Ascend / Page 5

Page 5


“I know of one or two,” Thomas nodded.

“Good,” I said. “Make sure they know they cannot tell anybody about this. This all needs to stay quiet until I figure out what I’m going to do. Is that clear?”

“Yes, Your Highness,” Thomas said. It always felt strange hearing people refer to me as Highness.

“Thank you,” I told him.

Tove arrived shortly after that with the mänks doctor. I waited outside the room while he examined Loki. He woke up for it, but offered very little explanation for his injuries. When he was done, the doctor concluded that Loki didn’t have any serious ailments, and he gave him medication for pain.

“Come on,” Tove said, after the doctor had gone. “He’s resting now. There’s nothing more you can do. Why don’t you go enjoy your party?”

“I’ll let you know if there’s any change with him,” Thomas promised.

“Thank you,” I nodded, and walked down the hall with Tove and Duncan toward my room.

I hadn’t felt like having a party before Loki crashed the palace, and I felt even less like having one now. But I had to at least try to have fun so I didn’t hurt Willa or Matt’s feelings. I know they had gone to a lot of trouble for it, so I would play the part of the happy birthday girl for them.

“The doctor thinks he’ll be okay,” Duncan said, responding to my solemn expression.

“I know,” I said.

“Why are you so worried about him anyway?” Duncan asked. “I know that you two are friends or something, but I don’t understand. He’s a Vittra, and he kidnapped you once.”

“I’m not worried,” I cut him off and forced a smile. “I’m excited for the party.”

Duncan directed me to the upstairs living room. It had been Rhys’s playroom when he was little, but they’d converted it into a place to hang out when he became a teenager. But the ceilings had murals of clouds and childish things, and the walls were lined with short white shelves that still held a few of his old toys.

When I opened the door, I was bombarded by streamers and balloons. A banner with the words “Happy Birthday” in giant glitter letters hung on the back wall.

“Happy birthday!” Willa shouted before I could step inside.

“Happy birthday!” Rhys and Rhiannon said in unison.

“Thanks, guys,” I said, pushing a helium-filled balloon out of my face so I could go in. “You guys know my birthday isn’t actually until tomorrow?”

“Of course I know,” Matt said, his voice a little high from inhaling helium. He had a deflated balloon in his hands, the source of the helium, and he tossed it aside to walk over to me. “I was there when you were born, remember?”

He’d been smiling, but it faltered when he realized what he’d said. Rhys and I had been switched at birth. Matt had actually been there for Rhys’s birth, not mine.

“Well, I was there when you came home from the hospital anyway,” Matt said and hugged me. “Happy birthday.”

“Thank you,” I said, hugging him back.

“And I definitely know your birthday,” Rhys said, walking over to us. “Happy birthday!”

“Happy birthday to you too,” I smiled. “How does it feel to be eighteen?”

“Pretty much exactly the same as it does being seventeen,” Rhys laughed. “Do you feel any older?”

“No, not really,” I admitted.

“Oh, come on,” Matt said. “You’ve matured so much in the past six months. I hardly even recognize you anymore.”

“I’m still me, Matt,” I said, shifting uneasily from his compliment.

I knew that I’d grown up some. Even physically, I’d changed. I wore my hair down more now because I finally managed to tame my curls after a lifetime of struggling with them. Since I was running a kingdom now, I had to play the part and wear dark-colored gowns all the time. I had to look like a Princess.

“It’s a good thing, Wendy,” Matt smiled at me.

“Stop.” I waved my hand. “No more seriousness. This is supposed to be a party.”

“Party!” Rhys shouted and blew on one of those cardboard horns they used on New Year’s.

Once the party got underway, I actually did have fun. This was much better than if I’d had a ball, since most of the people here wouldn’t be able to go. Matt wasn’t even supposed to live in the palace, and since Rhys and Rhiannon were mänks, they would never be allowed to attend a ball. Duncan would be let in, but he’d have to work. He wouldn’t be able to laugh and goof around like he did here.

“Wendy, why don’t you help me cut the cake?” Willa suggested while Tove attempted to act out some kind of clue for charades. Duncan had guessed everything under the sun, but he wasn’t even close.

“Um, sure,” I said.

I’d been sitting on the couch, laughing at everyone’s failed attempts, but I got up and went over to the table where Willa stood. A cake sat on a brightly colored tablecloth, next to a small pile of gifts. Both Rhys and I had specifically asked for no gifts, but here they were.

“Sorry,” Willa said. “I didn’t mean to drag you away from the fun, but I wanted to talk to you.”

“Nah, it’s okay,” I shrugged it off.

“Your brother made the cake.” Willa gave me an apologetic smile as she sliced through the white frosting. “He insisted that it was your favorite.”

Matt might be a very good cook, but I wasn’t sure. I dislike most food, especially processed ones, but Matt had been trying hard to feed me for years, so I pretended to like a lot of things I didn’t like. My birthday cake was one of them.

“It’s not horrible,” I said, but it kind of was. At least to me, and Willa and all the other Trylle.

“I wanted to let you know that I didn’t tell Matt about Loki.” Willa lowered her voice as she carefully put pieces of cake on small paper plates. “He would just worry.”

“Thank you,” I said, and looked back over at Matt, laughing at the ridiculous miming Tove was doing. “I suppose I’ll have to tell him eventually.”

“You think Loki will be around for a while?” Willa asked. She’d gotten some frosting on her finger, and she licked it off, then grimaced.

“Yeah, I think he will be,” I nodded.

“Well, don’t worry about it now,” she said quickly. “This is your last day to be a kid!”

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