DG clasped Cain's hand under the library table and it trembled as the members of the Council found their seats. He ran his thumb against her skin. Truth was, he didn't know which news they had to tell them made her the jitteriest. Glitch cocked his head inquisitively as he sat across the table from Cain, but didn't say anything.
"Thank you for coming," DG began.
Count Begon frowned as he settled into his chair. "Normally we have a few days free of meetings until the next one, your Majesty."
Cain raised his eyebrow. "Well, if you're too busy to hear about developments that affect the Zone, you don't have to stay." Count Begon glowered, but didn't move out of his seat.
"Developments?" Count Roundtree asked.
DG squeezed Cain's hand tighter. "The doctors found evidence that the disease was deliberately unleashed on Neverdale. The seventy-six who have died were murdered, including Mother."
"By the gods," Count Roundtree muttered as he pressed a handkerchief to his mouth.
Lord Vandervort had paled with the news. "How did they discover this?"
"They found vials of the disease in a recent arrival to the village's luggage," Cain said. "He posed as a trader and brought five vials with him. He only used one to make the whole village ill. Unfortunately, he died too."
"But if they found this, are they closer to an antidote?" Count Roundtree turned to Glitch on his right.
Glitch shook his head. "It's not like poison. If there is no cure for the disease, we can't heal people suffering from it."
Count Begon drummed his fingers against the tabletop. "Are the Longcoats responsible?"
Now it was Cain's turn to shake his head. "If they had the ability, they wouldn't have wasted it on a poor target like Neverdale. They would have gone straight to Central City, the Palace, and the Royal Army."
Count Begon nodded reluctantly. "So did an alchemist who worked for the witch survive?"
"I thought we accounted for all of them." DG's quivering was limited to her hand at least.
"In the chaos after the Eclipse, we thought we had." Glitch shrugged. "I sent for one of my assistants to comb through the witch's records. Been meaning to have it done for an annual now; always pushed it back."
"You think the witch could have had alchemists set up somewhere besides the Tower who decided not to kill themselves after she was melted?" Cain asked.
"It's either that or a foreign realm," Glitch answered.
"But no one has shown that level of hostility to us!" Count Roundtree said.
"Maybe you should double check that," Cain suggested.
DG took a deep breath. "Other than the doctors still trying to find a cure, Glitch looking into the local terrorists angle, and Count Roundtree looking for the outside ones; there is some good news to share." She squeezed his hand tighter as the four faces stared at her. "Wyatt Cain and I are getting married."
Cain reached six in his silent count-up before the three outraged "what's!" and a happy "congratulations!" were shouted out.
"But you wouldn't even meet Prince Gilliam!" Count Roundtree protested.
Count Begon glared solely at Cain. "Who do you think you are, using her state of grief—"
"Oh please," Glitch snapped. "Even with half a brain, I saw how twitterpated they were about each other. DG would never consider anyone else."
"Because Wyatt Cain Hero of the Eclipse was the first to aid her, first to join her quest, first to save her." Lord Vandervort's chair scraped back. "Nothing anyone else did for you would ever compare to that." The library doors slammed behind him.
"Actually the first was Glitch." Cain glanced at DG and decided to coax a smile to her troubled face. "Maybe we should look at how history is being taught across the Zone if they're getting mixed up on what just happened an annual ago."
Count Begon appealed directly to the head of the table. "Your Majesty, Lord Vandervort phrased it poorly, but essentially he is correct. You threw yourself into the rebuilding projects and never spent time with nobles your own age. How can you know what you feel is real when you have nothing to compare it to?"
Glitch snorted with laughter like he had been given a dose of vapors. "That's the same speech you gave Galinda when she turned down your betrothal for Ahamo's! Dangling from the balloon and staring down into the Gap wasn't punishment enough the first time?"
"I don't want to see our Queen taken advantage of!"
"Unless you're doing it?" DG's cold voice doused Glitch's laughter. She pulled their joined hands to the tabletop.
"That's not what I meant, your Majesty."
"So you think Wyatt Cain's intentions are insincere? Think about how you want to answer that, because he's the one who wouldn't let me dismiss this cumbersome bullshit of informing the Council." She glared at the two Counts. "So should I start with my inexperience at dating that's not true on the Other Side? Or the fact that I can count on one hand the nobles my own age who have actually done anything toward rebuilding the O.Z.? I love Wyatt Cain and I am marrying him. If you don't like it, you can hand in your resignation now."
Count Roundtree sighed. "So the wedding after the coronation? Or do you want a longer engagement?"