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Pertinent Questions

“So…what is it?”

Mom, also known as Her Royal Highness Queen Vienne glares at me a moment, her eyebrow lifting in that way she’s perfected. “It’s a ring, Xan.” She holds up her hand and wiggles the fingers, showing off the rings she wears. “You know, jewelry.”

I roll my eyes and wiggle my fingers back at her. “I know it’s a ring. What does it do?”

Mom pauses. “What do you mean?”

“I mean, you hand me a piece of old-as-ass jewelry and tell me not to ever take it off, I want to know why. Are we talking wear it when I go out levels or shower with it on, go nowhere without it, wear it even if your finger rots off level of don’t take it off? Does it test my meals for me? Will it light up when I find my true love? Does it counter a curse I was given at birth? Will it glow in the presence of orcs or demons? Ooo, will it let me fly? What about reading minds?”

Mom stares at me blankly for a moment, then bursts out laughing. “You’ve been reading too many fairy tales. Clearly, I need to talk to your tutor.”

I level one of my best don’t bullshit me looks at her. “Uh-huh. Sure. Then what’s with the don’t ever take it off routine?”

Mom’s smile falters a fraction. “It’s a…family heirloom. The heir always wears it once they come of age.”

I blink once, slowly. “Yeah. I guessed that. What else?”

“Nothing else. It’s a ring.”

“It’s a ring you told me never to take off. And we still haven’t established whether that means just when I’m awake, or sleeping, showering, swimming, always and forever.”

Mom hesitates. Her eyes drop to the ring I still haven’t put on. “That last one would be better.”

I close my eyes and sigh loudly. “Mom. What does it do?

“Dammit Alexandra, will you just wear the ring—”

“Not until you tell me why!”

We stare hard, each waiting for the other to give in. I’m not sure which of us is more surprised when it’s Mom who does. She looks away, chewing on her lip as she does.

“It isn’t going to let you fly. Or read minds. And I wouldn’t know about the true love thing, though I suppose that would be nice.”

She fiddles with the sash at her waist, something I think I’ve only seen her do once before, during a particularly tense negotiation. I sit up a little straighter and silently promise myself I won’t get mad. Or at least I’ll try not to. “So, what? Are you saying I was cursed as a baby? I thought that went out of fashion centuries ago.”

Mom sighs and starts pacing, which really isn’t a good sign. “It did, and no, you weren’t. It’s…older than that.”

I turn the ring over in my hand, giving Mom time to figure out what she needs to tell me. It’s nothing fancy, the ring. Wide silver band, four runes, four stones. I don’t want to put it on until I know the what and the why, but it looks like it will fit comfortably on my thumb or forefinger. I want to wear it, too, which worries me a little.

And then what she said registers. “Wait, so we are cursed?” I search her fingers. “You don’t have a ring.” It occurs to me then that the ring I’m holding probably lived on her finger once.

She confirms that thought with a nod at the ring, and my head starts spinning with more questions. “Okay, so…what does it do? What are the terms? You’re not wearing the ring anymore, you’re giving it to me, that means there are conditions—”

Mom grabs my hands, closing my fingers around the ring. “Slow down, Xan.” She takes a deep breath. “Yes, our family is cursed. You’d better sit down, this might take a while.”

I twirl the ring in my fingers and sit as Mom starts to talk. My life is about to change, probably pretty drastically. All I can do right now is listen.

“It all started, as these things do, once upon a time…”

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