The Dressmaster

By: Ashin (Dan Rowe)

"AGH!!" the scribe leaned back in her chair, crossed her puffed white sleeves over her chest and kicked at the desk with a sneakered foot, sending her quill flying away from a still damp smudge.

"Why don't you wrap up for the day, Nelsha?" The girl's mentor, an overweight man who always dressed in the same wrinkled robes, suggested as he walked into the main room just after Nelsha had set her foot down again.

Nelsha looked up, staring through her ochre-rimmed glasses. "Already, Quill?"

"That's the fifth quill you've lost in three days," he returned, watching the feather hover under the cabinet on the far wall before looking at Nelsha again. "I can't see why Golda thought you'd make a good scribe.

Nelsha looked down at the portfolio resting against her chair, taking heart that her designs were nearby; unaware that Quill was angry with her.

Nelsha jumped out of the way of a group of children playing ball, kicking a pliable bag of yarn into the air with their feet and bouncing it back into the air with their head as it came down, passing the ball to the next person. Nelsha was much too old to play such a childish game, though she yearned to go back to the days of her youth. Or, if nothing else, she wanted to have the free time to work on her patterns, as she preferred working with cloth to working with parchment.

Nelsha looked up toward the library, the grandest structure in Myscatonia, and grinned. She always looked forward to pouring over the tomes on sewing and cloth making. Grinning, the ex-scribe turned her feet toward her mind's fodder.

"Chosen one."

Nelsha blinked, her nose hurt something fierce, her glasses dug into her face, pressed against a book as they were. Where was she? It was definitely not her house, as she'd at least have left one candle burning while she drew in bed, and it wasn't her parent's house, as it didn't smell of chlorine.

"Where is Nelsha?"

It was too dark to see anything beyond the desk and book in front of her, and the voice that had wakened her didn't want to offer any help.

Not entirely cognizant, Nelsha turned, knocking her ink well off the desk to send it skittering across the floor and down the hall. Even half conscious, she kept enough awareness to run after the black bottle, not noticing as the floor disappeared beneath her. Nelsha didn't notice she was free falling until she hit the sandy floor beneath her, a brightly lit round cave housing an enormous golden bulk before her.

"Chosen one, I prophesied the day you would return."

Nelsha looked up toward a gaping maw under glowing white eyes, the rest of the face hidden in darkness.

"Come into my lair, dress maker."

Nelsha jumped, did as the voice commanded. "How did you know Nelsha longs to be a dress maker?"

"Do you not know who you speak to, Chosen one?"

"Nelsha is still groggy, give her a hint?"

An immense golden paw lifted to point a razor sharp claw at an amethyst gem embedded beneath the neck of the being. "Hint enough?"

Nelsha's eyes widen, followed closely by her prostrating herself on the sand. "Lord Golda?"

"No need to address me so formally, Chosen one... you have more power than I."

"Who? Nelsha? Must still be sleeping..." Nelsha muttered to herself.

Golda nodded. "It's possible... let's put it this way, dream or not, you'll remember this day to the end of your life."

"What makes Nelsha the Chosen one?"

"Chosen one, Nelsha, you are destined to help fight against the coming darkness."

"Coming darkness?" Nelsha tilted her head, her straight brown hair drifting down to shoulder length, she quirked an eyebrow up at the beast.

"The Dark Lord, Dianova."


Nelsha jumped, her glasses pressed firmly to her face, her hair matted to her head, a line of drool dribbling down her cheek. "What? What?"

"Nelsha?" The librarian, an elderly female Myscatonian with grey hair caught Nelsha's shoulder. "We're closing in twenty minutes, better get your things together."

Nelsha took a quick moment to straighten her glasses, brush her thin fingers through her hair, and wipe the drool off her cheek before looking at the librarian. "Alright, thanks, Y'ret."

The librarian grinned slightly, not surprised that the studious girl had called her by her 'human' name, the two Myscatonians were friends since Nelsha first started her research.

Packing her ink well into her bag, Nelsha hefted the book she had been sleeping in. "Nelsha will pay the damages when she brings it back tomorrow." 'With what money?' Nelsha asked herself, and then preceded to wave the question away, deciding she'd think it over in the morning.

"That's alright, Nelsha. See you tomorrow night."

Nelsha slid the book into her bag, and waved to Y'ret as she walked out.

Sitting up in bed, a sketchpad resting against her raised knees, Nelsha thought back to her dream of Golda. "Travel human lands? He must be nuts... Where will Nelsha find Dianova?"

Nelsha glanced down at her sketch, herself in her normal puff shirt and a medium length skirt, together with her low boots. That was a new one on her, she'd never thought to wear a skirt before, as the desk she sat behind every day until today had an open front, and Nelsha, ever the shy one, would've been mortified to find that her unmentionables were showing off to all of Myscatonia.

Nelsha examined the sketch more closely and noticed she had actually sketched in her shorts under the skirt.

"Well... Nelsha will go tomorrow... " 'What else is there to do? Hang around in the library? All day?'

Nelsha flipped to a clean page in her sketchbook before setting it on her bedside table, falling asleep almost as her head hit the pillow.

Stylus smoothed her skirt, looking across the busy town square at a restaurant proclaiming to be the 'Drinking Cup'. "Best place to get info right now... why must it always be a bar?"

Stylus took a seat at the bar next to an angry-looking man with black hair to his shoulders, held there with a headband. Soot smudges proclaimed him a blacksmith, or any possible one of hundreds of less legal professions.

On the guy's other side sat a medium-tall girl with emerald green hair, dressed in a blue vest and a long, dirty white skirt. Stylus wasn't a good judge of human age, but might have guessed at the girl being a teenager.

"What news, Metallia?" the blacksmith rumbled.

Stylus caught one word from the quiet girl's answer. "Dianova."

"What was that?" Stylus turned toward her neighbor.

"Do I know you?" the blacksmith looked at Stylus. "How did a kid get in here? Where're your parents, kid?"

"Stylus' not a kid... she is easily older than you."

"Is that so? Stylus, did you say?"

Stylus nodded. "Stylus is."

Metallia leaned around her companion. "Can you prove your age, Stylus?"

Rolling her eyes, Stylus offered, "Stylus is old enough to drink, do not talk condescendingly to her."

Metallia laughed, offered her hand around the blacksmith. "Nice to meet you, Stylus, I'm Metallia, and this lump beside me is Jyabil."

Jyabil hmphed and crossed his arms.

Metallia elbowed Jyabil in the ribs as she shook Stylus' hand. "Now then, Stylus, where are you from?"

"Stylus can't say. Stylus will say only that she is from nowhere near here."

"Where are your parents, Stylus?" Metallia asked.

"Dead," Stylus sighed.

"Jyabil... can I...?" Metallia whispered in Jyabil's ear.

Jyabil nodded after a moment, turning blue-gray eyes on Stylus. "If she wants to, fine."

"If Stylus wants to what?"

"Since your parents are dead, do you want to stay here?"

Stylus looked down at groups of empty alcohol glasses. In front of Metallia were thirteen empty glasses, and a fourteenth was on its way down to join them. Jyabil had five, but was already getting glossy-eyed. Stylus, on the other hand, was up to somewhere around her twentieth at least, she wasn't keeping an exact count, as after the fifteenth the tender had begun clearing away the empties, and yet, her head was still perfectly clear. At her age, she could easily imbibe four or five times her weight in pure alcohol, and wouldn't feel a thing.

"Give Stylus the night to think on it? She has never been offered such a thing."

"Hey, Jyabil, is it me or do you think Stylus could drink Muza under the table too?"

"What does it matter if she could? You think Shaft will come to us with a proposal to hold a drinking contest to decide the war?" Jyabil grunted, his naturally gravelly voice sounding a bit more fluid as he took in more alcohol.

"Well, you know, I was thinking..." Metallia apparently got shyer as she got drunk. Interesting knowledge, Nelsha noted to herself.

"It's not something Grifford should be proud of, Metallia." There it was, Jyabil was gruff again, and probably at least half-sober.

"Who's Shaft?" Stylus diverted the raging inferno she assumed was about to blow.

Jyabil turned a blue-gray eye toward Stylus. "Shaft is the right-hand-henchman for a crazy idiot named Dianova, or, as he likes to call himself, the Dark Emperor."

Stylus jumped. That name. Memory grabbed at the edges of her brain, caught a ragged nail, and slipped away into darkness. "Dark Emperor?"

"That's what he fancies himself... I don't think he knows what reality is any longer... so, our little organization, the LFB, or, Liberation Front of Boyzby, have taken it upon ourselves to put him out of commission before he tilts a little too far off the deep-end and decides he needs to destroy the world to fulfill his creepy little fantasy." Metallia spouted, seeming to have been holding it all in much too long.

Stylus pulled her hand-pouch up onto the bar, picked through it disdainfully, amazed to find that she only had a few nibs to a quill, a well of ink, a roll of thread with a needle through the wrapping, and a small pad of blank parchment. "Stylus has sworn to... to... damn... she had it a moment ago."

"At least Muza keeps his memory when he's drunk..." Metallia amended.

Stylus pulled the needle from the length of thread and slammed it, point down, into the bar in front of her, causing Metallia to jump. Jyabil hardly even flinched.

"What was that for, Stylus?"

Stylus blinked, not bothering to answer Metallia, and instead fell backward off her stool, pretending to faint. The last thing she heard before she stopped listening, to enhance the experience, was Metallia muttering, "Definitely not as good as Muza."

Stylus spent the night in bed, a very plush bed. 'Good,' she thought, 'they think Stylus passed out, so she won't be bothered.'

It almost worked. Around three in the morning, someone made their way into her room and took a seat by her bed.

"You're very quiet. If Stylus weren't awake, you might have been able to take all her possessions, not that she has much of value," Stylus grunted, cracking open a bleary eye to look at a blurry form sitting next to her. "Where are Stylus's glasses?"

"Right here," Metallia answered, pressing the girl's glasses directly into her hands.

Stylus sat up, pressing her glasses up the bridge of her nose. "Where is Stylus?"

"LFB headquarters. How's your head?"

"Stylus is fine, why?"

"You passed out and fell four feet at least, onto a stone ground. Do you even have a headache?"


Metallia mouthed a 'Wow.' "Oh, yeah... got your needle for you... here," Metallia offered the needle to Stylus, who watched it glint in a shaft of moonlight.

Stylus took the needle and stuck it into the hem of her hand pouch. "Thanks, but... why?"

"I don't know... you just... something about you... just... I don't know."

Stylus blinked. "Oh... kay... if you say so."

"You're doing all right, then?"


"I'll let you sleep."

"Stylus will have an answer in the morning."

"Chosen one."

Nelsha looked up at the underside of an arch in the library. She had seen it many times before, it was her area in the building, it even had her name carved in the wall at what was eye level when she was a 'teenager', she knew where it was. If there had been a book in her lap, it would have fit the scene perfectly.

But she was just sitting there, no book in reach, no one else in the library as far as she could tell.

"Chosen one."

"Who? Nelsha?"

"Yes, you... you forgot what I told you, didn't you?"

"No! No...Nelsha didn't... how did you know?"

A rumbling laugh answered her. "I know enough, Chosen one."

"What was Nelsha supposed to do?"

"Ah, right to the point. Good. You are to bring Dianova to his grave."

Stylus flipped over, right out of the bed. Slamming into the ground woke her up at least. It was a good thing she wasn't wearing her glasses, as she landed face down.

Stylus stood up carefully, rubbing her nose to see if it was broken before reaching for her glasses, getting a good look around the room she had spent the night in. "Green... too much green..." Everything was hunter green, floor, walls, ceiling, the wooden bedposts, the bed covers, the curtains, everything.

Stylus slipped out of the room, walking backward, she just couldn't believe it was all green. Well, at least the hallway wasn't green, it was sky blue, with bronze-gold sconces every so many feet, little bouquets of red flowers, Winter breath as Stylus would know if she had ever researched more than dresses, hanging just beneath yellow, metal-veined candles.

The rafters looked to have been planed smooth and sanded round.

Stylus ran into someone as she walked backward, jumped as rough fingers wrapped around her shoulders. "You alright? Wait, who are you?" It was a somewhat high, teenage voice, cracked slightly.

Stylus leaned backward to look up at a thin, plain face framed in shaggy brown hair. The boy was covered entirely in bright silver armor, minus a helmet and leggings.

"Oh, are you this Stylus Metallia sent out the memo about?"

"Maybe, why?"

"Hi, my name's Muza Grifford. Finding everything all right?"

"Oh, sure... Stylus is a bit hungry... but, nothing too horrible..."

"Here, let me show you to the cafeteria." Muza offered a hand to the girl.

Stylus took the hand, letting Muza lead her.

"Ah, that's better." Stylus looked down at the empty plate, the vapor trails of maple syrup forming a roughly sketched skirt design.

"So, why are you here, if I might ask?" Muza mumbled around a forkful of sausage hovering in front of his mouth.

"Stylus ... er, really has no clue. Why are you here?"

Muza grunted, having stuffed the sausage in his mouth. After he swallowed the sausage he said, "Mom thought I needed to get out of the house a bit more often... She keeps on about 'Your father was an Immortal Warrior of Schutzren, a boy from that legacy should not be inside drawing all hours of the light'." Muza made a face before taking a long drink of his orange juice.

"What's an Immortal Warrior of Schutzren?"

Muza poked his fork toward Stylus. "I really don't know... Mom still has the letters from Dad that he sent during his trip... mentions something that he called Aquoon, a Sword soul... and some place called Myscatonia..." Muza shook his head forlornly. "I ask everyone I meet about them, but no one has any clue, so for now, I'm an impending Immortal Warrior of Schutzren."

Stylus smiled at his joke. "Well, good luck on your journey... do you know where Metallia is?"

"You don't know anything either?"

"Stylus knows many things... big, deep secrets, nothing she can say..." Stylus stood, picked up her plate, and walked it into the kitchen, then came back to stand beside Muza. "Well?"

"Well what?"

"Where is Metallia?"

Muza gestured at a door with two glass panels that lead off to a patch of green. "She eats her meals out there. Pretty certain she's up by now."

Stylus smiled. "Thank you, Muza Grifford." She hurried off toward the door, stepped through quietly, and looked around. A wooden table stained red sat on a rock patio, an awning cast most of the table into darkness, but Stylus could see out into the town of Boyzby, a few people walked by on the stone path beneath the restaurant, cut off by the ravine, perfectly clear water ran down the ravine around the town, every so often a bridge cut over from one side of the island to the continent around it. A dust cloud rose from the center of town.

"That's the hover-ship landing pad, Stylus." Metallia's voice held a hint of amusement.

Stylus spun around, finally seeing the woman sitting placidly in the shadows, leaning against the building.

"Sleep well, Stylus?"

"Stylus slept well enough... she met Muza Grifford this morning, too... he treated Stylus to breakfast."

Metallia grinned. "That's Muza for you... well, no, he didn't actually pay for breakfast... he gets meals free."

"What? How?"

"He's been working with us since he was eight... he's getting better at fighting... part of why his mother sent him here... let me guess, he told you he's the inheritor of the Schutzren legacy, didn't he?"

"Was that a lie too?"

Metallia shook her head. "Not entirely... his father wasn't an Immortal Warrior of Schutzren... so, he lies about it a bit... his mother passed that legacy to him. She doesn't trust artists, so, she sent him to Jyabil, in hopes we'd be able to make him a warrior."

Stylus blinked. "Stylus has her answer. If it is not going to be a burden to Metallia, Stylus would like to stay here. She made a promise to someone about fighting this Dark Emperor."

Metallia pointed a finger and held her hand out to Stylus. "Nice to have you aboard, Stylus."

Stylus shook Metallia's hand. "Nice to be here."

Stylus smiled softly as she ran into Muza in the hallway. "Hello again, yet to be Immortal Warrior of the Schutzren."

Muza turned around and returned the smile. "Hello, Stylus. Did you find Metallia?"

"Oh, yes, Stylus did. Thank you for showing her the way, and for breakfast. Stylus had no gold-gold yet."

Muza held up a gloved-up-to-the-knuckles hand to stop Stylus from going much farther. "Oh, it was nothing..."

Stylus quirked a thin brown eyebrow, as if to say she knew the truth, but didn't want to find fault with the warrior.

Muza hedged slightly, took a short step backward at Stylus' raised eyebrow. "Eh, well... actually, I get meals for free..." Muza grinned disarmingly.

"Well, at least you told Stylus the truth, but she knew that already. Metallia told Stylus. You do get points for telling Stylus to her face, though."

"Metallia told you...? What else did she tell you?"

"Can Stylus see some of your drawings, when you have free time, of course?"

Muza blinked. "I... I guess so."

"How old are you?"

"Almost twenty, why? How old are you?"

Stylus blanked, running through the calculation of her age to her human age, and winced as it came out to eight rivers and a handful. "Not polite to ask a woman her age... Stylus is old enough to know that."

Muza's face went scarlet.

Stylus passed by the soon-to-be-not-a-teenager, heading for the barracks. The walls in this wing were all faced wood, the ceiling white-washed. Lanterns hung from the rafters to light the way, swayed back and forth in response to the hover-ships landing in town, threw dancing shadows all over the walls and floor.

Stylus turned to look behind her after passing a third bend in the hallway. "That was a bit too close for Stylus's liking..." She slipped her thin little hand down into her hand pouch, flipped around for the sketchpad, found it and lifted it out. Stylus flipped it open to the first page, already decorated with a sketch of something entirely leather, a skirt and blouse combination, blinked as a drop of red dribbled onto the page off her hand.

Stylus stopped long enough to examine her hand, a trail of blood running down the length of it. "How did Stylus do that?" Stylus pulled up her hand pouch to look at it. "Ah, forgot Stylus had put the needle there."

Stylus turned all the way around to head back the way she had come, nearly ran into Muza again as she turned a corner, but didn't stop to talk again.

"Stylus is normally not so forgetful about where she left her needle."

"You're going to be fine, Stylus." Metallia offered from Stylus' left as a nurse was working on her right.

"It's not infected, yet... here... put your hand here." The nurse rested Stylus' hand on a rollover table. "I'll be right back."

Stylus looked toward Metallia. "Is Muza always so... shy?"

Metallia nodded. "He always has been... at least, around women... his mother used to intimidate him, be careful what you say to him... he freezes up every so often."

Stylus' eyes widen. "His mother must be an amazing warrior."

"Of course she is, she attained the title of Immortal Warrior. She was thirty five the day of the ceremony."


Clicking steps alerted the two of them that the nurse had returned. "Now then hold your hand still, this will sting if the cut is too deep to heal entirely."

Stylus turned to look at the small tub of crystal clear liquid resting by her hand. "It's not going to hurt too badly, right?"

"Here, bite on this, just in case." The nurse handed Nelsha a short length of leather.

Stylus did as told, even though the leather was salty to her.

"I told Jyabil your decision, Stylus."

Stylus nodded softly, trying to ignore the slight sting from the liquid.

"He would never say it directly, but I think he's glad you decided to stay as well."

Stylus shrugged.

"You know, Jyabil has a little sister... she shows up once a week or so... I bet she's about your age."

Stylus tried not to glare at Metallia.

The nurse rubbed the cut on Stylus' hand, tied a length of gauze around her hand, and picked up a vial of something. "Here, Stylus..." she popped the cork off the vial and handed it to the girl, "Drink this. It'll speed the internal processes until the cut is healed."

Stylus took the vial and stared at it a moment before pulling the strip of leather from her mouth and downed the vial in one slug. It took effect immediately, caused her head to buzz softly. "Metallia? Stylus is not that young."

"Mmeh." Metallia shrugged. "You want to go with me to watch the training?"

"Training? What training?" Stylus turned back to watch Metallia, ignoring the nurse as she picked up and left.

"Weapons training. Don't worry, you don't have to do anything yet, since you're wounded." Metallia grinned.

"Uh, okay. Sure..." 'Hey, I might get time to do more sketches.'

Stylus slid down off the bed, and then walked over to stand by Metallia.

Stylus licked the tip of her quill, staring at a blank page in her sketchbook, beneath the group of warriors all learning to work as a whole. One warrior, or amazon, or whatever, caught her attention, wearing a vest over a loose blouse, chain mail links dangling just beyond the hem along with knee-length shorts. Stylus dipped the quill in her ink well, set the nib to her sketchpad and roughed out a human form, adding the outfit on top of the drawing.

Metallia set a hand on Stylus' shoulder, looking down at what the girl was drawing.

"You're in Stylus' light, would you please move a bit to the left?" Stylus turned on her campstool to look up. "Oh, it's you. Hello, Metallia."

"What are you doing, Stylus?"

"Doing what Stylus always does... designing clothes."

"Ah, always?"

The girl nodded, tucking a strand of hair back over her head. "Here, let Stylus show you." Stylus set a clean sheet of parchment down over her current drawing, flipped to the front of the pad, flipping through her designs carefully.

"Shaft?" a deep voice that rolled about the room commanded from within a gathered sphere of darkness.

"Yes, my lord?"

"How go the preparations?"

"Very well, my lord. All but one has awakened." Shaft, a tall, lanky man clothed in black trimmed with green, clicked fingers long enough to be claws.

"Which one?"


A roll of purple energy looped over the sphere and dissipated. "Wake her."

"Now, my lord?"

"Yes, now, Shaft."

The laboratory lights flickered as Shaft walked in, various wires hung from the ceiling at a height that only Shaft or Dianova could have reached them. Deeper into the room, Shaft could see four tables that had been tilted up to allow the creations to walk off of their own wills. The first to waken had turned out to be the most intelligent of the creations thus far, but there was still another to waken. Something in the one codenamed Vanity kept it asleep.

A machine near the table blipped, reaching a level, labeled 40 and flat-lined.

Shaft noted this reaction as he tapped keys on his keyboard. Overhead, the remaining volt coil lowered to a position just above Vanity. The other coil had fallen while awakening 'Crusher', who had somehow managed to impale it on his hand. Shaft had managed to integrate the coil onto 'Crusher's exoskeleton and covered it in an electrostatic orb to allow Bolt, as Crusher had taken to calling himself, to discharge any excess energy.

The other two that had wakened so far were too cocky for their own good. The elder of the two, Wire, carried a scythe that was easily as tall as he was, though he was only a little thicker around than the scythe. Bearing, the other, carried a sword, and was only slightly less muscular than Bolt, but easily as thin as Wire.

Shaft rolled his eyes, tapping the keys to power up the volt coil. "Last chance to wake on your own, Vanity... or I'll have to shock you awake. Dianova orders it."

A hand twitched as it fell off the table from under the sheet. A thick white finger flexed slowly.

Shaft looked up as he saw the finger twitch at the edge of his vision. The sheet shifted as Vanity sat up on the table, stretched her arms and yawned. "What a good dream."

Shaft grimaced. "You don't dream. We are similar, and I don't dream... as such, you don't dream."

A thick, pink braid slipped out from under the sheet.

"How aware are you?"

"I saw a gathering of warriors..."

Shaft jotted a note on his pad. "Apparently not aware at all."

"What are you doing?"

"Taking notes... Dianova will be pleased to know you are awake."


Shaft shook his head, picked up a screwdriver, stepped up behind Vanity, popped a screw that held her back plate closed, and reached into her robotic innards, tweaking a number of dials.

"Hey! Get your hands off me!"

"Who are you?" Shaft asked as a test.

"Codename: Vanity. I'd prefer to be called Ratchet." The robot answered in a tinny voice.

"Who is Dianova?"

"My lord and master."

"Good." Shaft closed the hatch, tightened the screw to hold it there, and reached around to pull off the sheet. "Now, I'm going to let you down."

Ratchet made a noncommittal 'Nnn', as though she had just bitten her lip.


Stylus blinked and caught her glasses before moving so much as an inch. "Metallia?"

Metallia shrugged, not actually looking at the girl. "I wanted to let you know I'm headed to Kant today, and you're invited to go."

"But, Stylus has no money..."

"That's alright... I'll cover your costs, so long as you don't go overboard."


Metallia nodded.

"Stylus needed some new fabric and thread, and a new sketch pad..." 'And to return that book...'

"Jyabil said he was going to head up to Kant as well, the Triumphs are giving tours today, and Sodina's been wanting to see the house since they got here."


"Jyabil's little sister."

"Oh, yeah. Jyabil's going with us, then?"

"Sure. Why not?"

Stylus shrugged. "No problem."

"I'll be ready in about an hour."

Jyabil stood by himself at the statue near the town entrance, seemingly alone as Metallia and Stylus walked up.

"Coming by yourself, Jyabil?"

Jyabil nodded toward a little girl in a pink frock, her strawberry blonde hair done into pigtails, with a cat collar on as she walked up, carrying a bouquet of wildflowers, not worried that her knees were dirty.

"Look at you, Sodina..."

"Yeah, what's wrong?" Sodina had a high voice that seemed full of compassion.

"It's alright, Jyabil, we're only going to Kant. It's alright."

Stylus offered her good hand to Sodina. "Stylus is."

"I'm sorry?" Sodina blinked, fingering the knife she had slipped into her belt. An ordinary kitchen knife, but still, Jyabil had made it himself, so it was very sturdy and would do for whatever they might run into. Jyabil always told Sodina to be careful when she went wandering, and even with her brother at her side, she wasn't going to disobey his suggestion.

"Stylus is, just as Sodina is."

Sodina held up her fingers, trying to figure out Stylus' strange way of speaking, but couldn't make hide nor hair of it. "Jyabil?"

"Yes, Sodina?"

Sodina pointed at Stylus. "What's she saying?"

Jyabil looked at Stylus.

"Stylus said Stylus is, just as Sodina is," she offered to the blacksmith.

"She was telling you her name is Stylus."

"Stylus? What kind of name is Stylus?"

"That's not a kind thing to say, Sodina."

"Sorry." Sodina blushed.

"Don't apologize to me, apologize to Stylus. You hurt her feelings."

Stylus blinked, looking between Sodina and Jyabil. "Don't worry... Stylus hates her name too."

Sodina tapped the bell on her collar, listening to the ringing and ignoring the others. It calmed her.

"Sorry, but can we go?"

Metallia turned to look at Stylus. "Antsy?"

"Well... kind of... mostly, Stylus wants to get back..."

Metallia jumped and looked at her charge. "Stylus... how rude." Metallia chided in her best motherly voice, which didn't seem any different than her natural voice.


Stylus peered over her packages at a little boy with spiky black hair. Metallia was busy being talked to, so she wouldn't mind. "Hello?"

"You need help?"

Stylus shrugged, estimating the weight of her bags.

The boy pitched forward, clapped a hand to the back of his head. "Hey!"


Sodina stood up from behind the boy, standing just a few inches taller than him, which set her cat bell ringing. She had on a wicked smile, and immediately took on an air of 'Aw, poor baby'.

"Did you poke him, Sodina?" Stylus fumed.

Sodina huffed. "Why yes, I did."

"Why did you poke me?"

"Jyabil says you Triumphs are all women-abusers... worthless penny pinchers."

"That's not a nice thing to say."

Sodina stuck out her tongue. "About the Triumphs, it's very kind to say such... I'm sure I could've thought of something much worse than penny-pincher."

Stylus jumped as Metallia laid a slender hand on her charge's shoulder. "What's going on over here?"

"Sodina just insulted this poor boy..." Stylus sighed, looking at the boy. "Stylus is sorry, she never got your name."

The boy looked very proud of himself suddenly. "I'm Meis Triumph! I live in the manor up on the hill!"

Stylus looked up toward the manor, then back at Meis. "Stylus has seen bigger, but that is still an impressive house. Do you live there alone?"

"Oh, no... I live with my father and all the maids... and the creepy old butler..."

"Where's your mother?"

"She died when I was young."

"What do you mean, were young? You still look young to Stylus."

"Okay, when I was younger."

"Hey, Meis, would you be so kind as to give Stylus and I a tour? Cliff invited me up for a get-together, and I'd hate to leave Stylus out of it." Metallia broke ahead of Stylus.

Meis' eyes widened. "You're his get-together tonight?"

"What do you mean, tonight?"

"Father has a new lady visitor every night. Most consider themselves lucky to be picked for such an honor."

Only Stylus noticed Sodina stick her tongue so far out she went cross-eyed.

Metallia houghed, tried to say something, anything, and found she couldn't.

"He's really a nice guy once you get to know him."

That brought Metallia out of her stupor. "No! I don't want to get to know him! That's horrible! A new woman every night! No! Come on, Stylus; let's go get Jyabil... I'm ready to go."

"Okay." Stylus knelt down, coming eye to eye with Meis. "Thanks for offering your help... you're a little gentleman."

Meis looked as though he was about to cry as Stylus stood back up.

"What's wrong, Meis?"

"I needed one more to get Smoochy's best prize!"

"One more what?"

"One more kiss."

Stylus blinked. "Sorry, Meis, you're too young for Stylus..."

Metallia tapped Jyabil on the shoulder, holding one of Stylus' bags in the other, as Stylus had insisted they would need to drag Sodina with them.

Stylus grunted as Sodina tried yet again to jerk away from her grasp.

Jyabil stood up and turned around to look at Metallia. "Yes?"

"We're ready to go back, are you?"

Jyabil's answer was cut off as Stylus screamed suddenly.

Stylus held her arm where the knife had parted her flesh. Sodina stood a few feet away, the kitchen knife dripping blood, a knowing smile on the girl's face.

Stylus reached for the nearest thing to hand that could be a weapon, the needle in the hem of her hand pouch, and darted at Sodina, released her wound long enough to draw a line of blood down Sodina's cheek with the needle.

Sodina shoved Stylus away, ran a finger along the tingling line of blood and grinned. Energy flew on the air, setting Sodina's ribbons and hair to fluttering as the cut closed.

Stylus blinked, watching in amazement. "Magic? Humans know magic? How?" Stylus muttered only loud enough that she heard it.

Sodina grabbed the knife handle with both hands, energy burning away the dried blood on the knife's edge, making it glow deep pink.

Stylus blinked. "What are you doing?"

Sodina threw back her hand, the knife burning bright white and flipping up into the air, only to break into a few small slivers of white that fell to pierce Stylus' skin.

Stylus shook her head. "What was that?" Energy swirled around her, burning deep, royal red, solidifying into red velvet curtains hanging in folds from a perfectly circular golden hoop, hiding Stylus from everyone's sight.

Metallia leaned closer to Jyabil, watching the fight with some interest. "Are you going to stop them?"

Jyabil shook his head. "No, Sodina is strong enough to take care of herself... and I was wondering about Stylus."

Metallia caught Jyabil's smirk out of the corner of her eye. "What were you wondering?"

"If she is what I think she is, she'll tell you when she's ready. Until then, don't prod into her life."

"As you say."

The energy around Stylus dropped suddenly. Stylus no longer stood there, it was now a woman in a long dress suit of white cotton, a pink feather boa wrapped around her neck. This new woman's hair was long and curly, almost orange red. "I hope you understand what you did." The newcomer started spinning wildly, moving at such speed that her face blurred into a piece of the vortex. The feather boa swung out farther with each turn, or maybe it was the woman inching steadily closer to Sodina. One particularly strong turn slammed the boa into Sodina's face and sent her sprawling backward.

The vortex slowed to a stop, dropping Stylus to the ground in front of Sodina, breathing heavily. Stylus drew her hand along her mouth to wipe away flecks of spittle, and immediately grabbed her wound again.

Sodina sat up, staring at Stylus.

"Stylus?" Metallia stared, wide-eyed, and slack-jawed at her charge.

Jyabil grinned.

Sodina stepped carefully toward Stylus, drew her hands up around Stylus' arm.

Stylus jerked away from Sodina's hands.

Sodina hissed careful words. "You've earned my respect, I'm not going to harm you... I'm going to heal you."

Stylus snorted. "Stylus can heal herself, thank you."

"Can you?"

"Well, no, not really... she knows there is a way to, but can't... quite... manipulate the energy right..." Stylus hedged.

Sodina nodded. "So let me heal you now before you lose more blood... Jyabil and I will help you with learning to manipulate the energy."

"She needs to rest before we can teach her." Jyabil yelled.

Sodina closed her eyes, calling the vortex to whirl around both of them. "Deep healing." Sodina intoned. Stylus grunted as the slash from Sodina's knife knitted itself together, along with the tiny pinholes from Sodina's knife breaking.

Stylus blinked as the vortex disappeared as suddenly as it had appeared. "What happened to your knife?"

Sodina grinned, sliding the kitchen knife from its sheath. "It's called a spell." Sodina smiled even wider to take the sting off her words.

"I didn't know your sister was so magically inclined..."

Jyabil smiled at Metallia. "I taught her well how to contact the spirits for help. About three months ago, she was beating me four out of five rounds in practice."

"Wow... but..."

Jyabil cut Metallia off. "Stop asking before you wade too deeply... you might take a step that you'll never be able to surface from."

Metallia nodded, snapping her mouth shut.

Stylus nodded slightly. "Will you stop bad mouthing the Triumphs?"

"Why not? They're all lechers..."

Stylus knelt done by Sodina. "Promise Stylus."

Sodina turned to look over Stylus' shoulder, her mouthing turning down into a moue of distaste as she thought.

"Promise Stylus." She tried again, emphasizing her words.

Sodina nodded after a long time. "All right, I promise."

"Thank you." Stylus stood up. "Okay, can we go finally?"

Jyabil nodded.

"Thank you..." Stylus threw up her arms.

"A great spiritual victory you won this day, Chosen one."

"Don't praise Nelsha, praise the one willing to change."

"I don't speak of turning a person's mind... I speak of unlocking your most basic power. More will come with time. Keep practicing with them, there is much more to come."

Stylus stared down at her newest sketch. Not a pattern, which surprised her, though what she had drawn unnerved her, a beast with an amazingly wide mouth, a nearly spherical body, and two flexible arms. Stylus had never seen such a thing, and wasn't sure she wanted to, ever.

"You draw very well."

Stylus blinked. It wasn't Metallia talking to her nor was it Jyabil. "Muza?"

"How are you, Stylus?"

"What are you doing in Stylus' room?"

"You wanted to see some of my drawings, right?"

"Well, yes, but, you just walked into Stylus' room... you could have knocked at least."

"Sorry... been walking around in a haze the past few weeks... too rainy."

"Aw, poor Muza."

"It gets dreary drawing the same water-logged scene every day..."

Stylus held out a hand. "May Stylus see?"

"Sure" Muza handed Stylus a stack of papers.

Stylus blinked, flipping through the stack. It didn't take long to absorb most of the detail on them, they were all black and white and pretty much the same picture, with one or two details differing from one to the next. Stylus stopped on a drawing of a woman in army fatigues, large guns in each hand and ammo draped in strings over her shoulders. "What's this?"

Muza leaned over Stylus' shoulder. "That's my mother... or... was my mother, before the sickness started to waste her away."

"Hold old was she in this picture?"

"Thirty five."

"And you were how old?"

"Four or five."

"So, you were born just after your mother became a warrior of Schutzren?"

"I've been told I was conceived as part of the celebration."

"Do you know your father?"

"Oh, yeah... he took care of me after Mom fell ill."

"May Stylus borrow this picture overnight?" Stylus pulled out the picture of Muza's mother.

"I suppose so... just, please be careful with it."

"Stylus will be. She treats all art with great respect."

"All right, but that means you have to have breakfast with me."

Stylus smiled. "Deal."

"I have two questions, if I may, before I go... how'd you know it was my mother? And why are you drawing pictures of Damashi?"

"Metallia told Stylus that first day, and Stylus didn't know it had a name."

"And a huge tongue. Alright, see you at breakfast tomorrow." Muza grinned and stepped out of Stylus' room.

Stylus stayed up the night; sketching the army fatigues, glad for something to draw besides the Damashi. Every few minutes she would look over at her sewing project, a blue skirt short enough to be her old school uniform, topped off with a mostly white long sleeve top that bunched at the shoulders. She'd spent her free hours the past week or so sewing it, as there didn't seem to be anything better to do in Boyzby while it was raining. At least half the material she had picked up in Kant had already gone to making the outfit, and now Stylus was sure she would need more cloth. She would have to go hunting someday soon.

Stylus inspected her work. The new project would probably be a bit narrow in the shoulders. Well, that was easily fixed, just remove the sleeves, and leave the straps. No problem. Stylus sketched the new pattern. Much better.

"Persistent, if nothing else, a good quality for a chosen one."

Stylus awoke as the sun broke through the rain clouds, laying spread over her writing desk, facing directly out the window. A few passers by waved up at the building then continued on their journeys.

Although she knew they couldn't see her, Stylus waved back, just because it put a smile on her face.

A knock sounded at Stylus' door, making her jump. "Muza?"


Stylus got up and walked out of the line of sight, running her fingers through her hair and smoothing her clothes. "Okay, come on in."

Muza stepped into Stylus' room, stopping just inside the door to look around. "You promised we'd go to breakfast together."

"And Stylus will go, she's not taking back her word, your drawing is right there," Stylus gestured at the sheet of paper with the woman on it, "Just let Stylus change... she slept at her desk all night."

Muza picked up the drawing of his mother and leafed carefully through the other drawings on the desk before sitting down to wait.

"Why did you sleep at your desk? What are these drawings?"

"Stylus was making a new pattern... needed to get her mind off those drawings."

Stylus stepped out of her little side room, wearing a button down dinghy orange vest over a puffed white shirt with a long collar with puffballs attached at so many inches separation, along with a slightly-over knee length pleated brown skirt. Stylus did a quick turn, her skirt flipping up to momentarily show her blue shorts. "How does Stylus look?"

"Beautiful, as I've ever seen you."

Stylus stopped turning to look at Muza, her skirt piling up in folds. "You mean that?"

Muza nodded. "I mean it."

"Let's go... hunger rears its ugly head."

Muza looked down at the remains of his fried potato wedges, speared one with his fork. "What's wrong, Stylus? You look... sad."

"Stylus needs to get more fabric soon... her last project is almost done... just needs to sew the epaulets on." Stylus took a moment to bite off half a potato wedge.

"Okay, I have to ask, Stylus... why did you want to borrow my picture?"

"Used it as a basis for a new pattern. Saw it, thought it looked nice..." Stylus shrugged, not bothering to continue the thought.

"We got a new recruit today. Really early this morning, too... She came in all bloody." Muza blinked, followed someone as they passed with his eyes, and lowered his voice. "Wow... she must be a quick healer..."

Stylus looked up from her mostly clean plate. "How do you mean?"

Muza jabbed his fork toward the woman as she took a seat at the bar. She had dark, purple hair, almost on the verge of black, which came down to her shoulders. She wore a leather monokini that hugged her trim figure. Other than looking like she hadn't slept in days, she looked none the worse for wear.

Stylus shifted in her seat to look at the newcomer, then turned right back to Muza. "She doesn't look so tough... one good hit would probably break her in half."

Muza forked a wedge of orange, popped it in his mouth and talked around it. "You aren't... jealous, are you?"

"What are you insinuating?"

"Nothing whatsoever... I think you're much cuter, anyway... a figure like hers is only good for still life drawings... and enticing secrets from opposing forces... you're much better suited for action... you probably move faster. I'd bet she's got a top speed around 15, maybe... I think you could hit 40, maybe 50 if you were motivated."

Stylus peered at Muza, not entirely sure what he meant by that, and took it at face value, as a compliment.

"We don't serve liquor until after midday." They both heard a member of the kitchen staff say, probably loud enough that the whole commons room heard it.

"And she's a drunkard... probably can't fight."

Stylus sighed. "Stylus needs to speak to Metallia... she'll be right back..." Stylus stood and pushed in her chair, walking across the room toward the doors to the patio. A silky hand reached out and caught her arm.

"You and your friend think you're so funny... don't think I didn't hear the two of you insulting me... Once, I'll let it go... next time, you'll be dead before I let you walk away." The voice was a little rough at the edges, probably from liquor abuse, but it was otherwise as silky as the hand, which pulled away from Stylus.

Stylus turned to the voice's owner, a pair of emerald green eyes stared into hers. The newcomer had to bend over to reach Stylus' height, but she looked very angry, and unfortunately sober. Stylus shuddered; she'd hate to see the woman drunk. Stylus jerked her thumb over her shoulder. "Must go... talk later," and barged through the door to the patio, wincing as it crashed closed. Stylus waited a moment to hear glass cracking, but heard nothing. "Metallia?"

"Mmm? Hey, Stylus. What's wrong? You look... sick..." Metallia looked up from her paper and breakfast.

"Stylus needed to ask you something... now some things..."

Metallia indicated an empty seat across the table from her. "Have a seat."

Stylus took the seat quietly.

"Now, what's up?"

"Stylus needs to get some fabric... know anywhere she can go?"

"Sure, there's a place in town, sells fabric pretty cheap. Leave the diner, head south, and then turn left onto Daimova Street. Should be the first door on the right. Need some GG?"

Stylus shook her head. "No, she has enough she thinks."

"Alright, what else?"

"Who's the newcomer?"

"What newcomer?"

"The one Muza said came in this morning all bloody?"

Metallia shook her head. "I hadn't heard we had a newcomer... I'll have to ask Jyabil some time today. Why?"

Stylus wavered, not sure whether to mention what had just happened to Metallia or not. "Probably nothing Stylus can't handle... never mind... she'll tell you if she needs help."

Metallia quirked a thin silver green eyebrow at Stylus. "You sure?"


"All right... Oh, before you go... Jyabil sent me an invitation to a party or something he's holding tonight, and asked that I bring a guest, would you like to go?"

"What kind of party?"

"Surprise party for his apprentice."

Stylus shrugged after a moment. If she found the fabric she needed today, the pattern could wait a day. "Sure, sounds like fun."

"Alright, I'll come get you about dinner. Jyabil said to dress semi-formally."

Stylus nodded and stood up. "Thanks."

"No problem, kid." Metallia grinned as Stylus walked back inside.

Stylus stopped in front of the table where Muza sat, both plates taken back to the kitchen.

"Hey, Muza, let's go."

"Go where?"

"Stylus needs to get fabric... Metallia told her where to get some... Where'd the newcomer go?"

"Left in a huff after you went outside."

"Stylus doesn't trust her... Stylus wants you to go with her... as protection... A soon to be Immortal Warrior of Schutzren should be chivalrous, right?"

Muza shrugged. "I only knew how my mom was... she was very polite most of the time, though... I'll go. If you had said you were going, I'd have offered to go with you anyway." He stood and slid out from around the table. "Where exactly are we going?"

"Not far... Daimova Street." Stylus took Muza's hand and lead him out of the cafeteria.

"Not far at all."

Stylus watched both sides of the street. Most of the houses in Boyzby had neat little flower boxes hung from their windows, and even though the flowers were all drenched from the continual rain of the past week, most of them still stood upright, drinking in the sunshine. Perfectly tidy lawns abounded, edging right up to the pathways of the cobblestone streets, but didn't creep too far. Every so often Stylus saw a yard closed in by a whitewashed fence or a wrought-iron one, but most were open and inviting, adding an air of neighborliness to the town. Even from here, Stylus could see the hovercraft as they landed or took off. Most were boats with large balloons over them, or wings to the sides to lift them into the air. One stood out from the rest, mostly because it was all royal purple.

"Newcomer warning... she's off to our left and ahead a bit."

Stylus jumped out of her reverie to look where Muza had indicated. "So that's where she got off to."

As Muza and Stylus passed the woman's hiding spot, she stepped out of the brush. "Stop there. I want to settle this. Now."

Muza spun around, drew his claymore from its sheath over his shoulder.

"Not you... her first."

Stylus turned. "Why?"

"I'm her bodyguard, you'll have to go through me to fight her."

The woman screwed up her flawless face, gathered energy. "As you wish." And threw her hand in Muza's face, a bolt of fire crackling at him.

Muza grabbed his face as the spell tried to eat at him.

Stylus watched Muza drop to the ground and roll around, trying to douse the spell somehow. "Look what you did." Energy swirled around her, once again solidifying into the red curtain on the gold rod.

The woman blinked, pulled her short sword from its sheath, waiting to see what Stylus was doing.

The curtain dropped and Stylus was now replete in her white suit, the feather boa conspicuously missing. Stylus ran at the woman, stopping a few feet from her, hailing kicks around her, managing to place one last hard kick directly in her gut. "Now go away."

The woman buckled forward, holding her stomach, a perfect, dusty footprint where she had been kicked, rolling over on the street. "You... whore..." she managed to wheeze.

Stylus flipped the curtain up into the air as she stepped back into the circumference of the hoop, changing back to herself as it fell, tearing itself to ribbons as the hoop hit the ground. Stylus watched her adversary squirm, then went over and knelt by Muza. "You alright?"

Muza grunted. "I'm okay... how are you?"

"Stylus is." She offered her hand to Muza to help him up, reaching into her hand pouch to pull out a vial of some sort and handed it to him. "Here, drink this."

Muza took the vial and looked at it. "Where did you get this?"

"Took it from the nurse... she probably noticed, though."

Muza uncorked the vial and swallowed the liquid in it, screwing up his face at the taste. It burned as it went down, but it made him feel better.

"Okay, better?"


"Let's go, before she catches her breath."

Muza held the wooden door open for Stylus.

Stylus stepped in and caught her breath. Everywhere she looked, skeins of fabric, dyed in bright colors, reds, yellows, deep blues, gold, everything.

Muza stepped up next to Stylus. "This what you were looking for?"

"This store, yes."

Muza stepped over to a shelf holding knick knacks, a small golden statuette of a five headed hydra, a perfect amethyst glowing on its chest, catching his eye. "I wonder what that's supposed to be."

Stylus, having stepped up beside Muza, looked at the statuette. "That's Golda."

"I'm sorry, who?"


"Who's Golda?"

"A deity for magi."


Stylus turned back to the rows of fabric, picked out a roll with a print of camouflage on it. She checked the price. "Only one GG per yard? Why is it so cheap, I wonder."

"I don't know."

"Oh well..." Stylus picked up the roll of camouflage fabric, looking around a bit more. A roll of blood red fabric caught her eye, so she checked the price tag. "Forty?"

All totaled, Stylus' purchase only cost her twenty GG, and she got away with some amazing fabrics that she'd never seen the equal for.

Muza stayed near Stylus the entire time they were in the shop.

Luckily, nothing happened on the return trip. Stylus would have sworn she saw Jyabil standing outside a shop, but at a second glance, it wasn't him, so she thought nothing more of it.

Stylus set her package down under the desk for now, not that she feared anyone stealing from her, but just because she wanted it out of sight. She looked up, out the window to check the time. Still early, so she looked around her room. Tidy as ever, the floor wanted washing, but that was not something Stylus would do, so she picked up the unfinished shirt, a short length of corded fabric and her needle, threaded with the same color as the fabric, and began stitching.

A knock sounded at Stylus' door, jerking the seamstress out of a fitful sleep, bent over the now finished shirt.

"Who is it?" Stylus called out.

"It's Metallia."

Stylus jerked again as the haze of sleep tore away the veil in her memory. "Oh, shit, the party!" She turned her head forcibly toward the window, saw that night had come, probably while she was sleeping, and now tall lamps light the streets in spots, so late wanderers could find their way. Stylus stood up and spread the shirt out over the skirt, which itself was draped over a heating vent, to keep it fairly straight for a while.

Stylus went over to the door, unlatched the hook, and pulled it open, grinning up at Metallia. "Give Stylus a moment? She fell asleep... needs to change."

Metallia smiled. "That's fine, Stylus... I'm early... I always am... thought we'd go and help Jyabil get ready."

Stylus swung the door open. "Why don't you come in? Have a seat? Stylus may be a bit..."

Metallia stepped in with a forced air of being dainty, wearing a royal blue dress that hugged her curves; the skirt came down to a point just beneath her knees in back. A bow of soft, diffuse purple tied at her back gave it an amazing air.

Stylus stepped into the small room that served as a closet, and looked at her meager choices. "How formal?" She called to Metallia.

"Semi-formal. You know, just better than you'd wear for training."

Stylus sighed. "What about-?" She stopped as it hit her. She could use this as training to keep her other personality in check. She quickly changed into her white business suit, allowing the slight magic that actually made her taller so as to fit the suit, looked disdainfully at the feather boa. "No, leave that here tonight..."

Metallia looked up as Stylus walked out of the closet. "Okay, I have to ask... how do you fit in that thing?"

Stylus tilted her head, her brown hair dangling straight down. "How do you mean?"

"Well, unless I'm mistaken, you're only four feet tall, give or take, when you aren't wearing that... you're also kinda timid, truth be told..."

Stylus grinned. "Stylus will tell you after the party."


"Stylus is sorry, what?"

"Jeala, the name of the new recruit that came in this morning."



"No, did she get to the clinic?"

"What for?"

"Stylus kicked her in the stomach on her way to the fabric store. Thanks for telling her where that was."

Metallia stood up, surprise in her eyes. "You did that to her?"


"Good job! I ran into her, entirely by accident, mind... and she nearly bit my head off, the bitch. She deserved what you gave her."

Stylus shifted uncomfortably. "Shall we?"


Stylus looked at the collection of knives on Jyabil's wall, they were many, and in varied lengths, some serrated, some smooth.

Sodina was standing near Stylus, her hands clasped behind her back, trying to tighten the knot in her bow. Jyabil had made her take off the cat collar just for tonight, and she had managed to pull most of her hair back severely, the last little clump of unbound hair hung over her left eye. "You want to see where Jyabil works?"

"He does more than work for the Liberation Front?"

"Of course. He works as a Spirit Blacksmith as well. Everyone loves his work..."

"Sure, I'd love to see his work room."

Sodina caught Stylus' hand and pulled her through an arch behind the counter where they stood, into an austere, muggy room, an anvil sitting in the center of the perfectly circular room.

Stylus studied the floor with some interest, markings in cardinal directions colored red, blue, green, and yellow, arrows continued out from these to the edges of the wall.

"Spirit blacksmith, you say?"


A little white being stared out at the room from behind a jar of nails, keeping watch so the others of his kind could sleep. He blinked as Sodina and Stylus walked in. "She's here." If his voice could have shown joy, it would have. But who'd ever heard of a happy spirit?

He let out a shrill whistle to his companions. "She's here! Wake up."

In a sudden flurry of movement, all ten of the little beings know as elemental spirits were awake and had dropped off the shelf to float toward the anvil.

Sodina gestured toward the activity. "The spirits are especially active tonight... I wonder if they're celebrating too?"

Stylus watched in wonder as the small contingent of spirits flew together and swirled into one lump.

"We have been sent as a gift to the Dressmaster." The amalgam of twisting spirits intoned. In front of both Stylus and Sodina, the spirits became a flowing kimono, colored green, a single dagger set at the hip.

Sodina blinked and turned to run out of the forge to get Jyabil.

Stylus moved closer to the kimono, reached out a tentative hand to it, feeling the cotton rub against her fingers. "For me?" She asked of no one.

No answer returned as the kimono hung in the air, bobbing slightly.

"Take it." A harsh voice intoned behind Stylus. "It was sent for you."

Stylus turned around, found Jyabil standing there, his arms crossed, Sodina peered cautiously around her brother's legs.

"Take it." Jyabil repeated more harshly.

"What is it?"

"A gift, what does it look like?"

Stylus turned back around and pulled the kimono out of the air, jumped as the energy vortex swirled around her suddenly and formed into the curtain.

Jyabil set a hand on Sodina's head.

When the curtain lowered, Stylus stood there in the kimono, a katana over her left shoulder, wooden sandals adding a few inches to her height. Her hair was deepest night done into a ponytail. Her eyes searched for any menace that might be present, but quailed under Jyabil's stare.

"I assure you, you will come to no harm while in my house."

Stylus nodded, the curtain flew back up to give her time to change, and dropped to Stylus in her suit, the added height still there.

"What a rush." Stylus grinned, a faint flush to her cheeks. "Who is it from?"

"You know."

Stylus nodded. "Stylus does know."

Stylus had found Metallia again, everyone at the party was hiding in the dark, waiting. 'Stylus feels so stupid.'

Metallia looked at her friend in the dark.

Jyabil was standing by the door, looking out into the night, watching for Sodina to return with the guest.

'Why must Stylus wait here?'

"Patience is a virtue." Who was it who had said that to her? She remembered a deep voice, vaguely. A dark room, where sand crunched underfoot and squished through her toes, the voice was there somewhere, wherever that was.

Jyabil jerked as he saw Sodina. "He's here. Remember, wait for the lights." Jyabil then moved away from the door, pulling it to, but not closed, and hid near the stairs.

Sodina pushed the door open, talking animatedly with someone, and moved out of the way to let him come in. Once they were both inside, Sodina shut the door and hit the light switch.

Everyone jumped out of their hiding spot and yelled, "Surprise!"

Stylus caught a glimpse of a rather young, thin boy with smudges the color of charcoal under his eyes, his wavy blue hair cut just short of his ears, a cowlick poking off the rear left and right of his head making it look very square. He put out an air of 'I don't care what you think about me.'

Stylus jumped slightly as the boy turned and caught her looking at him.

Jyabil held a large, bluish tinged hammer into the air with one hand wrapped around the slender handle. "I Jyabil Dawnfreid appoint my apprentice, Schmidt, as a full-fledged journeyman this day. Treat him with the same respect you treat me, that he may one day do wonderful things with the spirits."

Everyone broke out in applause.

Stylus turned to look around, not entirely sure why she was clapping. It wasn't like she knew him.

Metallia helped Stylus open her party popper back in the seamstress' bedroom.

After the smoke cleared away, a tiny little white ball with thick arms and a long pink tongue floated up to and licked Stylus' nose, not that she didn't try to get away, it was just faster than she could move.

Stylus stared as it dissipated, and once it was gone, looked at Metallia. "What was that... that thing?"

"A mini-Damashi."

Stylus tried to choke back her fear, and managed to for the time being.

"Hey, you were going to tell me how you got so tall."

"It's simple magic where Stylus' from... Golda gave it to her when Stylus was born... Stylus is supposed to become a great magic user some day..."

"I thought you wanted to be the Dress master?"

"Stylus does, but the magic may help her reach that goal... Stylus was a scribe before she left home... this' a much more interesting life for her." Stylus looked sidelong at the book she had taken from home, laying face open about halfway through the book, the spine torn in a few places from overuse.

"You didn't like being a scribe?"

"No... Golda should never have made her one."


"Our deity. He gives us our names and what job we would be best suited for."


Stylus went into her closet to change back into her everyday wear, looking momentarily at the new kimono hanging there. "Always good to have new clothes..." She traced a finger along an ornate sewn vine pattern, admiring the stitching.

A knock sounded from the door to Stylus' room.

"Who is it?" Stylus heard Metallia ask.

She didn't hear the answer, but she did hear Metallia return with, "I'll take it."

Stylus walked out of her closet a moment later, keeping the extra height just because, so now her skirt only went about halfway down her thigh.

Metallia was reading a creased note, holding her mouth. It looked like she was about to cry.

"What's wrong?" Stylus asked, confused, as she had never seen Metallia in such a state.

"Shaft attacked, and it wasn't just him..."

"What? Where?"

"Some place called Myscatonia."

Stylus shook, ran a hand through her hair. "When do we move?"

"Tomorrow morning."

"Jyabil and Muza are going too, right?"

"The whole army is moving out."

"Why would the whole army be moving?"

Metallia shook her head, stuffed the note in a pocket. "Doesn't say."

Metallia watched Stylus as they marched across the plains. Stylus had her fabric out, the camouflage print, and was somehow managing to sew the pieces she had cut out together.

"You can sew while marching?"

Stylus looked up at Metallia's question. "Stylus can sew in just about any situation... under water's a bit difficult, but she did try."

Metallia smiled softly. "You're crazy."

Stylus only grinned.

"You didn't... did you?"

"Stylus did try... just didn't get much to stay together... the water soaked into the thread and shredded it."

Metallia shook her head. "If you say so... we'll be there by morning."

"Good... Stylus should have her new uniform done by nightfall."

Stylus watched Muza from the other side of the bonfire, ignoring the dinner of roasted vegetables that had been set by her, her stitching pretty much on automatic. Every time Muza looked up, feeling eyes on him, Stylus would look down at her work. A few stitches left and it would be ready.

Someone sat down beside Stylus, a very quiet someone. Stylus didn't care, so long as she could finish her work, which the person was letting her do.

Stylus looked up as the last stitch went in. "Done."

"Are you going to tell them?"

"Tell them what?"

"Who you are... where you came from, why you left... are those enough for now? I've got a longer list."

Stylus turned toward a person wearing a hood that covered his face, a cloak covering most of the rest of his body, his hands stood out where they held the cloak together. They were golden amber in color, looked very rough.

"Can only Stylus see you?"

"Oh, no... only those who can see or hear the spirits... there is another nearby, but... nothing to worry about."

Stylus patiently folded her finished commando suit and put it away.

"You have been pursuing your goal of becoming a Dress master then?"

"Of course. Her collection is growing immensely."

"You'll need them."

Stylus turned away from the fire again, only to find she was alone. "Someone help Stylus, please."

Muza sat down on a nearby log, stretched his legs out in front of him. "Hey, Stylus, what's up?"

"Did you see someone else sitting here a moment ago?"


Stylus shrugged, finally noticing her plate of food. "What is this?"

"Travel rations. They're not bad, once you get used to them."

Stylus picked up one of the rations, nibbled it experimentally. It tasted like sawdust sprinkled with ash for flavor. It looked like it tasted, only compacted to give it a shape.

"Bleh. That's horrible."

"Its all there is, really..."

"You're kidding."

"Well, no. The soldiers only get those... though with how close you and Metallia are... I wouldn't be surprised, if..." Muza lifted his head. "Yup, here she comes now."

Metallia, smiling as ever, carried a tray of assorted fruits and meats, a few cheeses on the side. "Problem, Muza?"

"Oh, no... nothing at all." He shot Stylus a look that said, "I told you so."

Stylus smiled and waved Muza away.

Metallia sat down on the log by Muza. "I brought some real food... I had to eat those rations when I was a soldier too, and I always wished someone would have brought over some real food, so..."

"It isn't against the rules, is it?"

"Oh, no..." Metallia offered the plate to Stylus. "Have some?"

Stylus took a few slices of meat and some cheese.

Metallia offered the plate to Muza.

Muza waved the plate away. "No thanks... I'm full."

"You actually eat those things?"

"Oh sure, have been for the past twelve years, you know."

Metallia screwed up her face. "Bleh. But, if you're sure."

"I'm sure."

Metallia took the plate back, taking an apple.

"Are you anxious too, Stylus?"

Stylus looked up, nibbling a piece of meat. "Only kind of..." 'It'll be odd being home, otherwise I'm fine.'

Stylus stood near Metallia, Muza trailed behind them, with Jyabil somewhere ahead of them, as they topped a rise near Myscatonia.

Stylus pulled out a handkerchief to hold against her face, Metallia held her hand to her mouth.

Jyabil walked back to the two as Muza finally caught up.

"Looks like we're too late to be of any help." Jyabil sighed.

Stylus looked over her square of fabric at the town. Energy buzzed around her, creating the red curtain in a spiral pattern around her.

Metallia turned to look at the curtain. "Stylus?"

When the curtain dropped, Stylus was clothed in a short skirt that just barely reached her knees, a white sailor shirt with a purple scarf that puffed out, and running shoes. She bent down, into a position as though she were about to run the 100-meter.

"Race you."


"Anyone." Stylus didn't wait for an answer to her challenge, blazing off and raising a cloud of dust along the only path still remaining in Myscatonia, toward the library, the only building still standing. A strange mist of green roiled under the path, all over the valley.

Metallia ran after Stylus, not looking to either side after seeing that whatever buildings had been there had been destroyed and then sunk into a subterranean cave system that had collapsed, leaving only a raised path toward a massive building.

Metallia caught Stylus at the doors to the building, where the seamstress was staring up a curling golden stairway.

"What's... wrong... Stylus?" Metallia puffed, trying to catch her breath, resting a hand on Stylus' shoulder.

Stylus turned around, her eyes red behind her glasses. "It's not Stylus... that's her human name..."

Metallia blinked. "Okay, then what is your name?"

"Nelsha. She is Myscatonian."

Metallia stopped, immediately understanding Nelsha's pain.

"There's an invader down here."

Metallia looked up as the voice reverberated around the library. "What was that?"

"That would be Golda... Nelsha now knows."

Nelsha took Metallia's hand and pulled her toward the airshaft where she had first been lead to by her ink well.

Nelsha landed in the sandy turf without raising a cloud, whereas Metallia sent up a huge cloud of dust.

A pink pigtailed woman turned around and stood up, blinking over large pink eyes at the two. "And I thought I wouldn't get to have any fun."

Nelsha grunted. "Who are you? And why are you here?"

The woman flipped a staff around before grabbing it with both hands and resting her butt on it. "I'm Ratchet, and I'm here to kill the Myscatonians. Who are you and why are you here?"

"I'm the damned Chosen one, and I'm here to kick your ass!"

Metallia blinked, thrusting a fist into the air. "You tell her, Nelsha!"

Energy crackled around Nelsha, the curtain followed a moment later, dropped to reveal the seamstress in the camouflage suit she had just finished, a chain gun in each hand, a camouflage hat pulled down over her head. "Boo-yeah, fucker." She fired both full chains at Ratchet, cracking open the woman's head to expose the circuitry running her.

Ratchet dropped her staff to push her head back together long enough to yell. "SHAFT!"

"Stay still, Chosen one, and your friend too. He won't find us."

A thin, green haired man dropped into the sand and looked at Ratchet. "How did you manage that? Smash your head into a wall? Come on, let's get you home so I can fix you."

Ratchet tried to turn her head and found she couldn't, instead followed Shaft placidly.

As Ratchet and Shaft left the area, Nelsha ran into the gloom. "Golda?"

"You found me. You also found power. Interesting."

"Yeah... but, Dianova still lives."

"That's alright, your journey isn't quite over yet anyway."


Golda stopped talking, turned a massive amethyst eye on Metallia.
"Come closer."

Metallia did as instructed, locking her gaze on a single pair of eyes, ignoring the other four pairs bobbing around in the dark. She managed to bow to the golden amber hydra. "Nelsha told me a lot about you."

"No she didn't, don't lie."

"Are you alright, Golda?"

"Worried that she might have harmed me? Don't be... I'm fine."

"Nelsha needs to go tell Jyabil."

Metallia shook her head. "Allow me. Must be the opportunity of a lifetime to speak face to face with your God."

Golda nodded to Metallia. "Just step into the shaft, you'll go right up."

Metallia did as told, feeling her stomach lift into her throat. Her hair stood on end as she lost contact with the floor.

"Jyabil, I found a survivor. Actually, two."

"Really? Any injuries?"

"Nope, come with me, one of them wants to meet you."

Metallia lead Jyabil down the path to the library.

Jyabil looked up the spiral stairs at Stylus. "Metallia caught you, I see?"

"Nelsha stopped."


"Is Stylus' Myscatonian name."

"You're Myscatonian?"

"Didn't you know?"

"Not exactly... I knew you weren't human, I didn't know you were Myscatonian."

"Golda wants to speak to you."

"Where is this Golda?"

"Up here."

"Okay." Jyabil climbed the stairs two at a time, stopping in front of Nelsha. "Okay, lead the way."

"You got it. This way." Nelsha turned and lead Jyabil to the room where the airshaft lead into the bowels of the library. "He's down there. Treat him with respect, he is a god."

"I know. I am a Spirit Blacksmith, as you know. He is a god of the spirits."

Nelsha twitched, looking down at the floor of the library from the top step of the spiral staircase. She was alone at the moment. "Very alone... last Myscatonian... What is Nelsha supposed to do now? Stylus always knew, in the back of her mind, that Myscatonia, though she had left it, it would always be there to return to after she has finished her journey."

"Too much emotional baggage for the Chosen one to take on all at once."

Jyabil nodded to the cloaked figure beside him. "It can only get worse before it gets better."

"An unfortunate truth about life."

"She came to Boyzby looking for help in her journey... she got some, but she also got too close to us." Jyabil shook his head. "We'll have to leave her."

"I will lay memory spells on all of you after you leave, you won't remember you ever met the Chosen one... just a vague, uncomfortable feeling that you are no longer whole."

"She met people at my party to Schmidt."

"I'll fix that."

"You always have an answer, don't you, Lord Golda?"

"Don't call me that. Just Golda is fine."

Nelsha wasn't alone very long, as Muza came up beside her and sat down. "Why didn't you tell anyone?"

Stylus turned to look at Muza, her eyes red from crying. "What are you insinuating?"

"We could have been here quicker, if nothing else, we could have taken a hover craft."

"Nelsha didn't know how bad it was... Metallia told her it didn't say in the message."

Muza tried to say more, but it caught in his throat.

Stylus leaned over, kissed Muza's cheek. "It's alright, you don't need to say anything... just being here is enough."

"The note didn't say it was such a massacre... had it, we would have moved much faster." Metallia offered from her spot leaning against the railing.

Nelsha looked up at Metallia. "Can't Muza and Stylus have a moment?"

"Muza froze up when you kissed him, look how stiff he's holding himself."

Nelsha blinked, looking at Muza before prodding him. "He did... oh well..." Stylus stood up to walk over to Metallia's side. "Nelsha is too old for him anyway."

"Why do you keep switching between Stylus and Nelsha?"

"They are both Stylus' name."

"Then why not go by both?"


"Yeah, humans have two names, a first and a last."

"Oh yeah."

"Why not be Nelsha Stylus?"

"Why not Stylus Nelsha?"

"It doesn't flow right."

"Where's Jyabil?"

"Still with Golda."


Nelsha looked around at her friends standing in the rotunda of the library. Golda was somewhere above, looking down on them.

"Say your goodbyes, Chosen one."

Nelsha blinked back tears and walked over to Muza. "Goodbyes aren't always forever, Muza." The seamstress leaned forward, gave him a swift hug.

Muza blinked, somehow keeping from freezing again. "Well, at least now I'm not a Soon-to-be Immortal Warrior of Schutzren. Golda proclaimed me a full-fledged warrior."

"Lucky." Nelsha released Muza and walked over to Jyabil. "You knew?"

"I knew."

"Nelsha will probably not be heading back to Boyzby anytime soon, she must find this Dianova."

"It's alright, Nelsha. I understand."

Nelsha walked over to stand in front of Metallia. "Nelsha is going to miss you, Metallia."

Metallia grinned slightly. "No you won't."

"Why not?"

"I'm staying here to try to help rebuild Myscatonia, and protect Golda."

Nelsha looked up toward the cloaked figure.

"We have spoken of this, and I figured it was best."

Nelsha blinked and hugged Metallia. "Why? Don't you like your spot in the army?"

"Yeah, kind of... but, I feel like I have to stay here."

"You will only remember each other until you leave the library." Golda muttered.

Jyabil shifted slightly, tapped Muza on the shoulder. "Come, we need to go."

Muza nodded, followed Jyabil as he left.

Nelsha ran after the two of them, skidding to a halt outside the library. "What was Nelsha doing?"

Metallia looked at Golda. "Did you have to do that?"

"Magic fades, but memory is forever."

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"She'll remember them someday. It is for the best that I blocked those memories."

"She is going to forget me, too, isn't she?"

"She already has. She will remember you after she returns."

"Who will?"

"Forget it."

"Alright, what can I do first to help?"

Nelsha looked up at the building behind her and turned away from it, toward a path across the ravine. "Nelsha has to kill... something... what was it?"