September 12, 1985
The last gasp of autumn was upon them. Azriel shivered, burying himself deeper
into the lining of his coat. Early morning was the worst, damp and icy, the ground slick and his nose a frozen lump on his
He couldn't wait for these late nights shifts to be over. For once, Azriel
longed to be reassigned. He loathed being tossed around from task to task, but at this point, he’d take almost anything.
Transcribing was the single-most tedious task he had ever been given.
He had little time for anything anymore, save working and sleeping. Occasionally,
he ate. He spent his waking hours in the dead of night, hunched over a desk and aging parchment. He slept during the day,
when the rest of the city was up and moving, and was only alert and productive in the late evening hours.
He couldn't remember the last time he'd spoken to his mother. Their schedules
clashed completely. They shared a house, but all they'd managed to do was leave messages for each other or share the very
He also suspected that his mother was seeing someone, not that she'd admit
to him if she was.
Free time was a luxury, one jealously hoarded by Kieran. If Azriel didn't
make time for the man, then Kieran would pout. No one sulked quite like Kieran.
It was ridiculous how often Azriel gave into him.
Shaking his head, he hurried to make it to his destination in time. Luckily,
the Archives were located in central Grayshire, not far from the shopping and leisure district. He was to meet his uncles
for breakfast before he went home and before they went to work.
The small bakery was tucked into a nondescript corner of Shian and was frequented
more by mid and lower-tier nobles than the upper rankings. As a result, it was cozy and comfortable, a place Azriel felt less
like an outsider and more like he belonged.
No one looked at him twice as he stepped inside. His weekly meals with his
uncles had made him a familiar face. But even outside of that, the staff here was friendly and professional.
The owners were a rare breed, mid-tier nobles distantly tracing their roots
to the Silvain, but somehow above it. Like the Isleys, they commanded respect due to filling an important niche. The Isleys
were important for their liquor. The Millers were known for their baked goods; recipes kept under lock and key and passed
down through generations.
The Millers welcomed any and all customers, refusing to bow to the typical
convention so prevalent in Grayshire's culture. They had earned and kept their respect.
Adair and Aidan waited already, steaming mugs on the table in front. Aidan's
was black and bitter, but Adair's pale with sugar and milk. The younger twin had a fondness for sweets, so Azriel wasn't surprised.
“Nephew,” Adair greeted with a warm smile as Aidan pulled out
the spare seat at the table. “Good morning.”
“You look tired,” Aidan added with a frown of concern. His aether
reached out, probing against Azriel's own as though intending to confirm his nephew’s health.
Azriel took the offered seat, draping his coat across the back before he
peeled off his gloves. “Good morning. The night shifts do not agree with me. I feel I’m missing out on…
His uncles exchanged a knowing look. However, Azriel was saved from their
sympathy when the waitress arrived.
“Tea, please,” Azriel requested. “Assam and milk.”
“Of course.” She leaned over the table to refresh his uncle's
cups. “And have we decided on food yet?”
“Pancakes, please,” Adair replied, predictably. He’d drown
them in syrup and pats of butter until they better resembled a dessert rather than breakfast.
Aidan, more reserved, shook his head at his brother. “You’re
ever predictable, brother.” He offered their server a smile. “Omelet, peppers and mushrooms only.”
“Yes, sir.” The waitress' hand rested on the back of Azriel's
chair. “And you?”
He was too tired to be hungry, as was often the case with these morning meet-ups.
“Only a blueberry muffin.”
A long look was offered their direction before she was gone, needing no paper
to keep track of their orders.
“Only?” Aidan asked.
Azriel shook his head. “The less sleep I get, the less interested I
am in eating.”
His uncles frowned in that eerie tandem they occasionally displayed. “I
wish you’d reconsider,” Adair said with a soft sigh. “One word and we could at least have you moved to a
more amenable shift.”
“Two words and your assignment would be better suited to your abilities,”
Aidan added, curling his hand around his mug. “Allow us to help you.”
Azriel pinched his lips together, debating. He had all the same reasons as
before to deny their help. He knew their desire was genuine, but his pride rose up to swallow him anytime he wavered. He wanted
to do more, but he wanted to do it on his own. He had to prove that he didn't need the Celestine name, influence, or money.
“I appreciate the offer,” Azriel replied almost sheepishly. “I
honestly do. And if it comes to the point that this is no longer tenable, perhaps I’ll even accept your kindness.”
His answer mollified them but only in part. They again exchanged a look but
settled back in their seats. The days when they spent hours trying to convince him otherwise had at least passed. That Azriel
was more willing to call them uncle now might’ve had something to do with it. Before, he wouldn't even have allowed
himself to dine in public with them.
Maybe Kieran was to blame for this as well.
“Very well,” Adair allowed, though his tone clearly indicated
he wouldn't be dropping the topic in its entirety. “Moving on.”
Aidan inclined his head. “As you insist. Tell us more about this young
woman you mentioned last time. Titania, was it? When can we expect to meet her?”
“And what does Lady Neorah have to say?” Adair questioned.
“And Kieran for that matter?” Aidan added with a mischievous
curl to his lips.
Sometimes, talking with his uncles felt like an interrogation. They didn't
mean to be so demanding, but they often completed one's sentences and bombarded him with questions.
Luckily, their server returned with Azriel's tea, giving him a moment to
collect his thoughts. By the time she left, Azriel had regained his bearings.
“Titania and Mother haven’t even met,” Azriel stated, pouring
milk but no sugar into his tea and giving it a quick stir. “As for Kieran, they’ve already charmed each other.
Not to mention that they’ve, on more than one occasion, plotted behind my back.”
Though, now that he considered it, not so much as of late. Perhaps that was
because Kieran was more preoccupied with Harper. Or maybe Titania was far too busy with her own work. But the times when Kieran
and Titania would meet on their own had become so few that Azriel wondered if they met at all anymore.
“When we will be given the pleasure of meeting her then?” Aidan
asked, sipping his drink.
Azriel shifted his weight. “I'm not sure,” he admitted and couldn't
explain why he was reluctant to arrange it. “Perhaps once I’ve escaped the overnight shift.”
His uncles looked at one another, talking without words. Azriel had spent
enough meals with them that he'd grown used to this odd habit. Though it made him wonder on occasion what it would’ve
been like to have a sibling. Brother or sister, it didn't matter to him.
“We understand,” said Adair, smiling. “Just know that we’ll
always have time for you, nephew. And the lovely woman who has captured your heart.”
Their server returned, laden with plates. For the moment, conversation halted.
Adair's stack of pancakes was golden-brown and fluffy. Aidan's omelet was drizzled in a creamy cheese sauce. Azriel's muffin
had just the right amount of crunchy-sugar topping to make it palatable. There was a reason they always chose this place for
their breakfast, and Azriel chuckled as he watched Adair pour a liberal amount of syrup over his plate.
“Can I interest you in some pancakes, brother?” Aidan asked,
giving the pool of syrup a look of horror. “Because you seem to want the syrup alone.”
Adair gave him a sidelong look. “You hush. This is my one indulgence,
I'll have you know.”
“One? Judging by the state of your midsection, you have several.”
Azriel's lips twitched, and he hid behind his tea as his eyes bounced between
“There’s nothing wrong with having a healthy layer of padding,”
Adair countered, adding a sprinkling of powdered sugar to the top of the stack. “It’s approaching winter after
Amusement glittered in Aidan's eyes. “And what would your intended
have to say about this?”
“As she shares my affection for breakfast, she’d agree with me,”
Azriel's brow furrowed. “Intended?”
The two brothers immediately looked sheepish.
“I apologize, nephew,” Adair said seconds later. “I planned
to tell you this morning but was distracted. It was part of the reason we wanted to meet.”
Azriel sipped at his tea for a lack of anything else to do. “No need
to apologize. You’re obligated to tell me nothing. I was merely curious.”
“And back to the formal tone.” Aidan sighed, cutting into his
omelet. “We'll have you rid of that yet, nephew.”
There was a light thump, as though Adair had kicked his brother under the
table. Neither gave sign of it.
“Yes, I’m to be married,” he redirected. “It’s
a rather rushed affair, I'm afraid.”
Azriel considered this, and perhaps the unfortunately implications there-in.
Though he honestly doubted that was what his uncle meant.
“Who is the lucky lady?” he asked instead.
Aidan gave his brother a smirk, while Adair shifted in his seat.
That name was familiar to him. Azriel had heard it often enough when he was
in Conservatory. Lilah – now Lyra – had often spoken of her sister with warm words and a smile. Though the rush
to marriage was no doubt because of Lilah's abrupt abandonment of the Dryden family. Though he’d thought Lilah to be
Azriel lowered his mug to the table. “I see the scandal has not yet
lost its taint,” he commented but offered a smile. “Congratulations. If she is anything like her sister, you’ll
never be bored.”
Aidan laughed, but Adair only managed a light smile. “It’s an
arranged match, but I’ve met my betrothed. She seems lovely.”
Azriel shifted his gaze to Aidan. “You must have your eyes on someone
else then for you to have not been caught up as well.”
To his amusement, a tinge of red graced his uncle's cheeks. “Yes, well…
hrrm.” He shoved a bite of his breakfast into his mouth. Politeness dictated that he didn't speak while he chewed, thereby
keeping him from answering Azriel's question.
Adair chuckled. “We’ve been reminded that we’re not getting
any younger, and since I had no prospects of my own, I volunteered. It’s no great sacrifice on my part. Lady Dryden
is intelligent and beautiful.”
“And I am certain that the Dryden were quite... eager to use
the opulence of a wedding between you as a chance to rid themselves of the stigma left by their second daughter's abandonment
of her name,” Azriel put in calmly, well-versed in the noble's way of thought.
“There is that.” Adair exhaled sharply. “We are but pawns
in a political game. We are lucky that we’re suited for each other. Affection, I'm sure, will follow.”
Aidan dabbed at his mouth with a cloth napkin, having regained his composure.
“He should be so lucky. Our brother’s pleased, so I suppose that’s what matters.”
“When's the wedding?” Azriel asked, if only to gloss over the
unwanted mention of Asher Celestine. The less spoken of the vile man, the better.
“We haven’t set a date,” Adair answered easily enough.
“As you know, noble engagements can last for years. The betrothal itself is enough for the beginning stages of loyalty.
After all, a noble would never think to end an engagement.” Though the last was said with a smirk.
Aidan nodded. “Which means they’ve plenty of time to get to know
each other before vows are exchanged.” He tossed his brother a wry look. “And enough time for him to get back
in shape, perhaps lose that softness around his midsection.”
Adair stabbed a forkful of pancake and made a great show of eating it, as
though not caring about his brother's teasing.
“Congratulations are in order then,” Azriel said. “I'm
happy for you.”
“Thank you, nephew,” Adair replied before forcefully changing
the subject. “Now, enough about me, tell us about the new things in your life.”
Azriel picked up his muffin. There wasn't much to tell, but it was nice to
sit like this, having a conversation with his uncles. Years ago, he wouldn't have allowed himself to be seen in public in
He wondered if he had Kieran to thank for that.
November 2nd, 1985
Azriel looked up from the painfully smudged manuscript he was working on.
He straightened from his hunched position with a wince; these stools were the furthest thing from comfortable. He turned to
his left, where Master Linden waited with a sealed envelope in hand.
His supervisor was an older man with little tolerance for mistakes or slovenly
behavior. Still, he was fair overall when it came to Azriel's work. He judged him on the quality of his work, not his background.
For that, Azriel respected him.
Linden handed him the envelope. “You've been reassigned.”
Disappointment sat like a heavy weight in his belly. Reassigned… not
given a new shift. That meant moving yet again.
Azriel reached for the heavy envelope, thick with folded papers. He bit back
“I see. Have I committed some error?”
Master Linden folded his arms over his chest. His eyebrows were graying like
his hair, and they drew together as he frowned.
“Not in my books. If it were up to me, I'd keep you. I need someone
with a good head on his shoulders around here, even if you are overqualified.”
So it wasn't by Master Linden's complaint then.
Azriel slipped a finger under the envelope flap. The stamp of the Skyla was
the first thing to reach his eyes. Azriel's breath caught in his throat as he took out the folded papers, smoothing out their
wrinkles and skimming their contents.
His eyes widened. “Is this...? This isn’t a joke?”
“Would I waste my time with some childish prank?” Master Linden
snorted with disdain. “I’d keep you if they’d let me, but it’s out of my hands.” He offered
a half-shrug before turning away. “Finish that and leave it on my desk. Afterward, you’re dismissed. Best of luck,
“Thank you, sir,” Azriel said softly, and the man gave a sharp
nod before departing.
When he was gone, Azriel’s gaze fell on the papers again. His name
was indeed inscribed on the top, but it didn't feel real. He found it difficult to believe that after all this time, someone
had finally recognized his worth.
Was it too good to be true? Would he arrive only to find himself scorned
and mocked? Given only the lowest tasks?
Azriel turned around on his stool, laying the papers on the desk over his
work. He’d return to it in a moment. He needed to process. He needed to think.
The Skyla. He was to work in the main building, amongst the historical
tomes, the magical indexes and appendices. It was the one place everyone aspiring to work in the Skyla dreamed of being assigned.
He had to report first thing Monday morning. It was only Wednesday now. They
were actually giving him the kindness of a small vacation, a chance to get his sleep schedule back on track. He had enough
funds that he could procure a new set of robes as well and inform his mother and Kieran about the fortuitous event.
Azriel checked the seal and the signatures again. He had seen Lady Vasuda's
handwriting on other documents before. It seemed to match, as did the seal of the Vasuda, a forest green with the stylized
drawing of a camellia on it.
It was unbelievable.
Feeling a bit numb, Azriel folded the papers and carefully stowed them back
in the envelope. He tucked it all into a pocket on his robes and stared at his final assignment. It’d take him an hour,
maybe more, to finish. Then, he would be done for the day.
Titania would be pleased. They had plans to meet after work. He could surprise
her by showing up early; perhaps convince her to join him for a celebratory lunch.
The reassignment seemed genuine. Azriel could only hope that it’d prove
to be a change for the better. Maybe his hard work had finally been recognized.
A small smile flitting to his lips, Azriel returned his attention to the
smudged manuscript, brightening his lantern. This would be the last incomprehensible document he’d be forced to transcribe.
For that alone, there was reason to celebrate.