Chapter 2

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The Selby estate covered a sizable plot of land outside of Ostinum, the grand capital of Angliea. Buried back some distance in her memory, Cassandra could remember the proud tone her father spoke with in regard to the land. The hill their home sat upon, as well as the grounds around it, had been in the family for untold generations; once, the walls of Ostinum were several day's journey by foot away from their manor, the Selby family known across the countryside for providing room and board for dignitaries traveling to meet before the royal family and its ministers.

Today, the walls were a mere hour's drive, the once-fertile greens between city and home now occupied by tightly clustered tenements and factories with towering smokestacks. At the very least, Cassandra told herself as she walked the grounds behind her home, the now centuries-old trees on the grounds served to hide away from the view the artifacts of the modern, industrial era.

By contrast, the field in front of her was a natural wonderland, filled with rows and circles of neatly tended flowerbeds and rose bushes; horticulture had once been a passion of her father's; there were many times she would come across him tending the roses while talking shop with a business relation of his. The gardens were where he seemed the happiest; only more so when he and her mother enjoyed each other's company in them. Cassandra remembered her mother telling of their wedding at the center of the rose garden, under an arch filled with blossoming blooms. The very idea of it filled her with daydreams of wedding some to-that-point unknown beloved under the same arch, exchanging vows of eternal love beneath the same colorful arch.

She laughed at the thought of it now, stopping at the fountain that stood before that same arch. What man would marry into a family that now stood in disgrace, its patriarch and lady vanished into some unknown?

Not to mention, she told herself, her own secrets.

She crossed the center of the garden, circling around the now flowerless arch, and followed the path through the other side. From here, she could see the garden workshop, a simple building sitting a short walk from the bushes. What few windows it had were covered over from the inside with curtains, allowing in light without permitting any view of what was hidden behind those walls.

This was their workshop, where Estelle kept and bred the tiny delights they sold to sustain her property and well-being. It looked plain, innocuous; no one but the two of them, however, were ever permitted inside. Not even her customers were allowed to view the workshop, for fear of them knowing too much about the process and gabbing details Cassandra did not desire to be shared with the rest of society. If there was anything she could count on her peers for, it was their inability to keep their own mouths shut.

She reached the entrance and unlocked the heavy door, making sure to knock before pushing the portal aside on its track. "I've come to look in on your progress," she said, pulling the door back into place before turning her eyes to Estelle.

Her servant was busy at the other side of the room, looking into one of the small, box-shaped pens where each delight slept individually. As Cassandra approached, she could see Estelle tapping a measure of feed out into the tiny creature's bowl, smiling in upon the miniature figure before closing the wire grate back over the opening. "Good morning, my Lady," Estelle said, offering a look back over her shoulder at Cassandra before moving on to the next pen. "I hope you were pleased with breakfast this morning?"

"Of course," she said with a smile, leaning over Estelle. She could see one of the delights inside, crawling naked on hands and knees towards the bowl her servant filled for it. Tiny, gray eyes stared up in awe at Estelle's face, before jerking up slightly at the flash of sunlight shining through a window on Cassandra's hair. The creature quickly backpedaled, its vision darting around for any cover to place between itself and the red-haired woman looking in its home.

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