“You’re all beautiful!” I shouted, hanging from the chandelier. “Best weirdos in the *hic* aetherverse!”

This was the best day ever! Better than all my birthdays combined, or the time I summoned slugs and made Euryala fall on her face in trigonometry. And to think I could have missed it all if I hadn’t done that summoning.

“Beautiful!” I shouted and reached for my glass... which for some reason wasn’t there. This was the third time it vanished in the last hour. “Hey, who took my— “

The chandelier twisted, throwing me off. The table rushed up towards me, then suddenly stopped inches from my face.

“Umm, maybe take it easy for a bit?” I heard Vihur’s voice. “You’ve had a bit much.”

The room turned around as two paper penguins put me on a chair. I looked to the side. Vihur was there, holding my shoulders with his warm hands.

“You’re cute,” I laughed.

I wish my parents could see me now. And my teachers! And all my friends, especially Euryala! After years of listening to them nag how I was wasting my life and would never find a boyfriend, I would finally get them to choke on their words. Me, the so-called loser, had saved a city, rescued all the children, summoned myself a cool red dragon, and got the guy! I’d like to see any of them do that!

“You’re very, very cute!” I grabbed his arm. “I always had a thing for you.”

“Of course you have.” He took a glass of something from somewhere and put it in my hand. “Just drink that.”

“I’m serious!” I waved the glass, spilling some. “I summoned you to be the perfect boyfriend, you know!” I turned to the rest of the crowd. “I summoned him to be my boyfriend!”

Everyone raised their mugs in agreement. I did as well, only my mug was a glass and tasted strangely bland. The goldfish tavern was a remarkable place. After our victorious return, the building had ballooned, tripling in size so as to house all the heroes of the day, plus a few dozen city guards and officials. At this point I wasn’t even sure who was who and I didn’t care one bit.

“Liggy!” I shouted. “Isn’t Vihur the cutest?!”

The cat just smiled at me and continued playing with her moon atop a pile of cushions in the far end of the room. I still couldn’t understand what was with cats and cushions. Maybe it was a species thing.

“Who took my glass?!” I shouted again. For some reason the usual drink was replaced with water. Right now I didn’t want water. I could have water every day. Now I wanted that sweet stuff the tavern made!

“Here you go.” Someone handed me a jug.

“Thanks!” I grinned. “That’s just what I—“

In a single second all the joy and cheer was sucked out of the room. I had thought that Vihur was handing me the jug. Instead, it turned out to be Nox. I had no idea what she was doing at my party, but I was convinced it couldn’t be anything good. And of course, she tried to make herself look fancy in her black and white adventure clothes.

“Nice dragon, by the way,” she said looking past me in Vihur’s direction. “I hear she has character.”

“Yes, Coal has a lot of character,” I hissed, putting the jug on the table. Nox’s presence had made me lose my thirst. “So glad that you managed to come. After running away from that fight that nearly got Vihur killed.”

“He seems pretty fine to me.” The pets ignored me, not having the decency to look me in the eyes as we spoke. “And I just had some other threats to take care of. You know, spy infiltration and all that. A shame, though. You could have crushed the slave Guild much faster if I were around.”

“I’m sure.” I winced. Some people just couldn’t take a hint. “So, what are you doing here?”

“Oh, just the usual.” She shrugged. “Wanted to congratulate Vihur before we went out.”

“O-out?!” I stuttered. What had just happened? Right this moment I felt like an egg escaping the nest only to end up smashing onto the ground below. When had she and Vihur talked? Where was I not to have seen this? Every moment since out victory I had been planning how to approach the matter. I’d even had a sip of alcohol to build up my courage and she had just waltzed in here and...

“Yeah, I promised to show him the city.” She waved to Vihur. A few seconds later the idiot waved back.

“Well, you can’t!” I hissed. “Because we won’t be staying here for so long!”

“Oh? Your princess told me you’ll be leaving in the morning.”

Damn it! Dumb cat! I glared at Liggy. Of course, she would mess things up for me. One day! I just want one day in which things go my way!

“You should get someone to show you the town as well,” Nox continued. “Now that you’ve brought the children back there will be lots of celebrations.”

“Well, I intend to do that!” I humphed and grabbed the jug. “The orphaned heroes promised to show me around anyway!”

Nox started saying something, but I was so mad I didn’t stay to hear it. Stupid black and white cow! I went through the first door I saw. There was a flight of stairs behind it. Tightening my grip of the jug I rushed upwards.

“Vihur will notice I’m gone,” I whispered to myself. “He’ll come running after me. Then you’ll see!”

Worst day ever. Why did this always happen? Just when I felt I was on the verge of achieving happiness something would come crashing in and set everything in flames. Maybe I should just give up and summon a swarm of bees. At least then others will feel my pain!

The stairs led several floors up to a small terrace. Once outside, I slammed the door behind me. I’m not going to cry! I lied to myself, as tears tried to push their way onto my face. I’m not going to... In less than a second, I had broken my promise. I could feel them burn down my cheeks.

Why? I took a swig from the jug. The liquid tasted sweet, like strawberry nectar, yet failed to improve my mood. Nox appearing had drained all colors from my life, leaving me in a dark cold space. I felt I wanted to close myself in a small dark room with all my books and start practicing summoning.

“There are days like that,” I heard Spire’s voice beside me. “Sometimes you just have to take the punches and go on.”

“It’s fine,” I lied. “I’ve just had a bit too much to drink and—“

“I’ve read minds for a living.” Spire smiled, taking the jug from my grip. “Let me give you a piece of advice. You never waste the good stuff on sorrow. Much cheaper that way.”

That managed to make me chuckle. Maybe because I’d already hit rock bottom.

“I won’t pretend I know it all, but it’s pretty obvious you have a thing for him. The biggest mistake you could do right now is to give up.” Spire took a sip of the jug. “Don’t let go until the third time he says no. Personally, I doubt you’d need that many.”

“Easy for you to say,” I sniffled.

“My marriage isn’t all roses either, you know.” Her words instantly got my attention. “Vesuvio could be such a self-serving jerk at times.”

“Vesuvio?” I blinked. The shock tore me out of my bubble of melancholy. “You and Vesuvio are married?!”

“Fifteen years,” she replied. “Heroes often marry heroes. There are exceptions, but not so many. And he’s not that bad once you get to know him.”

“Okay.” That sounded so weird. “I just thought that Steel might be more your time.”

“That old geezer?” Spire laughed. “He’s probably over two hundred. Anyway, there’s something I wanted to talk to you about.”

“Sure.” Steel is over two hundred? I’d have thought he was five years older than me.

“You’ve been hired to find Grenerian, right?”

I didn’t say a word. Now that I was feeling a bit less drunk and depressed, I wasn’t sure this was a topic I should be discussing in the open. We had fought side by side hours ago, but for all I knew she could still be willing to sell us out.

“I peeked into your mind when you came to my hideout,” Spire sighed. “Was difficult to miss.”

“Oh.” Crap.

“You won’t find him here. This is a neutral border town. People here are only concerned about large scale war between sloths and felines, as well as the occasional marauder, as you’ve seen. If anyone’s heard about Grenerian, it’s through travelers passing through.”

That didn’t sound very helpful.

“With the exception of me,” Spire added, making my heart rate rush.

“You know him?” I asked, far too eagerly.

“Not exactly.” She shook her head. “But I know who does.” Spire took a gulp of the jug, then passed it back to me. “Before I became orphaned, I worked for a sloth court. It was a demanding job involving many aspects of my skill. On one particular occasion, I was tasked with guarding archduke Clarence—the ruler's son. It was a tedious experience. He led such a boring life that I had to jump into people’s mind smuts to remain awake. At one point it got so bad that despite the penalty, I peeked into his mind. And there I saw the name.”

“Grenerian worked for the sloths?” I gasped. Why am I gasping? I haven’t even seen a sloth. “Where is he?”

“I have no idea.” She shrugged. “All that happened years ago. Besides, I only saw the name. In order to find out more you’ll have to ask the archduke. That, however, might prove to be slightly difficult.”

“Difficult?” I had a very bad feeling about this, “Difficult how?”

“Let me put it this way. How easy would it be to smuggle a cat in the city of sloths?”


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