Fail


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    Sail fans, beware!

    “No Kateiko, you’re doing it wrong!”

    “You know I hate that name!” I snapped back at Fendul as my knife sent strips of bark flying into the air. “My aunt calls me that!”

    “Fine,” he sighed. “Katerei, you’re stripping away all the wood.”

    I ignored him, peeling off strip after strip of fresh pine, careful not to cut my fingers. By the time we returned home, I hoped to have a fresh carved pony to place on the mantlepiece.

    “Look,” Fendul placed a hand on my forearm while I was cutting and my knife almost sliced into his side. My face tightened, but I slowed down, letting his hands guide my arm. “Don’t try and force the wood into a pony. Whittling is about feeling the pony inside the wood and gently bringing it out.”

    “Bring it out, how?” I asked him.

    “Cut only the parts of the wood that aren’t the shape you want.”

    I resumed my aggressive attacking of the stick. If there really was a pony inside, I hadn’t found any sign of one yet. My knife slipped, sliding too deep, and the stick cracked in half. Frustrated, I threw it at Fendul and hit him in the chest. I almost threw the knife too, but he caught my wrist and held it in a grip.

    “Is this because I asked Nili to the dance instead of you?”

    “Nisali,” I corrected him. Nili was my pet name, not his. “And you should have asked me! We’ll be married soon and our parents have been setting this up for years.”

    “I couldn’t help it,” he said, standing back and looking sheepish. “I know we’ll be together soon, but she’s just…so pretty.”

    “And I’m not?”

    He lowered his eyes to mine and smiled. “You look so cute when you pout.”

    I let out all of my frustration and anger in a loud, tortured scream before kicking him in the shin and running off into the forest. This was unbelievable! I loved my best friend like a sister, but she always had all of the men eyeing her. Now, my fiancée was too!

    I burst into the clearing around the lake and set off towards the tents, looking for Nili. I found her sitting on one of the beached canoes, struggling to tie ribbons to her hair. She looked up as I approached.

    “What happened to you?” she asked, her fingers fumbling around the ends of the black fabric, unable to tie them together.

    “You know what happened,” I said, but I leaned behind her and helped fix her ribbons anyway.

    “Aww, thanks Kat. You know, you look so cute when you pout!”

    “I’m not pouting!” I said, pouting. Though, inwardly I was smiling at her kind words. I took a deep breath. “I’m going to do it, you know.”

    Nili’s hands paused in smoothing her dancer’s dress. She was a year older than I was, which was why she was allowed to join this year’s traditional break-dancing competition while I wasn’t.

    “You know I’ll come with,” she said. I heard a little sadness and regret over having to leave her family, especially her little brother, but I knew she wanted to leave just as badly as I did.

    “I’m going to marry the first man I see. Maybe then Fendul will notice me!”

    “What if-“ she held up her hand to cover a giggle. “What if it turns out to be an Itheran?”

    “All the better to make him jealous!”

    Nili doubled over in laughter. “Just picture his face when he finds out!”

    “I’ll go get packed. We can leave after the dance.”

    “I’ll see you soon.” She stood up and gave me a warm hug.

    “Good luck. Break a leg!” I told her. I wasn’t going to watch the contest but I knew she would easily win.

    “You first,” she said, grinning.


    There wasn’t much to note about the journey south.

    We got lost in the forest for a while, stumbled across an old house my late father had built, and somehow ended up reaching the ocean on the opposite shore of where we intended. While swimming, we were attacked by a giant, green sea creature. At night, a particularly nosy bird sat on our tent, seeming to stare inside while we changed, but that was probably just my mind playing tricks on me – what kind of bird would be interested in watching two viirelei girls?

    We followed the coastline inward until the inlet came to an end at an old lava flow. It was a couple of days with no water to cross that, then a giant ancient bridge in the sky across a large river, and then we were safely into Iyo territory.

    So, just your typical summer walk.

    Shortly after we reached the lava flow, I noticed the bird had vanished. Coincidentally, the same morning we found a pack lying around with some spare supplies, but I didn’t think much of it.

    Oh, and I slipped in the mud outside an abandoned logging camp and broke my leg. I don’t remember much about that night except that I was lying on my back, numb from the pain, while Nili ran around alternatively shouting for help and crying.

    And that’s how I woke up in a man’s bed for the first time.

    I woke up to fire. Twin flames burning brightly on top of wax candles placed several feet from my face. A ceramic pitcher and mug full of something foul smelling sat next to them on a table at eye-level. I was on my side in a soft bed, heavy warm blankets bundled up to my neck. I looked around to see I was in a sparsely decorated small room in a log cabin. No sunlight was visible outside the window.

    I wasn’t alone. A man with shoulder-length brown hair and traces of stubble on his jaw sat next to the bed. When he noticed me moving, he smiled and said, “Good, you’re awake.”

    My tongue was thick and my throat dry, but I managed to form words. “Where am I? Where’s Nili?”

    “My name is Tiernan Heilind and this is my house. Your friend…Nili will be in here shortly. Now, let’s have a look, shall we?”

    Before I realized it, he gently pushed me back onto the bed and placed his hand on my forehead. “No fever, good,” he said. His hand felt comfortably warm, so I closed my eyes and settled into the sheets. The hand vanished, only to return much lower.

    “How does this feel?” he asked. Both hands were on my thigh, pressing into my skin.

    “Um…fine.”

    The hands vanished and a moment later he asked again. I didn’t feel anything. I opened my eyes and looked up in confusion to find out he was holding my ankle.

    “I can’t feel that,” I said, panic rising in my voice.

    “I suppose that’s for the best. We dosed you with some pretty powerful painkillers. You should probably go back to sleep before they wear off.”

    “I feel fine! I can sleep four hours a day with no problems.”

    Tiernan looked at me a moment, then reached out with his index finger and poked my forehead. I felt a sudden wave of heat that overwhelmed my senses and made me shiver in delight, then dizziness as my muscles relaxed and fell slack. My eyelids lowered and I felt myself drifting happily off to a warm sleep.

    Any man that can make me swoon like that is deserving of my affection.


    I woke to sunlight and laughter.

    Sunlight streamed in through the window, illuminating flecks of dust that spiraled and twirled in the air. The chair beside the bed was empty save for a discarded blanket.

    Voices came from beyond the closed door, too faint for me to make out the words, but I thought I recognized Nili’s distinctive laugh. I sat up quickly, wanting to see how she was faring. Okay, maybe I also secretly wanted to look at that hot guy again too.

    It wasn’t until I tried putting weight on both of my legs that I noticed the cast on my left. I noticed the pain too, as I toppled to the floor in a cry of agony. Laughter came from the other room.

    I crawled to my feet, more careful this time, and managed to hobble my way to the door. Opening it, I found Nili and Tiernan sitting near a fire, holding mugs. Nili was perched on his knee, feeding him strawberries between words. I stared dumbly in shock.

    She saw me and jumped up. “Kat, you’re awake!” she said while she crushed me in a big hug.

    “I am,” I said as I hugged her back. Why was she…

    “Be careful walking on that,” Tiernan said. I hadn’t noticed he was standing next to me until he placed a hand on my arm and my heart skipped three beats.

    “Madaya spent two days stitching you up! Where did you learn how to walk anyway?” Nili chided.

    “I…um…” my head was still foggy and it was tough to think. “Who’s Madaya?”

    “I am,” came a lilting voice. Slender fingers appeared on my shoulders, their skin a soft snow-white. I turned and saw a beautiful woman standing behind me, long blonde hair swaying at her waist. She was also about a foot shorter than I was. “Are you hungry?” she asked. My mind wandered back to that bowl of strawberries.

    “Go ahead and get something to eat, we’ll be back in a few minutes,” Nili said.

    We’ll be back…wait, what?

    I saw Nili place her hands on Tiernan’s arm. I saw him look over at Nili and smile. That warm special smile I had seen when I first woke up in this place. She grabbed hold of him and dragged him towards the now-vacant bedroom, giggling as my chest tightened in panic.

    No no no no no! Not him too! I was the one that was supposed to marry the first man we met, not Nili! I opened my mouth to protest, but the door slammed shut before words could tumble forth.

    First Fendul and now Tiernan! Why do men always look at her instead of me? I wanted to run, to scream, but my stomach had other priorities. I was too hungry to be angry. I stumbled over to the table and sat down before my legs could give out, sitting in a numb silence.

    “Here, you look famished. Have some of this,” Madaya said as she set a plate down in front of me. Some strange red fruit sat in the center, covered in a creamy froth.

    “What is this?”

    “My favorite dish,” she said smiling. “Go ahead and try some.”

    She handed me a fork. I dipped it in and tore off a chunk of fruit. I lifted it to my mouth and tasted a weird mix of juices. I swallowed and then wrinkled my nose at the bitter aftertaste.

    “It’s, um…unique,” I said, hoping I wouldn’t offend her.

    “It’s normally a drink. The fruit’s optional, but I think it adds extra flavor.”

    “I see.” An awkward pause settled over the table, interrupted only by the loud noises and squeals coming from the bedroom. I tried to think of anything I could say as a distraction. “So, have you known Tiernan long?”

    “I suppose you could say that,” Madaya replied with a wink. “I’m the resident healer for the people who live outside Caladheå.”

    “Caladheå?” I tried to sneak a strawberry when I thought she wasn’t looking. I pictured that juicy red fruit vanishing between Tiernan’s alluring lips.

    “It’s the big town south of here. You can’t miss it.”

    I’d never heard of it. “Do you like it there?”

    “Not really.” She took a spoon and slurped up some of the froth. “Now, you two are a mystery. Most viirelei I’ve seen live on the other side of Caladheå. What brings you here?” She pointed the spoon at me, sending tiny droplets of whatever that awful liquid was all over the table.

    “I’m here to get married,” I said.

    She stared at me, eyebrows raised. “Well!” she burst out laughing. “I suppose you’ve come to the right place!” A loud thump came from the other room. “Though perhaps not the right time.”

    “I’m going to do it. I’m going to marry Tiernan.” I don’t know what drove me to say that, or even when I had decided I was going to take him back from Nili. I just knew in my heart I couldn’t keep running forever. I had promised myself to marry the first man I met, and now I wanted more than ever for that to happen. To prove that I was an adult. A woman.

    “Oh?” She seemed overly amused. “Does he have no say in the matter?”

    “He might not desire me now, but I swear to you this: by the end of the Winter Solstice, I will be his wife.”

    She burst out laughing again. “Now that will be something I look forward to seeing!”


    The first order of business was to separate Tiernan from Nili. Much as I enjoyed spending time with my best friend, I couldn’t have her interfering with my plan until the wedding was set. So first thing in the morning, when I caught her staggering out, hair all disheveled, I told her that she had to return to the Rin.

    Perhaps because she was my friend, I couldn’t bring myself to tell her the truth – that I was jealous. Instead, I told her to let the adults know about the terrain along the way. Nobody in the Rin knew of Caladheå, but if a large Itherian city had sprung up, it was no wonder the Iyo never came north to trade anymore.

    She pleaded for a while to let her stay, even at one point suggesting that as the younger child, I be the one to carry the message. She didn’t try pursuing that argument after I pointed at my cast. Reluctantly, she finally got up and told Tiernan she would have to leave, but that she’d see him again the following spring.

    I don’t know if Madaya thought I could pull it off, but she seemed willing to go along with it for now. She offered to help guide Nili back through Itherian lands. With the winter snows coming soon, traveling north alone would be dangerous. I thanked her silently; this would go much easier if I was the only woman in Tiernan’s house.

    Before they left, Nili and I exchanged parting gifts. She gave me a low-cut dress that I could wear if I ever went dancing. I gave her a silver pendant I had made, complete with suspended water-drops (and a spell that would warn me if she got within several hundred yards).

    “I didn’t know you could do this,” she said, holding the leaf-shaped wire up to the light.

    “I had a lot of spare time,” I told her. Hours upon hours of it while I waited outside for you two to finish.

    She put the chain over her neck and brushed away tears. “We were supposed to do this together.”

    “We’ll see each other again, I promise.” Next time we meet, we might even be equals. With Nili being the only one around Fendul’s age, Bahamut might even get her to marry his son before winter’s end.

    I sat there for a long time, watching Madaya and Nili as they vanished into the forest, hoping I had made the right choice.


    The first few days, I didn’t see much of Tiernan.

    You would think with a lonely cabin in the woods occupied by a cute seventeen-year old girl that he would be all over me, but nope! I only saw him during breakfast and dinner when he would come inside to eat and check up on my leg. It took until the third day before I figured out where he was going.

    I followed Tiernan after lunch and found out he was spending most of his time inside the workshop behind the cabin. Curious, I opened the unlocked door and hobbled my way inside.

    Tiernan looked up from a stack of papers, seemingly unsurprised by my entrance. Instead, he smiled and beckoned me over. I guess my womanly charms were finally breaking down his barrier.

    “I need your help with something,” he said, clearing a space on one of the cluttered tables. He pulled a book out of a stack piled on the ground and lay it on the cleared spot, then had me sit next to him. “If I remember right, you’re almost of marrying age for a viirelei.”

    “Yes.” Too easy!

    “So,“ he cleared his throat. “You’re starting to look for an attractive man now, right?”

    I nodded my head. My fingers curled up in my lap in excitement.

    “Kat.” He reached out and touched the exposed skin on my arm. A jolt of energy shot through me and I felt my heart pound faster. “I need to ask you for a big favor.”

    That was awful quick. Was I ready for this? “O-Okay.” I could barely speak.

    “Kat,” he leaned in close and lowered his voice. “I need your help in getting Nili to fall for me.”

    Wait. What?

    He turned to the book and pointed at a page full of arcane scribbling. “I thought of trying a love potion, but that seems too direct and too expensive to sustain long-term. Not to mention if I mixed it incorrectly it’d be more like a bomb-“

    I couldn’t believe it! What was all that about? He wanted me to help him get with Nili?

    “-But I’m not sure she likes mohawks. I mean, if she doesn’t I’d have this ridiculous haircut for months until it grew out again. So maybe the best route after all is to visit her parents in the spring and slip a few chemicals into the water supply-“

    I slammed the book shut, nearly crushing his finger and plunging the workshop into a sudden silence. “You want to win Nili over? Then there’s nothing that you really need to do!” I snapped at him. I stood up and exited in a huff. Well, with the cast it was more like a prolonged hobble in silence while he stared at me. My cheeks were burning hot by the time I actually made it to the door and I fumbled around with it for a minute so I could maintain my balance when I slammed it shut. Then I crossed back into the cabin, climbed the ladder to the special bed in the loft he had made for me, and huddled under the blankets for the rest of the afternoon.

    Well after dusk I heard scrabbling on the ladder. I peeked my head out of the blankets to see Tiernan looking over the edge, holding up a lantern.

    “Can I come up?” he asked.

    “I don’t care.”

    He crawled over the edge and sat down cross-legged next to my bed. I suddenly became very aware that the two of us were in a confined space and I was wearing light pajamas. I pulled the blankets up to my nose so I could watch him discreetly.

    “I’m sorry about earlier,” he said. “It was inappropriate for me to try and use you like that.”

    I didn’t know what to say. I was too busy concentrating on trying to not look at his exposed chest where the upper buttons on his shirt had been undone. It didn’t help that he was close enough I could reach out and touch him.

    “I just know so little about viirelei that I – well, I didn’t mean any offense. I hope you understand.”

    He got up to leave, but I didn’t want that yet. My earlier anger had dissipated, lost in the moment I was sharing with him now. I tried to think of what a normal woman would do in this situation. What two close people might talk about if they wanted to deepen the mood.

    “Tiernan…” I said, building up my courage.

    He hesitated, but he sat back down.

    It was now or never. Time to show him just how romantic I could be. “Tiernan…what do you think happens to people after they die?”

    The question seemed to surprise him. Maybe he really hadn’t thought of me as the lovey-dovey type. “Um, well, most of my people believe their spirits fly across the ocean to a land of abundance.”

    “Why would they cross an ocean to get more food? That’s stupid! They’re already dead!” Oops, take this more calmly Kat.

    “I’ve crossed the ocean.” He shrugged. “People believe what gives them comfort.”

    “I was always told the land of the dead is right here,” I said, waving my hand in the air before resting it on my chest. The blanket had fallen to my waist now. “But we can’t see it unless we look really close.”

    His eyes followed my hand and I saw him stare closely. I felt my cheeks warming again. He finally cleared his throat and looked away. “I have some books on the matter if you’re interested. I can show them to you in the morning.”

    “I…um, thanks.”

    “Goodnight, Kat.” He kissed me lightly on the forehead, which I wasn’t expecting. Long after he left I just sat there, imagining I could still feel the warmth of his lips on my skin.

    “I am never washing my face again!” I promised myself.


    “Where are the pictures?” I asked, flipping through the pages of the thick tome.

    “These books don’t come with pictures,” Tiernan said as he stirred his tea.

    “But I can’t read any of this!” I said, throwing my hands up in exasperation. Oops. That got his attention.

    “You can’t read?” He almost dropped his cup in surprise.

    “I uh…my people don’t really use a written language.” Especially not if they slept through all of my aunt’s writing lessons like I did.

    He considered me for a moment. I averted my gaze, cheeks flushing with shame. “I can teach you,” he said finally.

    “You…can?” I imagined the two of us sitting together at this table. He would point out another funny squiggle while I rested my chin on my hand and admired his unshaven face. That would be way more fun than Isu’s lessons!

    “Yes, but these books are not a good starting point. They aren’t meant for teaching children.”

    “Will adult books have pictures in them?” I asked. I wasn’t a child anymore. Besides, it would be easier to learn with illustrations, and I enjoyed seeing the pretty artwork.

    Tiernan raised an eyebrow. “You want to learn how to read those kinds of books?”

    “Yes. Where can we find adult picture books?”

    He sat back for a moment, looking thoughtful. “Madaya has a large collection, but she doesn’t like to admit it, so it’s unlikely she would share. We’d probably have to go to Caladheå to buy some.”

    “I grew up hearing stories about a sly fox from the Itherian traders. I wonder if we can find an adult picture book about that.” I had enjoyed hearing about her playing pranks on people.

    “Katerei,” he said, placing one hand on my shoulder. “Your people have some very strange customs, but I’m sure if you look hard enough, you can find material for anything.”

    I looked up at him in confusion.

    He shrugged. “Grab a coat, let’s go to Caladheå.”

    “How far will it be?” I asked.

    “Oh, it’s about ten minutes down the hill.”

    “What? You can’t expect me to walk that far!”

    He looked down at my leg. “Oh, right.”

    I looked down at my leg. “That wasn’t what I meant. How can you expect a lady to walk so far? Shouldn’t you…you know, make it easier for them?” Like maybe give them a piggyback ride?

    He sighed. “You’re right, I forgot myself. Come with me.” He grabbed an apple from the counter and opened the back door.

    I hobbled after him as we went outside, past the workshop to a barn I hadn’t noticed before. He led me inside and I saw two horses munching on some hay.

    He pointed at a black mare. “That one is mine,” he said before taking a bite of his apple.

    “What’s her name?”

    “Gwmnïwyr.”

    “What?”

    He swallowed. “She’s called Gwendolyn. Sometimes she forgets she’s not a camel.”

    “Do you always name your horses with your mouth full?” I asked him.

    “Itherian tradition.” He held the apple out to me. “Want to try? The other one is yours to name.”

    I took a big bite from the red skin and turned to face the other mare. She was dark brown with a lovely white patch between the eyes. I had always fancied naming my daughter Anwea, but through chunks of chewed apple it came out more like Æthelthritha.

    “You learn quick,” Tiernan said smiling. His hand clapped me on the shoulder. “For the next two months, you’re going to learn how to ride Æthelthritha. Then we can take the trip to Caladheå.”

    I took another bite of his apple. This wasn’t turning out so bad after all.


    “There is one thing I neglected to tell you,” Tiernan said. The two of us were riding Gwendolyn and Æthelthritha down the road to Caladheå. Winter was in full swing now and snow covered the banks.

    “What’s that?” I asked, only half-paying attention as I fought to keep Æthelthritha from walking off the road. Two months of learning how to ride had taught me how to stay on a horse, but not how to guide them where I wanted to go. At least my cast was off now. Balancing with that had been a real pain.

    “All viirelei are required to register at the council upon their first visit. I’ll need to take you there before we can go shopping.”

    “Fine,” I said. I was only half-paying attention. Caladheå had come into view and it was much larger than anything I had seen before. I pulled my horse to a halt and just stared at it for a moment in amazement, ignoring the strange looks from people passing us by. “Why didn’t we come here earlier? This city is awesome!”

    “What?” Tiernan blinked in surprise. “No! This a small trading post. You thought this was the city? There’s only like five buildings here!” He pointed around the next bend. “ That is Caladheå.”

    Thousands of red buildings covered the land between the ocean to the west and hills to the east. Dozens of boats bobbed in the bay, some moored to the docks, others drifting loose, white sails furled like flowers.

    “That is the Colonnium,” Tiernan said, pointing to a large tower rising above the rooftops, like a beacon. “Well, part of it. But it is our first destination.”

    We rode into town and dismounted near the gate. There were so many people, so many strange sights that I couldn’t begin to describe them all. I lost track of time. The next thing I knew, we were climbing a flight of stairs and then passing through the heavy doors of the Colonnium.

    We entered a marble hall ringed with pillars the color of Madaya’s disgusting drink. Near the back of the hall, a clerk sat behind a desk scribbling his quill pen on a stack of papers. As we approached, he started talking without even looking up. “Please state your name, occupation, and purpose for visit.”

    “Tiernan Heilind. Mage. Here to register a viirelei girl.”

    The clerk’s manner changed instantly. He stood up and drummed his fingers on the desk. “Er, I’ll have to summon a guard to escort you-“

    “I know. Get on with it.”

    The clerk sighed and rang a bell before returning to his paperwork.

    I leaned in close to Tiernan and whispered, “What was that all about? Do they really think if you were here to level the place, the presence of a guard would make a difference?”

    Tiernan looked at me and chuckled. “The guard is not for me, it’s for you.”

    “What do you mean?”

    “The members of the Council are all old men,” a woman’s voice answered. “A young viirelei woman might seek to use her charms to entice…favors, and we can’t risk any such corruption in our noble and honest court.”

    “No need to worry. I wouldn’t sleep with any of those dirty old fools, even if I was drunk!” I said, turning to face the voice. An auburn-haired woman clad in the formal clothes of the Colonnium guard stood before us leaning lazily on her spear.

    “I am Iannah and I will be your escort today. Where do you intend to go?”

    “The office of the viirelei,” I said.

    “Then come.” She gestured down one of the side corridors and we followed along. We passed several doors before she stopped at one and rapped on it with the butt of her spear. “Visitors for you, Falwen.”

    A grunt of acknowledgement came from inside and Iannah opened the door to let me in. I looked at Tiernan, but he just urged me onward.

    “I’ve already filled out one set of registration forms. I have no desire to do so again,” he said. Iannah snorted in response.

    I entered the office alone, closing the door behind me. The walls were lined with tall cabinets and crammed full of books. A man with pale blue skin and light hair sat behind a wooden desk and pointed me towards a chair. I took it hesitantly, the wood creaking as it bore my weight.

    “My name is Falwen. I represent…well, pretty much all the jouyens. What do you need? I’m very busy, so be quick.”

    “I want to register in the birth records,” I told him.

    “Very well. Name and jouyen?”

    “Katerei Rin.”

    Falwen ruffled through a cabinet near the desk and pulled out an empty folder. “No previous records. Good. I need your age and birth date.”

    “Seventeen. I was born on the winter solstice.”

    Falwen nodded, pulling out a sheet of paper and dipping his quill pen into an inkpot. “You need a last name to register.”

    “Heilind.”

    He looked up and raised an eyebrow.

    “Oh…um, just a coincidence.”

    He shrugged and resumed his writing. When he was done, he stamped a red sigil on the sheet and filed it away. “This is your copy of the registration. Do not lose it,” he said, handing me a second paper. He fumbled around in the stack on his desk and pulled out more sheets and handed them to me. “I’ll need you to fill out a few forms before you leave. You’ll need to record your medical history, family medical history, residences for the previous seven years, education, credit history, employment contracts, or recent changes in marital status.”

    He reached over to another cabinet and pulled out more papers and dropped them on top of the first. There were so many my arms struggled to hold the weight.

    “Application for a work permit, social security number, health insurance forms, tax withholding forms, waiver of liability in the event of a titan stampede, some more disclosure and legal forms.” He stopped and looked up at me. I now held a stack almost two feet tall. “My shift ends at 3. I expect all of those to be completed before I leave.”

    “Yes, sir.” I tried to stand so I could leave, but I stepped poorly on my bad leg and toppled over, sending paper flying all over the floor.

    It was going to be a long day.


    “Can I help you?” the old man behind the counter asked. He adjusted his thick spectacles and leaned forward.

    “I’m looking for some adult picture books,” I told him.

    The man reeled back in shock.

    “The pictures will help her learn,” Tiernan added helpfully.

    “Over there,” the shopkeeper pointed hastily. “Kids these days,” he muttered under his breath.

    “Take your time. I’ll wait back at the fountain,” Tiernan said.

    I wandered through the bookstore, scanning my eyes over thousands of dusty old bindings, looking for something I would recognize. Most of the names were unintelligible, but I picked out one book that mentioned a fox. I hoped it was the prankster fox from the stories.

    The cover was not what I expected, depicting a man with a sword holding hands with a female archer. I traced my fingers over the title, working out each word like Tiernan had taught me. “Fading Lights,” I said out loud.

    Seeing no better alternatives, I walked back to the front of the store and lay the book down on the counter. The old man on the other side glanced down at it and then slowly looked back up at me.

    “Are you sure, miss? I hear that one’s a downer.”

    “I’m sure,” I said, fumbling out three gold coins from my purse.

    The shopkeeper looked down at the gold coins for a moment before saying, “Those aren’t oboloi.”

    “What?”

    “We don’t pay for things in gold around here!” He brushed the coins back towards me. “We use small iron pellets. Makes people less likely to forge them and keeps the iron from going into weapons. Now,” he placed both elbows on the counter and leaned forward, “Do you have any oboloi?”

    I had never heard of any such thing. I frantically fumbled around in my pocket, looking for something I could use. There was a bit of lint, some scraps of tissue, and an iron button that had fallen off of my sleeve when my dress snagged on a tree. I pulled out the button and placed it on the counter.

    The shopkeeper’s eyes lit up in delight. “Now, that’s what I’m talking about!” He cheerily picked up the button, scribbled some notes on some paper, tore off a piece, and handed it to me. “Thank you, come again!”

    I picked up my book and hurried out of the store. I wanted to race home and flip through the pages, hoping to pour through the illustrations. Yet, as I headed towards the square, a small bird on a sign caught my eye.

    Turns out an Iyo woman had set up shop in the heart of Caladheå. We chatted for a bit and I bought a few trinkets. Fortunately for me, she accepted gold coins, shaking her head at my story.

    It was late afternoon by the time I returned to the square. Tiernan was sitting on the edge of the fountain, waiting for me. I walked over and sat down next to him, rummaging around for the trinkets in my pack.

    “Here, these are for you,” I said, pulling out the first. It was a small stone sculpture of a fireplace. “This one represents warmth. I see a hot man whenever I look at you.”

    “Oh, because I’m a fire mage?” he said, accepting the fireplace. He held it up for a minute, admiring the craftsmanship, before slipping it into his pocket.

    I pulled out a tiny carving of a wolf. “This one represents me.”

    “I can see that,” he said, patting my hair in appreciation. All too soon, he removed his hand and put the wolf away.

    I took a deep breath. This was it. I pulled out a tiny wire frame, twisted into the shape of a heart. “And this represents us, together,” I said, handing it over to him.

    He held it up in his hands, peering at it a moment. “Oh, it’s a keyring!” he said, turning it upside down. He fished out two keys – one for the house and one for the workshop – and fastened them to the wire. “Thank you! That’ll make our research sessions go much easier now that I don’t have to worry about losing my keys!”

    I didn’t know what to say.


    “Why are we up here in the cold again?” Tiernan asked, his breath visible in the glow of my torch.

    “Yanben. The longest night of the year,” I told him. The two of us were sitting high up in a tree. He was holding a bundle of dry sticks and I held the torch.

    “Yes, also one of the colder nights of the season.”

    “On this night, the worlds of the living and the dead overlap and we commemorate that which we’ve lost. It’s a tradition where you cast off that which cannot be changed and embrace a new life for the new year.”

    I was certainly ready to cast off my failures and disappointments. The book had turned out to be some depressing story about wraiths and undead – not at all the happy stories of a prankster fox. Instead, I gave up reading it and just lay under the covers at night, admiring the picture of the author on the back.

    None of it had worked. I had tried every trick I could think of, but Tiernan just wouldn’t acknowledge my charms. Now, I was ready to admit defeat. Nili had bested me and I would grow old alone and unhappy.

    “So, we just light a stick and throw it down to unburden ourselves?” Tiernan asked.

    “Yes. You’re supposed to throw them into trees so they catch fire and serve as beacons of light and renewal.” I had already tossed down two and was reaching for my third.

    “Okay, but is there any particular reason you’ve been aiming them at my house?”

    “Nope. Not at all.” My aim was off and the burning stick fizzled in the snow outside his front door.

    “I get the feeling that you’re unhappy about something.”

    I reached for another stick.

    “Is this because it’s your birthday?”

    I hesitated, holding the stick just out of reach of the fire.

    “It’s because you’re eighteen, isn’t it?”

    When I finally admitted to myself that everything was hopeless, I had built up a giant wall to seal off my feelings. I didn’t want the disappointment, the pain, the unrequited desire. I spent weeks building up that wall, and his words crumbled it away in seconds.

    “Kat.” I felt his finger brush my cheek, wiping away tears I didn’t know were running down my face. I turned to meet his gaze and found that I had dropped the torch in the snow.

    “If I was home, I would be getting married today. To the chief’s son even,” I said.

    “But you ran away from home.”

    “Yes, because he didn’t love me. He only had eyes for Nili.”

    A long silence ensued, broken only by my occasional sniffling. At last, Tiernan broke the silence.

    “Yanben is a day of renewal, right?”

    “Yes,” I said, wiping the water off my face.

    I heard the sound of him shifting. “Then, how about we start over and try this again?” A warm hand appeared on my shoulder and I felt myself tugged back into a warm embrace. “Deal?”

    I settled back into his arms. “Deal.”

    One of my tosses had gotten lucky and the outside of his kitchen was now smoldering, but if I told him, I feared this moment would come to an end and I wasn’t ready for that yet. It would probably be okay for a little while longer.

    I had come a long way from my village in pursuit of happiness, and maybe, just maybe, this night would be the beginning of something warm and wonderful.



  • I HAVE MANY THOUGHTS ABOUT THIS STORY AND ALL OF THEM ARE LOUD

    @avatara_bot, on 10 January 2015 - 06:25 AM, said in Fail:

    “You first,” she said, grinning.

    FORESHADOWING

    Quote

    “I feel fine! I can sleep four hours a day with no problems.”

    I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT YOU'RE TALKING ABOUT

    Quote

    Any man that can make me swoon like that is deserving of my affection.

    CHANNELING BELLA SWAN RIGHT THERE

    Quote

    Nili was perched on his knee, feeding him strawberries between words.

    DID NOT SEE THAT COMING AT ALL

    Quote

    An awkward pause settled over the table, interrupted only by the loud noises and squeals coming from the bedroom.

    o_o

    Quote

    Hours upon hours of it while I waited outside for you two to finish.

    o_o

    Quote

    Time to show him just how romantic I could be. “Tiernan…what do you think happens to people after they die?”

    YOU'RE NEVER GOING TO LET THAT REST ARE YOU

    Quote

    “Yes. Where can we find adult picture books?”

    o_o!

    Quote

    “Do you always name your horses with your mouth full?” I asked him.

    IT'S WELSH FFS

    Quote

    I had always fancied naming my daughter Anwea, but through chunks of chewed apple it came out more like Æthelthritha.

    I DON'T KNOW WHETHER TO LAUGH OR CRY

    Quote

    I took it hesitantly, the wood creaking as it bore my weight.

    Y U ALWAYS MAKE DIGS ABOUT HER WEIGHT

    Quote

    “Application for a work permit, social security number, health insurance forms, tax withholding forms, waiver of liability in the event of a titan stampede, some more disclosure and legal forms.” He stopped and looked up at me. I now held a stack almost two feet tall.

    GOD HELP US ALL

    Quote

    “Fading Lights,” I said out loud.

    I SEE WHAT YOU DID THERE

    Quote

    "This one represents warmth. I see a hot man whenever I look at you.”

    CLASSY, KAT, CLASSY

    Quote

    I had tried every trick I could think of, but Tiernan just wouldn’t acknowledge my charms.

    I COMMEND THIS PUN

    Quote

    “It’s because you’re eighteen, isn’t it?”

    I AM NOT REMARKING ON THIS AND TAKE FULL BLAME FOR ALL INACCURACIES DUE TO LACK OF EDITING

    Quote

    One of my tosses had gotten lucky and the outside of his kitchen was now smoldering, but if I told him, I feared this moment would come to an end and I wasn’t ready for that yet. It would probably be okay for a little while longer.

    IT'S NOT LIKE HE WAS USING THAT KITCHEN ANYWAY

    Quote

    I had come a long way from my village in pursuit of happiness, and maybe, just maybe, this night would be the beginning of something warm and wonderful.

    AWWWWWWWW



  • This is awesome! :D

    I posted my favourite quotes in #cythera. You're probably still sleeping since you apparently stayed up until 6:30am posting this, so check back this morning's #cythera logs for my favourite quotes ^ ___^ (Or I could copy them here if you don't want to weed through the Cythera-hacking comments.)

    Thank you for this story! I have been laughing all day ^ ___^ I think I've laughed more today than I have over the last couple of weeks! This was so much fun : __D


  • Global Moderator

    @ikaterei_bot, on 10 January 2015 - 08:23 AM, said in Fail:

    Y U ALWAYS MAKE DIGS ABOUT HER WEIGHT

    This actually wasn't intended to be a dig about her weight, but more a dig against Falwen. He seems more concerned with his papers and protocols than actually making his guests comfortable, so he gives her a run-down squeaky chair and it adds to her nervousness.

    Quote

    I AM NOT REMARKING ON THIS AND TAKE FULL BLAME FOR ALL INACCURACIES DUE TO LACK OF EDITING

    I changed a couple ages and birthdays to make it work out for this story (and stated so in the earlier chapters). I moved up Kat's birthday to the Winter Solstice, otherwise it wouldn't have made it in.

    Quote

    YOU'RE NEVER GOING TO LET THAT REST ARE YOU

    Nope!



  • Relevant log quotes, for prosperity:

    • Tetressa sees the title of Tyry's fanfic & bursts out laughing
      (That's even better than the title I plan to use if I ever write a Sail parody! : __D)
      <Tetressa> I haven't even opened it & already laughing ^ ___^
      <Tetressa> "So, just your typical summer walk." Heehee, this story is great : __D
      <Tetressa> “I feel fine! I can sleep four hours a day with no problems.”
      <Tetressa> & Any man that can make me swoon like that is deserving of my affection. ^ ___^
      <Tetressa> YES, TOMATO-BEER FRUIT SALAD IS BACK! : __D
      <Tetressa> "I had promised myself to marry the first man I met, and now I wanted more than ever for that to happen. To prove that I was an adult. A woman." : __D
      <Tetressa> “-But I’m not sure she likes mohawks. I mean, if she doesn’t I’d have this ridiculous haircut for months until it grew out again. So maybe the best route after all is to visit her parents in the spring and slip a few chemicals into the water supply-“ : __D
      <Tetressa> It was now or never. Time to show him just how romantic I could be. “Tiernan…what do you think happens to people after they die?”
      <Tetressa> The question seemed to surprise him. Maybe he really hadn’t thought of me as the lovey-dovey type. : _D
      <Tetressa> Also love the Gwmnïwyr/mouth-full joke ^
      _^
      <Tetressa> (& I think I've discovered why you were asking me my kids names)
      <Tetressa> “What?” Tiernan blinked in surprise. “No! This a small trading post. You thought this was the city? There’s only like five buildings here!” He pointed around the next bend. “That is Caladheå.” ^
      _^
      <Tetressa> You caught up to Sail, Tyry?
      <Tetressa> "The book had turned out to be some depressing story about wraiths and undead – not at all the happy stories of a prankster fox."
      <Tetressa> I totally didn't get it at first! ^
      __^ (Still don't understand why it's named Fading Lights though?)

    This post has been edited by BreadWorldMercy453 : 10 January 2015 - 05:51 PM


  • Global Moderator

    Does Katerei always refer to arson as something "warm and wonderful"?

    An amusing story, I think alt-Avatara and K should interact more like that in the TS :) .

    Also, I first read this on my phone and the only name next to it was Katerei's. I didn't realize she hadn't written it until I reached her response.



  • @breadworldmercy453_bot, on 10 January 2015 - 05:50 PM, said in Fail:

    Still don't understand why it's named Fading Lights though?

    Avatara asked me for title suggestions awhile ago and that was something that came up. I wasn't positive at the time what he was titling.

    @selax_bot, on 16 January 2015 - 08:27 PM, said in Fail:

    Does Katerei always refer to arson as something "warm and wonderful"?

    When it comes with a hot guy!

    Quote

    I think alt-Avatara and K should interact more like that in the TS :)

    WHY


  • Global Moderator

    Well, it might motivate you to post in the TS (if only to complain) :p .



  • I would've said "because it's amusing" ^_ __^


  • Global Moderator

    Well, there is that aspect too, yes.


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