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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Chapter 32: Emi Helping Out

“Missed a spot.”

“I know, I know…”

The maid Pip dusted a bookshelf while Emi swept the floor. They had been doing so for almost two hours now. But finally, Emi’s bedroom was starting to look presentable enough that people could come in here without having a heart attack. 

Emi already missed the clutter so, so much. Her system… Her art… It was all gone.. How was she going to know what to wear every morning if it wasn’t staring her in the face the moment she looked at the carpet? And she wasn’t even going to bring up the horrific treatment done upon her desk.

Pip, for what it was worth, took it in great humor that a diplomat’s daughter would be such a slob. “You got enough closet space for a family of four, and you still throw everything on the floor,” she had said when they had first started. “Wish I could be your kind of rich.”

There was no point in Emi fighting it, because it was true. She was exemplary as an example of a terrible person. 

Now she was a terrible person with a clean room. With a few taps of her broom handle against the floor and dumping the contents of her dustpan into the wastebasket, Emi signaled her satisfaction in the day’s work. “Finally,” she said. “Good job, everyone.” It was just the two of them.

Pip laughed. “What the Mammoth crap are you talking about?” she asked. “We got a long ways to go.”

“I thought announcing it like that would make it look better…”


Okay, an hour and a half later, NOW they were finished with Emi’s room. 

Since work was over, Emi sat at her desk chair, showing off her latest creations to Pip, who laid belly-down on Emi’s bed, hands on her face and rhythmically kicking her feet in the air.

It was pretty annoying to have all her work-in-progress projects reorganized and all the spare parts sorted into little makeshift shelves. It was hard to remember exactly where she had left off. She might have to learn to live in this wretched way, where everything was put where it was supposed to be.

“I call this a tin man,” Emi said. She placed the metallic humanoid toy on the desk and wound it up a few times. When she let go, the thing clanged forwards in a straight line, moving all by itself. Its feet didn’t move, exactly–more like they made several tiny hops per second. Then it fell on its side and quickly lost all power. “I haven’t figured it all out yet, but what I want to do is have the feet move by themselves. I’m not sure if I can do that in a machine this small, though…”

Pip didn’t seem all that interested in the machines, but she was having a sporting time just seeing Emi have fun. “You sure caught onto this stuff real quick,” she said.

“What stuff?” Emi asked.

“The gear spring tinkering whatever, y’know,” Pip said. Her black-iris eyes blinked a few times, as if they were bewildered at Emi not understanding. “You started just a couple months ago, and you’re already building little toys and stuff. Probably takes a long time for most people to figure that kinda stuff out.”

“Oh, ha, no, it’s not very impressive. I got it all from this blueprint for a jack-in-the-box toy. Everything is based on what some other guy made.”

“Don’t sell yourself so cheap! You’re great.” Pip stopped kicking her legs, and then sat up in the bed, legs crossed. “Like, what in Phyra’s name’s that thing?” She pointed to the largest item on Emi’s desk, a boxy device with black and white dots scattered on its surface. “It looks like a really complicated book.”

“Oh, that doesn’t work at all,” Emi said. “It’s… Well, I’m trying to do something cool with it.”

“For your girl?”

Emi gulped. “My, uh, girl…?”

Pip giggled. “Everyone knows,” she said. “Don’t gotta worry about it. So, that a present for her or what?”

“Yeah, it’s going to be for her, if I can get it to work,” Emi said. “But don’t tell her, okay?”

“When am I ever going to talk to her?”

“Fair enough.”

Emi got up from her desk and put away the devices she had brought out. She guessed it really had been a pretty short time since she started studying mechanics in her spare time. It didn’t feel like she was doing anything special, though.

Maybe Pip was just hitting on her. 

Emi brushed the hair out of her face for what seemed like the millionth time today. “Ugh.”

“You good?”

“Kind of… My stupid hair is always bugging me lately.”

“When’s the last time you got a trim?”

“What, are you saying it looks bad?”

“Just asking how long it’s been.” Pip winked.

“It’s… Gods, it’s been a while, has it?” Since before the first time she met Tris, that’s for sure. No wonder it was feeling overbearing on her.

“Speaking of ‘been a while,’ where is that girl of yours?” Pip asked. “Doesn’t she usually come around this time every day so you two can go out and do whatever?”

“Not EVERY day,” Emi corrected. “It’s…. not every day, is it?”

“Just about.”

“Well, she’s really busy preparing for the Winter Ceremonies. She won’t be here for a few days, probably. I think.”

“Ah, yeah, that’s what my girl said at first,” Pip said. “Real busy with work. Then a week later, she’s decided it’s not working out.” She waved her hands with exaggerated emphasis. “Oh, y’know, my ex’s a haircutter. I can probably get you a discount. Want me to go check?“

“Enough with the hair already.”

“She’d probably say no anyway, on account of the breakup and all. She sucks, just like your girl if she’s gonna be all ghostly on you.”

“Tris– I mean, my, girl– I mean, my friend isn’t like that at all,” Emi said.

“ I just assume everyone sucks. World works better that way,” Pip said. “You’re okay though.”

Okay, she was definitely hitting on her now. Time to wrap it up.

“Hey, I was thinking about… going out, soon,” Emi said. “Do you mind if…”

“Want me to cover for you while you sneak out? Okay,” she said. “But don’t forget, you owe me a Doros Prime. I want that liquor cabinet key.”

“Yeah, yeah.”

“What do you see in her, anyway?” Pip asked. “What’s that girl got that some other girl don’t? She’s not rich or some cool soldier. Just a schoolgirl, no? So what’s she got?”

Emi sighed. “Everything.”

That’s all she said, but it’s not all she thought.

Beatrice Ragnell, the girl of her dreams. So tenacious, so fiery, so passionate, that Emi could feel her warmth, feel her arms wrapped around her even at this moment. Her eyes blasting out from her glasses, crystal-focused on what laid ahead, and she charged forward to meet it, no matter what faced her.

It wasn’t just that Beatrice was the most beautiful girl in the world, which was a scientific fact if there ever was one. It was that Beatrice was so strong. It was that she looked at something she wanted to accomplish, and instead of waiting around, agonizing over decisions or second-guessing herself, she just did it. She was someone who, just by looking at her, you knew she was going to change the world in a few years. She was going to be important.

And Emi wanted to be there for her when she did. No matter what it was, Emi wanted to be there, watching her, supporting her, cuddling with her. It’s not like she had any plans in her life, except maybe raise a family one day. Whatever Beatrice wanted to do, she was going to do it, throwing her small body into the fires and trials, destined to come back through the other side unscathed.

What a woman.

Emi waved to Pip and exited her bedroom. She left her house and ventured out to the edge of the Balarand River, where she watched the sun set and the tiny farm houses past the city fade into the night.

Her life really had changed a lot in these past few months. She met the girl of her dreams–no, the girl of her life. She finished her schooling, started helping around the house, got a new hobby. Her fiancee set the date for their wedding.

All of that came swirling together so quickly that it completely changed the course of Emi’s life. But she still felt like the same despondent brat that everyone hated, except for Beatrice for some reason. Why wasn’t she becoming a better person?

Why wasn’t she able to tell Beatrice the truth about her impending marriage? Why was she still sneaking out of the house? Why was she always so hard on herself?

Tough questions, no answers.

Emi wanted to change. She wanted to become a better person, become someone more like Beatrice. If her girlfriend had the power to help keep the harmony of the Gods and whatnot, then Emi had to have that same power within her. It was hidden way deep down, maybe, but she knew it was there.

As Emi passed the library without entering, she decided she would change to the best of her ability. And that change was going to start with this stupid hair always in her darn face.

<== PreviousNext ==>

Chapter 18: Making the Most of It

Emi’s bedroom was a mess. 

Yes, even more than usual. 

Nearly her entire wardrobe from the past two weeks laid on the floor. Useless, stupid gears were littered around like marbles thrown by a mysterious child. One of her many stacks of books against the wall had toppled over, and she had made not a bit of effort to stack it up.

Instead, she studied quietly at her desk, of course also covered in gears and books. Today, she was learning the military history of Ulric Fathie and the Gang of Eight Campaigns.

She didn’t even bother locking her room today, so Ms. Khami and any number of housekeepers could walk in and out doing whatever they needed. Emi’s parents were at Castle Balarand for a meeting with occupation government officials, so it was just her and the housekeepers, as usual.

Emi was increasingly interested in figuring out whether the Teal One would defect to Elince and fight the Fathie Empire, but she felt distracted. Perhaps, her room was at the point of mess where she could no longer concentrate. Or, maybe, it was something a little easier to explain.

She looked back at the intricate mess she had designed, the art piece made up of mounds of clothes dirty and clean, of springs and cogs, of screw plates and one calliper. Lots of cold metal, easy to stub a toe on, the ultimate source of pain. Well, the second-ultimate source, anyway.

Somehow, she felt like she had ended up creating something that symbolized her own life in all of this. All these gears and clothes strewn about, and all those images of that blue-eyed wonder Beatrice shattering her heart every time she closed her eyes.

Emi couldn’t bring herself to see the girl again.

Just as Emi had decided to purchase an entire set of gear box tools to tinker with, and quickly gave up in a dramatic fit, so too had Emi fallen into a great conundrum with a beautiful girl, and was now leaving her behind as if she never existed. It was eating her up inside, but with the letter she received, she knew there was no better option than to give up now.

And yet…

For some reason, ignoring the story of Ulric Fathie in front of her, Emi’s mind, or rather the cogs and gears inside of it, began to formulate a new elaborate scheme to get her out of the house without anyone noticing. For some reason, those plans had her sitting at the library, waiting for Beatrice with open arms.

And for some reason, she was enacting those plans. 

If the housekeepers had already finished cleaning–and they seemed to have, she noted as she peeked out the bedroom door– she could probably exit through one of the backroom spiral staircases that led to the barn nobody ever used. It had become a storage room ever since the L’Hime Family’s last horse died, but housekeepers often used it in break times, so it was risky. 

This was starting to get exciting, Emi thought as she dressed up in winter clothing and prepared to brave the cold. She hadn’t snuck out in so long that it was starting to get a little boring, just asking permission and leaving through the front door. She took one look back at the useless, unused gears laying all over her bedroom, and wondered if maybe she was overthinking the symbolism for dramatic effect (she was).

But as soon as she closed her door and locked it– she saw Ms. Khami staring up from the foyer. “Miss L’Hime, where do you think you are going?”

So close.


With four other housekeepers helping, Emi was given a mop and bucket of water right in the foyer.  

“You want me to clean ALL of this?” Emi asked Ms. Khami. This house was so wide, so spacious so uselessly big.

“Of course! We will be helping,” Ms. Khami told her. “But you have to learn what a proper lady goes through, and life is not about sneaking out and having fun. It is about being your best self and sometimes that best self has to mop a large room.”

“But it… looks clean…”

“Nothing is ever as clean as it can be,” Ms. Khami said.

“You know, I employ all of you, and this isn’t fair, and–” Emi stopped herself before she said something remarkably stupid. “I understand.”

She’d basically holed herself up in her room for the past two weeks aside from obligatory social events, and she had been making her fair share of messes around the house. It certainly wasn’t becoming of her to yell at housekeepers who had done nothing wrong and always provided valuable help through everything.

It was her fault for not letting Beatrice know what was going on in her life sooner, about the engagement that had hung around her neck for the past five years. It was just that she felt so scared about everything and she didn’t know what to say, and… that was no excuse. No excuse for how she was acting right now, either.

So Emi was going to help out Ms. Khami, because she deserved to be a real part of this household now and again. Ms. Khami was actually smiling for once, and it made Emi smile back, in turn. She was actually going to help.

Now… how did one use a mop…

The maid next to her, a girl her age who must have been a recent hire, noticed Emi’s apprehensive attitude. “Are you having trouble?” she asked.

The girl had jet black hair with eyes to match, and sported a goofy grin. Her hairstyle was nearly identical to Emi’s, but long, going well past the shoulders.

“Yeah, I have no idea how to mop, um… Miss Maid.”

“I’m Pip,” she said. “I really like your house, Miss L’Hime. Let’s get it clean!”

“What do I do, just…” Emi sloshed the mop around in some water and slinged droplets all over the floor.

Pip shook her head, and then wiped a speckle of water off her cheek. “You princesses don’t do much work around the house, do you?”

She wanted to say she was only a diplomat’s daughter, but she decided to refrain from overexplaining things that made her out to be even more of a brat than she really was. “No, I don’t… Can you, uh, help me?”

“You sure? You ready for this?”

“Yeah, what’s so hard about mopping a floor?”

The next two hours were some of the most grueling of Emi’s entire life.

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