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Animation major, professional blunderist.
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"So," Vlad said cheerfully, passing one of the mugs of steaming liquid to Shinobu. "Who's this?"

Yoshi seemed flustered already. "O-oh, um--Vlad, this is Liya."

Vlad stuck out his newly freed hand to Liya and winked. "Vlad du Russi," he told her. He smiled, and showed a surprising amount of sharp teeth in doing so. "Nice to meet you. Has Shinobu insulted your family yet?"

"Um," was all Liya managed, shaking the proffered hand.

"Yoshi," Shinobu said, "Look at this mug Vlad got me for my anniversary."

She was showing Yoshi the writing on the front of the mug; he had to bend a bit to read it properly.

"'#1 Boss,'" he said doubtfully. Shinobu wrinked her snout in a grin.

"Isn't that kitschy?" she said happily; Vlad just rolled his eyes tolerantly. "Do I get a new book, by the way?"

"Oh--yes--" Yoshi swung his bag around to his front, in order to dig through it.

"Good!" Shinobu said. "I filled up the last one with just notes on Celtic fae."

"Another hand-made special?" Vlad asked, and abandoned his spot next to Liya to look. Yoshi had retrieved a purple journal from his bag; it was stitched down its spine with thick white twine. "I can't compete with that!"

"Oh, er--"

"I'm kidding, sweetie."

Liya hovered by the door, now well and truly out of the conversation; Shinobu and Vlad were talking about the kitschy mug now, and Yoshi was listening even if he wasn't speaking. Liya shrank back a bit and glanced around the office uncomfortably.

Immediately her eyes fell on what was plainly a newspaper, which looked as though it'd been tossed carelessly on the small table just beside the door. The headline and all the writing was in looping Aetherian script, but the picture was what got her attention--it was a blurry, speckly photo from the air of an asphalt street. Two thirds of the picture was thick, noxious black smoke; in the center curled a massive white serpent with a blazing red crest, wrapped around something that was clearly crumpled and in flames. The smoke obstructed everything in the photo, except a cluster of vehicles just before the snake--a boxy black truck and a patrol car on its side--and at the back of the truck, a smudge of color that meant people, maybe.

((Please check out the news section because there is news for a change!!!))
Shinobu had apparently not noticed Liya at all until Shinobu's hug brought them face-to-face over Yoshi's shoulder. Shinobu stared at her a moment--and Liya stared back--before abruptly standing up and moving Yoshi over absently to get a better look.

"A Palace healer?" she said skeptically, and made a face that seemed to be trying to convey a raised eyebrow, without actually having eyebrows, "Aren't you a little young for that uniform?"

Liya shrank a bit, immediately defensive. "I'm fifteen," she mumbled.


"Fifteen," Liya said again, "I'm fifteen."

Shinobu's ears flicked back. "Incredible accent you've got there," she said, and stepped past Yoshi, who looked suddenly embarrassed, "What tick-infested part of Earth are you from, then?"

Liya drew herself up, shoving her hands deeper into the pockets of her jacket, and said, "I'm not from Earth. I'm from Violetta."

"In the Symphony Archipelago?" Shinobu asked, curling her lip somehow, "That Violetta? How unfortunate."

"Shinobu," Yoshi interrupted, quietly but fiercely, "This is Liya. She's my friend."

"A friend??" Shinobu asked him, sounding somewhat taken aback. It was impossible to tell if this disgusted her, or if she was merely surprised by it. "Really, Yoshi??"

"Please be nice," Yoshi told her. Liya hung back against the door, unable to help the uncomfortable flush creeping up in her face--she didn't have much time to meditate on it, though, because the door had slid open behind her and Vlad had reappeared, a mug full of liquid in each hand.

"I'm back!" he said cheerfully.
"Never mind," Yoshi murmured, suddenly seeming self-conscious. They turned down a hallway that burrowed into the bookshelves; the hallway itself was also lined with books and scrolls. "That was Vlad, Shinobu's assistant. Shinobu keeps him busy, but he'll be back. I should mention," he added, and grimaced at Liya apologetically, "she can be a'll see."

They'd reached a door with a frosted glass window set into the bookshelves. The writing on the window was in both curly Aetherian script and in Archipelagan; the same went for the handwritten sign just below it. The window read 'SHINOBU - BESTIARY STUDIES' while the sign (in more aggressive writing) read 'BY APPT ONLY.'

Yoshi slid the door open and stuck his head in. "Hannu?"

A voice answered immediately in Aetherian, sounding dismissive. Liya peered in around Yoshi and couldn't help her surprise--sitting at a copper-topped table, pecking at a large typewriter, was a large pale pink fox. She did not look up, seeming irritated at being interrupted; around the typewriter was a small untidy pile of papers and an open book, which she seemed to be working from.

"It's only half past eighteen, Shinobu," Yoshi said patiently, once the fox had finished apparently telling them to get out, "Your office hours are still in."

This made Shinobu's ears flick towards him; in a second she'd leapt her her feet, abandoning the typewriter. "Yoshi!" she exclaimed, fox jaws bent in a toothy smile. Yoshi let her sweep him up into a hug. "And here I thought you'd forgotten about me. Hello, terrible child."
The elevator doors let them out into a simply massive room that seemed to take up whole city blocks, and that had to be too big for the actual structure of the building; along the walls and in the center, stories and stories and stories of bookshelves rose to the ceiling, which was painted with blurry, distant figures that swam round an enormous round glass skylight, somehow unbroken by supports or struts, now invisible in the evening. The bookshelves were marked every so many feet up by spindly bridges and walkways, and arched doors that blazed light and clearly went inside the bookshelves themselves. The scale of it had Liya craning her neck to see.

"The first floor is for studying," Yoshi said, sounding even a little proud of the place, or at least of the expression on Liya's face, "This is the reference section."

"Whoa," Liya mumured, nonplussed.

Someone bumped into Yoshi at that moment as they tried to dart past him; he jumped.

"Turri--" said a voice, and then the figure stopped. "Oh, Yoshi! How are you, sweetie?"

The figure was a somewhat plump, short, androgynous person with an armful of books and boxes and stacks of paper. The face that peered at them over the pile of books was pleasant and bespectacled; they wore their grey hair short but with the fringe pinned back by bobby pins, and in a blue-grey sweater and navy skirt would have seemed bookish if not for the blue plugs in each earlobe and the smaller piercings in the cartilage of each ear. Yoshi immediately flushed deeply.

"Hello, Vlad!" he said, returning the smile Vlad was giving him awkwardly, "I'm well, how are--"

"Oh, good!" Vlad enthused, and had to hike the pile of books up in their arms a bit to keep from dropping them. "Wow, your hair's getting long, huh? Who's your friend?"

"She's--" Yoshi began.

"Actually, hold that thought," Vlad suggested. "Be right back."

Yoshi and Liya watched Vlad make for the elevator and kick the call button with one heeled boot.

"Do you...need any help?" Yoshi called after, but Vlad had already slipped into the elevator and gone. There was a pause before Yoshi asked rather distantly, "Is my hair too long?"

Liya blinked and shot him a look. "Too long for what?"
@Raiseki: oh, very basic. I only got to take a semester of it, but I do ok reading it a lot of times!
@Raiseki: If it sounds a little like 'foreign speaker German' I'm actually happy about that! The construct speaking it is essentially supposed to function like a better Google translate, so if it sounds a little weird and stilted I'm totally okay with that. Thank you! It ought to at least be correct, I figure!
"The other two founders are on the south side of town," Yoshi added, as they passed together through the doors.

Inside was a cavernous library; books lined shelves that stood stories high, illuminated by pools of light scattered on their edges. The floor itself was not busy, but many of the tables that ranged between the doors and the shelves were taken up by small clusters of people, talking or studying or reading. Liya heard a snatch of foreign language as she passed one of the tables, and peered over the shoulder of a snoring bear with a pierced ear. A tiny purple construct with a long beak and stilted legs was poring over a book written in Aetherian, and seemed to be translating as it read aloud to some other language entirely.

Liya blinked, looking around. "It's almost like a regular library, " she remarked. "Almost."

They'd reached a pair of elevator doors set in the one bare wall. "Is it?" Yoshi asked, sounding amused, as he pressed one of the call buttons. The doors slid open instantly.

"Yeah," Liya answered as they stepped into the elevator, and added archly, "An' I've been in a library, before you ask. It just had a lot of water damage."
Yoshi was startled by the slight tug of Liya grabbing his sleeve; she held on silently, staring about at the crowds. Yoshi looked too, seeming to finally notice how thickly the bodies pressed in around them.

"It's crowded tonight," he remarked.

"Yeah," Liya agreed, a bit anxiously, "How does anyone keep from gettin' lost here?"

"You won't get lost," Yoshi said, and nodded towards the statue of Escala. "You can see a founder almost anywhere in the city. Even if we got separated, they'd point you home. They all look towards the Palace. You'd get around without me just fine, I'm sure," he added reassuringly.

The crowds thinned somewhat when they left the main plaza at Escala's feet; a few blocks away was another plaza with another statue, this one with a jar braced on his shoulder and his eyes closed. Water gushed from the mouth of the jar endlessly; the figure himself was bald, and the nerves in his face were outlined with whiter, brighter veins of stone.

"So Escala is the one with the hammer," Liya said. She followed Yoshi across the plaza, towards a multistory building lit by more glowing white stone; a pair of whiplike dragons acted as massive columns on either side of the doors, holding up a huge lintel with glowing white Aetherian letters inscribed on its face; above the door, set in relief on the wall, was carved a pair of fish with massive snarling jaws, curled around a pair of inset crescents.

"Yes," Yoshi agreed.

"An' this one?" Liya asked, meaning the bald figure that stood in the plaza.

"Ubis," Yoshi answered. "He founded this university and a lot of the hospitals in Aetheri. 'Education and good health for all,' or something."
The 'bus' pulled into a huge, round plaza at the foot of the bridge, edged by buildings that blazed warm light from a million windows. At the very center of the plaza, a massive statue stood; even the tallest buildings came barely to its knees. It seemed to emit its own glow, a cold white light very different from the yellow pinpricks that bobbed around it.

Liya craned her neck to look at it as she got off the bus. "Whoa. It's a lot taller up close. Who is that?"

Yoshi very gently pulled her out of the way of the other passengers trying to get off the bus behind her. "That's the Cynn Escala," he said, not seeming nearly as enthralled by the sight as Liya. "He was the first ruler after the great war."

Cynn Escala was expressionless; his chin was lifted, and his one eye gazed out towards the Palace. The other eye was an empty socket. A cloak covered his shoulders, carved as if the wind was lifting it, and he wore his long hair wrapped with a cap at the end. In one hand he gripped the shaft of a long-handled spiked hammer.

"All four of the founders have statues that tall," Yoshi remarked. His words caused Liya to drop her eyes, and she suddenly realized where they were.

A fountain surrounded the feet of the great statue, and surrounding that was a market bustling with crowds that seemed even thicker and busier and more varied than any that ever filled the front hall at the Palace--a lot of the people crowding about Liya looked human, and she couldn't be sure which ones were and which ones were spirit or some other creature. She glanced around, sidling up against Yoshi, who seemed not bothered by the movement.
@Alyafenume: Hey thank you! I'm glad you're enjoying my comic :D
The purple twilight gave out to a cobalt-blue dusk that lingered over the glassy, wide river which lay between the Palace and the city of Escalus. The bus--if it could be called a bus, because it was fish-shaped, with windows like scales and no wheels at all--sped across the bridge that spanned the river, suspended in midair, its fins tracing electric-blue tracks set into the road. The air was full of clusters of bright yellow lights, bobbing this way and that, swarming in bunches on the thin cables that ran between each pillar of the bridge. The fish-bus passed unlit, slow, lumbering wagons drawn by elephant-like beasts, heading leisurely for the Palace.

"Who is Shinobu, anyway?" Liya asked presently. She sat next to Yoshi, on her knees, peering out the window at the river whipping by. The bus was full of creatures, some human-looking and others not at all, but she was looking outside. "She's not your mom, right?"

"Right," Yoshi agreed. He'd changed from his torn uniform into a dark shirt, a subtly-patterned skirt that fell to his boots, a wide leather belt, and a mint-green scarf edged in pale orange. "She is, um..."

He paused for a moment, mulling it over.

"My seradh?" he said finally, shrugging. "There is no good translation for it. Someone who brings you up, like family, though they may not be related to you."

"Serad?" Liya repeated, curiously. Yoshi actually smiled at her pronunciation.

"Seradh," he said.


Yoshi pointed at his mouth. "Touch your tongue to your teeth. Seradh."

Liya sat up. "Stherad," she tried.

"On the 'd.' Seradh."

"Seradth. Seradth. Seradth!"

That drew a chuckle from Yoshi, as the bus finally reached the bridge's down slope and sped towards the glittering city.
The look Yoshi gave her was hard to parse--a little incredulous, maybe. "Why do you think no one's ever punished for harassing me? He reads the reports. I don't understand," he added, "wasn't your brother mixed, too? Didn't he get the same?"

Liya stared at him. In the silence that followed, her head filled with unbidden images--being submerged in cold, clear blue water, catching a glimpse of the wake of a bullet boiling inches from her hand, which was locked in her brother's--the fear on Hawk's face as they both flailed at the surface of the water, groping for land while overhead someone screamed threats--a bloom of heat and light and horrible noise, washing over her as Hawk kept them both tucked in a crevice, just out of the explosion's range, telling her it was okay--

They had been children, or at least, even younger than they were now--

Yoshi broke the silence.

"I'm sorry," he mumbled, sounding embarrassed. "I shouldn't have brought that up. I'm sorry."

Liya shook herself a little bit. "They din't usually make a distinction, that's all," she said, and rolled her shoulders a bit, trying to sound casual about it. "If you had any magic or if you just ran with monsters, you waren't no better than monsters themselves. We all got the same. But I guess real monsters don't see it that way," she admitted. It was Yoshi's turn to flush now, and he avoided looking at her.


They lapsed into silence for a long moment, and then both seemed to give up on their hurt feelings at the same time.

"It was pretty cool how you set that dragon guy's arm on fire, though," Liya remarked.

"I think your disconnecting his jaw with the shovel left an impression too," Yoshi answered, very diplomatically.

"We make a good team."
Yoshi smiled wryly. "I don't think Helly has ever shouted at anyone," he murmured.

"Ne just said I might get put in a foster home in Enodia if I keep breakin' the no-fightin' rules," Liya went on, copying Yoshi's own offhanded tone. She freed a hand from folding the quilt and the nerves in it shot through with silver light. "Lemme see your face."

Yoshi let her place her palm on his cheek; the bruising around his dark eye and the scrapes on his lip vanished, and the cut in his shoulder sealed over, leaving only a tear in his uniform behind.

"Ah," he said, awkwardly. "Well...thank you for your help, anyway."

"'S worth it," Liya said shortly. They tucked the ends of the quilt together and started on another fold.

"I don't get why they pick on you so much, though," Liya said suddenly, frowning. "What've monsters got to pick on? Is it 'cuz you're a halfbreed, or what?"

Yoshi flinched visibly, not seeming to have quite expected that. He shot Liya a wide look and said, "Yes, it is. And I don't know about where you're from, but 'halfbreed' is a terrible thing to call someone here."

Liya immediately flushed with embarrassment. "It is? Jesus, I'm sorry, I din't know."

Yoshi tucked the now completely-folded quilt into his arms. "Most people just use 'mixed species,'" he said quietly.

"Ain't that pig guy your boss, though??" Liya wanted to know, still red in the face, though Yoshi didn't seem incredibly offended. "An' he calls you that??"
Dusk came on the same purple color as Yoshi's uniform. The curtains had been ripped down from the long glass windows on the far wall of the small room; the wan light fell on a mattress that had been disemboweled of its straw stuffing, a pillow that shed feathers on the cobblestone floor, a patched quilt that had been flung across the mattress (but was still in one piece). The single table had been tipped over, and the reed door over a small closet-like space the corner had been wrenched from its moorings and lay tilted across the frame.

The walls were a slightly browner cobblestone than the floor, and it combined with the purple light practically camouflaged Yoshi, who stood slumped against the pocket door frame. He surveyed the room not with shock, but rather a sort of fed-up, overwhelmed look.

Liya got his attention with a soft "Hey," and leaned around to peer in the room. Yoshi seemed to come around some.

"Hello, Liya," he said.

"Is this your room?" Liya asked. "What happened?"

Yoshi finally stepped into the room, choosing to drag the quilt up off the slashed mattress first. "Some of the other trainees probably saw us get their friends into trouble," he said in an offhand tone. "It happens."

Liya watched him gather the quilt up guiltily. "Did you get the third degree from General Russett too?"

As Yoshi stood up she reached for one end of the quilt; he let her, and she pulled it out to help him fold it back up. "No, actually," Yoshi answered, and sounded rather surprised himself. "She just wanted to hear my side of the story. What about Helly?"

Liya hesitated. "Well, ne didn't exactly yell at me..."
The silver light faded from Liya's nerves; the swelling and bruising had vanished entirely. "If no one does anythin' when Yoshi reports like he's s'posed to, why are we in trouble for finishin' a fight they started?" she wanted to know.

"Because," Helly said, "it does not matter to them if you were right to break the rules."

Liya blinked. Helly looked rather distressed now, and after a long pause, murmured, "Liya, it is very hard for an offworlder to immigrate to Aetheri. They do not like offworlders here. They do many things to discourage immigration, that's why they require sponsors like me."

Liya didn't answer nem, choosing to glare at her feet instead.

"You are very lucky to have a sponsor, Liya," Helly continued quietly. "But if your record is less than perfect when your citizenship comes into question..."

At this, Liya jerked her head up. "What?" she asked warily. "What'd happen to me?"

Helly gave an uncertain little shrug, not seeming to have an answer for her.
This new voice was the boar, who had seethed quietly up to now. He boomed, "This halfbreed is always causing fights in my stable! I demand he be rem--"

He had not seen General Russett, who had apparently finished berating the ogre and and the dragon and had now stormed up behind the boar and the blonde spirit. She was short, or at least much smaller than the boar, but that did not prevent her from grabbing one of the boar's tusks and yanking him quite easily down to her eye level.

"You are speaking," she hissed through tightly set sharp teeth, her yellow eyes fixed on his, "well above your station."

And then she grabbed the front of the blonde spirit's uniform, straightening up. Both the blonde spirit and the boar seemed stunned out of responding as she turned them on their heels and said, "Now off with you both. The assailants were my trainees, so this is now above your pay grades. And you," she shot at Yoshi, who looked apprehensive, "Come with me."

The blonde spirit and the boar stalked off to the stables, seeming rather defeated; Yoshi followed Russett meekly, and they set off to the southern end of the pasture fence, leaving Liya and Helly alone. Helly stirred uncomfortably.

"Liya," ne said, at last, "are you all right?"

Liya didn't look at nem, instead just setting her face to heal itself. The broken veins under each bruise and scrap lit silver, and within seconds she'd brought the swelling in her cheek down some. "Yoshi says they pick on him like that all the time," she said accusingly.

"Liya," Helly said again.

"He reports it every week an' no one does nothin'," Liya went on angrily. "What was I s'posed t'do, walk away?"
"Oh aye?" the blond spirit asked, skeptically. "This explains why your 'attackers' look like ground meat?"

He jerked his chin over his shoulder at the dark entrance towards the stable behind him. In the doorway, General Russett had two other figures cornered, and was bent almost double with the amount of fury she was pouring into whatever Aetherian diatribe she was subjecting them to. One figure was a man with deep crimson skin, yellowed tusks and horns, and long ears; the other had a mostly human shape, except that their head was that of a sickly green dragon. They both--wearing the same pale teal shirt as General Russett--looked considerably worse than Yoshi and Liya. The horned man could only see out of one eye, and the dragon appeared to be holding its own jaw closed.

Liya tilted her head warily. "Wull," she said, quite reasonably, "they wouldn't stop. They din't even pause when I walked up. They just tried t'wail on me, too."

She'd walked up on them with a shovel in hand, in all honesty. Yoshi had sunk his teeth into the dragon's forearm and was stubbornly breathing fire onto it, even while the horned man laughed and tried to haul Yoshi back.

Liya sneered a bit. "It took 'em a while to work out that they oughta back off."

The blond spirit rounded on Yoshi instead. "And what's your excuse? How did this start, exactly?"

Yoshi tilted his head to shake a stray lock of hair out of his eyes. "Er...they have been harassing me all afternoon, lurarem," he said, and added rather irritably, "As I have been reporting. They kept trying to prevent me from performing my stable work. I didn't respond to their...harassment, so finally they tried to hold me down, and--"

"BULL SHIT," a new voice interrupted.
< Yes, > the Cynn answered, still coughing quietly as he stepped into the office.

< Review of tactical placement in the Archipelago? > Sraddi inquired.

< Finished. >

< Scheduled a hearing with the Assembly on Incident 10107? >

< Yes, Sraddi. > Cynn Numair rasped. < I have finished all my errands in Enodia. >

No colored lights or sparks snapped around Sraddi's head, at least. She asked helpfully, < Shall I list your tasks for this evening? >

Cynn Numair bent slightly over his desk, bracing himself with one hand. The coughing was softer now, but still rattled his insides. Sraddi hopped onto the desk from her perch and traipsed across to him.

< I have sixteen voice messages, > she continued. < You have prioritized responding to the king Ulrich first. He seeks an audience this week in Barland. > And then she bumped her head gently into his arm, adding, < And you are several hours overdue for your medication. >

"Brawling like common beasts, how disgusting," the blonde spirit in the servant's purple uniform sneered. To one side of him stood Helly, nir hands twisting together anxiously; to the other loomed a large boar wearing a unform, his small black eyes unreadable. "You two had best explain yourselves."

Evening was falling over the grounds, casting the landscape in a patchwork of purple shadows and deep orange light. Liya and Yoshi leaned against the pasture fence, half-penned in by the three standing in front of them. Liya lifted her chin, which was scraped.

"Self-defense," she said, glaring, though her speaking was marred a tad by the fact that her cheek had swollen and gone red, and her nose was bruised and bloodied. Her unruly curls had also been half-yanked out of their ponytail. Yoshi didn't look any better--he sported a cut lip, and deeper, nastier cuts on his shoulders and down one of his arms. Bruises ringed one wrist, and his uniform had been torn.

"Yes," he agreed, though less aggressively.
September 29th, 2014
Mrs. Peck literally seemed to shine with warmth as she spoke. "Everyone there was so nice," she said. "They got James back into school that week. He's doing so much better now--he's a tough kid, you know."

Cynn Numair couldn't help but return some of her happiness, cracking a small smile himself. "I'm glad to hear that," he said diplomatically. "They always do--"

The breath hitched in his throat just then, and he broke off into a deep, rattling coughing fit. Bright red sparks exploded anxiously around Mrs. Peck's head, and she spared on of her four arms to pull a tissue from a dispenser clipped above the dashboard.

"Your Highness?" she asked, and passed the tissue back to him. He'd controlled the coughing somewhat, into a painful but quieter fit that had him bent double against the seat belt; he took the tissue and buried his face in it, coughing until the fit subsided.

"Are you all right?"

The Cynn sat back after a moment, breathless, and found he'd coughed a small amount of blood into the tissue.

"Yes," he answered, and swallowed. "I'm just a bit 'under the weather.'"

The red sparks snapped without any sound at all around Mrs. Peck; she didn't seem to notice that they were even there. "I'm sorry, Your Highness," she said, "but it seems like you're under the weather a lot."

The sign for Enodia's city center whipped past the outside of the car. "I suppose it must seem that way, yes," Cynn Numair murmured.

The windows in the Cynn's office were all shuttered, even though outside the sun was setting. A pale purple light filtered into the cold room; it was clean and orderly, but it looked un-lived-in, except for the hasty stack of papers on one side of the desk and the collection of old radios that filled one of the large bookcases.

Sraddi looked up from her perch beside the desk, and said in her hollow brass tube voice, < Meeting with Captain d'Ubis: finished? >