Author’s Note: A and I had flown to San Francisco in late 2005 to scout out apartments when she’d been offered a job there. I’d gotten the window seat and as we were flying out to head back east, I looked towards the city I immediately felt a kinship; it wasn’t just a feeling of certainty that we’d be returning, but that I’d know this would be our new home soon. Diwa and Kaffi have the same sensation when they leave Panooria; it won’t be their home, but they’re certain that they’ll be back soon enough. Even despite not knowing the outcome of the election, they feel certain they’ve already won.
Kaffi returned from the bath house after a long soak, fully refreshed and itching to get back up into the air. The inn’s baths were indeed rejuvenating, especially for tintrite! He’d followed up with a quick rub of moisturizer to give his scales a bit of extra shine. He quietly groomed his mane at the full mirror now, while waiting for Diwa to come out of the shower. He’d started growing it long like Iliah, preferring that style over the shorter cut he used to have; it was still a natural dark brown like his paddir’s, but he’d been toying with the idea of dyeing it black like hers. He’d need to tidy it up again once they were in Panooria, but he wanted to look his best for this day from start to finish. Once it was a bit more under control, he gathered it together and bound it with a beaded string he’d bought the previous day.
By the time Diwa was out and halfway dressed, he’d found his armbands and started tying them on. He’d chosen to wear two of them next to each other: the one that Iliah had made for him a few months ago, and the one Diwa had made for him more recently. He liked the way they played off each other; the black-orange-yellow simplicity of Iliah’s was balanced by the red-green-orange liveliness of Diwa’s.
“You need help with those?” Diwa said as he joined him at the mirror, attempting to put on his necktie. His reflection flashed him a warm smile.
“No, I’m fine,” Kaffi said, though in honesty he wouldn’t have minded. “By tradition I should be putting these on by myself anyway.”
Diwa hummed and nodded in response.
“It’s about bonds,” he continued. “The one Iliah gave me, I finally understand the true meaning. Yellow, that I’ve set out on my own, apart from the family flock. Orange, I’m not completely bound to a chosen fate – yet. And black…”
“That you’ve already decided on that fate,” Diwa finished. “And that you’re willing to follow it and see where it goes.”
Kaffi nodded. “Yes.” He tightened the strings on Diwa’s band, pondering its colors and shapes. He’d chosen to wear that one higher up on the arm, closer to his mind and heart. The pattern was almost the same, though instead of squares, they were tessellated polygons. “You never told me what yours means. I mean, I know what it means in general…” He finally connected the last latch and glanced at him. “I just haven’t heard it from you.”
Diwa finished adjusting his tie and took Kaffi’s arm. “Iliah hinted that you might want to take me to that craft shop, so I did a bit of homework before our trip to make sure I did it right. I knew you liked these and wanted to give one to you.” He touched the green outer bands. “Green, that we share more than just family bond; we share a personal one.” He moved on to the polygons. “Orange, facing up: we are not inescapably bound to this fate through outside influence. And red, facing down: we are willingly bound to our fate by our own choice.”
Kaffi’s eyes widened and met Diwa’s. He felt his snout heating up as it became clear: Diwa had fully committed to this bond of theirs and had chosen to make it official by way of tintrite armband. It wasn’t just words and emotions to him…this was true and unbreakable. “You are sure about this, Dee?”
Diwa moved close and embraced his friend. “No doubts, Kaff,” he said. “I’m sure.”
Kaffi hummed in pleasure, fluttering his wings, and wrapped his arms around him.
Diwa and Kaffi entered the Housing Authority building in Panooria at precisely nine o’clock. People were in line already, waiting for offices to open and appointments to begin. Diwa felt a bit overdressed for the occasion, having worn his best dress clothes complete with tie, but he wanted to make a good first impression. He also wore Samuel’s signet ring, absentmindedly twisting it around and around to ward off his nervousness.
Kaffi had also chosen to make his own impression with the Tenancy Bureau. He had groomed himself to show just a hint of shine on his scales, brushed, tamed, and bound his mane, and wore his saddle, which he’d recently cleaned. He also wore a long, dark blue scarf loose around his neck in honor of his paddir, who wore the very same scarf on important occasions. Diwa couldn’t help but glance at him every now and again; he’d never seen Kaffi so formally dressed before!
Those loitering in the foyer of the building gaped at them as they passed by, some with curiosity and others in awe. Had they not seen riders on mission before? Were they too young to be here? Or had they gone overboard with the dress and formalities? Diwa shook his head and ignored that line of thinking; the last thing he needed was to fluster his way through this most important task of all. He could do this. With Kaffi at his side, he could do this.
They approached the front desk and signed in, requesting to see their Tenancy Board representative and to deliver important documents. The elder mandossi fluttered his wings slightly as he studied them over his spectacles, his black eyes darting between the two, then at their rings. Upon recognizing them, he burst into a too-wide smile similar to Anna-Nassi’s. “Ai, you are Samuel and Graymar’s pahyé!” he said jovially. “I should have known, the two of you take after them quite a bit! Greetings, Diwa and Kaffi! Please, have a seat and we will call you as soon as your case worker is ready to see you.”
They sat side by side on a low bench near an open waiting area. It felt oddly comforting to be stepping into Samuel’s shoes right now, performing his job for him and being recognized by the Board’s members. Did Kaffi feel the same way? He stole another glance at him; he held his hands close to his belly, one over the other, his snout pointing downward and his eyes forward. He hummed, quiet and mellow; nervous, but not afraid. Such a regal pose! He was going all out to impress!
He gave him a brief, playful nudge. “Nervous?”
Kaffi grinned and nudged him back. “Hmm.”
Eventually they were called, and they were led up a grand staircase to the third floor and down a long and wide hall, where scores of beings of all kinds were buzzing about, drifting between offices or gathering in small groups. The chatter echoed as a low rumble, too many voices overlapping to the point where none were distinct. They were estate representatives from all over the river valley and the bay, coming to conduct business here in the biggest city in the province. Diwa and Kaffi were just two of the many. They were brought halfway down the hall to a large set of open double doors with a brass plaque hanging high with the words ‘Tenancy Board’ in numerous languages. Inside was a single large room with long rows of fancy wooden desks lining the walls and a tiered seating area in the back. The Board must not be in active debate session this early, as they were all at their desks closer to the doors, tirelessly working away.
One desk jockey noticed their arrival with a wide smile and skipped over to greet them. They were a tall hedraac with thick glasses and thinning hair, and they were immensely happy to see them. “Ah! Diwa and Kaffi. Welcome, welcome! I am Gareth, your estate’s case worker. You’ve flown quite a long way! Please, let me offer you seats!” They brought them back to their wide desk halfway up the room. Diwa took one of the visitor’s chairs and Kaffi sat close by on his hinds. Gareth glanced at the two of them and nodded, possibly impressed by their formal appearance. “How are Samuel and Graymar, may I ask? I heard the sad news not that long ago, Kaffi, please let him know that he is in my thoughts. I truly wish them the best. Please do tell them that.”
Kaffi nodded, slow and measured. “I appreciate that, mani. He is doing well, considering.”
“Samuel is doing well, thank you for asking,” Diwa added, and felt a bit too nervous and self-conscious to add anything further.
“Good, good…I spoke with Samuel on the phone a few days previous, he said that the two of you were going to be substituting for them for this delivery. Your first time here, I hear! He said that you would have a package of important documents to hand over, yes?”
Diwa nodded and pulled the thick binder out of his satchel. his thumb brushing against the wax seal. He’d resisted temptation to open the binder so many times in the past few days, to the point that even now he felt that itch, but they’d kept their promise to Annie. He handed the binder to Gareth, who also noticed the seals and the rings, and flashed their wide smile at him. “Going the full ritual route again, I see!” they sang, nodding at their rings. “Samuel said nothing about that, though I’m certainly not surprised. I was just starting out here when Daniel and Akkree did the same for their first visit.” They pulled out an envelope knife and slit the seal quickly and neatly, almost as an afterthought. “Let’s see what we have here…”
Diwa and Kaffi glanced at each other, expectant. The time had finally come.
Diwa couldn’t see the printing from across the desk and tried not to make it look too obvious as he craned his neck a little bit to peek. Kaffi was doing the same. Gareth set the cover letter aside and quickly sorted through the bundled documents. They read them quickly and quietly, flipping through pages at such a pace that it was impossible to keep up. After they flipped through the last folder – this particular one having been the most important of them all, and the one Samuel had processed in private – they hummed long and slow, put the documents back in order, then reread the cover letter, holding it up towards him so neither Diwa nor Kaffi could see it.
Diwa glanced at Kaffi with barely repressed grin. They were thinking the same thing: Gareth was doing this on purpose to tease them.
Eventually they finished the letter, laid it back on top of the documents, and closed the binder. “Well! Everything looks in order, and the volume is low this month, so I should be able to prepare this quickly for you. We will draft up a response immediately and will have it to you in a few hours. We’ll text you and you can pick up any return parcels at the front desk. In the meantime, is there anything else you’d like to talk about or take care of?”
Kaffi cleared his throat and leaned forward. “Thank you again for thinking of my paddir. He wanted me to extend an invitation to our harvest celebration at our estate a few Saturdays from now. We will send you an invite. He would love to have you there if you can make it.”
Gareth blinked in surprise but followed it up with a wide smile. “I would be honored, Kaffi! I will definitely be there for him.”
Kaffi bowed and hummed in response.
“And you, Diwa, is there anything you would like to add?”
He thought about it for a moment. He had to know for sure. “I am curious,” he started. “When we came in, there were a few other visitors that seemed kind of, I don’t know…surprised by our appearance? One or two people, fine, but this was more like a dozen or so that I noticed. Did we do anything wrong or…?”
Gareth let out a small laugh. “Ai, not to worry. It was your appearance that surprised them. You see, not only are you the youngest couriers the Tenancy Board has seen in quite some time, but you are also the youngest to wear the signet rings. And Kaffi with his paddir’s scarf, to top it off.”
Diwa felt his face heat up. They’d definitely overdone it.
But Gareth continued, sensing his embarrassment. “Please, Diwa, don’t misunderstand me. You should never feel shame or embarrassment in showing your pride in your job, your bond and your estate. Most visitors have been coming here for years, sometimes decades, and they often grow quite lax about appearances, as it’s not entirely important here. I do not fault them, as it is not my place. But seeing you show such pride and dedication was indeed a positive surprise for them.”
Diwa looked at Kaffi. “So we made a positive impression.”
Kaffi hummed, flashing a few fangs at him.
“You most definitely did,” Gareth said, bowing slightly. “Welcome to the Tenancy Board, my young friends. I’m looking forward to working with the two of you quite often in the future.”
Diwa adjusted his goggles and zipped up his jacket as they headed towards the public landing fields, feeling tired but content and ready to head back home. Kaffi was already back to his normal self, sporting an unruly mane and a bit of wear on his scales. He had the saddle on once more, still using the blanket his paddir had bought him. They’d spent the rest of the morning enjoying the sights and sounds of Panooria on their own for the first time. They’d done some more shopping, this time in the shops and stalls on the high street near the bureau. They’d made some purchases to be delivered to the estate, with the smaller items squirreled away in the corners of their overnight bags. Gareth’s response bundle, which they’d picked up just after lunch, held little more than a few forms, invoices and receipts, so they would be traveling lighter on the return trip. Their minds were already on the flight back home.
They were both more curious than ever about the results of the estate election now; Gareth had hinted but not confirmed anything, and they weren’t going to release any news until they contacted their fathers directly. Both Diwa and Kaffi had assumed they had won handily, but neither wanted to admit to it. They’d both know in a few weeks. The wait would be torturous, but they’d made a promise and they’d hold themselves to it.
They found an open launch pad and headed towards it. Kaffi unfurled his wings and leapt up to the platform and waited for Diwa to climb its stairs. It was still early afternoon with a cool breeze in the air, the river covered with a thin layer of mist. Up on the pad, they had a clear view of the skyline of Panooria. It was indeed a beautiful city worth visiting in the future. Glints of light sparkled from its towers, the reflection of the sun bathing everything in a golden glow.
Diwa secured his backpack and pulled on his fingerless gloves while Kaffi worked through his own personal checklist. He stood beside him, his hand on Kaffi’s shoulder. “Ready to go?”
Kaffi hummed in response and dropped down to all fours, stretching out all his limbs as well as his wings. He had quite the impressive wingspan, strong wings that he kept immaculately clean and well-manicured. It was the one part of his appearance that he fussed over the most. He shifted into a hovering position and kneeled. “Ready whenever you are, Dee.”
Diwa nodded. One last check, padding his pockets: watch, compass, phone, flashlight. The basics every ride should have on their person. Anything else could be carried in the small side pockets of the saddle. He pulled his goggles over his eyes and climbed on. Together they went through their pre-flight check, completing it in a matter of minutes.
A light touch on Kaffi’s shoulder. “Let’s go home, Kaff.”
“Yes,” Kaffi hummed. “Let’s go home.”
Kaffi had always preferred a drop launch as it was the easiest and most pleasurable for a tintrite, but as Panooria’s high landing pads were all booked, they had to do a ground launch instead. It took more energy, but after their last few lazy days, they were ready for it and eager to head out. One last check of their belongings, and they were ready to go.
Kaffi pushed off with a powerful jolting kick of his hind legs, and immediately began beating his wings furiously to gain altitude. Diwa automatically leaned forward, creating a smooth balance and as little wind shear as possible, holding onto the saddle and listening to Kaffi’s labored breathing. Kaffi would need to push hard for the next couple of minutes so he did what he could to relieve the strain. The last time they’d done this was at Griffin Park, when they’d been called up to join Samuel and Graymar in the air for Last Flight, and that had been the most strength he’d ever seen Kaffi exert in flight. This liftoff was far less frenzied than that, but no less exhausting. He made a mental note to reserve a drop-launch tower ahead of time, the next time they came up this way, so Kaffi would not have to suffer so much.
Once they were clear of the pad and at a decent altitude, Kaffi leveled off and let out a grunt of relief. “Eiyah, I hate ground launches.” He circled the landing field some more to catch the wind. Diwa patted Kaffi’s shoulder in response.
On their last few circuits, Diwa looked out once more over the skyline of Panooria. It was certainly a lovely city indeed, especially from up here. He spotted the Housing Authority building, classical in its architecture, a marble white that stood out from the sheen of the modern glass towers surrounding it. An emerald chain of parks and green spaces snaked through the street grid, offering calm and respite for anyone in need of it. The wide pedestrian boulevard cutting through the center of downtown, full of shops, stalls, and restaurants. Off in the distance, a bare hill rising above the city, much like Mount Lee back home, providing a resting perch for flight and ride. He felt an unexpected wave of kinship, or familiarity, with this city, and let himself embrace it fully. They’d be visiting this city more often in the years to come. Their fates were still up in the air, at least for the next few weeks, but for the moment he let himself feel that certainty. He didn’t say anything about it to Kaffi, but he was sure he was feeling the same way.
After one last circuit, they split off from the landing fields and headed towards the river. They would be riding the river valley’s wind stream on the way back and gliding for most of it, so it should be a much faster and less tiring trip. They would most likely stop mid-trip for a break anyway, but for now they could rest easy, knowing they’d be back home at their estate by day’s end.
“Did you have fun?” Diwa asked, as they found an opening in the morning air traffic and settled in.
“Very much so,” Kaffi said. “We should definitely do it again. I’d like to visit more of the shops and street vendors next time.”
“Maybe we will,” he said, feeling optimistic.
“Maybe we will,” Kaffi echoed, understanding completely.
Author’s second note: There are only three more chapters after this, so I will be posting them early next week. See you then!