The first thing I noticed is that there were no ex-girlfriends in the crowd. I mean, there were people I was attracted to (the Seven King often caught my eye, and then I shivered and it was weird) but no one I had actually dated.  There were some people who flit in that I didn’t know, or at least I didn’t know in that form.  You kind of have to make that caveat because the circles I’ve been running in have been a bit unusual.  No Shadow King. No -Cubi Queen. My improvisational cease-fire seemed to either be proper or unnecessary (an, “oft-coupled combination,” I proclaimed in a moment of wit.) The food was good, and we had some interesting bottles of things I didn’t recognize.

Word of caution, “interesting bottles of things I didn’t recognize,” is a world of hurt if you can’t trust the people around you.  I wanted to say that everyone there was trustworthy, but there were strangers, and while there were people I would trust with simple things like my life, if you started putting words in there like, “soul,” or “virtue,” I was maybe a bit less sanguine.  There’s a particular feel to strangers in your house for a celebration, but I also knew I didn’t have any silver to watch, and only true friends steal your books.

Besides, we were all cordial, which was pointed out by sharing some of the unusual wines. When you pop a cork out and what starts to be poured out that you’re expected to drink is more gaseous, blue, and somewhat below freezing, you’re getting either into mad scientist territory, or friends that very much have exotic tastes.

I have friends with exotic tastes, and I don’t think they ever took any of that stuff to be tested for alcohol content. I don’t think there was any, but it doesn’t take fermentation to intoxicate. Not that I was, exactly, but I might have found my tongue a little looser with my thoughts than normally.  I don’t feel that I made a fool of myself, but then again, there was still plenty of opportunities.

Some of the guests took out instruments and began a gentle sort of jam in the corner near where my computer was neatly made part of the art. I don’t know a lot about music, but it was good ambient with just enough variation to not be annoying, and not enough of a beat to demand your attention, nor was it very much the kind to which you would dance. It was its own kind of art, and I couldn’t really describe it except that it was a lot like the wines; unique to this combination.  I even saw Andrei join in with a tambourine for a bit, chortling and flirting a bit with the Seven King.

The lifecycle of a party is a curious thing, but it was nearing its maturity when Rayya and Nen found themselves the center of attention.  Apparently this was the time someone would call for a speech, and I very much had an “eleventy-first birthday” kind of feel for a moment.

“Thank you for accepting our invitation,” Nen said, solemnly.  He was silently toasted by a few, and some merely nodded.  Rayya made an almost curtsey-like movement, and continued the thread.

“This kind of gathering is traditional when coupled with the news we wish to impart. It is both a celebration for beginnings and endings.”  She paused and glanced at me for a moment.  I didn’t know what to say, so I just kind of smiled.

She nodded once, and Nen picked it up. “We have been engaged in services for our patron for the year and a day of ceremony.  We wish to continue in this service, but as free champions, and creators of our own realm.”

While I had sudden flashbacks to “Dobby is a free elf!” they really didn’t seem appropriate.  There was some kind of hush on the crowd, as if this was not expected. I re-read the sentence in my head, and frowned.  Their own realm? I sure hoped they hadn’t put it somewhere here in the apartment. That would be awkward to stumble over in the morning.  Or worse, that I’d been sucked into some alternate pocket dimension; I didn’t know how to pay that kind of rent.

Sometimes drink makes me facetious.  That’s my story and I’m sticking to it like superglue on flesh.  I reserved the right to make a better metaphor when less inebriated.

“How now, our subjects?” the Seven King spoke up.  “We recognize the righteousness of your debate, but we must need have you prove your claim before we can release you from your vows.”

“I come from under the hill, and over the freezing waters,” Rayya said. “He crashes against the rocks. We are not the children of the Small Things, though the Seven King has been wise in adopting us.  We offer no demonstration. We have been strengthened by the whimsy and mystery of the ages, as taken from the words of story.”  She referred all around us, and I took a look again at my apartment.

My books.

My books, the ones we shared, and they were respectful of the spines and rarely creased any pages.  My library was a realm they had started to weave from our first mutual trip to the bookstore.  They had not only enjoyed them, but they had built their own place in our word games, our puns and rhymes and wicked abuse of English.  There were hints here of series I’d read, and barriers against enemies of series I had disliked (but had found interesting discomfort.)  I could see hints of Oz, though none of Narnia, dark corners of Ravenloft, of the strange beings that pace the cages of fire, a hint here or two of fey described in other stories.  We were surrounded by possibility and potential. Books were portals, after all, a part of my brain reminded me.  They had just taken it a bit more literally.