Chapter 47: Legs

They sat up on the bed in their hotel room and held each other in their grasp. It was a bed so big it wouldn’t have even fit in Beatrice’s bedroom back at home. It was so soft, so comfortable–almost like Emi herself. Though the bed wasn’t quite as nice as the girl.

Beatrice had taken off her glasses and put them on the nightstand. She was always a bit bad about wearing her glasses to sleep, but she knew tonight would be kind of risky if she left them on. But even as blurry as her vision was, she could see Emi well enough to know she was the woman she loved. That was a very, very cheesy line, she thought to herself.

“Those Mammoths were amazing,” Beatrice said, continuing to look her girlfriend with that distinctive farsighted blur her natural eyes gave her. 

“Yeah,” Emi said. “I love coming to this city. I just can’t believe we got to do it together. It’s so…” Emi trailed off and rest her head on her shoulder. 

Beatrice reached out her hand and stroked Emi’s leg up and down. It was soft, smooth like a face after tears had run down her cheek. Her fingertips couldn’t resist the feeling.

“What are we going to do tomorrow?”

“I’m not sure.” Emi scooted closer to her and wrapped her ams around Beatrice’s back. “Lord Lau wants to take us to the museum. I’m sure your Dad would want you to go. After that… I’m not sure yet. Where do you want to go, Tris?”

“I don’t know,” Beatrice said. “All I care about is right now.” 

“Oh, Tris, stop…”

With Emi in her grasp, she could do anything to her. Anything with her. But for some reason, her focus was fixated firmly on her very soft, very smooth skin.

There wasn’t a single hair, not that her hands could discover, not on her shin, nor her knee, nor her thigh, nor her hip…

Emi raised her head and looked at her. Her heart raced–Beatrice could feel it beating against her chest, they were so close. Their noses practically touched. Beatrice’s legs were nestled underneath Emi’s, and Emi’s arms were wrapped around her waist.

Beatrice tilted her head and planted a kiss on her girlfriend’s lips. They moved around gently and slowly and went on for seconds, minutes, maybe more; it was impossible to tell.

Tears began to stream down Beatrice’s face. She couldn’t even feel them falling, she only felt them as they stained her cheeks. The two continued to share the kiss for a moment longer until Beatrice tapped Emi’s leg and let go. Her face was drenched.

She rarely cried, so this was a complete surprise to her. And to Emi, too.

“Tris… So soft.”

“You too,” she said, wiping the tears off her face. She squeezed Emi’s calf a few times. Squishy, almost as bouncy as the bed they sat on. “I love you.”

“Do you really? I never knew.”



“Emi, why do you shave your legs?”

“I… What do you mean?”

“It’s a bit weird is all,” Beatrice said.

“Hey! You know, every girl of my status does it. It’s completely… normal. Right? I’m not weird?”

“I don’t know how I should respond to that.”

“Tris!” Emi took a hand off Beatrice’s waist and moved it to Beatrice’s lower leg. Emi’s fingers against her leg hair were ticklish but electric. “It’s not like leg hair is bad or anything. I just like mine the way they are, but I like yours the way they are too. It’s a perfect match.”

“Fair enough,” Beatrice said. “Hehe, it tickles. Stop. Stop!” 

“Heheheheheh.” Emi used this opportunity to unleash a full-on tickle attack, assaulting Beatrice with the full force of her wiggling fingers. 

It was now evident that Beatrice’s oft-boasted-of tickle defense measures were a fraud, and all those tickle masters she trained with had been mere scam artists. She went down like a chump, literally falling on her side in laughter.

 “Stooop!” Beatrice squealed, but it was no use, as Emi had already begun the siege on her belly. She was sucked into the vortex of infinite laughter.

Emi let out a maniacal chortle that reminded Beatrice way too much of Runa. 

She  pushed Emi off of her and onto her back, and she bounced against the bed for a second, accompanied by a loud thud. “Ouch,” she whined.

“Are you okay?”

“Hehehe.” Emi used this as an opportunity to make another tickle attack, and Beatrice again fell victim to the tickle ambush.


“Never,” Emi said. “I’ll never let you go, not in a million years.”

“You’re so…” Beatrice pushed Emi off again. “…Lame.” She climbed on top of Emi and restrained her wrists to put an end to all of this. No more tickling. 

Emi was blushing more than Beatrice had ever seen before. “Tris…” she murmured.

And then, with Emi in her grasp, Beatrice suddenly felt very nervous. For a moment, she thought about releasing her grip and backing off. But she didn’t.

 Beatrice let out one last giggle and the two locked lips once again.


Emi, at this moment, was jumping up and down on her bed while Beatrice was taking a nap before supper. The fabric was so soft that her jumps did not even interrupt the girl right beside her… How cool was that?

She loved all of this. All of Beatrice, all of this hotel room, and, dare she say it, all of herself.

Yes, Emi had stayed in places like this, but never somewhere with such a gorgeous view. Outside their window was a full view of the city, all the way towards the nearby Mount Galahad. Emi had never been all the way there, but there were outlying villages and towns built on the mountains, with buildings literally carved out of the mountains themselves. One could see the buildings dotting the surface of Mount Galahad from anywhere in the city, but to actually reach them took days of arduous travel, walking and climbing through winding, unsafe terrain. As a result, the only people that lived there were poor herders and strider hunters. She wasn’t sure how anyone could live so close to a large city, and yet so far away from civilization. 

Strange thing to think about while acting like a child and jumping on her bed, she realized. Emi landed butt-first and laid her head on one of the unnervingly soft pillows the castle staff had given them. 

This was nice. Very nice.

Beatrice snored. Well, mostly nice.

She looked at her gorgeous girlfriend, as beautiful asleep as when she was awake. 

“I love you,” she said softly.

Beatrice’s eyes started flickering open, somehow waking up from those quiet words but not Emi landing on the bed. “Yuri the only one for… me…”


Beatrice returned to full consciousness. “Yuri– I mean, you’re the only one for me. Is it time for supper yet?”

“Not quite.”

“Good.” She shut her eyes and dropped out of consciousness before Emi could add another word.

Emi laid down next to her and sighed. She really wished her parents could have been here, but it did once again save her the trouble of having to explain who Beatrice was without getting into the inevitable confrontation with them about her engagement with Lady Khara.

After all the stress building up as she awaited her parents’ final judgment, she ought to have been utterly insane after not telling Beatrice for so long, but instead she felt relieved. That couldn’t have been a good thing, could it?

It didn’t matter. She was going to tell Beatrice about it soon. It wasn’t a big deal, not when she explained it right. She was just going to enjoy the rest of this trip, and then worry about all that later.

Emi laid her head down on the bed next to Beatrice and nestled in close. Her nose nuzzled against her bare back and took in that smothering scent of old books and determination that belonged only to the woman she called Tris. She put her hand on her face and rubbed her fingers across her freckled cheeks. Then she leaned in and gave a peck to her lips.

“I love you so much,” Emi whispered once again.

Beatrice responded by snoring.


A deep breath… And another.

This was just another test. Beatrice aced tests. When she set her mind to something, she accomplished it. So all she had to do was set her mind to this.

She brushed at her skirt–there was nothing wrong with it, but she couldn’t help herself–and straightened up her back–her posture was already solid, but she couldn’t help that either,. Then she took the first steps down the spiral staircase.

Beatrice had climbed up and down the huge central stairway in the L’Hime Family foyer more times than she could count, and had never felt any particular way about it. So why, here, had the atmosphere suddenly turned so thin?

Probably because at the bottom of this spiral staircase were hundreds of people partaking in the faciest of parties, the kind so rich you could see the golden sparkles on guests’ dresses from outside the building. Probably because Beatrice wore a bright green dress that showed off her bust and legs far more than anything else she’d worn in her life. Probably because waiting down at the bottom of those stairs would be a pair of brown eyes that would make the immediate judgment–was this the one, or was this all a mistake?

She knew it was beyond certain what Emi felt about her. She knew they were both in love, that the Will of the Gods had brought them together into their own personal harmony, that no matter what happened, they would always have a bond stronger than any magic. Even so, she felt skittish, those stomach-gnawing worries like that her mediocre looks couldn’t pull off this dress and that would end things for good.

So, because of those strange pangs of anxiety, Beatrice took each step with great care. She kept herself composed and measured, let her legs descend each stair one at a time, pausing briefly each time to make sure her dress didn’t flow more than it needed. It didn’t her nerves very much.

It took until she came into full view of the party–

–with all eyes on her and even a few claps–

–with that one familiar face leaning on a wall over by the corner that stared, mouth agape–

–that those nerves were finally put to rest.

Beatrice may not have been beautiful, not in her own biased blue eyes. But she was good at tests, and she passed this one like all the rest.

With the pit of her stomach suddenly cured of all ailments, she gained all her confidence back in one instant. She took a glass of tea from a server’s tray and waltzed over to Emi.

“How’s my little wall flower?” she asked.

“I hate parties,” Emi said. “But seeing you in that dress just made it worth it.”

It took great pains not to let the compliments go to her head. “Sorry I took so long, sweetie,” she told her.

“That’s okay. I’m enjoying the company.”


Emi pointed to behind Beatrice. She turned around and saw a long table with a green cloth surface, and three multi-colored balls. A few young, handsome men were gathered around watching as another man aimed a stick at one of the balls. They watched with great anticipation before he struck it and it rolled across the table at great speeds. It bounced against the corners and eventually rolled to a stop in a different part of the table.

The men began to laugh, and so did Emi. The man looked incredibly disappointed.

“These guys have kept me company,” Emi said after she finished laughing. “They’ve been teaching me all about this game.”

Beatrice sipped at her tea and nodded curiously. “It looks very interesting.”

One of the young men, a light-skinned man with a scruffy beard, turned to the two and gave a hearty smile. “Emi, did you see what Giles did?”

“He completely missed it!”

“Yep, because Giles is really lame,” he said. “Oh, is this her? This stunning beauty right here?”

Emi nodded. “Yep! This is my girlfriend, Beatrice Ragnell.”

“And I’m Ari Hugel,” said the beared man. “Nice to meet you, Beatrice.” He extended his hand. Beatrice looked at Emi skeptically and then shook it with a strong a grip as she could give–ack, that hurt.

He laughed. “So, what do you know about the game of carambole?”

Beatrice said to him, “Absolutely nothing. I’ve never even seen it before.”

“It’s really fun,” Emi said. “Watch it!”

She didn’t really want to. But… But. Emi had been talking to complete strangers. Emi had been having fun in a party all on her own. This was an amazing development! Beatrice had to support her in every way she could, even if it meant watching a game involving… balls bouncing off table cushions or something like that?

 “So what is carambole?” Beatrice asked.

“Watch and learn,” said Ari. “Though not from Giles.” The men laughed at the poor man who missed the shot earlier. Ari set the balls up in a triangle position on the table and took the long stick from his friend. “So in carambole, the goal is to use the cue ball, in my case this one–” he held the white ball up to show her–”to hit the orange ball, then bounce the ball off three cushions, then to hit your opponent’s cue ball, which in this case is Giles’s green one.”

“Bounce off the cushions three times?” Beatrice said. “That seems really hard.”

“And there’s more,” he continued. “You can hit the balls in any order, and as many times as you need, but you have to hit the other cue ball last no matter what.”

“That’s… Gods, that sounds hard. And if you miss?”

“If you make a point, you get to try again. If you miss, it’s your opponent’s turn. First to five points wins.”

She studied the table. There were so many angles, so many possible ways, and she could tell immediately that this would take math and physics equations just to comprehend the basics of what went on with each strike.

“Do you understand, Beatrice?” Ari asked.

“I think so. The rules are simple, but the game…”

“Yep, that’s carambole. Want to try it, since Giles is obviously too tired to continue?”

Beatrice looked at Emi, who seemed ecstatic, and then back to Ari. “Sure. Don’t expect much though.”

“Don’t worry! Maybe you’ll have beginner’s luck!”

She didn’t.

“That was pretty pathetic,”  Beatrice said.

“It was your first time. Perfectly alright,” Ari said.

Beatrice lost, zero points to five. The young men didn’t laugh at her like they did their friend, which made it even worse. She felt pitied.

Emi stepped up to the table and put her hand on Beatrice’s shoulder. “It’s just a game, Tris.”

“Just a game, but…”

“Here, I’ll try,” Emi said. “I’ll show you that losing can be fun, too!”

“That’s the spirit,” Ari said. “Let’s have some fun.”

Beatrice proceded to watch her girlfriend win the next eight games in a row. It turns out being a gear-head like Emi made people pretty decent at this kind of sport. 

This should have been a very useful lesson to Beatrice about the value of not always being the best, about failure sometimes being a better teacher than winning ever could. Instead, it just frustrated her more. 

At least she looked great in her bright green dress…

<== PreviousNext ==>

Chapter 46: Mammoth Watching Extravaganza

Emi was pretty weary of all this already, and it was only the second day in Mammoth Pass. 

There was just so much wealth around her, no matter where she went. It was almost intoxicating, and not in a good way. She waddled through the snow alongside a large pack of rich individuals who all wore clothes that cost more than an month’s rent for apartment in Balarand. Emi knew that because she had checked listings for one-bedroom apartments across the city quite recently, not for any specific reason like that she was thinking about offering Beatrice a place for them to live together or anything. She was just curious, was all.

Of course, she was one to talk when complaining about rich people clothing, seeing as just this morning she had worn an ornate white dress dotted with pearls for the breakfast social. It was beautiful, but she felt its value deprecating by a coin every time she took a step. 

Now, of course, she had on something much more, um, sensible. A custom design by her tailor Javert that looked cute, but had one fundamental flaw–its skirt went down only to her knees… She could feel her butt slowly morphing into an icicle just standing out here.  

Right now, Emi, Beatrice, and the other people in their party were up on the cliffs of the Plebias Mountains. They watched the herds of Mammoths roam at the edges of the Frozen Desert, a vast wasteland taking up most of northern Tsubasa. Other than the Mammoths themselves and a few pridecow herds and hunter tribes, practically nothing could survive out there. In a way, that made the sight even prettier than it already was. Emi wasn’t sure why.

 Her rich companions were using tiny handheld binoculars to watch the scene without straining their eyes, but Emi looked on from afar with her own two eyes. It was more fun to take it all in at once, she thought.

The Mammoths grazed the snowy ground, looking for shrubs and grasses, marching in their slow dance across the tundra. It was a sight that Emi knew well, from all her trips here with her parents, but, after all that had happened in her life these past few months, she felt like she was seeing them with a fresh mind. It was certainly interesting to see them while next to someone actually religious, someone whose entire life was predicated around keeping the same Harmony these Mammoths protected.

The way they moved around was so majestic and pretty, even as all they did was walk in a slow-moving herd, marching in a line so slowly it looked like Emi’s gear machine, but if it were being cranked too slowly. Beatrice must have been amazed to see the Mammoths, but Emi suddenly realized she was much more interested in seeing Beatrice as she looked at them.

Beatrice looked as uncomfortable as Emi felt, somehow just as weary of all this rich people activity as her, though not quite as shivering. Beatrice was probably getting the better end of the deal here. She was wearing her very nicest dress, the same Ancient Balarandian-style outfit she had worn to Emi’s house party all those months ago, but she had a coat over it and wore thick stockings to cover up her legs. It was still a bit thin, but unlike Emi, Beatrice could actually handle the cold because she was a grown lady.

Emi, on the other hand, was a child. A chilled child.

Gods, how do you even make a being like Beatrice Ragnell? With no conscious effort put into her appearance, she looked less like a pretty girl on a trip, and more like a frostbitten hallucination of a heavenly being who takes you away to the afterlife. 

This girl was hers, Emi thought. Beatrice was hers, and she was Beatrice’s. She had snagged the ultimate prize– a woman who was not only beautiful, not only smart, not only so stubborn she would stop at nothing to achieve her goals, but someone who managed all of that without even thinking about it. Emi loved her so much.

Those stockings on her slender legs were stronger, more captivating than a fairy’s song. Gods, if it were just the two of them right now… Emi shivered and realized her fantasies were incredibly unrealistic sometimes.

Lord Lau crept up to Beatrice and tapped her on the shoulder, giving her a bit of a fright. Emi watched as the two of them exchanged friendly banter. She wasn’t sure wh the old man would think when she brought a woman who was very obviously not Lady Khara, but he hadn’t said a word, yet. Maybe he didn’t even realize it. Or maybe he was just on her side.

“This is your first time here, is it not?” Lord Lau asked Beatrice. He handed a pair of fancy binoculars to Beatrice. “The Mammoths are a glorious sight indeed.”

Beatrice took the binoculars. “Thank you.” She watched the Mammoths through them, and Emi watched her watching.

“These creatures can live for three hundred years, sometimes longer,” Lord Lau said. “Because humans are able to coexist with them peacefully, they have become increasingly plentiful across the continent. If you were to venture north into the Frozen Desert, you could find herds of them stretching on for a hundred miles as they migrate north and south along with the seasons. It is truly a thing of beauty.”

So was Beatrice, Emi thought. The beauty part, not the stretching on for hundreds of miles part.

Emi was currently shivering her butt off, wondering why in Phyra’s name she was fitted for a winter dress whose hem only stretched down to her knees, and she actually wore this dress to the mountains. In the middle of the snow. Javert finally got back at her for all those years of whining and fidgeting around… and she deserved everything she got.

What a price to pay to look as cute as she did!

Suddenly, Beatrice turned her binoculars and faced them towards Emi, as if she were observing her like a natural specimen.

One would suspect Emi would begin blushing and acting flustered by her girlfriend’s actions. One would be extremely correct.

“Tris, w-w-hat are you doing?” Emi said through chattering teeth. 

Beatrice put down the binoculars and made a weird face. “Uh, nothing.”

“Give me those,” she said before yanking the binoculars away. “Maybe I should stare at you the same way, huh? How would you like that?”

“Please, like you didn’t all l–”

“Shut it.”

“I love you,” Beatrice said.

Emi blushed, and then put her free hand around her upper arm to show she cared.

She was so warm…

But then Beatrice shivered and pushed Emi away from her. “Why are you so cold?” she asked.


Besides that, this moment was almost perfect. The two of them standing next to each other, overlooking the quiet serenity of the most beautiful creatures in Tsubasa. Or, rather, the second-most beautiful creatures, ranked just behind this absolute monster of a woman. If the horde of other rich onlookers weren’t ogling the Mammoths all around them, this would be perfect. But Emi was okay with it being pretty close.

<== PreviousNext ==>

Chapter 45: The Whole City

Beatrice looked out the carriage window and saw the Plebias Mountains, now up close and massive, with hundreds and hundreds of buildings dotting the ground below them or carved out of the side of them. 

This was Mammoth Pass, nestled between Dannark and the vast Frozen Desert to the north. Once one ventured on beyond the border, civilization disappeared, replaced by an inhospitable wasteland all the way to the ocean. Only a few scattered tribes had inhabited the Frozen Desert at the time, so Mammoth Pass was essentially the northernmost city in all of Tsubasa.

Beatrice, never having left Balarand in all her life, having already been excited by all the mountains and canyons and small villages they had passed along the way, was absolutely astonished that there could exist such a beautiful city apart from her own.

She had dreamed of travelling in her life– that was one of the main reasons she had set on the path to becoming a priest in the first place– and she was finally getting to do it.


Just wow.

Out of pure happiness, she kissed Emi on the cheek…. and was promptly pushed away. 

“Sorry,” she muttered.

They had spent the past five and a half days doing not much else but kissing and talking, so Emi was now in one of her antisocial moods. Beatrice felt fine, but she wanted to keep her girlfriend happy before they were inevitably forced to participate in rich people activities all day. Emi could hardly handle those as is, Beatrice knew well.

The carriage caravan pulled off the highway and onto a city road leading straight into Mammoth Pass proper. A massive ice sculpture in the form of a mythical dragon adorned the center of one city district. It towered over all the other buildings in the vicinity, and all the rockway streets in the area led directly to this central exhibit. It was the crowning jewel of the city.

Beatrice had gotten a small bit of studying done, though not nearly as much as she had originally expected. Now that she had seen what Winter Festivals had to offer, though, she knew she wasn’t going to pull a single book out for the rest of her time here. There was no point in pretending otherwise.

And there—

She saw it– “Wow!”

Roaming down the street, with people walking around it as if it was a completely normal occurrence, was a Mammoth, covered in shaggy fur. Its trunk, long and slender, bounced around as it walked.

Beatrice looked closer and realized it was being followed by a few smaller Mammoth calves. It had its own babies, wow! They scurried around with more energy, less regal calmness, and one of them ran up to a passerby on the street, trying to get the human to give it food or affection or whatever it seemed to want at this moment. The parent Mammoth made a groaning sound with its trunk and the child Mammoths filed in line behind it with perfect obedience.

Mammoths were considered sacred in all of Tsubasa’s cultures, but Beatrice never expected anything like this. They simply roamed free in the middle of the city, not hunted, not bothered. Treated with reverence. The city WAS named Mammoth Pass, she realized. It made sense.

The carriage made its way towards a small palace. It was no more than a tenth of the size of Castle Balarand, but it was also a mere vacation home for Empress Nievol, so it was never going to be very massive. Still, it was beautiful, built with rocky, jagged arches. Its roof was a large dome sparkling with silver.

“We’re almost here,” said Emi.

“Are you ready?” 

“As long as we can go back to the hotel soon,” she replied.

Beatrice wondered, if the carriage ride was as fancy as it was, what the hotel could possibly look like.

The carriages finally pulled up in front of the palace, with dozens of diplomats in silly-looking outfits waiting for them out in the snow. 

“Ugh, my parents are going to be angry if they see me in this,” Emi said, looking down at her not-so-fancy outfit.

“Don’t worry about it, Emi. It’s been a long trip.” She wondered if they were in the crowd right now. Would they accept her? Would they be mad at Emi for bringing her? She knew so little about them…

Beatrice stepped down onto the ground and offered her hand to Emi.


She took her hand and stepped out of the carriage as well. They let go of each others’ hands, as not to look too unprofessional in front of all the diplomats, and walked towards the growing procession of rich and famous people. Beatrice realized at this moment she was going to feel out-of-place for the rest of this trip.

An older man saw the two girls and made his way towards them. Emi had a flash of recognition and ran towards him. “Lord Lau!” she yelled. But rather than jumping up and hugging him around the neck, she extended her hand forwards towards him. 

“My little Emi,” the man said in a grandfatherly rasp. He took her hand and shook it like it was completely normal. Beatrice stared blankly. “How nice it is to see you after all this time. You must be so tired after your trip.”

Emi looked back at Beatrice and giggled. “It was a fine trip,” she said. “But I’m very glad to finally be back in Mammoth Pass.”

“As am I to see you once again. However, I must inform you of some ill news. Your parents will not be joining you after all They are being made to remain in Zahn while continuing to resolve some diplomatic issues with the extradition of King Kline from Fathie back to Dannark. A very serious matter. It only came up this week, so they could not warn you before you had departed.”

“I… I understand,” she said.

Beatrice noticed Emi’s crestfallen expression and felt bad. She probably was so excited for her to meet her parents, and now it was just going to be the two of them figuring out what to do all week on their own. Then again, Beatrice thought, it was going to be just the two of them all week. That sounded a lot more exciting, in a way…

“I will still make sure you receive the best experience possible here in Mammoth Pass,” Lord Lau said. “Go, you two, and rest your travels off in your room so you may be up bright and early tomorrow. We are going Mammoth watching!”

Beatrice took a few steps closer to Emi and Lord Lau so she didn’t feel quite so much like an outsider to their conversation.

“Where is our room this year?” Emi asked.

“Why, on the sixth floor of the castle, of course,” he said. “You are a daughter of the L’Hime Family, after all.”

Wh…what? This castle? The one right in front of them at this very moment? Beatrice was going to faint.

“Well, I just thought things might be different, considering…”

Lord Lau’s expression darkened. “We shall not let the political situation ruin your trip this year. You will find yourselves very well accommodated, both of you.”

“Well, thank you,” Emi said.

They headed into the castle. Inside the castle, it was like a luxurious resort, every room patterned after what the Imperial Family would live in… or maybe their servants, at least. The castle’s workers scurried around at the speed of baby Mammoths trying to get all of the new guests situated in their rooms. Beatrice felt too overwhelmed to really comprehend what was going on. So much wealth and so many people… and she was a guest! They went up a ton of flights of stairs, very tiring after a while, and reached their room. 

Gods, it was gorgeous.

“Gods, this is gorgeous,” Emi said.

There was a great furnace place right in the middle of the room, kindling a warm glow and glowing warmth all over. There was a small heated tub off to the side, and of course a magnificent bed made from feathers and plush to bounce around on. Outside the window was a full view of the city, all the way towards the nearby Mount Galahad. The outlying villages and towns and their mountain-carved houses were starting to grow dimmer as the sun set behind them. 

Their bags hadn’t been brought up yet, but this was such a nice room that Beatrice thought she could start living in it immediately, and forever, without ever having to think about the worries of adult responsibilities or life goals or any of that nonsense. She could stay in this room and relax for a few decades. Yep, that sounded about right.

Emi ran over to the bed and started hopping up and down on the foam fabric. After a moment, Beatrice joined her. This was incredibly childish, but very fun!

“You know, this room is very famous,” Emi told Beatrice as they continued to jump around the bed. “People like We-kus Kalo and Ken Anderso have stayed here before. We’re jumping on the bed that Mr. Anderso jumped on!”

“I have no idea who either of those two people are.”

“They’re the premier yeti hunters of the whole continent. How do you not know them?”

“What’s a yeti?”

“Gods, we are worlds apart sometimes,” Emi said. 

“I was kidding,” Beatrice said.


“But you’re probably right,” Beatrice said. “For how much I love you, and how much you love me, sometimes I feel like we have so far to go before we can really understand each other.” She paused, letting Emi soak in the words, before adding, “And there’s certainly one way we can get closer.”

“Read more books together?” Emi hopped backwards and landed butt-first on the bed, and Beatrice followed by making one final hop and then sitting down. Beatrice leaned back and laid her head on one of the many pillows. It was soft. Unnervingly soft.

“Books, huh. You want to help me study for the Priesthood Exam?” she asked.

“Of course,” Emi replied. “I’d help you study for an assassination.”

“What does that mean?”

“Like, if you wanted to kill someone, I would help you do it.”

“Please don’t,” Beatrice said. “That’s wrong.”

“But you are so, so right.” She winked.

“Oh, Emi…” Beatrice, in a bout of excitement, let herself make the kind of sly smile you give when you know your plan is going perfectly. “Wait, I don’t have any books with me. No studying tonight. I guess we’ll have to do something else then.”

Emi’s face grew red. She started to understand. “Maybe… uh, maybe supper’s ready for us. Yeah, let’s go downstairs and check.”

Beatrice shook her head. “I very much doubt that.” She reached out her hand and placed it on Emi’s cheek. Her entire face went cherry-red.


I think I’ll stop narrating from there.

<== PreviousNext ==>

Chapter 44: On the Trail to Mammoth Pass

The Northern Highway was the main road bisecting the kingdom of Elince, stretching from Balarand all the way to Dannark and beyond. It facilitated almost all travel throughout the main cities in the region, creating hubs of trade and commerce in between that lifted entire cities out of poverty.

And, in the middle of wintertime, the Northern Highway was a sight of great beauty.

Lake Ehota, frozen over in the middle of the winter, was a sight to behold. It was a vast expanse, going on for miles and miles all the way towards the Plebias Mountains,  consisting of nothing but ice and falling snow. It carved up most of the scenery, a flat stretch of light blue going on past the horizon. A beautiful wasteland.

On the other side of the small road was a thick layer of trees, covered in that same falling snow. Occasionally a snow leopard could be seen dancing around as it looked for prey, or a pack of greyback bears could be seen playing around with each other, but other than that the forests were empty and quiet. 

The weather outside must have been absolutely frigid. But inside a certain carriage were two certain young women who were currently focusing the entirety of each other’s attentions on each other.

Emi and Beatrice, wrapped up in a warm fur blanket and snuggled up on one of the carriage seats, had hardly looked outside for quite some time now, too busy tasting each other’s lips.

Beatrice had not done one second of studying during the trip so far. She felt somewhat guilty about it, but in the end she cared much more about her time with her girlfriend than becoming a priest, so she continued to savor every moment they shared.

Emi, by the second day, had given up trying to look nice in the brief moments when the caravan made rest stops, despite the many rich and noble people riding alongside them. She had slipped out of her formal wear and into a much warmer and much simpler leather coat. Together with the blanket and Beatrice’s arms around her, though, she was almost too hot at this point, and wanted to take the coat off. But that would mean letting go of Beatrice, something she was not willing to do right now.

They had individually wondered how long they could reasonably keep this up, kissing and cuddling and doing practically nothing else. It turned out that the answer was quite a while.

“I love you so much, Tris,” Emi said as she caught her breath.

Beatrice did not reply, and only leaned forward to kiss her once again.

That was answer enough.

The love shared between Beatrice Ragnell and Emi L’Hime was real. It was expressed in every shared glance, every giggle, every pitter-patter of the heart, and it carried itself through this trip towards Mammoth Pass.

Of course, it could not last forever. A few hours later, the carriages stopped, and so did they.

When this happened, it was for one of three reasons: it could be for the chefs to bring food to each of the riders, which they did four times a day; it could be to let riders experience a particularly scenic spot on the road; or it could be to let riders relieve themselves. From the way Beatrice leaped up and darted out of the carriage as soon as the wheels had settled, it was clear which of the three reasons this rest stop was for.

…Eww? You wish I didn’t tell you that much information? Okay, weirdo. 


Later that night, Emi and Beatrice sat around a campfire, the carriage caravan parked on the side of the road. They would eventually return to their carriage to sleep, but for now they simply wanted to bask in the warmth of the embers in front of them. They shared a wool blanket and they held each other in their arms, though Emi had a cup of warm tea in one hand. Beatrice had both arms wrapped tightly around Emi, hugging her stomach.

Tia sat across from them, wearing a plain jacket and long skirt, smiling brightly. “You two are attached at the hip, surely.”

“If I let go of her she might escape,” said Beatrice.

“Help me…” Emi whispered.

“I have never understood how such completely separate people could meet and fall in love like you,” Tia said. “You are from such different worlds, a junior priest and a diplomat’s daughter. And yet… you made it work. How did you get past it all?”

The girls looked at each other, and Emi shrugged. “Who knows?” Emi said.

“I do,” Beatrice said. “We just ignored everything else and went for it. It might be stupid but that’s the only thing you really can do.”

Tia shook his head, smiling. “Pretty stupid indeed.” He met Emi’s eyes and raised an eyebrow. Emi blushed and tried to giggle to cover it up. “I know you’ll keep making it work. The Gods seem to have made you for each other.” 

“Yeah, the Gods work in baffling ways sometimes,” Beatrice said. “Sometimes… I just don’t understand them at all.”

“I wish my boyfriend were here,” Tia said. “It has been so boring travelling in a carriage with a bunch of aristocrats I have never met before. They have interesting conversations, but they are all so stuffy and old and… Hey, I wonder… do you think I might join your carriage and–”

“No,” both of the girls said flatly.

Tia couldn’t help but laugh.


The mountains were drawing closer, and Emi stared out the window waiting and wishing for them to arrive already. Not that she didn’t enjoy this amazing few days lately, but she was so excited to show Beatrice around Mammoth Pass.

Plus, her girlfriend was starting to aggravate her with all the kissing. If she kept doing it every five seconds, she was going to make Emi start to hate the whole act. Hate kissing! Who could even cause such a thing?!

By now Beatrice had pulled out one of her study books given to her by Mr. Statusian, but she had barely opened it as she thought instead about her life with Emi. Obviously these past few days weren’t going to be indicative of the rest of their relationship, nor were the next few, but she really did realize that this woman really was someone she might want to spend a lifetime with.

That was the real magic here. Oh… wow that was so corny, even in her head. But it made her think…

“What will we be doing in five years?” Beatrice asked.

“Raising our kids,” Emi answered almost instantly. “You’ll be teaching at a small private school and I’ll be managing a shipping company exporting Runa’s exotic creatures to the rest of Tsubasa for a pricey markup. We’ll have three sons and a daughter.”

“Hector, Kano, Jean, and Emi Jr,” Beatrice said. “All in the next five years?”

“Of course. We’re both girls. We can push them out two at a time; we just have to work overtime at it.” Beatrice cracked up laughing, and Emi smirked as she continued to gaze out the window. 

The carriages passed through a small logging village. It was covered in snow, but all its residents seemed to be hard at work tossing lumber into carts and throwing the twigs into a heaping burn pile. Right next to the road, a few kids were building a ten-foot-tall snowman. They waved as the caravan passed them by.

Even if Emi and Beatrice had led very different lives, they were still urban denizens of the great city of Balarand. Neither of them could really even imagine what life in a wintery village would be like. If they had met and fallen in love under those circumstances, then THAT would be a story worth telling.

“Maybe we could move out to the countryside,” Emi said. “Just live out in some cottage, farming and hunting for ourselves, not giving a darn about the rest of the world and all its wars and turmoil…”

“If we’re being serious here,” Beatrice said. “I’m not sure I ever want to settle down and have kids.”

“Really? Why not?”

“I’ve lived in Balarand all my life, living with two low-class parents. I’ve studied about the rest of the world and all the things and places in Tsubasa. I’ve been studying it so long that… I just want to see it for myself, you know? My parents settled down early and had me, and obviously I appreciate that, but they probably missed out on a lot of their adulthood that way. They might never have been able to travel or fulfill their dreams or make a real difference in the world, not in the way they wanted when they were our age.”

“Well, just by making you they sure made a difference in my world,” Emi said.

“Oh, stop it.”

“Make me,” Emi said. In response, Beatrice scooted over to her, grabbed her hand, and planted a kiss on her lips. The life drained out of Emi’s spirit. “Okay, Tris, fine. No more silly remarks. Please… Wait– keep cuddling me though.”

“Will do.”

Emi giggled, then continued her thoughts. “I just think… even if we travelled around the world and acted like my parents trying to negotiate peace deals and end rebellions and write trade agreements, eventually we would want to settle down.”

“I don’t want to really do that kind of thing either,” Beatrice said. “Politics is boring. And you and I both know we don’t really like talking about that anyway.”

“Nope. And we definitely never will. But then if you want to make an impact on the world, then what DO you want to do? Like, in general?”

“I want to help people. Make the world happier. Bring harmony to all of Tsubasa. Like, have you heard of that movement in Zahn with schools? They’re introducing public education to every single town and village. Soon the whole country will know how to read, and that will help everyone! I want to do something like that.”

Emi refused to even hint that she knew (and was engaged to) the person overseeing that public education project. “Well, I won’t be inheriting much of the L’Hime Family estate, but… it’ll be enough to live on for a few decades, that’s for sure. That could always be a good asset.”

“I mean–” Beatrice paused to collect her thoughts. She wasn’t entirely sure what she was trying to say herself. “I mean, no wealthy people stuff. Just you and me and going around making people’s lives better across Tsubasa.”

“So like my cottage plan, but with a carriage?”

“Or just our own two feet,” Beatrice said.

“That sounds tiring.”

“It might be my ultimate dream. Am I weird?”

“We already know you’re weird,” Emi said. “As for your dream, Tris… Personally, I would love to raise kids and have a family and have a quiet, peaceful life. But… I don’t think it’s that powerful a dream. Not like yours. I’m being completely serious when I say I’d follow you no matter what you did. We’ve been together for a while now and I think I can say that for sure. You’re just so…” Emi trailed off and sobbed quietly.

“Emi, do you really mean that?” Beatrice felt tears welling up in her eyes, too.

“Why would I lie about that?” Emi laughed and cried simultaneously. “I love you.”

“Even if I’m some boyish peasant with ridiculous life goals?”

“You know good and well you are the smartest, most beautiful, most thoughtful complete jerk on the planet and don’t you deny it like you’re playing innocent!” Emi exclaimed.

Beatrice couldn’t help it– she kissed her again. Emi nearly fell over. A fire lit deep within Beatrice’s heart and burst out through her lungs: “I love you and all your weird quirks. When you blush it’s like I fall in love with you all over again. I wish your name was longer so I could give you a cute nickname. Your hair looks so much better when it’s short and I hope you never change it. Every time I look into your eyes I go nearly brainless. You’re radiant and dangerous, and–”

“No reciting poetry, Tris. That’s cheating.”

“Eh, I didn’t know you knew that one…”

“I’m smarter than I look,” Emi said. 

“Don’t you start… Let’s just shut up and keep cuddling.”



Beatrice flipped through a cross-stitch book, trying to find a pattern that looked interesting. And easy.

She’d been practicing sewing for a few months now, but she still couldn’t manage much beyond very simple things. She could mend a tear, but she couldn’t come close to making an item of clothing. She thought cross-stitching might work, but… it was all a bit difficult for her. How did her Mom do all of this with her own two hands?

Meanwhile, Emi shuffled through some bags in the back of the carriage. The road was old and worn, however, and when a wheel rolled over a bump, Emi nearly lost her balance. She grabbed ahold of the seat with her knees and shook for a moment. Beatrice managed to suppress a laugh, so she wouldn’t embarrass her girlfriend more than usual.

When the girl continued to look even further, Beatrice could no longer keep her curiosity at bay. She asked, “What in Tsubasa are you looking for?”

“Just a minute,” she responded.

“You’re going to get hurt,” Beatrice said. “Why don’t you wait until the next rest stop?”

“Can’t,” Emi said. “Too urgent. It’s–Ah-ha.” She turned around and sat back down on the seat, now holding what appeared to be, well, a black metallic box of some sort. Beatrice couldn’t figure out what it was.

The front panel was white, lined into a grid of hundreds of tiny squares, and there was a crank on the side. But other than that, it just seemed like an oddly shaped, quite heavy box.

“I made this for you,” Emi said. “For a few months, I’ve been working on this project, ever since I figured out how to build machines. It took me until this week to finish, but I’m finally ready to show you.”

“Is this that secret you told me about way back when?”

“The same one.”

“So what is it, then?” Beatrice was overcome with curiosity. 

“Okay, well, see all these squares on the front of the machine? They’re each connected to a gear in the inside, and from the way I programmed the turning positions, each time the gears turn, some of the squares will turn black, and some of them will stay white. Look.” 

She turned the crank one time, and sure enough, some of the squares rotated, turning black, and forming the image of a horse, with a hill in front of it. It was crudely-drawn, but that’s saying a lot when it was made with squares on a machine.

Beatrice wasn’t expecting anything like this. “You can make art with machines? How did you even think of this?”

“Uh, I don’t know, I just put all the pieces together right.” Weird. If this weren’t Emi, she’d be suspicious that she were lying, but she could tell Emi genuinely didn’t know. “And that’s not it,” she continued. “I can program this box up to thirty two times in order, so the squares will flip or not flip in an order before it all turns back to the beginning.”

Emi again cranked the machine, this time faster and steadier. The squares changed. A new image formed. Wait, not completely new– it was like the horse had moved, like it was galloping towards the hill.

The more Emi cranked, the closer the horse got to the hill, until it made a big leap and cleared the hill in one bound. Then it continued walking… and another hill appeared in front of it. 

Emi tapped a button underneath the crank and all of the squares turned white. 

“Emi, this is the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen,” Beatrice said. “You made the picture move. It’s like the horse was really moving. I’m just…”

“You really like it?”

Beatrice got up–no, more like leapt- and hugged Emi around the neck. “You’re amazing.”

Emi started to cry. “Want to try it?” she asked.

And Beatrice took the machine and cranked it herself, watching the horse move and jump over the hill, and watching this little animated figure repeat the same action over and over again. It was so cute. And Emi had made this all by herself.

“Gods, this is wonderful,” Beatrice said. “Can you make more?”

Still crying, Emi nodded, and said, “I think so. I think I can reposition the gears and program it all differently to make a completely different picture. But last time I tried it, I messed up the whole thing. So for now… Sorry.”

“Don’t be sorry. You’re a genius.”

“I’m not a… Thank you, Tris.”

Beatrice didn’t get tired of this machine, not for the rest of the trip. All of the wonder of the Gods, all the harmony of nature, barely stood up against this box her girlfriend had made. It was just so… cool. Emi had created a harmony all of her own with this machine. A perfect ecosystem of gears and springs that somehow made a piece of moving artwork!

Humanity was amazing. Her girlfriend was spectacular.

<== PreviousNext ==>

Chapter 43: Departures

A fleet of six carriages were lined up to depart from Balarand and head on north past the Elincan-Dannark border, up to the base of the Plebias Mountains, where laid Mammoth Pass, the northernmost city in all of civilized Tsubasa. Anything past there, and it was nigh-uninhabitable wasteland known as the Frozen Desert. This really was the furthest place you could get in this continent, so these carriages came prepared.

And in this trip north, Emi and Beatrice had actually first travelled south. Before their journey could officially begin, they went to the great mansions around Lake Geoffrey, where they would be joining some sort of tourist caravan. Beatrice hadn’t been well-informed about the specifics of this trip, but she was prepared for anything.

Well, theoretically anything. Right now, she was overwhelmed beyond belief. She had never experienced anything so fancy in her life. The party at Emi’s house she had attended sure was nice, but this was beyond that entirely. The carriages were white and adorned with all sorts of decorations. Dozens of wealthy individuals wearing wigs and bright-colored tunics loitered around while Beatrice was just here like herself. She couldn’t believe she thought she was going to stick out.

One young boy, dressed in a puffy white coat and wearing a long dark wig, approached Beatrice. “Welcome to my humble abode,” he said. “I am Tia Knoll.” He extended his coat and curtseyed.

“I… uh, hi…” She was NOT forewarned about meeting a member of the Knoll family and then being bowed to like she was an equal! Emi knew the Knolls! Beatrice completely forgot about the fact that the L’Hime Family really was that influential.

“You are Emi’s muse, correct? I like you already. You are likely the only thing keeping her from doing rash and stupid things all the time.”

“Hey… don’t talk about Emi like that.”

“Honey, do not worry about it. She has been my friend for as long as I can remember.” But was he her friend in return? That, Beatrice could not tell. He seemed nice, but Emi had never mentioned him before, not even once. Then again, it’s not like Beatrice talked much about her school friends to Emi. She remembered Emi giving an odd look when she first met Bodhi at the Winter Ceremonies, though she never said anything about it afterwards.

When was Emi going to finish getting changed, anyway? That girl was so slow.

“Have you been to Mammoth Pass for the Winter Festival before?” Tia asked.

“No, I’ve never even left Balarand before,” Beatrice said. “Is it like the Winter Ceremonies?”

“Nothing alike. I would not even be able to consider them the same species of celebration.”

Beatrice was simultaneously perplexed and intrigued.

“I have been to Mammoth Pass each winter for my entire life, and I must say it is one of the more exciting parts of my year. My boyfriend is stuck in Balarand with the flu, so I am truly envious of you and yours. You are going to love this.”

Beatrice couldn’t help but blush.

Finally, Emi came out of the Knoll mansion dressed up in some sort of outfit that looked more like an elaborate costume than a dress. It was huge, poofy, and bright red, making her stick out exactly in the ways she surely didn’t desire. She was more a walking portrait than a human. Still, she was cute enough that she nearly pulled it off. Red dresses always look amazing, I think, and this one worked excellently on Emi.

While I think it was cute, Beatrice was floored by it. This was her own girlfriend standing there, her own girlfriend shining in scarlet radiance. The dress didn’t exactly have the best design, she thought, but it hardly mattered when the person wearing it had the design of a Goddess.

She had grown so accustomed to Emi, so connected to her, but never stopped for a single moment being able to see her beauty, on the inside and out. She knew she was uncomfortable right now, appearing in front of everyone in a revealing, low-cut dress. But the fact that she soldiered on despite that was remarkable. Emi had so much in her life to complain about, so many things that restricted her from doing what she wanted, but she didn’t just sit back and take them; she absorbed them and used her hardships to make herself stronger.

Every step she took was measured and careful, every flick of her hair done with grace. For someone who was so opposed to the regal life, Emi had the ability to make herself look absolutely aristocratic. Beatrice used to be confused about that, unable to understand why Emi didn’t just run away if she hated the rich life so much. But she realized the truth– Emi was born for this. She was too powerful to run away.

“It is time to go,” said Tia, when Emi finally reached them.

“I’m finally ready,” Emi said. “I wasn’t aware that my parents had ten dresses made for me for this trip, but I guess I’ll get to look like a proper lady for the next couple weeks.” She walked over to Beatrice and gave her a quick kiss. “Sorry for making you wait, Tris. I hope I didn’t cut into your valuable study time. How will you ever pass your tests now?”

“Hey, don’t be mean.”

“Uh-oh… I think you’re in for a rough few days if you want nice people around,” Emi said.

“I’ll move to a new carriage.”

“Sure you will. You’d be willing to sacrifice kisses that easily, I’m sure.”

Beatrice playfully shoved Emi. “Come on, let’s get going.”

Tia waved and began walking to a carriage up front. “I will see you ladies when we reach our first rest stop,” he said. “Try to enjoy yourselves. And Beatrice, I am excited for you to experience this trip for the first time.”

“Thank you,” she replied.

They entered the carriage. It was small, only enough room for three or four people to sit on each side and for storage in the back, but it was cozy and the seats were very comfortable. Beatrice wasn’t sure if she would be able to sleep on these seats every night for almost a week, but she was sure they would come to some sort of accommodation on the way. Right?

Emi sat next to Beatrice and unfolded a warm blanket to go over both of them. She wrapped her arm around her and said, “I really hate this dress.”

“It doesn’t look very good,” Beatrice said.

The carriages took off towards the Grand Concourse and eventually the highway towards Mammoth Pass. 

<== PreviousNext ==>

Chapter 42: Tinker

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.

<== PreviousNext ==>

Chapter 41: Gonda Shopping

The tallest building in Balarand, and perhaps all of Tsubasa is Gonda Tower. It towers so far above its peers that even Castle Balarand is dwarfed. It’s said that on special nights, the very brightest of them, if you stand on the top of the tower you can reach up and touch the tips of the moons as they fly by. It isn’t true, but the sky never looks better than when you’re on top of the world. 

I know the owner, so next time we go to Elince, I’ll take you up there to see for yourself. How does that sound? You want me to continue the story instead of giving you travel tips? Oh well.

Today, Beatrice and her Mom had made a visit to Gonda Tower’s vast shopping center, and, as always, every single floor was busy. If Emi were here, she would most certainly be having a fit right now, Beatrice thought. Despite the anti-Dannark demonstrations going on in the streets outside, the shops were just as packed as any other day.

Beatrice preferred the hustle and bustle of the marketplace near the library, the one where she and Emi first met all that time ago. The excitement of finding something new, of meeting people from all over the world and haggling with them over prices, outclassed anything she could find in these huge, clean stores. Well, she never actually haggled before because she never had enough money to buy anything worth doing it over, but she liked the theory of it. The theory of arguing.

Even so, Gonda Tower was nice. Each floor had a different department selling all sorts of things. One floor was filled with art supplies for painting and sculpting, another with stuffed animals and children’s toys, another with Ancient Elincian-style memorabilia that could be used to decorate one’s home. The floor that Beatrice and her Mom were on was a massive clothing store, covered from floor to ceiling, wall to wall, with outfits of infinite variety. 

To say that it was overwhelming was a grand understatement. Actually, Beatrice wasn’t sure if she had ever been in a clothing store before, on account of Mom making all of her outfits herself. That was why today’s adventure was a little bit odd, she thought to herself. Mom rarely left the area around the apartment, that Beatrice knew of anyway, and their first mother-daughter outing in a year was suddenly a shopping trip for expensive clothes.

Mom was also much, much more interested than Beatrice right now. Don’t get her wrong, she liked cute dresses as much as the next girl. But for the most part, wearing a simple shirt-and-skirt combo was enough. Getting into Emi levels of dressiness was just too much.

Mom took a long green dress, so bright it hurt Beatrice’s eyes just looking at it, and held it up against Beatrice’s chest. She examined it closely, and nodded. “It looks good on you.”


“What, you don’t like it?”

Beatrice shook her head. “I like it. It’s just… I’m not sure.”

“Why don’t you try it on and see?”

“Alright.” Beatrice took the dress and went into a changing room to see how it looked on her. She took her glasses off and undressed. As she looked in the mirror at her own freckled cheeks, at her own blue eyes, and her own curly hair. She used to hate this face–it was so plain, so boyish, making her look shy, making her look unkempt when she was neither of these things. But this was the same face that Emi loved. There had to be a reason behind that, right?

She put the dress on and rotated herself around to get a good look at it.

How did it all come to this?

Trying on an expensive dress at Gonda Tower. Going on a trip to Mammoth Pass. Being in love with a diplomat’s daughter, the most beautiful girl in the entire world. A few months ago, she was on-track to join the priesthood just like she had always dreamed about. Then she saw that face at the marketplace, and everything changed so dramatically.

She hadn’t fully wrapped her head around the extent of it, yet. It was just that crazy.

The dress fit well, though a little bit at the waist. But she didn’t like how loud the color was, how much it would make her stick out. Though, why she didn’t want to stick out was beyond her. Was it that she always felt insecure about her appearance, and didn’t want to showcase that to everyone else? Was Emi’s worrisome self rubbing off on her?

Actually, she decided that she did like the dress. She exited the changing room and showed it to her Mom. Her reaction was an immediate clapping.

“So beautiful,” Mom said. “My daughter is so beautiful.”

“Thank you, Mom,” Beatrice said. She would have blushed, were it not her Mom who complimented her.

“You’re going to be the star of every event in Mammoth Pass,” she said. 

“Well, no, I think Emi is still going to be the star.”

“Not after we’re done here. We’re going to get you clothes to make you shine.”

“Mom, are you sure we need to buy all these fancy clothes like this?” Beatrice asked. “I’m fine just wearing whatever you make.”

 Her Mom smiled, and said, “What I make isn’t good enough. A girl like you deserves more.”

“I don’t–” Beatrice stopped herself before she could get in an argument about something as silly as self-deprecation. 

And for the first time in a while, Beatrice saw that lip-scrunching sadness on her Mom’s face, the kind of indignant resignation that beset her in her worst moods.

But why?

Beatrice hadn’t done anything wrong that she knew of. She had never disobeyed her parents. Never gotten in a fight. Never came home late at night with a few too many Balarand brews in her belly. And yet here, and now, her Mom looked like she was about to cry.

And now Beatrice felt terrible.

Could it be that Beatrice was seemingly abandoning her lifelong quest to join the Priesthood, or that she was dating a girl from a family so important her parents were away from home for months at a time? Could it be that she thought she was abandoning the family for whatever pursuits, as if she hated her Mom and Dad because she wanted to see the continent with her own eyes? She wasn’t sure.

“What’s the matter, Mom?” Beatrice asked, instead of skirting the issue and ending up with worse hurt feelings.

“Nothing’s the matter,” she said, eyes filling with tears. “My baby girl’s growing up. And I am so proud of her. It’s just a little…” There went the crying.

Oh. It was THAT kind of sadness.

Beatrice quickly moved to hug her around the neck, but dropped the green dress on the floor. Whoops. “I’m sorry for growing up,” she said.

Mom stopped crying and laughed. “I wish all children told their parents that.”

As Beatrice picked up the dress again, a question occurred to her. “Mom, what do you think about me and Emi?”

“What do I think?”

“About me and Emi… and, the priesthood. I’m going to take the test, but…”

Mom turned away from Beatrice to browse through the other dresses on sale. After a moment to look at a frilly cream-colored dress, she said, “You can’t do both, can you?”


“Pick the girl.”

The way she said it was so instant, so decisive, that it took Beatrice off-guard. 

In fact, she didn’t respond for the duration of their time shopping. She got six new dresses, all paid for with the money her family had been saving up for a vacation to the coast this summer. Today was supposed to be a joyful day, and yet Beatrice was stuck on the suddenness of her mother’s words.

And then she thought about it.

She really was going to pick the girl.

As perplexing as it was, she was going to pick the girl.

<== PreviousNext ==>

Chapter 40: Guess Who’s Coming to Supper?

“This whole time it was Emi. Wow,” Beatrice’s Dad said, chuckling as he cut into his potato. “Can you believe I’ve known your girlfriend longer than you?”

“I’m surprised you never introduced me to your daughter, Earl– er, Mr. Ragnell,” said Emi. “But I guess she was always so busy reading all the time.”

“I doubt I would have ever noticed you, I was so into my books,” Beatrice said. 

“You and I both know that’s false.” Emi and Beatrice giggled together.

The four of them sat at the dining table; Emi tried to be as polite as possible, keeping a napkin in her seat and arranging all her utensils properly. The Ragnell Family home was small–genuinely not much bigger than Emi’s bedroom– but by no means was it too cramped for the four of them. Beatrice’s Dad flipped through the latest issue of the Balarand Circle as he ate, but otherwise, their attentions were all completely focused on Emi. In any other situation, this would have given her a panic attack. But now, because she had already stressed out enough about this event, she felt weirdly calm.

Oh Gods, was Emi relieved that Beatrice took this surprise well.

She had been unnerved to the point of shaking at the idea of meeting Beatrice’s parents, even if she had known Earl for most of her life. This kind of supper meeting was ridiculously important in a romantic relationship, and if she messed up it could doom things forever. It didn’t matter if she was overthinking things to the highest degree; this was a mission vital to the success of her continued existence as a human being.

So she had finally worked up the courage and told Earl herself. He helped him arrange the meeting and kept it all a surprise from her own girlfriend–at her dad’s suggestion–just so they could end up like this, happy together at the dining table.

Beatrice’s Mom was basically swooning at Emi. “When you said you had a girlfriend, I never expected her to be so….”

“So what?”

“So beautiful! I mean, look at her hair… It’s so nice and straight and…” Her Mom started playing with Emi’s hair. This was far from the first time someone had done this. For Beatrice’s sake, she let it happen.

“And your food is amazing, too, Mrs. Ragnell,” she told her, trying to keep from being too flustered.

“Oh, I don’t know if ‘amazing’ is the right word for it…”

“Mom, take the compliment.”

Beatrice’s parents were almost like older versions of her herself. It was so funny to look at them and then look at her, because she could perfectly picture how she would age. Her hips would widen, her curls would whiten, but those blue eyes of hers would stay just as vibrant and swirling  She wanted to make the most of her time with Beatrice, but she knew she could be with her for a lifetime. Easily.


Was now the right time?

Of course, there was an ulterior motive to this family supper, which is much of the reason why she had wanted to keep it a secret from Beatrice. There was one more thing she needed to ask.

She’d been meaning to do so for a long while, but she had never found the right time. Now, with Beatrice and her parents together like this, it was the perfect opportunity for it.

If she could muster the energy to do it, that was.

Her palms started to sweat, and her appetite disappeared into the pit of her stomach. Her heart beat in doubletime. “I do have one request,” Emi said to Beatrice’s parents. She pretended that her nerves hadn’t already faded into uselessness, that she had the courage to say it.

“Go ahead,” her Dad said.

Here it went.

“My parents are arranging to meet with me at Mammoth Pass for that city’s own winter festivals in a few weeks, and I am allowed to bring a guest with me. As a way to introduce my parents to Beatrice, would you give your permission to let her travel with me?” She flashed a smile for good measure. That wasn’t so hard, now was it?

Beatrice was stunned, but her parents lit up in excitement.

“Going to see the Mammoths? That sounds like so much fun,” her Mom said. “I’ve always wanted to do that.” She was still playing with Emi’s hair, by the way.

“And in all my studies on ancient cultures, I’ve never been able to visit the cultural museum up in Mammoth Pass.” her Dad said. “But.. it’s quite a lot of time. It’s nearly a week’s journey each way, right? Even if you stay for only a few days, that’s still nearly three weeks’ time…”

“It just isn’t possible, is it?” Her Mom said, a complete reversal of her previous comment. “I mean… just think of the timing, with exams and all…”

Beatrice came back to reality and banged her fork onto the table. “Emi. Why didn’t you tell me about this before?” She looked stern, but Emi couldn’t tell if she was angry.

“I… I wanted it to be a surprise…”

“I need to discuss this with my parents,” she said. “Could you go wait someplace else?”

Emi looked around the apartment.

“Uh, go in my bedroom, I guess.”

“Ah… alright.”


Emi laid atop Beatrice’s bed, wondering why Beatrice had such a weird reaction to her proposal. It was supposed to be a nice surprise, and yet she may have gone and upset her girlfriend.

She closed the door and tried not to listen closely to the muffled voices on the other side of the wall, but it was hard not to at least listen to their tones of voice. There was no yelling, just the natural flow of a reasoned conversation, but it had been going on for long time already.

“..Never done anything you haven’t…” That came from Beatrice.

“…Studies and it isn’t a good…” From her Dad?

“…Too much, you always said. Why now? I’m ready, really. Really!” Beatrice’s voice was getting louder, which was probably not a good thing.

Oh, why did Emi do this? This surprise supper, this surprise request, anything involving keeping secrets. If this escalated into something between the Ragnells, she would never be able to forgive herself for hurting such a wonderful family… 

Keeping secrets. That was practically all Emi ever did. She still hadn’t told Beatrice about her engagement. Hardly even hinted at it. And she was trying to get Beatrice to go with her on vacation. What a load of Mammoth crap she was.

Beatrice’s room was nice, at least. Extremely small, but that probably meant a lot less dusting for her housekeepers– er, for her to do. So tidy, too. Her desk spanned one entire wall except for the door while the bed spanned the other, and there was very little space between them. 

How did Beatrice sleep on this thing, anyway? Emi’s bed was admittedly one of the softest ever, but this thing was like a stone slab. If this was how commoners were forced to sleep, she was okay with being a rich snob.

There on the corner of Beatrice’s desk, sitting on top of a stack of books, was the wooden centaur carving Emi had given her a while back. This was the first time she ever went into the girl’s room, and already she saw a symbol for their relationship displayed proudly. That made her heart melt away for a moment, until she realized she still needed to take something from Beatrice back to her own room. Hmm…

Eventually, the conversation ended, and Beatrice quietly entered the bedroom.  Emi decided to pretend she was asleep to see what she would do. And what she did is pulled out her desk chair, flicked a candle on, and write in her notebook.

What? Was she studying at this hour? The madwoman!

Just as she was getting tired of doing this sleeping charade, Beatrice finished writing  and tiptoed to the far side of the bed. She squeezed in next to Emi, sandwiching herself between her and the wall. The bed was far too small for two people to comfortably lay apart, so they were now in a very close cuddling position. She put her arm around Emi’s waist and breathed deeply, in and out. Her breathing soon slowed.

Oh no. Now Beatrice falling asleep, leaving Emi trapped here on this sheet of bedrock one might charitably call a bed. Laying uncomfortably with the most beautiful girl in the world cuddling her… What a dilemma!

“Tris, are you awake?” she asked, finally, doing her best to act like she was just waking up from a nap.

“Yeah.” she said. “My parents said yes, by the way.”

“Really? That’s amazing!”

“I’m sorry about earlier,” Beatrice said. “But my parents are very protective of me. They don’t like it when I spring big surprises on them.”

“They took it well when I asked them about having a supper together,” Emi said.

“ I told them about you a month ago,” Beatrice said.


“And… Can you not keep any secrets from me like that anymore? Tonight was really fun, but I was just really taken by surprise and it worried me a lot. Maybe I’m too much like my parents after all…”

“That’s not a bad thing,” Emi said. “Your parents are lovely. And so are you, Tris.”

“No more surprises, Emi?”

“I, uh, yeah. Yes.”

Beatrice hugged her tighter. Emi couldn’t see her face, but she hoped that Beatrice was as happy as she sounded. If those deep blue eyes of hers turned to pain, that would break her heart. “But you turned them around on it?” she asked.

“Maybe. My Dad seems fine with it now, and I guess my Mom is going along with it too. They weren’t going to allow it because all my exams are only a few months away, but I had a talk with them and convinced them that it might be the last big trip I get to take for a long time.”

“Because of… your priest stuff?”

“Yeah.” Emi’s heart sank just thinking about it. “But don’t worry about the priest stuff,” she said. “We’ll find a way to deal with it. If worst… If we… uh, well, I love you too much to just leave you be, Emi.”

“Thanks.” Her heart raised again.

“Also, my parents said I have to do a lot of studying while we’re travelling. Is that okay?” Beatrice asked.

“Have you been on the Northern Highway before?”

“No, I’ve never left Balarand.”

“You probably won’t want to study too much,” she said. “Trust me, it’s gorgeous. They don’t call it the Great White North for nothing.”

“I’ll do my best.” Beatrice squeezed Emi even tighter. She was so warm.

“No more surprises, Emi?”

But even still, Emi shivered.

When was she going to tell her about the wedding? Obviously not now, because that would completely ruin the mood. Maybe right after the trip? Or, if Emi introduced her to her parents at Mammoth Pass, that would be the perfect opportunity to shoot it all down at once, because they’d see what an amazing girl Beatrice was.

Or risk everything falling apart in front of her eyes. That would be… less optimal. But she was going to hope for the best, hope that “no more surprises” held true.

For now, though…

“Hey, Tris, can you turn around?” Emi asked.

“And face the wall? Why?”

“Just because.”

“Okay.” Beatrice let go of Emi and turned on her other side. Then Emi wrapped her arms around Beatrice in return. 

“It’s my turn to be there for you, Tris,” Emi said. “You’re the strong one, the level-headed one so much that I figured… maybe you deserve a rest.”

“Oh, Emi…”

“I love you so much, Tris, and I’m so excited about this trip.”

“Three weeks to spend together. It’s a long time.”

“We deserve it,” Emi said. 

“I feel like we’ve been in a relationship so long, but it’s only been… What, a few months?”

“A few months on the calendar, but a few lifetimes in our hearts.”

“Emi, that was the lamest thing you’ve ever said.” Beatrice adjusted herself and moved Emi’s right hand downwards, resting on her belly button. “Hold me tighter, please.”

“Oh, I’m sorry. Is this okay?”

“You could afford to be a bit more courageous…”

Courageous. Emi hugged her girlfriend with a stronger embrace and thought about that word. Courageous…. Well…

“Hey Tris, do you think…”

“Do I think what?”

Emi kissed her on the back of the neck.


“I love you.”


Beatrice yelped and then covered her mouth with her hands. “Emi!” she whispered loudly. “What the heck are you doing? My parents are in the other room…”

“Oh! I, uh–”

Emi let go of Beatrice and sat up from the bed. Her hands began to shake. What did she think she was going to accomplish with all of that? What a moron. What a–

Beatrice, still laying on her side cracked up laughing. “Emi, I love you.”

“I’m so sorry.” Tears welled up in Emi’s eyes.

“You’re great. Maybe an idiot, but you’re great.”

“I’m so–Hey, I’m not an idiot!”

Beatrice sat up and nuzzled her forehead against Emi’s. “You’re smarter than I’ll ever be,” she said. “Not about everything, though.” She kissed her on the cheek and stood up from the bed. She went over to her desk and grabbed a notebook. “By the way, I wanted you to have this.”


“In exchange for the centaur carving. This is every note I took for every subject in my AA-grade classes at the junior priest academy. All of them for you.”

“For me? How come?”

“Just a keepsake, something to remember me by. And maybe I have some romantic notes scribbled in the margins here and there…”

“I’ll read every page.”

Beatrice giggled. “I know you will.” She handed her the notebook. “Now go home before Ms. Khami gets worried. We have a trip to prepare for.”

“Yes ma’am.” Emi saluted with the notebook. 

If everything went well, this would be perfect. If it didn’t, everything could come crashing down. But Emi was willing to take those odds.

<== PreviousNext ==>

Chapter 39: At the Lab Again

Runa scurried around her lab, placing pieces of rocks all over the room. After that, she placed a shining metallic sphere right in the center of the room, inside that same cage of glass where those unfortunate bunnies used to be kept.

Emi seemed to be glad to be back and see the weird experiments once again, but Beatrice was very much in distress about being made to meet Runa again. Her girlfriend had no clue what haunting memories she had about her time as the girl’s babysitter… Seriously, I really think you should read your history books if you don’t know who Runa Arakawa is. I can’t believe you don’t know her. You’re really laughing about how silly she is? Gods, what has the world come to?

“I am not fooling around here with this deadly science,” Runa said. “There should be no way for this to occur. The sphere, which would normally act as the magnetic core of the golem, is completely separate from its other pieces. And I have drained the magical energy residue from each one, of course.” She pointed up to the large crystal hanging in the air, which made Beatrice wonder for a brief moment if the bunny test was going to be extended to the three humans in here this time. “But once I depolarize the energy and reactivate the sphere, it shall reassemble immediately!”

Runa pulled a lever, and the crystal in the air dropped. It crashed on the ground, shattering into a million pieces and sending magical energy swirling around the laboratory, zig-zagging and bouncing off the walls and curving around Runa’s equipment. Beatrice jumped out of the way of one of the magical beams, and as a result she tripped and fell onto the dirt floor. Emi let the beams pass through her and laughed.

“Runa, what are you doing?” Beatrice shouted, picking herself back up and dusting off her skirt.

“Worry not. This should be perfectly safe for humans, if I have done my calculations correctly.” The look of horror on Beatrice’s face told all, but Runa simply smiled as if nothing was wrong. Emi seemed just as pleased, clapping at the show before her.

The swirling aura of magic did seem a bit uninterested in the humans; it bounced around the laboratory for a while and passed through Emi’s body a couple times, then eventually entered each of the individual rocks spread out across the room. The pieces levitated up and circled together in a humanoid outline, filling in until only the chest area was missing.

“Now, the pieces will look for their core– their soul,” Runa said.

“Which is that sphere, right?” Emi asked.

“Yes. But because I have drained it of magical energy and hidden it behind a physical barrier, the rocks should normally be unable to find it. But if my hypothesis is correct, we will see a miracle happen right about…”


The rocks floated around the laboratory for another minute…

…And then all at once, they collapsed onto the ground.

“Noooooooooo!” Runa ran over to the rocks and cried out in dismay, ranting about magical theorems and whatnot, speaking too quickly for Beatrice to decipher.

Emi looked over to Beatrice, who was still deeply mortified by everything that had just happened. “Runa’s so cute,” she said.

“Have you seen the way she looks at you, Emi?” Beatrice asked. “You may think she has feelings for you, but she wants to use you as a test subject.”

Emi seemed to regard this for a moment, as she put a finger on her lips. It didn’t phase her, though. “Why do you keep visiting her, anyway?”

“She would probably send her creations out to hunt me down if I didn’t show up,” Beatrice answered.


Even Beatrice had to admit that that wasn’t an honest answer. “She’s not the worst kid in the world, okay? And her experiments aren’t too far from plausible. Even if they may be creepy.”

“Well, I don’t think they’re creepy,” Emi said. “I think they’re pretty cool. When they work, at least.”

“Thanks for being a supportive girlfriend,” Beatrice said.


She still wasn’t used to using that term. They had become an undeniable, undoubtedly legitimate couple, and yet she still felt a pitter-patter every time she said the word. Beatrice wondered if that feeling would ever really go away. She sort of hoped it wouldn’t.

Runa was still raving about in the mad scientist mode she was currently in, and had seemed to have forgotten she had guests in the laboratory with her. Beatrice took advantage of the opportunity, and stepped right in front of Emi. She put her hands on her shoulders. Then she leaned in and kissed Emi on the lips. 

Emi locked up like a statue, acting like an electrical surge had passed through her body for a few seconds. This happened every time they kissed. Beatrice giggled. Endlessly cute, this L’Hime girl.

Runa suddenly snapped back towards Beatrice and Emi, and gave a toothy grin. “I’ve figured out my error,” she said. “I know how to fix this!”

Emi tried to shake herself out of the sudden kiss she had just received. “Wh… What was it?”

“I shattered the wrong soul crystal,” she said. “The one I used must have been for a melted ice golem, not the stone golem I had desired. Therefore its metallic core would not react to the rocks. An easy fix…. but my supply of golem cores has run thin and must be replenished. So my quest to create life has been… postponed!”

“We’ll see you next time,” Beatrice said.

“You shall. And bring this lovely lady with you,” she said, staring at Emi without a semblance of politeness about her. “She is a fine specimen of human life.”

“I’m always glad to come,” Emi said.

“Me too,” said Beatrice. If it meant spending more time with Emi, she was glad to do anything.

They went upstairs and met Mrs. Arakawa, who was wrapping up a wooden box full of rice cakes for the girls. “Thank you so much for visiting my dear Runa,” she told them.

“You’re very welcome,” they said in unison.

Beatrice gave a quick kiss to Emi’s cheek and took the box. 

“Tris…” Emi was shaking.

“I love you,” she whispered.

“I love you too,” Emi whispered back. “Let’s go home.”

And they did start to head home, travelling south from the Arakawa house towards downtown Balarand. But as they approached their normal departing point near the library, Emi stopped. Beatrice only noticed after a few steps that she was no longer there, and turned around to see her girlfriend standing, fists balled up as she tugged on her own skirt.

The setting sun hit her back, igniting a glow behind her that made her appear a spectral figure. The flurries of snow whistled in the wind, making the air sparkle around them. And those eyes, just as deep and earthy as ancient buried treasure…

Was this it?

“Will you…” Emi began.

“Will I what?”


It was clear she had something important to say, but it wasn’t coming out like she wanted. She tried again. “I’ve been meaning to tell you about this, and you might get really mad because I didn’t tell you about it, but if you listen to me I think you’ll understand, and maybe it’s a good thing, or maybe a bad thing, I’m not sure. But it’s important, so… I… will you…”

“Emi? What is it?”

Beatrice had no idea what she was trying to say. It was cute at first, but now Beatrice was starting to get worried.

Finally, Emi asked, ”Will you eat supper with me?”

“…Yeah? Of course?”

“I mean…” Emi sighed and grabbed Beatrice by the wrist. “Come with me, please. Let’s go eat.”

Where they were going, Beatrice didn’t know. But as long as it was with Emi, she was fine with everything. So with a smile on her face, she let Emi lead the way to whatever place she wanted to go. It didn’t matter, except that they were going together.

Though it would have been nice to know she was going to her own apartment.

<== PreviousNext ==>

Chapter 38: Asking, Um, Questions

Another long day working on gear box creations, another long day failing miserably at her big secret project. Emi sighed, wiped the sweat from her brow, and pushed all her tools to the side of her desk.

Well, she learned some valuable things about how NOT to build a functional machine, and as weird as it sounded, that actually helped her out a lot. Her mind turned a little bit more gear-headed every day, and soon those cogs were going to turn in just the right way that everything would click and she’d somehow understand it all perfectly. Sometimes failure was a good thing, believe it or not!

All that failure made Emi hungry, so she decided to go downstairs to the kitchen and whip herself up a nice snack. She knew they had leftover pie from supper the night before, but whether or not she was in the mood for something as heavy as pie in the afternoon was still to be decided.

Her brain wracked with the possibilities of what she could eat. There were so many foods she craved. Pie, cake, muffins, cornbread, pancakes… mostly things in the bread category, yes, but bread was yummy and kept one’s figure full, so therefore it was the best. 

Emi opened the pantry, looking for–

–Pip and another maid kissing passionately–


–and then slammed the pantry door shut.


Pip, Emi, and the other maid, a girl named Sophi, sat around at the dining room long table, and Pip placed both of her hands on the table like she was trying to take control of a delicate situation. From the images swirling around in Emi’s brain right now, this was probably the correct course of action.

“Okay, presumably, you may have just seen us, er, having a romantic moment,” Pip said, “and I’m very sorry for that. So is she.”

“Sorry,” said Sophi.

“That’s, um, alright I guess.”

“But please don’t go telling Ms. Khami, alright? Please?” Pip pleaded. “She’s got us working crazy hard on that rooftop renovation project, but Sophi and I hit it off really well and thought we’d… Y’know, kiss and stuff.”

“In the pantry…?”

“Yeah, in the pantry,” Pip said. “Regrettable pick for a place, I know.”

“This house is so big, with so many empty rooms, and the place you choose is the pantry…”

“Okay, yeah, but could you please not let Ms. Khami know about it?”

“Let Ms. Khami know about what?” a voice said from out in the foyer. Ms. Khami’s voice, of course.

“Oh, brother,” said Pip. “Sophi, let’s skedaddle–”

“I didn’t realize you housekeepers were being paid to chat and eat,” she said, putting her hands on her hips in that classic Ms. Khami way. “I sure would like to have a job like that.”

“Sorry, Miss!” Pip chirped. “We’ll get back on it!”

“Actually,” Emi said suddenly. “Pip, could you and I, uh…” She looked at Ms. Khami to give a silent signal, and the woman relented from her stern pose. 

Sophi and Ms. Khami left the kitchen.

“So, what’d you want?” Pip asked once they were out of earshot.

“First, go fetch me the leftover pie,” Emi said.

“Pfft. Make me.”

“You are literally my servant.”

“I hear you, I hear you.” Pip went into the pantry and retrieved two slices of pie. One for Emi, and, naturally, one for herself.

“Thank you. But could you get forks too?”

“Yes, my master…”

Pip got the forks too.

“Okay, now we are ready for pie,” Emi said. “And ready for… um, well, stuff.”


“Like, you and Sophi were kissing and stuff.”

“Heh, ‘kissing and stuff.’ Just kissing, nothing special,” Pip said, twirling around her fork like a toy.

“But you’ve, well, been in a lot of big relationships before, right?”

“A few. Mostly small ones.”

“But you have, um, a lot of experience is what I mean, right?”

Pip smirked. “Guess you’d call it that.”

“And so, maybe I wanted to, um, ask you for advice…”


“Well, you know…”

Emi sunk into her chair. “I don’t get how relationships are supposed to go… I don’t know how to be a good girlfriend.”

Pip nearly choked on her pie. When she managed to swallow, she burst into laughter. “Emi… Emi, Emi Emi.”


“You sweet, pure, innocent child,” she said. “You just wanted… Oh, Emi. You’re already a good girlfriend, I’m sure.”

“ I don’t think so,” Emi said. “I’m a complete novice. I have no idea what you’re um, supposed to do when you’re dating. It’s really embarrassing to talk about…”

“So let me guess, Beatrice is your first relationship?” Pip asked.

“Well, I mean, I had a couple little romances when I was a kid,” she said. “Does that count?”

“Not at all. She’s really your first, huh. Gotta say, that surprises me. Thought rich kids liked to seduce the commoners and all that.”

“Like I said, it’s a little embarrassing…”

“And one look at Beatrice and you already know the only thing she’s dated in her life is her math textbook, so I guess you two really are going at this like newbies.”

“Maybe yeah. So that’s why I’m, um, asking.”

“How to do romance properly?”

“Maybe, yeah…”

“Just, romance in general?”

“I don’t really understand it. It’s so embarrassing…”

“There’s so much here,” Pip said. “I don’t even know where to begin. What do you usually do?”

“We go on walks, visit marketplaces, hang out at the library together, eat snacks, talk about religion…”

“You poor thing.” 

“Huh?” Emi ate a chunk of pie, but it didn’t taste like anything but the feeling you get when your friends tell an inside joke you don’t understand.

“I mean, you’ve, like, kissed, right?” Pip asked.

“Of course, yeah. We’ve kissed. We kiss.”

“And beyond that?”

Emi’s face lit up. “N-n-n-n-no! Just kissing, just, um, kissing!”

“You’re absolutely adorable, you know that? This is the cutest predicament I’ve ever seen,” Pip said. 

“The sheltered rich kid life has really ruined me.”

“Also, you’re engaged in an arranged marriage, so there’s that involved.”

“Don’t mention that in this conversation, that makes all of this so much weirder!”

“But it’s okay to be a novice. You’re okay.”

“Well, I, uh, I sometimes feel like Beatrice wants more from me and I’m not being a good enough girlfriend,” Emi said. “But I don’t know what to improve on! Dating is so difficult! I don’t want to be a novice anymore, that’s all.”

 “You’re overthinking it so much.”

“I always do…”

“If you don’t know what she wants, you gotta ask. Plain and simple.”

“Asking is hard…”

“It’s part of being an adult,” Pip said. “You should know. You’re older than me, you know.”

“I’m a bad adult…”

“Is there maybe a book where I can learn more?”

Pip sighed. “You’re hopeless, and that makes it even cuter.”

“I feel so attacked right now…”

“Listen, Emi. You’re a great gal and your girl loves you. If you think you’re not being romantic enough, you just gotta ask. But you probably don’t gotta. It’s a feeling. You look into her eyes, and you know it’s gonna be alright.”

“So, asking and eyes… Got it. Do you have a piece of paper? I need to jot this down.”

In the end, Emi didn’t learn anything. But that was okay for her.

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