First Came Trust (Finale)

Story Content Notes: Story Content Notes: suicidal character, dubious consent (nonsexual situation)

Long minutes after Abdal road ahead, Lilah was still reeling from eir revelation — revelations? — that Abdal was also a monster. That there were more of them, that Lady Bethania knew enough that Abdal would release eir beast where Bethania could see… that eir beast was no uncontrolled monster, that while wearing the face of the beast Abdal could talk normally and recognize Lilah and…

While Bethania didn’t know exactly what Lilah was thinking, ey was astute enough to realize some of what was racing through the cub’s mind. Ey wanted to give Lilah time to come to terms with everything ey had just learned. But Bethania, too, had things that needed to be said.

After several more minutes silence, Bethania cleared eir throat. “I know you need time to recover, pledged. But I need to learn about you before we get home.”

“Lady?” Lilah asked.

“I was rash in accepting your pledge, Lilah.” Bethania said, “I still believe I did the right thing, but I also know you didn’t intend to pledge and I didn’t — don’t — know anything about you to know if I could trust your pledge.”

Bethania spoke plainly, but eir tone and stiff stance on eir horse betrayed eir nervousness. Eir uncertainty.

“Lady Bethania, I… If you hadn’t taken my pledge, as you call it, I would have… acted rashly myself. I’m glad that you ‘took my pledge’ and gave me a chance.”

Bethania nodded and started to speak, then stopped. Ey didn’t know quite what to say.

Lilah kept turning eir words over in thought. It took em some time to work through things because Lilah had been so focused on eir own fears and hurts. So much had happened, in so short a time, that ey had no time to even recognize half the things ey felt, never mind deal with them.

In truth, Lilah still focused on eir own fears and hurts. And among the least of those fears (though ey had the awareness to recognize that it would later loom very large indeed) was Bethania. Lilah wanted Bethania to be trustworthy, but that didn’t mean ey was right to trust.

Still, as ey turned over Bethania’s words, ey realized ey wasn’t the only one who feared. True, trusting Bethania, especially after ey had tricked Lilah’s ‘pledge’ from em, was a risk. But Bethania had given many signs that ey was trustworthy — from saving three strangers to the proven truths ey had already given Lilah.

But Bethania had taken a risk as well. Ey had given Lilah incredible power over eir home and people. And what reason did ey have to trust?

Bethania was, in truth, terrified. Knowing that ey had done the right thing didn’t change the risk they had taken. A noble could take steps to protect eir people from a poorly chosen pledge. But they were not… good things, nor things Bethania wanted to do. And a great deal of damage could be done before a noble realized such action was necessary.

“Bethania?” Lilah reached a hand toward the noble. Bethania urged eir horse forward to ride a long side the wagon and took Lilah’s hand. “I didn’t know what I was asking for when I begged you to take my life.”

(Sherzod, still laying quietly, bit back a gasp and squeezed tears out of eir eyes.)

“I have learned — not just what it meant for me, but what risk you were taking yourself. You saved my family; you’ve given me hope that I can be saved. My life is yours, lady. I screw up as much as the next person, but I will do everything I can to be worthy of your trust.”

Bethania urged their horse closer and raised Lilah’s hand to eir lips. “Thank you, my pledge.”

In that moment, their eyes met over the back of Lilah’s hand. Awareness flashed between them — awareness of attraction, of what a pledge could be if they wished it, of desire, and hope, of curved lips and necklines and futures that were not to be feared but sought and embraced and loved.

And then Bethania’s horse stumbled, and the moment was broken. They glanced at each other, then laughed. There would be time for all that was not yet said.

And Lilah said the one thing that needed to be said then: “I am called ‘he’.”

Bethania’s smile lit up the night, and they journeyed on: first home and then onward through their lives together. Never forgetting that first came trust.

A week later, they crossed the border into Allule. One of the Pack members had run ahead to bring word, so some of the Pack was waiting for them at the border. They waited in human skins, as Lilah had not yet told eir siblings the full truth.

(Dalma had by then had time and more time to interrogate Lady Bethania, an interrogation that Lilah tried to disrupt whenever possible, and Sherzod, to Dalma’s dismay, refused to participate in. But Bethania, knowing that Lilah had not revealed eir truth to eir siblings, was careful in what ey said and Dalma came away each time unsatisfied. Ey could not deny that Lilah seemed not only satisfied with this ‘pledge’ thing but to enjoy Nobility Bethania’s company. So eventually, Dalma agreed to adopt Sherzod’s ‘wait and see’ attitude.

Dalma was beginning to suspect that Sherzod, too, was keeping secrets.)

Lilah felt the beast within em still as soon as ey saw the gathered strangers. Several dozen in all (not the full Pack, but they knew better than to overwhelm a new cub), they sat or stood or sprawled by the road. Abdal dismounted, gave eir reins to another, and ran ahead to greet them, to fill eir senses with the comfort of home and Pack and belonging that ey had been denied too long. Others that Lilah had only started to know ran with em.

Lilah was riding by then, several days out of the wagon and mounted next to Bethania.

Bethania looked a question at em, and Lilah nodded. Bethania called a halt, and Lilah slid out of the saddle, handing Bethania eir reins. Lilah glanced toward eir siblings, and Bethania said, “Go meet the Pack, then come talk. I think the time for secrets has passed.”

Lilah nodded, walked slowly out to meet the strangers.

Dalma called out to em, but Sherzod, tense and fearful and somehow knowing what this was, laid a hand on Dalma’s arm and shook eir head. Dalma glared at Sherzod but subsided.

Some of the Pack, seeing Lilah’s slow approach, started to run to em, but Abdal and the others who knew Lilah held them back, allowing em to approach in eir own time.

The closer Lilah got, the slower eir steps became. Ey had expected to be afraid, meeting so many strangers who were also beasts. To eir surprise, it was shyness that held em back, made it hard for em to look at those who waited eagerly to meet em. Ey finally came to a stop a few steps away from the waiting Pack.

Tension mounted as Lilah and the Pack and those watching all waited, not knowing who should move or what would happen next. Finally, one of the Pack stepped out from the group: an old person with thin white hair. Eir steps were the careful movements of one who suffers aching joints — especially after travel. Ey smiled and held a hand out to Lilah.

“Welcome, cub,” ey said, “I am Elder Aishah, one of the leaders of this Pack. I cannot tell you how pleased we are that you have been able to join us.”

“Thank you,” Lilah said quietly.

“I know you have been through much,” Elder Aishah said, “and have no reason to trust us. But I ask you to give us a chance. We are not what you have been told, and we can help you if you let us.”

Lilah hesitated a moment, then took the offered hand. “I trust Bethania and Abdal, and they trust you.”

Aishah squeezed eir hand and led em into the group. For the first time, the beast within Lilah relaxed, and suddenly Lilah was at peace and content in a way ey had never experienced before.

“Welcome home, Lilah,” Abdal said, and Elder Aishah echoed: “Welcome home.”

Lilah looked back, over eir shoulder to Bethania and said, “Thank you.”

Okay, short story this time. Sometimes that seems to happen. Though I expect we’ll be back sometime next year for Sherzod’s story and to learn how Dalma reacts when the full truth comes out.

Next week we’re starting our last new story for the year. (I expected it to be the first new story of next year but, eh, these things happen.)

Mighty Hero Force Epsilon

There are certain rules a sentai team is supposed to follow. They’re supposed to have matching uniforms, and a theme. And they ALWAYS have a guide or mentor. Someone who gave them their powers and can tell them how to use those powers. Someone who tells them what their team name is supposed to be and the history of their enemy.

The rules have been broken. They have no team uniform, they have no guide. They have magic powers and an unknown enemy taking over random cities.

At least they get along, right?

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First Came Trust (E1)
First Came Trust (E5)

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Webserial Catalog
Bound by His Oath
Digital Garden Home

First Came Trust (E5)

Story Content Notes: Story Content Notes: suicidal character, dubious consent (nonsexual situation)

The siblings took some time to get settled into the wagon. It was, as they had been warned, crowded. The wagon wasn’t a large one, and it was still piled with bags and bundles — though at least all the boxes had been removed.

When the small caravan moved out, the wagon the siblings rested in was at the front, just behind the screen of guards. Normally, the wagons would have been further back, but then the siblings would have been breathing in the dust and dirt kicked up by everyone else.

The wagon, small as it was, filled most of the narrow road, leaving little room to either side. Nobility Bethania rode behind the wagon, as did Abdal, close enough to speak if the siblings wished to. Abdal’s squad ranged around and through the woods, guarding against both bandits and local authorities.

When the nobility first joined them, Dalma had wanted to immediately demand the answers Abdal had said they could ask for. But Lilah, knowing eir sibling, had anticipated this. Before even Dalma could burst out a question, Lilah met eir eyes and asked, “Wait, please. There will be time. And we still need rest.”

So for a time, they rode quietly. The siblings rested as best they could in the jolting, jarring wagon. Even with the rough ride, Lilah found emself slipping into another doze. The nobility watched them rest and guided eir horse on the rough ground, saying nothing of why ey was there. Dalma and Sherzod watched (and in Dalma’s case sometimes glared at) em, but kept silent so Lilah could sleep. Eventually, they drifted off themselves.

When Lilah woke a few hours later, it was well into evening. Seeing Lilah sit up, Bethania said quietly, “We will be pushing on tonight, traveling as far as we can safely. No one wants foundered horses, but we also don’t want to risk trouble with the local guard.”

“Yes,” Lilah said. “I would rather not see the guard again myself.” Ey smiled grimly. There was a moment of silence, then:



Both Lilah and Bethania spoke at once, but Bethania waved for Lilah to continue.

Rested now and ready for — needing — answers, Lilah said, “You were right. About the collar, lady. But you said it was only temporary. I worry…”

Bethania looked at Dalma and Sherzod, still apparently sleeping. “The pack will help you,” ey said. “I don’t know what you have been taught about… what you are. But you are not a monster, nor incapable of self-control.”


Not sure what to say, especially with two others who might wake at any moment, Bethania looked at Abdal.

Abdal saw the nobility looking and nodded back. This was something for Pack to speak on. Ey gestured to Dalma and Sherzod. “They will learn sooner or later. You know that, do you not?”

Lilah swallowed, then nodded.

“Alright.” Abdal took a deep breath and seemed to settle deeper within themself, never looking away from Lilah. Their jaw and nose lengthened into a short snout, their eyes turned golden.

Lilah cringed away, only stopping emself from crying out for fear of waking eir siblings.

Abdal held the partial shift, giving Lilah a chance to see. But while Lilah battled fear, the beast within em yearned, reaching for the bonds of pack and security and place.

When Lilah had calmed a bit, Abdal spoke. “Pack is family, cub.” Eir voice had lightened, taking on a breathy, crooning quality. “It keeps us safe, keeps the madness at bay, so we never become what you fear.”

The beast’s sadness and grief in their isolation wound through Lilah, bringing tears to eir eyes.

“Soon,” Abdal soothed, allowing his face to shift back to its human-seeming. “There are not enough of us here to anchor you, cub. And we don’t dare run freely in this land. But we will be home soon, and you will be one of us.”

The words soothed the beast, soothed Lilah.

Whatever else Abdal might be, ey was not an out-of-control monster, attacking all in eir path. Nothing like the monster that attacked and damned Lilah.

With the beast calmed inside em and Abdal riding nearby as if nothing was wrong, Lilah believed for the first time that Bethania was right, that ey might be okay.

Unknown to any of them, Sherzod had woken when Lilah first spoke. Ey had not moved, wanting to get as much rest as ey could. And then ey had not moved because ey wanted to know more and was not ready to confront Lilah with eir secrets.

It is likely that if it had been Dalma listening, the conversation would have gone a great deal different than it did. But Sherzod was a quiet one and more willing to wait and think and plan than eir sibling. So ey listened and thought and waited. And what ey did when ey were done waiting is a story for another day.

Not knowing eir sibling listened, Lilah thanked Abdal. Still scared, but seeing for the first that the beast within them might, in fact, be more than a beast. Abdal, aware that ey had scared Lilah, road ahead to give the cub some space.

Lilah watched em ride away and listened to the beast who whined in fear to see em leave. Still afraid but trying to push past the fear, Lilah thought at eir beast, “Ey will be back. Ey is not leaving us; ey is riding ahead to keep us safe.”

The beast seemed to hear em, to settle. Not relax, no, it remained alert and nervous. But it was willing to wait and see. Lilah sighed with relief and thanked any god that might be listening for bringing Bethania and Abdal to rescue em and eir family.

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First Came Trust (E1)
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First Came Trust Finale

First Came Trust (E4)

Story Content Notes: Story Content Notes: suicidal character, dubious consent (nonsexual situation)

Lilah swallowed and made emself meet the soldier’s eyes. “Ey… She said that her people would understand.”

” ‘She’!” Dalma erupted.

Lilah and the soldier both ignored em, ignored Sherzod’s attempt to step forward and push the soldier back.

Dalma grabbed Lilah’s hand, shaking eir. “Lilah! Who could you know here well enough to use personal pronouns? What is going on?”

Still, neither Lilah nor the soldier looked away from each other.

Finally, the soldier nodded, deeply enough it might have been another bow. “I do understand. Though I wonder if you do.”

Lilah, in truth, didn’t understand. But ey remembered what Lady Bethania had said about it not being done ‘properly,’ and something in the edge the soldier’s voice had taken made them wonder if that lack of ‘proper’ might be more than just not having the right necklace.

Sherzod grabbed Dalma’s arm and pulled eir back, not knowing or liking what this was, but recognizing they would learn more by listening than demanding.

Taking a deep breath, Lilah said carefully, “I understand that she took what I offered.” Eir hands clenched together in eir lap. “That she has told me the truth and given me hope when I saw none. The rest I am willing to wait to understand. When she gave me this,” ey loosed eir hands momentarily to tap the collar, “she said that we did not have time for her to explain, and I agree. What might have happened if she waited… scares me.”

Lilah was saying too much, especially with eir siblings there, Sherzod with eir too-sharp mind and Dalma with eir unending questions. But ey was too tired to truly control eir tongue, too full of relief and hope and lingering fear to be cautious.

And perhaps that was well, for if ey had said less, perhaps, the soldier would not have understood, accepted.

For another long moment, ey stared deep into Lilah’s eyes then stepped back with another nod.

Dalma and Sherzod immediately crowded close. “What are you talking about?”

The soldier murmured, “I can explain at least part if you wish.” Lilah swallowed, then nodded. “Please.”

The soldier, whose name was Abdal and had served the Noble Bethania for over a decade, stuck eir head out the pavilion and waved over another guard. Someone needed to actually be guarding.

Once one of Abdal’s squad was in place, Abdal seated emself on the floor, leaning against one of the pavilion supports. To eir relief, the two humans seated themselves as well. For a moment, ey wasn’t sure how to begin. Then decided that there was no point in anything but bluntness.

“Your sibling pledged their life to Noble Bethania of Aelland in the Royal Domain of Balule. The nobility accepted this pledge. Unfortunately, ey did not have a proper pledge necklace here, which I assume is why ey used the collar. I will not speak of personal matters, but I know that collar has… meaning for the nobility, separate from the purpose it was made for.”

“Pledged? Why does that sound like being married?”

Abdal nearly laughed. Lilah blushed. While ey hadn’t paid attention at the time, ey did remember the way Noble Bethania looked at them. And truth be told, Lilah did not find eir recollection of Bethania at all distasteful.

“No, though there are those who say that a pledge is closer than marriage. And not without reason. A pledge is a two-edged sword. The pledged one is the voice and arm of eir sovereign. In council, or the royal court, or ordering the household, your sibling’s voice will be that of the Noble Bethania, and ey will be obeyed as such.”

All three siblings stared at em — shock, surprise, confusion, excitement, concern mirrored in different ways in each face. Abdal drove on, knowing ey was overwhelming them but needing them to hear all.

“But your voice belongs to you, yes? You control your voice, your arms, your legs. In the same way, the pledge’s life belongs to their sovereign. The sovereign may command that the pledged sleep in the kennels or serve in the sovereign’s bed or work as a drudge, and none may gainsay them.

“That’s not how it’s supposed to be. And I can’t see Noble Bethania doing such. But it’s happened and will again.”

No one said anything for a long moment, the siblings struggling with this… drastic change of circumstances Lilah had created.

Then Sherzod, gently, “You wanted this?”

“Yes,” Lilah said, not daring to say more. Afraid to even hint at how little ey had truly understood of what ey had done. Of what ey had committed emself too.

“Why?” Dalma demanded, but Abdal cut em off.

“We do not question the pledged,” ey said, and Lilah shuddered with relief. Ey had dreaded Dalma’s questions, needed time to answer eir own before ey could answer any others.

“Their reasons for offering are their own,” Abdal continued, “and they have done a hard enough thing without being hounded by those who doubt. Questions, if you have them, you may ask of the nobility who accepted the pledge.” Something in eir tone said that Abdal also had questions ey would be asking of the nobility.

While the siblings had been speaking with Abdal, others had been preparing to get back on the road. Two came in to carry out the nobility’s special chest. Others began deconstructing the pavilion to pack away in the wagons. Then the two who took the chest returned and waited, somewhat patiently, to be able to pack up the blankets and cot.

Abdal looked to Lilah. “I do not know how you prefer to travel, but injured as you are, I believe a place in the wagons has been prepared.”

One of those waiting bowed. “Yes, Lieutenant. There is a canvas over the bed of the first wagon so the Pledged can stay out of the sun.”

Lilah looked to Dalma and Sherzod. “I need to do this. I know you don’t understand.”

Dalma looked away and sighed. “Fine. It’s not like you to rush into things, so if you are, there is a reason. And don’t think I’ve forgotten that you apologized for the guard trying to kill us.”

“But that can be discussed another day,” Sherzod put in. “I don’t think it would be safe for us to go home, and” ey grimaced, “my courtship of Phillipos was going nowhere.”

“Took you long enough to admit it,” Dalma muttered.

“So it’s not like anyone is waiting up for us,” Sherzod continued ignoring Dalma. Ey looked to the waiting servants, “Since the nobility had invited us to come, I assume there is room for Dalm and I somewhere as well?”

“Yes,” ey was assured, “it will be crowded, but there should be enough space in the wagon.”

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First Came Trust (E1)
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First Came Trust (E5)

First Came Trust (E3)

Story Content Notes: Story Content Notes: suicidal character, dubious consent (nonsexual situation)

While Lilah slept, pledged emself to Noble Bethania, and slept again, eir siblings rested in the shade of another pavilion. More of a tarp than a pavilion, in truth. An internal wall from Bethania’s pavilion, held up by four stout poles with blankets piled underneath.

Unlike Lilah, Dalma and Sherzod never truly fell unconscious and didn’t need to be carried off of the beach. They had not been fighting an internal battle for those long hours, and had mental, if not physical, reserves left to them.

At first, they accepted their separation from Lilah. They had seen Lilah carried from the beach and if the Balulian strangers were giving Lilah the extra care ey needed, they could only be grateful. For a time.

While Lilah battled the beast within em, eir siblings had time — far too much time — to think. Long before the Balulian’s arrived they had separately concluded that Lilah must know what they didn’t: why the guard had seized them and left them to die. There were many parts to that question, of course. The one that most concerned Sherzod was why the guard had left them to die.

That isn’t to say ey wasn’t bothered by the whole ‘seize them without reason’ or ‘execute them’ parts. Those flew in the face of everything about how their land was supposed to work. It was (in theory) a land committed to the rule of law. Harsh law, but harsh as much to its upholders as its subjects.

Still, while a violation of everything ey believed in, Sherzod knew a bit of history — not much, but a bit — and so knew that there had been times and places where such things did happen. It had taken hours, lying in the hot sun, for em to work past shock, and horror, and disbelief, to acceptance. But eventually, ey had.

What ey couldn’t work past was the foolishness, the incompetence. Why not just kill them? Why not at least leave a guard?

The Balulians, of course, brought with them other questions. Why had they rescued the siblings? Why did they ask no questions, seem to treat it as normal to find a family left to die for no reason.

Dalma was less inclined to quiet thought than Sherzod. A bare handful of minutes after they had been guided to the pavilion, ey began demanding answers.

Those demands were generally ignored, of course. No one knew if the siblings knew about Lilah’s other nature. And given local prejudices, no one wanted to tell them if they didn’t. If Lilah hadn’t trusted their siblings, it wasn’t for the Balulians to reveal eir secret.

So it was a tense time for the siblings and the Balulians who tended them. Most of the tension fell on the lieutenant tasked with guarding the siblings. It was the lieutenant who had to block their attempts to seek out Lilah, redirect or rebuff their questions, and keep alert for any warning from eir men watching the road for approaching trouble.

It was a great relief to em to be able to tell the siblings that Lilah was awake and able to speak with them. It was less of a relief to tell them that the caravan would be heading out within the hour. “Your sibling will be coming with us. You’ll need to decide for yourselves if you’ll come as well or stay.”

To say the siblings were displeased is a great understatement, but even Dalma put off arguing or asking questions in eir eagerness to see Lilah and be sure ey was safe.

Lilah was relieved to see eir siblings enter the pavilion, but also scared. Ey wasn’t ready to tell their siblings about the beast within em, that ey wasn’t human any longer.

“Dalma, Sherzod,” ey greeted, reaching out to pull eir siblings into a hug. It hurt, the pressure on the sunburn across eir chest and arms. But it was worth it. Dalma and Sherzod thought so too, crowding closer. “I’m so glad you are safe.”

And Lilah meant it in more ways than the siblings realized. In spite of eir fears, the beast remained quiet within em. Food and rest had restored eir energy and ey had expected the beast to begin fighting to escape again. Instead, it lay within em, radiating a mix of anger and resignation. Lilah got the sense that the beast knew the collar trapped it. How ey couldn’t begin to guess but at that moment did not care. Noble… Lady Bethania had been telling the truth of that, and the relief of it had brought tears to Lilah’s eyes.

“Same, brother,” Sherzod said, oblivious to Lilah’s thoughts. Ey squeezed Lilah tighter. “I think we all feared… Lilah, what happened? Why did the guard–”

The three released each other as ey spoke and Sherzod was cut off by Dalma’s sudden growl. “What is that?” ey demanded, pointing at the collar.

In their first joy at each other’s safety, Lilah had pushed eirself up from the cot without thought, and Dalma and Sherzod had rushed to eir without truly seeing.

But as the embrace ended, Dalma had examined Lilah, worried and needing to know eir sibling was well. And seen the collar.

Belatedly, Lilah pulled up a sheet from the cot, trying to cover it. “It’s nothing… just…”

Sherzod pulled the sheet from Lilah’s hands and put it aside. “This… this is not nothing, Lilah.” The Balulians must know, ey thought. Whatever turned the guard against us, they know it too, whatever secret it is Lilah keeps.

Dalma turned on the soldier who still accompanied them. “Is this why you have kept us away from Lilah? Because you have no–”

Lilah reached out and took eir siblings’ hands. “It’s not what you think, Dalma, Sher.”

“It better not be,” Dalma growled again.

Exhausted still, filled with fear of what ey had become, what ey must admit, Lilah had no patience for Dalma’s own fears and anger. “And if it was?” Lilah snapped out. “My life is not, has never been, yours to decide sister. And if slavery was the price of your lives I would pay it, and gladly.”

Any reply from Dalma or Sherzod was cut off by the lieutenant’s sharp whistle. “While I’m sure the nobility meant the local authorities when ey said I was to keep you safe, overexerting yourselves right now would also be dangerous.” Ey stepped forward, pushing back Dalma and Sherzod with their presence. Ey stopped in front of Lilah and examined the collar a moment, then ducked eir head in a brief bow that further confused the siblings.

“If I am correct, cub, while your life may not ever have been your siblings to decide, it is now no longer yours to decide either.”

Lilah swallowed and made emself meet the soldier’s eyes. “Ey… She said that her people would understand.”

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First Came Trust (E4)