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Category: Story Time

Story Time: How I Met Your Mother

Wow, I regret that title already.

Anyway, have a little Rashomon for your Thursday! Remember, if you have a story idea to suggest, you should definitely join our Patreon, and for a mere $20 a month you can bend my ear as much as you like.

*

KILLIKER
Ah, you want to know a tale about lost love? I have a sad story I can share, and unlike many of my stories, this one happened to me.

 

DARIA
Yes, I suppose it’s time I told you the rest of the truth. I won’t go into details, mind.

 

KILLIKER
You don’t want details? Ah, fine then, we will keep things…family friendly. It all began when I was traveling over hither and yon, seeking stories and fortune.

 

DARIA
It began much like any other day. Every day was the same at the time. Samuel was…particular about how the household was run, which meant that even in his absence, there was little for me to do. It was more than just boredom, I was…terribly lonely. And sad, I’m afraid.

 

KILLIKER
I entered Larkdale without a care in the world. Lovely little town, although the inn there didn’t look like much. It was odd, a local told me there was another one “sometimes.” Now I wasn’t sold on the inn that was permanent, but wouldn’t you know it, there was a beautiful castle up on the hill, the Castle Whitetower.

 

DARIA
The castle is lovely, but it didn’t feel like home to me. Not until you came along. How can a place feel like home when there’s nothing there for you?

 

KILLIKER
I could tell right away that this was the place for me. I’m no snob, you see, but it’s hard to pay money to stay somewhere mediocre when there is the possibility of staying in a beautiful castle for just the cost of my bardic services. So I set out up the hill.

 

DARIA
Reevis told me there was some sort of…I believe the exact words he used were “elvish clown.” Yes, there was an elvish clown who sought audience with the liegelords of the house.

 

KILLIKER
Would you believe I’ve actually been there before? It was years ago, though. Maybe three or four decades? I had heard there was a new lord and lady of the house, but I don’t usually have any trouble with first impressions.

 

DARIA
What can I say? It wasn’t as though I had plans.

 

KILLIKER
The butler—frightfully proper man, absolutely no fun at all—led me to a drawing room, where I had the honor of meeting Lady Daria Whitetower.

 

DARIA
Now Reevis is a bit fussy, so I knew “clown” had to be an exaggeration, but even so I wasn’t expecting—that is to say—he caught me off guard. He was…

 

KILLIKER
Never in my life had I encountered such beauty. She was immaculate, pristine…nearly fragile, as if she was porcelain you would be afraid to break. This was just at first glance, of course, her posture and bearing…but a second glance, deep into her eyes, showed her steel, her will. Such eyes. What a beauty.

 

DARIA
Well, after all, you take after him, don’t you? I don’t need to tell you that you’re handsome.
(beat)
I admit to being rather taken aback.

 

KILLIKER
She spoke immediately with such authority and confidence that I knew: this lady of so noble a bearing was unlike anyone I’d ever met before. I pledged my services to her immediately, without condition. I would have slept in the stables if she’d asked me to—it was a privilege just to be near her.

 

DARIA
You must understand, a handsome stranger promising me his undivided attention was not something I had experienced before. Samuel never lied to me, but he was also not what you’d call attentive. Or loving.

 

KILLIKER
Daria was kind enough to offer me proper lodging, but rather than stories asked for conversation. I got the impression that she wasn’t very intellectually challenged by that husband of hers. I was glad to oblige, of course. It was at this point she mentioned a crucial point: Lord Samuel Whitetower was not home.

 

DARIA
It was just good manners to say so.

 

KILLIKER
I don’t go out of my way to be a homewrecker, you understand. Whatever decisions people make with their lives are theirs, and it’s not my purpose to change their minds. But I will admit that I was glad.

 

DARIA
And so we talked. For a week or so. I liked him.
(beat)
Oh, don’t give me that face. I mean it. The…emotional crux of our time together was a consequence of several days’ worth of getting to know each other. My decision was neither impulsive nor rash.

 

KILLIKER
I could tell she was chewing on something while we talked, her mind working out a problem. Little did I know that the problem was me. Though she needn’t have worried, I would have done anything she asked me.

 

DARIA
When I actually made the decision…now what was the final tipping point?
(beat)
I remember. He made me laugh.

 

KILLIKER
And when she finally decided, I did everything she asked.
(beat)
What, too much?

 

DARIA
He left it up to me, you know. It was clear enough what he wanted, but he made no move until I let him. I was…unused to people not taking what they wanted, with little regard to the consequences. It was refreshing.

 

KILLIKER
Coerced? How dare you, sir, I would never use my magic to coerce someone into sex. What kind of a monster do you think I am?

 

DARIA
He didn’t need to convince me with magic. Not hardly.

 

KILLIKER
How fondly I remember those days. Our time together was short—we decided it would be wisest that I not cross paths with Lord Samuel, and I left before he came back.

 

DARIA
I admit I toyed with the idea of leaving Samuel and going with Killiker, but the political situation was still such that my family was counting on me to stay. I do wonder, sometimes, what might have become of us, if I had chosen to go.

 

KILLIKER
I thought of her often after that—I still do, though less so now. I did try to visit a few years later, but alas, she would not see me.

 

DARIA
I couldn’t have Samuel seeing you and seeing Killiker and making connections. Samuel had many faults, but he was not dense. I felt awful to do it, but the risk to all of us was too great. I couldn’t even write a note.

 

KILLIKER
The stories of our lives are winding and strange, and it is to be expected that some people would come and go. It is of course a matter for grief, but I wouldn’t want to avoid getting to know people on the off chance I might lose them. That course of action leads to such lonesomeness.

 

DARIA
No, I don’t regret it. Not at all. It’s the reason I have you, isn’t it?

 

KILLIKER
I do not regret it in the least. Say, why so interested in this story, young sir? Have we met before?

Story Time: The Mean Streets

March is my birthday month, and so this month I thought it was only fitting to write about the character in the Crew who is most like me personality-wise, Knowles. Content warning for usual policing nonsense, but no violence or corruption.

(Remember, Patreon supporters get first dibs on Story Time every month, and $20 patrons can even suggest prompts!)

*

“Let me go,” the child said, struggling mid-air, throwing punches in vain.

Knowles rolled their eyes. They were holding up the child by their vest, which was the only piece of clothing Knowles was certain was sturdy enough to hold the kid’s weight. They were ragged and dirty and looked like every kid Knowles had known growing up. “This is what happens when you steal.”

“No it ain’t,” the kid spat. “This is what happens when you get caught.”

Knowles had to concede this point. “And what do you think happens next?”

The child stopped their struggling, face falling. Their expression wasn’t even anger or petulance, it was…resignation.

It was the saddest thing Knowles had ever seen.

They sighed. Being a guard was supposed to make things easier, but the work was thankless. The people from their old neighborhood understood why they did it, but those people also didn’t talk to Knowles anymore. Of all the calculations that had gone into this decision, Knowles had forgotten to account for how much the guard was disliked. Turned out that Knowles was not past caring about such things, even when they were past caring about so much else.

“Look,” Knowles said to the kid suspended in their hand, “why were you stealing bread?”

“Why do you think, guard, I’m hungry,” the kid growled.

“Right, you’re coming with me.”

 

The kitchen had given Knowles an extra bowl of thick, hearty stew without question. The stew came from the king, and the king always had food to spare. The child’s resignation had turned into bewilderment when, rather than being tossed into the cell in the corner of the guardhouse, they were sat down on a bench and given something to eat. And they ate, furiously, without so much as a thank you.

Knowles puttered around the guardhouse for a few minutes, straightening things, tidying up, watching the kid out of the corner of their eye. After a bit, they settled on the bench too, far enough away to give the kid the security of distance, and started picking the mud out of their boots with a knife.

“What is this?

Knowles looked up to find Captain Brindle, pointing one long finger at the kid. The kid, for their part, was frozen, spoon suspended in mid-air. Everyone knew about Captain Brindle, the ruthless watchdog for the king.

Knowles stood up without much urgency, falling into a respectful posture with ease. Captain Brindle didn’t bother them. She was terribly predictable. “Just a stray I picked up, Captain. Thought I’d give them a meal.”

Captain Brindle would try a power play next. Knowles watched their statement click into place in her head, followed by a deepening scorn. She was highborn, and had little sympathy for her peers and none for those she considered below her. She stepped forward, standing too close to Knowles. Power play. “Does this look like a poorhouse, Knowles?”

“No, ma’am,” Knowles said, and didn’t add that the dinged-up armor most of them wore could have fooled them.

“How about a debtor’s prison, does it look like one of those?” She took another step closer.

Knowles didn’t budge, except to blink slowly. “No, Captain.”

She leaned in. “Then get this street garbage out of my guardhouse.”

Knowles stood their ground. “Yes, Captain.”

She stared at them a little longer, waiting for them to break, and then seemed disappointed when they didn’t. With whatever dignity she thought she had, she whirled out of the room, muttering something under her breath about new recruits.

Carefully, Knowles wiped the spit off their face. “You can finish your stew, kid. She won’t be back for a few more minutes.”

The child shoved the still-suspended spoon into their mouth and swallowed it immediately. “Then what?”

“What do you mean?” Knowles said, sitting back down on the bench.

“What are you gonna do to me once I finish this?”

Knowles shrugged. “You heard the captain. You’re free to go.”

The kid revealed the tiniest, crookedest smile Knowles had ever seen before shoveling the next bite into their mouth.

 

Knowles proceeded with leisure down the street. They didn’t spend a lot of time here anymore. It was just a block over from the flea trap where they’d grown up. Most of the shops and booths had changed over. They wondered, idly, who had died and who had just left.

They arrived at their destination, a bookseller’s stall, and stopped to peruse. The bookseller saw their armor and the stripes painted on it first, and said, “Sergeant.”

“Morning,” Knowles said, taking a book off one of the shelves and flipping through it.

“Oh, it’s you.”

Knowles looked up at the bookseller. They had a small, crooked smile, which rang a bell… “Have we met?”

“You probably wouldn’t remember,” the bookseller said. “It was years ago. But you caught me stealing and gave me something to eat.”

Knowles had done that a few times, but the first time did tend to stick in one’s head, didn’t it? Which of course made what they were about to do all the worse. They put the book back. “I do remember.”

“You know, I looked you up after that day,” the bookseller said. “You grew up not far from here, didn’t you? It was Teric, right?”

Knowles tried not to draw back in revulsion. Their mother was the last person who’d called them that. It had been years since the name had even been spoken. They swallowed. “That’s right.”

“Back home for a visit?”

“Not exactly.” Without much ado, Knowles rested their hand on their sword, hanging at their side. “I’m here about some reported counterfeiting.”

The crooked little smile disappeared off the bookseller’s face. They licked their lips, suddenly nervous. Knowles waited.

“I heard you grew up in the same tenement as my cousins did,” they said finally. “Heard that your whole family died. Everyone. Mother. Siblings. A twin, even.”

Knowles swallowed back whatever reaction was trying to come out of their throat. This wasn’t the time.

“So you remember what it’s like,” the bookseller went on. “You must remember. I mean, you know what it’s like to be hungry. Or else you wouldn’t have helped me, years ago.”

“I remember,” Knowles said quietly. “But the law’s the law.”

The bookseller’s expression hardened. Now they resembled the child they once were, struggling mid-air in Knowles grip. Furious, petulant. But not resigned. “What do you want from me?”

“We just have some questions, to start.”

The bookseller nodded. “Do you mind if I grab my coat?”

“Of course not.”

“It’s just back here.” They slid aside the curtain at the back of the booth and slipped behind it.

Knowles waited. Odds were the bookseller wasn’t getting their coat…

And there they went, fast footsteps taking off; Knowles caught glimpses of them disappearing behind the other booths.

And Knowles started counting down from five. Because for someone from the old neighborhood, for someone who had already been through so much, the least they could do was try and even out the odds.

Five. Four. Three. Two. One.

Story Time: Adventures in Babysitting

A little light AU for your reading pleasure! For those of you who are unaware, it is 100% canon that if Tode and Cybilene grew up together, they would be Creepy Twins. We get to explore that through the eyes of their cousin/babysitter Augie. Enjoy!

*

Bartholomew and Cybilene aren’t normal.

Yes, obviously, “normal” is kind of an insulting concept, I know, Kibs. Like yes, the big folk are the weird ones, and definitely need to get their priorities straight about creativity and community and joy, yes, blah blah blah—

But that’s not what I’m talking about, okay? Bartholomew and Cybilene. They’re just…strange.

All right so for an example—I’m babysitting them last week. Auntie and Uncle had some errands to run and needed an extra set of eyes. So I’m making them some dinner and I call them, like hey Cyb and Bart, come eat. Now they don’t answer, but I figure they’re just playing and I turn around.

And they’re right behind me, being completely silent. Holding hands. And they say—in unison, mind you—“Yes Augie?”

Why are you—no it was creepy, Kibs, I’m telling you!

Maybe you had to be there.

Okay but then I’m tucking them into bed, right, and then I say good night to Cybilene and she says—and this is verbatim— “Will you tuck our friend in too?” And I’m of course like, what friend? I’m thinking she’s talking about a teddy bear or something. But no, Kibs. She points to an empty corner and says, “The Shadow Man.”

The Shadow Man, Kibs.

And then Bart says, “He doesn’t like you.”

Like.

What am I supposed to do with that.

No, Kibs! No! It was not a joke! They are too young to do pranks! Their idea of pranks is coloring something with the wrong crayon!

All right fine, you want the kicker?

I closed their door. Their parents told me to and they have a night light, it’s fine. And then I sit down in the kitchen and make myself a snack and read my book.

And then.

I hear a noise outside. And you know how it is when you’re babysitting, you get paranoid. So I grabbed a cricket bat from the umbrella stand—

No, Kibs, I don’t know why they have a cricket bat in the umbrella stand.

Anyway, grab the bat, and then I open the front door.

And Kibs. I swear to the gods. They’re standing there on the porch.

I don’t know, I said the first thing that came to mind! How did you get out there! And Cybilene says, “He’s sleepwalking.” And mind you, his eyes were wide open.

Yeah, I put them back to bed immediately, and just for funsies I check the window. It’s locked from the inside, Kibs.

All I’m saying is that Cybilene and Bartholomew are creepy. They are not normal.

…I’m gonna ask Aunty and Uncle for a raise next time.

January Story Time: Ascendance of the Chief

This one is a morose sort of story, but I missed Betty. If your new year hasn’t started well, then she’s here to commiserate. Content warning for discussions of death, grief, and reference to (and brief description of) corpses.
(Remember, our Patreon supporters get first dibs on Story Time every month, and they can suggest prompts too.)
*

A teenage Betty walks away from the last camp of her clan.

Orc clans are semi-nomadic. They might go to the same places year after year, but they never stay. Eventually the weather changes, the hunting and gathering conditions change, the trade changes, and they move on. Betty knows she must do the same. The wind direction could change any day now, leaving this spot, which currently huddles in the lee of a hill, exposed to precipitation.

Orcs do not bury their dead. Betty considered it even so; better not to see them anymore, better to honor her human mother by adopting her practice for honoring the dead, since apparently Betty is not orc enough to die.

She decided against it in the end, because she knows that the other clans will hear of this tragedy, will come to pay respects, will be puzzled and perhaps angered to find them stuck into the ground like potatoes. They will find out that she is chief—old Darguuz, the last elder left, handed her the necklace with her dying gasps—and they will cast judgment on her actions, because all orcs cast judgment on their chiefs as a matter of course, and an orc is not afraid of anything, much less critique. And furthermore, how is Betty to know if the poison of their illness will not seep into the ground and spread?

So Betty burns them, as is tradition. It takes a long time, and several fires. Betty keeps her mind carefully blank as she works, and after the task is done, she won’t remember anything of it except the end, watching the fires to be sure they don’t spread, fashioning herself a mask to keep out the smell.

The fires burn for days, and Betty watches them, only falling into fitful sleep when the last one is burned down to embers. She sleeps for nearly a day and a night.

She leaves behind her pits of blackened detritus, as well as the still-pitched tents of her people. She scratches a warning on an exposed rock face on the hill, so that other orcs will not be tempted to go into the tents and catch the same disease, just in case the smoking bones are not warning enough. So much lost. So much left to lose.

She camps, avoiding people, because the darkness of night and the sounds of its denizens are a comfort in her solitude, her grief, as she whispers the stories a chief is supposed to know over and over, wracking her brains for the bits she can’t recall until the wee hours of the morning and then sleeping into the day, only to keep walking, following the same roads as her people always have.

One road travels along a human trade route. Normally the clan reaches this place just in time for a slew of caravans to trade with, or fight with, but either way it’s welcome company. Betty doesn’t see them when she reaches the road; perhaps she’s traveled too fast, without the herd of her family to temper her speed. She meets only one person, a human, with a donkey-drawn vegetable cart.

“Hey! You!” the human calls. A man, she thinks, a human man, who looks at her without the tenor of fear that her people usually get. He recognizes her as merely half-orc, Betty is sure of that.

He speaks Common, and Betty responds in kind. It’s not her first language—it’s nobody’s, not even the humans—and the words are thick on her tongue. “What do you want?”

“You look like a strong girl,” he says, and waves a hand at his cart, which has a wheel stuck in a rut. “Can you help me lift this out?”

A chief cares for her own people, but a chief also parlays with outsiders, and one good turn deserves another. Betty shrugs and lifts, digging in her heels and finding it hardly a trial with the man’s help. She sets it on solid ground, where it will not be stuck again.

“Thank you kindly!” he says, wiping his brow. “I thought I was going to be in trouble there. Say, can I offer you a silver piece for your trouble? Or perhaps a ride to the city?” He throws a thumb over his shoulder, the wrong way.

Betty considers, and then looks back over her shoulder. The smoke has long faded, but she remembers where her people lay.

She didn’t have a plan. She followed the paths of her forefathers blindly, grief-stricken, with no motivation or need to do anything different. But she is chief, and no chief would let a single emotion rule them, not without considering all angles. A chief has a plan. A chief is not moved by whims, but does what’s best for the clan. Even if the clan is only one person.

“Both?” Betty suggests, looking back to the man.

The man smiles and digs a coin out of his pocket. “It’s a deal. Hop on!”

This is the first coin Betty makes as chief. It will not be the last.

November Story Time: Equestrian Pursuits

Hey, it’s November Story Time! A deleted scene for your enjoyment.

 

VELUNE
How did we do?

 

STERLING
Unfortunately our money only went so far. We managed to acquire three horses.

 

BETTY
You could’ve argued lower.

 

STERLING
I think perhaps the hostler was just a bit distracted by you holding a lumpy rug.

 

VELUNE
I’m sure three horses can manage four people.

 

MELTYRE
Depends on the horses. Betty, you better take the biggest one if you’re not going to let go of Fina.

 

BETTY
I’m not.

 

STERLING
Excuse me, I’m used to riding larger horses, as a paladin—

 

MELTYRE
It’s not like the principle changes when they’re smaller.

 

STERLING
Do you expect me to ride this elderly mare?

 

MELTYRE
She’s not elderly

 

STERLING
A paladin of my skillset—

 

MELTYRE
If Velune and I are sharing, we’ll need the younger horse.

 

VELUNE
(relieved)
Oh, are we sharing? That’s fine.

 

BETTY
Hm.

 

STERLING
Surely you don’t expect me to approach my family’s historic home riding an old nag.

 

MELTYRE
She’s not a nag! And me and Velune together weigh more than you, even with your armor.

 

BETTY
Velune, do you know how to ride a horse?

 

Pause.

 

VELUNE
I…I wouldn’t say that, exactly—

 

STERLING
My gods.

 

VELUNE
I am quite familiar with the theory!

 

STERLING
Nothing for it then, we’ll have to teach you.

 

BETTY
We don’t have time.

 

STERLING
When beginning to study equestrianism, it’s important to remember the posture—

 

BETTY
We don’t have time.

 

STERLING
I’m afraid you may be right—

 

MELTYRE
Look, I’ll help, okay? I taught my sisters, it’ll be fine.

 

VELUNE
(unsure)
Yes, I’m sure.

 

MELTYRE
Okay, so the main thing is to sit up straight and to hold on with your knees. And if you think you’re falling off, just say something.

 

VELUNE
All right…

 

MELTYRE
Now c’mon, I’ll give you a boost.

 

Scrabbling around.

 

MELTYRE
…That’s the wrong foot, hang on.

 

VELUNE
Whatever do you mean, the wrong foot?

 

MELTYRE
You’re going to end up on the horse backwards.

 

VELUNE
What in every god’s name are you talking about?

 

BETTY
Trust him, you will. And hurry up.

 

VELUNE
All right, all right.

 

STERLING
How do you know how to ride a horse anyway?

 

MELTYRE
I grew up on a farm.

 

STERLING
(mystified)
Really?

 

MELTYRE
Yeah.
(grunt)
There you go.

 

VELUNE
Oh! This is! So much higher than I was expecting!

 

MELTYRE
It’s okay, I promise. Hang on.
(horse mounting sounds)
Okay, ready?

 

STERLING
I suppose.

 

BETTY
Finally, let’s go.

October Story Time: Ghosts

Welcome to our first story time! This one is a sad one, and contains discussion of parental death and grief. Please take care of yourselves.

Lydda felt like a ghost.

She was sort of used to being the responsible one at this point. Meltyre had been gone for four years. It was always kind of nice when he came home, and she could take a break from being a mother hen and let him do it for a while. He was really good at it. She was okay, but it wasn’t something that came naturally to her.

Except for today, when it had.

She was still feeling sick. Not feverish anymore, but definitely ill. Seri and Min were almost better. It was lucky they were, since they’d all had to pitch in as the fever sapped what was left of their parents.

Lucky.

Yesterday, her mother and father had died. She had stopped thinking except in purely mechanical terms. The farm wouldn’t run with just the three of them, not enough hands. She knew her parents were paying for Meltyre’s school, but she didn’t know where they were getting the money and she couldn’t keep that up. And Meltyre needed to know anyway.

So like an automaton or a golem, she’d written a letter, rode into town to hire a messenger with what was left of the market money, and then came back to do the things one did for the dead. Wash the bodies. Hold a wake. A couple of neighbors had come by to pay respects, asking what she planned to do next, as if she was an adult and not thirteen years old. She had answered them respectfully. Her brother was coming and they’d figure it out. She’d accepted notes that turned out to be offers on the land and the farm.

One of the neighboring farmhands came at the end of the wake, early in the morning, and helped her dig a large joint grave on the hill overlooking the orchard, beside the road. Make sure it’s plenty deep, the farmhand had said, and Lydda made sure of it. And then she’d buried her parents, her sisters sobbing in the background while she stared at the grave, floating through their paltry little funeral like a ghost.

And then it was daytime, and her sisters insisted she go to bed while she insisted they do their chores because the animals didn’t wait for anyone. They managed to follow her directions while she tried in vain to follow theirs, staring at the ceiling for hours.

And then night fell again, and her sisters were fast asleep, but Lydda was still awake, floating through the darkness. At least ghosts belonged here, in the dark.

Now she sat and watched the night go gray with dawn, wrapped in a blanket on the porch. She had the blanket less because she felt the cold and more because she knew her father would have suggested it. It wasn’t cold. At least, she didn’t think it was cold.

A distant sound, a horse’s whinny, made her look up. A cart was coming over the hill where her parents were buried, via the road. The cart stopped, and one figure hopped off, pausing for just a moment to talk to the driver before taking off down the hill.

Lydda stood up. The figure was holding a pointy hat on his head.

Meltyre arrived out of breath, gasping like a beached fish, but he didn’t stop running until he reached the porch, where Lydda had hopped down to meet him and was enveloped in a hug.

“I came as quick as I could,” said his voice behind her head.

It was as if her soul poured back into her all at once, and she was no longer a ghost, she was a girl, and she wasn’t alone anymore, but she had had to bury her parents this morning.

“I’m sorry,” she said, barely choking out the sentence past tears that were suddenly bubbling up from her like a spring. “I didn’t know what to do.”

“Hey.” Meltyre released her most of the way, still holding onto her shoulders as if he was afraid she’d float away again. “You shouldn’t have had to deal with this in the first place. It’s okay.”

Meltyre was here. It was going to be okay.

“Where’s um…where are mom and dad?” Meltyre asked.

Lydda pointed to the hill. “We buried them this morning.”

“Okay, okay, and where’s Min and Seri?” She could hear the knife edge of anxiety in his voice, but it didn’t matter, because he was her brother and he was here.

“Asleep,” Lydda said. “In bed.”

“Okay, and did you sign anything or agree to anything with anyone?”

“No.” Ghosts can’t make legal agreements.

“Good.” Meltyre pulled her in for a hug again. “You did everything right, Squirt. I mean it, everything.”

“What are we going to do?” Lydda asked into his shoulder. He smelled like library dust and campfires.

“I don’t know, but we’re going to figure this out together.” He released her again. “I promise.”

Gods, he was so sad. But his face was mechanically blank, his assurances more confident than anything Meltyre could sincerely give.

“Don’t be a ghost, okay?” she said.

He frowned. “What?”

“We need you here, every part of you,” Lydda told him. “Even the part that is too scared to do anything but cry.”

It took him a minute, but he figured out what she was saying. He always did. And then he nodded, his face collapsing in a grimace of despair. “I didn’t get to say goodbye.”

“It’s not fair,” Lydda agreed, tears leaking out of her again.

They stood there, leaning on each other. They were not alone, not anymore, as the color seeped back into the world.