Posted Nov.12.17 at 03:00 pm

It was snowing hard enough now that they were knocking their shoes on the rug to dislodge it as they entered--except Yoshi, who merely warmed herself up until an orange glow shone translucently through her cheeks and the snow all evaporated from her in a soft hiss of steam.

"Okay, you two," Vlad said lightly, plucking at his coat collar to get the crust of snow off. "Try not to get in trouble on your way to the bus stop. Now you hang in there, okay?" he added to Yoshi, who nodded shyly. Liya leaned to one side, looking around Vlad.

"Is that it, in there?" she asked. "That's how you get to Enodia? You just walk through there?"

'There' was a circular archway cut into the far wall, one of a few. A sheer white light filled it, obscuring anything beyond the threshold. It made everything else around it look darker: the low ceiling studded in glowing stars and painted with an image of a planet and two moons; the huge frosted panes of glass set between marble pillars that separated one gateway from the next; the copper desk and podium on either side of the gate, the latter of which currently occupied by a uniformed spirit who was leaning back against the glass, reading a book.

"Oh yeah," Vlad said casually. "It doesn't look that magical, but past those gates is the Archipelago."

As he spoke, Liya twisted the strap of her bag in her hands. For a mad instant she thought, if she just walked forward, if she just crossed that threshold, then there would be orange trees and saw palmettos on the other side, and she would be home, and everything would be as it was. As Vlad bade them both goodbye, Liya did not move. If she just walked forward...

"Liya?" Yoshi said, and Liya snapped back to reality, to the yellow room and the snow in her hair which was now melting onto her scarf.