She twisted the screw in tight and fastened the entire thing together.
“There we go,” she said to herself. “It’s perfect.” She clapped her hands together and looked at the rest of the den, and to the fireplace, where Ms. Khami and several house servants were keeping warm on this particular evening. Emi got up from her chair and sat down closer to them, next to her friend Pip, and she beamed with pride. Nobody seemed to pay notice, though.
The fireplace burned hot, and the smell of wood permeated the room. It was a smell you could describe as pleasant, even when, with just a smidge of excess, its odor stained your clothes and made you reek for a week. At the risk of smelling bad, Emi wanted to be warm.
“Are you ever going to be done with that thing?” asked Ms. Khami, holding up a half-finished bottle of rice wine.
“She’s already restarted it four times,” said Pip. “She’s never gonna have it ready.”
“Actually!” Emi shouted with one finger raised. Everyone looked at her and she realized she didn’t mean to be so loud. “Um, actually, I just finished. It’s ready.”
Ms. Khami clapped a few times. “Yay, Now you can help out on the balcony.”
“Eheheheheh. I can’t, because I have to pack for the trip to Mammoth Pass!” Emi cackled as if she had completed a new master plan. She knew how hard Ms. Khami was making all the housekeepers work on building the new third floor balcony, and if there was anything Emi was simply not cut out for, it was demanding physical labor. Her life was more cut out for the works of the mind–like this device here.
The large metal box she held in her hands was the most important thing she had ever created. She didn’t know that yet, but she had to have known its significance while she caressed its cool surface. It’s not prideful to admit something like that to yourself, and even Emi would have understood if she knew what would come from this invention.
“I’m just glad you finished,” Pip said. “Seeing that cute face of yours happy is–”
“So, anyway Ms. Khami,” Emi said. “I got fitted for the dress I will wear to the Mammoth Watching trip. Javert said it was his best work yet.”
“Javert never says anything that positive,” Ms. Khami said. “Are you sure it wasn’t an impostor?” She was drinking, all right. “Always hated that man…”
Pip laughed. While Ms. Khami wasn’t paying attention, she snatched the wine bottle and took a few gulps herself.
“He’s okay,” Emi said. “I’m not looking forward to meeting all the nobles and bureaucrats heading up with us, though… I wish we got to go alone.”
“Who’s this ‘we?’” Ms. Khami asked. “Oh, right. You and that girl. Don’t forget who it was who arranged for her to join you. If your parents ever found out I was helping you subvert your own engagement, that’d be the end of me. Well, not really, since I’m the best blazing housekeeper this side of the continent, but I’d rather them not know. You better play it safe, Emi Khara.”
“Don’t call me that.”
Ms. Khami rolled her eyes.“Have you told the poor girl yet? Or are you hoping your mechanical wonder box will make a good going-away present when you move to Zahn in a few months?”
Emi got up from her seat and huffed. “You’re mean when you’re drunk.”
“I’m not drunk,” she said. She grabbed Emi’s hand and pulled her back towards the chair. “You’re just being an unreasonable child. Just like your mother, that brat. When we were children, she was obsessed with writing her little books. Never did anything with them. Just whittled away her pencils, the same way you’re–”
Emi’s hands slipped, and she dropped the device. For one perilous second, everything looked lost. The gears and springs were going to go crashing onto the floor, destroying it all before she had even gotten the chance to show it to anyone. Emi’s eyes went wide, and she reached out to grab it–
–and caught it in mid-air.
“No!” Ms. Khami yelled. “I… Oh, thank Phyra, you didn’t– your box is alright.”
The entire room seemed to heave a sigh of relief.
“Well, as I was saying,” Ms. Khami continued. “Your mother, she was such an annoying kid. I loved her, but she acted like a little sister even if she had five years on every maid in the household. I always had to–”
Pip got up and tapped Ms. Khami on the shoulder. “Let’s get you to bed,” she said. “And Emi, good work. You should get yourself some rest.” She winked.
“Maybe I could do for a nap…”
Pip helped Ms. Khami up and followed the woman hobble herself into her bedroom.
Emi went into her bedroom and gently set her creation on her desk before plopping down on her bed. She wasn’t going to let Ms. Khami ruin her mood. She was about to go on a romantic vacation with her girlfriend, and that was what mattered. She was in love, and that was what mattered.