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Grave Importance
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The World of Hybrids
The Stuff of Legends
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Ideal With It
A Little Harmony
Out of My League


The World Made From A Wish
Type-Casting
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Of Mana and Ether
Witch One?


Sisters of One Mind
An Open Book
Ever Mindful


Paths of a Fashion
Crossing Paths
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Zzz... (Old, Iffy, Unsorted)
Focus
The World Was Made From A Wish
A Curious Kind of Tree





Out of My League

I was drowning again.

I thrashed about, gasping for air - but why would I gasp for air? There was none; I only took in more water.

Just as I thought I was going to faint, I suddenly felt immense relief. I could breathe again.

Once I'd calmed myself down, I sighed, bubbles rising from my mouth. No one else ever had attacks like this. As far as they - even as far as I knew, it was like I just briefly forgot how to breathe. And I didn't know why.

I just knew it was a terrible curse for a young mermaid to bear.

——

The "disorder," as it was considered, was something I was born with. From what I was told, I was drowning the moment I hatched, and the doctors administered oxygen until I could breathe properly.

Now, this is actually a common occurrence with newborn merfolk; but of course, they're perfectly fine after that. I was not. Months later, I had another attack, which was fortunately over with no visible damage done before I could be rushed anywhere.

It scared my parents beyond belief, however. A merperson's body is supposed to be capable of taking in water and extracting its oxygen, like the gills of a fish. Mine, at seemingly random times, did not; water filling my mouth felt suddenly uncomfortable instead of perfectly normal.

After consulting several doctors and finding no decent answers, my parents invested in oxygen tanks to help me through the attacks. But there were two problems with this.

First of all, oxygen was not in demand in the sea. Doctors had small stocks of it for the aforementioned case of newborns, but that was all; it's unnecessary for most since their bodies are capable of getting it, and artificial methods of extraction were and still are inefficient.

Secondly, the tanks hardly helped anyway. During my attacks, I felt like I needed to get all the water out of my nose, mouth, lungs, but this was extremely difficult while, you know, underwater. I did my best to take in only the oxygen from the tanks and a minimal amount of water, but that was still too much water for me to feel any better doing it.

Once I was old enough, and my parents were paying for my education on top of everything else, they decided it wasn't worth it to buy the tanks anymore. In a way I was glad, since even though they hardly seemed to help, I had felt obligated to use them.

...Harmony is telling me I should move on with the story proper, so I think I'll save further explanations for later. Or "shut up about that junk," if you prefer.

——

As I put the incident behind me and returned to preparing myself for the big day, I heard the door creak open. "Everything okay in there, Irma?"

"Yes, everything's fine." I didn't want to say anything more than that. I was sure she knew what all the noise had been about, so there was hardly any need to discuss it.

But she wanted to discuss something, evidently, and let herself into my room. "You know those kids aren't even ten years old, right?", she chuckled. "Don't waste your time on appearances, they won't care."

"Well... maybe to an extent," I hesitantly admitted. "But first impressions are important, Lucy. Imagine if some... uncouth woman flopped into your classroom and said she would be your teacher."

"Oh, I can imagine," she muttered.

"...Yes, so, even if they are young still, I want to be sure that they trust me to be their teacher."

"Right," Lucy yawned. "In that case, you better make sure you don't, y'know."

Yes, I knew. But all I could do was hope that, having just had an attack, it would not happen again soon.

"Anyway," said Lucy, leaving the subject floating as it was, "just wanted to say I'm glad you're finally catching up."

"...Catching up?", I questioned.

"Oh, you and I both know you've been dead weight most of your life, Irma."

Lucy had always been a brutally honest sister, but that took me by surprise. "I would hardly say that's -"

"I said you were getting better, didn't I?", she shrugged. "Finally getting a job, even if it is just teaching kiddies. That's all I meant."

With that, she finally showed herself the door, me glaring at her all the while. But before leaving, she turned back and said:

"Hey, maybe your next thing to get can be a boyfriend!"

"Maybe what you need to get is lost," I mumbled after the door closed. No, that was terrible; I could never say that.

I was finding Lucy increasingly hard to live with. Yet with our mother gone for days at a time, she was essentially the only person I had to live with.

So I just couldn't let her get to me, I thought, turning back to the mirror with determination. I would not be discouraged from doing a job which I truly believed I could be good at, having been a diligent student all my life.

But as it turned out, things were not quite that simple.

——

"Hello, class."

"Hi, Ms. Whitney!"

Granted, the first few weeks went just fine.

The children really liked me, and I was glad for that like nothing else. Personally, I could count the number of teachers I especially "liked" throughout my whole academic career on my fingers. I knew it wasn't the highest honor coming from elementary students, but I respected children around that age for their creativity and open-mindedness, so I valued their opinions as well.

But there was something that came with the territory of working with children, and that I was not entirely prepared for.

They asked questions.

"Teacher, why do they call it a catfish?"

That one was asked by a boy in the middle of an unrelated lesson. It seemed easily answered, though. "Well, because someone named it that."

"Who?"

I didn't see how that was relevant. "Someone a long time ago."

The boy seemed to accept that answer, but found it wasn't what he actually wanted to know. "Swordfish have noses like swords, right? And clownfish sort of look like clowns, but not as creepy. So what's a -"

"I know, I know!", a girl exclaimed, raising her hand. "My dad told me. Cats are these fuzzy animals with long tails and whiskers..."

"Whiskers?", someone else asked.

"They're these stringy hair things," the girl replied. "But I think they only have cats on the land."

The class oohed in awe of her knowledge. Yet those last three words had me worried.

Facing the original question-asker, I said, "Yes, if that's what you're asking, I believe catfish were named after... cats. Now then, if that settles the question..."

"But doesn't that mean cats got named before catfish?", yet another student pondered. "Which means people from the land..."

"That would be a history lesson much too long for this class," I hurried to say, trying to keep the situation under control.

"Ms. Whitney, can you tell us what the land's like?"

And there it was. I looked at the clock. Still thirty minutes of classtime left.

In my heart, I knew I should indulge them, and by all means I wanted to. I could tell they all wanted to know, and the rest of today's lesson could easily be sacrificed for that sake.

But in my mind, I knew absolutely nothing about the land.

Well, I knew some things. I often went to the surface and found little islands to relax on after especially severe near-drownings. But certainly I had never been to the mainland, and all I had ever been taught was that it was not worth knowing about.

Would I have to teach these children that very same thing?

"Oh, I... don't know that much, I'm afraid," I admitted.

I had to be honest; that was surely the best thing I could do. Yet with that remark, all the energy which the sudden discussion had filled the class with dissolved in an instant.

I could have gone on with the original lesson from there. But I thought about what I told Lucy: that I wanted my students to trust me. And how could they trust the knowledge of someone who didn't know about the land? I didn't even yet know how much I didn't know.

"Well, but I..."

The whole class looked up at me expectantly.

"I suppose I could tell you a few things..."

——

"...So you see, instead of water, all they have up there is air." Yes, that's it. Stick to what you know.

"What's air? Can you breathe it?"

"Oh, yes, that's no problem. But you can't swim in it..." Suddenly, I recalled the creatures I had seen hovering overhead on my trips to the surface. "Usually. To my knowledge."

"Wow, you can't swim in it...? I can't even imagine. I don't think I'd last long there if I couldn't swim."

"Perhaps... or, ah, perhaps not. I think that would, er... depend on you, you know?" I sheepishly smiled at the boy, and he seemed to reconsider his pessimistic outlook.

"People do live on the land, right? How do they get around?"

"Oh!", I exclaimed, glad to have a solid answer for once. "They have legs. You know, like an octopus."

"Whoa! Do they spit ink, too?"

"...Most likely."

All this new information of questionable accuracy needed time to settle into their brains, so it looked like I had made it through all right. The class seemingly satiated, I was able to return to a briefer version of the original lesson.

Shortly before the ball rang, a girl raised her hand. "Teacher, I know it's off-topic, but are you from the land?"

"Certainly not. I was born and raised here - much like you all, I'm sure."

"Oh. I was just wondering, 'cause I heard about how sometimes you can't breathe water, and I thought maybe you were used to air."

I wondered where she had heard that. But it didn't really matter; they were bound to find out about it sooner or later by seeing me drown firsthand. And it would certainly be better to give them prior warning before they had to see that.

"Yes, I do sometimes experience something referred to as "drowning,"" I explained. "It could happen anytime, so don't be alarmed when it does. I believe it's..."

I was at a loss for what to say next, but not for lack of knowledge about the land; rather, for lack of knowledge about myself. It was likely something unusual about my body, but how could I best tell that to them?

"...because I spend so much time out of the water, I suppose."

That was probably not the best way, in hindsight. The realization swept through the room that I must know a lot about the land after all.

"Ms. Whitney, could you maybe... draw us an animal from the land?"

"A cat?", someone suggested.

"No! Not a cat!", I answered, twisting my fearful reaction into a defiant remark. Because if I were completely wrong and that girl knew it, it would be a complete embarrassment. "Because... that wouldn't be new to Cindy. I'll show you an animal the likes of which you've never seen before!"

I can't remember exactly what I drew - and let it be known I am far from being an artist - but when I stepped away from the whiteboard, someone asked "Is that a jellyfish?"

"No," I said, then gulped. "It's a jelly!"

The room erupted in cheers, which told me my gambit had worked. I could scarcely believe it did. (And here in the present, Harmony can't stop laughing at that part of the story.)

Right on cue, the bell rang and the children went out for recess. As soon as they were gone, I slumped over on my desk.

I felt so conflicted. I had just made my students' respective days, but I knew I couldn't keep this up. I was already telling them blatant lies; I knew my wild guesses couldn't be anywhere near the truth.

I realized anew how badly I wanted to know about the land, a curiosity I'd always had. Yes, I shared that desire with these children. Yet our society tended to ignore it even existed unless it was convenient, deeming it no place for our kind to live.

But it couldn't be all bad. It just couldn't be. And I thought, maybe I might like it better up there.

"Ms. Whitney?"

I looked up to find Mr. Morgan watching me. I pushed myself away from the desk. "Oh, sorry... I'll get going."

He looked at me quizzically. "Is everything okay?"

"Oh, uh, yes."

"You can tell me if the kids are giving you a hard time, you know."

I shook my head. "No, no, it's nothing like that! Um..."

Well, I thought, if I was going to turn to someone for help here, he probably wouldn't be a bad choice.

Mr. Morgan was a seahorse who had struck me as one of the most kind and intelligent teachers at the school. And for what it's worth, he was - according to Harmony, when I showed her pictures - a "super mega hottie," though quite a bit older than me.

"I just became a bit inundated with questions today," I confessed. "About the land, that is."

Morgan nodded solemnly, to my surprise. "Ah, I understand completely. I've been there."

"Er... By which you mean, you've been in that situation?"

"Yes, yes. As you know, such subjects are not exactly in the curriculum; our society as a whole just doesn't deem it important. But if the children want to know, who am I not to tell them?"

I nodded slowly. "Yeah... I absolutely feel the same way. Just, uh..."

Annoyingly, I couldn't tell whether or not he knew any more than me about the land. And so long as that remained a mystery, I wasn't about to reveal my ignorance to him, and especially not that I had made things up and taught them as truth.

I swam past him. "I guess I'll be doing some more research, then!"

——

I was certainly hesitant to do so. There was always a chance that what I had been taught all my life was, you know. Correct.

But I took the opportunity when I had it, giving Lucy the first excuse I could think of - I can't recall what it was now. It wasn't difficult to come up with one, as she did want me to get out more. But if she knew it was to the land, I was sure she... wouldn't quite understand.

Taking my seajet, it was about a thirty-minute trip to a city near the coast. Arguably, I could have learned a fair bit there, but I was close enough to land by then that I felt I had to see it for myself. From the city, I just kept swimming until I found the sea floor sloping up above the water, and came to the surface.

I sat on the rocky beach, seemingly devoid of people, and waited for my ears to adjust to the air so that things didn't sound so warbly. In the meantime, I wondered:

"Okay, now how is this going to work?"

So far, things looked about the same as the islands I had seen; things like air and weather were nothing new to me. But those were just small islands. How was I going to get any significant distance into the mainland?

Seeing no particularly convenient way now that I was here, I sighed. I hadn't worn my best outfit for this trip, and for good reason.

I was going to have to flop it.

Even that was harder than I imagined. Most of the time I found myself flying backwards no matter how I moved my tail, and could only reliably move forward with my hands, dragging them and the rest of my body against the rough ground.

"Baby flops, Irma," I muttered to myself. I kept practicing by giving myself goal points to reach within a short time, and by this method eventually managed to make my way into a wooded area.

It was quite unlike anything I'd ever seen in the sea. Trees, plants, and animals which perhaps most mermaids would never see; I tried to "stroll" along taking it all in, but it didn't quite work out as I imagined.

I had no idea what to call any of these things, however, which brought a certain dilemma to my attention: I would need to meet someone from the land to truly know about the land, but I never wanted to be seen like this.

I decided to call it a day. I had come ashore after school on a Friday, so I was exhausted as it was, and all that flopping and crawling took the rest out of me. I dove back into the ocean and let the seajet carry me home.

But I was back the next day, and that day was most fateful.

...Harmony is giggling already.

I came to the shore no better equipped than before, but less tired, and perhaps even more determined. I headed straight for the woods, hoping to find people, or at worst more unusual animals to describe to my class.

But before I could make hardly any headway at all, a great red feathery beauty dropped from above, and I flipped back in surprise.

I looked the woman over in bewilderment, wondering if she had been sitting up on a branch watching all along. She did the same with considerably more calm, then asked:

"So, you come here often?"

The only response to that I could possibly imagine was to flop back to the sea as quickly as I could.

——

But the third time was the charm. Or, second time, in another sense.

I had been equally hopeful that the woman either would or would not be there, so I was prepared for either event. And she was already there on the shore when I arrived.

I stood up as straight as I could manage and bowed. "Hello, madam. My name is Irma Whitney. I apologize for my rudeness yesterday."

"Nah, I'm sorry for scaring you," she said, her cheeks slightly blushing to match her feathers. "Nice to meet you for real. I'm Harmony."

This was the first time I could get a good look at her, so now is when I will describe her to you. ...That is, as much as I can do so with present-day Harmony making snide comments.

She was tall; most land dwellers seem so compared to merfolk like myself, but later I would see that she was especially so. She had large, bright red wings with nubby hands toward the ends, and similarly red hair tied up in a ponytail.

And yes, for the sake of convenience and understanding, she could be considered a "harpy," but never say that to her face.

"So, um," I began, averting my eyes because I felt more awkward the more I looked at her, "to answer your question from yesterday... No, I've hardly ever come here."

"I know, I know, it was a joke. Hey, sit down," Harmony said, plopping down on a rock. She must have noticed how hard I was trying to keep myself balanced.

I chose a nearby rock of my own. "Well, um... what about you?"

"What about me?", she replied, honestly confused.

"I mean, do you..." I didn't want to put it the way she had; I wholly lacked her courage to make such a remark so suddenly. "You were here yesterday, and you're here again today, so..."

"Oh, right, gotcha. No, I don't really live around here anymore," she shook her head. "I just happened to be in the area yesterday. And I figured you might come back."

That was a surprise to hear. "You stuck around here just to see me?"

Harmony shrugged and looked away. "Well, I mean... y'know. I can spare the time."

My first thought was that she meant her time wasn't very valuable, but then it occurred to me that perhaps she was really hoping to see me, and that in fact this probably made more sense. It wasn't exactly something I was used to.

I regained some presence of mind and began to explain myself. "So, er... Miss Harmony, as you can probably guess, I am a mermaid from an undersea city some distance from here. I work as an elementary school teacher -"

"Hold on," she interrupted, looking at me seriously. "So it's a... school of fish?"

I nervously blinked at her. "...Yes? Why do you ask?"

She seemed to refrain from making a comment, then shook her head and said "Never mind, go on."

Confused, I did. "Just a few days ago, my class began asking me questions about the land, which I... which I must admit I know nothing whatsoever about. But I was cornered into teaching a few... probable untruths."

"You serious?" Harmony looked at me bewildered. "So all you ever learned about was ocean stuff, and you're a teacher?"

I could hardly show her my face. "I... I know, it's unforgivable that I would be so ignorant..."

She waved her hands. "No, no, I wasn't criticizing you! If no one ever taught you about the land, they're the ones who screwed up!"

I was reflexively opposed to the idea that just about everyone I'd ever known had "screwed up." "Is the land really worth learning about for sea dwellers like us? I mean, I feel like it is, but..."

"Oh my god, Irma, the land is super great!" She suddenly realized she have might sounded like she was bragging. "I mean, the sea's probably pretty great too, but I wouldn't know."

I sighed. "It's not."

"...What makes you say that?"

There were reasons - for instance, it had kept me oblivious to such a large, "super great" part of the world, one which I had already discovered contained Harmony - but I didn't feel confident enough to say anything to her yet.

Suddenly, Harmony started coughing. I, of course, had no idea what that was about. "A-Are you all right?!"

She chuckled slightly. "It's just a cough, don't worry."

Then I realized something. Throughout this conversation, I had been anxious about looking foolish in front of Harmony. A large part of that was my worry that an ill-timed attack would ruin the moment.

But two things only just then occurred to me: that I would not drown in air, and subsequently, what a massive relief that was.

For once in my life, I didn't have to worry about that getting in the way. In fact, Harmony would never have any inkling of the ridicule I'd experienced thanks to my disorder, unless I were to tell her.

Finally, perhaps, I could demonstrate some confidence.

"So, Harmony," I started. "What can you teach me about the land?"

——-

With Harmony's help, I made it through another week of classes. I built up a good backlog of trivia, and more importantly creatures to describe to the children, either that I had seen in person in the woods or had drawn and/or described to me by Harmony.

If it came to it, I might have told them about my new bird girlfriend too, but I held off on that for the time being.

As thrilled as the children were (and I was thrilled myself, in a way), not everyone seemed to approve of what I was doing, even if it was mostly true information now.

"Why are you wasting classtime with that nonsense?", a teacher asked me one day as I was getting my things together to go home.

"What do you mean, sir?"

"All that stuff about those fantastical "land creatures." What's the point?"

"It's worked into my lesson plan, and I'm still teaching everything else I'm supposed to," I replied. "My students asked for it, so I would say it's something I'm "supposed" to teach, too."

"You don't really expect your class to ever go to the land, do you, Ms. Whitney?"

"Perhaps I do," I said defiantly, though my voice trembled a bit.

He shook his head. "You're out of your mind, and who knows what else. I hope you realize that actions have consequences."

I stared at him as he left, wondering what that was even supposed to mean. I didn't consider my job to be in any real danger, particularly with Morgan having my back.

When I got home, the house seemed particularly quiet. "Anyone home?"

"Just me, again," Lucy replied from another room.

I found her and said, "Hello, Lucy. I think I'll be leaving in a couple of hours, so -"

"Where are you two going this time?"

I blinked at her. "What do you mean, "you two"?"

She turned to face me. "So it's not a boyfriend, or are you just being coy?"

"It's not... well, um, I think you have the wrong idea."

Lucy sighed. "In that case, is this maybe connected to what you've been teaching your students lately?"

I was surprised she knew about that, but not very. "Um... maybe you were closer with the boyfriend guess."

"Well, I think you're either lying to your students, or you're lying to me."

"I'm not lying," I insisted. "I just... you know..."

"Ugh, be straight with me, Irma!"

After a long pause, I shrugged. "I'll be leaving in a couple of hours. Is that straight enough for you?"

"Fine," she sighed. "Just make sure to come back."

——

That day, Harmony had a very welcome gift for me.

"What's this?", I asked.

"A wheelchair. You just sit in it and... yeah, I think you get the idea already," she remarked as I tried it out.

"...Do they make these just for merpeople?"

"Nah, not really. But my friend Candice told me lots of merpeople do use these to get around on land. She let me have this one when I told her about you."

So there were other cases like me, it seemed. That was wonderful news.

"Oh, so this Candice, is she a..."

"Dog. Very excitable dog. We go way back," Har informed me, reminiscing.

I quickly grew fond of the wheelchair. It was such a vast improvement over crawling and flopping along the ground, both in speed and convenience.

"I've never felt so free," I happily sighed. Even if I technically had more freedom swimming around in the sea, it just didn't feel as liberating to me.

Harmony looked at me oddly, though. "What is it?", I asked.

"Oh, er, well..." She took some time to think. "If you think that's good, I could show you something even better."

"What would that be?"

Harmony leapt up into the air and flapped her wings, hovering just above me. She let down her legs, indicating for me to grab onto them.

"...Uh... u-um... Really?", I stammered out fearfully.

"I'm a professional," she smiled.

I hesitantly grabbed on tight, and then we were off.

Har flew me all around, giving me a wide view of the world I had long missed out on. Trees, mountains, fields, lakes - god, I hadn't even known there were still bodies of water on the land.

It was beautiful. There was so much to learn here, and I would have loved nothing more than to learn about it with Harmony.

After we finally touched down again - I completely lost track of time, so I had no idea how long the flight was - I realized that while my body had dried off, my face was wet.

"What is this?", I asked, touching my face.

"Tears of joy and not sadness, I hope. ...I didn't scare you too much with fancy flying, did I?", Harmony asked, legitimately worried.

"I didn't know I did this at all," I told her. They must have just dissolved in the sea all this time.

She patted me on the back. "Learning things about yourself too, huh?"

I looked at her. "Yeah... I guess so."

——

"...And I saw bodies of water called "lakes!" I'm sure merpeople could live in them too, although I'm not completely certain yet."

"Aha, I see..."

I had taken to relaying the information I'd learned about the land to Mr. Morgan. As it turned out, he didn't know much about the land either; while he agreed it was a worthy subject to teach, he hadn't gone to the lengths I had to learn about it.

Of course, I only could have done this thanks to first getting over my fear of embarrassing myself in front of him. I knew that my knowledge of the land was still primitive, but I didn't let that bother me anymore; at least I was learning something.

As if to make up for this, however, the embarrassment came in a slightly different form.

"There are also these creatures called "dogs," who make noises likhh -"

"...Hm? I didn't catch that... Ms. Whitney?"

That was when I had my first drowning attack at the school.

Unfortunately, no one in the vicinity really knew what was going on. My students were perhaps the best-informed, actually, even if what that information came down to was "Don't worry, I'll be okay."

Morgan didn't know that.

"Oh god, she can't breathe! Does anyone know how to help her?!"

I had my eyes and mouth closed, trying to make as little of a scene as possible until it passed. But I felt Morgan grab me and put his face near mine...

Ugh. You can fill in the blanks, I'm sure.

Needless to say, his well-intentioned attempt at resuscitation did nothing to help and everything to hurt. I tried to put it out of my mind, but was reminded of it when I arrived the next day.

"Sooo, how it's going between you and Cedric?"

"...Who?"

"Oh, I think you know who. I saw you two all over each other yesterday."

I was overcome with realization and anger at once, because I legitimately hadn't even known Morgan's first name until this teacher had mentioned it.

"He was trying to provide medical assistance, since I was having a spontaneous attack that could have arguably killed me. And you're implying we were kissing?", I asked with a harsh glare. "Don't you see anything wrong with that?"

"Oh, well, er..." She backed away slightly, unsettled by my gaze. "Sorry, I honestly didn't know it was like that..."

"As long as you get it," I sighed.

Unfortunately, it mattered little that just she got it. These encounters repeated themselves over and over throughout the day, including one of my students asking if I "liked" Mr. Morgan. I wasn't even sure how to answer anymore. I avoided seeing him for the entire day.

Honestly, the children I could understand. But these were grown adults, supposed professionals, twisting an unfortunate accident completely out of proportion and making a complete embarrassment of me.

I wasn't sure how much longer I could put up with it.

——

When I got home, I went straight to my room to lie down. But as exhausted as I was, I didn't want to stay there long.

Lucy heard me heading for the front door. "Irma? Where are you going?"

I didn't answer. I was sure she knew.

"I swear to god, if you're going off to the land -"

"Of course I am!", I turned back and shouted. "And why do you think that is, huh?!"

Lucy stared at me, stunned. "Irma!"

"I met a girl called Harmony, okay? And she's wonderful! It's wonderful up there, and down here you're all just full of yourselves! You don't have ANY idea what you're missing!"

"Irma, please..."

"They have cats that go meow, and dogs that go woof, and... and you act like you just know everything, but you DON'T!"

"Irma, stop it...!"

"No! I am out of here, Lucy! I'm -"

And then, I was drowning again.



When I opened my eyes, I was lying on my bed again, and Lucy sat beside me.

"Irma... are you okay...?"

I looked at her. I'd never seen such worry on my sister's face; I wondered if she was crying, or if even she knew.

"...Yes, I'm fine. Today was just... too much for me. I'm so sorry about that outburst."

She sighed. "No, you're right. You're completely right. I've been a horrible sister, for one. I always acted like I knew better, when I knew it was usually the other way around... I know that didn't help you at all."

Lucy turned away. "You've been the one keeping things together once mom all but gave up on us. All I ever did was watch - that was all I could do whenever you had your drowning fits. ...I can't blame you one bit for not wanting to live in the company of people like me."

"It's not like that at all," I told her. "I mean... it's certainly not your fault. Maybe it's not anyone's, really. But I'm just not sure if this is where I belong."

"...Because no one here shares your interest in the land?"

"Well, that's not entirely a true statement..." I thought about it. "Maybe if I lived up to my own expectations for what a teacher should know, I could teach everyone here about the land. That might be ideal. But I think that's a long way off."

"Are you sure?", Lucy asked quizzically. "You sounded pretty knowledgeable about that "cat" and "dog" stuff." (I don't believe she meant this sarcastically, but I may be misremembering.)

"Don't be silly, Lucy, that's basic stuff. I'll have to learn about things like... look, I don't even know what I don't know yet."

She smiled in tacit approval, then had a thought. "So, where does Harmony fit into all of that?"

I blushed. "Oh, well... I... I guess learning about the land and being with her kind of go hand in hand."

"So they are," she nodded. "...Hope you can forgive me for anything I might've said."

"...Of course."

It was silent for a while.

"It's a noble goal," Lucy said, "and I'd love to come with you. But I don't know if I can leave that easily. Too many ties here."

"I can understand that. Don't worry, I'll try to tell you about the things I learn when I get a chance," I smiled.

"Right. ...How long do you think you'll be gone?"

"...I have no idea," I admitted. I had only the vaguest idea of the sheer scope of the land, but I did know it was sheer. The point at which I would be satisfied with my knowledge was also ambiguous, yet likely steep.

I wanted to give Lucy a time at which I would come back, so she wouldn't have to worry... but I couldn't.

She seemed to notice my quandary, and put her arms around me. "If you never come back, I'll understand."

"...But I'd really appreciate if you did, okay?"

——

"So you're leaving already?"

"Yes."

"You quit your teaching job?"

"For now. I expect to return much more qualified, so getting it back should be no issue."

"If you say so," Harmony shrugged. "I'm really surprised you made up your mind that quickly. I know I had a hard time leaving the place where I grew up."

"Well... it was also so I could be with you," I shyly told her.

"...Again, if you say so."

"I probably am being a bit hasty, aren't I?", I sighed. "I can't be at all certain this will work out as I'm imagining. Perhaps I'll find myself heading back home in a week or less. Or..."

She shook her head. "No, no, I'm not implying anything like that. I'm just stunned you want to hit it off with a gal like me."

"...Why would that be?"

Har gently slapped her wing on my back. "Irma, I dunno if you realize this, but you're way out of my league."


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