In a small, sunlit room on the fourth floor of the castle, Alana read.
On the tenth day of every week, Lora gave the Guardians the morning to themselves. They were free to do as they pleased until the midday meal, after which they were expected, as every day, to present themselves at the training grounds. Until then, Alana could do as she wished.
For some of the Guardians, like Tynus and Zain, this meant a trip down into town to try to see what fun they could get up to on Tenday morning. There wouldn’t be much — the Tenth Day was a day dedicated, traditionally, to rest, relaxation, idle pursuits, and contemplative worship. More businesses were closed Tenday morning than any other.
For other Guardians, like Amèlia and Selene, this freedom meant spending time doing the opposite of fun. Both of them could be found in the library, studying things they thought would make them better in the role as Guardians. Khari was studying, too, in her own way, though she was down in the practice yard already, studying forms and working on fighting alongside her companion.
Alana knew she should probably be studying as well, or at least reading something that had some sort of educational value, but lately she could not keep her mind off of these books. She wasn’t even normally a big fan of reading, but something about The Trials of Solaria Raine kept her coming back from more.
The novels were short, amusing, surprising, and often quite sordid. Solaria was a priestess of Alrhea, Goddess of Health, Wellbeing, and Recovery, with highly divergent views from those of the main church. She believed in the healing power of love, both physical and emotional, and she travelled about curing men of the illnesses of their spirits by giving them copious amounts of loving.
Alana found the novels fascinating, because, for one, she’d never felt free to express herself in such ways as Solaria. When Solaria desired to do something with a man, or when she found a man attractive, she came out and said it, and that worked for her. The men liked it, and Solaria found a great deal of joy in it as well.
Such sexual freedom was unheard of, in Alana’s experience. The women of Minasora were far too conservative to behave in such a manner, and the men laid foul judgment on those who did. Solaria, though, did most of her adventuring in Emberhold, which was physically close to Minasora but culturally far removed. Emberhold was Nerrona’s nexus of fashion, and the people there saw themselves as progressive and forward-thinking artistically and socially.
Oddly, though Alana was enamored with Solaria’s escapades, she felt no need to behave like the heroine herself. A stack of the Solaria books sat on the table to her right. She’d made a trip into town last Tenday to purchase them for herself, though it had taken up much of her reading time that day. She’d had to find time during the week to sneak in a few pages or chapters at a time, keeping one of the small novels in her satchel so that she could pull it out between lessons or at the dining table.
The other Guardians had rolled their eyes at her obsession, but that didn’t bother Alana. Only Amèlia had said something to her directly about it, for she feared that Alana wasn’t properly concentrating on the lessons taught by the instructors Queen Lora had provided.
Perhaps Amèlia was right. Alana had struggled to concentrate through their lessons that week on geography and military tactics, because she had pondering what might happen in the next chapter of Solaria and the Priest of Lies.
“I’m ready to turn the page,” Kelal said. He stood behind the plush couch on which Alana reclined. Like an excited dog, he stood on his hind legs, with his forelegs draped over the back of the couch.
“Hush,” Alana said. “I’m almost there. Be patient.”
Kelal only clicked in reply. Like a dog, he walked on four legs, but the resemblance went no further. Kelal took the form of a large, sleek crustacean, with a face like an arrowhead and a body covered in plates and an arching back that tapered down until it split into his segmented hind legs. From behind his forelegs, two armored limbs extended which ended in sharp claws.
Kelal’s beady eyes followed along as Alana read her novels. It annoyed her to no end that he read faster than she did.
“I should just get my own copy of the novel,” he said. He clicked instead of properly pronouncing his harsher consonants, which lent an odd cadence to his speech.
“Good luck turning the pages,” Alana said.
“I could, if you’d practice manifesting me more,” Kelal countered.
Alana sighed dramatically. Despite Kelal’s interruptions, she had just finished the page. She held the book up over her shoulder, and Kelal reached for the page with one of his claws. They looked cumbersome, but when he wished, he could be quite delicate with them. Alana pulled his claw — no, that wasn’t the right way to think about it. She… allowed? She believed his claw into reality as he turned the page, and he made physical contact with it.
“Thank you,” he said. “It’s nice to be able to touch the world I’m in.”
“You walk on the floor, though,” Alana said. “I don’t have to focus on that.”
“Hmm,” he said. “True.” He pushed himself back away from the couch so that he could look downward. “Oh! And my hands are on the couch!”
“They are,” Alana said.
“But that’s different, I think,” Kelal said. “I can’t really affect them unless you make me manifest, even though I can stand on them and use them for support.”
“Mmhmm,” Alana said. She had begun to read once more. Solaria was currently entangled with Donovan, her recurring romantic interest who always tried to convince her to settle down with him and give up her religious pursuits.
“Alana,” Kelal chided. “We’re talking about something far more important than your book right now.”
“I know,” Alana said. “I just want to see what happens next. Then I’ll put it down.”
“That’s the same line you used when you finished the last two novels,” Kelal said. “Aren’t you bored of them by now?”
“Are you?” Alana said. “You keep reading them over my shoulder.”
“I don’t have much choice, do I?” Kelal said. “I sort of have to do everything you’re doing. It’s the nature of our relationship.”
“You could just sit quietly,” Alana said. “Then I could focus, and I’d be done reading faster.”
“I don’t mind sitting quietly from time to time, Alana,” Kelal said. “It’s peaceful and restful.”
“Well, you could do that now,” Alana said.
“I want to do something fun,” Kelal said. “I liked reading with you at first, but the stories are all the same. Solaria always pushes Donovan aside so that she can save the man in the title. He falls in love with her, they have sex, and then she moves on as though leaving him isn’t going to hurt him. And, according to the author, it doesn’t, because her love has made her that much better of a man.”
“Well now you’re taking all of the mystery out of it.”
“You can’t pretend you haven’t seen the pattern,” Kelal said.
Alana put the book down. “Of course I have. That doesn’t mean it isn’t fun for me. Maybe in a few more books, I’ll get bored of the formula, but for now I still enjoy it. Besides, just because they follow a pattern doesn’t mean it happens exactly the same way every time.”
“Can’t we just do something else for a while?” Kelal said. “I liked that game we played together for a while.”
“Point? The strategy game?” Alana asked. “You said you got bored with that, too! That when I picked up the first Solaria book.”
“Yes, well,” Kelal stuttered. “Maybe not that game specifically, but another one.”
“There are other games in the library,” Alana said. “I suppose we could go try them out, if you wanted. But listen, you can’t keep getting upset when I win.”
“I don’t get upset,” Kelal said. Alana felt him drop down from the back of the couch. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw his antennas waving as he made his way around.
“You get sulky,” Alana said. “When you try a strategy and it doesn’t work, you pout about it.”
“If that’s true, so do you,” Kelal said.
“No I don’t, and you know it,” Alana said. “I just accept it and move forward. I try something else.”
“Well… maybe,” Kelal said.
“Definitely,” Alana said. She eyed her stack of books longingly. She had known, when she came up here, that she wouldn’t be able to read them all in one sitting. Still, she regretted the idea of leaving them. “If we go play a game together, do you promise to let me keep reading tonight?”
“As long as you don’t stay up so late you have trouble getting to your feet the next day,” Kelal said.
Alana narrowed her eyes, but after a moment, she nodded. “Deal.”
She collected her books into their cloth bag and, with Kelal in tow, headed to the library.