The Valentin Festival
Lily walked through the crowded marketplace, Iris’ hand in hers, taking in the sights. They had two days to kill, so Lily had decided to take a look at whether any new technologies had emerged in the three years she had been away.
The marketplace was as rowdy as it was crowded. Despite the sweltering heat of the noon sun, the square was packed full of people, both merchants and customers, relentless haggling and negotiation the predominant sounds in the air. Lily watched the people around her, observing their expressions of calculated reluctance and carefully cultivated neutrality. She could stand to learn from these women. Housewives were, after all, the greatest negotiators in any city.
As she continued to take in the sights of the numerous stalls, something unusual came to her attention. She spoke to Iris.
“Hey, do you notice? There’s a lot of chocolate being sold.”
“Chocolate? That sweet made from cocoa?”
Curiosity piqued, Iris turned her head every which way, observing the stands. Indeed, many of the stands were selling chocolates, for some reason. While the chocolate being sold was in multiple shapes and sizes, by far the most commonly seen was the heart-shaped chocolate. Almost every store that sold any kind of food product was selling heart-shaped chocolate. In addition to chocolate, a vast majority of the shops were selling some kind of heart-shaped object. There were intricately engraved steel hearts being sold at a retailer for a local smithy, and there were carved wooden hearts being displayed by a stand selling crafts. A jeweller at the side had lined their windows with heart-shaped stones. In fact, now that she started paying attention, Lily noticed that heart motifs were everywhere. On the walls of shops, along the wooden poles of the marketplace stands, on the clothes and bags of the shoppers.
“You know, Lily… I just noticed, but aren’t there a lot of-”
“Hearts. Yes. I realised.”
Iris winced slightly at Lily’s curt reply, at which Lily scratched her head, sheepish.
“Ah… sorry. I’m just a bit confused, and trying to figure out why this shape is everywhere.”
Iris smiled and clamped herself onto Lily’s arm.
“It’s okay. If you’re interested, why not go find out?”
Iris gestured with her head towards the open doors of a tavern, its doorway similarly decorated with the heart motif. She looked up at its name and winced. The Love Nest. What a name. That said, it seemed welcoming enough, with plenty of people passing through its doors. Lily inhaled, shook her head to free herself of hesitation, then walked in.
The first thing she noticed as she passed through the velvet curtains behind the door, was that the interior was at least less gaudy than the name suggested. The walls were a simple light brown, covered in more heart-shaped decorations. The patrons were largely in pairs, seated at tables, chatting with each other, holding hands with each other. Despite the dimly-lit place and the name of the shop, there seemed to be no impropriety of any sort going on. The entire place gave off a welcoming, homely atmosphere. In the corner, a fireplace cackled. The tavern, interestingly, had no windows, with candles on each table casting a gentle glow throughout the tavern. Behind the bar directly across from the entrance was a man and a woman, casually chatting as they washed beer glasses and serving plates. Lily and Iris stepped up to the bar and took a seat on the barstools – causing Iris’ legs to dangle off the ground. They were promptly greeted by the man, a large, muscular human with a bald head and a square jaw, strangely contrasted by soft eyes.
“Welcome to the Love Nest. Never seen you two before.”
He glanced at Iris and frowned.
“Sorry, but I’m afraid we don’t serve minors here… Where are your parents?”
“Oh, she’s an adult. Sixteen this year. See?”
Lily smiled as she smoothly replied, with Iris holding out her ID for inspection. The man scanned over it, then looked at them again with an impressed air, before frowning again.
“Hmm…Well, I suppose… but I won’t serve alcohol. That okay with you?”
Lily smirked. Evidently he didn’t believe Iris could be sixteen.
The man’s frown disappeared, replaced with a genial grin.
“Alright then, what’ll it be? Menu’s right here.”
Lily glanced at the wooden tablet he had set before them, engraved with the menu. As she skimmed over the list of drinks with unfamiliar names, she stopped when she noticed one particular drink that was underlined and circled. Surprisingly, before Lily was able to inquire about it, Iris made her choice.
“I’ll have the Lubricant.”
“Ah, lemon and mint with a hint of honey. Good choice. And you, miss?”
Lily blinked, flabbergasted. What was it with this shop and strange names? She shook her head and asked the barkeep,
“Ah, yes, about this drink, the… Valentin? What is it?”
The barkeep’s eyes twinkled as he fondly ran his finger over that name.
“Ah, the Valentin. Our specialty. Thick chocolate blended with a number of wild berries, spices and milk. Warms the body, tickles the imagination, satisfies the taste buds. And it’s right in season, too, considering the Valentin Festival’s tomorrow. So I’ll take it you’re getting one?”
“Uh, sure… Could you tell me a bit more about this Festival? Is that why there’s chocolate being sold everywhere outside?”
The barkeep did a double take, reeling back with his eyes wide.
“You’ve never heard of Valentin!? Did you grow up in the mountains!?”
Lily giggled at his overreaction.
“No, no. We’re not from this continent. We’re from Ji-…somewhere far away.”
Lily was about to mention her own continent, but she recalled Serena’s face when she mentioned it. Better to keep the conversation jovial. It was always possible this continent was at war with her home continent, after all. Thankfully, the barkeep seemed to miss her slip, preoccupied as he was with her ignorance. He shook his head sadly.
“Wait here. I’ll be right back with your drinks.”
A few moments later, the barkeep returned and placed two mugs on the table. Lily reached for the one in front of her and took a sip, feeling the smooth blend of chocolate flow down her throat. A bit sweet, but otherwise a delightful drink. Iris, meanwhile, was simply staring at her drink, changing angles several times. As Lily was attempting to figure out what confused her, the man started speaking.
“So. Valentin. It’s probably Oparil’s most famous festival. It’s a day for love and romance, for the blossoming of youth. In fact, I met my wife on Valentin, a score of years back.”
He turned to the woman on the other end of the counter and winked, at which she smiled and gestured him to get back to his customer.
“Anyway, so. Every year, on the 14th of the Second Month, the Valentin Festival is held. It’s to celebrate the legend of Valentin, the legendary man who- what are you doing?”
The barkeep cut off his story halfway to glance questioningly at Iris, who was currently holding the mug over her left wrist, preparing it pour its contents over. Iris looked at the barkeep with an equally questioning look.
“…Is this not the Lubricant?”
“…It is, but you’re supposed to drink it.”
A look of understanding dawned on Iris’ face.
“Ah, then, it’s a drink that’s called ‘The Lubricant’, yes?”
Iris calmly set the mug on the table, but her face was beginning to colour a fierce red. Lily clamped her hand tightly over her mouth, fiercely fighting to stop herself from bursting into laughter. She was partially successful. A single giggle escaped, which caused Iris to blush even more. She composed herself, forced herself to stop grinning, then cleared her throat, signalling the barkeep to continue.
“Ah, yes… Where were we… the legend, right. The great Valentin. An ordinary, everyday patissier, striving hard to make ends meet; an honest, hard worker. By all accounts ordinary, by all accounts mundane, except for his brilliant imagination. The things his mind came up with… they were magnificent. The children loved his creations, but his genius went unnoticed by most. He lived a simple life, but a peaceful life.
He had a wife. A pretty young thing, passing her days happily with him. They lived a humble wedded life, and their happiness was the subject of envy for many. Unfortunately, their happy days were not to last forever.
One day, without warning, his wife suddenly collapsed. Her skin turned pallid, her hair changed from its gentle brown to an unforgiving red. When she stood and opened her eyes, it was to reveal black, soulless eyes. When she opened her mouth to speak, her words were laced with venom. She had been possessed by some sort of evil spirit. Where she walked, plants wilted. Where she glanced, people turned to stone. With a wave of a hand, buildings collapsed. With a flick of her wrist, stone structures burst into flames. Numerous adventurers tried to kill her, but each was repelled and killed.
She walked up into the castle and made her demands: Bring her the largest, sweetest heart they could find, or she would destroy the city within a week. Ah, but the heart had to be from an innocent human, for those hearts were sweeter. Far sweeter than the hearts of animals or of criminals. Purity was the greatest spice. Give her a sweet heart, and she would leave the host and the city alone. Give her any other, and she would raze the city to the ground.
Valentin, who had followed behind her, cautiously tracing her path of carnage, felt his heart wring in despair. To have his wife overtaken by an evil spirit, to have her commit atrocity, and to have her now make such a horrific demand… it was enough to sink any man into despair. And sink into despair he did. Even as the leaders of the city scrambled to find a suitable sacrifice, Valentin was preparing to commit his own monstrosity.
He gave a sweet, filled with sleeping potion, to one of the younger girls who frequented his patisserie. When she collapsed on the spot, he tied her to a table, preparing to carve out her heart. Yet, as he moved to plunge down the knife, he found that he could not bring himself to do it. At the last moment, he threw the knife aside and fell to his knees, anguished.
It was a good decision, not to deliver this innocent maiden’s heart. For it was a trick. Any heart would have sufficed; an innocent heart merely quickened the process. Once the spirit’s human host body had eaten the heart, the spirit would be in full control, able to exert its full power. It would then destroy the city and spread its reach over the world.
As Valentin sat there crying, a new idea came to him: If the spirit sought hearts, he would just have to deliver a heart far sweeter than any human’s. He cut the ropes tying down the unconscious girl, taking her and leaving her at the door of her home, ringing her doorbell before quickly returning to his patisserie. Then he started work. For two days and two nights he worked. Finally, he created a heart of chocolate, so sweet as to be cloying, its outside coloured red with dye. Locking it within a box, he dashed to the castle, desperate to deliver the heart to his beloved. At the gates, he was stopped by guards, who let him pass only after the spirit in his wife’s body told the guards to.
She stepped down to him, touching his face with his wife’s slender fingers, a mocking smile on her face. He said nothing, merely opened up the box and presented her with the heart. With a joyful clapping, the spirit took the heart and devoured it in one bite.
And then, the moment the host body bit down, the nostalgic taste of the chocolate her beloved husband made broke through the net within which the spirit had ensnared her, allowing her to seize control away from the spirit. One eye flickered back to its original blue, half her hair turned back to brown. And she spoke to Valentin.
“The spirit will eventually take over again,” is what she said. “’tis imperative to kill me while it’s still under control.”
Valentin could only sob, for he knew his wife would never lie. He knew there was no other way. One of the guards nearby approached with a sword, but Valentin stood between the guard and his wife. He told the guard, ‘hand me the sword. ’tis I who must do this.”
The guard, seeing his anguish, could only comply. And thus, Valentin hugged his wife close to himself, the sword angled at her heart from her back. The two whispered their loves and their goodbyes, then he plunged the sword in. Through his wife, into himself. The two collapsed, and died in each other’s arms. The spirit, bound to his wife’s body, died with her.
And then, as the people around them watched, a light came from the heavens. A bright, shining light. It scooped up their bodies, and carried them into the sky, where they became a pair of stars, twinkling in the night sky, where they stay to this day, next to each other, together, to the end of eternity.”
Lily finished her mug just as the barkeep concluded his story. Well, that was a morbid ending. Yet also slightly hopeful. The barkeep took a deep breath and sipped from the glass of water which he had at some point produced from behind the counter.
“Anyway, the city instituted the Valentin Festival in memory of his contribution, and over the years a number of customs have emerged around it. For instance, giving your lover something heart-shaped on Valentin’s Day is supposed to ensure that you stay together forever. It used to be only objects in the shape of an actual human heart, to mirror the legend, but they eventually replaced it with the stylised, child-friendly heart you see due to some people feeling slightly uneasy seeing the city covered in human hearts. On Valentin you get a lot of interesting events, like chocolate-making competitions, or races, or even duel competitions. In fact, the two of you are Gold-ranked adventurers, aren’t you? Why not try signing up for a duel? There are a couple arenas around the city, and they’re all holding different duels tomorrow.”
“Hmmm… sounds interesting… What do you think, Iris?”
Lily turned and asked Iris for her opinion, but the girl just sat there, staring at her empty mug, evidently deep in thought. When she noticed Lily staring at her, she jumped.
“Oh! Sorry, I was thinking about something. Uhhh…” Iris scrunched her eyes as she accessed her unprocessed auditory records.
“Ah, duels! Uh… Alright, if you want to, I suppose…”
Surprisingly, Iris did not sound particularly enthusiastic. Lily raised an eyebrow, but did not inquire further. Pushing her empty mug toward the barkeep, she asked,
“Ah, that will be 100 Pars.”
100 Pars?! For two drinks?! Had inflation truly gotten so bad? Back before she had been thrown to the other world, two drinks would have cost her at most 40 Pars. Suspicious, she glanced at the menu, but the prices were as listed. And nobody else around her was throwing a fuss, so she accepted that maybe such was the case. Opening the drawstring on her pouch, which now felt much lighter, she placed a gold coin, worth 1000 Pars, on the table, and was returned nine silver coins.
Jumping off the barstool, with Iris following suit, Lily strode out of the tavern and into the street, where it was getting dark. Yet the bustle of activity around the town was unchanged. It was just as busy as in the afternoon. Looking around, she decided to head back to the inn for now. Walking off for a while, she realised that Iris wasn’t beside her. Panicking, she looked around, and saw Iris transfixed by one of the sweet stores. Smiling, she walked over the the smaller girl and took her hand, causing her to jump.
“…No, it’s fine.”
“Yeah, let’s go.”
Iris turned away from the store and began walking off in the direction of the inn, dragging Lily along. Lily, unable to resist the smaller girl’s inhuman strength, could only laugh.
The next day, Lily was standing on the battleground of one of the arenas. Iris was, for once, not with her. The girl had excused herself earlier, saying that there was something she wanted to do alone, and had left the inn ahead of Lily, bringing along three gold coins. Iris’ sudden exclusivity intrigued Lily, but she decided to leave the girl alone. She was entitled to her own life, after all.
Aimless wandering had therefore brought her to this arena, where she was waiting for her opponent. The tournament she had signed up for was a five round, single elimination, tournament with a “mystery gift” as a prize. The whole thing smelled of a scam, but it was crowded, with a low entry fee of 400 Pars, so Lily decided to just go with it. She would have to carefully control her blows so as to not kill her opponents – it was a win so long as they were unable to continue fighting – but considering the tournament accepted “Gold-rank and below”, she doubted she would have much trouble with her opponents.
Her first opponent entered. A burly, muscular man, parading his muscles around by entering topless, holding a spear. He stepped forth, sneering at Lily. The announcer called out the match.
“Cassus Keran, Silver Rank.”
The man struck his fist across his chest multiple times, shouting unintelligibly. He turned to the crowd and opened wide his arms, recieving only lukewarm applause. Angered, he turned back to Lily and took up an offensive stance, spear levelled, right foot in front.
“Versus Lily Voirgaire, Gold Rank. Begin.”
Lily did not move. She did not have to. The moment he heard her rank, her opponent threw his spear to the ground and raised his arms in forfeit, running out of the arena. Lily shook her head in disappointment. The tournament clearly said Gold and under. What an idiot.
Head still shaking, she waited for the announcer to rule it her win, then walked out to wait for her next match.
Her next three matches passed in much the same way, with only the fourth – a fellow Gold rank, actually fighting her. Even then, he was a slow-moving warrior by vocation, and while he was posturing and making intimidating gestures with his huge sword, she had moved in and knocked him out with a knee to the temple.
Now was the final match. Lily stood on the field, visibly bored. She wanted to hurry up and finish this battle so that she could get whatever the prize was and go explore some more. Then, her last opponent walked out.
Like herself, her final opponent was a human woman, with pitch-black hair tied back in a ponytail. She wore lightweight armor, with a cloth mask tied across her mouth. She held a pair of daggers in a downward position, crouching low.
The announcer began.
“Final Round: Lily Voirgaire, Gold Rank.”
Lily stood perfectly still as the crowd cheered for her.
“Versus Vivian Ortaeus, Platinum Rank.”
The crowd erupted into an uproar, with a number of people standing up and clapping at the unexpected turn of events. Lily smiled. No doubt, this was a planted contestant, meant to prevent anyone from getting the prize. By reserving her as a “special challenge” due to her illegal rank, the audience would be placated. It was a good idea. Then her smile turned vicious. Maybe this would actually be worth her time.
The moment the announcer flagged off the match, Lily dashed at her opponent, and Vivian did the same. They collided, Vivian’s dagger against Lily’s metal fist, and broke apart, creating distance. They moved in again, and out again, and in, colliding in a flurry of sparks and dust. As they broke apart once more, Vivian reached a hand to her waist and tossed a white ball to the ground, causing it to erupt in a burst of smoke. Lily smirked. Smoke tactics were very useful. Just not against her. She closed her eyes and focused on her Probe, keeping track of her opponent.
…The presence of magic. She quickly moved to the left, avoiding two fireballs that flew through the space she had been. Immediately, from the left, she felt her opponent closing in. From the vibrations… a slash. She threw herself to the ground, feeling a gush of wind as her opponent’s knife sliced over her head. From her prone position, she attempted a leg sweep, but her opponent jumped away and fired more fireballs, which she moved to deftly avoid. Again, the area she dodged into was directly in the zone of her adversary’s next attack, which she dodged but was unable to return before Vivian ducked away again. It was a highly effective plan of attack, one which left Lily no chance to launch an offensive, yet unable to stay in range long enough to execute a counteroffensive. Lily could not help but be impressed. However, it was predictable. Launch a magic attack, attack into the opponent’s path of evasion, retreat back into the smoke, repeat. It was a pattern which placed consistent pressure on the opponent, but it was still a pattern. Lily, in accordance with the pattern, continued to dodge, waiting for an opening. Again, the two magic attacks. She nimbly dodged the fireballs, bracing herself for the followup attack, but none came. Instead, from behind, she felt the two magic fireballs reverse direction and head for her again. Cursing, she turned and dodged them again, but then felt a strong sense of imminent danger. Unfortunately, taken by surprise, she could not avoid it in time. One of Vivian’s daggers emerged from the smoke, a thin wire trailing behind it. The blade did not strike her torso, but instead went around it, coiling around her arm and body. Vivian pulled the wire taut and launched herself at Lily, going for the killing blow. With the wire immobilising her, it would be much harder for Lily to dodge. Against any normal opponent, this would have decided the match.
Unfortunately, Lily was far from a normal opponent.
Moving quickly, she Extended into the coil around her and loosened the wire, holding a portion of it in her hand, then prepared. The moment Vivian emerged, lunging with her other blade, she sidestepped, sending the wire coiling around its owner’s other hand. Holding the wire taut to immobilise Vivian, she sent the Extended knife to hover in front of Vivian’s neck. She gave Vivian an expectant look, at which the masked girl sighed. Almost instantaneously, the smokescreen dissipated, showing the audience a picture of Lily immobilising Vivian with a wire that originated along Vivian’s sleeve, with the higher ranked girl’s own weapon hovering midair, threatening to take the life of its owner.
For a moment, nothing. Then, thunderous applause, resounding throughout the arena, drowning out the announcer’s declaration of Lily’s victory. Lily relaxed her control of the wire, at which Vivian retracted her dagger, then held out her hand to shake.
“That was a good match. Extension?”
Lily’s mouth turned upwards in a smile. As expected, the opponent managed to guess her trick.
“In Extension? That’s new. Anyway. I’ll introduce myself again. Name’s Vivian. Affinities in Mist, Fire and Eagle Eye. I’m mainly based here in Oparil, so if you ever need another member for a party, give me a shout.”
“Lily. And sure, I’ll keep that in mind.”
Lily shook the proffered hand, then watched as Vivian walked off the field, waving behind her. Platinum, huh… certainly, the girl was on a different level from any other human opponents Lily had thus far faced. It made her wonder how powerful Hero-ranked adventurers were. As she contemplated this, the announcer walked towards her, a small box in hand.
“Congratulations, Miss Voirgaire. You have won the Mystery Prize.”
He presented the box to Lily, who took it and opened it. Within were a pair of golden rings, inlaid with diamonds. Adorning one ring was a clear, brilliant ruby in the shape of half a heart, while its counterpart was decorated with a similarly brilliant emerald, in the shape of the mirroring half. It was definitely expensive, as shown by the strained look on the announcer’s face as he stood by, congratulating her. Smirking, Lily pocketed the rings and left the arena.
She wandered around the marketplace for a while, looking at the stands, but eventually decided to head back to the inn and wait for Iris.
When she arrived in their room, Iris had not yet returned. Collapsing on the bed, she opened up the jewellery box and stared at it. The two hearts, which joined together made a whole. She thought back to the story she had heard the previous day.
“Hmm… Give a heart to your lover, and you’ll stay together for ever, huh…”
A lover… She didn’t have any… Everyone back home probably thought she was dead…A lover…
Iris’ face flashed in her mind.
Iris? She was a friend. A precious, special, important friend. That was what Lily had configured her as, after all… Though right now Lily felt extremely lonely without Iris by her side, felt a gaping steady emptiness in her chest that caused her to curl up on the bed…but that was surely because she was too used to her companion’s presence, right?
Lily sat up and ran her hand through her hair in frustration. She would give one of the rings to Iris. The whole lover thing aside, it was a fact that she desired for the mechanical girl to stay by her side forever. That much she could admit. As she decided this, the door opened, revealing Iris, who was clearly surprised to see Lily back before her.
Iris was holding a paper bag, which she quickly hid behind her. She slowly closed the door and advanced toward the bed.
“Uh… Lily… I’m sorry I left you alone today…”
Lily smiled at her and gestured to the spot on the bed next to her.
“No problem. Sit down, I’ve got something for you.”
Iris nervously stood at the edge of the bed, facing Lily, hands still behind her back.
“Uh… I’ve got something too…”
“You first then.”
While blushing, Iris brought forth the paper bag and from within removed a small, green, palm-sized box, decorated in cute ribbons. Lily opened it, revealing a large chocolate heart, perfectly symmetrical and proportional. Along its surface ran several carved lines not unlike those on Iris’ metal body.
“I went out today to make these. Yesterday on the way back I saw a shop offering lessons, and I’m sorry I didn’t tell you but I wanted it to be a surprise and…”
“It looks beautiful. Can I eat it?”
Lily cut off Iris’ frantic justifications with a simple compliment, then took a bite. It was, to be honest, the most generic-tasting chocolate Lily had ever eaten. The taste was just like the store-bought chocolates she used to eat back in Azoria. It was evident that Iris had followed the recipe to the letter, down to the tiniest measurement. And yet, knowing that Iris had made this for her somehow made the simple chocolate taste like the most delicious thing she had ever eaten.
“…It’s wonderful, Iris.”
Iris blushed deeper.
“I deviated from the recipe when I carved the lines, but I figured it wouldn’t affect the taste.”
Lily patted the bed next to her, and Iris nervously sat down as instructed.
“I won this in the tournament today.”
She opened the jewellery box in front of Iris, and the mechanical girl gasped in admiration.
“The green one’s yours.”
Iris began to wave her hands in front of her frantically, blushing. Lily stopped her by catching one of her hands.
“The green one’s yours. It matches the colour of your eyes.”
Lily removed the emerald ring from the box. Giving in, Iris stretched her hand outward. Lily slid the ring onto her fourth finger. A perfect fit. Iris seemed to be about to tear up in joy, her eyes and mouth quivering. Lily now held her own hand out.
“The red one’s mine. Help me, would you?”
Quietly, meekly, Iris took the ruby ring and slid it onto Lily’s finger. Lily smiled and tossed the box aside, shifting closer to Iris. Iris’ blush visibly deepened. She held her hand out in front of her, and Iris did the same.
“See, these rings, are two halves that make a whole. Iris, you make me whole. And I hope I bear the same significance for you.”
“Of course, Lily, of course! You’re everything to me!”
Lily nodded her head patronisingly, but felt a little sad, knowing that Iris only attached importance to her because of the girl’s programming.
“So, these rings are a promise between us. A promise to always stay together, to the ends of eternity. Will you stay with me, Iris?”
Lily stared right into Iris’ eyes. Fighting back a blush, Iris stared back, with eyes straight and honest.
“Of course I will.”
Lily broke into a wide, warm smile. She brought her arms around her companion’s shoulders and hugged her close, and was hugged in return.
“Thank you, Iris. And thank you for the chocolate.”
Whispering thus into Iris’ ear, Lily planted a quick kiss on Iris’ cheek.
Author’s Note: Welp. Here I’m going to place the first Author’s Note on this site, because I feel like this chapter deserves some explanation on its background.
…Funny thing, this chapter was originally meant to be a sidestory with the designation “Chapter Thirty Omake”. Then I realised I could make the chapter’s events fit nicely into my intended timeline, while developing and exploring the relationship between Lily and Iris.
I initially only wanted to write the legend of Valentin, before ending with them skipping the festival because it was a waste of time. But romance is never a waste of time, is it? I think it’s better this way.
I understand the legend of Valentin might sound a bit contrived; I apologise. I spent hours thinking about the origin of Valentine within this verse, but this tale was the best I could come up with, I’m sorry please forgive uwu
P.S.: Yes, I am aware that this is my longest chapter thus far. Please do not expect my regular chapters to be of an equivalent length; this chapter is only short because it is a self-contained sidestory. My regular chapters, which end wherever I feel are good breaks in the narrative, will likely remain the same, shorter length as always.