Posted Nov.26.17 at 03:00 pm

Winter enveloped Aetheri in a heavy grey fog that smudged the land at its edges. The Palace up on its hill seemed like it was surrounded by nothing but void past its outer walls, but it glowed quietly under the snowfall.

As the days blurred into each other, the Cynn found himself spending them all in his office, drafting first one thing, and then discarding it, and pacing around his desk while Sraddi watched before sitting down again to write more. The changing light coming in from the window behind his desk kept the time, and at the very least he changed his clothes--although it was just a formality for marking the days, because he worked from dawn until he fell asleep at his desk at night and Helly arrived in a huff to find him with his head on his arms on top of a sheaf of papers.

Elsewhere the days passed more regularly. At dawn each morning, Yoshi had to coalesce back down from a mass of blackness shot through with orange threads, building herself piece by piece into a human form hunched over the bathroom sink. In the evenings Vlad called around, pacing his living room, looking for a clinic and getting decidedly nowhere. During the days Liya continued learning with Helly, who continued with nir anatomy lessons on the structure of an unguligrade leg and so on.

When she wasn't with Helly, though, Liya had begun writing. She would sit with a quilt over her shoulders on her bed, next to her window, where she could see the snow coming down endlessly outside; she balanced the book Yoshi had given her on her knees, and started to write in careful, uneven script, crossing out her spelling mistakes as she went.

She wrote about missing fishing with bait shrimp--how Emry had taught her to slide the fishook under the shell of the shrimp, so that it could walk along the bottom of the lagoon.

She wrote about missing sugarcane--about using her teeth to wrench the tough stalks open to get at the sweet juice inside, Hawk carefully carving bits of the white sugarcane flesh from a stalk behind her.

She wrote about missing sunlight--about lying completely still on her back in the thick grass in the shade where only spots of hot light came down through the leaves.

She wrote about missing manatees--sitting on the bottom of the shallow lagoon, holding her breath, as the large gentle moss-covered creatures came to investigate her.

She stopped, just as she was about to put something else down, something about standing on the beach all sunburnt and with her hair dripping, holding a conch shell to her ear.

In the present she put the book down and sat quietly with her head in her arms, until someone knocked.