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Perhaps this is what she deserved. Empress Deirdre lay on the floors of Belhalla, waiting for death's skeletal hands to pluck her from the earth just as she once plucked weeds from the castle's gardens. Was she the same? An annoyance to be rid of? The monster now in possession of her son's body must agree; where she was once a mother, she was now a blight - a malignant presence. More akin to the aphids that brought disease, destroying all in the garden if left unchecked. She supposed that was the more apt comparison.

Not simply because of the dark god Loptous's disdain for Naga and her descendants, but also for the fact that she *existed*. It was bad enough that her mother, Cigyun, had gone against the will of the elders in the Spirit Forest and had two children, but she, too, made the same mistake. The elders had warned her, begged her not to leave the forest with warnings of the calamity that could be wrought upon the world. And yet...

Just like her mother, she had two children. Was that right? Something rattled in the back of her mind, but she couldn't be sure whether or not that was the hazy veil of her imminent death clouding her thoughts the same way it dimmed her perception, blackness slowly but surely creeping inwards from the outermost fields of her vision. The last of her energy had been spent warping her daughter, Julia, as far from the castle's walls as she could manage.

Despite it all, she couldn't help but feel at peace. She had done all she could have; all but go back in time and stop herself from leaving the forest at all. Her mind brought her back to the moment she had left the forest, and she could recall with perfect clarity the way the sun felt on her face and the sounds of the birds.

But there was more, wasn't there? It couldn't have just been another day - she had plenty of wonderful, peaceful days within the forest. She closed her eyes, trying her hardest to recall. She could see the silhouette of a man and feel the power of a silence staff coursing through her. She could see a child, with a smattering of hair the same shade of blue as the man from the outside. The man who she had left the Spirit Forest for. The last words that left Deirdre's lips were