EPISODE 7: RESCUES – INTRODUCTIONS

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Sevardin Harker. Venday. Libra 20th, 2344 AA. 5:43 PM. Arroyo (Glade Crest – Sev’s home).

Sevardin told himself that he was working on his bike to exercise his opus and restore his power, but his wyrd felt fine. It was his mind—and maybe his heart—that were the problem. In an hour, he would be going on his first date in a long time. Too long, whatever it’s been. Juel was meeting his internet girlfriend, Elamni Waters, for the first time, and Sev would be meeting her friend for a night out at the carnival.

Juel met Elamni over some arcanet game about a year before graduating from the Athenaeum. Since joining the force, Juel learned that she lived in Arroyo, and the two of them started talking over instant messenger daemons. Juel had told Sev almost everything about her, but all he could remember was that she was a member of the Hahamong’na Tribe of the First Peoples and she was also one of the Rangers who served as the local reservation’s asfalis law enforcement.

Elamni’s friend, Sala, had begged to come along, and Juel begged Sev to play wingman in turn. He tried to say no. Experience taught him double dates generally ended up fine for one pairing, and painfully awkward for the other unless both couples were well-established.

But I can’t pretend I’m doing this entirely out of the goodness of my heart.

“This is Sala.” Juel had said, handing him a picture of several women at the beach. He tapped his finger on the tallest woman in the line-up.

The first feature Sev noticed was her vivacious smile. Her head was back, laughing, flashing brilliant white teeth. She had thick black hair that hung low behind her broad shoulders, and had deep brown skin like dark stained hardwood, polished to a shine. Her waist was fit and bare, and her bikini top seemed scandalously small. Ripped jean shorts teased shapely hips and thighs.

“So. Are you in?” Juel asked, after Sev had stared at the picture for a full three seconds.

Don’t do it. It’s a trap. Too good to be true. She probably hates amagia. Or Black guys. Or men. But Sev was in. He nodded twice, slow, and mildly stupefied. Juel patted his shoulder and told him he could keep the picture, which had since branded itself onto his brain.

Sev finished reattaching the wires to the new alternator, and started to retighten the bolts that held it in place. Unlike most modern vehicles, his bike was completely mechanical, operating off an internal combustion engine. It was a Nobunaga EX9. Burnt orange paneling accented by black carbon fiber, and polished chrome. It was a beast of a bike; just nimble enough to thread through traffic, but better suited for long weekend rides. It had a finnicky V4 combustion engine, which absolutely delighted Sev.

These days, most people found non-magical engines to be dated, and somewhat wasteful, but they had their unique charms, even if you didn’t get a charge out of tinkering with machines. For better or worse, the bike wouldn’t accrue the same sort of anomalous magical behaviors—quirks—that most artifice eventually developed as a by-product of steady magic use. It also got better mileage than a gyve-run cycle. The trade-off was, the bike’s parts wore out quicker. But given Sev’s opus that seemed like a natural bargain.

Sev reconnected the breathing tubes to the alternator, and reinstalled the body panels. Wiping off his hands, he stoked the bike to life with his key to double check his work. It roared awake, and settled into a gentle purr. If that sound isn’t beautiful to you—if you don’t hear the inherent appeal there… you have my sincerest pity. Satisfied, he turned the bike off again and put away his tools.

Now what? Nothing left to distract myself with.

His mind was torn between the impending date, and the incident the press had dubbed The Devil’s Gate Murders. The man with the silent wyrd, the reverse engineered binding ink, and people held like lab rats… there was too much intrigue there for Sev to ignore it entirely, even though he had no hope of becoming involved with the investigation in any formal capacity.

Frustration swelled with the memory of the two detectives who had brushed him aside. But he shook it off and stripped off his grease and sweat stained shirt as he headed to the shower.

“Time to get gussied.”

6:17 PM. Hahamong’na Erician First Peoples’ Reservation —

He settled on a white Henley shirt, a new pair of dark washed jeans, and his favorite pair of leather boots. It would be hot as hell for late Libra, but he wanted to have his licenses covered. The sight of silver vambraces made people more nervous than a holstered gun, but unless they were working undercover, amagia were legally required to wear their discipline’s licenses in public, or go without. Fashionable, or even low-key, asfalis license frames were off the table. Sev briefly considered going bare-wristed, but decided against it. I don’t want to make anyone uncomfortable. But I worked too hard for these damn things to completely hide who I’ve become.

Sev arrived at the Hahamong’na Reservation Carnival at six twenty with the sun slowly releasing its sweltering grasp on the day. One of the briar’s massive vines protruded from the earth near the dusty parking lot, and the low sun cast red shadows filtered through its crystalized roses. The sight of it gave Sev an idea.

There was a street florist standing near the entrance of the carnival. Sev crossed the lot and purchased a single red rose at a stiff mark-up, and held it in both hands as he waited for the others. He wasn’t sure if Sala—his blind date—would find it corny, but he knew he was a romantic, and always felt it best to wear that on his sleeve when it came to courtship.

Hopefully, it doesn’t read as desperate. Because he wasn’t desperate. He preferred being in a relationship as opposed to being alone, but he was comfortable enough with himself as a person to go it alone. A Keeper had to be prepared for that possibility. It was a hard, alienating job, and most Keepers who found lasting love found it in the Athenaeum prior to graduation.

Sev had a couple casual flings himself, and an off-again-on-again girlfriend who had ended up as “just a friend.”

Just a friend who is already sleeping with somebody else. Not even sure Tezine bothered to break it off with me first. While he tried not to dwell on it, the thought ate as his gut and knotted his brain more nights than not. I think she respected me more than that. But it doesn’t really matter now. Wasn’t going to work out anyway.

They shared similar taste in humor and entertainment. Conversations were good. Sex was good. She was much smarter than him, which he would have been comfortable with, despite the occasional condescending lecture, were it not for her dismissal of his discipline. She always felt that peacekeeping was beneath him. That he was squandering his potential somehow. And that opinion sharpened when she learned Sev wasn’t angling for a career in Amagium politics.

Reflecting on his prior romances made Sev re-realize he had no idea how to talk to asfalis women. Yeah, we’re all just people, but there’s no pretending that distinction isn’t there.

“Did you seriously buy a flower?” Juel asked, breaking Sev’s reverie.

Sev grinned and held the rose up proudly.

“Hey, I’m bringing my A-game here—” A stifling scent of clove and sage hit Sev’s nostrils. “Christ, how much cologne are you wearing?”

The comment wiped the smile from Juel’s face.

“A bit. I mean, what’s the point if she can’t smell it, right?”

“She won’t be able to smell any goddamn thing else,” Sev said.

Juel opened his mouth to retort, but seemed to gag on his own scent. He clenched his jaw, swallowed. He looked nice, at least; he had on a dark blue button-up shirt that disguised his licenses reasonably well.

“Is it really that bad?”

“Cologne is like, a finishing touch, man. A cursive signature. The bow on the present. It’s about subtlety. Sophistication.” Sev held up his rose again. “You smell about as subtle as flickering neon in a dive bar.”

Sev waved at the air in front of his face with his hands and several bursts of sorcery. Juel swore and started casting a contract with a gygax animus. Sev could tell from the energy ripples that the spell was intended to reduce the scent of the cologne. Juel cast it without a hitch, and the spell relaxed the smell from suffocating to merely overbearing.

“How’s that?” Juel asked.

Sev gave him slow, wincing smile, but before he could find his words, he noticed their dates approaching from across the lot, about forty yards away.

“Six o’clock. Look sharp.”

Juel’s eyes lit with panic.

“Am I good?” He asked.

“No, you really aren’t.”

“Then what the hell am I gonna do, man?!”

Sev was briefly tempted to let him twist, but he also knew how important this date was to Juel.

“Cast another spell, but this time try to cover the smell with an olfactory illusion. Use a wind anima if you have one. And take this as a reagent.”

Sev handed him his rose. One way to enhance or stabilize a contract was to suck the magical essence out of an object. Juel’s eyes lit with gratitude and his wyrd swelled to life. He used a wind animus, which wouldn’t be as effective as something dedicated to scents specifically, but better than a neutral Gygax animus. Provided he can cast the spell quick enough.

Elamni and Sala were walking side by side. Sev waved at them, and Elamni returned the gesture, face glowing. She wore a wavy blue skirt in a gradient from blue to white that vaguely resembled tumbling surf, and a matching top with gossamer drape sleeves that permitted stylish, hoop-styled magic licenses. She also had almost comically large circular-lens glasses. Sev had seen pictures of her before, and she always struck him as quirky-cute. Girl-next-door-ish. Not my type, but definitely Juel’s.

Sala was wearing tight jeans with a quarter waist cape, laced up boots, and a cap-sleeved, black denim jacket over a sleeveless heather v-neck. She also looked like she had forgotten how to smile, but she was determined to brute force it. Her mouth was stretched to obvious strain and her eyes were wide with what might have been genuine terror.

Great sign. This is gonna go swell.

Juel formed a contract with the wind animus by speaking a longer-than-usual chain of arcane syllables. He hid the rose behind his back, which sublimated in brilliant purple sparks as the spell kicked in. The oppressive aroma abated and mingled with the scent of the rose, resulting in a remarkably nuanced and muted scent.

“Hello boys,” Elamni said.

“Evening ladies,” Sev said.

Juel opened his mouth to say something, but lost himself in Elamni’s outfit. Astonishment gave way to a glassy, silent stare before Sevardin nudged him with an elbow.

“Hah, it’s uh, it’s so good to finally see you, Elamni. You look… wow.” Juel managed. With a sudden surge of courage, he gently took her hand and bowed to kiss it. Jesus, and I was worried my rose would be overkill. If you’re gonna come on like that, why even bother fixing the cologne?

But Elamni was into it, apparently. She made a sort of swooning noise and then ended up giggling. Sevardin snickered and looked at his date.

“You know, it’s a good thing those two already met, otherwise this might have gotten all weird and awkward.”

“I know, right?” Sala said, chuckling, though she was also plainly uncomfortable.

“I’m Sev,” he said, placing a hand on his heart.

“Sala,” she said, still forcing her smile.

Oh boy. It’s gonna be a long night.

—|—

Apart from the First Peoples’ bazaar, where the Reservation’s craftsmen hawked everything from produce to jewelry and woodwork, there wasn’t anything particularly notable about the Hahamong’na Harvest Fair. It had a petting zoo and a menagerie of benign chimeras, food stalls, midway games, rides, and those odd, mechanized obstacle course/haunted houses. The sort of simple attractions that seemed to live forever. The walkways were lit by enchanted floating lanterns, tethered by strands of traditional lighting. It created a glowing canopy that swayed gently with the early Santa Ana winds. It was a common setup for small fairs, almost a cliché, but to Sevardin, it was pure magic.

He’d been to similar places back in Scandinavia, but the Athenaeum made only meager allowances for such folly. Even though it held fieldtrips frequently, the destination would usually close itself to general audiences, and all the asfalis staff would be on pins and needles. Doing something normal, and silly, felt strange. But it was also fun. An echo of childhood.

“So, Juel. How’d you meet Lami?” Sala asked, as they waited in line for tickets.

“Sala, don’t start,” Elamni warned.

“I am literally just asking him a question,” Sala protested.

“Do you play Battlescape? Or like, know about it at least?”

Sala nodded.

“My younger brother loves it.”

Juel flushed and continued with a hand on the back of his neck.

“Well, uh, we were in the same guild, and we found out that we were both cops. So… we started talking, and then we discovered that we were both in the same area…”

“And chatting turned into texting turned into sexting,” Elamni said brightly. “Satisfied?”

Sala threw up her hands and backed off, eager to drop the subject. Sev laughed and shot Juel a glance. I’ve never seen his face glow like that before.

“Juel and I bonded at the Athenaeum,” Sev cut in. “How did you two meet?”

“I think we shared a crib together at one point,” Elamni laughed. “Our moms are like sisters, our dads are like brothers… After all the weddings between our extended families, we might actually be legally related somehow now. Res life feels super incestuous sometimes.”

After a brief scuffle over who would buy tickets, Juel covered Sevardin, and Elamni covered Sala. They strolled inside the fenced off sea of tents and attractions. The air was thick, but so alive compared to the Athenaeum and the precinct. A heady mélange of sugar, salt, dry grass, grease, gasoline, and manure.

“Where should we get started?” Juel asked.

“The Ferris Wheel,” Elamni said, decisively. “It will give us a view of the whole place so we know how to get around right from the start.”

Sev smiled. I always figured you end it at the Ferris Wheel. Maybe share a tender moment. But that does make sense. Sala turned to Elamni, emanating exasperation:

“Lami.”

Elamni looked at her, uncomprehending, then rolled her eyes.

“Oh my god. Sala. It’s not even that high. You are nearly as tall as that thing.”

“Maybe from your perspective,” Sala muttered.

Ooh. Low blow. Elamni was on the short side, especially for a Ranger.

Lightning seemed to leap between the girls’ gaze. Sev gave Juel a panicked glance and did his best to wear his questions on his expression. Is this normal? Do they normally fight like this? Juel seemed to understand and expressed mutual, nervous confusion. Sev grimaced. This is your show, man. Do something! Again, Juel seemed to understand, gently edging his hands in a ‘time out’ position between Elamni and Sala.

“How about Elamni and I go get the lay of the land up there and you two get to know each other down here?”

Elamni nodded. Sev gave two thumbs up and looked to Sala for her endorsement. She answered with a nod and a tenuous, tepid smile. She’s trying hard not to be rude, but she’s nervous. No. Scared.

Elamni and Juel got into line for the Ferris Wheel.

“I’m sorry. We really know how to get on each other’s nerves.”

“No worries,” Sev assured her. “Juel and I fight like we’re married.”

Sala looked like she knew she was supposed to laugh, but couldn’t bring herself to do it. Sev died a little inside. She took a seat at a nearby bench, and Sev trailed behind, leaning on the tree instead of taking a seat next to her. Think I’ll let her make the first move. If I say the wrong thing, fuck up a gesture, or emanate too strong, I get the impression she’s going to freak out.

Sala lasted ten seconds against the awkward tension before she spoke up:

“I’m sorry, I…”

“You don’t like amagia,” Sev said, along with an emanation that suggested she didn’t need to worry about it.

“I’m sorry!” Sala repeated, pleadingly. “I was nervous about Elamni meeting this guy she only knew online. She’s nuts about him but she hasn’t even met him yet. That’s a dangerous situation, you know?

“No, I get it,” Sev said. “You’re a good friend to look out for her.”

He hid his disappointment behind what was hopefully a warm smile. I saw it coming. And yet… Sala was beautiful, and witty, from what little she had said so far. She’s also trying to spare my feelings, even though I terrify her. After a moment, she continued:

“Elamni figures she can handle herself no matter what because she’s a cop, but I knew a girl on the Res who went to meet with this guy she was texting and she never came home. So, when she told me she was going to meet her internet boyfriend—”

“You make sure she has back up,” Sev said. “I completely understand.”

“Yeah, I… I’m sure you’re great. You’re very handsome and you’re a gentleman—”

“But you don’t like amagia,” Sev finished, still smiling.

“I… yeah. I didn’t really want to go on this date. I almost hoped he was gonna be some kind of psycho so I didn’t have to go through with it!”

“Ouch!” Sevardin said, laughing, though it actually did hurt.

“I’m sorry!” Sala said burying her face in her hands.

“No worries. But you know, since we’re both here already… I would like the chance to meet you. And to introduce myself.”

She answered with a look that might have been an apologetic smile, or a fear grimace, unsure how to tactfully decline. Sev pursed his lips and hooked his thumbs in the pockets of his jeans.

“What if we dropped the ‘date’ part?” He asked.

Sala tilted her head to the side, and nervously gestured that she didn’t understand. Sev grinned.

“We don’t have to fall in love. I don’t need a kiss goodnight. We don’t even need to share any food. Those things all sound nice, but what I would really like is the opportunity to give you one less reason to be afraid of amagia. Just get to know me: Sevardin Harker.”

The woman opened her mouth and then gave a defeated, but acquiescent emanation.

Sev gave her an apologetic smile and backed away.

“I also don’t want to trap you. I can say I ate something bad for lunch and head out. And you can continue to chaperone them, or I can call you a cab, if you prefer. But I’m hoping I can show you I’m just a person.”

“No, I know you are! It’s just this… dumb thing that I have.”

“I don’t think it’s dumb,” Sev said. People called themselves dumb to excuse bad habits with self-deprecation. And I’m not giving up that easily. “Amagia have a scary legacy. Keepers especially, are trained to be scary. But there’s more to me than the licenses on my wrists.”

Sala seemed to relax slightly. But she is still strung really tight.

“Okay,” she said.

“So. Sala. What kind of music do you like?”

“Uh, hip-hop, I guess?”

“Okay. So, like, Vapr? Kwak? All them?”

Sala nodded and offered:

“I like Banksy best.”

“Oh! Old school. Alright. That’s cool. I admit, I only know most of those guys by reputation and what I hear on the radio. I’m a classic rock guy. Warhol. Rockwell. Well, I guess Warhol is alternative, but I can never tell the difference anyway.”

“Yeah, I usually just listen to whatever’s on the radio,” Sala said.

Well. I guess that’s some progress, but I think pulling teeth would come easier. Mercifully, the Ferris wheel finished its second rotation and the attendant ushered Elamni and Juel off the ride.

They came off laughing, as if they had been together for a hundred years. Good for you, man. Juel had been unlucky in love throughout the Athenaeum. The only thing he wanted more than becoming a Keeper was a girlfriend. Or maybe it’s the other way around. He didn’t fawn over women indiscriminately. He just had high standards and none of his serial crushes reciprocated.

“What’s next?” Juel asked Elamni.

“Cotton candy!” Elamni declared.

“Cotton candy!” Juel echoed, and the two of them took off for the snack stands.

“I can’t believe they’re both cops,” Sala said, shaking her head.

“Like a couple of kids,” Sev agreed.

“Seriously,” Sala muttered, and then shouted: “You’re gonna get fat, Lami!”

Elamni didn’t even hear her, already lost in a fresh conversation with Juel. Sev and Sala fell into step a few paces behind them.

“So, what do you do?” Sevardin asked.

“Oh. I live with my mom. Mostly look after my brothers and sisters, but I’m studying to become a pharmacy technician.”

“Interested in medicine?”

“A bit, I guess. I have a cousin who works at a drug store who says she can get me a job if I get my certification. Good money, pretty safe, and I hear you don’t have to like, work too hard?” She chuckled, less nervous than before. “I probably shouldn’t be saying that. My cousin would kill me. But it’s definitely easier than working for my mom.”

“What does she do?” Sev asked.

“She’s a maid. Has her own business. But no matter how well I clean, or do shit, she always tells me to do it different or do it better. And like, I know she can’t go easy on me because I’m her daughter, but she takes it too far, you know?”

“That’s rough,” Sev said.

The group reached the food vendors, but Sala gestured that she wasn’t interested in sweets and nodded at the popcorn stand. Elamni shrugged and emanated something to the effect of ‘suit yourself.’ Sevardin followed Sala, silent and dutiful as she stepped into line.

“What made you want to become a Keeper?” Sala asked, surprising him.

That’s abrupt. But it’s also an opportunity to talk about something real. He opened his mouth to reply and ended up chuckling. How do I sum this up? Sala gave him a haughty look, apparently happy to have him on his backfoot for a minute.

“I always wanted to be one of the good guys, I guess.”

“The good guys?” Sala asked.

Can’t tell if she’s amused or disgusted. Maybe both. Oh well. Stay the course.

“Yeah. This is embarrassing, but… my father read to me. Every night, until I was old enough to read myself. Always the same sort of stories. The ones where bad guys or monsters do something bad and the good guys come to save the day or make them pay.”

“You based your whole life on bedtime stories?” Sala asked.

“Well, it sounds stupid when you say it like that,” Sev conceded.

“It is stupid!” Her tone was light and jokey but also earnest.

Sev chuckled.

“I know the bad guys are usually decent people in bad situations, and sometimes we don’t understand the things we call monsters. There is no escaping the Amagium’s track record, either. But I like to think I’m in this job for the right reason. I want to save people.”

“Did you lose somebody?” Sala asked.

“No,” Sev said. “But people ask me that a lot. The reason I want to save people is because somebody saved me.”

Sala raised an eyebrow. Sevardin pointed across the midway at Juel, who was rapt talking to Elamni as they waited in line. Sala emanated skepticism and asked Sev to explain. He chuckled:

“How far back do you want me to go?”

“Far enough to tell the story?”

He laughed again, considering the request for a few seconds before speaking.

“Well, I had a happy childhood in Scandinavia. Business brought my dad to Los Angeles just after I turned twelve. I lost all my friends, I hated it here, and I was mad as hell. So. I did what every juvenile boy does when he gets mad: I went looking for a fight. I told my parents I wanted to take the Athenaeum’s annual assessment. I placed high, and earned a very low tuition, and told them I was going to be a Keeper. And my parents—”

“Okay,” Sala said, and gestured for a time out. “Maybe not that far back.”

“Sorry,” Sev said sheepishly. “Point is, I went into the Athenaeum wanting to be a hero. But I graduated with a very different perspective on what that means. Going in? My benchmarks were monster kills and malefactor convictions. If I had not met Juel and his family, I might still think like that. But that’s not heroic. It’s a dark, messed up way to live your life.”

They reached the front of the line, and Sala stepped forward, purchasing a soda and a large container of popcorn with cash in hand. Sev suspected she was trying to prevent him from offering to pay, so he bought a drink separately. Elamni and Juel were still in line, chatting and laughing like the rest of the world had dissolved around them. Sala held out her container of popcorn to Sev, surprising him again. He took a few kernels appreciatively.

“So how did Juel change your mind?” Sala asked.

Sev swallowed his popcorn quickly to answer.

“I promise I’ll tell you. But I’d like to ask you something first.”

Sala gestured for him to go ahead. Here goes.

“I realize there are plenty of obvious answers to this question… but why do you personally dislike amagia?”

Sala grew quiet, and took another bite of popcorn, weighing her words as she chewed.

“Amagia don’t seem like heroes on the Res. I know that jurisdiction here is difficult, and lots of legit bad guys come to hide out from law enforcement, both magic and asfalis. Keepers are supposed to be accompanied by Rangers here, but the Amagium doesn’t really recognize our laws unless they’re trying to be polite or political.”

Sev nodded. There was always friction between Keepers and asfalis law enforcement, but there were at least detailed protocols in place to govern those pissing matches. The Force was seemingly intentionally vague about collaborating with Reservation’s Rangers, however. The Amagium didn’t officially recognize First Peoples’ Reservation as a separate governmental entity from the Pacific States, meaning their independent legal strictures were also largely dismissed. Sala continued:

“When Keepers do wait for Rangers, they’re slow showing up, even if we have a monster, or curse, or evil wizard, or whatever. By then it’s usually too late. And if you do show up in time, or whenever you come in without permission… it’s violent. We get caught up in it. My cousin lost her boyfriend when we were like, sixteen.”

Sev wanted to press for details. He wanted to assess the situation. See how it could have been handled more effectively, or at least know if there were extenuating circumstances. Instead, he shut his eyes. It’s a miracle you’re talking to me at all.

“I’m sorry,” he said.

 She shrugged.

“We weren’t close or anything. But like. I knew his name, you know? I remember him being alive. He was kind of a punk, but like, he didn’t deserve a bullet. It’s not something I can just brush aside.”

“Yeah,” Sev said, at a loss for anything else.

“And like… I know it’s not just the Amagium, you know? The States’ whole Reservation system is broken. But I feel like, with all that power and money, the Amagium could do something. Maybe lean on the government to provide some kind of relief. Or maybe set up some kind of special unit that can work here freely. But when a kid on the reservation gets into the Athenaeum, they never come back. They don’t even bother looking back. And who can blame them?”

Sev shook his head.

Elamni bounced over to the two of them, luminescent swirl of purple cotton candy in hand, Juel trailing behind her with his own cloud of glowing spun-sugar. Sev shook his head, chuckling. Always hated the aftertaste of that glow enchantment. But he knew kids—and “adults” like Juel and Elamni, apparently—loved the fact that it made their mouths glow in the dark.

“Want some?”

Sala gagged.

“That spell makes your mouth taste like cat pee smells.”

Elamni frowned then turned to Sevardin, offering him some of the candy.

“She’s fun at parties, I swear,” Elamni said.

“I agree with her actually,” Sev said.

Elamni dropped her jaw in a scandalized expression, then tore an enormous tuft of candy away and stuffed it in her mouth. She turned to Juel, gesturing disbelief at Sevardin.

“Yeah, he’s weird. Hates this stuff,” Juel confirmed. “I think fun gives him a rash or something.”

Sev gave him a ‘fuck you’ smile.

“So, what are we doing next? Midway games?” Sala sounded hopeful.

“Lami all of those games are rigged. More rides!” Elamni insisted.

“We just ate. You are literally still eating!” Sala complained.

“When did you become my mom?” Elamni asked. “Actually, better question: when did you become your mom?”

Juel audibly winced. Sala’s jaw dropped, and her wyrd swelled with menace. Sev held up his hands, and emanated calm.

“So! Potential solution: we have fun at the arcade, while you two scream your glowing mouths off on as many rides as you want. Sound good?”

Sala slapped the back of her hand into her other palm, staring death at Elamni. Elamni tilted her chin up in a challenge, goading her. Juel, gently but firmly emanated calm, and gestured for the ladies to stand down.

“Err, let’s go do the rides thing, yeah?” He said to Elamni, then turned to Sev. “We’ll meet you two at the midway in about an hour?”

“See you then!” Sevardin confirmed.

Sala pointed two fingers from her eyes to Elamni’s eyes. Elamni stuck her tongue out. I seriously cannot believe that girl’s a Ranger. Once she and Juel were gone, Sev and Sala made slow tracks toward the arcade, though neither of them really knew where they were going.

“So. Your turn again,” Sala said. “How did Juel save your life?”

Sev grinned.

“Well. It started with a joke…”

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