dichotomy - di· chot· o· my (n) \dī-ˈkä-tə-mē\ 1. A division or contrast between two things that are or are represented as being opposed or entirely different. 2. Something with seemingly contradictory qualities. “We've all got both light and dark inside us. What matters is the part we choose to act on. That's who we really are.” ~J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix --- Lyra Brightstar -- youngest Keeper in over a century, one of the two Generals of the United Army, raised to incapacitate nearly from birth -- woke with a foreign pressure on her chest, centered directly over her heart. A few years ago, perhaps even a few months ago, it would have been enough to send her, if not into panic, then into a cool and practiced defensive maneuver, throwing off a weight up to nearly three times her own, prepared to twist an arm painfully behind a shoulder, or dislocated a jaw. Granted, there hadn't been much of a need for anything like that (though there were still plenty of bitter memories on both sides, and Lyra had dealt with her fair share of violence in the three years since the war) in some time. But a Keeper never forgot. Only a select few would have recognized Lyra was no longer sleeping as she assessed the threat. Her breathing did not change; even her heart rate remained the same. But she was awake, and so she was dangerous. Her mate slept on beside her, and even her enemies knew she would let nothing befall him. The weight on her chest crept inexorably upward, threatening to choke the breath from her lungs. The Lyra of year's past would have already dispatched with the thing. This was not that Lyra. In a flash, tangerine eyes sprang open as two arms, lithe with wiry muscles, came up to seize the thing on her chest. With a single, deft movement, Lyra had rolled, shielding her mate with her body to imprison their attacker between herself and the bed beneath her. "Nice try," she said coolly. The creature shrieked. "Nooo, Auntie Rya!" Three-year-old Tairisa Stormborn -- Tai'risNya to her father's people, and simply Tai to most -- giggled that infectious giggle that had ruthlessly dragged so many into helpless adoration, chubby legs pumping beneath her as she struggled to escape Lyra's clutches. Lyra managed to keep a straight face, though it was only after years of practice. The Keeper had never thought herself the type to appreciate or bond with children, but Tai and her sister had always been special. They were the first twins ever born to the Cerebrae race, for example. They had been born just days after the war that had changed the lives of virtually every living thing on the planet. They were also the children of the legend, quite literally. It had been three years since Moridryn'aKyno and Aurora Skyfall had been referred to as Kaloranis and the Maiden, but it had never faded from public memory or opinion. Even the Prodigies and the purple Aavan that so often worked with them still had not been able to find a name for what the two young lovers had done in their time, and the Cerebrae were finally beginning to understand they might never do so. Tai and her sister, Koheera -- Kohe -- were miracles, legends, bedtime stories, fairy tales. They were many things. But to Lyra, they were simply her two young nieces, and they had won her heart. It had been very straight forward with Tai. The younger of the twins cried only on rare occasions, and even then, it seemed half-hearted, as if she knew she was playing the role of 'infant' and would much rather be laughing at something. And most times, she was. She delighted most everyone she met, and had an almost uncanny ability to lift the spirits of those around her with a glance or a touch. She was not quite so independent as her sister -- on the contrary, she loved people, and loved to be held. The two girls spent as much time in the chair of diplomacy as their overbearing parents (and, on occasion, Lyra and her mate) would allow, but it had never seemed to bother Tai. She was happy to travel and meet new people. In fact, so long as she was not made to sit by bored or alone for too long, she was happy nearly all the time. She had a tendency to grow fussy when her older sister wasn't in her sights, but it was a problem easily solved, as the two were almost inseparable anyway. That, and charming little Tai could wrap even the surliest of people around her chubby little finger in an instant. In fact, there were times when she'd have sworn the only person to ever say 'no' to Tai was her older sister. Kohe'Erana had been an unusual child from birth. She was, of course, no less loved than her sister, but she was far more complex than anyone had ever known a child to be. She was quiet and thoughtful where Tai was bubbly and outgoing. She was serious and deliberate where Tai seemed to take every instance, person, place, and experience at face value. Even their appearances belied their twinship. Tai was shorter than her sister, all round cheeks and chubby fists. Kohe was taller, thinner, lithe for her age in a way that had sent Rora into a raging panic, suspecting for a time Kohe was seriously ill. And Tai had her father's eyes precisely -- a trait that made Rora especially susceptible to her daughter's whims -- where Kohe's were dual-toned, one a fiery scarlet, the other a rich sapphire. Still, Lyra could not place the precise moment she had fallen in love with the children of her mates brother. Most could not. Whether it was Tai's infectious ecstasy, or Kohe's strange yet endearing seeming to know a person, lovingly, intimately, it didn't much matter. For now, the girls were simply that -- girls. Loving and loved, unaffected by status or titles. Lyra was not so naive as to think it would be that way forever. But she would keep them here -- safe -- as long as she could. "Rya?" Lyra looked down to where Tai had stopped struggling. There was still the gleam of a mischievous grin in her violet eyes, but now they studied her, as if searching for something. "S'wong?" said Tai, lisping slightly around fangs that seemed too large for her mouth as she reached out a chubby hand to touch Lyra's cheek, her eyes wide with wonder and concern. Tai did not share her sister's uncanny ability to know a person, but she was beginning to share her mother's empathy. Lyra smiled and scooped the toddler up again, rolling to hold Tai aloft once more. Immediately, she began to giggle and scream once more, velvety wings half twitching behind her, though Lyra noticed she watched her aunt more carefully now. "Shhh," Lyra said gently, lowering her niece to settle on her chest. "You'll wake your uncle. Where's your sister, little one?" It was rare Tai went anywhere without her older twin. For a girl who so loved to meet new people, Tai could be remarkably shy about doing anything without Kohe's blessing. Lyra was not surprised when Tai whirled to point at the door to the room where Kohe stood quietly, half studying the whole scene with mismatched eyes...half asleep on her feet, a red and blue blanket tucked under one arm, her tail coiled behind her. Lyra felt her heart melt all over again as she stood, Tai balanced on one hip, to go collect the other child. "Good morning, Kohe," she said indulgently as she stooped to settle the older twin on her other hip, wondering how long it would be before she could hold both children at once. "Did you sleep well?" She didn't expect an answer -- or at least not a spoken one -- but she wasn't worried. Lyra knew if there was anything wrong with Kohe, Tai would have come running. And that only if her mate (let alone the child's parents) hadn't suspected trouble first. The twins had no wont of love in their lives. Smiling, wreathed by her young nieces, Lyra walked back to her bed to kneel by her mate, the other General of the United Army, with a strange story by his own right. She leaned over and kissed him, first on the cheek, and then longer, more indulgently -- though still chaste, keenly aware both twins were studying them -- before leaning back. "Wake up, love," she said, her mind expanding gently in his. "We've company."