Era of Rebellion - Navigation

Alice Bee and Christopher Levy.
One year after the Battle of Yavin (36:9:17) in the Alderaan system: Delaya (Imperial Garrison and Leiliani: Rodney Castle) and Retributive Strike.
Governor Papius Arundel, El-Nay Darr, Ewwiekewwieikkie, Melickielickie, Callista Nilar, Duke Marcus Rodney, Major Sierra Rodney, Duchess Zara Rodney, Commander Iyah Zoran and Mug Zoran.

"Thank you for coming with me, El-Nay." Sierra Rodney said from within the Kom'rk class starfighter. "There's a probability that this little meeting will get ugly." The arrival of the invitation to Callista's sixth birthday party at Castle Rodney had flipped a switch inside of Major Rodney. Perhaps driven by her hormones, she decided to use a trump card that she'd been waiting to use for a better time. She abruptly scheduled a meeting with Governor Arundel, gathered her ammunition, and headed to Delaya with El-Nay. She wanted to give her another chance to prove herself...not just to Claudius, but to Sierra herself. "Go ahead and land at the garrison. The less time we're there, the better." She glanced down at the datapad on her lap. She wanted Claudius to have his freedom on his home planet again. It wasn't fair that they needed to beg Papius for his permission every time they wanted to visit the planet together. With a groan, Sierra adjusted her tunic. She hoped Governor Arundel didn't get too much enjoyment out of the fact that her tunics were getting tighter again. Upon seeing the ugly garrison, Sierra let out a sigh. "If I thought we could get away with it, I'd just have him killed."

"It is an honor, milady," the Mandalorian El-Nay Darr said from beneath her helmet, which concealed a broad smile. Since being banished from the personal service of Lady Sierra Rodney, she had toiled in anonymity within the Void. She never expected to be given another chance, so when it came she was nearly bowled over. She wanted to prove herself. She wanted to make up for what happened, but she felt anxious and it was likely to lead to a mistake. "The, uh, garrison, milady?" she asked, as she arched an eyebrow, before rerouting the ship towards the imposing garrison near the still rebuilding city of Leiliani. "I said I'd kill him," she whined, unaware of the difficulty in the killing of an Imperial governor. Gradually she brought the ship into a gentle landing at the designated landing platform. As the thrusters fired and the ship touched down, she turned to look at Sierra. "I have a bad feeling about this..." she warned, as she unstrapped herself from her seat.

"I'd love for you to kill him. There are many problems with actually carrying it out. His Majesty seems to enjoy the fighting within the ranks, however, I worry what will replace him. It would be better to teach Papius not to mess with me." If Papius Arundel was killed, there was a good chance a member of the Rodney family would be blamed. Be it Claudius, herself, Marcus, or even Zara. Everyone had their motivations for getting rid of him. She felt discomfort growing inside of her as they arrived. Governor Arundel's garrison was a cold, unwelcoming place. "I do too. Stay close." Sierra rose from her seat. As she adjusted her tunic, one might see that she was wearing a small blaster pistol at her hip. Safety was everything when it came to dining with the enemy. She wouldn't let Papius stop her from being reunited with her family.

She straightened up, tucked her datapad beneath her arm, and headed out onto the landing platform where she was immediately greeted by a group of Stormtroopers. "I have a meeting with Governor Arundel. Please take me to him." Though she had only visited the garrison a handful of times, she had it memorized. It was an uncomfortable place for her. The sick man who awaited her at the top of the garrison loved messing with her. Standing in the turbolift, Sierra glanced at El-Nay. It was important that they were not separated for this meeting. The awkward silence that formed between all of them was broken once the turbolift's doors opened. The Stormtrooper approached a comm into Governor Arundel's office. He pressed a button. "Sir, Major Rodney is here to see you." He announced.

Papius was so excited to learn of the impending arrival of of Sierra Rodney that he nearly spilled the Sierra's Scandal Squib Sinsation ice cream all over his tunic. He had to envy the King of Skor II, despite the fact that he was an alien, for how physically close he had gotten to the woman of his dreams. "Uh. Send her in," he stammered, with a mouth full of ice cream that dribbled down his chin. He began chewing quickly and swallowed even faster, but did not conceal the bowl, as he wanted her to know what it was he was eating. He moved his hand over his face to get into character and then, as if someone flipped a switch, a smug little grin crept onto his face. He was ready.

Sierra didn't want to see him. He had made quite the impression when he stripped her bare and loomed over her like a predator. Part of him was irrationally scared of him, while the other felt that she could put him in his place. The durasteel doors before her opened. She stepped through them with El-Nay. "Here we go," she whispered to the Mandalorian under her breath. Like Papius, she put on a metaphorical mask of her own as she began to get into character. "Governor Arundel, it's been awhile." Her eyes briefly gazed over the ice cream in his hands. Of course... Sierra's Scandal Squib Sinsation. She recalled burning those trousers as she tried to erase the memory of the King of Skor II. Sierra didn't wait for his suggestion to sit. Instead, she perched herself in front of his desk. "Leiliani is looking better than the last time I visited. How long before you destroy it again?" Her blue eyes went cold.

Governor Arundel did not stand when Sierra entered, possibly because her presence made it difficult for him to stand. "My dear Lady Rodney, it is always a pleasure to see you," he said, with a smirk, as he dipped his spoon into the bowl of ice cream and slowly savored a bite. "Would you like some?" he asked her, as he allowed the spoon to loudly fall back into the bowl. "You've been traveling quite a bit lately. Skor II, Pavo Prime, Delaya ... Skor II..." he repeated, with a wink, as he motioned for them to come forward. "I see you brought the orange menace. Don't feel safe?" he asked her, with a soft chuckle, followed by another sampling of the ice cream. "Destroy it? I saved it from the Rebels, also known as your deceased in-laws," he said, with incredible smugness as he looked towards them.

"No thank you. I'm more of a pudding pop girl." She would not be eating pudding pops in front of him any time soon. The very last thing she needed was to put certain images inside of his head. She saw that he was trying to get a rise out of her by mentioning Skor II. While it was a sore spot, it was never going to happen again. "Ah, yes. Perks of being married to Governor Rodney, hm? We actually get to leave our command ship. Speaking of Pavo Prime, did you see our Auntie Mae special? It was actually done tastefully. Bravo, Mae." Sierra crossed her arms over her chest. "No offense, Papius, but you aren't exactly a warm guy to be around. Perhaps I should bring some of my husband's Troopers next time in addition to my Mandalorian friend?" She looked at El-Nay. She hoped beyond hoped that one day she'd see El-Nay shove a rocket up Papius' ass.

"It's funny you mention the Rebels." Sierra slid the datapad out from underneath her arm. She clicked through a few screens, then turned the datapad to show him footage of him with a redhead who wore the Rebel uniform. "I wonder how Grand Moff Praji would feel if he knew what a traitor you really are." Sierra pressed a button on the datapad to allow the footage to play. She had footage from within *his* garrison, as well as other secret rendezvous. She had arranged it in such a way where *he* looked like a Rebel spy. "Tsk tsk, Governor Arundel. By how intimate you are with this woman, it really looks like you love the Rebel. I wonder how long this has been going on. I thought I might take it to Grand Moff Praji myself. I'm sure exposing you would be enough to raise my rank again... and make you amount to nothing in the Empire." Sierra knew the truth. In her efforts to keep a watchful eye on Arundel, she had altered some of the mouse droids running around his garrison. She wasn't going to tell him about that.

"No. I must have missed it," Governor Arundel replied, but in truth not only had he watched the live stream, but he also had watched the recording several times. "If you feel you must, although that would leave less troopers to protect your husband and children on Esseles which, as you know, is a war zone," he reminded her, devilishly, as he again smirked at her. He did not expect Sierra to have such footage, but when it was revealed his cheeks flushed red with a mixture of embarrassment and anger, and his heart began to race to furiously pump blood through his system. "I'll have you know that woman is not, in fact, a Rebel, but an agent in my employ who has provided the Empire with invaluable intelligence," he explained to her, as he reached forward in an attempt to snatch away the datapad.

She saw she had struck a nerve for once. Usually, it was Papius driving her insane. Ultimately, Sierra was getting tired of being pushed around. She would use her abilities as an ISB officer to get what she wanted. The woman sat back in her seat. It didn't matter if he actually succeeded in getting her datapad away from her, Sierra had backed up her information. "‘Invaluable intelligence'? Is that what you're calling it now? I wonder if your word will weigh more than the footage. I mean, it looks to me like you captured a Rebel and purposely shot Imperial cameras so no one could see what happened next... You're being so secretive with her. The evidence will back up my claim. You are a traitor." She repeated the words as she rested her datapad in her lap. "You can destroy this datapad, but the evidence still exists. Are you willing to play with your career like that?"

Governor Arundel curled his right hand into a fist and slammed it down on his desk so hard that it upended his bowl of ice cream. "Damn," he cursed her, before rotating his chair around so that the back was facing her and he was looking out the viewport. He folded his hands in his lap and sat there silently, with no reply, which drew in for several long, awkward moments. "Alright. What is it you want?" he asked her, finally, in a deflated voice, and without turning his chair back around. In the game the two had been playing for many months she had just landed a major, perhaps even decisive, blow.

Sierra's shoulders tensed as his fist collided with his desk. The ice cream created a pool of sticky mess on his desk. It began to drip off the edge down to the floor. She had finally done it: she had finally taken home a win in the war waged between her and Papius. The battle was complete, but the war would continue to rage on. A silence grew between them. Sierra's eyes diverted towards El-Nay to show the Mandalorian that she was fine. As much as she wanted El-Nay to attack, it would have to wait. It was time to draw up the peace treaty. Major Rodney crossed one leg over the other. "I want you to go to Praji and tell him that there is peace between you and my husband. Claudius will be allowed to come and go from Delaya as he pleases. This is his home planet...this is *our* home planet. We shouldn't have to ask anyone's permission to come here. In return, I will ensure that this evidence never sees the light of day."

Governor Arundel clenched his jaw so tightly it was a surprise that teeth did not come flying out of his mouth. She had asked for the one thing he did not want to give, which was in actuality the only thing of value he had to offer her. He stood from his desk and moved towards the viewport, once again curling his gloved hand into a fist. Unexpectedly he slammed it forward, shattering the glass and causing considerable damage to his hand in the process. "Fine!" he shouted, his back still turned towards her. His head hung low, and a small pool of blood was forming at the floor, as it dripped from his mangled hand. "Leave," he said, in an angry, yet subdued voice, as he was not one who tolerated others seeing him like this.

For once, Sierra was acting like an ISB officer and getting results. She had wanted to destroy Papius for a long time. The young woman took pleasure in seeing him furious and flustered. That confidence Claudius had instilled inside of her would have taken her up to Grand Moff Praji. Sierra was more than capable of making everything look very convincing. She watched him punch the viewport. Glass shattered everywhere. His hand looked bloody and disfigured, but she didn't care. She immediately rose to her feet. "Send me a copy of the communication when it's complete. I expect it to happen in a timely manner, Governor." She left Papius behind. The celebratory feelings didn't settle in until they were back inside of El-Nay's ship. "Shit, that actually worked." She laughed nervously. "Are you ready to go to Callista's party? You got an invite too." She informed El-Nay, reaching into a small messenger bag she'd brought along. She picked up a card Callista had made of her and El-Nay hugging. She handed it to the Mandalorian. "I want you to stay near. I've just pissed off a boar. He might do something."

El-Nay had remained silent the entire time in the Governor's office out of fear she would say something inappropriate and fall out of Sierra's favor again. Once inside the ship, she moved her hands to the sides of her helmet and lifted it off her head carefully, revealing the young woman that lay beneath. She ran a gloved hand through the short artificially blonde hairs that sat upon her head. "You were really something in there, milady," she said, with a genuine smile and look of awe. She reached out to take the invitation from her, looking it over, and laughing softly. "Of course I'll go," she said, before heeding Sierra's warning about the Governor. "I won't leave your side, milady," she pledged, before bowing her head in obedience. The debt she had with Sierra had not been broken when she had been dismissed.

Sierra smiled and laughed softly. "Thank you. I've been waiting to drop that bomb on him. I'm so sick and tired of him pushing Claudius and I around." She had no intent of deleting the footage she had either. If Papius tried something, then she would see that he was disposed of for good. She could never humiliate him like he had done to her, however, she could take away his pride and joy: his career.

El-Nay had done well in the garrison. It was helpful to Sierra just to have her there. It was the same way with the party. With Iyah and Mug present, they all needed to be careful. She sat back and relaxed on the short trip from the garrison to the castle. She saw the repaired Kwai on one of the landing pads already. Her smile grew. She couldn't wait to tell Claudius the good news. As the ship landed, Sierra quickly rose. "I'll see you inside." She patted El-Nay's shoulder before quickly taking off into the castle.

The interior of the castle had been changed for the party. There were pink streamers hanging from everywhere. Matching pink and purple balloons floated around on the ground. The theme was princess tea party and it appeared that Zara had gone as full out as possible (just wait until they saw the dining room). Sierra navigated towards the wing of the castle that her family repeatedly occupied when they visited. There was a jump in her step. She had done it, she had landed a blow on the evil Governor Arundel.

At about the same time the Mandalorian starfighter was landing at Rodney Castle, the newly repaired Lambda-class shuttle Kwai descended right beside it. On board were Grand Moff Claudius Rodney and family, which was quite the ordeal for the old man without his beloved Sierra. Ewwiekewwieikkie and Melickielickie should have *never* been told they were going to a party, because they had been dancing nonstop. He was impatiently waiting by the ramp and, before it even finished lowered, he marched down the ramp ... desperate to find his wife. Not only was he feeling overwhelmed by having the girls all to himself, he was also troubled by her detour to the garrison. He had spent so little time in the castle the last several months he had trouble remembering where he was going, but eventually he found her. "Sierra!" he said, sounding as if he had not seen her in ages. He moved towards her, reaching out and taking hold of her by each arm. His face moved down swiftly, placing a loving kiss upon her sweet lips.

It had been stupid, on her part, to go to the garrison. Sierra had did what she could to reassure her husband that she held a smoking blaster and that Papius wouldn't try anything if he knew what was good for him. Thankfully, she was correct. She was so happy to see Claudius. Her heart suddenly took off inside of her chest. "Claudius!" An instant later, she was in his arms and kissing him. She could only imagine what chaos he'd had to deal with on the way to Delaya. When the kiss broke, she happily delivered the good news. "I'm sorry I left you with all the girls. I think I can make it up to you, however. Firstly, by not abandoning you with so much estrogen.... And secondly, by revealing to you that Governor Arundel no longer has any say about when you come to Delaya. You can visit as much as you like." She smiled at him lovingly.

"It is alright. I don't mind them at all. I am just glad to see you well," Claudius said, as he smiled down at her affectionately. "What?!" he asked, when he heard his travel restrictions had been lifted. He reached down, grabbed her by her hips, and lifted her in the air before spinning her around in an excited manner, which was a considerable effort since she was carrying twins. "How on earth did you manage that?" he asked her, as he let her back down onto the floor. He felt something in the small of his back, but he was not about to mention that until they were alone ... *later*.

Suddenly, he whisked her off her feet. Sierra laughed. It had been worth it to push Papius around to make her husband so happy. Her hands remained on him to steady herself once she was back on her feet. "Oh, you know, by being an evil ISB officer." She explained to him, wiggling her eyebrows. "I've been keeping tabs on him. He's using a Rebel informative, however, he didn't keep the relationship professional. By rearranging the story, it can appear as if Papius is the traitor. I threatened to go to Praji with the information." She beamed at Claudius. As they stood together, Sierra began to hear a frantic meowing. She turned, spotting their luggage which had been placed near the door to their private quarters. "Oh no..." She released her husband and darted towards the suitcase. Gently resting it on its side, Sierra unzipped the center and out came... Nea! The scared felinx bolted towards Claudius. Everything inside of the suitcase was covered in black and white fur. "H-How..? He wasn't there when I closed everything up earlier..."

"Ah hah! I knew it!" Claudius fired back in response to her claim that she was an 'evil' ISB agent. "Oh that is very devious. I approve, and I *am* impressed," he said, as he smiled down at her, seeing something new for the first time. "What?! How did he get in *there*?!" he asked to know, as he suddenly felt the felinx moving between his legs, rubbing back and forth against them in repeatedly. "The thing's a menace," he said, before reaching down to pick it up, which was made more difficult by wrenching his back. Once in his arms he held Nea, almost in the same manner, he held Bruce, and the purrfest began.

Downstairs in the garden, a petting zoo had been set up. There was an assortment of animals: miniature banathas, choreamnos, tauntaun, akk dogs, and more. As per the norm, where there are animals, there is Ewwiekewwie, Melickielickie, Bruce, and the birthday girl herself: Callista. Callista was so happy. This was the bestest birthday she'd ever had. Her Auntie Zara had seen to finding her the most pink, foofy princess dress. Her crown, as always, was firmly on her head. It seemed she had taken influence from Drusilla, because her crown wasn't her only accessory. She had thick bracelets on each wrist and even fake, plastic rings on her fingers. On top of that, there was already bits of blue fur on her dress as well as other animal fur. She was currently cuddling a baby tauntuan in her lap. "Imma keep you!" She squeaked, wrapping her arms around the animal who was desperately trying to get away from her ... and reach Bruce.

Melickielickie was pretending to be a choreamnos. She was hanging by her feet off of a branch with the lazy creatures right next to her. "Woooooo. Dizzzyyyy." She hazardously fell from the tree onto the ground. "Oooohhh." She stared up at the sky. It was moving around and around. Melickielickie clutched her stomach. "Sissy.. Make it stop movinggg."

Duchess Zara Rodney was watching the girls closely. It had been a lot of fun for her to plan Callista's party. She couldn't wait until the twins were old enough to enjoy the same kind of over the top parties...and Fiona too. So far, everything was running smoothly. The cake had arrived (and was hidden). Decorations were all in order. None of the animals had bit anyone ... though, they were oddly attracted to Bruce. "Melickie, are you okay?" She called out when she saw the Squib fall.

Ewwiekewwieikkie was standing in the garden wearing a pink party dress with a birthday hat on top of her head, which was attached by a string to keep from falling off. She was holding her adoptive baby brother, Bruce, but instead of holding him tight to her body, she was holding him out in front of her and pointing him at the animals she wanted to come to her. "Yay. Is working," she declared, as she soon found herself surrounded by animals. "He an animal magnet," she told Auntie Zara, before looking down at the animals giggling excitedly. She needed to take him to the zoo she decided right then and there.

As his wife had been tasked with watching *all* the girls at the party, Marcus Rodney found himself tasked with caring for Sia and Darrus. He held Darrus in one arm and Sia in the other as he quixotically watched Ewwiekewwieikkie and Bruce along with virtually every animal at the petting zoo. "Uh. What's going on?" he asked Zara, quietly, as he immediately thought back to the incident with the sea monster in the lake.

"Me okay!" Melickielickie called out from the ground. She thrust a thumb up into the air, then slowly rose to her feet. Standing back, the small Squib watched in awe as her sister was surrounded by the animals. She wanted to join in! "‘Lista! You come too!" She called out for her friend as she made her way towards the animals. She immediately began to pet everything in sight. "Oooh. So soft!" She had no idea why there were so many animals at Auntie Zara's and Uncle Marcy Marc's, but she *loved* it. It was just like home! The miniature banthas were even better behaved than Sorbet.

From the sidelines, Zara nervously watched the animals crowding around Ewwiekewwieikkie. No one would ever forget what had happened at the lake. Zara didn't know if a repeat performance was about to happen. She chewed on her lower lip nervously. "I-I don't know... It doesn't look good.. I'm out of my league. I'm going to get Sierra and Claudius. Make sure nobody dies while I'm gone, kay?" She kissed his cheek, the Darrus' and Sia's. Zara quickly scampered off into the castle to find where her in-laws were hiding. She wondered when Mug and Iyah were going to make an appearance. She knew it wasn't easy for them, but they'd promised they would be there for Callista's birthday. "Sierra? Claudius?!" She called out, reaching their rooms but not going into them. "The animals are swarming Ewwie and Bruce. I thought you might like to know!"

"*Wow*! I remember these from the zoo!" Callista squeaked. Choreamnos. Her auntie liked those. She ran both of her hands over separate choreamnos. Then, just like at the zoo, she rubbed her face directly against one of them. "I wuv you!" She had repeated the same action with Nea many, many times. Callista gave the choreamnos kisses, totally unaware what the fallout of her affection would be.

"How long can we subject Marcus and Zara to all of the children?" Claudius asked his wife, with a devilish grin, as his eyes moved down her body. But, before he could say another word or make a move, Zara arrived with alarming, but not entirely unexpected, news. He smirked before starting to laugh softly. "We should have known," he said, before raising his hand to buck up her chin and caress her cheek. "Shall we?" he asked, as he outstretched his arm and intertwined it with hers, and then led her out of the room out towards where Zara was waiting.

"Long enough, I hope." Sierra was ready to disrobe right then and there. It was probably best she didn't, because Zara chose then to disrupt them. She already was imagining Ewwiekewwieikkie thrusting Bruce up in the air like it was the presentation of Simba. She laughed. "I bet Ewwiekewwieikkie is having the time of her life." Sierra sighed. His affection was to sweet. "We'll sneak away when things start dying down," she whispered into his ear. Her arm wrapped around his and together, the left the room. "Bruce does have a certain ... effect on animals..." Sierra commented on the way towards the garden. When she arrived, Ewwiekewwieikkie was being swarmed with animals. Melickielickie and Callista were both happily snuggling the occupants of the petting zoo. For a moment, there was peace. The peace was broken by a simple sneeze. Sierra's eyes quickly zoned in on Callista and the... "Choreamnos! Callista is extremely allergic to those!" She didn't fill Zara in as to why she knew that. Of course, Callista had her face planted into one of them. As soon as the little girl lifted her face to take a breath, Sierra could already see her swelling up. "Get her out of there. I'm going to get my first aid kit." Sierra nervously squeezed her husband's arm before releasing and darting away.

"Auntie Zara!" Callista squeaked. "I *love* the petting zoo! It's so awesome!" She sneezed against a choreamnos. She could see her aunt waving her out of the petting zoo, but then something else caught her eye. "*Mommy*!" The brown-haired birthday girl took off. She ducked in between the makeshift fence set up to keep the animals in and darted towards her parents. "Mommy! Daddy!" For Iyah and Mug, they were seeing their daughter suffering from an allergic reaction for the first time. Needless to say, it didn't look good.

Mug Zoran arrived on the scene at Rodney Castle to find the happiest sight in the world. His darling daughter Callista. "Callista!" he shouted with equal amounts of excitement to what his daughter was exhibiting. As she drew near he could see that she was not looking so great, but he was not sure what the cause was. "What happened?" he asked, as he dropped down into a crouch so he could examine her at eye level. He was so glad to see her, as every time they went on a mission and left her in the care of others he was terrified he would never see her again. (D)
Iyah Zoran was glad to see her daughter again. Being a Rebel wasn't glamorous. It was difficult. Her work took her and Mug away from New Alderaan more than she liked. She told herself that they were working towards a better tomorrow, and that when the Rebellion won the war, she, Mug, and Callista would be a family again. At that point, Iyah would never let the precious little girl leave her sight. "Callista! Happy birthday, my sweet little girl!" Iyah saw that something was wrong. Callista's face was red and swollen. It was the first time she'd seen something wrong with Callista, so she began to panic. She quickly embraced her daughter while looking to Zara for answers. "What's wrong with her?!" Iyah panicked.

Of course, Sierra would disappear just as Iyah and Mug arrived. Zara felt like a deer in headlights. "Um. Well. Um. Uh. Um." She inched backwards towards Marcus. "I... Uh... Well, you see. Callista is apparently allergic to choreamnos." She sputtered. "Those weird looking things right there... In the petting zoo." Zara pointed a finger towards the lazy camel-looking creatures. "I didn't know your daughter was allergic to any animals. Sierra is going to make it better!" She hoped her sister-in-law had a solution. Zara felt like one horrible person for inadvertently causing Callista's reaction. She sunk down next to Marcus. "Oh my Germanicus. I'm the worst person ever..." She hung her head.

Luckily, Sierra was moving much more quickly than she would be in a few months. She returned to the garden clutching a first aid kit and a bottle of water. "Mug. Iyah." She made eye contact with them as she knelt down before Callista. Callista seemed oblivious that she was having a reaction. All she did was say that her throat felt funny. "Alright sweetie. Take this medicine and it'll make you all better." She placed two small pink pills in Callista's hand. She had the mind to restock the first aid kit with non-drowsy medication, so at least she wouldn't be asleep for the remainder of her party.

Mug was conflicted. He was upset that his daughter was having an allergic reaction to the choreamnos, but these people were their family, and they were throwing a majestic birthday party at considerable expense. As he listened to Zara calmly explain the situation he refrained from getting upset, and instead focused on comforting his daughter. "Callista, darling. I know you love the choreamnos, but they make you sick," he said to her, as he brought his hand up to brush at her hair softly. "You can look at them, but you can't kiss them anymore. Okay?" he told her, in a calm voice to avoid making it seems like he was yelling at her.

Marcus was quick to stand by his wife's side, still carrying both of their children. He knew how upset he would be if something like this happened to Darrus or Sia, so he wanted to do his best to support her if things turned ugly. "You're not the worst person ever," he said, as they sat back down, which made it easier for him to care for the children. "We didn't know she was allergic," he said, but then out of the corner of his eyes he spotted Sierra giving Callista some medicine. "See. Everything is under control," he said, as he leaned over to place a supporting kiss on her cheek. "I love you. You're a great mom *and* aunt," he reassured her, with a loving smile.

Zara knew how upset she'd be...upset enough to strangle those responsible for hurting her child. How was she to know about the allergy? She sat beside Marcus, deciding it best to watch over her own children for now. She gently scooped Sia from his arms and cradled her against her chest. She could hear the happy cooing from her infant. Between that and Marcus' words of confidence, she began to calm down. She looked at him teary-eyed. "I love you, Marcus. Thanks.. I feel less like a jerk now." Zara leaned against his shoulder. At least the Squibs were still having fun. Bruce appeared to be happy to be around the animals too. He wasn't even having an allergic reaction!

Callista turned towards her auntie. She took the medication, no questions asked. "Thankies, Auntie. I wanna feel better so I can eat lots and lots of cake! Like at your wedding! Nom nom nom nom." She pretended to eat an imaginary cake, turning towards her father as he explained that choreamnos made her sick. Callista's face shrunk. "No more kissing them?" She looked back at the petting zoo then to her daddy. "O-Okay, daddy.." She understood, but she still felt a little sad about the choreamnos.

Leaning in close to Callista's ear. Sierra whispered, "There might be a choreamno you can kiss in your presents. Just wait." She stood up right just as Callista let out a happy shriek. She could see Callista tackling both of her parents and rambling about all of her recent adventures. Sierra drew herself away from them. She, instead, turned to enter the petting zoo. "Alright, Ewwiekewwieikkie. Let me have Bruce. We're going to have cake soon." She stepped over various animals to reach her.

"Hmm," Ewwiekewwieikkie replied to Sierra, as she listened to the bargain. "Bruce is animals, but cake is cake..." she said, as she moved her mouth around, clearly processing the data and trying to determine which was better. "Okay. Cake," she said, as she offered up her baby brother, immediately causing a stir amongst all of the animals. "Woah!" she said, as there was nearly a stampede towards her to get at Sierra. "See. A magnet. I told you!" she said, before sticking out her tongue at her Aunt Zara.

Sierra smiled down at her son once he was tucked in her arms. "Hello my little Bruce. You were enjoying the animals too, weren't you?" Bruce was smiling. He reached up, with both of his little hands, and grasped Sierra's blonde hair. "Ohno!" Suddenly, all the animals were surrounding her and Bruce. Ewwiekewwieikkie had the chance to get away, but now she was trapped. It was worse than Nea rubbing between her legs and nearly tripping her. "Claudius..?" She looked to him for help. She began trying to shuffle her away out of the petting zoo.

"Nyah!" Zara stuck her tongue out at her niece. "I said I believed you before!" There had been a conversation about Bruce's special abilities earlier. Zara didn't mention that she'd seen a gigantic sea monster fall under her nephew's influence. With Ewwie heading in the direction of cake, Zara rose to protect it. She led the crowd towards the dining hall, which was done up in a very Alice in Wonderland inspired tea party style. While the rest of the family went to enjoy Callista's sixth birthday, Sierra, Claudius, and Bruce were left with the animals.

"Sierra!" Claudius screamed as he watched an onrush of animals swarm her once Ewwiekewwieikkie was transferred to her. He moved towards his family quickly, although he found it quite difficult to worm his way through the creatures until he finally reached his wife. He placed his arms around his wife's hips for support, before slowly leading her away from the herd of animals. As soon as they got through the gate he moved to seal it behind them, causing all of the animals to unleash groans of displeasure. "Phew," he said, as he raised his forearm to his forehead. "That was *too* close," he said to his wife, before looking to see where everyone else went.

Sierra had purposely been avoiding going to the zoo with Ewwiekewwieikkie for this exact reason: Bruce. It was difficult to deal with animals that were reasonably sized. What if something like a rancor was attracted to him? She was rescued by her husband, who helped guide her away from the animals and out of the little petting zoo. "That was.." A line of animals stood by the gate looking disappointed that Bruce was gone. Bruce released his mother's hair to reach for the animals. "Oh no. We're getting away from here for now." She turned her head to the side to kiss his cute, chubby cheek. "Looks like everyone else ditched us for cake." Sierra commented. She slid her free hand into his, guiding him towards the dining hall.

It was Callista who sat at the head of the table. She already looked infinitely more healthy than before. The swelling had gone down. Her face was significantly less red. More than anything else, she was very happy again. She had savagely unwrapped the present from Sierra, Claudius, and her nieces and nephew as soon as she reached the great hall. Now she was sharing her seat with a pink choreamno plush. Sierra had made it not long after the zoo trip in anticipation of Callista's birthday. By hand making it, she could make it extremely fluffy like Callista seemed to enjoy in her stuffed animals. "*Caakkkkkkkkkkeeeeeeeeeee*!!" She screamed at the top of her lungs. There was a three tier bright pink Auntie Mae cake in front of her on the table. The six candles placed on it looked so tiny. "Cake! Cake! Cake! Cake!" She chanted. From nearby, Melickielickie was watching and drooling. "Can we sing?" She asked her uncle Marcy Marc.

Marcus was not sure what stampede was more dangerous. The animals towards Bruce or the children towards the cake. "Of course you can sing," he said to Callista, as he motioned for the adults to come and join the children at the table. As he sat there and looked at the cake he worried that there would not be enough with the way these girls ate. "Happy birthday to you..." he began singing, leading the chorus of partygoers. "Happy birthday to you. Happy birthday dear Princess Callista..." he said, loudly, with a big smile, but with an awful voice. "Happy birthday to you!" he finished, before breaking out into applause.

"Cake! Cake! Cake! Cake!" Ewwiekewwieikkie screamed, as she began shaking frantically in her chair. However, she had been to enough birthday parties to know that the singing came before the cake. She sang along with everyone, trying to hurry the song, to speed up when she would receive the cake. When the song was over her tongue slid from her mouth and ran the entire length of her snout. She wanted the cake now, but she knew Callista had to get the first piece. "Hurry. Hurry. Cut it!" she said, frantically, as if she were pleading with someone to cut a wire to disarm a bomb.

As soon as Callista started feeling better, so did Iyah. She sat beside Mug. Everyone had crowded around the table for Callista's birthday It was touching. Despite the war, despite the fact that the sides divided the family, everyone was able to celebrate with her daughter. Iyah recalled Callista's fifth birthday, which had taken place soon after they had adopted her. It had been just her, Mug, and Callista. With their limited wages, they hadn't been able to do much. Callista had been just as happy then as she now was. Iyah was touched that everyone had pulled together to make her daughter's day so special. She reached over, holding Mug's hand. "Happy birthday to you.." She began to sing. Her free hand reached over to brush brown strands of hair away from Callista's face.

In her seat, Callista's arms were wrapped around her stuffed toy. She moved from side to side as she, too, sang. There was a glimmer in her eyes. Though she was young, Callista still had memories of her family before Tarkintown. They had never been so nice to her. She looked through the candles at her family; her mommy and daddy, her bestest friend in the whole entire world, and, of course, the ambassador of candyland. As the song reached its conclusion, Callista closed her eyes tight and wished that every birthday could be like this: together. She blew as hard as she could, instantly defeated four out of six candles. She had to try several more times before blowing out the last of the candles. "Yayyyyyyyyyyy! *Cake time*!" She tried to wait patiently but her little body was shaking excitedly in her seat.

It was Sierra who was brave enough to place herself between Squibs and cake. She took a knife and cut Callista a large piece of birthday cake. "Happy birthday, sweetheart." She smiled down at her. The chants of ‘cake' made her begin cutting and distributing pieces again. Melickielickie refused a fork and immediately face planted her snout into the cake. Callista, ever the little princess, was doing her best to use her fork and carefully eat her cake. A very brief moment of disappointment washed over Sierra as she handed out the last pieces of cake and stepped back. Bruce wouldn't celebrate his sixth birthday with them. She forced herself to not obsess over it. With Claudius by her side, they could make it through whatever happened as a result of Bruce's powers.

Mug was holding up a holorecorder to capture Callista as they sang the song, blew out the candles, and began to eat cake. He wanted them to have a record of this for a lifetime. It was her first birthday with them and he hoped they would share a lifetime of them. Behind the recorder there were tears in his eyes, and as he looked around the table he no longer felt like the 'bastard'. He felt like these people, even the Imperials, really were his family. He reached over to Iyah, placing his hand on her thigh, and squeezing it reassuringly.

Claudius, too, wanted cake, although he would not admit it in the same fashion as the girls. Still, he did not complain when he was handed a particularly large piece of cake. "Thank you," he mouthed to Sierra, before he began to fork his cake. As he looked across the table he saw Melickielickie and Ewwiekewwieikkie eating their cake in a manner similar to the animals in the petting zoo. He began to burst into uncontrollable laughter, happy that this irregular group had come together to form a family.

No piece of cake was every big enough, so there was a slight 'aww' that escaped Ewwiekewwieikkie when she was served the piece of cake. Even though it was twice as large as the one that Callista got, she feared it would not be enough. She lowered her face forward and began to devour the cake. She would have eaten the entire thing in one bite if it would have fit. She looked up with her cake stained face once her father started laughing, and although she did not know what was making him laugh, she began to laugh too. This was a very happy birthday ... even if it was not hers.

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