn't be able to survive this outsider status too long and Artica once again found herself closing her eyes and uttering a desperate prayer to Efil that something would present its self to solve her problems.

She just never dreamed that solution would be her sister and the clan that had accepted her as one of their own.

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Ann Rosa Starr

May 2012


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