I’m Allowed

I’m allowed to take my time getting there.

I’m allowed to take however long it takes to figure things out.

I’m allowed to share stories that don’t fit the mold.

I’m allowed to understand the world in my own ways.

I’m allowed to have paradoxes in my life.

I’m allowed to be imperfect.

I’m allowed to take my own uncharted steps to see where it all goes.

I’m allowed to remind myself of these things when needed.

Talking End of the Month Refresh Blues

Image courtesy of hackaday.com

I talked a little bit about this over at my Dreamwidth account, but I think it begs a bit of commentary here: I’m happy to say that I think I’ve finally broken myself of that niggling feeling at the end of every month that I’ve failed in keeping up with my writing schedule. For years, and with the best of intentions, I’d start each month looking at my whiteboard calendar and think, yeah, this time I’ll make it to the end with new words and productivity all over the place!, and inevitably crash and burn about two-thirds of the way through.

It took me until recently that to realize that I’ve been looking at this in totally the wrong way.

Coming into each month with the determination to Do All The Things regardless of real life (and Day Job) getting in the way always leads to failure. And that’s the other mistake I made: seeing that as failure in the first place. In the final weeks I’d always get frustrated that I’d failed to follow my plans once more, and every single time I’d needlessly get angry with myself. It would only be exacerbated by thinking, okay, THIS time I’ll get it right! and setting myself up for failure once more.

What I need to do instead is see the start of every month as a refresh. I run cleaning software on this PC every weekend without fail (and it’s kept Spare Oom’s computer up and running smoothly for over three years so far, thank you very much), and it occurred to me that I really should see my writing habits in very much the same manner.

When I start the new month tomorrow — including participating in Inktober — the whiteboard schedule will once again be full, once again be seen as a guide rather than an assignment, once again allowing myself days off when Real Life intrudes. The whole point of the whiteboard schedule has always been to keep me working instead of procrastinating or distracting myself, nothing more. It’s my coping mechanism that’s kept me from otherwise faffing around on Twitter or playing with my music collection all day long.

What I shall do differently starting tomorrow is just do my best. That’s all. If I miss a day, I miss a day. And come the end of October I’ll do the same thing I’m doing now, accepting the amount of work I’d done in the meantime and starting it all over again in November. And so on. View it as a refresh, not as a metric.

Meanwhile, back in Spare Oom…

Image courtesy of Makoto Shinkai, of course.

What’s been going on, anyway? I’ve been working on the Theadia rewrite when I’m not at the Day Job, mostly. On days off I’ll catch up with some personal projects, or if they line up with A’s we’ll go out for a walk or burn through our British streaming shows. [For those playing along, we’ve been on a Silent Witness kick and it’s exciting but definitely not for the squeamish.] Other than that…? Not much at all.

I’ve been in kind of a rut in terms of actually producing content to self-publish. I mean, I’ve got Diwa & Kaffi ready to go, but I really need to get off my arse and look into commissioning an artist. I’ve got a few ideas that I want to sketch out first, however. If I’m going to work with an artist, I want to work with an artist, meaning that I’m willing to give them as much prep work and rough sketches as I can so they won’t be going in blind. Besides, I know exactly what I want: a simple yet engaging cover similar to what you see on some manga/light novels. Something like Rumiko Takahashi’s Maison Ikkoku, for example. I like the idea of using blank space on purpose here, to evoke the mood that it’s very much a light novel in some respects, as well as the fact that a lot of that novel is about being up in the air. I have a few artists in mind, I’ll just need to contact them and see if they’re interested or have the time.

Speaking of Theadia, I’ve also been thinking a bit about how this novel is not quite the Epic that the Bridgetown Trilogy was, but nor is it the lighter work I published afterwards. It’s a bit of both, really. The project goal is very much typical of me: writing a space opera without the military drama, writing an epic without turning everything up to eleven, writing a political drama without falling into my own navel. I even have the tagline, which is a line that’s quoted by many in the story: If you could…would you do the right thing? The novel isn’t about being a savior, it really is about doing the right thing when given the choice between taking ownership or saying ‘not my problem’. There are no heroes here, only normal people choosing to do the right thing because no one else is, and having that in itself be heroic.

It’s been a bit of a juggle, because I definitely need to have certain characters with certain levels of intelligence, power and experience, but purposely not having them get all infodumpy or technerdy about it. [I half-joke sometimes that I’m writing an anti-Cory Doctorow novel here, because I’m choosing not to go into graphic detail about the worlds of infotech, the dark web, and living off the grid. I give just enough detail for it to make sense, because that’s all it needs. I definitely owe Becky Chambers for the inspiration for wanting to take that route.] It’s been an enjoyable ride, though, and that’s all I ask.

*

So. What’s my update schedule going to be here in the days ahead? Glad you asked! I’m going to try to return to the twice-a-week that I’ve had for the last couple of years, though there may be a gap or a late entry here and there, especially when Day Jobbery takes precedence.

Glad you’re sticking around, though! See you soon!

Fly-by: brb, going on vacation…

…for the first time in two years! Well, on a vacation outside of California that includes a flight, that is. We’re heading back east to Massachusetts to visit friends and family, take pictures and enjoy ourselves.

In the meantime, I’m planning on returning to blogging when we come back, hopefully in the next couple of weeks! I’ve been busy during this hiatus, and posting Diwa & Kaffi made me realize how much I’ve missed posting here and at Walk in Silence (not to mention working on the 750Words.com site for daily writing exercise!). I haven’t decided on a solid posting schedule, but once all that has been ironed out, I will let you all know.

See you soon!

Diwa & Kaffi: Afterword

Character sheet for Diwa & Kaffi, drawn January 2021

Diwa & Kaffi, believe it or not, originally came from my attempt to revive a long-trunked story idea set at a college campus that featured nightmares and monsters. This new idea came about in August of 2017 in which I thought about reviving this weird idea by taking away the scary elements and turning it into a world where monsters and humans lived peacefully together. The college campus idea — inspired by my long-lasting love and obsession with college radio and alternative rock, of course — morphed into a multi-character, multi-story setting about flying dragonlike creatures with confidence issues, humans figuring out who they are, ghostlike characters trying to get equal acceptance in society, and so on. I’d been reading a lot of Becky Chambers and other hopepunk authors at the time and I thought that particular style would be perfect for this project. I wrote a lot of outtakes on the 750words site to figure out what their stories might be, and how I could thread them together.

It was a really fun if slightly unwieldy idea that I still have on the backburner, but out of all that came the decision that perhaps I should start smaller, more compact: what about two of those characters, a young human and his dragonlike best buddy with a shared plan to inherit their fathers’ positions at their apartment complex? I could do that.

Writing Diwa & Kaffi came at a time when I was doing some really serious and heavy rethinking about my life. I had a lot of Old Ghosts that, while they were no longer pushing me in directions I didn’t want to go in, I really needed to purge them out of my system once and for all. And I did not want to do that with my writing again. This was a personal change that I wanted to keep mostly personal. So instead of using yet another novel project as therapy, I used it as a guiding light instead: Diwa & Kaffi was the story about being true to myself — without outside influence or baked-in guilt, focusing only on what my heart longed for. The story of these two best friends is about working past those fears and obstacles. It’s about knowing and understanding what your desires are, and trusting and believing in yourself to reach for them. Even Anna-Nassi and Cole are part of this story: self-trust, self-belief, and learning to accept what you truly want.

I finished the first draft in early 2018, right about the time I was prepping Meet the Lidwells for self-publication, writing In My Blue World, and questioning why I was still at my then-current Day Job, not to mention working out some personal and emotional things I’d long ignored in my life to date. I felt a bit blown away, a bit empty and lost. Not entirely scared, just…unsure where to go next.

Writing Diwa & Kaffi affected me a hell of a lot more than I’d expected precisely because I’d chosen to use it to realign my own heart and mind. Unlike the many times in the past, I knew which direction I wanted to go in, I just had to start taking those steps. These two best friends were my way of saying to myself: Hey, it’s okay. You can be afraid and uncertain, but as long as you know exactly what you want and how you need to get to that point, then all you need is confidence to see it through.

Each of the major characters has a bit of me in them. Diwa is my younger self, bright-eyed and full of optimistic hope even despite my fears and self-doubt. Kaffi is my younger self’s ideal, more self-confident and more willing to take chances. Samuel is the adult me, having latched onto the past for a little too long to the point that I’d ensnared myself in it. Graymar is the other adult me, too stubborn in my self-comfort to really want to change when change is needed. Anna-Nassi is the nonconformist me who, in my mind, doesn’t give a shit about others think, but in my heart really does worry about that, far more than I was willing to admit. Cole is the self-conscious me, constantly worried about what others expect and think of me. These were all parts of me that I wanted to fix, that I wanted to change for the better.

I remember when I finished it and gave it a reread, I was absolutely shocked by how perfectly I’d nailed it. I could always see the imperfections of my previous novels (what author doesn’t feel this?), but this one turned out exactly how I’d wanted it. I’d leveled up in my work, which meant that I was now in uncharted territory once more, and that kind of threw me for a loop for a while.

Then came the pandemic. It came just as I’d sent out Diwa & Kaffi to the first of a list of agents — I believed in this one to the point that I thought it could work at a commercial publisher — and very quietly derailed my plans. And then came my leaving the then-current Day Job after fourteen years, for the most idiotic of reasons. Life upended. Not entirely out of my hands, but I was definitely in new territory here.

I put the novel aside and started working on newer projects, but I never put it out of my mind. I spent two unemployed years writing but also working on the other half of that self-improvement equation: making good on what I’d learned so far and refusing to be sidetracked or delayed this time.

I put Diwa & Kaffi aside as an ace in my pocket to be used later. When the publishing world somewhat realigned itself a while later, I sent it out again…but at that point I realized that didn’t quite feel right to me either. I mean, I’d love to be published by one of the major genre houses, but I don’t have to take that route, do I…?

I mean, I loved the experience of self-publishing with my last five released novels. I’ve always loved the DIY aspect; like I always say, it’s like I’m that punk band releasing that self-made single, doing it my own way. My books are not perfect but I still get the occasional e-book download for In My Blue World and A Division of Souls, so I must be doing something right, yeah? I can do this. I can see Diwa & Kaffi as the next step in my self-publishing career. I’m more confident in my writing, and in myself.

All I need to do is follow that desire. Pushing against the boundaries of life and winning.

Diwa & Kaffi 47

Author’s Note: Go do what makes your heart sing.

*

CHAPTER FORTY-SEVEN

Graymar passed in his sleep on the morning of the fourth day of Diwa and Kaffi’s landlordship, one week after the annual tintrite remembrance ceremony.

Kaffi mourned quietly, as his paddir had asked him to. He stayed close to Shahney and Iliah on the first day to take care of the funeral arrangements and connect with his relatives who lived close by. He’d asked Diwa to stay with him during the three days it would take for the remains to be prepared and set in a transport to be brought across the bay to Mount Laimora. Kaffi would be one of the six tintrite to carry the transport, along with Iliah and four other relatives. Everyone else from the estate who could attend would take the light rail to the town at the base of the mountain, then buses up to the summit.

Diwa leaned up against him as they both sat on the low couch in the living room, saying little. Just being together was enough. Every now and again one of them would nod off from mental and emotional exhaustion, but he was okay with that. As long as he stayed by his side. Kaffi needed that connection, that bond, right now.

Samuel was in and out for most of the day, having volunteered to take care of all the announcement and burial details out of respect for his dearest friend. He was worn out and beaten down, but he remained brave and dedicated. Dari, Aldrine and Maricel had all stopped by as well, checking in and helping around the nest. Graymar’s ahpadé Nouia and other relations had also flown in to pay their respects.

Kaffi was not devastated by his paddir’s death. He was deeply saddened and affected, but he refused to let it pull his heart out of the skies. Graymar was not just his paddir but his mentor and his teacher. And finally, in those last months, his friend. There had always been a deep bond between them, but in those last days, it had taken root in his spirit and would never go away. Keeping that bond in his heart had been Graymar’s last private request to him, and Kaffi would honor it the best he could.

On the third day of mourning, his paddir’s body was laid out in the main compartment of the transport and set on display at the community center. The lines to pay respect were long and slow, but Kaffi soldiered through it, with Diwa once again at his side. He held his wings open and at half span, done to honor his paddir. Shahney and Iliah did the same.

Kaffi said little, but he knew he didn’t have to. Every single tenant on the estate had said everything for him. They had come as a community to grieve alongside him.

It was dark by the time the last of the tenants visited Graymar’s body and the container was shut tight. Tomorrow they would fly. He, Iliah, his two uncles and two cousins, flying in tandem, towing long cables connected to this container. They would fly to the caldera of Mount Laimora where they would lay him to rest, giving him up to the open skies.

But tonight, he stayed with Diwa. He cried and rumbled and hummed and howled until he felt so utterly empty, yet so full of the love and joy and compassion that the estate had given him. So full of the love that created the bond between himself and his ride. He leaned heavily up against Diwa and let all the sorrow and pain out until there was no more.

And then he strapped on his blanket and saddle, and together they drop-launched off the roof of Building C. They caught a fast current of air and swooped back up at almost stomach-churning speed, and continued in a spiral until they were high, high above the estate. Soon they were high enough that they could see the entire neighborhood expanse. Their estate was small compared to some of the others nearby, but it was the one they knew to be theirs. It was their home. It was their community. It was linked to the other communities by the street grids and the light rails and the buses and other transports, and they were linked by the flight paths of the tintrite and their rides. This, however, was the home he knew. This was where he felt the deepest connections, both with his ride and with everyone else there.

He felt Diwa rest his hand on his back, right between his wings. It was warmth. It was their bond. And it would never be broken.

*

Ai, Kaffi… he thought. I wish I could be with you right now.

Diwa remained quiet and sullen for most of the train ride to Mount Laimora, his eyes constantly returning to the window. He knew he should be looking over his father right now, but Samuel refused to be fussed over – very much like Graymar, come to think of it – and held his own with a quiet grace. He held Dari’s hand tightly, his other hand covering their connection. His mother leaned into him, talking quietly, making him smile and laugh. Maricel and Aldrine sat nearby, comforting each other. And in the seats and cars beyond, so many of their neighbors dressed in mourning…yet thinking warm thoughts and fond memories of Graymar.

Their flight last night had been one of release and healing. He would always be there for Kaffi whenever he was at his most fragile. Not that he could ever imagine his friend being helpless, far from it! Kaffi needed friendship and connection at that time to calm his fears and pain.

He glanced out the window again, wondering where Kaffi was just then. The tintrite procession would be flying in a straight line across the bay towards Mount Laimora. They’d left earlier than the others, so they must be halfway there already. This train was almost at the next to last station, so by the time the coaches reached the top of the mountain, the tintrite procession would just be arriving.

He thought of Graymar. He had childhood memories of being afraid of him, both due to his size and his incessant grouchiness, but he also had many recent memories of having interesting conversations with him about being bonded to Samuel, and the things they would get up to. Once he’d bonded with Kaffi, Graymar would always have a quick talk with him whenever he was over their apartment. And Kaffi would always smile at that, he realized, as it meant his paddir had accepted their bond without question or concern. Graymar was indeed one of the grouchiest tenants on their estate, but Diwa had learned early on, especially when he watched him work with his father, that he was fiercely dedicated to his work and his neighbors. He truly did love everyone in the community. Especially his father. Graymar and Samuel’s bond may not have always been easily visible, but it was there, and it was strong.

He reached out, took a hold of his father’s hand, and squeezed it tight. Samuel glanced at him in surprise, then flashed him a teary smile as he squeezed it back.

*

Diwa stood on the lip of the caldera, the rocky surface worn smooth by weather and time, and kept watch for the tintrite procession. He’d taken the first transport coach up here along with his family and Kaffi’s, and the others were still on their way. Nearly all the tenants had taken personal time off, even those with shifts at the co-op, to see him off. The weather was clear with only a few high clouds far to the north. Graymar would be laid to rest under a gorgeous blue sky, and his spirit would be lifted and given back to the air.

He finally caught sight of them a mile or so out, and let Samuel know. His father nodded and started preparing for the start of the final ritual. He’d insisted on doing this job with Kaffi’s family as a final gesture of respect to his friend. Diwa let him go on his way and continued to stand watch. He wanted to see everyone land safely and the container set to rest on even ground.

Kaffi was taking up the rear with Iliah. The six tintrite held the container aloft until it hovered above the final resting place. Samuel guided them closer until it dropped safely to the ground. Diwa moved closer and watched reverentially until the tow lines were released and the tintrite landed. Samuel and the rest of Diwa’s family joined Iliah and Shahney at the side of the casket.

It was only then that Diwa noticed that Kaffi was the only one of the six wearing a saddle.

Once the procession was complete, Diwa moved to Kaffi’s side and laid a hand on Kaffi’s shoulder. Kaffi lifted his head in response, looking at him and humming. “I’m here,” Diwa said quietly.

“Maianni-naahsah, Diwa,” he said in return, and bowed his head towards his father’s body.

The ritual began with Shahney and Iliah stepping up to the casket, wings at half-span. They stood at either end of the box and pushed hidden hatch releases.  The container hummed quietly as it lifted slowly, depositing Samuel’s body to the ground. When it was complete, Kaffi’s uncles moved in and carried the casket away.

He was laid out on all fours with his head resting on his right paw. Shahney and Iliah unfurled each wing to full span. And in a final gesture, Samuel took a small courier bag containing a few objects they had shared within their bond and laid it around Graymar’s neck. Then everyone backed away and stood in silence for a good long while.

No further words were said. None were needed.

The ritual ended with every single attendant taking a deep breath and letting out an extended and sonorous humming, initiated by Kaffi, singing harmonic and light. Reverence.

Graymar would return to the air, where all tintrite were the happiest.

*

Anna-Nassi walked a few paces behind Diwa and Kaffi after the ritual was complete and everyone began making their way back down the mountain. Ai, but that was such a touching send-off for such a well-loved tintrite! She sensed so much love emanating from each and every one of them! She wanted to cry and howl but she held her composure, with Cole close to her side to keep her calm. This would be a deeply vivid memory that would stay with her forever.

The four of them stopped at the ridge of the caldera, seeing everyone else off. They wanted to be the last ones here, to make sure everyone was accounted for. Shahney and Iliah would be taking the transit back, as would Samuel and the rest of Diwa’s family and all the tenants that had come.

Diwa and Kaffi would fly.

“Eiyah…” she exhaled as she stood aside them, her voice still shaking. “The two of you are holding up well?”

Diwa nodded, but he was fretting with a pair of goggles in his gloved hands. She could feel his sorrow, both for the loss of Graymar and the pain Samuel felt at the loss of his bonded ride. But she also sensed his steel resolve. He would feel the pain and sorrow like everyone else, but he refused to let it destroy his soul.

Kaffi snorted and held his head up the best he could. Anna-Nassi leaned over and nuzzled the top of Kaffi’s head and hummed. Light and melodic; friendship. He grinned and hummed in return, his heart lifted by her empathy. “Eiyah, Annie…thank you for coming. You too, Cole.”

“Of course,” Cole said. “Graymar was an inspiration for all of us, Kaff. We’ll make him proud.”

Kaffi snorted again and bowed deeply. He wanted to say more, but he couldn’t quite find the words. She wasn’t going to rush him. His heart would heal in time. And with Diwa at his side, it wouldn’t take that long at all.

“We’re staying up here to see everyone off,” Diwa said, still fiddling with his goggles. “We’ll be flying back. Don’t miss the last bus, Annie, it’s a long walk down.”

She smiled and nodded, fluttering her wings in response. “Don’t worry about me. We’ll get there in time, one way or another.” She turned and glanced at the burial site; everyone had dispersed, leaving Graymar’s body lying in state. He looked so peaceful there, wings out and head resting on his hands, as if he were taking a nap out in the sun. This was indeed a fine resting place for him.

She felt Cole’s soft hand in hers, calming her.

She sniffled and turned back to her friends. “We’ll see you back at the estate, yeah?”

Diwa and Kaffi both nodded at the same time. “We’ll meet you there,” Diwa said.

She started to walk away, only to stop where the path met the edge of the caldera. She nudged Cole on to join the others, but he remained at her side. Together they turned and watched their friends one more time. Those two crazy lovebirds, those two amazing best friends. Diwa had put on his goggles, resting them on his forehead, and zipped up his jacket. Kaffi was standing three-quarters straight, checking and rechecking the straps on his saddle. They mumbled back and forth, just out of earshot, going through their pre-flight check list. They were aware they were being watched, but they didn’t seem to mind. Kaffi dropped down into a crouch on all fours, allowing Diwa to climb into the saddle. They spent a few more minutes going through their final checks, and then moved into position at the lip of the caldera.

Kaffi unfurled his wings to full span with a mighty whoosh, ready to take off. The glanced over in her direction briefly; Diwa gave her a wave, and Kaffi nodded.

Diwa placed his hand on Kaffi’s shoulder, right between the wings, and whispered something. Kaffi snorted and bobbed his snout, giving him a slight grin in response.

They pushed off into the air, Kaffi’s enormous wings pushing at full strength and speed, sending waves of air in their direction. She felt its vibrant energy wash over her body, sending chills down her spine and her mane in all directions. She trembled again, watching them pushing harder, harder, never giving up, ever higher into the sky. A tintrite and his bonded human ride, working in tandem with each other, pushing against the boundaries of life and winning. She cheered and sang for them, for their vibrant lives, the strength of their bond, the love they shared. Now they were so high up, still rising, circling in a convection to gain even more altitude, until they finally caught the wind they needed. They swooped in a wide and graceful arc, both Diwa and Kaffi waving to them one last time before they headed westward back to the estate.

Anna-Nassi cried openly, but these were no tears of sorrow. These were tears of pride, of love. Diwa and Kaffi were an unbreakable duo. They were so strong in their hearts and in their souls. She was proud to be working alongside them at their estate, taking care of the lives of those she knew and loved.

They had committed themselves to one thing: to follow in their fathers’ path of taking care of their community as best as they could. They’d wanted this position for as long as Anna-Nassi could remember. They didn’t want it handed to them; they wanted to work for it, to earn it. And they wanted to give it all back to the estate they loved. It was hard not to be inspired by it all.

Cole took her hand. She gripped it tight and, wiping the remaining tears from her eyes, let him lead her back down the mountain, back towards home.

Diwa & Kaffi 46

Author’s Note: You can feel confident that you’ve achieved your goals and desires, but sometimes receiving that confirmation from others is the icing on the cake.

*

CHAPTER FORTY-SIX

Samuel glanced expectantly at Graymar. Was he ready for this? All these years living and working here at the estate…watching younglings grow and mature, watching older tenants come and go. Over twenty years of being co-landlords! Eiyah, so many things had happened between then and today. Births, deaths, celebrations, sorrows, loves. They’d had a wonderful run here. But it was true, it was time to hand it over to the next generation. He would miss it, surely…but he would miss being with Gray the most.

But Graymar stood tall, wings slightly lifted, showing his fangs in a wide grin. He was humming quietly, low and soft. Calm and content.

He glanced back and tipped his head towards the crowd. As planned, he would go first, then Graymar would follow. Then together they would release the news everyone was eagerly awaiting. Graymar nodded slowly, letting him know that he could begin his speech whenever he felt ready.

He turned to Dari, who had finally stopped moving enough to enjoy dinner by his side and now stood next to him, squeezing his hand. Ai, he was so lucky to have her…she was a force to be reckoned with here at the estate! She never chose to be a landlord, nor had she ever wanted that position. Instead she’d worked behind the scenes at the community center and on the tenancy committee. She was just as visible and just as important to this estate as he and Graymar had always been, in her own ways. And because of this, she was his inspiration and his pillar of strength. No matter what he’d gone through over the years, she was there, right beside him. “Mahal kita, Samuel,” she said, and leaned in to kiss his cheek.

“Mahal din kita, Dari,” he said in return, squeezing her hand.

He faced the crowd once more. At the front table, he saw Diwa and Kaffi sitting side by side, all nerves and seriousness. Anna-Nassi and Cole were together as well, both grinning back at him, eagerly awaiting the news. And nearby, his other children: his elder son Aldrine, tall and strong and proud of his entire family; and young Maricel, already creating her own role here with her spunkiness and relentless energy. And Graymar’s pahyoh Iliah sitting with them, her arms draped over their shoulders in an affectionate embrace.

Ai, how did I deserve such a wonderful family? he thought.

He looked out over his audience, the secretive paperwork in hand. He and Graymar already knew the outcome, had known it since the close of the election, but he had made it a point not to break the seal of Gareth’s official response until this evening, in front of everyone. Papa Daniel and lolo Akkree had done the same ages ago. He stepped up to the microphone, cleared his throat, and began.

“Good evening, everyone,” he said, “and thank you for coming tonight. I hope you enjoyed the dinner and the wonderful entertainment provided by our tenants and children! This must be a record turnout for the harvest celebration, and I cannot thank you enough for the wonderful food we’ve had here this evening, the decorations, the setup, and everything else. This is truly a wonderful place to be. This will be an evening to remember!”

He shifted in place, pulling a folded piece of paper from his shirt pocket. “Before I move on, however, I would like to give thanks to a few young tenants here who have made it their mission to ensure that our community here at the estate remains an active and caring one, even when Graymar and I had our focus elsewhere. They have both gone above and beyond everyone’s expectations, possibly including their own, through their tireless work with the tenancy committee, the co-op farm, and our own grounds. They took it upon themselves to take ownership of a sadly overlooked part of this estate and their plans are already, pardon the pun, bearing fruit.”

He paused to listen to the amused groans…as well as the chirp of surprise from the mandossi sitting right in front of him.

He unfolded the paper and briefly held it aloft. “I’ve been given the following note from tenant’s committee member Elise-Nooviya to read. She says: ‘At the beginning of this year, we finalized numerous business agreements with the local co-op farm as a future business endeavor. But in doing so, we made the mistake of letting our own apple orchard grow wild from lack of care and attention. This was noticed by many, but it was the initiative of two very special tenants that changed all that. Over the course of the summer, we were able to complete all the business work, get many volunteers and paid workers hired at the co-op, and most importantly, had the orchard brought back to as close to its original active status as possible.

“’However, they did not just stop at rejuvenating the land. During this past season, these same two tenants stepped up to organize and provide back-up daycare for many of the younglings during staff shortages or unforeseen family emergencies. Our tenants Tassh, Kantah and Moffer would especially like to thank these two for their willingness to care for little Koie during their busiest times.

“’So, it is with the greatest appreciation and gratitude that the tenant committee wish to recognize Anna-Nassi sho Leima er Fieya and Cole Caine as outstanding members of our community. They have proven themselves to be extremely dedicated to the estate and the tenancy committee and welcome them as full-time members.’

“Anna-Nassi, Cole, please stand up and be recognized?”

The two recovered from their shock and amazement and stood with pride, their hands clasped tightly together, and waved at the crowd. Annie’s wings fluttered nervously with excitement, but she remained quiet and calm. Cole held his hand to his heart, beaming with happiness, steady and strong. Samuel watched them for a few moments, impressed by the solid foundation they’d created for themselves. They’d prepared for their own futures here at the estate, parallel to Diwa’s and Kaffi’s, and they were proud of their successes. He was proud of them as well…they were going to be wonderful tenancy committee members in a few years…

Eventually the crowd finally quieted down enough for him to continue. He took the moment to nod once more at Graymar. He lumbered slowly to his side, exhausted but not sickly. This night was taking a lot out of him, but he refused to miss this most important moment of his entire life. In a surprising gesture, Graymar reached over and gave Samuel a tight hug. He said nothing, but he could feel the rumble of a low and calming hum. Resonant and smooth. Love.

Samuel hummed in harmony with him, tapping his forehead against Graymar’s.

“Eiyah!” Graymar said to the crowd as he pulled away. Despite his health, his voice could still carry across the room, with or without amplification. “Welcome, and thank you,” he said slowly. “I am going to assume that most if not all of you have already heard the news of my recent diagnosis, so both Samuel and I decided it was best that we retire and hand the estate over to the next landlords.

“But I am not going to dwell on the negatives here. I would rather focus on what has always been the most positive things in my life right now, and I can say without a doubt that most of them are right here in front of me tonight, enjoying this celebration with me. I would like to say that I love this community with my wings, my eyes, my ears, and my heart. I may have foolishly forgotten to mention this numerous times in the past, but I want to say it now: all of you have always made me feel that this is my home and the place where I belong.

“I would like to reach out and give my deepest love to my bond, Samuel Peakes. He has been with me since we were younglings, and he has always stayed by my side. We may have argued and disagreed and snapped at each other like the old paddir that we are, but not once has it ever been out of hatred. He’s looked after me, trusted me, and loved me like I have looked after him, trusted and loved him.

“I would like to reach out and give my deepest love to my family: Shahney, Iliah and Kaffi. They have stayed by my side with love and affection and humor, through days high and low. I love and cherish them, and I am deeply proud of the tintrite they have become.

“That said…” he turned and nodded to Samuel.

Samuel picked up the special envelope from the table behind him, and held it aloft. With a letter opener he broke the seal in front of everyone, all witnesses, and pulled out the official document stating the winners of the election. He tilted it in Graymar’s direction. Their eyes met and they both smiled, and they were both thinking and feeling the same exact thing.

Pride.

*

Graymar and Samuel glanced at each other with that look in their eyes, and Diwa’s heart stopped.

Samuel turned back to the audience and beamed. “We are absolutely thrilled to announce that it is official with the Tenancy Board and Housing Bureau of Panooria and the tenancy committee of this estate that the next landlords starting the first of November of this year will be…Diwa Parkes-Santos…”

Graymar leaned in. “…and Kaffi pahyoh Graymar di Shahney.”

“Ai…!” Kaffi blurted, and reached over to pull Diwa into a fierce, tight hug, his wings flapping excitedly. “Eiyah! Dee! We did it! We did it!”

Diwa was struck numb, both by the shock of the confirmation and the deafening roar of the cheering crowd. He wasn’t sure whether to laugh, cry, cheer, or pass out! He sank deep into Kaffi’s scales, crying and laughing and hugging him back. “We did it…” he whispered, barely able to speak the words. He pulled Kaffi even tighter and let out a strong extended hum into his friend’s chest; ecstasy.

Then he felt the hard thump and heard an excited chirp from Anna-Nassi embracing both of them, sandwiching him between. Ai, yes! Yes! They really did it! His dream had come true! He managed to extricate himself and wipe the tears from his eyes and hugged all three of his friends tightly. He couldn’t believe it…! All that hard work, all that dedication and time spent over the last seven months had worked…! He was just about to turn eighteen and become one of the youngest co-landlords in the estate’s history, and he hadn’t expected this so soon, but here it was, a reality!

“We did it,” he said again, laughing in disbelief.

“We did,” Kaffi said, grinning madly, his snout low and his eyes level with his, and embraced him again.

The tenants were still cheering as Samuel and Graymar walked up. Each father stood before their son and handed them documents that had been part of the sealed envelope: the official registrations and licenses stating their positions and start dates. These would be signed and hung up on the wall in the main offices here at the community center, with copies to be hung with pride in Samuel’s soon to be former office. They removed their signet rings and handed them over.

Samuel dropped the ring into Diwa’s palm. This was a symbolic gesture, but he felt the ring’s weight in his hand and felt his body shudder unexpectedly in response. He’d worn the ring just recently during their trip to Panooria but hadn’t even entertained the thought of owning the thing. Now it was officially his, even if the position wasn’t to start for another few weeks. He closed his hand tightly around the ring and looked up at his father.

“Hindi kita bibiguin, ama,” he said.

Samuel pulled him into a tight embrace. “I am so proud of you, Diwa,” he said, and kissed the top of his head. “I know you can do this. You and Kaffi will make fine landlords. I believe in the two of you.”

Diwa felt new tears at the corners of his eyes. “Ai, Pop…” he said, the laugh catching in his throat. “Maraming pong salamat, Pop. Thank you.”

He glanced over to his right and saw Graymar holding Kaffi. Their embrace was so tight and complete that neither tintrite moved an inch…yet two pairs of wings were out and beating very slowly and in tandem. No shared words, but a long, low and resonant hum from both, in harmony. Deep love and mutual respect.

*

“So! What’s next, boss?” Anna-Nassi said, leaning up against the patio railing on the roof of Palm. She was surprisingly mellow, completely at ease with herself. Cole stood close by, also leaning against the railing, watching the dwindling crowds below. The celebration long over, everyone was exhausted but immensely pleased. The foursome chose to finish the evening here on the roof with a private afterparty of their own.

Kaffi sipped from his fluted glass and glanced at her. “Which one?” he said, completely deadpan.

“Ai!” she giggled. “Starting in on your employees already, are you?” She gulped the remains of the drink and gasped in pleasure. “Serious question, though. We won the election and we’re starting the job in a little less than two months. What’s next?”

“I hadn’t really thought too much about it to be honest,” Diwa shrugged. He’d already finished his drink and had a pleasant buzz going. “We’re in a good place. We’ve got our families and tenants to back us up. And we’ve done good this summer. Change when needed, yeah? We’re open for any new ideas, of course. Including from the two of you.”

Kaffi nudged him playfully, grinning at him. “You don’t have the position yet, Dee. Don’t get ahead of yourself.”

“Says you!” he snorted, nudging him back. “I’m expecting hard work from you as well!”

“Diwa has a good point,” Cole said, turning back to them. There was a zen-like peace about him right now; with all the excitement and emotion of the last few hours, he seemed to have gotten his fill of feeding and then some, but earlier he’d confirmed that he was fine, that he had his syndrome under control tonight, as long as Anna-Nassi remained by his side. He’d come a long way since his previous negative reaction just a short time ago. “We’ve got quite a few years ahead of us. Why rush into it? The tenants love what we’re doing so far, and we haven’t needed to make any desperate changes at all, only positive ones.”

“Glad we have one voice of reason in this bunch,” Diwa said smartly, and held up his nearly empty bottle. “Congratulations to everyone. Annie, Cole, Kaff…maraming salamat. You’ve made my dream a reality, and I’m glad you’ve decided to be a part of it.”

“Anytime,” Kaffi hummed, tapping Diwa’s back with his tail.

*

Glossary:
“Mahal kita, Samuel.” (Tagalog) — “I love you, Samuel.”
“Mahal din kita, Dari.” (Tagalog) — “I love you too, Dari.”
“Hindi kita bibiguin, ama.” (Tagalog) — “I won’t let you down, father.”
“Maraming pong salamat, Pop.” (Tagalog) — “Thank you so much, Pop.”

Diwa & Kaffi 45

Author’s Note: Those final moments before a major revelation can always be nerve-wracking, but I chose not to have our two best friends fall prey to that kind of stress, because that was not the kind of character they were. On a more personal note, this was a moment in this project, one of many, where I realized that maybe this story isn’t just about Diwa and Kaffi, but about myself. It was a moment where I realized that I too could trust myself and not be so emotionally reactive to every situation.

*

CHAPTER FORTY-FIVE

The two weeks following their trip to Panooria passed all too quickly. Kaffi almost hadn’t noticed the passage of time as he’d been too preoccupied with spending so much of it with his paddir, while Diwa kept busy helping his own family prepare for the harvest celebration. He felt guilty for deserting Diwa like that, but he’d told him not to worry. Being with Graymar was more important right now. He appreciated Diwa’s understanding, and that he took the time to stop by their nest every single day to check in anyway.

Graymar could not stand being fussed over of course, but he’d chosen not to complain, welcoming it all with an amused grumble and a flicker of his wing tips. He was starting to lose more mobility of his wings and his gait had slowed up, but he refused to let that stop him from his daily activities. He continued his rounds on the roof of Building C, spent a few hours on the roof of Palm with Samuel, and still made the occasional appearance at the community center to see how the celebration preparations were coming along. He stuck close to home for the most part, and he’d gone out of his way to reestablish the bond with his family, making up for lost time. Shahney stayed close, nuzzling him, and making him laugh. She’d said it was like they were newly bonded again, bringing back the fond memories of their courtship. Iliah took time off from her internship and her studies to take care of the nest so their parents could spend as much time together as they wished.

Kaffi would still tear up from time to time when his fears and emotions got the better of him, but after a few days he’d realized it wasn’t exactly set off by sorrow alone. It was also a profound love and respect for his paddir. He spent the afternoons talking with him on the roof, learning about his history and the adventures he’d had with Samuel – who came over as often as Diwa had, and stayed for just as long, if not longer. There were laughter and tears aplenty, and a deep love all around the nest. Kaffi no longer saw his paddir as just a habitually grumpy tintrite with an impressive wingspan, but as a dedicated tintrite and a landlord and a friend who loved many and was loved by even more.

Nearing the end of the two weeks, Kaffi and his family emerged from their apartment to find that, much to their surprise, the entire estate had chosen to take part in the harvest festival preparations. While Diwa’s mother had put herself in charge of the celebratory dinner, many other families had busied themselves with putting up decorations, running errands and doing chores, and anything else that Dari requested. Kaffi found out later that that had been the work of the tenant’s committee and headed up by none other than Anna-Nassi herself, with Cole as her direct assistant and Elise-Nooviya mentoring her along the way. Everyone wanted this to be the biggest community celebration the estate had ever seen, all dedicated to Graymar.

For Kaffi, this was even more gratifying than the impending election results. To feel this connected to his community was a wonderful thing indeed.

*

Even Diwa hadn’t expected such an outpouring of community, and it moved him deeply. Kaffi watched him tear up as they stood side by side at the edge of the roof of Building C, watching the families walking towards the community center. The whole of the estate was buzzing with energy and excitement…there were so many voices rising from below that he could barely make out any specific conversations! This sound was far different than any normal day here…but it was a good sound. A powerful sound, a heart-lifting sound.

The dinner itself would start in two hours, and a few hours after that they would officially announce the election results. By tonight, Diwa and Kaffi would know their fate.

“You know…” Diwa said, leaning against the railing. He glanced over at him, completely deadpan. “I should be too nervous to eat right now, but I am absolutely starving.”

Kaffi barked out a laugh and gave him a nudge. “You too, yeah?” he said.

“You know that Samuel’s had the election results sitting on his desk for the last seven days, yeah?” he said, pointing his thumb across the green towards Palm and finally allowing himself a furtive grin. “In plain view for anyone to see. Gareth sent a courier with their response to Pop last week. It’s been sitting in the inbox collecting dust ever since. I think he was trying to test me, see if I’d peek. It didn’t help that he was always in the office every time I had to go in there.”

Kaffi blinked at him and tilted his head in mock surprise. “And you didn’t tell me earlier so I could distract him for you? Come on, Dee, you’re losing your edge!”

“Maybe so,” he said. “I swear he was just teasing me at that point.”

“Well. We’ll know in a few hours.”

“Hmm. You think we did the right thing?”

“Yeah,” he said, and to prove his point, twitched his wings. “We did.”

“How can you be sure?”

“Because we’re doing what called to us, Dee,” he said, squeezing his shoulder. “We’ve talked about it ever since we were younglings. We always joked about it, made our crazy plans for it. But when you suggested we take it seriously, that made it the right thing. We knew we wanted it. We just had to make it happen.”

Diwa exhaled and leaned up against the railing once more, no longer giving into the fear of this height he still felt here on this roof, and thought about his father’s words: it’s one thing to say and another to do. How true that was.

“We did the right thing, Dee,” Kaffi said, and nuzzled the top of his head with his snout.

Diwa smiled and let out a quiet laugh. “Yeah,” he said. “We did the right thing.”

*

Diwa did not expect the turnout to be so loud. He’d participated in every harvest celebration at this estate for as long as he could remember, and it had always been an exciting affair with food, fun, and friendship. He remembered being a small boy, following ina and Aldrine to the community center when the sun was low in the sky, sampling far too many delicacies laid out on large platters and eating more than his share of sugary desserts afterwards, and briefly talking with tenants before he escaped and tore through the central green once more with Kaffi in tow. Some of those tenants had eventually moved on but many of them were still here, years later, and they were now the ones going out of their way to say hello to the two of them.

Past celebrations were always a noisy affair and often lasted the entire week with multiple events and dinners. Tonight, however, the community center was packed to the rafters for a special occasion indeed. Everyone was here, not just for the food and the entertainment, but for the long-awaited news about the election. He walked through the room with Kaffi by his side, waving to everyone and occasionally stopping to chat. The tenants were all smiles and happiness when they saw them coming by.

“Heya! Diwa! Kaffi!” Tassh waved excitedly in their direction when he spotted them coming his way. He wore a fancy floor length and dusk-colored aanoupii robe made of fine silk, with a multicolored shirt and loose dark pants underneath. Moffer and Kantah stood by his side, wearing similar formal dress. Even little Koie was there in a miniature robe, swaddled in Kantah’s arms.

“It’s good to see the two of you,” Kantah said, nodding deeply towards them. “Since I work the second shift, I don’t always get to see you on the green. Both of you have done such a great job this summer!”

Kaffi dropped his snout in a bow in return. “Thank you, Kantah,” he said, and waved a finger in the baby’s direction. “This is Koie? Eiyah, she’s grown since I last saw her!”

She beamed with pride and delight and let Kaffi hold the little aanoupii. He took the youngling happily and held her close, making cooing noises and letting her grab at his whiskers. She thanked him repeatedly for how much they’d done for her family over the summer, especially with the adults’ schedules being so often in flux. Kaffi let her know he’d pass the appreciation on to Anna-Nassi and Cole as well.

Tassh leaned in towards Diwa, nudging him with amusement. “I have it on good account that you’re going to win the election,” he muttered, patting him on the arm. “My garden friends are always talking about the two of you!”

“We’ll know soon enough,” Diwa said, grinning nervously. “I’m trying not to think about it until it’s official.”

“Your family has been so helpful since we’ve moved in,” he said, and looked around the crowded room. “And I feel so at home around all my neighbors. I’m glad we moved here.”

“We’re glad to have you, Tassh. Oh! I meant to congratulate you for getting the position at the co-op farm! Cole has told me that he’s put you in charge of field management?”

“One of the many managers,” he said, blushing slightly, and flashed his enormous grin once more. “But it’s a good job and pays well. We’re doing good work there already. We donated some of our harvest to tonight’s dinner.”

“Nice!” Diwa said. Suddenly he felt the soft nudge of Kaffi’s tail against his back. He’d already given Koie back to Kantah and was gesturing further down the hallway. Diwa gave him a quick nod and turned back to Tassh. “We have to go, but it was great to see you and the family,” he said, glancing at Tassh’s brother and sister-in-law. “We’ll talk later?”

Tassh waved them on. “Of course! And come join me in the garden again when you have a chance!”

By the time they made it to their seats for the dinner part of the evening, Diwa and Kaffi were already exhausted from talking with so many people. They sat at a long table near the front dais, where Samuel, Dari, Graymar and Shahney sat at the main table as guests of honor. Diwa and Kaffi didn’t mind not sitting up there a second time, preferring the semi-anonymity of the main floor. Anna-Nassi and Cole sat to their left, enjoying the meal and the party. Diwa watched them for a few moments, still pleased and impressed by how deeply the two of them complemented each other. Annie was on her best behavior (although her volume slipped every now and again, to everyone’s amusement), and Cole remained calm and balanced.

Their siblings sat together to their right, Iliah sitting in between Aldrine and Maricel. They were having a grand time together, laughing and joking and hugging, and it warmed Diwa’s heart to watch them. The three shared their own kind of bond, one of close extended family, which had only grown stronger and closer over the summer. It would continue to grow long after Graymar left this plane.

The dinner lasted two hours, complete with multiple courses and diversions and entertainments by those from the tenant’s committee. There were several short humorous speeches, a few musical numbers from the younger kids, and even a video presentation of their success both in the orchard and at the co-op. And for the surprise final performance, Graymar and Samuel received a hilarious roasting from Iliah and Aldrine. Everyone was laughing and cheering by the end.

And then it was time. The room grew quiet, and conversations ended as Samuel and Graymar stood up from their places at the head tables and made their way towards center stage. Diwa’s heart leapt with both fear and excitement. He and Kaffi glanced at each other and smiled nervously.

Kaffi said nothing, but he laid his hand over Diwa’s, squeezing it lightly.

Diwa & Kaffi 44

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.

*

CHAPTER FORTY-FOUR

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!

Diwa & Kaffi 43

Author’s Note: Out of the nest and into the wild. Only this time with eyes and hearts open.

*

CHAPTER FORTY-THREE

Kaffi ruffled his wings and waited for Diwa to complete his own travel checklist. It was still quite early in the morning, but he was already itching to go. After all, this was their maiden flight to Panooria, and their first long-distance flight. They’d planned on an early departure so they could take their time and treat it a little like a short vacation from the estate as well. That had been his paddir’s suggestion, having reminded him that he and Samuel had spent far more time just being together and doing mundane and enjoyable things than they did at their Tenancy Board appointment. It also relieved the stress of having to talk with the board in an official manner as their estate’s top representatives. Not that Graymar had ever complained outright about that…their Board caseworker was also an extremely amiable hedraac and a close friend.

There wasn’t as much paperwork this time out, but Diwa had packed an overnight bag that he’d strapped to his back, and he’d filled his pockets with travel items he felt were important. Kaffi had his own travel bag strapped to his underside, and chances were good they’d be carrying a few more things on the trip home. They’d probably overprepared with all these extra items, but he didn’t mind. He could handle this weight easily.

Diwa dedicated so much time and patience to his preparations that Kaffi was not worried about their trip. He’d worked closely with Samuel over the last couple of days, informing the board of their impending arrival, reserving overnight accommodations at their halfway point, and ensuring they had enough money for any spending or emergencies.

By the time Diwa had finished doing his own personal check of securing his bags and safety precautions, Samuel and Graymar had arrived on the roof of Building C to see them off and Kaffi’s wings shivered with delight. Seeing his paddir right now made him happy…knowing that he watched him with pride and trusted they would complete this important task in their place had lifted his heart immeasurably. Graymar had strolled over to him, placing both hands on his shoulders. He looked so frail now, but he still refused to give up so easily.

“Have a safe flight, pahyoh,” he said softly.

Kaffi’s voice caught, but he fought through it. “Thank you, paddir. We’ll let you know once we’re at the inn.”

“Good. I am proud of you, Kaffi. You will do well.”

Eiyah, how could he respond to that? The bridge of his snout burned, and tears formed at the corners of his eyes. But somehow, he managed to respond with a slow, confident hum of appreciation and joy.

They completed the last pre-flight check list and soon they were off and away exactly on schedule. Kaffi felt a surge of excitement throughout his entire body as he beat his wings hard and strong, lifting them high into the sky. He heard Diwa at his back, laughing and clearly enjoying the ride. The weather was on their side today; the sky was completely clear, the air was warm, and he’d caught a perfect wind and ascended ever higher. They circled one last time around the estate, waving to their fathers – and to Anna-Nassi and Cole, who’d just arrived beside them, cheering them on – and started heading north.

It was much cooler out over the water and the wind bit at his scales, sending shivers through his body. Diwa didn’t say much at all, other than commenting on the view or humming in response to anything he’d said. He reminded himself to stay calm, not to overthink this trip they’d just embarked on. They were both just as nervous as they were excited…once they flew past the outer rim of the city center, they’d be flying in new territory. The best and smartest thing to do was to take it as it came, without worry or fear.

They’d planned to fly directly to the same stopover their paddir always chose, landing by late afternoon and staying overnight at their favored inn before heading further north. Samuel even went so far to give both Kaffi and Diwa a list of shops and points of interest they could visit while there. He was looking forward to that part of the trip more than going to the Tenancy Board, to be honest. They’d have to be on their best behavior once in Panooria, but in the small villages and towns, they could be themselves and explore to their heart’s content.

Before long, they approached the city and he adjusted his altitude, catching a strong wind and slowly ascending. “Everything okay up there?” he asked.

“As always,” Diwa said, touching him on the shoulder. “You need a break?”

“I’m fine for now,” he said. “Besides, I just caught a great northern wind, this will push us up and over the skyline. As long as I steer clear of the downtown cluster, we shouldn’t have any issues.”

“Good to know,” Diwa said. He felt Diwa’s legs tighten just a little.

Kaffi laughed at him. “Nervous?” he teased.

“A little,” he said. “But I trust you.”

He’d gotten used to Diwa’s lingering fear of heights. It rarely kicked in, but every now and again he could feel him start to tense up. The first time it happened, Kaffi had been flying a little too fast on a straightaway between the co-op farm and the estate and hadn’t realized that he’d been gaining altitude in the process. He knew the signs; Diwa’s legs would start to clamp together against his sides and he’d lean forward to grip the handles, and the saddle would feel stiff on his back. Kaffi had been mad at himself for not paying attention earlier, so he’d resolved to do a better job. He would always ask Diwa how he was feeling and adjust when necessary.

Every single time, no matter what the height, Diwa would respond the same.

I trust you.

It warmed his heart every time he heard that.

They lifted up and over the city skyline, well enough away that they’d avoid any crosswinds but close enough that they could enjoy the view. Diwa took numerous pictures with his phone and emailed a few to their paddir just for fun and to let them know they were already on their way into new territory. They caught another breeze that drove them away from the highway that followed the Siisha River and closer towards a wide and straight valley that would take them closer to their stopover point. It was an easy path for both to reckon and remember. This was the farthest Kaffi had ever flown on one trip, even during his vacations with family or the journeys to Mount Laimora. All he had to go on now was his paddir’s directions and Diwa’s maps.

He felt Diwa shifting again, this time leaning upwards to stretch his back and quench his thirst. He said nothing, but he didn’t have to. He’d trusted him to keep them both balanced and stable just by sensing his movements.

This was new territory for them both, and Kaffi was excited. And happy in the fact that he would be learning this with Diwa every step of the way.

*

They arrived at the public landing area on the edge of the town center early that afternoon, just past lunchtime and well ahead of schedule, and they were both ravenously hungry. After going through their post-flight stretches and dropping their things off at the inn, they headed out to the main shopping district. They found the café up the street that Samuel had recommended and ordered something to eat.

Diwa could not get over the fact that he was here, halfway to Panooria. It wasn’t just the fact that they were on official business for the first time, though…it was that he was here with Kaffi, in a completely new place that neither of them had visited before. They weren’t here for the hell of it, not like they normally would when they took flight away from the estate or even their occasional visits to the co-op. It was a connection he couldn’t quite explain. Tied to their bond, but on a different level. This felt like the start of something bigger, something that would change their lives. That this was the first step in a long life together.

Diwa’s heart leapt every time he thought about it. This was everything he’d wanted, and more.

After eating and resting up, they walked through the shopping district near the town green. He watched with amusement as Kaffi drank in all the colors and sounds and shapes while they strolled through the textile stalls. Every fresh bolt of cloth and clattering bag of beads sparked excitement he could barely contain.

“Anything calling out to you?” he asked, sidling up to him.

“Eiyah, what isn’t calling out to me?” he chirped, bouncing on his hinds and utterly unable to keep his wings still. “Dee, this market is amazing!” He glanced at the stall’s keeper and bowed slightly, asking detailed questions about the quality and the prices of the cloth, whether they delivered, and offering a long thread of tintrite compliments afterwards. “If we weren’t tied down with other things, I’d buy up half this street!” he giggled, nudging Diwa. “Eiyah, I sound like Annie, don’t I? I need to calm myself!”

Diwa laughed along with him, just as excited and fascinated by it all. He even kept a mental tally on everything that had caught Kaffi’s eye, always taking any business cards or brochures if they were offered. There were expensive baubles and fancy saddle blankets; there were cheaper collectibles and playful costume jewelry; there were collections of lovely beads large and small. Kaffi hummed in delight the entire time, completely at ease and believing this had to be the best day ever. By the time they’d finished, they’d made a list of sellers they’d want to contact in the future. Kaffi had been so impressed by it all that he’d had a brainstorm: this could be a new avenue for trading for their estate. Several of the committee members back home were avid crafters of armbands, quilts and other textiles, and this was a perfect market for selling them, perhaps on commission or by teaming up with some of the sellers here. Diwa thought it was a fantastic idea and let him take full ownership of that plan, knowing he’d be the best one for it.

They took their own time heading back to the inn, strolling through the streets of this small city and taking in the sights. It was similar to Griffin Park in that its center took up no fewer than a couple of square miles, the rest stretching out into small suburbs and estates, but it was a frequent stopover for travelers on their way to or from Panooria, several miles further north. Diwa expressed a fascination with these estates, just like they had during their trip to Griffin Park, curious about how the grounds were laid out, what kind of community connection each of them had, who lived there, how they lived their lives. This would be his own long-term project: getting to know the communities in other estates in each of the places they visited and offering to connect or work with them in some way.

He felt that pang of excitement once more as they walked back to the inn – this was truly his calling. This felt right. No hesitation, no second-guessing. And he still could not get over the fact that he’d already come so close to achieving his goals.

*

After a hearty evening meal provided by the inn’s restaurant on the ground floor, they headed back up to their room. It was wide and high, just like Kaffi’s nestroom, with a large futon and a day bed against opposite walls, and a kotatsu for in-room dining. Having dropped all their bags and the saddle on the day bed when they’d first arrived, Diwa and Kaffi both jumped onto the futon and stretched out, the day’s travels finally catching up to them. The television was on and broadcasting the local news, though they weren’t paying too much attention to it. Kaffi had spread himself out, eyes closed, resting his head on his front paws, and was softly humming a tune. It was a song that Diwa had heard him sing before; it was a simple melody, pleasant and relaxing. Diwa had changed into his pajamas and leaned up against Kaffi’s side, reading a few pamphlets and magazines he’d picked up during their walk. Every now and again he’d reach out and tussle Kaffi’s mane, and Kaffi would lean into his hand in response.

After his song was done, Kaffi lifted his head and yawned, stretching out all his limbs. “Ai…that trip took a lot more out of me than I thought,” he said, glancing up at Diwa. “But I truly enjoyed every moment.”

“Yeah, I like it here,” Diwa said.

“You’ve been to Panooria, yes?”

“A few times,” he said. “The last time, my family and a few of my cousins from the city took the train up there some years ago. I just remember it being crowded and noisy.”

“Hmm. I haven’t been there in years myself,” he said, and laid his head back down. “Paddir says it’s changed quite a bit over the last few years. New buildings, new pedestrian malls, and a long riverfront walk that’s been getting a lot of raves. He loves it there.”

“I imagine so. He gave us quite the long list of places to see!”

Kaffi snorted a short laugh. “Yes, he did.”

Diwa was about to say something else but caught himself in a yawn as well. “Oof. I’m falling asleep here. How is it ten already? What a long day…” He started to push himself up so he could clean off the day bed, but Kaffi reached out and stopped him.

“You can stay here, Dee,” he said quietly. “There’s more than enough room on this thing.”

Diwa caught his eyes, surprised by the offer. “You’re fine with that?”

He patted the futon beside him. “Hmm.”

Diwa covered Kaffi’s hand with his and gave him a warm smile. “Okay.” He reached over for the remote, turned the television off and curled up beside him. Kaffi turned off the lights, and curled his long neck around Diwa’s head, cradling him.

*

Kaffi woke up well before dawn but chose not to get up just yet. An adjustment of his wings and perhaps the stretching of his arms, maybe a stifled yawn, but that was it. Diwa was burrowed in next to him, warm against his side. He hadn’t moved much at all during the night…when he was relaxed, Diwa was a very quiet sleeper. He watched him for a few minutes, his chest rising and falling slowly with every breath. His scruffy hair had fallen into his eyes; Kaffi lightly pushed it away with his talon.

He let out a slow and quiet breath, feeling troubled. He knew it was due to his father’s illness and the short time he had left on this plane of existence, but that wasn’t entirely what had been bothering him. He kept remembering the look on Diwa’s face, the look in his eyes, when he’d first told him about Graymar in Griffin Park. It was the same thought they’d had when they talked about Akkree and Daniel that afternoon bringing down that old couch. He’d thought the same thing Diwa had: what if it had been him? What if Diwa had lost him? He couldn’t bear the idea of causing him that kind of pain.

Eiyah…he thought, shaking his snout and letting out a quiet snort. No good will come of thinking of these things this early in the morning. He huffed out another breath and curled his head around, dropping it next to Diwa’s.

Diwa began to stir, just a little bit, and opened his eyes. Dark brown eyes that always looked so warm and inquisitive. He felt a flutter within and lost himself in that half-awake gaze of his and wondered how he had become so tightly bonded to this human. They’d always been the best of friends, but it had become so much more, especially when Diwa bared his emotions to him on Mount Lee. He had responded in kind, without a second thought, knowing his answer to be true. He did love this human with the deepest of his heart, and always would. There were all kinds of human-tintrite bonds out there of all levels, but he couldn’t name one as strong as theirs. Perhaps not even their paddir.

“Hmm,” Diwa said. He reached out and patted Kaffi gently on the snout.

“Hmm,” he said in return. He closed his eyes and let himself drift back into calm, dreamless sleep.