Neda epilog: Bound by blood

“Family comes first …”

The words hang in the air echoing down the ruined hallway, glass from the shattered windows and broken roof tiles littering the floor. She’d been standing here for longer than she would like to admit, looking at the massive painting. Its gilded wooden frame and delicate brushstrokes having somehow survived the devastation that the rest of the estate had endured during the first orbital strike. The image was of three young women in their early twenties, clad in fine clothing of Khanid style and posed in a flowery spring garden. It was the youngest of the three that had caught her eye, her intelligent eyes and long, perfectly braided silken hair captured for all eternity in this happy moment.

The viewer smiles little. The similarities were clear as day. It was like looking at a picture of her sister and herself from another age. The two other girls in the painting, sisters judging by their facial structures, were matching their wits over a chessboard as they lounged in the garden. Both were dark-haired but, while the older beamed with confidence, the younger expression was harder to read. If she hadn’t stared at the painting for so long, she would never have noticed the melancholy in those younger eyes that glanced across the chessboard with furtive jealousy.

“Mom… “

Her voice is hoarse from bellowing orders for the past three days.

“Why did you leave Neda? You clearly looked like you had everything here; a happy life, sisters. Was the call of adventure too alluring?”

She shakes her head, smiling a little again. What was she thinking of, talking to a painting?! Still, she remembers her own childhood learning mannerisms fit for a Khanid noble. Even though Domain and Nishah were far from the Kingdom and its strict rules, it was a childhood not far from this happy moment captured in paint. It had had its happy moments as well as it’s hidden melancholy too.

Another memory makes her chuckle a little, one of two sisters scolded for skipping out of a class on etiquette and comportment and a mother trying to pretend she was angry but secretly proud of her girls for having the courage to defy their stuffy old governess. Although the outside was filled with unknown dangers, it was a thousand times more interesting than the dusty parchments of the house library. Looking back now, she is suddenly filled with regret for not listening more. That wealth of knowledge and tradition would certainly be handy now that she was the last true Sorn left in this ruined holding.

She sighs at the memory of having her sister by her side, together the world seemed so simple and so easy to outsmart or outgun, but shakes off the thought. No, someone needs to look after the kids and, besides, what good is a capsuleer that fears death? All these backroom politics were always her sister’s style anyway and from behind the scenes, she would be free to do what she does best.

She looked back up at the painting with newfound determination, as if trying to make eye contact with the blond woman.

“I promise to try and do my best, to be the daughter you wanted me to be. I promise won’t let our family crumble to nothing!”

The sound of glass cracking under boots slowly echoes towards her and one of the estate’s slaves bows deeply as she turns. His uniform had seen better days but she quickly recognized the old Vherokior as her Aunt’s personal valet.

"I’m sorry for disturbing you my Lady but there has been news from the Sardar Admiral. It appears that one of your aunts has been found…alive!”

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