Wow! I didn’t expect such positive reactions to the last NaNo post! It makes me feel really good, since I didn’t think anyone would care much about it at all.
That said, I guess I’ll keep doing what I’m doing and continue the story where I left off in the last post.
(If you’re just now joining me, hello! You can get caught up by reading the first part of the story here.)
“The Society is fine,” Irena lied. “But they’re sending me on a really big commission, and I wanted to sort of see you first.”
Her mother fluffed a pillow and sat on her couch. She patted the spot next to her, gesturing for Irena to come sit. “Is it a dangerous commission?”
Irena joined her on the couch. “It could be, because they’re sending me to an integrated city, but it’s nothing I can’t handle.” She gave her mother a tight grin, hoping it was at least a little convincing. “But it’ll pay really well, and the actual reason I decided to come over here was to tell you what I plan to do with the money.”
Her mother’s smiled faded a little, and her brows knitted in slight concern.
Irena continued. “I want to use the money to visit Kyra Forest, to visit my father.”
Her mother’s face softened, though the concern didn’t completely fade from her countenance. She placed her hand on Irena’s and looked as if she wanted to say something but didn’t know where to begin. Irena waited patiently. The evening light dwindled, and her mother turned on the lamp on the side table next to her. The bulb flickered to life behind it’s pink, rose-shaped lamp shade, bathing that corner of the room in its soft, warm glow.
“What brought this along?” her mother asked once she found her voice.
“He sent me a letter,” Irena replied. “I’m not sure how he figured out where I lived, though. I was thinking maybe he’d contacted you, too.”
Her mother said nothing for a while, though she looked deep in thought. Her eyes misted over, and she looked down at her lap. “I haven’t heard from him in twenty-five years.” She sniffed and wiped her face, smearing a little bit of the kohl lining her eyes. “I wonder how he found you.” She sniffed again. “What did the letter say?”
That he misses me, loves me, tried everything he could to find me…” Irena let her voice trail off and paused to gauge her mother’s reaction. It was clear to her that if her father had truly done everything in his power to contact his daughter, then he must have sent a number of letters to her mother. At some point, he must have made a trip to Wyrria — at least that’s what made sense to Irena. So what had stopped him? Had someone or something turned him away? In the silence that followed, her mother remained quiet.
Irena continued. “He didn’t really abandon us, did he?”
Her mother closed her eyes and shook her head. “No, Irena. He loved you so much. He never would have left us.” She looked her daughter in the eye and sighed deeply. “No, he didn’t abandon us, dear heart. That was my story when I returned home.”
“Your story?” Irena frowned.
“I needed something plausible.” Her mother shrugged helplessly. “I was twenty, a child. And I had the nerve to run off with a fairy, and then we had you. It just went against the values my parents had taught me all my life — values their parents taught to them and values I tried to teach to you all on my own.”
Irena’s heart sank to her stomach.
“I’m a Wyrrian elf first and everything else second, Irena. I didn’t have a choice.”
“You didn’t have a choice?” Irena stood up. Even though she’d suspected such was the case, she knew she’d need time to process this, and she couldn’t it here. “Since your Wyrrian values are so important to you, aren’t you going to stop me from seeing him?”
Her mother looked up at her and shook her head. “No. You’re very nearly an adult now, and I don’t want to step in the way of you making your own decisions. But be wary, Irena. There are consequences for Wyrrians who stray. I was lucky to have been accepted when I returned home, and you know I’ll always love and accept you. But others… won’t be so kind.”
One corner of Irena’s mouth rose in a joyless smirk. “And that’s why you left and took me away from my father?”
“It’s a little more complicated than that.” Her mother’s kohl-streaked face in the pinkish red lamp light was a pitiful sight. It didn’t feel right to leave her mother like this, not after a six-hour ride, and not after her first visit home in months. But she needed to at least take a walk to clear her head a little. Not far from the cottage lay a path that circled a pond and a small field of lavender. It was one she’d often strolled on as a child.
“Mother, I’m going to walk the path a little. When I come back, why don’t we have some tea?”
Irena’s carriage arrived at the campus temple a little after five in the morning. Hanna was waiting for her, sitting on the steps and reading a book by candlelight. When Irena stepped off the carriage, they locked eyes. As Irena had suggested, Hanna had left her gray robe at home and instead wore a drab, brown dress that looked more like a sack than clothes, but it looked comfortable and practical for travel.
“This is your first commission, isn’t it, Hanna?” Irena said as the coachman unloaded her luggage.
The girl nodded mutely. Even in the dark, Irena could tell Hanna was nervous.
“Have you ever been on a train?”
Hanna shook her head. When she spoke, her voice came out hoarse. “My family would never be able to afford those.”
The first trains, powered solely by steam, had always been a luxury. Since Air Elementalists began harnessing lightning to help power the engines some then years ago, steam-powered trains remained an extravagance reserved for the well off, but the electro-steam hybrids were reserved for the very rich… which, luckily for them, included the White Reaper Society.
Irena grinned. “Well, you’re in for a treat.”
Irena was amazed that the Society had booked for them a double-decker hybrid. Seats were so hard to come by since only really half of them were ever available. The only beings wealthy enough to afford the top seats were vampires — not the relatively newly turned, but the ones who’d been dead long enough to amass hundreds of years of wealth. As they waited in line to board the train with their tickets, it was all Irena could do to keep her composure. This wouldn’t be her first train ride, but it would be her first time on a double-decker. Beside her, Hanna openly gawked at her surroundings. All campuses of the White Reaper Society were tucked away from the bigger Wyrrian towns, so it was likely that she’d only ever seen elves, or an occasional fairy. Here, the passengers leaving the train included dwarves, humans, vampires, weredragons, werecats, and werewolves, most of whom were boarding an open-roofed tour bus that would take them around the nicest spots in town.
Hanna tapped Irena on the shoulder. “Is… is this safe?”
“What do you mean is this safe?”
“I mean,” Hanna looked around conspiratorially and lowered her voice in case someone might hear her, “I mean will we be safe?”
Irena laughed. “I don’t see why we wouldn’t be. Although, I’ll be the first to admit, I’ve never been to an integrated city before, so I’m excited. It’ll be an adventure.”
She hoped she sounded convincing. Her greatest fear was getting lost in a district in which no one spoke passable Elvish, in a place where all the signs were written in Vampyric or Felidaen. But, again, Elvish was the official language in all of Rowanston, so what was the likelihood of that happening?
[[To be continued!]]
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