The first shape she drew was a circle that represented mother’s overstuffed, stupid face. The next was a stick for her big, tall adult body. A yellow scribble with a green line in it was the hair that her mother never bothered to style. Then she drew two circles for the chest she never bothered to cover. Her arms were drawn outstretched and hysterical, and her legs were practically an inverted ‘V’ in shape.

Amerei had finished her crayon, stick-like rendition of her mother, but something was missing. Maybe she needed a caption of some sort? The girl paused for a moment, then decided what she’d do. She scrawled a phrase upon the white paper next to her drawing.

I HAIT YOO

One rendition of the phrase wasn’t enough, so she repeated it. Over and over, she muttered it until eventually she was saying it out loud.

“I hate you I hate you I hate you I hate you I HATE YOU!”

Amerei stopped writing coherent letters and scribbled over her drawing of her mother before scrunching the paper up and throwing it at her bedroom wall. “IT’S NOT FAIR, WHY ISN’T TWO MONTHS GOING BY?!”

At the time, she thought that the bed-dye prank was worth it, however, it was becoming harder and harder to feel that way when mother had even put the servants on the lookout for her. She couldn’t even leave her bedroom without asking her mother nicely for leave, and in her current state of mind, Marissa Gemfire’s unwillingness to see her daughter was reciprocated.

Amerei stepped away from her desk and slumped onto her bed. “It’s not fair… it’s not fair, Myrtle got away with it, it’s not fair…”

Mother’s face was often a blur when she tried to think of her. She hadn’t seen her often enough to cement it in her mind, that or she just didn’t care enough. She could remember mother’s screaming as she sentenced her to her child-friendly house arrest, she could remember the big elf she was fucking wanting restitution, but she couldn’t remember Marissa Gemfire’s face for the life of her.

“I hate you. I hate you, mum, I hate you…”

Enough was enough; she was trapped in here, and no-one ever let her do anything of value. Her decisions meant nothing anyway, so really, she could do what she wanted. She crawled up her bed and put her face on her pillow, blocking off her mouth and nose.

The warmth of her breath could be felt cycling back into her, her nose wheezing against the pillow’s fabric, and Amerei’s chest felt tighter and tighter with each breath. In the end, three breaths were all it took to defeat her resolve, and Amerei decided that suicide was far too scary to try in earnest.

“Fuck! What do I do, I can’t draw, I can’t go outside, I can’t do anything, I’m just gonna stay in here forever and ever and ever and ever and ever and-”

The door knocked, cutting Amerei off. Perhaps mother was going to try and give her a sincere talk, like she occasionally did in her daydreams. Whatever delusion she had was soon vanquished by Myrtle’s voice coming through the door.

“Amerei… I don’t know if you know, but Wisdom Yugen of Parakos is here. Mother, um, didn’t want you to know, but the wisdom is insisting that you come down to see him…”

Ammy swallowed. She’d seen Wisdom Yugen before, and he’d always had a weird smile. He dressed like a Ristie yet had blonde hair like a Yookie, smelled of perfume and mould, and was always far too nice to Ammy to be trusted.

“Shit, I remember him better than mum,” Amerei muttered to herself.

“Did you say something, Amerei?” Myrtle asked.

“Oh, uh, nothing, it’s, uh… why does he want me down there?”

“He said something about needing to talk to you. I’m sure it’s nothing serious, but while he’s a guest, I think we should just go along with his requests.”

Amerei became a touch sceptical. “Didn’t mum say something about capturing him?”

“Well… yes, but I won’t let that happen. I just want the visit to go smoothly. Come on, Amerei, it’s not like you have anything better to do in there.”

The worst part about Myrtle was how often she turned out to be correct. She was lucky with her looks, but those could fade, but the amount of times Amerei wanted an argument with her sister only for it to fizzle out due to stray correctness on the latter’s part was a long-term worry for the girl.

Amerei thrust her door open and gave Myrtle her best glare. “Fine! Fine, I’ll go see that creepy child-molesting reading man!”

“Come on, Amerei, he probably doesn’t molest children…” Myrtle said with a faux-apologetic gesture. “Who knows, maybe he just wants to be friends with you. His chance to friends with our mother set sail ages ago, after all.”

“Why can’t you be friends with him?” Amerei asked.

“I don’t mind being friends with him, personally. Anyway, come with me.”

Myrtle made her way to the landing while Amerei trailed behind. She was wearing her impractical, nice clothes today, a pure white ballgown bought for her by her father for her sixteenth naming day. It exposed one leg and in general seemed a little too grown-up for someone her age, but of course, Amerei couldn’t question good old Damien Crystalglass. He was a far better father than whoever impregnated her mother the second time.

“You look nice,” Amerei muttered as she caught back up to her sister.

“Oh, thank you. I was wondering when I’d have a chance to wear this, if I’m honest. I don’t have a boyfriend to wear it for, I never have time for being a socialite, and I never really see the council as too intimidating an audience. I could go there in my bedclothes and they’d still know to take me seriously!”

Amerei wondered if Myrtle did it on purpose sometimes. While she knew there was no excuse for it, she wanted nothing more than to mess Myrtle’s hair up and smudge it with her dirty hands or lift Myrtle’s dress up by the slit to expose her knickers.

“You’ve gone quiet, Ammy. Is something wrong?”

“Nothing.”

Myrtle sighed, and held her hand as they walked down the stairs. “I know you’re probably nervous about seeing Wisdom Yugen. I know he’s a little bit scary to you, but it’s not going to be for long. He’ll be out of the city before you know it, and you can go back to… well…”

“Go back to being grounded.”

“I suppose, yes,” Myrtle said with a hint of awkwardness.

The rest of the way to the council room was silent save for Myrtle’s fancy shoes and Amerei’s boots hitting the floor. Said room was a homely affair; a crackling fire was roaring at a safe distance from the wooden table the politicians were sat around. For some reason, there weren’t any councilmen at the table this time; only mother, Seamus, Wisdom Yugen and some dark elven man with a mean-looking face.

“Ah, Myrtle, glad to see you managed to get Amerei to stop sulking and come out of her room,” mother said with a laugh. “I’m sure you remember Wisdom Yugen, don’t you, Amerei?”

Ammy looked at her mother but refused to dignify her with a response. She was a little fat-cheeked after all, and had green eyes, but she’d forgotten how young Lady Gemfire looked for her age. Yugen looked older than he did before; his face was a little chubbier, he had a few more spots, his nose seemed bigger and straighter than Amerei last remembered. He still smelled of perfume and mould, though. The dark elf seemed to be an archer, as he was wearing a bow and a quiver, and though he was handsome Amerei couldn’t help but hate him immediately.

“Well, are you going to stand around and be moody all the time or are you going to say hello?” Marissa asked, her voice straining a little.

“Hello,” Amerei mumbled. “There, am I a good girl now, mum?”

Marissa ignored Amerei and turned to Yugen. “She’s a completely impossible brat. So, now your silly request has been fulfilled, Yugen, let’s get down to business. Where is Robert?”

Yugen fiddled with his fingers as Myrtle and Amerei took a few empty seats. “Well, my lady, I’m afraid that every attempt to send spies to your keep has resulted in the same spies going silent. One of my best agents disappeared completely after I sent him, and… and I’m sure you understand I’m reluctant to send a military force in there. After all, it is your family’s property.”

Marissa scoffed, and looked to Myrtle. “You’re hearing this, aren’t you, Myrtle. Somehow it’s my fault Robert went missing after marrying… what was your girl’s title again, Yugen?”

“Master… Master Torturer.”

“Yes, and what a wonderful match they turned out to be! Tell me one good reason I shouldn’t kill you for everything you’ve done to us!”

Myrtle became flustered in a way Amerei had never seen before. “Mother, stop! If you kill Yugen, Parakos’s army would descend upon the Rainbow Fort and… and that’s…”

The dark elf smirked. “Well, more immediately, if I see you kill my buddy Yugen, then I’ll take someone of yours as well as a little kick-starter to a war!”

“Oh yeah?” Seamus started. “I’d like to see you get an arrow through plate armour!”

“Plate armour needs holes to let a fat man like you move in it. Each hole is a place that I ain’t gonna miss…”

Mother started shouting, much like she did when she grounded her, loud, high-pitched and hysterical. It was always enough to make Amerei tune out. The dark elf was yelling, mother was yelling, Seamus was boasting and Myrtle was trying to stop the fighting. They were all standing up, yet somehow, Amerei stayed sitting, the world blurring around her.

She didn’t matter to the world, so why should the world matter to her? This incoherent arguing, this was what politics amounted to, apparently. Strangely, amongst the chaos, Wisdom Yugen was sitting around, just like Amerei, waiting for it to stop. Eventually, the buck-toothed man cleared his throat loudly enough to make the other four ‘politicians’ look at him.

“Exar, stop threatening physical violence. We all know you could kill them all, but no-one’s dying today,” the man insisted. “Lady Gemfire, you seem itching for war with us. Ideally, Parakos doesn’t want that. It’s far too costly. Let’s say we give you a monthly bill of restitution… let’s say a thousand gold?”

“A thousand gold a month? That’s nothing, that’s… are you mocking me?” Marissa asked him.

“…not at all. I’ve never been more serious. After all, if the price increased any more, then frankly it’d be cheaper for us to take over the Rainbow Fort and place it under martial law.”

“The King would never allow for this,” Myrtle pointed out. “The occupation would be unlawful!”

Yugen shrugged. “Well then, I hope you’re prepared to explain to King Landon about how the war came to be, how the innocent Marissa Gemfire, threatened to kill a diplomat.”

Myrtle looked to her mother and sighed. Amerei took in Marissa’s face for a moment; she seemed angry, sad, confused, yet it didn’t seem to be with Yugen.

“…hmph. Fine, you want to pay us a thousand gold a moon to make it up to us? For how long?” Marissa asked, her arms petulantly folded.

“Until you die if you truly want, I don’t care,” Yugen replied. “As long as this is put to rest.”

“Fine. I… I accept your offer.”

Yugen inclined his head as he stood, then looked to Myrtle. “I do hope these extra funds can be used to make the Rainbow Fort a better place. You’ll make it happen, won’t you?”

Marissa played with the dyed green streak in her hair. “Uh… I’m here, wisdom. I’m the lady that’ll be using those funds to help her people.”

“You most certainly are,” Yugen said in a dismissive tone. “Exar, you’re free to go now. If you don’t see me return to the Colour Hut tonight, assume they’ve had me killed, all right?”

The dark elven man toyed with an arrow in his quiver. “Uh, yeah, sure, uh… but you ain’t gonna be killed, right?”

“Not if Lady Gemfire knows what’s good for her,” Yugen said as the archer took his leave. “Now, you’re probably wondering why I wanted Amerei here for this.”

Marissa’s voice was becoming increasingly shaky, her resentment’s disguise slipping off piece by piece. “Fine, tell us, why did you want Amerei here?”

“Why, so I could take her out! She’s not too busy sulking in her room, is she?”

Mother made to answer for Amerei, but for a moment, the girl decided she would not play spectator. “I wasn’t sulking! I was forced to stay in my room! I could only leave for bathroom breaks and to eat!”

Yugen’s unsettling smile came to his face. “Ah, I see, so you were grounded. Lady Gemfire, I humbly request that you allow me to temporarily revoke Amerei’s grounding.”

“Oh, you humbly request me, after you just ripped me off? You really think-”

Myrtle cut her own mother off by whispering in her ear, and for whatever reason, the ageing beauty suddenly reduced the space she took up. “I’m… er… sorry about that outburst, esteemed wisdom.”

“So I assume Amerei is free to be taken out for a chat?”

“Fine… as long as Seamus here goes with you,” Marissa said. “If he catches you doing anything unusual, then you’re done, wars or not. Do I make myself clear?”

“I’d be the last person to harm your daughter,” Yugen said, giving a pointed look to Amerei’s mother. He turned his gaze to Amerei and stood up. “Well then, Amerei. What do you say? Do you want to go outside for a while?”

For a while, Amerei was convinced she wasn’t going to get asked. However, given the simpering half-smile on mother’s face, and Myrtle’s slightly frightened expression, it was a fake question anyway. It was something politicians always did.

Amerei was grateful that at the very least, the ‘correct’ answer was going outside, instead of staying in. It may have been with the weird wisdom that wouldn’t leave her alone, but it was still outside.

“Uh, yeah, sure, I’ll go outside. You gonna lead the way?”

Yugen nodded. “With me. You too, Sir Whitewood.”

“You don’t give me orders, bent-back,” Seamus grumbled.

The wisdom shrugged the old knight off and headed out of the council room. Amerei was quick to follow him and pulled her lighter-than-usual clothes around her as best as she could.

“So, uh… what’s… why do you want to speak to me?” Amerei asked.

“Let’s get out of this castle before we get serious, eh?”

The clatter of Seamus’s armour hung behind the two as a permanent reminder of her mother’s surveillance, so even as Yugen and Amerei left the myriad eyes of the Castle Gemfire staff behind, Amerei felt unable to properly speak.

Once clear enough from the castle that they were walking on frost-hardened mud rather than pavement, Yugen looked down at Amerei, wringing his hands a little.

“You’ve grown a little, Amerei. I… know that’s a little hackneyed to say, but it’s true.”

“Yeah, except I’ve grown in all the wrong places!” Amerei complained. “I… I thought maybe I’d at least fill out in my hips a little, but… but I’m just a tall little girl and it’s fucking stupid because Myrtle had hips when she-”

Amerei stopped herself. She’d let herself open up to Yugen far too early. All he’d said was a stupid ‘how you’ve grown’ thing; Granddad Morris and Grandma Mara would always say that when they had nothing better to say.

“…hmph, what’s it to you anyway?”

“I was simply remarking upon it. I… actually did a little research on who your father could be, if you’re interested.”

“Fuck my father. My father’s an idiot who left me behind.”

Yugen’s face seemed genuinely pained. “…I see. Well, I hadn’t found anything conclusive anyway. I… I just thought it was a nice gesture.”

“Well, uh, why are you bothering being nice to me anyway? I heard you and mother arguing in there, you know I did! Mother wants you dead and you were threatening to have a war with us! You’re mean and I hate you so why would you ever want to be nice?”

Yugen tented his fingers together as they made a turn towards a large set of market stalls. “Amerei, something you have to remember about politics is it’s not always about pretending to be nicer than you actually are. Sometimes you have to pretend to be meaner than you actually are too.”

“Why?” Amerei asked. “Is it ‘cause-”

“Wait, so all that shit about killing me and starting a war was a bluff?” Seamus cut in. “You scheming, weaselly little bastard. I have a good mind to tell Lady Gemfire everything!”

“Oh, it wasn’t a bluff. I’m just willing to do things I don’t morally agree with to get the job done. If I was just my person, I wouldn’t be so liberal with my threats. But when I’m in that council room, Sir Whitewood, I’m not just Wisdom Yugen. I’m the Daemonwings, I’m the city of Parakos, I’m her citizens and her armies. Now, Amerei, what were you saying?”

Amerei was taken aback. She looked at the keffiyeh-clad, hunched-over man with a strange sense of awe. He actually pretended that Amerei had something worthwhile to say. She swallowed and shook her head.

“It was… it was something stupid, it doesn’t matter.”

“No, it isn’t something stupid,” Yugen insisted. “What were you going to say?”

“I was just gonna ask if you have to pretend to be mean because mean people are the ones that win all the time and you want to look like a winner sometimes…”

Yugen mussed Amerei’s hair with a sweaty hand. “It’s… quite like that, yes. Sometimes, kindness and reason are what’s required to sway a person, saying what they want to hear, all of that. But sometimes, if a person is trying to take something from you, or isn’t giving you your due, you need them to know that you’re not willing to take it lying down.”

“So if you know when to be mean and when to be kind so much, why aren’t you married yet?” Amerei asked.

The wisdom’s pale olive face flushed up something fierce. He pulled his keffiyeh around his cheeks and gritted his teeth a little. “That’s… not… the life of Wisdom Yugen is quite different to the life of Parakos, the city.”

“Yeah, yeah,” Amerei said. “So, uh, are you gonna do something creepy to me? I mean, you always want to talk to me and stuff when you visit even though you hate my mum.”

Yugen failed to answer Ammy’s question, and instead stopped at a nearby stall that smelled of butter pastry, nuts and syrup. The owner was a fat human woman that Amerei knew well; occasionally Myrtle would take her to the very same stall. Set out along the counter was a set of still-warm pecan pies, some cut into halves that steamed and oozed with syrup. The owner’s chins wobbled as she approached the trio.

“Oh, hello there, little Amerei and big Seamus Whitewood!” she said. “Who’s the towelhead with you?”

Yugen tugged at his collar a little. “This ‘towelhead’ has bought from you before. I’m Wisdom Yugen.”

“Eh? Name doesn’t spark a fire to me.”

“I… I’ve bought pies for Amerei before.”

“Were you wearing that silly headdress before as well?”

“…yes?”

“Oh! Now I remember you!”

Amerei couldn’t help but look to Yugen with bemusement, a look he swiftly returned. Elayne wasn’t a bad person, but right now even Amerei had no urge to defend her. The big woman scratched her head.

“Why so glum? I’ve got pecan pies for you all, and who doesn’t love a pecan pie or two?”

“Just the one should be enough,” Yugen said with a mild sternness. “Quarter for me, quarter for Amerei, and a half for Seamus. Does that seem fair?”

The wisdom looked back for clarification, and Amerei shrugged. “Yeah, a quarter sounds good with-”

“Are you poking fun at my weight, bent-back? I don’t see you winning any competitions for the most visible chin-line!” Seamus yelled.

“Oh, well if you don’t want that much we can have it cut into thirds-”

“Fine, fine, I actually do want half a pie, just, uh… yeah, don’t assume that shit.”

“My sincerest apologies,” Yugen said, though Amerei had a hunch that they were as insincere as they came.

Elayne cut a pie up into the appropriate pieces and Yugen handed over the coin with a quite generous tip. Amerei held her quarter-pie in her hands and knew it smelled good, yet there was something stuck in her throat. A question was blocking the way, it seemed, so Amerei held off on eating for the moment.

“So, uh, you’ve taken me out for pie, but uh… what exactly are we gonna do, Yugen?”

Yugen started down a street he seemingly chose at random. “Well, Amerei… I was thinking about my life, my future, and… honestly, my future doesn’t have a wife in it.”

Seamus folded his arms. “Self-pitying bastard.”

“Well, I do indulge in the occasional bout of self-pity, yes,” Yugen admitted. “Regardless, the point is, I don’t think I’ll ever meet a woman in my life who loves me. That means I’ll never be a father.”

Amerei’s heart shot up through her body, smacking against a piece of chewed-up pecan pie. “What… you can’t be saying you… you can’t… Yugen, I… I don’t know…”

“Yes, Amerei, I’m saying what you think I’m saying. I want to take you as a foster child.”

“But… but I have a mum already, I… I have… Myrtle, I have Myrtle!”

Yugen looked towards his pie so as to avoid Amerei’s eyes. “Yes, well… I understand that. Fostering isn’t uncommon, you know. Royal Advisor Quira Abraxas was raised by Lord El’koran Werenthos until she was sixteen!”

“Didn’t her uncle touch her up or something?”

“Th-that’s besides the point!” Yugen stammered. “My point is, um, you don’t need to make it personal if you don’t want it to be, it… it can be political!”

Seamus scoffed. “Be a man and own this shit, fuck’s sake. Do you want to be a father to Amerei or just some political fostering man?”

Yugen’s eyes quivered, and Amerei looked down at her pie. “I… um… I don’t like my mum that much, you know.”

The wisdom kept looking away, and snow started to fall from the sky. “…I’ll be honest with you, Amerei. I’ve seen how your mother treats you, and though I haven’t watched you all the time, I’ve seen enough. I… I know you won’t be happy with your mother around. Now, maybe something political can come out of this and maybe I can make up for the Alys and Robert gaffe, but honestly… I would like to be the father you don’t have. The parent you don’t have.”

Seamus adjusted his visor. “Amerei, I wouldn’t trust him. He’s a sneak, and besides, your mother would never allow for this fostering to take place.”

“I’m going to propose it to her tomorrow morning, once she’s calmed down from her humiliation,” Yugen explained.

Amerei looked at Seamus, with his mouthguard raised and his beard sticky with syrup. He was trying to be the father she didn’t have as well. He wasn’t always nice to her, but fathers weren’t supposed to always be nice, were they?

“Anyway… I suppose I’ve made this awkward,” Yugen said, making his way towards an inn in the distance.

It was the Colour Hut, the place he’d told his dark elven friend to meet him at. It seemed decently built-up, likely because it was close to the markets, and was smeared with various abstract coloured paint shapes. Yugen was walking faster than Amerei and Seamus, and while Ammy wanted to speed up, Seamus put his hand on her shoulder.

“Don’t bother. He’s running away from his-”

“OI! YUGEN!” Amerei yelled. “Stop and come back here!”

The wisdom turned around, scarfed down the last of his pie and gave her a smile that oddly, wasn’t too scary, but was certainly pitiful. “I’m sorry, Amerei. It wasn’t right of me to drop such a major proposition on you. It’s a big decision to make, and-”

“I don’t care! I want to make decisions! Whenever I want to do something or complain about shit, people talk over me or they just do it for me and leave me doing nothing! I… um… I’m glad you dropped something on me!” Amerei admitted.

“…you’re… you’re quite intelligent for your age,” Yugen said. “Even if you’re a delinquent, you are intelligent. People often make decisions for you when they think you’re stupid, and when you’re a smart person, it often feels like you’re chafing underneath that.”

“…well, uh, yeah, that’s how it feels…”

“Amerei… everyone thinks I’m smart, even if I want to doubt myself at every moment. And when people think you’re smart… they expect you to make all the decisions. I know you might think that makes me the world’s happiest person, but… honestly, it’s hard. I understand your frustration, Amerei, but… don’t squander the time when you can do whatever you want and there are no consequences.”

Seamus snorted. “Come off it, bent-back. You sound like you’re in your fucking fifties, instead of… uh, how old are you?”

“Twenty-five.”

“Yeah, you’re sounding-”

“Shut up, Seamus!” Amerei said, bringing both of their mouths to a halt.

The snow and people around them seemed silent, irrelevant, like a mere stage framing the three. It was Amerei’s moment, and it was rare that she’d get the honour of a filibuster like all the smart people in the world.

“Why’d you say that?” Seamus asked, bringing Amerei out of her swing.

“Look, just shut up! I thought what Yugen said was fine, I mean, uh… kind of fine. Yugen, you just… I get it, you want to understand me and shit, but… but you’ve always been smart, you’ve always been training as a wisdom or some shit, so… so people have always thought you were smart and yeah, sure, it’s heavy and shit, but…”

“…but it’s not the same as being invisible, right?” Yugen finished.

“…yeah. I’m invisible most of the time.”

Yugen inclined his head. “Well, if you don’t think I could be a good father, then… I assure you, I understand. This isn’t me being political, this isn’t me being clever. If you don’t want me to foster you, I respect your decision.”

Amerei couldn’t help but smile. It was her decision, she was in charge and a smart guy like Yugen, who had just threatened her mother with war, was waiting on her answer. This must have been what Myrtle felt like whenever a boy asked her out. Amerei had seen enough of her sister to know what the right answer was.

“I’ll, uh… I’ll think about it.”

“Please do. Seamus, you’ll be able to escort her home, right?”

The knight grunted. “Stop giving me orders and questioning my competence, towelhead.”

“Right, right… goodbye for now, Amerei. I may see you again, I may not.”

Wisdom Yugen turned around and walked towards the Colour Hut. For some reason, his back seemed to beg Amerei to say one last thing, but she couldn’t put a finger on what it was. Seamus put his cold gauntlet on Amerei’s shoulder again, making her bones handily vacate her skin.

“Right, little lady. Time to get you home.”

Amerei frowned. “Back to being grounded. Fuck my life…”

“You’re… not actually gonna accept that guy’s offer, are you? The man’s probably looking to touch you or something.”

“He… uh… yeah, of course I wouldn’t go…” Amerei mumbled, turning towards the castle, “…yeah, it’s a stupid idea…”

The snow was once again building up into a blizzard. The salesmen in the market were packing their things and the winds were making official buildings’ flags ripple horizontally. Going inside was probably for the best, yet what would be the point? She’d just be stuck doing the same thing over and over while her mother tried to forget she existed.

“…don’t look so sad,” Seamus said. “Your mother wouldn’t have let it happen. She trusted her cousin Robert to a Daemonwing, and now he’s missing. Do you think she’d trust her daughter to one?”

“She doesn’t even care about her daughter.”

Seamus’s voice faltered for a moment. “Now… now Amerei, that’s not true. Your mother cares very deeply for you, she-”

“She almost forgot my twelfth naming day, Seamus! She keeps me up every night fucking who knows how many guys and she never even summons me to shit herself, she always sends Myrtle! She doesn’t care deeply about me, I don’t think she even cares!”

“Now Amerei, that’s… Amerei, it’s-”

“Don’t even fucking lie to me, Seamus! She hates me! I hate her too! I hate her so much and I wish she was dead and I wish Myrtle was in charge of everything!”

“Now Amerei, stop this,” Seamus said, tensing his body and slowing his pace. “Would you stand by those words? Would you mind if I told ‘em to your lady mother? Well? Would you?”

Amerei stewed in her anger. This knight in shiny armour, he wanted to be her dad too, but he could never understand her. He was just a big stupid lug who probably fancied her mother. It’s the only reason anyone would remain loyal to someone like Marissa Gemfire anyway.

Why should she go back on herself, why should she apologise? It’s not like anything she said mattered. As Amerei studied the frosty floor beneath her, as the snow crunched under Seamus’s sabatons and her own boots, she reflected on Yugen’s words. No-one cared about what she said or did, so why shouldn’t she enjoy it? Why shouldn’t she try something crazy?

Seamus was right. Mother would never allow Amerei to be fostered by Yugen even if she wanted to. But right now, mother was in the castle and Amerei was out here. A wide smirk came to Amerei Gemcutter’s face; this time, Myrtle wasn’t around to steal her plan from her.

Amerei ran ahead of Seamus. “FINE! I’M RUNNING AWAY!”

The knight predictably gave chase. “OI! OI, COME BACK!”

Around them, the people of the Rainbow Fort were preoccupied with leaving the streets for the comfort of their hearths, and this combined with the sluggish knight’s running speed meant that Amerei was quite ahead of Seamus. However, she was currently running towards the castle; her plan required the opposite.

She slowed herself and looked back to Seamus. The fat man came jogging with the elegance of a snowbear, catching up to her in just enough time for Amerei to side-step, stick out her foot, and trip the man up.

He crashed down to the ground with a metallic rattling, face-down in the partially-stuck snow. With the knight down and distracted, Amerei made a mad dash for the southern gate, the one where merchants likely went to Parakos from.

The outskirts of the city looked worn and weathered by the snow, like every gust of wind would threaten to blow the poor wooden terraces over. Guards stood in the building blizzard, likely unable to recognise Amerei in the obscured visibility, and while most peasants were hiding in their homes by this point, a few homeless people could be seen shivering in the cold.

Amerei suddenly felt cold herself. She looked away from the homeless people after that and focused on reaching the southern gate. It stood tall, hard and sturdy, in stark contrast to the flimsy buildings nearby, and in spite of the weather, there were a few merchants with wagons queuing by the guardsmen to be let through. Amerei lowered her profile and hid behind a partially-blown-down sentry station.

Most of the merchants were hardy-looking hairy orcs, essentially forest beasts with regards to how they looked, the only difference being they spoke. However, a pair of dark elves in egals and ghutras stood out amongst the group; though they seemed the least possibly accustomed to the cold, one of them, the older of the two, wasn’t shivering.

“Bloody hell, I hate Rainbow Fort weather,” the younger dark elf said. “My balls feel like they could freeze right the fuck off.”

“Just a taste of what’s to come. Trust me, this job is rough.”

“Yeah, yeah, I know. I’ll be paid well for all this, right?”

“Of course. We’ll be paid ridiculous amounts of gold for all this.”

“Then I can go back to sunny Parakos! Or… well… sunnier Parakos.”

Amerei’s eyes widened. This was it. This was the opportunity she was betting on. If mother wasn’t going to let her go to Parakos on her watch, then Amerei would go to Parakos on her own. After all, Marissa Gemfire wasn’t going to miss a stray daughter, she never did before, why would she now?

The queue moved up, and the dark elves were third in line. The guards seemed tired, miserable. Amerei knew she was taking a risk, but if it paid off, she was going to be on an adventure, a real adventure where she would finally be able to live while she was young. She watched the dark elves as she stalked through the thick snowfall.

“So, are there gonna be whores?” the younger one asked.

“Nah, Vyragal, no whores,” the older one answered.

“Oh, come on, why not? You worried about your wife?”

“As a matter of fact, yeah, I am.”

“Come on, your wife would never know if you got a whore or two. I was wondering why you didn’t take a comfort break here!”

“Well, commitment ain’t something you’re used to yet, but once you make the merchant’s rounds like I have, you understand. Promises mean promises when you’re a businessman.”

The younger dark elf was staring intently into his older partner’s eyes, before bursting into hysterics. The older dark elf folded his arms in disappointment and glared at him, somehow maintaining his stoicism. It was Amerei’s moment.

She rushed towards the wagon and leaped onto it, using the time the dark elves were distracted while she could. On the wagon were a set of boxes, some with sealed lids, others with ajar ones. Amerei shoved one of the latter sorts of lid aside and climbed in, desperately hoping nobody saw.

The box was empty, thankfully, and so Amerei pulled her lid shut. Perhaps another merchant had seen her, perhaps the guards had seen her, perhaps those two dark elves weren’t as distracted as they seemed, but while she could, she needed to try. It was her prerogative, she was a child, she needed to do what she wanted, and if it worked, she could finally be free.

Amerei felt the wagon rumble and move, and the younger man’s voice could be heard.

“Bloody hell, this suddenly got heavy. Guess the snow’s settling faster than I thought…”

“Get accustomed to that,” the older man’s voice said.

Eventually, the sound of an armoured person moving could be heard. An authoritarian voice punctuated himself with a pompous clearing of the throat. “You two are… Velaxis and Vyragal, correct?”

“That’s us,” the older one said.

“Ah, good. You entered the city yesterday as potters, yes… all right, nothing suspicious here, go on,” the guard said, seemingly in a hurry.

Amerei smirked to herself. Of course, the blizzard; that was why the merchants were being let through with a wave. The guards didn’t want to have to stay out in the cold and they didn’t want to hold up the merchants. Amerei could hear the wind howling, the wheels of her wagon rolling, the sound of footsteps on a hard wooden drawbridge… she’d managed it.

Finally, fortune had smiled for Amerei Gemcutter. She’d decided something all on her own and it had gone perfectly to plan. She hadn’t even made a good plan either. But she was finally lucky, finally free. These two dark elves were off to sunnier Parakos, and that meant Amerei was too.

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