a short story
T. A. HERNANDEZ
Copyright © 2016 by T. A. Hernandez
All rights reserved. This publication or any portion thereof may not be reproduced, distributed or transmitted in any form or by any means without the express written consent of the copyright holder, except in the case of brief quotations for the purpose of reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are a product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual people, living or dead, or to businesses, companies, events, institutions, or locales is completely coincidental.
Cover design by T. A. Hernandez
On the night the rebels free us, Kito and I emerge into starlight hand in hand. Even though clouds veil parts of the sky, I blink against the light, blinded after all the days we’ve spent in darkness. The new leaves on the tree branches above us tell me it is spring, and my sixteenth birthday has come and gone with the winter snows. The cold air feels thin; the cleanness of it prickles my skin and dries my lungs. I breathe deep and try to smile. The unpracticed gesture splits a new crack in my lips.
I look at Kito. Dirty black hair hangs limp over a gaunt face. His body is pale skin stretched too thin over every sharp angle and deep crevice of the skeleton beneath. His eyes look as dead as I imagine mine do, and yet he is just as handsome to me as he has always been, because he is alive. We are alive. I want to kiss him, but I don’t. My mouth still tastes too much of blood and salt and fear.
I notice that there are only twenty or so other captives wandering out of our prison. My throat knots; there were close to two hundred of us when the rebellion started. I didn’t realize so many had died. Or perhaps I’ve become so accustomed to death that I stopped noticing at some point.
Kito is all that’s left of his family. He’s buried three brothers, two sisters, and both of his parents. How he can deal with the pain of it is beyond my understanding. I catch myself wondering if he only made it this long because of the promise we made to each other—that we’d survive this together, no matter what. Promise or not, I doubt I would have lasted much longer. Until now, this moment of unexpected freedom, I hadn’t wanted to live anymore. Not even for Kito. But I will never tell him that.
Our liberators guide us through the trees to an encampment at the edge of the forest. A banner with the fox insignia of the rebellion flutters in the breeze. They call themselves the Tainted Army, and their soldiers patrol the perimeter or stand guard on the road ahead. We walk under a large canopy, which seems to be the gathering place for any enchanters the rebels have liberated. The people there are dirty and tired, but they sing and dance and laugh as if the war has never touched them.
They smile at us as we take our place among them, some with sympathy, some with reverence, some with pity. I can tell which ones have been out longest; there’s a spark in their eyes that comes from more than just the firelight. I wonder how long it will take for me to find that spark again. Perhaps it is already returning.
Perhaps it never will.
Kito and I follow the others to a table where a man hands out bowls of rice and mutton. We sit on the ground near the fire with some other enchanters. One man notices how my teeth chatter and hands me his jacket. I scoot closer to Kito and throw the garment around both of us. “Thank you,” I say. My voice is dry and unfamiliar.
“You’re welcome.” He sits on the ground beside us. “My name is Taka.”
Kito dips his head in a bow. “I’m Kito.”
I haven’t eaten in three days, and the moment’s pause it takes to give the man my name seems an eternity. “Amaya,” I say, then shovel a bite of rice into my mouth.
While we eat, Kito asks Taka about the war. Most of what he tells us I know or have guessed already. The Tainted Army—made of enchanter rebels and their sympathizers—won the war. They have killed the former emperor to set a ruler of their own choosing on the Imperial Throne and lifted the harsh restrictions formerly placed on all who could use magic. The Pure Ones—non-magical people who make up the majority of the population—have mixed opinions about this outcome. Some are cautiously optimistic. Others are quietly outraged. The more foolish individuals were outspoken in their discontent at first and were dealt with accordingly. No one voices such dissatisfaction anymore.
“You said the emperor was killed, but what of his inner circle?” Kito asks. He glances at me for an instant, and I see where this line of questioning is going. I glare back at him. After everything I’ve suffered because of my father’s actions, how can Kito think I care to know whether he is alive and imprisoned or dead and burned? Still, I can’t stop myself from listening to Taka’s response.
“Most of them were taken into custody. They’re being held hostage in the Imperial City.”
“Why not just kill them and be done with it?” I ask. I don’t even try to hold back the bitterness in my voice; such sentiments must be echoed in every heart under this canopy.
“The Tainted Army won the war, but they’ll have to work to hold their power. They might need the hostages to negotiate with some of the other nobles, or with foreign powers who refuse to recognize their leadership. They say if the hostages cooperate, their punishments will be less severe once this is all over. Lots of people aren’t too happy about that, either.”
I can see the wisdom in keeping hostages, but I don’t know whether to be pleased or disappointed that my father may still be alive. I’ve tried not to think about him at all since my imprisonment.
“Was Magistrate Rokuro taken hostage?” Kito asks.
An inquisitive frown tugs at the edges of Taka’s mouth, and his eyes become suspicious. “I believe so. Why do you ask?”
Kito shrugs. “Curiosity. I was a servant in the Rokuro household.”
Taka seems to accept this explanation “Yes, I believe so. Most of the magistrates survived the initial attack on the city.”
Kito nods, and they both go back to their food. I stare at my bowl. I’ve only finished half of it, but suddenly feel too nauseous to eat another bite. I have eaten more in this single meal than I was ever given in an entire day during my imprisonment.
I stare at the uneaten food and wonder how long it will take before this all stops feeling too good to be true.
Later that night, Kito and I lie clinging to each other under a blanket. The soldiers distributed one to each of the newly released prisoners, but Kito gave his to a young mother and her screaming child. The thin fabric doesn’t completely shelter us from the wind, but it’s been a long time since I’ve felt this warm. The small comfort of it is enough to bring tears to my eyes, but I blink them away.
Kito squeezes my hand. “Amaya.” He says my name with a smile—the way he used to, a lifetime and another world ago. “Tell me what you’re thinking.”
His eyes are still dim and hollow, but his voice sounds brighter. Freedom is already doing him some good. And me as well.
“It feels like a dream,” I say. “I keep thinking I’ll wake up and we’ll be back in that hole, with all those bodies.” A shiver runs down my spine.
He draws my hand towards him and brushes his lips against my ragged knuckles. “This is real. We survived.”
We lie like this for a while, silent and reflective. I’m exhausted, but I don’t dare shut my eyes. The nightmares are still too close. Then Kito says, “Your father might be alive.”
There are a dozen questions carried in that simple statement, and none I can answer with any surety. Is he really alive, or was he one of those killed when the Tainted Army took the Imperial City? Am I glad to hear this? Am I sorry he didn’t meet the cruel death I have so often told myself he deserved? How am I supposed to feel?
Looking at Kito’s face—the scars from countless beatings and the hollow cheeks from malnourishment—the old anger rises to my chest. Memories follow the flood of emotion, and I recall the past spring when all of this began.
Kito was a servant to my father’s household—a household that, due to the recent death of my mother and infant brother in childbirth, now only consisted of my father and myself. Kito was an enchanter, one of those unfortunate individuals born with magic. A Tainted One. Less-than. Subhuman. Perhaps it was because of this that I confided in him. Perhaps it was because my mother’s death left me so shaken that I forgot common sense. Perhaps it was simply because I’d secretly fancied him since the summer I was thirteen. Whatever the reason, one spring day when he was tending to the hunting dogs, I told him my secret.
He didn’t believe me at first. The extreme differences in our social statuses meant he couldn’t laugh at me, though I could tell he wanted to. When I conjured the blue light in my palm to prove what I was, he gaped, then snatched it away from me just by raising his hand. “What are you doing?” he hissed. “Do you have any idea what would happen to you if people found out about this?”
I did know. My parents had never ceased to warn me about the dangers of exposing my secret. My magic could have brought an end to my father’s status as a magistrate and ruined my family. It would have been easier for them, at the first manifestations of my ability, to pass me off to an orphanage and tell some tale about how I’d died of disease. But my parents loved me, so they kept my secret and trained me to hide the magic.
There were moments when I slipped—by accident when I was young, and often deliberately as I grew older. Each time, I caught a glimpse of contempt in their eyes. As fleeting as a snowflake melting on warm skin, but it was there. When I showed Kito what I could do, I waited for the same contempt to cross his features. It didn’t. I loved him instantly for that.
I made an effort to see him more often after that encounter. He was just a confidant at first—a friend, someone I could be myself with. Eventually the feelings developed into something more, though neither of us spoke of it. Not until after we were imprisoned with the other enchanters and we were sure we’d soon be dead.
The rebellion broke out the following summer. Tired of the restrictions and discriminatory policies placed on them by the Pure Ones, the enchanters organized an uprising. They’d been planning in secret for months. The entire country was caught off guard, but leadership in the Imperial City recovered quickly. My father was the one who suggested that all enchanters be imprisoned, whether they were directly connected to the rebellion or not. “It’s just a precaution,” he told me. “This is getting out of hand. We can’t afford for any more enchanters to join in.”
“Putting them in prison is only going to turn them against you,” I said.
“We have to act with speed and force. You have nothing to worry about. No one knows you’re Tainted.”
He had never called me Tainted—not to my face. I’d never believed he thought of me that way, but in that moment, I realized that was how he must have thought of me all along. Tainted, less-than, subhuman. The hurt must have shown on my face because he hurried to apologize for the slip. “Amaya, I didn’t mean it that way—you know I didn’t.”
I had already turned my back. I ran out of our home and made for the servant’s district. I had to warn Kito; he and his entire family were enchanters.
Soldiers dashed through the streets like hundreds of ants on a united mission. They pounded on doors and yanked known enchanters out of their homes—a simple task, since the law required all enchanters to be registered and to live in designated housing. The force and brutality with which they worked convinced me the enchanters would find no kindness in whatever prisons they were to be sent to. I ran harder, hoping it wasn’t too late to save Kito and his family.
Soldiers already had his brothers and one sister restrained by the time I arrived. Their hands were bound together to prevent them from using magic. An older man lay slumped against the side of the house with blood running down one side of his head. Kito’s father, as I’d learn later—the first casualty in his family.
Two more soldiers came out of the house dragging his mother, who clutched her youngest daughter in her arms. The girl shrieked in terror. A mass of soldiers shuffled out after them. There were so many of them that it took me a moment to realize the thing they were all gathered around was Kito, who still fought them ferociously.
I extended a hand. Fire shot from my fingertips and struck the unarmored faces of the three nearest soldiers in the cluster. They screamed and fell as their comrades looked around in confusion to find the source of the attack.
Kito took advantage of the chaos to break free. He sprinted towards me as I hurled more fire. Back to back, we fought as soldiers closed in all around us. We managed to fell a few of them, but we were outnumbered, and neither of us had any real practice in magical combat. They captured us and bound our hands like the other enchanters, then led us all to the center of town to await the march that would take us to our prison.
An officer recognized me during this time and notified my father that I’d been captured with some other Tainted Ones. He came to try and set things right. “There must be some mistake,” he said. “Amaya is as Pure as you or I. She’s never demonstrated any magical ability.”
“Liar!” I screamed. “I’m an enchantress. Untie my hands and I’ll show you! I’ll kill all of you!”
My father’s eyes turned to steel. He raised his chin and glared down at me. “There has definitely been a mistake,” he said to the officer beside him. His voice was as cold as a frozen mountain night. “This girl is not my daughter.”
He walked away. I never saw him again, nor did I wish to. I hated him, actively, and with every piece of my soul. That hatred was fuel to my survival—at least, in the beginning. Somewhere in the midst of all the horrors that followed, hate became too exhausting, so I simply forgot him. I was perfectly content to let him slide out of memory forever.
Now, Kito is bringing all of it to the surface again.
“Amaya?” he says.
I’m not sure what he wants me to say, so I just echo his previous statement. “My father might be alive.”
“If the Tainted Army is holding him hostage, you could be used as leverage to force him to cooperate.”
“Would that really be such a bad thing? If it helps them create a world where enchanters can use magic freely?”
“They might hurt you to get to him. They might even kill you.”
I frown. “But I’m an enchanter, too.”
“That doesn’t matter,” he says. “They’d do anything if they thought it could help their cause. I don’t think you understand how desperate they are. And we’ve both seen what people can do when they’re desperate.”
He’s right. It was desperation that drove the Pure Ones to imprison every enchanter in the country. Desperation made them starve us to the point where we were so weak we could no longer use magic. Desperation told them it was necessary to kill anyone who showed the slightest indication of causing trouble. Yes; I have seen what people are capable of when pushed to desperation and fear.
“There’s nothing to worry about,” I tell him. “I don’t look anything like I used to. No one will recognize me.”
Kito struggles to keep his eyes open, but he nods and kisses my hand one last time before drifting into sleep. I lie awake thinking for a while longer. When exhaustion finally wins out, I sleep long and deep and safe.
For the next several weeks, we march inland with the Tainted Army on their mission to liberate every imprisoned enchanter in the country. We never find more than a few dozen in any one place, but there are always plenty of corpses. There are half-buried corpses and burned corpses and corpses left out in the snow and sun to rot. The Pure Ones have killed so many enchanters that I wonder how many can possibly be left. Are there enough of us to hold power, to ensure that such genocide never happens again?
We encounter pockets of civilization along the way—towns and villages and homesteads where some of the others feel they might start new lives. They leave us in twos and threes, and we all embrace them, wish them the best, and hope they’ll find acceptance and shelter in their new homes. The Tainted Army has made it a crime to force any restrictions on enchanters or treat them unfairly because of what they are. Most people seem willing to comply; magic is useful, after all. Still, there will always be some who fear our power and wish for the days when the Pure Ones controlled and restricted every aspect of an enchanter’s life.
Despite all who have left us on the road, our numbers continue to grow slow and steady. This gives me hope. It is said that one skilled enchanter is worth at least a dozen Imperial Soldiers. Perhaps there are enough of us.
Hope and good food have given me and Kito new strength. We are both still too thin, but not so much as we were before. There is color in Kito’s face that was not there before, and the spark in his eyes grows brighter each day. I can feel it growing brighter in mine, too. Now we are the ones who offer words of comfort to the newly freed prisoners who join our company; “You’re free. You’re safe. No one will hurt you here.”
As we near the Imperial City, we come upon a village where a company of Tainted Army soldiers are stationed. Their captain is a man I recognize—a former armorer who once serviced high-ranking Imperial Soldiers. His name is Tohru, and he was arrested early in the rebellion for supplying the Tainted Army with weapons and armor. He meets my gaze and I shuffle behind Kito. There’s small chance anyone will recognize me in this state, but it can’t hurt to be cautious.
The captain approaches. Kito clutches my hand and steps protectively in front of me. “You there. Girl—let me see your face.”
Tohru pushes Kito aside and takes my chin in a firm hand. His eyes narrow as he studies my face. I glare back, hoping my hardened expression is one he could never imagine on the soft, delicate features of highborn Amaya Rokuro. I am no longer that girl, all silk and flowers and sweet-smelling soaps. I am stone and mud and hard-won survival.
“You’re Magistrate Rokuro’s daughter,” says Tohru.
My insides freeze. “I—no—you’re mistaken.” The stammering is not an act, but I hope it will make me sound more convincing.
“There’s nothing to be afraid of. You can be honest.”
I glance at Kito, who can do nothing but watch to see how this plays out. His posture is rigid, every muscle tensed. His eyes scream, “No.”
“My name is Hana,” I say. “My father was a merchant. That’s the truth.” Kito helped me concoct this lie a few weeks ago. My speech is too formal to pass as a peasant, but it’s conceivable that I could be the daughter of a wealthy merchant.
Some of the other soldiers gather around us, conferring with one another in whispers. One of them approaches Tohru, speaks into his ear. He considers, nods, turns his attention back to me. “We’re taking you to the Imperial City. Rokuro will tell us who you really are.”
The soldiers surround me in the space of a heartbeat. They bind my wrists in front of me before I can even think of a spell that might help me escape. A flame starts to form in Kito’s hand, but soldiers restrain him, too. He thrashes against them to no avail. “You can’t take her!”
“Relax,” says Tohru. “If what she says is true, she has nothing to worry about. We’ll return her to you safe and sound.” The smirk on his face says he knows I’m a liar and looks forward to the moment when he can prove it.
He grabs one of my wrists and leads me to a horse. Seeing no option that won’t make my predicament worse, I cooperate and follow him willingly. I catch snatches of whispers as we pass through the crowd.
“…serves her right.”
“…the one who gave the order…”
I bow my head. My father’s legacy will haunt me until the day I die.
The captain mounts the horse, and some other soldiers help me up behind him. With my hands tied, there is nothing for me to cling to. He kicks the horse into a trot and I struggle to keep my balance. I can still hear Kito shouting as we ride away from the village.
Once again, I am a prisoner.
For a moment, I consider that it might not be such a bad idea to cooperate. Perhaps I can help make up for my father’s crimes in some small way. But I remember what Kito said about desperation, and his fear that the Tainted Army might harm me just to get my father to comply with their demands. No matter how I look at the situation, it’s a cage, and I have had enough of cages for one lifetime. I will not be used and manipulated for anyone’s cause, no matter how noble it seems.
I consider throwing myself from the horse and running back towards the village, but Tohru could easily catch me again. I will wait until nightfall. Perhaps when we make camp and he falls asleep, I can escape somehow.
To my disappointment, we stop for the night at a guard station along the road. I will likely be watched, then, which means there will be no chance to escape. If I could use magic, I might be able to get away. But magic is channeled through movement and expelled through the hands. With mine tied, palms wrapped together tight, I’m powerless.
I see an opportunity when Tohru takes me inside the officer’s tent to eat with him. We are the only ones there, the others having already finished eating. Tohru dishes out leftover food for the two of us. He puts a bowl of rice and fish in front of me but does not unbind my hands. I make a show of trying to hold my chopsticks with my fingertips, letting them fall on the floor every once in a while so that Tohru has to stop eating and retrieve them for me. He is patient at first, responding with kind smiles when I apologize for my clumsiness. After repeating the process a dozen times or so, an exasperated sigh escapes his lips.
I take another bite and drop a chopstick again. Tohru does not immediately bend to pick it up. I wait a few moments before clearing my throat. “Excuse me, captain. Would you be so kind as to pick that up for me?”
He does, slowly and deliberately. The lines around his mouth have deepened as he scowls, and I can tell he is trying not to raise his voice when he speaks. “If you do that again, you won’t get it back.”
I put on my most pathetic pout—the one I used to use on my father when I wanted something from him. “If you’d just untie my hands, I could hold onto them better.”
The anger dissipates from Tohru’s face almost instantly. He laughs. “That’s very clever, Amaya, but I’m not untying your hands.” His smile is one of genuine amusement, neither cruel nor condescending, which somehow only makes it worse.
“My name is Hana,” I mutter.
“Of course it is.”
He waits for me to finish eating, then takes me to another tent, where two female soldiers stand guard. Tohru explains to them that I am a valuable asset to the Tainted Army should be closely monitored. They salute him and he lifts the flap of the tent. Inside, I can see the prone, blanketed figures of some thirty women and young girls. “You can sleep here tonight. I know it’s not much, but by tomorrow, we’ll be in the Imperial City with all the comforts there. Pleasant dreams.”
Tohru leaves and I find an empty space on the ground in one corner of the tent. I have no blanket, but the night is warm. As I lay down to sleep, I consider that Tohru is not the villain I want him to be. He has been kind to me today, but my suspicions remain. Perhaps he’s only pretending, believing that I’ll be more willing to tell him the truth if he gains my trust.
I plan to disappoint him.
We leave the guard station early the next morning and reach the Imperial City that afternoon. Tohru asks me one more time to tell him who I really am. “My name is Hana,” I say. “My father was a merchant.”
He sighs and shakes his head. “I suppose we’ll just have to ask Rokuro.”
We dismount at the palace gate. He hands the horse off to another soldier and we walk up the stairs that lead to the main entrance. Tohru speaks to a series of guards and officers of increasing authority until finally, we’re allowed to enter. Another guard takes us to the area where the Tainted Army houses their hostages. We enter a small room at the end of the hall, and for the first time in almost a year, I see my father.
He looks much older than I remember. His black hair is streaked with gray, and he seems small and bent in his simple brown robes. He sits on the floor with his hands in his lap and looks up only when Tohru says, “We’ve brought your daughter, Rokuro.” The captain’s eyes are narrowed as he watches my father for some sign.
I look back at the man across the room. Our eyes lock, but my father’s face remains dispassionate. His hands lay still on the fabric of his robes. For a moment, I think that maybe he doesn’t recognize me; I have changed too much.
Then something touches his eyes—a flicker of recognition, joy, grief, and guilt all mixed into one. It disappears an instant later. “This is not my daughter,” he says. His voice is as steady and commanding as I remember.
Tohru clenches a fist at his side. “Look closer. The past year has been hard on her, thanks to your barbaric prisons. She may not look the same.”
My father shakes his head. “She’s the right age. I’ll admit she even has some of the same features. I can see how you misidentified her, but she’s not my daughter.”
“She has to be,” Tohru says. “I saw her almost every day for years. I know her face.”
My father straightens and raises his voice. “Do you honestly think I wouldn’t recognize my own flesh and blood? What kind of cruel joke is this? You tell me my daughter is alive, and then you bring this imposter before me. This girl is not Amaya.”
They regard each other like two wolves tensed for a fight. Tohru waits for some indication that Magistrate Rokuro is lying. My father does not even glance at me; his face is as hard and still as marble.
Tohru sighs. “Fine, then.” He takes my hand, and leads me outside. I steal a glance back at my father before the door closes and for a moment, I think I can see the faintest trace of a smile on his lips.
Tohru cuts the rope that binds my hands and walks back the same way we came in. I scurry to keep up with him. We say nothing to each other until we get outside. “You know the way to the gate, I trust,” he says.
I nod. “I’m sorry,” I say, without really knowing why. He’s the one who should be apologizing to me.
He shrugs. “Take care of yourself out there. If I were you, I’d keep the name.”
I nod and we shake hands. “Goodbye,” I say.
He gives me a wry smile. “Goodbye, Hana.”
I make my way to the walls surrounding the palace grounds. There, I hear a familiar voice. Kito argues with some soldiers on the path ahead, demanding to be allowed inside. He stops when he sees me, his eyes wide. I’m not sure how he managed to get here so quickly, but it doesn’t matter; I’m glad he came. I smile and run into his arms, and we leave the soldiers muttering about what a pair of crazy fools we are.
“What happened?” Kito asks, taking my hand. “Did you see your father?”
I nod. “He said he didn’t know me.”
Kito scowls. “After everything that’s happened, he still denies his only child.”
I shake my head. My father wasn’t denying me as his daughter. He was protecting me. I recognized the fleeting look in his eyes. In that moment, he wanted nothing more than to wrap his arms around me and welcome me home. But he hadn’t, because he knew it wasn’t in my best interests to be affiliated with him in any way. Maybe he feared the same things Kito had—that the new authorities would use me to manipulate him. Or perhaps he simply knew I’d been a prisoner for far too long already. Either way, I knew it hadn’t been easy for him. I’m not sure I can forgive him. Not yet. Maybe not ever. But I am grateful to him for that one small gesture of atonement.
“No,” I say to Kito. “He gave me my freedom.”
The idea for “Reparations” started with a single line from a writing prompt I saw somewhere about a year ago, at which point Amaya entered my head with the full force of a Category 5 hurricane. I don’t write first-person stories often; I have a hard time getting the character’s voice just right and tend to dislike sticking in any one character’s head for the duration of an entire story. I didn’t have either of those problems with Amaya. She just wrote herself, and I enjoyed every second of it.
I sent this story to a grand total of five publishers before I decided I didn’t want to go that route after all. Two of them sent back very positive rejection letters, but they both suggested changes that I realized I just wasn’t willing to make. Maybe I would have been better off listening to them. Maybe (probably) the story isn’t as good as it could be. That’s okay. “Reparations” is a deeply personal story for me—more personal than I ever anticipated it being. It’s the story I’d been trying to write for five or six years, though I didn’t realize it until long after it was finished. It was a sort of catharsis, and because of that, I couldn’t bear the thought of making any major structural changes. For all those reasons and more, I decided to publish the story myself and make it available to readers for free. I can only hope that someone will find it and enjoy reading it in spite of its imperfections.
T. A. Hernandez grew up with her nose habitually stuck in a book and her mind constantly wandering to make-believe worlds full of magic and adventure. She began writing stories after reading J. R. R. Tolkien’s [_The Lord of the Rings _]for the first time at age 10. Thankfully, her writing has improved significantly since then, though she will happily admit that she has much more to learn and is looking forward to a long and exciting journey in her Quest to Tell Better Stories.
She is the proud mother of two girls and a college student working towards her degree in social work. She also enjoys drawing, reading, watching movies, riding her motorcycle, and making happy memories with her family and friends.
Her debut novel, Secrets of PEACE, was published in July, 2016. More information can be found on her website listed below.
Contact T. A. Hernandez through any of the following to stay up to date on her stories, view concept art, and more:
Your questions and comments about the story and characters are always welcome and appreciated.