So, I could only stay away so long and then I had to come back for a brief visit. I think (and you've heard that before) that this is the first installment of what will be a sporadically updated trilogy set between the end and the epilogue of EEA. (If you haven't read EEA, you might find it boring and bewildering but you're welcome to come along for the ride.) It basically covers events alluded to in the epilogue. It takes place in late winter—a few months after the EEA's midwinter ending. And, at the request of some lovely reviewers, it looks at Kel's daughter, Fira, who is having the tumultuous adolescence Neal predicted… All the usual copyright disclaimers apply—i.e. this was produced purely for stress-relief purposes. Enjoy!
I'm not even alone, Penelope reminded herself, glancing down at her belly, where her unborn child seemed to be inventing a martial art of her very own.
Bandit wandered over and set his head on her knee, sighing loudly as though he too were impatiently awaiting Dalton's return.
"I know, boy," Penelope muttered, ashamed of the way her voice caught. She ought to be able to function for a few days—and he would only be gone a few days— without her husband. She was supposed to be a knight of the realm, not a moping, lovesick squire. She was pregnant; she ought to be acting like an adult, not someone who desperately wanted to be held in loving arms. Never mind that she was irrationally terrified that something would happen to him while she wasn't there to protect him.
Penelope shook her head to clear it and glanced out at the snow-covered courtyard. It was ridiculous that part of her wanted to be out in that weather, camped alongside Dalton and Selena and Vina, ready to fight in the morning, able to make sure they all came home uninjured.
Ordinary noblewomen waited at home for months while their husbands fought. Ordinary women were also quite capable of reattaching buttons to shirts. And normal knights weren't reduced to tears by their clumsiness at sewing. But if she couldn't manage this, how was she ever going to care for her…
A timely knock finally halted her thoughts before they could run away with her.
Dalton braced his elbow on a tree branch and mounded snow against the joint, trying to lessen the painful throbbing radiating along his arm.
"Here." Selena appeared beside him with a flour sack that had been filled with snow. She propped it securely at his elbow and then stepped back a pace or two, sticking her hands in her armpits to warm them.
"Thanks," Dalton muttered.
"Thank you," she said, "for saving my hide this afternoon."
Dalton looked away. "It wouldn't have needed saving if I hadn't been distracted this afternoon. I was an idiot. I'm sorry. I could have gotten you killed."
They were both silent for a moment, remembering how his concentration had broken as he was supposed to be covering Selena's back as they charged forwards. He'd barely noticed the danger in time to block the centaur from decapitating Selena as she shot at a hurrok. And he'd taken a hoof to his elbow in the process. But if he'd been a even a little more immersed in his thoughts of home, if he'd taken a moment longer to notice…
"Well," she said, "I was going to bring it up a little more tactfully."
Dalton shrugged. "I was worrying about her," he admitted.
"I know," Selena said. "You can't do that."
"I can't not," Dalton said helplessly.
Selena sighed. "You have to—" She swallowed and traced her fingers along the hilt of her sword, thinking of the man who'd made it for her. "When you leave someone behind," she said, "you know he—she's safe."
"Easy enough for you to say," he snapped, the pain in his arm making him irritable. "Jeck's not pregnant."
"Right," Selena muttered. "I'd wondered why he didn't have Neal hovering around monitoring his health."
Dalton nodded sheepishly, which Selena took as a sign to continue.
"So you set her safely aside in the back of your mind and you focus entirely on what we're doing here so that you can get back as soon as possible. It's the best way to deal with—"she frowned, scrubbing her tired eyes with her hands. "Sorry," she said. "I shouldn't be lecturing you."
He shrugged. "You are the expert here." He swallowed. "It's harder than I expected it would be, this—"
"You miss her."
Dalton blinked at the obviousness of this statement, which somehow seemed to have intensified the ache in his arm.
"No," she said. "I mean more than the way I want Jeck. You miss her as a fighting partner, the one who always has your back. And you miss your best friend. And you miss having her sleep beside you." She smiled knowingly. "When was the last time you two were apart?"
Dalton frowned thoughtfully. "If you don't count our Ordeals?" He frowned thoughtfully. "A few weeks before then."
"No," she said in a mock scandalized whisper, "those were before your wedding."
"This from the woman who didn't even bother maintaining the appearance of a separate room during the years she lived with her sweetheart." He smiled pointedly at the simple ring that now graced her left hand, which she wore not for herself or Jeck, but to educate all the idiots who disapproved of her marrying a common smith. "And it wasn't just about honesty and convenience, was it? You wanted every second you could have at home with him in between being called away."
Selena nodded, shivering miserably and wondering why loneliness always made cold worse.
"Sorry." Dalton wrapped his good arm around her so that they could share his cloak. "We—Pen and I—always used to wonder how you managed."
"I'm not entirely sure," she said. "I suspect some understanding friends were involved. And I would tell you that it gets easier over time, but…"
They chuckled darkly together.
Penelope's rescuer was none other than Kel's daughter, who stood clutching her journal to her chest.
"We're supposed to choose a knight to interview for homework," she said. "And I've chosen you, if that's alright."
"Of course," Penelope said, feeling oddly flattered. She gestured for Fira to take the sofa and got out a tin of ginger biscuits for them to share. Fira was growing rapidly and always hungry—and so was she these days.
"Why me?" she asked, taking the armchair that Dalton usually occupied.
"I'm supposed to be asking the questions." Fira chose a biscuit. "And my ma says that it's unladylike to fish for compliments. But my da calls that a double standard because lots of knights do it."
"I see," Penelope said.
"Anyway," Fira continued, "you were the obvious choice. Especially since Selena's gone and Wyldon declared himself off-limits. You don't intimidate me."
Unsure whether to be pleased or offended by this, Penelope refrained from pointing out that she doubted she intimidated many people in her current state.
"I used to climb on your shoulders and think that you were exactly what I wanted to be when I grew up back when I thought fifteen was grownup."
Penelope smiled. She'd later begun to think that 'grownup' must be somewhere around Wyldon's age, whatever that was. Or that it was simply an illusion one kept preserving for younger generations.
"Besides—"Fira opened her notebook—"I doubt the men will be able to answer all of my questions. And I am not interviewing my mother," she added fiercely.
Penelope decided that the wisest course would be to simply nod in acknowledgement of this last statement. She fortified herself with a bite of biscuit and turned to her interviewer. "What do you want to know?"
"When did you decide this was what you wanted?"
"Every morning," Penelope said, a little startled by her own answer, "when I hauled myself out of bed to hit the practice court."
"What was the hardest part?"
"I'm not sure," she answered. "Neal would probably tell you I'm lucky to have repressed whatever it was."
"And what was the best part? And you aren't allowed to say Dalton."
Penelope thought a moment. "You know that really annoying smug look certain boys get when they're sure you can't do something?"
Fira's eyes widened as she nodded.
"And you know how disoriented they get when you prove them wrong?"
Fira grinned and nodded.
"That's definitely one of the best parts."
"Thanks," Dalton muttered, squeezing Selena's shoulders once more before releasing her from his hug. "They don't—"he gestured back at the other knights' tent—"they're used to leaving women behind."
"Regrettably," Vina remarked, stepping up to lean against the tree beside them. "It doesn't mean I like doing so."
Selena smiled and came to stand beside Vina. "I think he was referring to all the big strapping traditionalists who don't share his concerns—"
"Well," said Vina, "I don't see why we women should have the monopoly on unconventional behavior."
Dalton frowned at her. "I don't have to be nearly as brave and outrageous as—"
"But I think you'd thrown in your lot with the eccentrics and underdogs even before you met Penelope," Vina said.
Dalton nodded slowly. Perhaps that had been what first attracted Penelope to him.
"It isn't all bad," Selena said after a moment's silence.
Dalton snorted and glanced at his elbow, which wouldn't be capable of much fighting or heavy lifting for the next few weeks.
"Or it is all bad," she amended, "but there are good things about having someone to come home to. I know I just have to get there and Jeck will take care of everything while I get my head on straight again. He's there to walk help me off my horse or reheat whatever Jason's made for dinner. And as soon as he takes my hand I know that it's over and that I'm going to be alright." She sighed wistfully. "And he isn't dirty or exhausted from days on the road. He's just there for me."
"And then, if it's really late and cold, there's a lot to be said for coming home to someone who's already warm in bed," Vina added. "Especially if she isn't sound asleep."
"It's always the quiet ones," Selena muttered.
"You do know that's exactly what they're saying back there about you and Dalton having snuck off together." Vina wrinkled her nose cheerfully. "Though by now, they probably think all three of us are—"she ducked the snowball that Selena launched at her—"together."
"Right," Dalton said. "I guess we'd better get back to our respective tents before anyone else decides to join in the fun."
Selena grinned and stepped over to help him fashion a makeshift sling for his elbow. "Oh," she said, "by the way, Penelope is capable of making her own tea in the morning. She just doesn't like to remind you of it. So, don't worry on that score."
Kefira didn't even look up from the answer she was writing in her notebook as the pages' curfew bell rang.
"We can finish tomorrow," Penelope offered, though she couldn't imagine many more questions. They'd been talking (with interspersed snorts and giggles) for over an hour.
"Are you getting tired?"
"Not really, but Mindelan wouldn't want you to be breaking curfew."
"She's my mother and it's my decision." Fira lifted her head calmly and met Penelope's eyes.
Penelope shrugged, feeling that she wasn't in a good position to argue given that she'd recently described several occasions on which she'd broken curfew (and sometimes for activities more mischievous than homework.)
Fira nodded gratefully. "Right then. Is there anything I should have asked you about that I haven't yet?"
Penelope thought a moment and then shook her head. "Just learn to recognize and trust the people who believe in you and your purpose. Don't be so paranoid about maintaining your independence that you push them away."
"Is 'trust' some kind of code for kiss or love?" Fira asked. "Because Jarif is basically my brother. We aren't going to wind up like you and Dalton."
"Well, I suppose trust is a kind of love. And so is feeling that someone is your brother. But no, it's not code. And I certainly hope you can trust more people in your life than the one you happen to be kissing at the moment."
Fira smiled. The she closed her notebook and stood reluctantly. She seemed unwilling to take a step towards the door.
"Is there anything you want to tell me that I haven't asked?" Penelope said.
"Sometimes I want to quit," Fira blurted and then sat back down again as though expecting to be scolded.
"Hmmm." Penelope squeezed Fira's shoulder and then stood up to put the kettle on for tea so she could think about what she wanted to say.
"Everybody thinks about quitting. I thought most about it when I was a squire, so maybe you're getting your doubting over early."
"It's just that sometimes I feel like I'm doing this for my ma. Or my da. Or Wyldon. Or whoever would be disappointed if I didn't."
"And what about you? What would you do if you were doing it just for yourself?"
Fira shrugged. Penelope took this as in indication that it was time for a second round of biscuits. She fetched them, poured tea, and then took a seat beside Fira on the sofa.
"Seriously. If you weren't deciding for anyone but yourself, what would you be? A Rider? A healer? A scholar? A blacksmith?"
"I don't think Jeck has room for another apprentice," Fira said, her brow crinkling a little in amusement
"You aren't supposed to be thinking about anyone else," Penelope said with mock sternness. "So, a priestess? A pastry-maker?"
Fira shook her head, almost smiling. "I honestly don't have anything else I'd really rather do. It's just that I sometimes wake up and wonder whether this is really the right path."
"And does this come from that pesky little voice at the back of your head that also occasionally tells you you're stupid, clumsy, or ugly?" Penelope said.
"Or all three on particularly bad days."
"Right," Penelope muttered. "It's probably one you should ignore then."
"I try." Fira sighed and dropped her head to rest on Penelope's shoulder. "But sometimes I just wish someone else in my head would speak up and shout that we're obviously on the right track."
"Me too," Penelope admitted, wrapping an arm around the girl's shoulders. "But nothing you try is going to seem absolutely perfect all the time. And I like to think all the really smart voices are in our hearts and guts. If they aren't screaming at you to stop something, you're probably headed in the right direction."
"So it's okay not to be entirely right about yourself as long as you aren't entirely wrong."
Penelope smiled at how natural it felt to be cuddled reassuringly around a youngster who wanted her advice. "I'd promise that it all works out eventually but I'm not sure I've actually gotten to eventually yet."
"That's okay." Fira reached lazily for another biscuit. "And while I'm here…" she gestured around the sitting room—"when did you first realize you loved Dalton?"
They were interrupted a short while later by another knock on Penelope's door.
"Come in," she called.
"Finally. There she is."
Neal and Kel entered, both attempting reproving expressions when they spotted Fira (though Neal's was more of an amused smirk and Kel seemed a little guilt-stricken.)
Fira stood quickly and tucked her hands behind her back. Her mother raised an eyebrow.
"So you are aware that it's an hour past your curfew."
Fira nodded calmly. "And the standard punishment is a week of stable chores, so I'll be doing two." She glanced slyly at Neal. "Most likely with an hour or two of armor scrubbing added for cheek."
Kel nodded, looking mildly astonished by her daughter's unflinching calculations.
"Why do you keep setting yourself up for this?"
"I fell," Fira said almost cheerfully, "out of love with perfection." She scooped up her notebook and kissed Kel's cheek. "Night, ma." Then she headed off to bed.
Kel sighed and took one of Penelope's proffered biscuits. (Neal took a handful.)
"I just don't understand what's gotten into her. She doesn't usually deliberately disobey rules. And she usually makes some kind of private protest about her doubled punishments"—Kel ran a hand through her hair—"which are, by the way, the worst part of my job."
"And one's own children are always the most difficult," Neal murmured. "It's far easier to raise and teach other peoples'. That's probably why we farm them out to be pages and squires or convent-trained young ladies."
"Said like a true cynic," Kel told him.
"Actually," Neal admitted, "that particular gem came from Wyldon. I don't think he ever truly understood his own daughters. It wasn't really because they were girls; it was because they were his."
This brought a brief smile to Kel's face.
"He seemed to manage alright with Selena," Penelope pointed out.
"Once Kel had broken him in," Neal muttered.
"Maybe I should quit," Kel said. "And let someone else handle training for the next seven years."
"Don't," Neal said. "You're the only one I'd trust with my daughter's training."
Kel sighed. "I know the whole double-punishments-so-we're-sure-she-doesn't-look-like-she's-being favored situation is hard for both of us and usually she stays out of trouble. But this past week she's been…"
"trying to prove to herself that she isn't you," Penelope finished.
"In that case," Neal observed, "it's interesting how much her efforts seem to make her resemble her mother."
Kel fixed him with the stern expression she usually reserved for giggling pages and Penelope's eyebrows raised in gleeful curiosity.
"Maybe that tendency to knowingly do things for which one will be undeservedly punished and then cheerfully accept the consequences passed from mother to daughter," Neal added.
"And she couldn't have gotten my chin or my taste for vegetables?" Kel rubbed her fingers over her temple.
"I think it was just an introspective, underconfident phase," Penelope said. "Either it's over already or she's going to wind up like Neal." She smiled at Neal's glare. "What? I might as well say this kind of thing while everyone's letting me get away with it."
"Too bad we can't tell the truth all the time," Kel remarked. Then she came to squeeze Penelope's shoulder in farewell. "And thanks," she whispered, "for saying whatever it was she needed to hear."
Neal cleared his throat once she'd left, resisting the urge to ask Penelope how she was.
Penelope accurately interpreted the throat-clearing as a reminder that going un-interrogated was a privilege to be earned by coming to him whenever she did feel ill and nodded calmly at him.
"Yours will be just as difficult one day," he informed her. "I think they get our best and worst traits in whatever combination is mostly likely to drive us mad." He sighed. "It's alright to contemplate throttling one's children, but several passages in the Knight's Code forbid our acting on the impulse."
"Like with squires?"
"Exactly. Only they start out smaller and squallier. And it takes a few years for them to learn to make impertinent remarks."
A few nights later, it was Karyna who stood at Penelope's door.
"Can I come in?" she asked a little hesitantly. "Things are a little awkward for me in the other wing without Vina here. And my bunk in the Rider barracks was eaten by bureaucratic oversight."
Penelope smiled sympathetically and pulled open the door. "Would you happen to be any good at sewing buttons?"
"Not especially," Karyna said, "I usually talk Vina into doing mine. But I can get them more or less attached while losing at chess and gossiping about which Riders are sleeping with which of the Own."
"Excellent." Penelope tried not to show too much desperate glee as she handed over her mending and went to fetch the chessboard.
Dalton hastily dismissed his men when they reached the stables and smiled as he watched Selena dash towards Jeck. His own excited dash would have to wait until he'd cared for his horse and stumbled back to his rooms.
"She would have been waiting here if you'd sent word ahead," Vina reminded him. "Jeck has the advantage of being able to hear groups come in."
"I know," Dalton said. "I didn't want her out waiting in this weather."
"And I presume you want me to refrain from sharing that with her so that she won't throw the nearest available diatribe at you."
"Yes, please," Dalton agreed.
Selena disentangled herself from Jeck and then kissed his cheek again before slinging his arm around her waist and returning to the stables.
"Don't worry about your horse," she told Dalton. "We'll take care of him."
"You don't have—"
"Really." Jeck glanced pointedly at his bandaged arm. "It will give Jason and Sara more time to finish dinner since they seem to be doing more kissing than cooking." There was a note of not-quite-approval in his voice. "I don't understand it. They manage to stay focused on weaponry all day, but once they step into the kitchen…"
"It's the garlic," Vina said cheerfully as she poured oats for her already-groomed horse. "And I've got your bags," she added, nudging Dalton with a free elbow.
"You do realize that you aren't my squire anymore?" he said, following her.
"You do realize that your arm isn't up to carrying these?" Vina parried. "And that we're headed in the same general direction?"
"Alright." Dalton shrugged in surrender. "Thanks."
"How was it?" Jeck asked as he began untacking Dalton's horse.
"About average," Selena said. She pulled off her saddle and patted her mare's shoulder. "Actually," she added slowly, "they probably didn't need all of us."
"Really?" Jeck set down the hoof he'd been picking out and turned to look at her. "Does that mean something?"
"I don't know." Selena shrugged. "I've just been thinking…we aren't actually at war right now. I mean, there are bandits and Immortals and there always will be. But basically things are pretty calm." She swallowed. "And it seems like Penelope's chosen a pretty good time to be taking a few years off."
Jeck wrapped his hands briefly around hers as he passed her a brush. "And is that what you want right now?"
"I don't know," she said. "I sort of feel like I should train a squire first and really establish myself…But I'm not sure that there's ever going to be a squire for me to train since I could only take a girl and then if a war starts in the meanwhile I don't want to seem like I'm having children just to back out the of fighting." She sighed, but managed to smile at Jeck when he reached over to squeeze her shoulder. "I—we should talk about it, but not when I'm too tired to think."
Jeck nodded calmly. "No need to decide anything tonight."
And then, despite Selena's claim that she was too tired to think, a sudden thought hit her.
"Would you be horrified if I talked to Wyldon about it?"
Jeck blinked and then recovered. "Not particularly. His health's been very good these past few months."
Selena laughed a little shakily. "And you haven't even given me the 'no noble inheritance' reminders."
Jeck shrugged. "I figure you heard the first few and it would be an insult to keep reminding you over and over again. And between the two of us we earn more than enough to support children through anything less expensive than knighthood."
Selena smiled. "I suppose we'd better just work out the timing then."
"Oh," Vina said, joyfully dropping their bags inside Dalton's door. "I hope they aren't cheating on us."
Dalton stepped up behind her and found Penelope and Karyna playing chess. Or rather, he saw a chessboard on the table and found Karyna pulling Vina into her lap and Penelope standing up—which was becoming a bit of a project for her—to greet him.
"Hey." He went to wrap his arms around her and winced at the pain in his elbow.
"What happened?" she demanded, pulling back so that she could extend his arm and finger the bandage.
"Nothing." He tugged her back into his arms, ignoring the pain. "I'm just a bit of a klutz when I don't have you there to impress."
She chuckled patiently, but he felt a few warm tears hit his shirt when she settled her face against his chest. "Sorry," she said. "I misplaced my cheeky optimism while you were away." She cleared her throat. "But you can't be a klutz because your daughter is an acrobat. "
Penelope drew his good hand to her belly and their daughter, who seemed to sense that her movements were finally being encouraged, went perversely still.
"Just wait," Penelope muttered, "and pretend not to pay attention."
Dalton set his chin atop her head and looked over at Vina.
"You smell like horse," Karyna was telling her. She had her nose buried in Vina's hair and didn't seem to care.
"You're about to lose your castle," Vina informed her, lazily surveying the board.
"Dalton's castle," Karyna corrected. "There's a letter from Rissa on your desk."
"Is she—"Vina began eagerly.
"I haven't opened it, but it's a good I'm-happy-enough-to-have-things-to-tell-you-but-too-busy-to-give-you-the-full-geneology-of-everyone-I've-met length." She smiled. "I'd suggest we go get it, but that would involve moving."
Dalton finally felt the baby kick and grinned briefly at Penelope, wonderingly if their child had already begun picking up certain Shang techniques from her mother's training sessions.
"Ermph." Vina dropped her head to the crook of Karyna's elbow. "Any other news?"
"I'm riding out again in three weeks."
"Already?" Penelope asked. She kissed Dalton's cheek as she helped him out of his cloak so that she could frown at his injured arm.
"Well, they want to send a Rider group down to the desert to 'foster intercultural friendships' and that kind of thing, so I volunteered to lead mine."
"Oh." Vina's worried pout transformed into a wide grin. "I don't suppose you'll be bringing a stray knight or two along."
"As a matter of fact…"Karyna brushed her nose against Vina's. "I made that very suggestion to my commanding officer and found that it was very well received."
"I'll expect weekly reports," Penelope informed them. At least this would ease the knot of worry she'd felt since Rissa's departure. "If not daily," she added when Vina blinked at her, "since I can't occupy my time with sewing or jousting."
You won't want to know this anymore than I want to write it, but I felt that I ought to be the one to inform you. I am to marry Lady Maria tomorrow, by the arrangement of both out mothers. Please remember your promise and do not stop writing to me.
P.S. If you were anyone else, I wouldn't believe you'd already saved children from a prowling lion. But since it's you, I wonder how much you were casually understating your heroism in that last letter.
Rissa smiled at the postscript and then forced herself to read the letter one last time. Blinking tears, she stood and tossed it into the fire. Then she dropped to the ground and pulled her knees up against her chest—a stupid, undefended position for someone out alone in the dark, but she was too unhappy to care.
"I don't wish to disrupt your solitude."
The voice was unfamiliar to Rissa, but it sounded young, male, and irritated. She shrugged in acknowledgement but didn't look up.
"But there are only so many quiet hiding places to slip away to at this camp," he continued, sitting down on the opposite side of the fire, "and I need to avoid my brother for a bit longer."
"Why?" Rissa asked, despite herself. She glanced over at her new companion and found that he was about her age.
"Proving a point." He rolled his intense brown eyes. "My brother was spotted 'borrowing' a horse that wasn't his to ride this morning. When the owner confronted him this evening, he claimed it had been me—we are identical, you see, twins. So I'm staying out until he confesses and handles the consequences of his actions."
He reminded her of Vina. He'd even pulled his leanly-muscled shoulders into the same aggrieved-but-stubbornly-loving-and-responsible posture.
"At home," she told him, "I'm the reckless twin—usually, and right now, I suppose, running away from…" she shook her head. "And my sister is the rational one—when she isn't rescuing me anyway."
"You have a twin?" he asked.
Rissa nodded, smiling because he hadn't said 'you're a twin' as so many people did, as though she wouldn't exist at all without Vina.
"So you understand that I may be in for a very long wait?"
Rissa nodded. "I suppose you want to know why I'm out here." She did not want to tell him.
He shrugged. "Only if you have an interesting reason. Otherwise I'll settle for an assurance that you aren't going to start sobbing hysterically on me."
Rissa mustered a little dignity. "My hysterics," she informed him, "are virtually always the laughing sort."
"Bed," Penelope ordered Dalton as soon as their guests had departed. His face was the grayish tone that came from the exhaustion of suppressing pain.
Too tired to argue, he slumped on the edge of their bed and let her help him out of his boots and shirt. He didn't even protest when she wet a cloth and scrubbed his face clean (in part because he suspected that she was polishing maternal skills she didn't think she had). But he recognized the tiredness in her eyes when she lay down beside him.
"Hey." He brushed his fingers over cheek. "You can't worry so much next time," he told her. "Aside from the fact that it's a little insulting—I mean have I really given you reason to be so worried about my lack of fighting prowess or whatever?-"he tweaked her nose gently—"and it's obviously exhausting, it doesn't do either of any good."
"I know." Penelope rolled over and snugged herself against him so that he could elevate his injured arm by draping it over her. "I just—missed you," she admitted.
"Me too," he murmured as Bandit spun his three circles and settled at their feet "It's like reliving our squire years."
"Only worse," Penelope agreed. "And better." She smiled. "Poor Queenscove," she added unrepentantly.
So, thanks for reading! I hope you've enjoyed this little look at what happened after Rissa left. I had fun working with this older, more rebellious Fira and I'm looking forward to putting her in the next installment (which will be up sometime before my September plunge into the Ph.D. pit of doom). Persuasive reviews may succeed in convincing me to include favorite characters in the next update or get me to speed up the process.