The Twice-Burning Flame, Part One

“Did you know that Yulip’s Guide is named in reference to an angel who helped Yulip Howkirk found Openhearth when he was lost in the Frostlands hundreds of years ago?” asked Dovetail, who was assisting their new friend and boss, Ewevan, chisel away at the massive block of ice that surrounded Sunwood Cottage, which sat at the center of a frozen lake. Today Ewevan was doing most of the chiseling, while Dovetail turned the ice into sellable ice blocks and chattered away.

“I think you told me this one before,” Ewevan replied gruffly as he forced his pick into the thick eternice, “but I ignored you ‘cause it’s nonsense.”  Ewevan was a forest giant with dark grey skin and foliage for a beard, but was otherwise hairless. He and Dovetail wore similar large coats and stone hats.

Dovetail shook their head, and their metal frame creaked audibly. They weren’t as good at maintaining their body as Nestor had been. “No, I think I’d remember if I shared this fact before. I only read The Ossfin’s Diaries: The Unknown History of Openhearth’s Laconic Founder this morning. You’re probably thinking of the fact I shared from Lunar Facts: 138 Things You Didn’t Know About Solkin’s Moons, which is that Yulip’s Guide is visible in the sky at all time because of a powerful elemental spell that channels the Warm Moon’s light to perpetually illuminate the constellation. You probably weren’t paying much attention then because you’re busy, but that’s okay, I understand!”

“Your forgiveness warms my heart in these cold times,” said Ewevan with a wry grin.

“Why do you think it’s nonsense?”

“Eh?”

“You said the fact about the angel was nonsense. Why do you say that? I read it in a book.”

Ewevan grunted. “I don’t do much reading, I’ll admit. But folks can write whatever they want in a book, doesn’t make it true.” Dovetail opened their mouth to respond but Ewevan cut them off: “even in the nonfiction section, yes. There’s no such things as angels. Sol doesn’t send messengers. Yulip’s Guide is called that because Yulip followed it to this very lake, where he mined the eternice that became Openhearth’s main export, and our main problem.”

“Well, even if it wasn’t Sol, or it wasn’t really an angel, that’s what Yulip called the stranger he met in the ruins that became Openhearth,” said Dovetail.

“What do you mean it wasn’t Sol?” asked Ewevan. “Who else would allow Yulip to see a constellation that no one else could?”

Dovetail shrugged a squeaky shrug. “The dark constellations, or Constellebrae, are normally only visible when the Warm Moon is full, right?” asked Dovetail. “Maybe the angel was an alien who lives on the Warm Moon. Or whatever force gives the Warm Moon bib’s blight – er, its light.”

“Sol gives the Warm Moon its light,” Ewevan grunted.

Religion was a rather foreign and peculiar concept to Dovetail. Nestor seemed to follow Sol, and he said people did that because it made them happy, but there were a lot of people who followed Sol who were not happy, and there was plenty to be happy about besides Sol, like puppies. “I’m surmised to see so many people worship Sol out here in the Frostlands. In Skymoore, everyone is so close to Sol. In the Frostlands, you hardly ever see the sun, or feel its warmth.”

Ewevan struck the blunt end of his chisel with a mighty fist, and cracks spiderwebbed along the surface of the eternice. “That’s why we worship Sol,” the giant said. “Back in the forests to the north, my people and their lands are nourished by Sol’s light. Here, it finds us only rarely, so we must provide that light ourselves through our kindness to others.” He made another crack in the surface of the ice, a few feet deeper into their shallow tunnel.

“So why do you spend all of your time out here, so far from Openhearth? How can you spread your light if there’s no one to spread it to?”

“Everyone worships differently,” he said, making yet another crack. “This here, mining to Sunwood, this is my purpose. You shine enough for the both of us, little metal one. Now enough talk, let us focus on our task.”

It was quiet for some time as the two worked at chiseling between the marks Ewevan made to cut out an unusually large slab of ice. Dovetail privately wondered why this was, but they were practicing being quiet when Ewevan requested it. Eventually, the giant spoke again.

“Speaking of Sol. There is a holiday in two days, surely you’ve heard.”

“Snowverture!” Dovetail affirmed. “It celebrates the first snow of the year!”

Ewevan nodded. “As you can see, there is no shortage of snow in the Frostlands. But it is still important we be thankful. Shaved ice and eternice bring us merchants, snow sports bring us tourists, and the frost elves get their bright dyes from flowers and fruits that grow only in snowy climates. Sol brings us snow by taking water from across the mountains; for this, we are grateful. In the center of town there is to be a sphere of eternice which contains a great flame. This represents Sol. For this task we have been commissioned. Tonight, we finish the sphere, tomorrow I would like you to bring it to town.”

Dovetail smiled and saluted dutifully, their arm swerving unnaturally as their joints momentarily loosened. “It’s an honor, sir!”

“Yes,” Ewevan agreed. “Now, no more talking. Now, we work.”

In Openhearth, it was tradition for the townsfolk to dress in lighter clothes in the days leading up to Snowverture, to show that they did not fear the colder climate (the noted absence in foot traffic and park-dwellers on these days is surely unrelated). If Dovetail was going to observe their new home’s holiday, they were going to do it right.

Bundle Up was the town’s most popular store, a two-story clothing boutique built entirely out of eternice, allowing for an external view of the store’s colorful fashion bouquet. Dovetail tied the sled carrying the eternice sphere to the hitching post outside, and stepped in through the shop’s revolving door. A well-dressed dwarf with a bright, braided beard greeted the automaton as they entered and asked if they needed help finding anything.

“Anything in the store, I mean,” the greeter asked, after Dovetail asked if they knew where they could get some more effective ice-mining equipment.

“Oh, throw yank you! It’s my first time here and I just want to take it all in.”

Originally, Nestor had designed Dovetail with a colorful chassis that was meant to replace the need for clothing, as they did not technically need them. For Dovetail’s first few weeks of sentience, they couldn’t see in color, but as soon as they were able, they fell head over heels for clothing. Mixing and matching outfits for different palettes and occasions fascinated the automaton the way artificery fascinated their creator, so Bundle Up was an absolute treasure trove.

They had everything from the heavy winter wear of the local humans to the thick, flexible metalwear of the dwarves, but by far the most interesting things in the store were the exotic and colorful fashions of the Delish elves. There were sharp button-ups with collars like a peacock’s plume, gallant cloaks with shoulder pads like unicorn horns, skirts with a sort of belt at the waist connecting them to a pair of gloves, shimmering cyan dresses with cloud patterns that drifted along the fabric…Dovetail’s gears whirred audibly with excitement as they wandered through the aisles.

And when Dovetail spotted a familiar face, they whirred so rapidly that they were a little concerned they might buzz right out of their abdomen. Atop the racks of clothing in the centaur section were the clothes sized for pixies, fairies, imps, and certain subspecies of sectums, and browsing just such a rack was a green-haired pixie who had recovered from an injury on the floor of Odd & Ends some months back.

“Bagel!” cried Dovetail, startling the poor fellow, whose alarm turned quickly to pleasant surprise as he recognized the source of the shout.

“I’m surprised you remember my name,” said the pixie, wincing and gently covering one of his ears. “I suppose I did bleed out in your store.”

“Doesn’t happen often, I’m greased to retort.” Bagel squinted a moment and then smiled. At least his eyes looked like he was smiling. He was so bundled up with a thick snow jacket, multiple layers of pants, and a lengthy knit scarf that it was hard to read his expression or body language. “What brings you to Openhearth?”

“Elma and I were on our way south from Steel Haven when we heard that they were celebrating a holiday in town, so we decided to stick around a few days. We don’t care much for Sol, but we love holidays. Naturally Elma has to stop in every restaurant or store she sees, so she’s been lost in here for…gosh, I don’t even know how long. Feels like months.”

“Do you not like it here?”

Bagel might have shrugged (again, it was hard to tell) and then definitely looked down. “I don’t know. I hate shopping for clothes.” Dovetail gasped, and something rattled in their throat. “It’s just…” His face got red. “Dovetail, you know I’m a boy, right?”

“Oh, yes!” lied Dovetail, who had not even considered it but thought it polite to pretend.

“But…you know I was born a girl, right? Or at least, in a body that people associate with girls.”

Now Dovetail was truly unsure how to answer, for they did not see how one could be ‘born’ a gender as gender was constructed, and went with honesty. “I hadn’t noticed!”

Now they were positive Bagel was smiling. Their azure eyes and face were more colorful than they were a second prior. “Oh – really? Wow, that’s, that’s actually really neat. I thought it was obvious. Well anyway, it’s hard to find clothes for a body like mine – not just a pixie, but…kinda curvy, but I still want boy clothes, you know? So mostly I just throw on layers until you can’t tell, which is perfect for the cold like this. But we were going to check out the halfling communities in the desert next, and I was hoping to find something a little more…me.”

Dovetail nodded sympathetically, aghast at the idea of not being able to find joy in clothing. “There must be slum muddy who could make you clothes like that.”

“Elma and I don’t really carry money…”

Dovetail gestured down to Tedmund, the sentient frog coinpurse who was filled to the brim with currency. “He’d love it if I gave you some!” Tedmund tried to ribbit in agreement, but could not. “Oh, er…I have to help set up for Snowverture first, but after I would love to!”

“You’re pitching in for the event?” asked Elma del Ennington from behind Dovetail. The half-elf’s white hair was wild, complimenting the tattered, oversized cloak on her back. She carried with her a thick purple coat lined with warm white fur, which looked half the size and twice as warm as the mess she wore. “We had a bad run-in with snapping badgers,” she explained when she noticed Dovetail eyeing it. “Anyway, can we help with the holiday? We love pitching in!”

“Of course!” said Dovetail.

“See, Bagel?” asked Elma as she helped the pixie onto her shoulder. Dovetail only now noticed that one of his wings remained be injured; it was a little wilted compared to the other. “I told you it was a good idea to come in here! Now we get to help set up a holiday, which almost always comes with free food, and maybe even a little hat. Although I do wish this place had some more consideration for crippled or disabled people like yourself. Oh, and I wish it had a bathroom, too, but I suppose that would be problematic with the translucent design; not everyone is comfortable with public nudity. Oh, but you could get curtains that are mirrored on one side, to maintain the appearance of –” Bagel cleared his throat. “Oh, sorry, I ramble sometimes. Externalizing my train of thought helps it get out of the station. I don’t mean to be rude.”

Dovetail shook their head, unable to believe their luck. They talked about everything from snowvines to Steel Haven to Skymoore as Dovetail looked around for clothing, and that’s only the subjects starting with ‘s.’ Everyone, especially Tedmund, left the store happier than they entered it. Dovetail emerged wearing a pink hat with fake fruit filling the upturned rim, as well as a one-piece, deep v-neck suit of varying shades of green in a shiny gradient throughout

Waiting for them outside by Dovetail’s sled was a kamenclo man whose stone body was covered only by a pair of green trousers with a sun-shaped buckle and a crimson cape with a snowflake on the back. His arms were crossed, his rugged face unpleased. “You’re the ones transporting the sphere?”

“Affirmative!” said Dovetail.

“And you left it out here, hardly secured? Do you know how much the city paid for this?”

“One hundred and twenty-seven gold pieces and ninety silver,” Dovetail said, “but why would anyone steal on Snowverture Eve Eve? Sol’s priests preach neighborly kindness, and that wouldn’t be very neighborly at all.”

The kamenclo put a hand to his face. “No, it would not.” He looked Dovetail in the eye and leaned forward. “But while no true Sol-loving individual would steal from another on any day, let alone this one, there are those who would. Disregarding the usual suspects – brigands, the greedy, and organized criminals – there is word that our town is being visited by members of the Cylgin. Moon-worshipers, usually elves, who have no regard for society’s rules. I’m sure they’d love nothing more than to see our festival ruined.”

“There are Cylgin in town,” said Elma defiantly, lifting the hem of her shirt to reveal a belt buckle depicting interlocking crescent moons, “and you’re looking at them.” Bagel covered his face.

Dovetail looked back and forth between the kamenclo and their friends uncertainly.

“I see,” the kamenclo said neutrally. “Isn’t that…interesting. My name is Kyund, I am the pyromancer overseeing the ceremony. I apologize for my accusations.” Elma gave him the stink eye. Now if you’ll follow me…”

A wide, mirrored dome took up significant space in a non-residential region of southern Openhearth called Yulip’s Agora. Large metal dishes were placed upon the buildings outside the square, with tubes leading toward the dome. “These will funnel the first snow into the festival region,” Kyund explained. “The dome will come down this evening once the sphere is in place, but we always keep the specifics of the festival a secret until this very evening.”

He gestured for Dovetail to step inside, but barred entrance for Elma and Bagel. “I’m afraid I can’t let either of you in,” he said. “It is disrespectful to the first snow to dress in such heavy clothing. If you could find more appropriate attire, like your friend here, perhaps I could allow you entrance.”

“We’ll freeze to death!” said Elma. “It’s easy for you to say, Mr. Rock, and Dovetail’s made of metal!”

“Aren’t you a frost elf, ma’am?”

“Only half. And Bagel here’s so little he’d be a popsicle in seconds!”

“If you’ll forgive us, sir,” Bagel added, “neither of us worship Sol, it’s just not our custom. But we’d be happy to partake in your traditions to the best of our ability. I know it is Sol’s way to be neighborly and kind, and if you’d just do us this kindness we will repay it in kind.”

Kyund crossed his arms, untouched. “Your being Cylgin might upset the very devout individuals within working hard to honor Sol. Offending them would not be very neighborly. It clearly states in the Earliest Texts, ‘When you find thyself walking in the land of a stranger, thou must observe their customs lest thou justly draw their ire.’”

“‘If thou find their customs cruel,’” Dovetail continued, “‘it is thy duty to stand up for what is just, and what is kind.’” Kyund turned to the automaton, surprised. “Making these poor travelers trees to Beth would not be very trust nor pined. My best friend Nestor had me read from the Earliest Texts when I was just beginning to comprehend language. Specifically the Tome of Civilities, so that I would be the kindest automaton in town.”

Kyund inclined his head. “I…yes, I see your point. If you’ll forgive me, Dovetail, I do not mean to offend one who worked so hard to bring us the fire vessel, but I was only trying to spare your companions a true insult. You see, the real reason I cannot grant them entrance is that I can see from their dispositions and can hear in their voices that these vagabonds are strangers to the concept of a hard day’s work, which Sol holds so dear.”

“Oh really?” asked Bagel sternly. “I believe the passage you’re referencing states ‘Hands that have not plowed the fields of their homeland and sown the seeds of creation are strangers to purpose and strength.’ Or perhaps you meant ‘Agriculture is the divine provider of the body and the spirit. It is Sol’s greatest gift to this world. To work the products of His light is the closest to divinity any mortal will likely know.’” The pixie gestured to the cloudy sky above. “Tell me, pyromancer, are you and your holy men regularly tilling the soil and growing the fruits of Sol’s holy rays around here?”

Kyund opened his mouth to answer, and then closed it as he pondered a more appropriate response. “I must say, I did not expect one of your…creed…to know the word of Sol.”

“‘Do not seek to presume the intent of a stranger,’” quoted Bagel, “‘lest thou make an enemy of one who could be thine greatest ally, or misjudge the cunning of one who would do you harm.’”

The pyromancer cleared his throat and stepped aside, permitting the Cylgin entrance. Elma gave the pixie an approving tap on the head, and showed Kyund a kindly smile as she entered.


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