Did You Know…
   Wodes are the only humanoids that do not shine! While a Human’s skins will reflect the sun, causing a
healthy glow about them, Wodes seem to absorb the sun. Scientists liken their sweat to pastel chalk: the paper
is shiny until chalk is applied. A popular theory for this says that this trait evolved because of the dappled light in
the deep jungles: it is easier to flit about when you don’t have to worry about catching a predator’s eye!

Did You Know…
   The saliva of Wodes is basic! To you non-science geeks out there, a base is something that can neutralize
acids: baking soda is a base. Scientists are confused about it, but linguists are not: in the words of esteemed
Lightfoot Linguist Ossify la Citron, “It is obviously a product of the Wode’s use of sarcasm. Whether the famed
sarcasm tense exists or not, their expertise with bitter, bitter sarcasm has somehow bled into their physiology.
Taste a base: it’s bitter.”
   (The editor advises against kissing Wodes to see if they’re bitter… Not that anyone would, of course)
   -“Did You Know,” a small daily column in the Daily Web, Acerbates’ largest newspaper. It’s one of the few
columns that are not pure falsehoods

   Lieutenant Heckleson shifted from one foot to the other, loathe to knock on the door in front of him. In his
hand was an invitation to a gala of some sort. Statesmen, businessmen, and other connoisseurs were getting
invitations like these. The only difference was that theirs were actually invitations, not orders handed over by a
lackey in full uniform.
   So, he stared at the door to Amanda’s apartment, wondering if there was a way to feel good about this, and
anyway kind of enjoying the conversation being held behind it.
   “I’m not sure I follow your logic.” That would be Amanda.
   “It’s simple: a city at siege has a limited amount of supplies.” Lacklee, of course. “The real battle is between
the two group’s determination.”
   “If you had said that instead of trying to be a mathematician, I’d’ve understood you.”
   “Uh-huh. Anyway,
   “That’s the deal breaker for both sides. At any moment either side could say ‘I can’t take this any longer I give
up.’
   “That sentiment can be the city’s most dangerous weapon.”
   “How so? They are sitting on a shrinking pile of food and growing pile of filth.”
   Heckleson could hear the Lightfoot’s smirk. “I know that. Everyone knows that.
   “Let’s say you are a soldier in the outside army.”
   “Ok. ‘Yeesh this is boring!’”
   “You’ve been outside this city for two years.”
   “Is it a small city?”
   “No.”
   “Darn, because after two years in a small city, the only living things would be carrion-fattened rats.”
   “Heh, you’d think so. On day a citizen on the wall attracts your attention by tossing a whole pig over the wall.”
   “That certainly would get my attention. They’re wasting a whole pig.”
   “A whole
grain-fed pig, judging by the exploded remains. How would you, as a common foot soldier, react?”
   “Something akin to ‘holy expletive! We’ll all grow old and die before they starve and surrender!’”
   “Exactly. The city at siege need only wait for a while before pulling that trick.”
   “Trick, huh? Was that their last pig?”
   The satisfaction was apparent in the Lightfoot’s voice. “You’ll never know.”
   At that point Lieutenant Heckleson finally knocked.
   Only discipline kept him from blushing when he heard the Wode mutter something about convenient timing.
He was every bit a soldier when she wrenched the door open. “May I help you?”
   “New orders for you,” he replied, hoping he sounded as brisk and important as was required. He handed
Amanda the cream-colored envelope. “There will be many important people there, so we trust that there will be
no incidents.”
   “Incidents?” she replied smoothly, with only a hint of frost. “Incidents, like a certain Lightfoot Soldier escaping
because nobody was here to watch her?”
   “Everything you need will be provided for.”
   “Good. Fetch me a brilliant excuse not to go.”
   
Aaaa need a comeback need a comeback! “Your orders are clear-”
   “Which one? The one telling me to waste my time at a party or the one issuing an actual job?”
   “Duties to our country are diverse.”
   Amanda didn’t twitch like she wanted to.
Our country? OUR country? Wait… Yes. Our country. “If that is so,”
she said coolly. “Who do I RSVP to?”
   “We’ve already taken the liberty,” Peach Fuzz responded, visibly relieved. “We trust you’ll be discreet about
this exchange.”
   “I’m sure you do,” was the Wode’s response before she shut the door. Peach Fuzz wasn’t sure what she
meant until he heard her shout, “Hey Lacklee! I just got ordered to go to a party!”
   “When is it? I am totally going to sleep through your absence.”
   “That’s my cue to say ‘well gee whiz, guess I don’t need to hire a babysitter then!’”
   “Exactly.” Lacklee grimaced. “‘Fun and games’ aside, you do realize you’re just the token Wode, right?”
   “You don’t even know what kind of party it is.”
   Lacklee just looked at her. Amanda shrugged and gingerly opened the envelope. “Looks like I’m the token
Wode at a state ball.”
   “Ooh, I don’t envy you.” She started pacing. “You get to try to convince everyone that your country isn’t full of
racist dirt bags!”
   “It’ll help that I can’t tell people I was ordered to go.” She tossed the envelope onto her desk, where it
knocked over a cup of cold coffee onto all her documents except for the invitation. “Alkta! …Wonderful.”
   “Dang, that sucks. And why tell me against orders?”
   “Indirect order via suggestion based on an unrealistic observation of my character,” she groused in
response. “What was the question again?”
   “Why tell me?” Every time Amanda was irritated, her tail would start flicking incessantly; it took ever bit of self-
control Lacklee had not to giggle at it.
   “Who else am I going to complain to?” she snapped in response, mopping up coffee with less important
documents. More calmly, she continued, “And I’m not going to pretend my country is perfect. It isn’t.”
   “You can say that again.”
   “I’d rather not, thank you.”
   “Fine, don’t, but know that this is dishonest as well.”
Geez, look at it go! Like an insane Conductor with an
overtired orchestra- flip flap up down tee hee hee!
“It’s as dishonest as putting your own men in enemy’s
uniforms then claiming that the enemy has invaded therefore you have the right to invade!”
   Amanda looked up, one eyebrow raised. “How very inarticulate of you. What aren’t you saying?”
   “Your tail is funny! Hee hee hee hee hee!”
   “OH-Kay…”
   “Tee hee! Ok I’ll stop.”
   “Are you feeling alright?” the Wode asked skeptically, eying the Soldier sideways.
   
Besides going slightly mad? “I’d be better if I could spar with someone.” Which is true, but it’s really only a
temporary solution.
   “Mm. I’ll see what I can do.”
   Despite the complete lack of confidence in her warden’s voice, Lacklee felt much better. “Good. Then we
can get back to the subject at hand, which is you being nothing more than a pawn in their huge political agenda.”
   “Hm, doubt that. Technically, I am a government employee-”
how important is not for you to know- “and the
invitation said that it would be mostly government employees.”
   “How much you want to bet that ‘your employers’ are only putting their best people forward?”
   “Why don’t I just give you my money and save myself time?” Amanda finished cleaning up the coffee and put
the whole soggy mess in the trashcan. “Besides, if it’s that tangent, I should be honored. I’m a-”
   “‘Valued employee!’” Lacklee squeaked. “Uh-huh, we get it.”
   “Exactly. A Wode is a valued employee. That’s a step forward from enslavement.”
   “Know what would be a bigger step forward?”
   “Mm, I’m dying to know.”
   “Having
several valued Wode employees and having their invitations actually be invitations, not edicts
passed down by a jealous and self-serving god.”
   “Baby steps, Lacklee. Tolerance can only be spread so fast.”
   “Even among the government ranks, I presume.”
   “Yes. Actually, at this point, the most Acerbate can really be accused of is bragging.”
   “Bragging? Wow, you’re an optimist.”
   “Optimists live longer.”
   “No, it just seems that way. To everyone else.”
   “Oh ha ha. Coffee?”
   “How old is it?” Lacklee eyed the cup distrustfully.
   “No idea.”
   “Not an encouraging answer. No. Thank you.”
   “Suit yourself.” Amanda padded out of the kitchen clutching a new steaming mug. “Any thoughts?”
   “On your bragging theory? Yeah, but they mostly involve swearing.”
   “And you worry for my poor virgin ears,” Amanda finished, sitting.
   “No, I’m quite confident you know the words. It’s just that you’re right.”
   Amanda nearly dropped her cup. “Really?”
   “Yes, really. And don’t spill your coffee again.” Lacklee shifted on the cot. “The fact is, governments do put
their best faces forward when other states look at them, and it is true that your position here on the government
implies respect for Wodes.”
   Lacklee waited for Amanda to respond, but she still seemed too tickled pink at winning an argument to put
two words together. She sighed and continued, “But that doesn’t mean everything is hunky-dory outside the
ballroom.”
   “I have no idea what hunky-dory means.”
   “A-Ok, fantabulous, perfectly perfect, et cetera.”
   “Oh. Well of course there’s racism, what did you expect?”
   “An actual desire to work against it and not around it.”
   “Not understanding you again.”
How long does it take to learn a new language? Do you ever really learn it,
or do you just get really good at faking it?
   Meanwhile, Lacklee continued. “Working against it is to try to stop it, prevent it, and shrink it. Working around
it is to let people keep their flawed beliefs while making it look like it’s shrinking.” She hugged her legs against
her chest. “That’s what your new orders are. They’re making nothing look like progress.”
   She didn’t look like a Soldier there. She looked vulnerable, lost. A scared little girl saddened by the going-
ons of people too old to believe they should change.
   The conversation continued, but Amanda’s heart wasn’t in it. Her justifications were pointless, futile.
   Amanda has been charged with changing Lacklee Le Naphtha’s opinions so much, she’ll want to fight
for
Acerbate. She’s been charged with similar things in the past- a serial killer to an assassin, for example- but
how can she work with someone who’s views of wrong and right are so pure, they mature instead of alter?
   Hopefully, a quick bus ride will bring enlightenment. If not, then she’ll just have to wing it.

   “Elves…are the Human’s greatest ally; they have proven themselves to be loyal, courageous, and interested
in our well-being… However, even the most oblivious Human can see that elves are arrogant and controlling;
the youngest of them act superior to the oldest Human. It is obvious by the culture they have and the role they
take that they consider themselves guardians of the Humans, or, dare I say, parents.
   “While there is nothing wrong with that role, it begs the question: When will we, as self-respecting adults, as
Humans, take responsibility for ourselves and not have our lives dictated by those who ‘know better?’ When will
we ‘move out of our parent’s house?’”
   -excerpt from
My Observations of the World’s Races by Otis Regalia

   Despite only being there for a week now, Lacklee had made a schedule for herself. 5:30- wake up, recite her
name and goal. “My name is Lacklee le Naphtha, and I will attempt to escape today.” Test the bars. (This
usually wakes Amanda up.) Calisthenics until 6:30, get ready for the day. (Cleaned, dressed, straight and
proper. Healthy body, healthy mind. Hopefully.) Spend time until breakfast making plans for escape. That’s
usually about an hour. Eat breakfast, chat with Amanda. Pace when it gets to the debating/ranting part of the
conversation. (It always did. Once, the topic somehow turned to houseplants, and they spent the better part of
an hour screaming at each other. They spent the next hour laughing about it.) Around noon, Amanda always did
“errands.” Lacklee had yet to figure out what she actually did, but it gave her the opportunity to implement the
ideas she had made that morning. There were several that were close to working; all she needed was to fine-
tune them. After the Wode got back, there would be another conversation. (Except for two days ago, when
Amanda came back with a tomato on her face. Then, she merely raised her hand for silence, and with a deathly
calm, strode away and washed it off. It was strange remembering how enraged Lacklee had been at the sight.)
Amanda would cradle a hot cup of coffee until it cooled, then replace the cold liquid with hot. Repeat three
times until supper. Moderate silence for that, then Amanda would be busy doing housework while Lacklee did
the exercises she had learned from the Albata warriors. No matter how in shape she was, they always
exhausted her. That was their point, and it was invigorating. After that, Albata tradition called for “Untuka der
Fraoljeriof,” the shouting of an ancient battle song who’s translation Lacklee had since forgotten. Doing this had
become much more enjoyable since Amanda started shouting possible translations right after each line. They
could get fairly ridiculous. After that, they would shoot the bull until Amanda was ready to retire (8:00). Lacklee’d
sleep for two hours, then wake up to listen to Amanda exit as quietly as she could. Except for the door frame, it
was silent. Eerie. After half an hour, she would return. Lacklee didn’t know why she did this, but her gut told her
to worry. So she did.
   Tonight was the night of the state ball. Amanda had been given three days to prepare for it. That would’ve
been disastrous if not for an Apprentice Lightfoot Dressmaker, who’s creation Amanda modeled for Lacklee
after the Albata exercises. “What do you think?”
   “Nice. You look slender, not emaciated.”
   “I am a perfectly healthy Wode,” Amanda shot back irritably. “In no way emaciated.”
   “Geez, touchy,” Lacklee grinned. “Is someone not excited about a party?”
   “Maybe,” she responded, flumping into her chair and curling her legs up. “Maybe I just don’t feel like being a
novelty tonight.”
   “Tomorrow would be better?” Lacklee asked, mimicking her.
   “Yes. Let’s call all the guests and tell them to clear off, come back tomorrow.”
   “Ok! Give me my sword, I’ll be very effective clearing them off.” She grinned evilly, yet sincerely.
   “Yeah, no. Thanks anyway, though.” She reached for a nonexistent cup of coffee and shrugged. “Peach Fuzz
should be here any minute now anyway.”
   “Peach Fuzz?”
   “Sorry, you actually are getting a babysitter tonight.”
   “Aw, don’t you twust me?” She put on her most adowable face. It wasn’t adorable at all, which made Amanda
chuckle.
   “As far as I can throw my shoe. Oh wait!” She stuck her bear paws straight out.
   “Yes, ha ha, you have no shoes.” She flipped onto her back and regarded Amanda upside down. “I should
still come. It’d be fun!”
   “Sitting in a corner, poking fun at the stuffed shirts?” Amanda smiled, her first and only real one that evening.
“They’re stuffed with buffet food!”
   “Forget that! I will
make you dance with me! I’ll teach you the official Lightfoot traditional dance-like thingy!”
   She laughed, “With a name like that, there is
no way I can doubt its existence!”
   “You better believe it! Now help me make it up.”
   That’s exactly what they were doing when Lieutenant Heckleson knocked. All he heard was giggling and
some stomping, silenced by his knock. He wondered about it while she wrenched the door open, then felt his
jaw drop.
    The Wode looked beautiful. Her face was flushed, her lips parted slightly from laughter, hair curving
gracefully from the butterfly pin. And that dress… A thin V-neck to the top of a corset, a slinky skirt. The kimono
sleeves looked like fluttering wings behind her; that left a slim, naked arm leaning against the doorframe. He
stared at the thick black line spiraling it for a while before snapping to the present. “You look lovely tonight.”
   The compliment failed to produce a smile for him. “Thank you. Now she has a routine. Giving her any sort of
weapon is not part of it. I’ve got soup cooking in the pot on the stove, help yourself to it at six unless you fancy
raw vegetables.”
   Amanda continued down the lengthy list, surprising him. Unbeknownst to him, Amanda was setting him up to
actually be of use that evening. Who better to convince Lacklee that the Acerbate army was decent than a
member thereof?
   Ok, so it was all she had to work with, but by golly she’ll
make it work.
   She finished the list off and said her goodbyes. He scratched his peach fuzz, then walked into the room to
face the caged tiger.
   He couldn’t believe what he saw.

   
This will never end. The world will decay and explode around the building while it’s inhabitants parade in a
hell of their own making.
   Thus Amanda’s thoughts went as the second hour faded into the third. As the token Wode, she was subject
to petty inquiries from all sides. Nobles, bureaucrats, it didn’t matter: seemed like every one of the attendants
had a reason to talk to her, and that reason was always to ask personal questions.
   (To be fair, these were questions none of the other races could consider personal; and, as one could see, it
is ignorance that makes them continue asking.)
   “There are rumors circulating about your language,” a Lady So-and-So gasped out of her tight green taffeta
dress. “Is it true what they say about the use of sarcasm in it?”
   “I don’t know, I rarely ever have a reason to speak it at all.”
No reason to speak to the likes of you, at least!
BAM you just got burned.
“I would not be capable of demonstrating any oddities.”
   Lady So-and-So looked disappointed. “So, you wouldn’t be able to demonstrate the legendary sarcasm
tense?”
  
 Oh yeah, I’d use THAT in polite company. Or ever again, since it brings such WONDERFUL
consequences.
“I’m afraid not.”
   A Mostly Soulless Bureaucrat overheard the conversation and jumped in. “That’s a pity, as I, too, have
wondered about it.” The Lady and Bureaucrat chattered for a while, but not long enough Amanda to escape
from another question. “One thing in particular I have noticed: I have many Wodes under my employ” -he
paused to see if Amanda would smile at that; she didn’t- “and there seems to be many… Physical differences,
if you will.”
   “Some have tails and some don’t?”
   Mostly Soulless was quite relieved that he didn’t have to be the blunt one. “Yes, exactly. Is there any tribal
significance to this?”
   
Absolutely not; if they haven’t earned a tail, they haven’t learned to balance. Simple. “I don’t think so,” was
what she said, in a naïve tone.
   Amanda knew perfectly well how annoying her answers were, probably more so than the average Wode
because of how frequently she was asked them. At least she was of a young enough generation to feel
comfortable dancing around or giving vague misinformation for each question. Older Wodes refused to
exchange any words on the subject at all. Annoying, yes, and illogical, but really, a culture doesn’t hide itself for
eons just to blather endlessly once it’s discovered.
   They were all the same questions, anyway. Every one of them clinical, impersonal, designed to answer broad
questions with as little personal infringement as possible, as if that could get her to answer them. Which is why
she was so taken aback when a slightly drunk guest asked if she wasn’t terribly cold here.
   “Am I cold here?”
Jovel del tika, what kind of question is that? Do you think Wodes can’t acclimatize?
Everyone can. Mind you, for the longest time I was tortured by the  weather. For the longest time, I was
constantly besot by an aching, persistent chill that no one else could see or understand. The chill pervaded
every aspect of my day, every day, denying me sleep and free movement, even on the “warm” days. Why
was I wearing jackets during summer? The air was cold, the sun’s heat abused.
   Inka del irata, how can you understand? Your city is unnatural, full of glass and metal. It absorbs the heat’s
light and doubles it, bounces it back at you. You must take the heat’s fire all at once, no compromise, no
escape. Take it and melt. Not like home, no… There, the heat’s light is dappled, and it is a game to dash
between them. It’s dark and alive in the jungle; it ripples off the panther and drips off the ferns. The world is
lush and alive there: you are reminded of this, and of your home, your family, your world. Not like here. Here,
you are burned by glass and metal, and nobody cares. Am I cold? …Yes. Cold and lonely… because
Lacklee’s marvelous company will not last. It’s my job to make sure of that.
   Amanda drifted out of introspection to see faces staring at her, vague concern wrestling to keep one
eyebrows lowered. Apparently, she’d been staring into space for the past few minutes. She blinked to signal
she was back. “I’m sorry, I was just struck by what a strange question it was.”
   An Important Somebody lifted Inebriated from their slumped position. “I see… If these questions make you
uncomfortable, you don’t have to answer.”
   “Now she has permission to ignore every question you ask,” a silky voice said from behind.
   Since the voice had plucked the exact thought from her head, Amanda deigned to glance at its source. An
elf, tall, slender, with a well-cut black suit that glistened blue, winked at her. She responded by doing nothing.
   Meanwhile, the Important Somebodies were appreciative of the sudden brevity and laughed. “You would
know more than us, Faisal,” one of them chuckled. “How long have you been writing that book now?”
   “It seems like an eternity,” the elf named Faisal allowed, laughing with them. He turned to Amanda. “I have
been attempting to write a book about Wode culture,” he explained, “but you’re kind is terribly close-mouthed
about it.”
   She opted to shrug instead of reply, “Well, maybe you should take that as a big fat hint to mind your own
damn business.”
   He somehow took her shrug as an indication that she did not totally hate his guts and smiled. “My name is
Faisal Deliaf. When I am not writing about foreign cultures, I am the diplomat of blah blah blah” Amanda
stopped paying attention because he was kissing her hand and she was wondering when slobbering all over
people became socially sanctioned. Gross.
   Oops, sounds like he’s still talking. Blah blah blah “heard a lot about your position in the government,
Miss…?” His hand waved to indicate a question for her.
   “Amanda. What have you heard?”
Too blunt? Don’t care.
   “You are a criminal psychologist, are you not?” He smiled and continued. “It must be fascinating figuring out
how they’ve disillusioned themselves.”
   “The people I am given are not crazy, sir,” she snapped at what he didn’t say. “Dangerous, yes, but hardly
crazy.”
   “My apologies, I didn’t mean to insult your patients lucidity,” he said complacently, without any hint of actually
being sorry. “But that must be the quality that brings them to your government’s attention, yes?” The elf’s eyes
flashed as Amanda’s rolled inwardly.
  
 I don’t even need ears to hear the espionage. “Perhaps,” she said in a voice carefully careless, “But how
can one enjoy a party and discuss business at the same time?”
   Faisal took the sledgehammer hint to drop it in stride. “Of course! Parties are for enjoying yourselves and
other’s company.” He smiled at her as if they shared a secret. “With that in mind, would you care to dance?”
   
I’d love to say no, but my boss not only suddenly appeared, he heard your invite and is now nodding like
an epileptic bobble head.
“How can I refuse? Lead the way.”
   He grinned and took her hand.
   A tango was playing. The meek were flocking off the dance floor when Faisal led Amanda onto it. Dare they
wait for a milder song? His eyes seemed to ask.
   No. She struck a pose. This music was perfect.
   His hands found her hand, her waist. The music thrummed in her ears.
   Ah, the power of the tango! Lauded by dancers as the dance of giving and taking, requests and permission.
They say it is so passionate, even professionals can only stay on the ragged edge of control.
   Lies. Amanda knew better. She knew a dance of one, of two, of twenty. A dance of celebration, of joy, of the
discovery of life! The drums would beat, but arithmetically: drummers would constantly be replaced as they
leapt up to join the dance.
   Maintain control. You cannot leap here. You cannot shout or sing or reach for the ceiling. You cannot let go.
   But his passion! His leaps, his hands flowing down her back, his eyes smoldering into hers… The blare of
brass, the memory of drums pounding in the dark, fervid air… The catching of a stranger’s eyes from across
the broiling floor.
   She was carrying the flame when that happened! She dropped it, it fizzled out, and the entire company
laughed, herself included. Pick it up! Leap over the father flame. Bear paws were sure of the jumping point and
how to land. Hold the relit torch over your head victoriously! Not the sign of adulthood, or childhood, or infancy.
A sign of pure and simple enjoyment.
   Snap to the present, snap to work: she tried, but couldn’t. The memory of seeing his face for the first time
was etched in her mind; she didn’t need to close her eyes to see it. Seeing her husband in Faisal’s face, she
began to let go. Fangs poked into her gums. Ears began to broaden. Feathers itched to burst out of her arms-
   No.
   She didn’t earn her wings in the jungle. Mordecai never saw them. She had never flown over the father flame.
   Ears thinned. Fangs shortened. The passion died. The music ended.
   She vaguely heard clapping, and only barely saw Faisal’s smiling face. She was falling down the familiar well
of loneliness again. Proper reaction? Flee. Politely.
   Presently, she found herself on a deck, gasping desperate lungful of cold air. That stupid party continued to
make noise in the background.
   Why is she here? Why is she cavorting with creatures of spite? Lacklee’s right, it’s weakness. It’s
abnormality.
   It’s survival. Amanda sighed and straightened herself. She had learned that one can’t simply fly away from
troubles. It was a harsh lesson, sometimes leaving her back burning with the memory of how she learned it, but
she wouldn’t forget it.
   And hey, that was the irony of the lesson. Now that she could literally fly away, she wouldn’t.
   The day that failed to get a laugh out of her would be a sad day indeed.
   Eventually, she recovered her composure enough to go back in. It wouldn’t last long, so she went back in with
the sole purpose to wrap things up by claiming fatigue. It wasn’t entirely a lie, and made a decent statement
against holding these blasted parties until daybreak.
   To her surprise (although the surprise itself surprised her), Faisal was chatting up her boss. They seemed to
be getting along swimmingly, and the conversation was about her.
   That was an embarrassingly easy deduction based on the halted conversation and guilty smiles when she
approached. She did not show that she was surprised and a bit irked that a huge military man like her boss
could house such a simpering expression. She was not surprised and very irked to hear it not interfere with his
disapproval at her statement of leaving.
   “Fatigue or not, Amanda, it is your duty to represent your country,” Colonel Boss said, eyes flashing critically.
Yes, he even talks like this at a party.
   “Only for tonight, sir,” she responded evenly. “The rest of my time goes towards my patients, and I can’t do
either job well with no sleep.”
   Colonel Boss was about to tell her to buck up when Faisal interrupted. “It is getting late, colonel… Or rather,
early.” He smiled at his dumb joke. “If I dare be so bold, I would beg for the honor of escorting our dear Amanda
to her abode.”
   The flowery language made her want to retch, but her eyes remained dark mirrors of impassivity. Keeping
them like that made her miss a significant lewd smirk on Colonel Boss’s face. “If you can be gentle with her…”
   
Oh, puke. Ilna te tonkdei nigart da fonkda noof. Nevertheless, she smiled and let herself be escorted out by
Faisal, who, had she not learned his name, would be called Smarmy Elf.
   Exactly one block from the party, Amanda turned to him and said, “Thank you, but I can make it from here.”
Her tone strained to be polite.
   For his part, Faisal seemed genuinely surprised. “Oh. I was looking forward to walking with you.” He smiled,
sheepishly for an elf.
   Was it just her, or did he seem a million times more sincere in the night air? “You honor me, sir, but it’s
completely unnecessary.”
   “A few minutes more, my lady,” he (begged) responded, stepping forward to her step back. “I’ve been
longing to shed the tedious party mask all night, and it is so much better with a friend.”
   She said something in response, but forgot it as she said it because she was thinking about how she was
looking forward to doing that with Lacklee, but no, damn it, she’s got to spin it.
   Whatever she said made Faisal laugh. It floated over the empty streets, echoing the sound of someone else’
s merriment. She shivered with loneliness.
   His coat was around her before she stopped. She looked at his/not-his face with pathetic gratefulness, and
they kept walking.
   A refreshing conversation later, they stood outside her apartment building. Loneliness and the moonlight had
made her a bit too free with her words, and the self-consciousness was unfamiliar and hotly embarrassing. To
her ears, though, Faisal was simply, honestly glad to be in her company. He was a completely different person
outside the hot cloister of the ballroom. She decided that she liked Earnest Elf better as she shrugged off his
coat. “Thank you.”
   “My pleasure.” He looked up and down the building before finding the words for his next sentence. “I enjoyed
it. Would it be possible to do it again sometime? Anytime?”
   She giggled at what he didn’t say. “You wish to court me?”
   The silvery light did nothing to hide his blush, and she giggled at that too. “I was going to ask that specifically
in a few weeks, but since it’s out there…” He glanced at her hopefully.
   She giggled again, then sighed. Unconsciously, she lifted her dress sleeve to show  him the spiral tattoo. “It’s
flattering, but: spoken for.”
   Earnest Elf was expressionless as he gently took her hand, softly cradling the spiraled wrist as if it were a
delicate bird. Wordlessly, he gazed at it.
   Wordlessly, he wrung the bird’s neck. He wrenched her wrist around to regard the harsh black line originating
below the splayed palm. Slithering eyes followed the straight line all the way up the arm, stopping to stare
knowingly,
evilly, into hers. He smiled. “Doesn’t look like it.”
   “Unhand me, sir.” Her voice was steel.
   “My dear, I only wished-”
   “Un. Hand. Me. Sir.” Venom dripped, both figuratively and literally.
   The steel and venom proved too much; he dropped her hand. She glared at him, enraged at the violation,
helplessly not knowing how to act. It wasn’t so much the insult against her that made her freeze. How did he
know? How did he know what the spiral meant? How did he
know about the straight line? Who told him? Why?
At what cost?
   She couldn’t dither forever. Snap to now, snap away from him, tail swishing violently as she walked away,
fangs still unsheathed.
   She was almost at the door when he called out to her. “I’m sorry. I was wrong.”
   “Yes you were,” she snarled.
   “I know, but please” -he stopped short of touching her shoulder- “let’s not part company this way.”
   “What’s wrong with this way? Too messy? Believe me, sir, this is the cleanest cut you could hope for.”
Ok,
tone it down. You earned these fangs for a reason.
   He stiffened at the sudden harshness. “I was not trying to be rid of you.” Natural elfin pompousness entered
his voice. “I would hope there was some way to make it up to you.”
   “ ‘I’m sorry for raping you. Please, have a cookie.’”
I dare my fanged elders to let that one pass them by. Ok,
really done now.
   He seemed almost angry, then sighed. “I’m sorry it feels like that. I should have realized that that must be why
progress on my book is so slow.”
   Understanding why the knowledge came to him didn’t make it any better -no, not in the slightest- but she
pretended it did. “Maybe next time a girl tells you she’s not available, you should believe her instead of…
Anything.” She made her voice cool, not steel. She was at the door now, waiting for him to turn away so she
could slam the door and lock it.
   “You’re right. I’m sorry,” he said. “Is there any way I can make up for it? My embassy will cover even your most
lavish requests.”
   Now it was her turn to stiffen.
Embassy. That’s right, he’s the diplomat of so-and-so… Elf Land or
something… Powerful allies. Refusing his apology would undo that entire evening of socializing. Colonel Boss
would get involved.
   What’s the worse that could happen? She shuddered. Life had taught her that there was no limit to how bad it
could get. It could be worth it… No. She didn’t want to find out. She was too afraid.
   “Surprise me,” she sighed. This would happen anyway. Why fight it when it’s easier just to give up?
   “Really?” He looked like a hopeful puppy. She hated him more for it.
   “Yes, really,” she said, turning away. She hoped her demeanor didn’t epitomize defeat. “Goodnight, Faisal.”
   “Goodnight, Amanda.” He skipped away, elated at her supposed forgiveness.
   She watched him.
Lacklee’s right. I’m a coward.
   I am such a coward.

   “Everyone knows why a Lightfoot’s profession is called its Passion. It is their life, their love, their everything. It
is more their identity than the names they were born with. To take it away is a fate worse than death.
   “Should someone take it away, the first thing that happens is a drastic loss of weight. The Lightfoot becomes
gaunt and sallow, mostly because it’s stopped eating regularly, or, more often, at all.
   “This is naturally followed by hair loss. Huge clumps of hair fall off or are pulled off by the desperate victim.
Which brings us to the last symptom: Madness.
   “This symptom is the most pervasive, and most believe it starts building the very moment the Passion is lost.
Depending on the individual, it can present itself in a plethora of ways: hallucinations, denial, violence, et
cetera. Toward the end, however, it is always the same: completely insane, sobbing in a corner, begging
imaginary creatures to end its life while attempting to do it itself. It is inconsolable at this point: the only things it
can see are of its own imagination. A few hours into this stage, the body gives up. A brain hemorrhage of as
yet unknown origin attacks the victim, killing it instantly.
   “The whole process, start to finish, takes a little less than a month. Curiously, even in the final hours, a
complete cure is possible. Simply give its Passion back. Give a Painter a brush and paints. Give an
Astronomer a telescope. They will be completely cured by the next day.
   “The Lightfeet call this the Madness of the Dead. Their lore has many examples of it, the most popular being
of a Pianist declared guilty in court. The punishment? Cut off the hands. In the immortal words of the terrified
Pianist, ‘Kill me first.’”
           -Human anthropologist speaking to other scientists at the War Commune. He did not cite his sources;
they didn’t ask for them.

   It was dark in the apartment, but Lacklee was not asleep. What little moonlight there was illuminated
Lieutenant Heckleson and herself, both sitting up, staring at each other. It had been like this for hours.
   It stopped suddenly when the door popped open and the light flicked on. He blinked in the sudden glare.
   “Ha! I win!” Lacklee crowed. “You blinked!”
   “Yes, fine, you win the
three hour staring contest,” Heckleson grimaced, rubbing his eyes. “You can blink
now.”
   “Can’t. They’re stuck,” Lacklee grinned ruefully. “So how was the party, Mistress Wode? Did you dance with
all the boys?”
   “If it makes you happy, then yes. So you two had fun? No trouble?”
   
“Lieutenant Heckleson and I had a grand time,” Lacklee grinned, rubbing her sore eyes.
   “Rambunctious little Soldier,” Heckleson allowed, grinning. “Asked a lot about the military.”
   “You answered honestly, I hope,” Amanda said, padding into the kitchen for coffee.
   “Oh, of course,” he answered too quickly, following her. “She really wanted to handle my weapons.”
   “Well, on the off chance I join you, I’ll need to know what they issue,” Lacklee shouted. “In case I need to
replace crap weapons.”
   Amanda knew that statement represented progress, and her heart sank resignedly. “What is it, Peach--
Lieutenant Heckleson?”
   Heckleson didn’t notice the discrepancy. “She looks terrible,” he told Amanda in a lowered voice.
   Lacklee didn’t hear that. Their conversation was too quiet to hear, and so obviously concerned her. She didn’
t mind; if it was deathly important, Amanda would remedy it. She looked at her suddenly gnarled hands and
laughed at herself for knowing that. Her warden’s just that, a warden, but she’s also somehow also her friend. If
she told anybody else, they’d assume it was part of the Madness and feel pity. Except…
   She ran a hand through her thinning hair. The jewels rested comfortably against her forehead, a reminder of
the victories in the south and of Amanda’s initial, unexpected kindness.
   That’s how she knows Amanda’s her friend. She’s somehow the best friend she’s ever had. So when she
came out and saw Lacklee- really saw her; the bags under her eyes, the gauntness (how could she get so
gaunt in a week?), the desperate, frightened way her traitorous body shook… She knew that the shocked
despair in her eyes could only mean that Amanda considered Lacklee a friend too. And friends don’t let friends
wallow in illness.
   She knew that it wasn’t desperation that was inventing a friend in an enemy, but she prayed that madness
wouldn’t blind her to it.
Wodes and Lightfeet
Chapter Five: At the Ball
updates sporadically
(c) 2009
-2010
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