The Guardian Star's True Mark

Chapter 11 ~ Three Months Time

A year, it had been a year since Justin had seen the phantom ship that attacked him without explanation. He had been all over the Ula Ocean looking for him since. Maath and Namid had even shown him around Raven, the pirate city of Zerlinda. It had been his first time there and while the sights had been interesting, he had not been able to gain any information on The Dandy or its captain. Apparently, the pirate, whoever he was, was either not well known or kept a very low profile, which for any pirate was unusual. He had also used the time to try and set up some new contacts. He was not able to use the original Black Panther’s contacts because they would recognize him as false and he was loath to go to them under a different name.

His crew was starting to get restless in the search and so was he. He had hit a few ships, but not with a perfect success rate and he was still having some trouble picking up exactly which ships to hit. That alone made for a disgruntled crew. That was the last skill he felt he truly had to master however. Once he had a good contact list going and could accurately predict what ships would be best to hit, he would be well on his way to really escalating the name of The Black Panther.

Justin heard a loud giggle from the deck beneath him and looked down. Quickly, he caught sight of Dabria who was almost directly below him. The girls had been picked up a few days ago, but he had been so preoccupied with his own problems, he hadn’t really paid them a whole lot of attention. Guilt encompassed him for a moment. He really only saw the girls for three months out of the year. Two weeks of it they were on his ship, but the other part they were with Kiliki and Tommy and he only stopped in sporadically.

He noticed she had grown up some more, since their last trip. She had entered the ship the same way she had last year, but Justin hadn’t commented. He could almost believe she was doing it just to get a reaction. Why, Justin wasn’t sure, but he had decided he was old enough not to let the antics of a fifteen-year-old get to him.

Justin stepped away from the rail on the quarterdeck and went down the stairs. He approached where Dabria was and frowned. She stood looking at one of the crewmembers who had been giving him problems lately. Justin was still deciding whether or not to keep him on or send him packing. He was doing something with his hands, but Justin couldn’t see what, Dabria was blocking his view.

She laughed again and asked, “Okay, but can you do it the other way?”

“Sure, no problem. Watch closely,” Mettu replied, pulling on a line and making a knot disappear.

Justin had stepped to the side so he could see, but neither one seemed to notice him. He didn’t like the thought.

Dabria giggled again and Justin tried to figure out when she had started that particular habit.

“That is so amazing! I wish I could do something like that. And you really use it?” She asked excitedly.

“Oh, yeah, it’s handy for quick getaways, for instance, when you don’t want to leave the rope behind. We use it a lot on the ship too. It ties securely, but will come apart quickly if we pull it the right way. You want to learn?” Mattu asked.

“You’ll teach me. Oh please!” Her voice held an innocent pleading to it. “I bet you’d be a great teacher,” she added.

And Justin had had enough. “What are you doing?” He demanded.

Dabria jumped slightly and turned to look at him. Mattu looked at him as well, but his face held none of the innocent surprise that Dabria’s did.

“What are you yelling at?” She asked calmly.

“What do you think you are doing with him?” Justin asked again, shooting a pointed glare at Mattu, who took the cue, and quickly hightailed it to the opposite end of the ship, leaving the two alone.

Dabria crossed her arms. “I was learning a new trick. I’m surprised no one taught it to me before now.”

“You were not,” he accused.

“What is your problem? I was so,” Dabria protested.

“You were not, you were flirting,” Justin clarified.

Dabria looked at him in shock. It was a second before she replied, “I was not flirting.”

“Yes, you were,” Justin stated.

“No, I wasn’t,” she mocked back.

“Yes, you were.”

“No, I wasn’t.”

“Yeah, you were too.” Justin’s voice held a note of annoyance now.

“I was not. I happen to know how to flirt, and I wasn’t flirting. I just wanted to learn something new. You should be used to that by now, Justin.” Dabria’s own voice was annoyed.

“You know how to…” Justin repeated, obviously not having heard anything past that line.

Dabria shot him a look that said she thought she might have made a mistake and hurried to explain, “Yeah, I see it happen all the time at the parties I attended. If I really wanted to I could flirt, but it’s a waste of my time.”

“Waste…. You have been flirting since you stepped on to this ship!” Justin exclaimed, then lowered his voice. “You say hi to every sailor I have, then you single some out and hang around with them the whole time.”

“Oh, so you haven’t been ignoring us completely,” Dabria shot back.

“I haven’t been trying to ignore you, I just have a lot on my mind,” Justin protested, feeling guilty again.

“You have barely said anything to us since we boarded,” she accused.

“It wasn’t on purpose,” Justin replied.

“I think it was.” Dabria’s voice was hurt.

“No, it wasn’t. It just worked out that way,” Justin tried to explain.

“Then what has you so preoccupied?” Dabria questioned.

Justin shook his head no. “I’m not discussing it.”

“You don’t want me to know.” Her voice was sure.

“That’s right,” Justin agreed, seeing no point to explain his failure to her or anybody else.

“Then I don’t believe you,” she said flippantly.

“It’s the truth,” Justin practically growled.

“No, it’s not.”

“Yes, it is.”

“No, it’s not.”

“Yes, it… Arg! We are not doing that again!”

“You already did,” was her smug reply. “I haven’t done anything wrong, and you have been ignoring Salena and me. Face it, Justin, I’m right and you’re wrong. You might as well get use to it.”

With that Dabria, turned picked up the rope Mattu had discarded in his hast, and made her way back towards her cabin. Justin watched her move is if she owned the ship and not him. He was seriously annoyed now.

~ Why? Why do I let her involve me in her stupid games? I’m twenty-two. I don’t need to fall to her level to make my point. Argh! I have got to stop letting her do that to me! ~


“I want him off my ship!” Justin stated in no uncertain terms.

“Yes, I fully got that point, but why the sudden decision?” Maath questioned, yet again.

“What sudden decision? I’ve been wondering if I should put him off for months now. I just made up my mind,” Justin informed him.

“Yeah, you’ve been thinking about it for months, then suddenly as if the answer fell from the sky you want him off and I’m guessing you wouldn’t mind if he was thrown overboard,” Maath replied confused, but still obviously amused.

“Hey, whatever works. Just get him off,” Justin replied smartly, looked down at his desk and moving something around, like he was working.

“Suddenly I’m thinking the answer came from the other side of the ship,” Maath spoke up again, not easily dismissed.

Justin glared at him, briefly wondering what that comment was about.

A knock sounded and Namid entered the room. He looked from Maath to Justin and then raised an eyebrow at Maath, who explained the conversation.

Namid grinned. “Yes, I’m sure it has something to do with that little incident earlier.”

“Oh, defiantly,” Maath mocked, not looking at Justin.

Justin squeezed the pen in his hand. “I don’t know what you two are getting at, but the two of you are worse than any two girls on any day. Just do what I asked. Get Mattu off my ship at the next stop.”

“That’s Triger,” Namid put in helpfully.

Maath grinned and nodded, but Justin wanted to wring both their necks.

“Fine, we’ll drop him off at Raven. We have to head back there anyway. He’s too dangerous to have on this ship. He won’t follow my orders. And that is the last I want to hear about it,” Justin ordered.

“Aye, aye, Captain.” Maath and Namid replied, but Justin had the feeling it was far from over, though for the life of him he couldn’t figure out why they were giving him such a hard time.


It didn’t seem to matter where you went in all of Ula, every town had a tavern and every tavern was the same in most respects. Each had food that smelled days older, ale and wine that flowed as freely onto the floor as it did into the mouth, rooms to rent, and pretty girls to deliverer anything a pirates’ heart could ask for and many did. It was an easy way to gamble away all of that hard earned, or stolen, money. Whenever they stopped in any port, Justin lost half his crew to their allure and he would lose the other half when they came off duty. Unlike most crews though, none of his men would dare show up for duty drunk no matter how they appeared now. Justin backed out of the doorway just in time to let one of his crewmembers through to lurch on the street outside instead of on him.

“Better than on my deck, I guess,” Justin muttered, disgusted.

“Why? You wouldn’t be cleaning it up,” Maath remarked from behind him.

“No, he would, but I’d still have to smell it,” Justin shot back.

Maath shrugged and looked around the room. “This place is crowded. Namid had better have saved that seat!”

“Or you’ll what?” Justin mocked, finally spotting Namid in the back of the room and weaving his way towards him.

“Be highly upset,” Maath proclaimed.

Justin laughed. “Scary.”

“What is?” Namid asked.

“Eating this food without a victim to try it first,” Maath said quickly.

Namid looked at his old friend, obviously not buying it, but nodded seriously. “That’s why I ordered what I knew was safe.”

“Then there’s nothing to worry about!” Maath plopped into his seat.

“Right. How did the search go?”

Justin snorted in disgust. “Nothing. He’s a phantom pirate in every sense. If he hadn’t attacked me, you couldn’t convince me he existed.”

“I heard nothing here either,” Namid admitted.

Justin nodded as if he expected nothing less.

“Justin, why don’t you let it rest for a while?” Maath held up a hand to stop the explosion of anger. “I didn’t say let it go, just let it rest. This captain came after you before, chances are high he will do it again. Until he does, you aren’t going to see or hear from him again.”

“Maath is correct, Captain. And there is much else that can occupy your time. The men would love it if they could hunt for the hunt itself again. You have been keeping such a tight reign that the whole crew is nervous. Even stops like these are really only for more information that does not exist. Let us sail the sea for the love of it and not the crusade. You will find your joy of the hunt returning and you will be better able to make correct decisions when the time comes.”

Justin frowned. “Is this a test?”

His two friends looked at each other, before Maath quipped, “If you want it to be.”

“And the prize?” Justin leaned back and crossed his arms.

“A healthy, happier crew,” Namid put in.

“Healthier? I thought that was what this was for!” Justin gestured around the room. “Not that I think they really care what food they are eating as much as who is serving it.”

The scanty clad girl winked at him as she put their plates down. “Anything else, boys?” She drawled.

“That’s all,” Justin stated firmly.

Namid waited until she was out of earshot before getting back to his task at hand. “You still need to predict ships’ patterns better and become a little more familiar with which ones to hit. You can’t do that and track the ghost at the same time.”

“Sure I can. I made a new contact today,” Justin replied smugly.

Namid glanced at Maath who shrugged. “He kinda did.”

“Kinda?” Justin spouted. “I did.” He turned to Namid. “There is an old seafarer who sells wares at the far end of the dock. A fixture more than anything else, but he’s got good ears. Every time we’re in port, I’ll drop a few things off to him and he’ll keep his ears out for the newest hot routes.”

“And your thinking is? We don’t hit merchants,” Namid cautioned.

“Yeah, but Blaney is taking a route around Gwency to drop off at Poole. His ships are always a good hit for any pirate. My guess is they hit somewhere around Gwency, but no doubt they will hit on this route. If I know the merchant’s route, I can use that to predict the pirates’ moves that I want to hit. If I go by the merchant’s moves, rather than the pirates, I’ll hit only after they have made their conquest.”

Namid was silent for a moment, making the calculations in his head as was his normal reaction. “But there’s no guarantee that the pirates will hit those routes. They generally stick to their own territory.”

“They use too. But I think that’s why we are having so much trouble finding good hits lately. The Black Panther used their own tactics against them and forced them to change tactics. I think this might be the new way they are looking at.” Justin glanced between his two mentors. “Come on! This will work!”

Maath laughed and shrugged. “It’s worth a try.”

Namid nodded. “We can always go back if we need too.”

“Yes!” Justin grinned, momentarily forgetting he was a captain of twenty-two and not the young kid who had first received the ship and commission from Captain Tommy Jacer.

Namid and Maath both laughed. For a moment, the dark days of uncertainty were behind and the adventure at sea was in front of them as the three friends enjoyed a moment of respite.


Despite Maath and Namid’s advice to forget the phantom ship for now, Justin couldn’t help but keep it in the back of his mind. It was a gut feeling that if he did not find and deal with the problem it would become much larger in the future. But for now at least there was nothing he could do about it. The crew needed to hit a ship and that meant Justin had to find one. So, they had traveled the route of Blaney in hopes of finding the best spot to attack along it. The pirates would be lying in wait there.

“Ships of the starboard bow!” The call came from the crow’s nest.

Justin looked and frowned. Apparently, they had arrived too soon. The pirate ship was still attacking. It was easier to take off their loot once the ships had separated. He glanced at Namid who was manning the helm.

“We’ll wait until the pirate ship moves off and then follow and attack. I don’t want to get involved with the merchant.”

Namid nodded. “It wouldn’t hurt to let him know the Black Panther is returning his wealth.”

“He’ll learn when he gets it returned. Didn’t Tommy have dealings with him?”

“None, personally, so you wouldn’t be recognized. Captain Jacer had to keep a very low profile among the wealthy or risk being recognized as a Brent.”

“That’s true, I wonder…” But Justin was caught off guard by a call down from the crow’s nest.

“It’s two pirate ships!”

“It’s what?” Justin exclaimed, immediately pulling out his spyglass. “He’s right. That’s odd, I’m not in the fight.”

“Aye, what other pirate would attack a friend? Perhaps they violated articles,” Namid reasoned, talking about the agreement pirates signed when deciding to work together.

“Maybe,” Justin commented, watching the fight.

“Captain, can you see either of their names?” Maath called up from the deck below.

“No,” Justin called back. “Namid take us in closer, but not close enough to be a threat.”

Namid nodded and the ship slowly began to turn towards the fighting and move in closer.

“I can’t tell the one, but the second appears to be The Dragon,” Justin finally called out.

The Dragon!” Maath exclaimed, now appearing next to Justin.

Namid frowned. “What did he do now?”

“Who is it?” Justin asked.

“Do you remember Captain Jacer’s friend Tristen?” Maath asked.

Justin nodded. “He helped in the battle against the guy who wanted to force Kiliki to marry him.”

“Correct. He has long been a friend to the Black Panther,” Namid pointed out.

“Then we should help him,” Justin decided quickly. “Maath, run out the guns and full the sails. Namid set the course to intercept.”

“Aye, aye, Captain!” Was the quick reply and soon the ship was bustling with the needed activity.

Namid pulled his course so that they came up on the opposite side of the rouge ship that The Dragon was on, catching it in-between them. In anticipation of the move, Maath had already run out the cannons doubled on the starboard side.

“Fire!” Justin called as soon as they were in range.

The whole ship shuddered with the loud bangs from the cannons and smoke quickly filtered over the deck. Beyond the smoke the sound of cracking wood and shouts of horror could heard. Justin smiled.

“Get in closer and fire again!” He called the next order. Shouts of jubilation rang out from his own crew. This was the most fun they had had in a while.

An answering volley came back, but the smoke made it impossible to aim and the cannonballs dropped harmlessly into the ocean behind them. Justin shook his head disgusted that they had over shot.

“Who are these guys?”

“They are disabled!” The call came from the lookout.

“Board her!” Justin shouted in return.

Cat calls and shouts of conquerors filled the air as ropes and board were made ready. In moments, Namid had cut through the smoke and the enemy ship came into view. Being bombarded from both sides had left it fully dead in the water. It was full of holes and fallen masts, the crew looked as beaten as they did furious and ready to take their revenge on the first pirate that boarded their ship. Justin was happy to oblige. His crew needed a good fight. He just hoped this motley crew was up to it.

His crew quickly joined the two ships with boards and then launched over to the second. Within moments, the sounds of a full battle were heard across the ocean. Justin laughed at the excitement and fierceness of his crew. It was a good battle. Quickly, he and Namid joined the fight.

It wasn’t to long before Justin spotted Tristen fighting the other captain through the sea of warring pirates. He pointed Tristen out to Namid, who nodded and made his way towards their friend. When they reached the area, however, both stood by while Tristen and the captain fought across the poop deck. Back and forth the two weaved in a dance of blades and footwork. Both had obviously practiced with the blade before turning to piracy on the high seas. The sounds from the battle across the rest of the deck had started to slow down before Tristen finally lunged to the left and swept back right, causing the other captain to lose his footing in an attempt to doge. Tristen swept the blade from his hand and kicked it away, before putting his own blade to the man’s neck.

“Do you yield, Captain?” Tristen spoke, mockingly.

The captain snarled, but nodded his head.

“Yami!” Tristen called to his first mate, who appeared quickly. “Let’s lock the good captain up in his own brig and serve him some of the delicious food he so accommodated us with.” Only after the Captain was gone did Tristen turn to Justin. “Well, well, the mighty Black Panther. It is good to see you, my friend. And to what honor do I owe this rescue?”

Justin looked at him bewildered for a moment. He had never met Tristen as the Black Panther. In fact, technically, he hadn’t officially met Tristen only seen him on the ship talking to Tommy. Namdi cleared his throat and Justin shook himself from his thoughts.

“You looked like you needed help. What happened?”

Tristen shook his head. “We had articles together for a mission, but the captain there got greedy and tried to defect. When I confronted him he had an ambush waiting. It took this long for my crew to get here and get me out. Those brigs are no joke.”

“He held you in the brig?”

“I was in the small cabin first, at least that had a bed, but then he threw me in the brig for about two days.” Tristen made a face.

“How long you planning on keeping him there?”

“A month at least,” was the quick reply. They all enjoyed a laugh, before Tristen spoke again. “The Guardian Star looks good, Justin. You’ve kept her well.”

Justin nodded. “Thanks. She’s amazing.”

Tristen laughed. “I know it. Thanks for the help today. Unfortunately, it means I owe you. So, should you have a need, you know how to find me.”

Justin grinned. “It’s good to have you as a friend.”

“Always a pleasure to be on the Black Panther’s side. I hate the receiving end.”

A bang from the side of the ship broke up the conversation and Tristen shook his head. “That’s another good reason why. I’d hate to have the Dragon marred with your sign.”

“Then I guess you’d better behave,” Justin quipped.

Tristen laughed again. “Well said. Remember, if you ever have a need…”

Justin took Tristen’s outstretched hand. “You do the same.”

“Call the crew, Namid. Tristen can deal with the clean up.”

“Aye, aye Captain.”

Justin moved back to his own ship, but paused to see his crew on the side of the ship crossing out her name and branding a ‘BP’ over it. The fight had really belonged to both Tristen and Justin, but the Black Panther would take the credit. One more ship had been branded with his name and the crew loved the privilege.


“Are you sure this is good?” Justin looked around the small cabin doubtfully.

The room where Dabria and Salena stayed on their trips had completely been redone. It had taken two months, but it was finished now. There were now two twin beds, instead of bunkbeds and their heads met in the far left corner. They both had new mattresses and were much softer than the old thin ones. There was space at the end of both for their trunks. In the front left corner a head, or bathroom, had been installed, so they would no longer have to take turns playing guard for each other while they used the crew’s head. In the right corner a very small table with a basin and tub had been placed. On the right side of the cabin was a fold down table attached to the wall and two chairs sat next to it. Above it was a lamp, the other lamp was still the swinging one in the center of the room. Starting against the back wall and stopping a foot before the fold down table were shelves. They started high enough up that Dabria’s trunk would still fit at the end of her bed and could raise the top. There were four shelves in all.

“It will give them the room they need,” Maath replied.

“It’s more efficient. I believe they will like it,” Namid added.

“It’s too bare,” Justin finally said.

“You want to decorate it?” Maath asked, eyebrows raised.

“Do you know how?” Namid asked, obviously amused at the thought.

“Not a clue,” Justin sighed, but quickly brightened. “But Kiliki will. I’ll have to talk to her before I see the girls next month. Maybe she can get the stuff we need. We just have to finish putting it in before we bring them on board.”

Maath nodded. “Good idea. The girls will love it.”

Justin nodded. “I hope so. After Tristen commented on living here for only a day I got to thinking how the girls spend a whole lot more time than that in here. I probably should have done this long ago.”

“It is never too late,” Namid responded. “They will love it.”

“I hope so. I can’t wait to see their faces.”


“I have a surprise for you,” Justin told Dabria about a month later.

The two, along with Salena, were sitting in the carriage on the way back to the ship. It was time for the girls to return home and Justin had come to collect them. Both girls had been ready, but it had taken over an hour to get them all out the door, because of good-byes and the fact that Adem wouldn’t tell where he had hidden his Aunt Dabria’s drawing pad and Dabria had refused to leave without it. They had finally discovered Adem had hidden it with Tadi’s help in a cabinet under the main stairs. Another round of good-byes had followed and they were finally almost to the ship. Justin had been waiting to tell Dabria of his surprise once they boarded, but he was getting impatient.

Dabria shot him a curious look. “A surprise? What kind of surprise?”

“Don’t worry, I know you’ll like it,” he answered calmly.

“Is that what you were whispering with Kiliki about back at the house?” Salena asked.

Justin glanced at her, but nodded. “Yes, she knows about it.”

“Well, if my sister approves, it can’t be that bad,” Dabria smiled, leaning back in her seat.

“What makes you say that?” Justin asked.

Salena laughed, but Dabria looked at him innocently. “Nothing, nothing at all.”

“Right,” Justin said, not convinced.

The two girls only laughed and then began chatting excitedly about what it could possibly be. Justin grinned at their anticipation. This was going to be fun.

The three climbed out of the carriage and walked up the gangplank to the ship. Dabria and Salena managed to do this without a seconds pause in their conversation. Justin shook his head in wonder. Inu and Sheron met them and the girls greeted both excitedly. They chatted for a few seconds, before Justin told the guys to get a move on and get the trunks onto the ship.

“Aye, aye, Captain!” The two replied before giving the girls a salute and rushing down the rest of the gangplank.

Dabria laughed at their energy and Salena grinned. They made their way up the rest of the gangplank and then proceeded to go around the ship and say hello to everyone as Justin stood beside the rail and watched.

“So this is a regular custom now, is it?” Namid asked, coming up to stand beside him

“It sure seems like it,” Justin answered, suddenly not in a good mood.

“Have you told them your secret?” Namid asked.

“Sort of. I told them I had a surprise, but they seem to have forgotten it,” Justin replied, disturbed.

“I am sure they have not, Justin. You know they are just excited to be back abroad,” Namid voiced logically.

Justin shrugged. “I guess so. But this should be old news by now.”

Namid laughed. “A journey on the sea is never old news, my Captain, never.”

He clapped Justin on the back and then headed in the direction the two girls had gone. Justin watched as he stopped to talk to them and then proceeded up to the helm. Justin turned away and back to the gangplank. Sheron was just coming up.

“How is the loading coming?” He asked.

“Inu is grabbing the last one now, Captain,” was the quick reply. He set his medium sized trunk down.

“Good, when he is done, find Maath and tell him to set sail,” Justin commanded.

“Aye, Aye, Captain,” Sheron responded before lifting up the trunk again and moving towards the girls’ normal cabin.

“Okay, we’re ready!” Dabria declared happily from behind him.

Justin turned to see her and Salena. “Ready for what?”

“Our surprise!” She exclaimed. “Don’t tell me you forgot? You just barely told us!”

Justin laughed. “No, I didn’t forget, but you were so busy I figured you had.”

“Forget a surprise? Not likely,” Salena muttered.

“Don’t you want to know what it is too?” Justin asked, curious about her tone.

Salena looked up at him. “Of course. You mean it is for both of us?”

“Yes. You should both enjoy it immensely,” he replied amused that she thought he would not include her. She still had the tendency to think like a maid, even on the ship.

Both girls grinned. “Oh, good. Can we have it now then?” Dabria asked excitedly.

Justin shrugged. “I don’t see why not. Come with me.”

He led them to the steps going below the main deck and went down to their usual back cabin. He positioned himself so that he could see their faces when the door was opened and turned to them.

“Go on inside. It’s in there.”

Dabria cast him a suspicious look, but Justin just grinned. She put her hand on the handle and pushed inward. She gasped at the sight.

“Let me see too!” Salena exclaimed, not able to see inside with Dabria right in front of her.

Dabria looked at Justin and then stepped further inside the room.

Salena quickly stepped forward and whispered, “Oh my.”

Justin followed them inside and looked around himself. In addition to the new furniture, the room now had personal touches as well. The beds had purple and white blankets on them. The small table had a light blue and white tablecloth. There was also an oval rug that covered the center of the floor. It had all three of the colors, purple, blue, and white in a swirling pattern. While the shelves were empty, the walls were not. In strategic locations, some of Dabria’s drawings had been placed. There was a drawing of The Guardian Star above the fold down table, a picture of Salena and Dabria above Salena’s bed, a picture of the Brent family, including Salena, Emalia, and Justin was over Dabria’s bed, on the door to the head was a picture of a beach landscape, and over the basin was a final picture of the Waverton plantation, her home.

Dabria twirled around in the room taking it all in slowly. Eventually, she turned back to Justin who remained in the doorway watching. Salena had taken a seat on her new bed and sat staring at the rest of the room.

“It looks so different,” the girl whispered.

Dabria nodded her head. “It’s amazing. When did you have time to do this? You were so distracted on our last voyage. You wouldn’t even tell me what was going on.”

“Oh, I’m still taking care of that,” Justin waved it off. “But I’ve been meaning to do this for a while now. You travel on this ship so often, it only seems right that you have a room that is to your liking. You do like it, right?”

“Of course! It’s wonderful, but how did you know how to decorate it?” She asked curious.

“Kiliki helped me. The drawings are recent ones she saved and she told me what your favorite colors were and picked out all that stuff. I didn’t have a clue,” Justin freely admitted.

“Oh, so that was the conversation,” Salena deduced. “I saw you while Dabria was chasing down Adem.”

Justin nodded. He was forced to take a step back suddenly and steady himself when Dabria launched herself at him and hugged him fiercely. He looked down at her very surprised, but returned her hug.

“Thank you so much, Justin. It really means a lot,” she whispered.

He smiled at her enthusiasm. “You’re welcome, Pixie. I’m glad I finally got it done. Now that you’re older, it seemed like it really couldn’t wait any longer.”

She squeezed him tightly and stepped back with a large grin on her face. “You’re the best. I can’t wait to put things on the shelves.”

“Oh, yeah! What are we going to put up there, Bree?” Salena asked, studying the shelving.

Dabria turned to her best friend. “I don’t know. It should be special stuff though.”

Salena nodded. “Hey, where’s the panther that Kiliki gave you when she ran away?”

“It’s in my trunk. That’s perfect!” Dabria squealed, rushing over too it.

Justin shook his head, realizing he had been completely forgotten. He smiled and slipped out quietly, closing the door behind him. It was fun seeing their excitement, but he wasn’t hanging around if Dabria was going to insist on squealing. Wasn’t that stage supposed to end years ago?


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