Love is the closest thing we have to magic
"When all the world goes dark and all things fail, three things
will remain: Faith, Hope and Love, and the Greatest of these is
-Paraphrasing the Corithians
Kael wandered the streets, hungry
and alone. It was snowing, but not the fluffy beautiful snow she
remembered from the picture books her father used to read to her.
It was wet, mushy snow that was quick to soak into clothes and
hair and wick away every degree of heat from your body, the kind
that was sharp and cold and bit at your exposed face, going over
it like icy sandpaper.
Kael could not remember ever being this cold.
She wore her father's old trench coat, with layers of worn
sweaters underneath. She wore long underwear with sweatpants and
grey workers' jeans on top, with a long scarf wound many times
around her face and neck in a futile attempt to stave off the
cold. She wore a Russian Ushanka on her head that had also been
her fathers', although she used the ear flapped hat to hide her
long hair and feminine features more so than to protect herself
from the cold.
She had stuffed her long honey
blonde hair beneath the cap and pulled the ear flaps down and the
scarf up to hide any trace of feminine features that might give
her away. The heavy layers of old sweaters and her fathers'
too-big trench coat hid her willowy body type, and she had pulled
her fathers heavy rough leather work gloves over her slender
hands and wrists. Just to be safe, she had smeared dirt over her
nose and cheeks. She took so much care to disguise her gender
because it was forbidden for lower-class women to travel alone.
The train rails that criss-crossed the country were for the
wealthy, and the thin spread middle class. If a lower class
person was fortunate enough to be able to afford an expensive
passport, they were allowed to travel.
The lower classes on the train were
always checked for passes, since they were the most likely to
travel without ones or with forged ones. There must have been at
least six urchins with fake passes thrown off on her long ride
here. Kael's own pass was forged, but it was one of the better
fakes, made by she guessed a master forger. The train guards had
checked her pass four times, once getting on, twice on the train
and once getting off, but her faux passport had passed every
machine test thrown at it, from the little hand-helds the guards
carried to the fancier ones at the train stations.
The pass was not Kael's. It had
belonged to her father, along with most of the things she carried
The whole reason Kael was here was
because her father was dead.
Kael's father had been middle class
once, maybe even one of the poorest of the wealthy, but that had
been a long time ago. The mechanical watch shop he ran had
doubled as a home for them. Her father had been a master
watch-maker. His mechanics were always exactly on time, down to
the second. He had also been a tinker, building mechanical toys
and inventions. Her father had always said electronics would
never replace old fashioned mechanics. Every once and a while he
would even get a rich customer to buy one of his masterpieces,
simply for the novelty of it.
Kael had been singly raised by her
father since birth. Her father had told her that her mother had
died when she was little.
It was only very recently she had
found he had lied to her.
Her mother had left her and her
father when she had been a baby, though Kael did not know why.
The only thing she knew about the woman was that her name was
Sonya, there was a picture of her in her fathers locket Kael
carried with her, and that she lived in this city.
The reason Kael had come here was so
she could find her mother.
And so she had packed up her things
and taken her fathers clothing, fake passport and a few of his
gadgets, shortening her name Kaela to the masculine Kael,
disguised herself as a boy and use what little money she had to
buy a ticket to Krysеnkov. And now she walked the streets, cold,
hungry, lost and very near broke.
Kael looked up at the tall buildings
that seemed to tower over the street, utilitarian brick buildings
indifferent to her suffering, with graffiti in the alleyways as
there only adornment. There was a black asphalted road, and thin,
narrow cracked side walks, missing entire chunks in some places.
The wrought iron fences around the trees were bent and warped,
looking like cages. The trees were bare except for a few
straggling leaves clinging to the claw-like branches, which was
somehow even sadder than if the trees had been completely
It looked like a city of broken
The bitter, sharp, wet wind tore
through her clothes like an icy razor, and Kael wondered if she
should start getting numb. But it seemed she was so cold it was
impossible to be numb, she only felt sharp and aching cold. She
knew she needed to find shelter before she froze to death, but
she had very little money left, and even if she spent it all she
didn't think she had enough for lodgings. She wiggled her toes,
which ached with cold. She felt so tired. Maybe if she sat down
for a minute...
"Privet, Friend!" Kael
looked up, startled. A boy roughly her age and dressed just as
scrappily (Although his threadbare clothes seemed much more
adapted to keeping out the wet and cold than hers) walked toward
her. Kael eyed the boy distrustfully. His face was smeared with
dirt like hers, although she doubted his was on purpose. He had
wiry black hair that was just as sooty as his face, and a mussed,
sooty, threadbare barré, thrown carelessly over it. He had a
thick scarf wound around his neck, and a beat-up duster made of
some kind of worn leather that the moisture just slid right off,
along with a pair of workmen's boots that looked far more adapted
to puddles of slush than her own pair. Despite his ragamuffin
appearance, he was relatively handsome, with sharp green eyes and
pale cream colored skin under the layers of soot. He had a quick,
agile build, like an alley cat, and the same manner as one too;
friendly, but watchful and cautious. She had not been looking at
him for five seconds and he had already looked over his shoulder
He grinned and extended a hand by
way of greeting. She took it and started to shake it, then
remembered northerners did not shake hands, but grasp forearms.
Her mistake seemed to amuse the boy more than offend him. He
chuckled softly. "From the south, are you?" He asked. She looked
sheepishly at him. "Gave it away, huh?" she asked. The boys grin
widened. "Not really," He said, "I knew you were a southern the
minute I saw you." Kael frowned slightly. She had been trying
hard to blend in, although it seemed now that her efforts had
been far from convincing. "How?" She asked. The northern boy
snorted. "Cause that is the poorest excuse for winter clothing I
have ever seen. You're wearing thick denim and cotton, not
oilskin and wool. You look exactly like what you are: a southern
Coney dressed for a trip up north." Kael scowled at a puddle of
slush at her feet. "Never been up north before." She
"Don't feel bad. I haven't ever seen
a southern get it right the first time, not even the rich ones.
You did pretty all right, except for the cotton. I don't know why
some southern Coney's just can't get it into their head that
cotton doesn't work like wool." the northern boy said.
"Wool's itchy," Kael said, defending
The northern boy chuckled again,
"Yeah, but it's warm even after it gets wet, unlike
Kael snorted in dismissal.
"Name's Arawn," The boy said.
"Kael," she replied.
"Got anywhere to go, Kael?" Arawn
asked. Kael shook her head.
"Got a passport?" Arawn asked. Kael
was immediately on guard. "Yeah," she said.
"Can I see it?"
Kael debated the safety of handing
her false passport to this stranger, but fished it out and gave
it to him. If four scanners couldn't catch it, she doubted this
boys' eyes could. She was completely baffled when he ignored the
registration number and ID info and turned the card on its back,
inspecting it. He whistled low after a second, seemingly
impressed. "A Zmey original. I've only ever seen knock-offs of
Zmeys', never an original. I'm impressed; I've only got a Koshka.
Tell me, where'd you get this?"
"What are you talking about? As far
as I know, a pass is a pass. Don't they all come from a factory
or mint or something?"
Arawn smiled slyly. "That's true...
but a regular month's travel pass is over a grand. This is a
"So?" Kael asked uneasily. She
didn't like where this conversation was heading.
"Kael," Arawn said, leaning forward
and lowering his voice. "Do you know who Zmey and Koshka are?"
Kael shook her head.
"Forgers," Arawn said. "Master
Forgers, at that. I tell you, you can't get a better
fake than Zmey, although Koshka's have never failed me."
Kael shook her head violently, "No!
No! It's a real pass, it's real!" she knew her high pitched
protests were as good as a confession. She tried to snatch her
passport back, and Arawn didn't stop her.
"You misunderstand," Arawn said with
amusement. "My pass is false as well. I'm not going to rat on
you, Kael. I was actually hoping your pass was fake. Come with
me, I've got someplace you won't freeze to death." Kael was
"A shoddy fake pass will only get
you to jail," Arawn said. "And a real pass will only get you
banks, shops and train rails. But a good fake pass can get you to
so many other places."
Kael just looked at him.
"Me and my friends are all part of
the Krys Dyra," he said by way of explanation. "Most of us have
Horeks, but a handful including myself have Koshkas, and a few
more have genuine Krys." Kael looked at Arawn. "What do those
words mean? Are they names?" Arawn started laughing. "So sorry. I
forgot, you don't know the old north tongue, do you? They are
more of nicknames than the forgers' actual name. Call it... an
alias. Koshka means Cat, Krys is Rat, Horek is Ferret, and Zmey
means something like cunning Snake."
There was a temporary lull in the
conversation, while Arawn led Kael through the alleyways. Kael
went over what he had said. He had said he was part of the Krys
Dyra, which was a fancy way of saying he was a criminal who knew
plenty of other skilled criminals. Kael knew she probably
shouldn't go with him, but she would freeze to death otherwise.
Truth be told, it didn't really bother her that Arawn was a
criminal. He seemed nice, and she wasn't used to being on the
good side of the law. Although she had never seen her father do
anything illegal, she knew for a fact he had been far from good
as gold, counterfeit passport considered. And she highly doubted
her mother was as white as the driven snow either, and Kael
herself had every once in awhile committed petty thievery and
pick pocketing for money for food and essentials. There were many
shades of good and bad, and being on the wrong side of the
partisan law were a lot of good people trying to make their
"So where did you get a
Zmey original?" Arawn asked.
"It was my fathers," Kael
"Won't he mind you using his Zmey?
They aren't exactly easy to get if you lose them."
"I highly doubt he'll mind. And even
if he did, there's nothing he can do about it."
"How do you figure?" Arawn
"Oh." Arawn said awkwardly,
realizing he'd brought up something uncomfortable. "Sorry," he
"It's fine," Kael said, looking
away. The sharp wet snow cut into her face as she tried hard not
to think of her father. Not wanting to think about it, she tried
changing the subject.
"I imagined snow would be fluffier,"
"Huh?" Arawn said, confused.
"Snow. In all the pictures I've ever
seen, it's all white and fluffy and soft looking. But this snow
is so sharp and wet."
"That's 'cause it's not snow," Arawn
said, "its sleet."
"Oh," Kael said, feeling
"'S okay," Arawn said. "Easy mistake
to make. 'Specially for a southerner."
"You're glad it's sleeting?" Arawn
asked, looking at her like there was something wrong with
"No, I mean I'm glad this isn't
snow. When I got off the train and thought this muck was snow, I
"Don't worry, snow here won't
disappoint you. You should see this place after a blizzard,
before people walk in it. One of the coolest things you'll ever
Arawn stopped in front of low door
settled comfortably in it's frame, knocking briskly. A peephole
slid open an eye going over the two of them before the door
opened to let them in. A sly looking older woman with a headscarf
and a shawl greeted them. "Arawn! What're ya doin' bringin' a
southling here, ya little chimn'y rat!"
"Good to see you again too,
Koshechka," Arawn said. Koshechka scowled at him, then looked
Kael up and down with sharp, cunning eyes. She sighed huffily.
"Well, we better get your new friend out of those ridiculous
southling clothes before he catches his death!" She turned her
attention toward Kael. "What's your name, Coney?" She
"Kael," She replied
"Well, Kael, I suggest you take off
your cap and coat before you catch phenomia. You can go dry by
Kael gratefully took off her sopping
wet coat and three layers of sweaters, taking off her slacks and
boots and socks, all soaked like towels. Her fathers' hat had
fared better, keeping the moisture off her head at least. She
tried to put it all in a neat pile, which was difficult
considering how sopping wet and dirty it all was. (she had been
wearing the same stuff for four days)
When she looked up they were all
staring at her, standing there in a soaked cotton sweater and
pants. It took her a minute to realize she hadn't told them she
was a girl.
"Oh, um..." She said, "Forgot to
tell you." She finnished sheepishly.
Arawn blinked then snorted. "I'll
say you did," He said, shaking his head
Koshecka look like she was trying
very hard not to burst out laughing. "Kael?" She asked.
Kael cleared her throat, a little
embarrassed. "Well,actually it's Kael-a."
Koshecka's lips twisted as she tried
valiently not to laugh out of politeness.
"Oh, have your fun." Kael snapped.
Given permission to laugh, Koshecka immediatley burst into
torrents of cackling laughter.
Arawn grinned at Kael then rolled
his eyes. "Old bat." but Koshecka was too busy rolling with
laughter to scold him.
"Kael-a huh?" he asked,
"I still go by Kael," Kael replied,
"My father never called me Kaela, nor any of my friends. Only
person every to call me Kaela was my school teacher."
"Couldn't you have mentioned this a
"Well, I forgot. You know how it is,
low class women aren't allowed to travel alone."
Arawn Chuckled. "It was a good
disguise." he said.
Kael sat in front of the fire, the
heat radiating through her frozen bones. It was heaven to be warm
after nearly freezing to death. She watched the other people look
at her with mild interest before turning back to whatever they
were doing. Many didn't even pay her the slightlest attention.
Quite a few people were fast asleep in the strangest places;
under tables and tucked into corners and curled up on rugs, the
heat and safe atmosphere lulling them to sleep in the little
hideaway. One person was curled up on a patched red velvet couch,
near the fire. It seemed to be a safe house for thieves and
the people matched the furniture; shabby and secondhand. Many of
them wore patched and threadbare clothes, most all with a worn
trench coat like Arawns'. Although they were all varying degrees
of shabby, she noticed they all seemed far better equipped for
the northern weather than she was. Southerner clothes aside, she
seemed to fit into the bunch of misfits and shady characters
quite well. She was very near sure Arawn had brought her into a
den of thieves and people on the wrong side of the law, but she
could hardly complain when she would've frozen to death
"So why have you come to Krysov
anyway?" Arawn asked.
"Don't you mean
Krysenkov?" Kael asked.
Arawn laughed. "It's this places
nickname. It means 'rat city'." he explained.
"Ah," Kael said smiling.
"So why did you come to
Kael was suddenly wide awake,
remembering the purpose of this mission. "I'm looking for
someone, a woman named Sonya," Kael said, "Do you know
"Sonya? Yeah, evr'y body knows Sonya
here. How do you know her?" He asked. Kael fumbled with numb
fingers, taking the old locket from around her neck an fumbling
frantically with the clasp. She finnally managed to open it with
great difficulty, thrusting the old picture in Arawns' face.
"This Sonya? She looks like this?"
Arawn blinked in surprize at her
sudden frantic behavior. he inspected the picture, slightly
discolored with age, but none the less clear. "Uh, yeah, that
looks like a younger her, I guess. You know her?" He asked. Kael
inspected the old photo she had looked at so many times since the
start of her journey, as if expecting to find some connection
with the young woman in the photograph. "Not personally," Kael
replied, lost in thought. The woman in the picture was slight in
stature and short, looking a lot like a pocelain doll. Kael had
the same fine bones, although she had inherited her fathers'
hieght as well, looking more like a willow sapling than a doll.
The Sonya in the photo had thick, dark hair that was tied in a
very loose ponytail. Her eyes were a bright grey, and her face
had a spark of mischeif in it. A headscarf was around her head,
much like she had seen other northern women wear. Aside from
complextion and bone structure, Kael didn't look like her mother
at all. She had her father's amber-brown eyes, and blonde hair
that grew in small curly waves just short of ringlets. She didn't
know where that gene had come from. Her father had chesnut brown
hair that was as straight as straight could be.
Koshecka came over with a bowl of
soup and a fresh peice of dark, steaming bread, setting it down
in front of Kael. Arawn reached for the peice of bread, but
Koshecka slapped his hand smartly with a wooden spoon, causing
him to yelp in pain. "Not for you, you theivin' chimney rat!" She
scolded. "It's for the person that almost froze to death."
Koshecka spoke to Kael. "If he tries to take your food again,
I'll tan his tide with this," She held up the long handled wooden
spoon. "Alright, Kael?"
"Danke, Frau," She sighed, for a minute forgetting she
wasn't at home with her father and this woman didn't speak
german. "Thank you, ma'am." She clarified.
Koshecka grinned. "Where did you learn german?"
"You recognize it," Kael said in suprise.
"I've been around." Koshecka said, "It's been awhile since I've
heard german though. Where'd you learn it?"
"My father spoke it," Kael answered. "I've known it for as long
as I can remember."
"He must be a well travelled man," Koshecka said.
"I expect he was."
"Was?" Koshecka asked.
"He died of sickness a few weeks ago. That's why I've come to
Krysenkov." Kael said, trying to surpress the pain of grief she
had been surpressing for so long. She tried to distract herself.
She showed Koshecka the picture of Sonya Arawn had recognized.
"Do you know this woman?" Kael asked, "She goes by the name
Koshecka glanced at the picture. "Aye, I know Sonya. What do you
want with her?" she asked.
"I need to find her." Kael said. "Do you know where she is?"
"Sonya lives on the other side of town, in the Sobaka district."
Koshecka answered. "What do you want with her?"
Kael scrambled to her feet. "Can you take me there now?"She asked
urgently. Koshecka just looked at her. "Take you there now?
Halfway across town in the middle of a sleet-storm when your
clothes are already soaking wet? You'd be mad to even think of
"Hush. You're not going out in that weather. Whatever buissness
you've got with Sonya can wait til morning."
Kael sunk back down toward the floor, realizing Koshecka was
right. "Alright," She sighed. Koshecka grunted complacently. "Eat
the soup, It'll stop you from gettting a bad cold."She said. Kael
obiedently tipped the bowl into her mouth, gulping the hot soup
down. It burned the numbness from her body, spreading warmth over
her entire being and filling her empty stomach. After she had
gulped it all down, she felt very warm, full and sleepy. She
munched on the dark colored bread Koshecka had given her; it
tasted sweet and nutty, and warmed her mouth pleasently. She was
suddenly exhausted. She felt good; her stomach was full and she
was warm and as safer than she thought possible in this cold
Kael suddenly felt something heavy and soft on her shoulders.
Arawn had draped a quilt on her shoulders. "You look near dead to
the world," He remarked. "Koshecka's got a spare bed for you,
unless you'd rather sleep here on the rug."
Kael sighed with relief. "Bed please."
Koshecka escorted her to a spare room, practically tucking her
in, before leaving her to her rest. Kael was asleep before she
closed the door.