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Faint of Heart

A chilly October breeze blew against my face as I strolled through Main Street, window shopping on my way to Coffee Soul, and I hugged my light jacket closer to me. All of the stores were decorated with orange lights and pumpkins and leaves and black cats.

I stopped to stare for a moment into a little costume shop. In the window display was a princess outfit with a set of matching prince clothes, a witch costume, and some sort of monster that I probably should have recognized from some movie or other. I didn't really have the money to buy a fancy costume, or a reason to since I didn't know anyone around town, but it would have been nice to dress up and go out somewhere - just for something different to do, for a taste of some fantasy life that I could never have.

Reluctantly, I turned away from the window and continued down the street. Enough window shopping - my laptop bag was getting heavy.

But just before I got to the coffee shop, something else caught my eye - a sale sign on the little bookstore that I sometimes went into. I pulled out my phone to check the time. About a quarter to noon. Well... a few minutes couldn't hurt.

The bell rang as I pushed the door open, and I made my way to the most familiar section of the bookstore.

Fantasy. My one true love in books.

It seemed that none of the fantasy books were actually on sale, but I looked through them anyway, briefly pulling out anything with an interesting title or colour on the side. I came to one called Fluttering that showed two dragons flying through the night sky together, and flipped it over to read the synopsis on the back. When Ryuu Holder is transported to the dragon world and turned into a dragon, he's desperate to find his way back home. But as he and another young dragon he befriends search for answers, they find out that the dragon world is in danger. Can Ryuu find love among dragons while trying to save the world?

I frowned. The romance wasn't really my thing. It was always so predictable, and predictably sort of nauseating. But the dragons were absolutely my thing.And it did have a nice cover.

I checked the price tag. Only a few dollars. It must have been out for a while.

There were probably more useful things to spend my limited funds on - transportation, an actual chair for my desk, an actual desk, food - but it was just one book (I always told myself).

I took it up to the counter.

The lady at the counter rang it up. "I heard this one was pretty good," she said. "Nice choice."

"Always good to hear," I said conversationally. She furrowed her brows a bit, and I knew she was trying to place my accent. Good luck, I thought. Even I wasn't sure what it was, although I would have been grateful if someone had told me.

Then she shook her head. "Do you want a bag?" she asked.

"No thanks," I said.

She handed me the book back. "I hope you enjoy it!" she said.

"Thank you," I said, tucking the book under my arm.

The bell rung again as I left the store.

Now to the coffee shop.

Coffee Soul was just around the corner from the bookstore, so it didn't take very long to get there. Finally. I ordered coffee and a muffin and went to sit down at a relatively isolated table in one corner of the shop.

As my laptop was booting up, I took a sip of the coffee and made a face. I still wasn't used to the stuff, so I was fairly certain that I hadn't liked it in the first place. It was supposed to be an acquired taste. I was not acquiring it, and neither had my past self. I took a bite of the blueberry muffin to cover up the flavour and almost spit that out as well - too sweet. I swallowed it anyway. No one else in the shop ever seemed to have a problem with the muffins, or the coffee, for that matter. I had noticed by now that everyone seemed to add things to the coffee, but I had tried that and that had somehow made it even worse (usually too sweet, like the muffin) so I had given up on that for now.

At least the caffeine did what it was supposed to do, although after being out in the cold wind I had more or less completely woken up from the daze I had been in that morning.

A couple of programs opened up automatically, including my chat client, which was flashing at me from the taskbar. I took another large bite of the muffin and worked on swallowing it while I clicked on the flashing icon.

It was Tiff[?] this time.

[11:24] GriffTiff: Kai!!!

[11:24] GriffTiff: We found a kitten in the backyard. I think my roommate is keeping it.

[11:25] GriffTiff: By the way, I read finally got around to reading that thing you sent me. It's great!

[11:28] GriffTiff: Let me know when you get on and I'll send you pictures of the kitten.

[12:14] Snowflame: Hey. I'm out working.

[12:14] GriffTiff: Hey, there you are! You got another job?

[12:15] Snowflame: Yeah. Not as good as the last one - I'm going to have to live off of ramen again.

[12:15] GriffTiff: You should get a real job!

[12:15] Snowflame: Yeah, I know. I just don't know if I can do the whole nine to five thing. Besides, who would hire me?

[12:16] GriffTiff: Maybe the bookstore. Weren't they hiring a couple of weeks ago?

[12:17] Snowflame: Yeah, they already rejected me a few months ago. Remember?

[12:17] GriffTiff: Okay, but that was before you started doing all of this freelance writing. Maybe they'll realize how much they need you now.

[12:18] Snowflame: Somehow I don't think writing for magazines qualifies me to work at a bookstore.

[12:18] Snowflame: Anyway, I need to get to work.

[12:18] GriffTiff: Wait!! The kitten!

[GriffTiff has sent you 13102015912.JPG]

[12:19] Snowflame: Cute. See you.

[12:19] GriffTiff: Isn't it?!

I opened up the article I had been working on along with my references for it, and worked on that slowly for a while while working through my muffin and coffee. Maybe I should have stayed home and made myself a sandwich and skipped the coffee entirely - it was as expensive as it was unappetizing. It got tiring working from my bedroom day in and day out, though, without even a real desk or a chair - I didn't think you were meant to spend hours typing sitting on a bed with the laptop on top of a dresser.

I had just finished my muffin - but unfortunately not the coffee - when a voice interrupted my work.

"You like Kite Swallowtail?"

"What?" I asked, looking up. Some blonde guy was standing at the side of the table looking down on it. I followed his gaze to the book, where it said the author's name in smaller letters at the bottom of the front cover: Kite Swallowtail. "Oh, right. I haven't read that yet. I just bought it."

"Oh, sorry, then," the guy said. "I just can't get any of my friends to read it, so I haven't had a chance to talk to anyone about it. You know how it is." I didn't, really. Tiff and Jaden knew I read dragon books, but I was content to read them alone in my room. "Have you read any of his other books?"

"I don't think so," I said. "The name doesn't sound familiar."

"Right," the guy said. He turned to leave, and I turned back to my screen. Suddenly he looked back. "Hang on," he said. "Sorry, but where are you from? I can't recognize your accent."

"Er," I said. I tried to take a sip of coffee to give myself a minute to answer, but all of the flavor had sunk into the now-cold bottom of the cup, and I gagged on it instead.

"Wow," the guy said, raising one eyebrow. "New to coffee?"

"Yes," I said. I had had it a few times over the last ten months or so, but apparently it took a lot more times than that to acquire the taste.

He peered at the coffee cup. "It's really better if you don't drink it black."

Right. That was the term for when one did *not* add their own random mixture of ingredients. "So I've been told," I said. "I suppose you're an avid coffee drinker, then?"

"That is the point of going to Coffee Soul," he said. "The coffee."

"And the free Wi-Fi," I said, looking pointedly at my laptop. I supposed was in no real hurry to get back to working on the article - it wasn't due for a few days, still, and I was just about finished with it. On the other hand, I was just about finished with it, and I had already paid for the experience.

"Yeah, but you're supposed to like the coffee. If you had any left, I'd fix it for you. Have you tried the Vanilla Dream creamer yet?"

"No," I said.

"That's the best one. If you mix it with just the right amount of sugar and cream, it's perfect. If you really want to learn to drink coffee, that's the way to go."

"I think I've heard that line before," I said. I didn't usually talk to other patrons of Coffee Soul, but I had certainly heard it enough from Tiff and Jaden.

"No, I swear," he said. "Or I'll pay for your ruined coffee."

"Oh, well, I don't turn down a free drink," I said. "But one cup of coffee is my limit for the day, no matter how amazing your particular blend is."

"I'll buy you coffee sometime for wasting your time now, then," he said. "When do you usually come by here?"

"Rarely," I said. "But for free terrible drinks - and therefore free WiFi - whenever."

"Great," he said. "Tomorrow at this time?"

"Sure," I said. Why not? With my occasional freelance writing, I didn't exactly have a full schedule.

"Maybe you can tell me how the book is going at the same time," he said. "My name is Christopher, by the way. Kit or Kat for short."

"Kai," I said.

"Cool. I'll leave you alone for now, then."

"I think my time here is about up for today, anyway," I said, looking at the empty coffee cup. I sometimes pretended to still be drinking it for a while - or just never finished the coffee - and they had never kicked me out regardless, but when the shop was busy I felt bad for taking space away from customers who would buy more coffee.

"Sorry about that," he said.

I shrugged, pushing the laptop screen down. "It's not a big deal."

"See you," the guy said.


He wandered off. Possibly back to his table, or maybe he left. I didn't notice which one, focusing instead on putting my laptop away.

Back at home, I took it out again when I was sitting on my bed in my bedroom. I had the laptop propped up on my legs. The article I was working on was still open... but I wasn't ready to finish it yet.

[1:33] Snowflame: So, someone just asked me out to coffee. They're paying.

Instead of working on the article, I set my laptop to the side of me and stretched, collapsing back onto the bed. Really I had mostly agreed because the alternative was staying inside doing nothing in particular. My usual daily schedule. Of course, there were always things to do around the apartment. Laundry... cleaning... preparing food... But never anything really pressing or important or useful or *interesting*. I felt slightly more alive outside, even just sitting around drinking disgusting cups of coffee.

My laptop made a noise, and I sat back up.

[13:37] Jaybolt: Oh my gosh. Your first date in how long?

[13:38] Snowflame: Not like that.

[13:38] Jaybolt: If someone asks you out for coffee, it's a date, Kai.

[13:39] Snowflame: I'm pretty sure it's not.

[13:39] Snowflame: He just wants me to try some kind of creamer.

[13:40] Jaybolt: Some guy asked you on a creamer date?

[13:40] Snowflame: He came up to me because of the book I had with me. Apparently he's read it. I just bought it at the bookstore.

[13:41] Snowflame: He noticed me choking down a cup of coffee and insisted that I try it the way he does it. If I don't like it, he'll pay for it.

[13:41] Snowflame: In other words, it's a free drink.

[13:41] Jaybolt: In other words, it's a date.

[13:41] Flamesinsnow: Ugh.

[13:42] Jaybolt: :)

[13:42] Frozenflames: I'm going to go take a shower.

I closed the laptop.

I hadn't put the laundry away yet, so I pulled a few articles of clothing out of the hamper and went to go take a shower.

In the shower, I turned the water up as hot as I could stand, recovering from the cold and the wind. I was almost out of shampoo. The bottle lasted a lot longer, though, since I had cut my hair. Probably twice as long. Maybe longer than that, since it seemed to somehow take exponentially more shampoo to clean hair the longer it was.

I towelled off and got dressed in a black long-sleeved shirt and pants. Lying in the clean clothes where I had tossed it earlier was my mysterious necklace. Well, mysterious for a necklace, anyway.

I picked it up, letting the chain dangle from my fingers. It was a silver chain, with a pink heart charm hanging from it. I had had it for... as long as I could remember.

I laughed at my own joke.

I had been found with it, just over ten months ago. My only belonging other than the clothes on my back. I never wore it out of the house, mostly because of the pink heart part, but I kind of hoped wearing it around the house might jog my memory.

That hadn't happened yet.

Nevertheless, I brought the two sides of the chain around my neck and hooked them together. I straightened out the chain so that the heart hung down over the middle of my collarbone and looked up in the mirror. It seemed to suit me, somehow. I often wondered if feelings like that were vague memories. Did I feel that it suited me because I had felt that in the past? Did I feel a connection to it because I knew that it was important?

Or perhaps it was just a meaningless trinket and I only gave it such importance in my mind because there was nothing else to attach meaning to.

I had essentially given up on that quest, anyway. After nearly a year, it was starting to become clear to me that I most likely never would remember. Even my name - my current name - had been forged anew for my new life. Kai Harte. That first day, the name "Kai" had struck a chord with me, and I had been so sure I was on the right track. But now I wondered if it wasn't just a name I had liked. The last name, of course, was after this necklace I had, although that felt "right" too. Meaningless feelings.

I turned away from the mirror to head back to my computer, and then I thought I caught a flash of light. I swiveled back around and saw nothing. I shook my head. Just seeing things.

I settled back down on the bed and opened the laptop again. Tiff was messaging me.

[13:59] Taffygriffon: Hey, I hear you got a date!

[13:59] Taffygriffon: Just kidding. I know Jay's exaggerating again.

[14:01] Taffygriffon: The kitten has been tearing around the house for the past hour.

[14:01] Taffygriffon: I told my roommate she should name it Taz. Like short for Tasmanian Devil? It's got the white markings on the front of it. And it's also a devil. She does not yet see the beauty of it.

[14:02] Taffygriffon: But you agree with me, right?

I was about to type a reply when there was another flash of light. I looked down to see the heart charm on the necklace glowing against my chest.

I reached up to touch it.

The room filled up with pink light, and then my head filled up with dark.

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The Prince of Hearts

I stumbled forward as I was suddenly thrown from my bed, and just managed to catch myself on... a bookshelf?

The heart necklace pulsated with light as I glanced quickly around the room, my head pounding. It was dark, but there was a flickering light somewhere in the distance that lit up the rows and rows of bookshelves.

Then I heard a noise like a dove, and my eyes came to rest on a cat-sized figure flitting through the shadows toward me. I started to back away, but then its face started to come into focus.

I held one hand to my pounding head, staring at the little dragon. "Trill?" I asked.

The dragon made a chirping noise, and then I collapsed as I was hit with a painful torrent of memories.

Blood on the snow... huge icicles shooting up out of the ground... running... holding my breath to keep my heart from beating so loudly as I hid in the shadows...

Spellbooks and magic and fire and dragons.

Skaiterra. Kardia. The kingdom.

I reached up to grab the heart charm tightly. Not just an ornament. A real charm. It was warm in my hand, like fire, glowing bright pink through my fingers.

The pounding in my head was subsiding.

I looked up at my dragon, whose eyes were bright and concerned. I wiped the tears from my eyes with one hand. "I really missed you, Trill," I said. I hadn't even known, but I had felt it - the dragon-shaped hole in my heart in Trill's absence.

Trill darted forward and flung himself into my arms. "Kyan! I missed you too," he cooed in his chirpy dragon tongue, and I wrapped my arms around him tightly. "I couldn't set up the portal any sooner. Things are hectic out there."

"I thought it would be like that for a while," I said. "How long has it been here? The time is measured differently there. It's been ten months for me." Ten months since I had woken up in a strange world, with no memories to tell me *why* it was so strange to me.

"Six cycles," Trill said. "Nearly a year." Trill pulled his face away to look at mine. "You look older."

I grinned. "You look the same."

Trill nuzzled my face, smooth dragon scales rubbing against my skin. "It was lonely without you around," he said.

"I know what you mean," I said. I scratched the back of his ears, and he made a trilling sound. "But you were okay out here? How did you find this place?" I looked around at all of the bookshelves in the flickering light. So much different from electricity. "It's so dark!"

Trill cocked his head. "Is it?" he asked. "I lit all of the torches."

"No, it's great," I said. "It's just that on Earth it's always bright inside of buildings, like sunlight - and outside in the city."

"Why?" Trill asked.

"Everyone has electricity, powering automatic lights that just stay on - there's so much to tell you, Trill - cars and running water and computers and ovens and carpets and coffee and refrigerators and washing machines - it's all so strange."

Trill gave me a puzzled look. "Well, I'm glad you're in good spirits," he said.

"I'm just happy to see you," I said.

He nuzzled my cheek again. "This is the old castle," he said. "One of the hidden rooms. They come through here sometimes, looking for things, but Julien's dragon can't open a lot of areas, so they can't get into most of the castle. They know there are hidden things, but they haven't found a way around the barriers. They used to come here a lot more often, but they've given up now. They haven't been here for an entire cycle. It's risky, but I've watched them try to force their way through the barriers - they're clueless. I'm tuned into the castle, so it makes for a better base than somewhere more remote; I'll know if they're coming. You're probably better off staying in the more heavily warded areas, but I can get around safely. And we have the old library here."

"It sounds safe enough," I said. "And if by some horrible misfortune they find their way in here, I can get back through."

"Yes," Trill said. "If it comes to that. We would have to start over again, but you would be alive."

I held Trill tightly and fell to my back on the stone floor, reveling in the feel of it. "I wish I could just stay," I said. "I hate the thought of forgetting everything again."

"You can't stay long enough to leave a trace," Trill said. "And even if you could, the resources simply don't exist to support a person living in the castle."

"You mean you can't steal enough food from the shops without looking suspicious," I said. "So I have to subsist on blueberry muffins and coffee."

"Yes," Trill said. "What do those words mean?"

I was suddenly aware that a few of the words I had been using were in English.  I had been using it for six *cycles* (a concept a little more meaningful to me than "months" with all of my memories intact). In retrospect, even as a full-blooded human I had had some semblance of Derkomai and Khartesan. I had forgotten how to speak them, but I had rough language in my mind that filled in the gaps in my thoughts in the early stages of learning English and even after that when I had no words yet for some concept. And of course, it was those languages that influenced the accent that had so confused me. I supposed I would have to go back to that state of confusion soon.

"A kind of sweet bread with fruit in it, and a bitter drink," I said. There were most likely better translations, but it wasn't quite worth the effort it might take to think of them.

"You're sarcastic about subsisting off of those alone," Trill said.

"Yes," I said. "I don't exactly have a wealthy lifestyle there, but I do have enough for food."

Trill snorted. "The prince of Kardia, forced to adopt the life of a laborer," he said.

"It is certainly a different perspective," I said. "But I'm hardly a farmer. I write, over there."

"Oh?" Trill asked. "What about?"

"I usually review books," I said. "People read the reviews to decide if a book is worth purchasing or not. I actually read a lot of books over there, even outside of work. I don't really remember you, over there, but... the only books I'm really interested in are stories involving dragons."

Trill nestled himself against my chest, laying his head on the heart charm. "I am here," he said.

"Not when I go back," I said.

"I am always here," Trill said.

I stroked his wings for a few moments, and he rumbled inside, vibrating into my chest. "What about my parents?" I asked tentatively.

"They are being kept in the new castle," Trill said. "They are naturally treated as prisoners, but they are not unwell. I spoke to them during the last cycle. They are aware that you are alive. This means the House of Diamonds knows as well by now, but I felt that it was wrong to leave the king and queen in the dark regarding the fate of their only child if there was a way to tell them."

I stared up at the patterns in the stone ceiling, picturing them in their own dungeons. "I agree," I said. "I'm glad they know. Thank you."

"Aside from that, I also obtained valuable information about this castle," Trill said. "Without it, it may have taken even longer to set a return portal for you."

"Thank you for that as well," I said. "How long do you suppose I can stay here before there's a detectable trace of magic?"

"Possibly a couple of days, at a generous estimate, if you don't use very much magic," Trill said. "But you would require supplies."

"Of course," I said. "I don't know when I'll come back here again after I leave, though. I can't exactly leave myself a note in my pocket - 'use magic to activate the charm when you want to return home.' I won't have any idea what that means."

"How did you come through this time?" Trill asked.

"I noticed it glowing," I said. "When I reached up to touch it, I accidentally used magic on it. I suppose I'll think I fell asleep when I get back," I said. "I was about to reply to Tiff when it happened."

Trill raised his ears up. "Who's that?"

"A long-distance friend I made over there," I said.

"So you have friends on Earth!" Trill said. "I am happy to hear that you are not completely alone."

"And I'm sorry to hear that you have to be," I said.

"It is bearable when I know that I will see you again," Trill said.

I petted his head. "I have two long-distance friends," I said. "Tiff and Jaden. It's so strange - I was just talking to them, and yet they feel so far away from here. I can remember what happened the last time I was here in Skaiterra so clearly! Even though it was almost a year ago. But I can remember today on Earth clearly, too. Tiff was asking me my opinion on the name she wants her roommate to give to a kitten that they found. As if that matters in light of the House of Diamonds seizing the kingdom!"

"But you won't remember that when you go back," Trill said.

"I know," I said. "And I'm meeting someone for coffee tomorrow... On some level I think I know that none of it really matters. Every day is the same - I do things like that just to pass the time. It's absolutely ludicrous when I could be out here, making plans!"

"This is part of the plan," Trill reminded me. "It is as vital as any other piece of it."

I sighed. "Of course. I suppose I'll get used to it in the coming weeks." "Weeks" in both places, even if the word was different. Seven sunsets. It was oddly comforting to know that at least one thing was the same. And there were other such small similarities, if I took the time to think of them, I was sure.

"If you stayed here, you would miss your 'coffee' meeting," Trill said. "Wouldn't that be unfortunate?"

"Oh, not really, but thanks for trying to comfort me," I said. "It's just with this person I met at Coffee Soul today. Christopher, I think? He goes by Kit."

"Perhaps he will be a friend to you as well," Trill suggested.

"Perhaps," I said. "I wonder how long I've been here already... I just got dressed so I don't have my timekeeping device with me. Although I'm not sure yet if it would work properly here, anyway. Next time it might be in my pocket, and then I can show it to you, Trill."

"A while," Trill said.

I sighed. "I should get a few things done before heading back, then. Let me up."

Trill gracefully hopped down from my chest onto the stone floor and stood up on his back legs, watching me. I stood and stretched my arms, and then glanced down at the softly glowing charm around my neck. "Alright, first thing's first." As reluctant as I was to expedite my departure, it felt good to be doing something. "This," I said, picking up the charm in one hand, "is going to be confusing to me now that it's active. Necklaces don't glow. Just a cover spell shouldn't leave much of a trace, right?"

"No," Trill said.

"Right." I held up my other hand and breathed in deeply, feeling as I did so the warmth of magic pulsating through my veins. Pink light shimmered around my hand. I brushed it against the charm and the light from that faded away into nothing, leaving the pink heart looking slightly dull now.

"There," I said. "I already saw it glowing, but I think as long as it doesn't happen again I'll think I imagined it. I guess I'm plotting against myself as well as against the House of Diamonds now."

"It isn't exactly against yourself," Trill said. "You have your own best interests at heart."

"Well, I know that for now," I said. "In a way, it is, though. I'm trying to keep my other version of myself from finding out why he feels so out of place. Kai. I remembered that much of my name, when I came to over there. I had to choose a last name as well, so I chose Harte, after this charm." I let the charm fall back to my chest. "It's not so far from the reality."

"Your memories weren't entirely erased, then," Trill said.

"No," I said. "There are a lot of things like that. Sometimes I have these nightmares... I think if I ever found enough little clues like that, or given enough time, I might start to remember everything. Now, my next concern is the potential of activating the charm while around other people. I didn't have enough time to worry about that before. I usually leave it at home in my apartment, but if for some reason I bring it with me somewhere, I could unwittingly blow my cover. How many of the books do you suppose are spellbooks?"

"Quite a few of them are," Trill said. "There are more scattered around the castle, too. In your parents' old room, for instance. I think a few of them were taken out one of the times when the Diamonds came through here, but not all of them were."

"Any thoughts on where I should start, then?" I asked.

Trill's eyes sparkled. "I thought you would want to know that. Over here." He leaped into the air and spread his wings, zipping away into the shadows. I took the opportunity to look around as I followed him, brushing my hand fondly against the wood of the shelves. The library in town was out of walking distance, so I typically walked to the bookstore instead, and then I could only read the books that I purchased on my meager wages. Mass-produced novels with shiny printed covers. I understood the benefits of mass-production, but it made me feel homesick. In retrospect, at least - but I thought it was one of those things that always felt slightly off to me on Earth.

Trill landed on top of one of the bookshelves. "Here," he said.

I ran my finger across the spines, feeling the different textures. Many of these books were more fragile than the ones on Earth, one-of-a-kind codices that if damaged would be lost forever. They felt like home, though.

I pulled one out with an appropriate-sounding title on the side and sat down on the floor. I let it fall open in one hand. In this lighting, the words were a little difficult to make out.

Carefully, I closed my other hand and let the magic concentrate there, growing hot, until I flicked my hand back open to create a tiny ball of flame in my palm. I rested the book on my knee so that I could flip the pages.

Trill came to curl up next to me. "Now you look just as you did before you left," he said.

I smiled at him.

Soon I had several books scattered all around me.

"Hm," I said. "I was thinking I could keep the charm from activating if I was near anyone else with a magical signature, but I can't figure out how to detect the magical signatures of full-blooded humans - and I wouldn't know how to distinguish my own anyway when I have a completely different one while full-blooded. I think. I can't exactly test that. Anyway, I think I've found another solution."

I stood up with the book I was holding, skimming the relevant passages one more time. I let the fire in my hand die down, and set the book back onto the shelf to free up my hands. Trill was watching me.

I inhaled deeply, and a soft pink glow enveloped both of my hands. I was rusty with magic after almost a year of disuse, but it was coming back to me quickly. I cupped my hands around the charm and built up a sphere of pink light around it. I pushed the sphere inward, shrinking it, until it collapsed entirely into the charm, which started glowing softly again. I would stop that in a moment.

"There," I said. "I think that that will work."

"What did you do?" Trill asked curiously, looking up at me.

"It's a barrier spell that should cover about the range of my apartment," I said. "Maybe a little less. It's connected to the charm so that it becomes active inside of that area. It should fade over time so that if anything happens - for instance, if I move - the charm will start working normally again. I can't finish the spell here, of course, so I'll activate it just as I go back over."

"What if you have guests?" Trill asked.

"Well, even doing this much is probably unnecessary," I said. "As I said, I don't leave the house with it. That's because I don't want anyone to see me with it. I haven't had any guests yet, but if I did, I would hide the charm then as well."

"Why?" Trill asked.

The answer made more sense when I was on Earth. I could remember why, but it wasn't a decision I had really put a lot of thought into - because if I had, I would see how it was illogical. "It's like a negative symbol, where I live there," I said. "If you wear the symbol or the colour, people think certain things about you." I knelt down and started picking up the books.

"Like what?" Trill asked, following me as I put the books back on their shelves, noting their locations in my mind. Some of them might be useful again.

"Um," I said. "I suppose that you're effeminate. But that's considered a negative thing."

"That's difficult to imagine," Trill said.

"Actually, that's part of the reason I cut my hair, too, I suppose," I said, rubbing the back of my neck.

"I noticed that," Trill said. "It looks wrong that way. Not very princely."

"Yeah, I know," I said. "I don't like it either. I guess I got some negative comments walking around with braided hair and a necklace with a pink heart hanging from it - I did wear it at first. At least it kept me from disappearing in the middle of Coffee Soul. Anyway - I think I've left enough of a magical trace here already with those couple of spells. I probably shouldn't hang around for too much longer."

Trill leaped up, and I caught him in my arms. "I will miss you again, Kyan."

"I'll miss you too," I said. "Even if I don't know who it is that I'm missing. I'm really glad I got to see you for a little while." Trill nuzzled into my face.

"We will meet again soon," he said.

"We will," I said. "And once we stop the House of Diamonds, I'll come back here for good."

I let Trill go, and he fluttered backward, giving me space. "No one will stand in our way forever."

"Yes." I closed one hand around the necklace. "For the prince of hearts has returned!"

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Wearing Your Heart on Your Sleeve (Don't)

I came to on my bed, my head feeling fuzzy. I sat up quickly and looked down at the necklace. It looked normal again. I shook my head. Had I dreamed it?

As a matter of fact, I felt as though I had been dreaming of many such things. I could almost remember the dream - it was dark, and I had felt... content, I thought. Nothing like the other dreams I often had.

Except at the same time, very alike. The same feeling of fantasy.

I noticed my laptop sitting perilously close to the edge of the bed and pulled it over toward me. It was still sitting open, with a low battery warning on the screen. How long had I fallen asleep for? Right after I had had a whole cup of coffee, too.

I got down from the bed and plugged my laptop in, and then I checked the clock. I really had fallen asleep for a while. A couple of hours. I didn't remember feeling that tired. I certainly didn't feel more rested now.

Both of my two contacts were messaging me now. Or they had been a while ago.

[14:26] Taffygriffon: Are you still working on that article? Another book review, I'm guessing?

[15:09] Taffygriffon: I just remembered I was going to send you more pictures of Taz! (I will get her to see what a perfect name it is.)

[Taffygriffon has sent you 13102015915.JPG]

[Taffygriffon has sent you 13102015916.JPG]

[Taffygriffon has sent you 131020159162.JPG]

[15:12] Taffygriffon: Those are the ones from earlier.

[Taffygriffon has sent you 131029151241.JPG]

[15:13] Taffygriffon: And that's a picture of Taz sleeping! The little devil wore itself out earlier. Aww.

[15:17] Taffygriffon: I'm going over to my sister's house for a while. I'll leave Kyte open so you can download the pictures when you get back!

[17:59] Snowfire: Sorry, Tiff. I fell asleep.

[17:59] Snowfire: I'll look through the pictures.

I clicked through each photograph in succession. The first three were all of a black blur that I presumed was a kitten racing across a bed. The last one was of it curled up underneath what looked like a wooden desk.

I switched to the other blinking chat window.

[17:06] Greyjay: Taffy says it can't be a date because you're not gay.

[17:06] Greyjay: I don't think she's ever asked you though.

[17:06] Greyjay: So I guess it's time to take one for the team and ask: are you gay, Kai?

[17:10] Greyjay: Okay Taffy says you haven't replied in hours so I guess you're not there?

[17:11] Greyjay: But seriously it's fine with me if you're gay.

[17:11] Greyjay: I mean it's not like I like girls either, obviously. :P

[17:13] Greyjay: Okay I'm just going to wait until you get back.

I stuffed my face into my pillow. Why me?

After a minute I lowered it back down. It wouldn't help to ignore him. Besides, for all I knew, maybe he wasn't even there by now.

Reluctantly, I started typing.

[18:02] Snowfire: I fell asleep.

[18:03] Snowfire: Is Tiff back from her sister's house, then?

I had just reopened the article I was working on when he messaged me back.

[18:05] Greyjay: Yeah, but then that kitten they found woke up and she went to go play with it/take pictures of it.

[18:06] Greyjay: Even MORE pictures, I mean.

[18:06] Greyjay: She showed them to you, right?

[18:06] Snowfire: Yeah.

[18:07] Snowfire: Several of them.

[18:07] Greyjay: Anyway, more importantly...

[18:07] Greyjay: Are

[18:07] Snowfire: Not this again.

[18:07] Greyjay: you

[18:08] Snowfire: ">:("

[18:08] Greyjay: g - did you just put an emoticon in quotes

[18:08] Greyjay: What's that about

[18:08] Greyjay: You can't just use an emoticon?

[18:08] Greyjay: Really?

[18:08] Snowfire: It's a quote.

[18:09] Greyjay: That is not how emoticons work.

[18:09] Greyjay: I'm only asking these questions because of your coffee date. Someone's got to ask.

[18:10] Snowfire: Why do I ever tell you anything?

[18:10] Greyjay: :)

[18:10] Snowfire: I don't think I understand emoticons.

[18:10] Greyjay: :)

[18:10] Snowfire: Enough of that.

[18:10] Greyjay: :) :)

[18:11] Greyjay: :) :) :)

[18:11] Greyjay: I guess I can't make you answer the question. But your silence on the matter speaks volumes.

[18:12] Greyjay: I'm just not sure why you're so secretive about it.

[18:12] Greyjay: I don't judge your gayness. I just want to know how excited I should be when you meet cute guys at the coffee shop.

[18:13] Greyjay: Who then ask you on coffee dates.

[18:13] Snowfire: I am not secretive.

[18:13] Snowfire: And it is not a coffee date.

[18:13] Snowfire: Or any sort of date.

[18:14] Greyjay: Okay. What's his name?

[18:14] Snowfire: Christopher. He goes by Kit.

[18:14] Snowfire: Or Kat.

[18:14] Greyjay: Oh my gosh that's adorable.

[18:15] Greyjay: Kitkat.

[18:15] Greyjay: Get his Kyte username and invite him to a group chat with us.

[18:15] Snowfire: No!

[18:15] Greyjay: :(

[18:15] Snowfire: I don't want to subject him to you two.

[18:16] Greyjay: You just met him!

[18:16] Greyjay: You can't already be trying to guard him from people.

[18:16] Greyjay: Unless you think we'll ruin your chances of making a good impression on him.

[18:16] Snowfire: It's not trying to "guard" him.

[18:17] Snowfire: And I would prefer to make a favorable impression on anyone I meet.

[18:17] Greyjay: "A favorable impression" you know sometimes the way you talk is slightly ridiculous right

[18:18] Greyjay: It's precious

[18:18] Snowfire: How would you put it?

[18:19] Greyjay: I wouldn't even say that to begin with but if I did I guess it would be more like "I don't want people to think I'm the kind of guy who hangs out with people like you, Jaden."

[18:20] Snowfire: That is completely different from what I said.

[18:21] Snowfire: Okay. I don't want him - or anyone! - to think badly of me.

[18:21] Snowfire: That isn't what I meant when I said I didn't want to subject him to you.

[18:22] Snowfire: I just know you'll pester him incessantly.

[18:22] Snowfire: As you are currently pestering me.

[18:23] Greyjay: I pester because I care!

[18:23] Snowfire: Oh, Tiff's back.

[18:23] Snowfire: She wants to know what I think of the photos.

[18:24] Greyjay: Okay.

I switched windows.

[18:22] Taffygriffon: You fell asleep?! How hard have you been working on that article?

[18:23] Taffygriffon: Did you see the rest of the pictures?

[18:23] Taffygriffon: Isn't Taz adorable?

[18:24] Snowfire: Yeah, I saw them. The cat is "adorable".

[18:24] Taffygriffon: Hey good morning sleepyhead!!

[18:25] Snowfire: I've been awake for about half an hour. I'm talking to Jaden.

[18:25] Taffygriffon: Oh yeah, Jay told me he was going to ask you something. Is he bugging you?

[18:25] Snowfire: Yeah, I suppose.

[18:26] Taffygriffon: I'm going to kick him.

[18:26] Snowfire: Don't do that.

[18:27] Taffygriffon: I'm already doing it!!

[18:27] Snowfire: It just makes him more adamant about it.

[18:28] Taffygriffon: Ugh. I don't get why! I mean, you told him you're straight, right?

[18:29] Snowfire: ...

[18:29] Taffygriffon: What?

[18:29] Taffygriffon: That's what he said he was going to talk to you about.

[18:30] Taffygriffon: Did he change his mind?

I fell back on the bed, putting the pillow over my face again. Just Jaden asking me about it was irritating enough. I could hear the laptop making sounds at me.

I supposed I was a little more irritated because of how I had suddenly lost three hours. I had been planning to work on the article at my own pace and then spend a few hours reading the book so I would have something to say when Kit inevitably asked me about it again. Now it was already half past six.

The laptop kept beeping.

I sighed into the pillow and got back up again. Tiff had said a couple of things.

[18:32] Taffygriffon: Well, I told him to stop bugging you about whatever he was bugging you about.

[18:32] Taffygriffon: I'm going to go make dinner!

And Jaden was messaging me again.

[18:30] Greyjay: Okay Taffy's doing the "/me kicks you" thing at me what are you telling her

[18:30] Greyjay: She just said, "Stop bugging Kai!!"

[18:31] Greyjay: I assume basically nothing but apparently she has some reason to think that, so.

[18:32] Greyjay: And now she's leaving to go do dinner and stuff.

[18:32] Greyjay: I know you're still there!

[18:33] Greyjay: Okay, probably still there unless you fell asleep again.

[18:34] Greyjay: "Snowfire is typing..."

[18:34] Snowfire: I am still here.

[18:34] Greyjay: Okay good because I still wanted to talk to you.

[18:35] Snowfire: I need to work on my article.

[18:35] Greyjay: No wait

[18:35] Snowfire: Okay, what?

[18:37] Greyjay: I'm not trying to push your buttons or tease you or whatever here. Like I said it's totally fine with me whatever your preference or lack thereof is

[18:39] Greyjay: Honestly I thought you you already knew you were gay but were just being secretive about it for some reason so the "pestering" is like my way of trying to get you to come out of your shell because we're all friends

[18:40] Greyjay: Plus Tiff is utterly convinced that you're straight for some reason I think she just doesn't want you infringing on her gay territory I don't know

[18:41] Snowfire: Her "territory"?

[18:41] Greyjay: I mean I'd be cool if you were ace it's not like a secret exclusive club but Tiff seems to think so.

[18:42] Greyjay: yes

[18:42] Greyjay: her territory

[18:42] Greyjay: You know like she's gay so she doesn't want you to be?

[18:43] Snowfire: Wait.

[18:43] Snowfire: She is?

[18:43] Greyjay: y-e-s oh my god has she never told you how has this not come up

[18:44] Greyjay: Between you and me I mean, I get how it hasn't come up between you two because you're not really going to talk to her about girls

[18:45] Greyjay: This is something she's told me not just something I'm assuming fyi

[18:45] Greyjay: See Tiffany's into girls and I'm into no one ever so if you weren't some kind of queer I don't think you'd fit into our friend circle

[18:46] Greyjay: But seriously, Kai.

[18:46] Snowfire: Yes?

[18:47] Greyjay: My gaydar is excellent.

[18:47] Greyjay: Okay no it's not I just wish it was because that would be kind of a cool superpower.

[18:48] Greyjay: But I think it adds up.

[18:48] Greyjay: Like you know how you've mentioned how much you don't like the romance in some of your dragon novels?

[18:49] Greyjay: Ever tried reading some gay romance? Like super-cute fluffy stuff just people holding hands or whatever.

[18:49] Greyjay: I'm not really into romance in fiction either but it's just boring to me

[18:49] Greyjay: It seems to really bother you!

[18:50] Greyjay: And I think you should consider that maybe it's the fact that it's a guy and a girl that kind of squicks you out and not actually the romance part so much?

[18:51] Greyjay: Also I think a straight guy wouldn't have any problem just saying, "Nope you got it wrong I'm actually straight"

[18:51] Greyjay: Just saying

[18:52] Greyjay: But being in denial sucks

[18:52] Greyjay: I've been there

[18:52] Greyjay: And I'm here if you want to talk about it a bit

[18:53] Greyjay: Or to pester you into thinking about it if you don't

[18:53] Greyjay: I've filled up the entire screen with just me talking for like the past ten minutes so

[18:54] Greyjay: Is there anything you want to say like that I'm wrong and you're actually straight

[18:54] Greyjay: Or that you'll think about it because I make some good points

[18:54] Greyjay: Or just that you want me to stop talking now because self-exploration and introspection makes you uncomfortable

[18:55] Greyjay: You know, just whatever thing you're sitting there thinking while I've been saying all of this.

[18:57] Snowfire: I don't know what you expect me to say.

[18:58] Greyjay: Well I was *hoping* you would say whatever's actually on your mind instead of whatever you think I "expect".

[18:58] Greyjay: But what I expect is that you'll shut down again and go work on your article

[18:59] Greyjay: So feel free to do that

[18:59] Greyjay: I'm not trying to keep you forever

[18:59] Greyjay: Actually I didn't even mean to make you put your article on hold for this long I know it's important

[19:00] Greyjay: I just ended up rambling I guess

[19:01] Snowfire: I do need to work on my article.

[19:01] Greyjay: Yes go make money so you can eat food and buy more books.

[19:02] Snowfire: Okay.

[19:04] Snowfire: Look... I appreciate whatever spirit you're offering this in.

[19:05] Greyjay: It's in the spirit of friendship.

[19:05] Greyjay: And in the spirit of being able to enjoy your coffee date for what it is.

[19:06] Snowfire: Sigh.

[19:07] Greyjay: Yeah, okay, I get it, enough with the date talk! Just tell me how it goes?

[19:07] Snowfire: If that's what it takes to get you to let me work on the article.

[19:07] Greyjay: I was going to do that anyway but I'll take the extra bribe.

[19:08] Greyjay: Good luck.

[19:09] Snowfire: Thanks.

I signed out of the chat client so that I wouldn't get distracted if Tiff or Jaden did decide to message me.

I spent about an hour working on the article, bringing it almost to a conclusion. Tomorrow sometime before or after walking down to Coffee Soul (probably not while I was there if Kit was as talkative the next time as he had been this time) I would have fo finish it and then go through and proofread everything.

Then I read Fluttering until a little while after my usual bedtime.

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In a Heartbeat

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Back in the Heart of the Castle

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Pouring Your Heart Out

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Follow Your Heart

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Chapter 9 [the one where Tess comes back]

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The Diamond in the Kingdom of Hearts

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Chapter 12 [it's Friday and this is all filler, ignore it]

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Diamonds and Hearts

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Mysteries of the Heart

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Heart and Soul

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The Heart of the Forest

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Chapter 17 - Soup

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Chapter 18 - Accidental Crossover

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Chapter 19 - The Old Dragons?

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Chapter 20 - Thursday 1

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Chapter 21: Thursday 2

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Chapter 22 - Thursday 3

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Bonus Scene: Thursday 3

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Chapter 23: Thursday 4

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Chapter 24 - Dragons and Kit

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Chapter 25 - Break the Spell

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Chapter 26 - Waiting

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Chapter 27 - The Next Step

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Chapter 28 - The Cave

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Chapter 29 - Knowledge of Magic

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Chapter 30 - The Return of the White Prince

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Chapter 31 - Action

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Chapter 32 - The Illness

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Chapter 33 - Finally, the Resolution (Part 1)

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