Short: Big Skies, Small Wings

~5,500 words

If you enjoyed The March on Heartful, this is the story for you. This is the first short story I ever wrote about the Galactic Covenant. Wherein Hedriar makes some new friends and food is an important community aspect. It's slice-of-life SFF. For those curious, it is also on my list of Things To Maybe Expand Into A Full Novel When My Schedule Allows.

CN: The central theme is cultural exchange, with all that implies.

Big Skies, Small Wings

“Cerulean Main Plaza,” the data shell in her ear announced in unfamiliarly accented Nidar, startling Koi Hedriar iol Maichiskoiyo from her doze. She jumped up and scooped her portmanteau from the luggage rack even before any of the other passengers had gotten up. Suddenly self-conscious, she gripped the handles tightly and stood before the door until the tram came to a graceful halt.

She took a deep breath and stepped into… another world. Whatever Hedriar had expected of Cerulean Space Station, it had not included a plaza where the pathways on the floor shimmered a soft, golden brown. They led from the tram stop into the station’s veritable jungle of fragrant flowers. It was far greener than she’d ever imagined possible, plants rioting from the bottom all the way to, it seemed, the top, making her wings itch with the desire to fly and see just how far up it went. No amount of pictures or stories could have prepared her for the reality of a space station.

And now here she stood, all alone, breathing in the intoxicating scent of foreign flowers and dirt fresh from rain, still with not the first clue how she was going to achieve what she’d applied for. The other passengers flowed around her, grumbling in a disorienting mesh of languages as they disembarked from the tram while she stood there. Their closeness made Hedriar twitch and hunch her shoulders, but she was too overwhelmed to move.

The first time she’d seen an alien - truly seen one, not just a hologram or on a vidscreen - had been when she’d arrived at the shuttle terminal and the thought of living among so many, in a place so much more alive than she’d imagined… Hedriar didn’t know what she was feeling.

Undoubtedly she’d make friends. Bring stories back for her people to share. What was she going to give the Covenant in exchange when all she could think of felt so plain now, so common? Almost, she’d decided to turn around, step back in her nest-father’s shadow, the prospect of leaving all she knew too daunting now she’d arrived. It was safer in the shadows, even knowing people might never see her. She wanted, she thought, to be seen. Did she? She’d told the members of Song who’d interviewed her so, because what better way to be visible than to earn the notorious prestige of someone who’d lived in the strange, foreign Covenant. She’d not told them that last part, had used everything her nest-father had taught her to win them over without considering whether she genuinely believed it. Truthfully, she’d had no plan other than to leave Tribesia, and still had none now.

The data shell chimed at her cheerfully. It took Hedriar a moment to figure out how to activate its map again and get it to show her the way to the residences and the home she’d be inhabiting for the coming five years as one of the unofficial cultural ambassadors of the nidar.

The map and the route seemed to float around the back of her mind, more disorienting than helpful. Perhaps I should’ve tried wearing it more often, Hedriar thought, though it wouldn’t have been useful at all back home, and she hadn’t needed it on the flight to Cerulean. The thing was uncomfortable, and made her feel unbalanced.

Taking a deep breath, Hedriar stepped forward. By now she was the last passenger moving from the stop. People flowed along the paths, certain of where they were going as they disappeared behind raised beds of flowers and trees. Hedriar took only the one step, trying to find a way to orient herself on the ground, with the map chiming in some undefined space behind her mind.

Hedriar set out, hopeful she’d finally got the hang of it. Walking with the map shifting and changing in the back of her mind was tricky, even on the long, straight route she was taking. It saw her pass underneath a solitary tree and even the two distant, colourful prugai she’d spotted couldn’t fully blot the annoying virtual map out. With luck, the path she was on was the fastest. She would’ve flown, but it was against station regulations. At least the people walking past her didn’t stare or try to be social. As much as Hedriar wanted to make new friends, she had no desire to start right after the long trip to the station. She wanted to steady herself a little first.

Worse, the scents around her were making her giddy and the sheer number of people on the path was far greater than she’d expected. She hastened her pace as much as she dared, resisting the desire to wrap her wings around her as tightly as she could. Between that, the verdure, colours and movement everywhere and trying to watch the map and gauge how it related to the path she was on, she lost her bearings repeatedly.

Then she bumped into something. The map shut itself off abruptly with a chime.

“Hey, watch it,” a voice said in standard Siehti. Hedriar looked up from the holographic pebbles she’d been staring at and found herself opposite an alien face paler than hers, without the feathering to the sides and with a triangular protruding nose. Same height as hers, though, so she could look straight into the large, round, brown eyes that looked so similar to hers and yet were nothing like them.

“S-sorry,” she stammered, all her poise forgotten as she tried to turn the shell’s map back on, stay focused on the person in front of her and work through the foreign language enough to at least seem fluent.

“You’re looking a little lost there,” the stranger said, scanning her up and down. Hedriar tightened her wings a little more. Their nose and whiskers twitched which was… She  tried to recall the database on siehti body language, but though she’d passed the exam all her knowledge had deserted her now.

“You all right, dear?”

“I… I… I think I’m lost?” She lilted the whole sentence up far too high for a proper question because what was she going to do if she had got lost?

“Yes, we don’t see many of your kind around,” the siehti said. “Come on then. Let’s sit and talk.” They had no compunction about hopping onto the elevated ground ribboning the path, so after a moment’s hesitation Hedriar did the same. The siehti proved comfortable to talk to. Mostly they discussed how Hedriar could reach her new home, but the siehti also explained how to turn the shell’s map on and off. They reassured her that one got used to the background presence in time. Hedriar’s disbelief was so great, she lost her near-sight for a while, earning a chuckle from the siehti.

“I… Thank you for your help,” she said once she thought she understood their directions. She made a proper wingswept bow. “I shouldn’t take up more of your time.”

“Ach, it’s a slow day.” The siehti waved off her concerns. “Go home. Have a bath. Relax.”

“I will, thank you.” Hedriar thought longingly of familial preening.

“And if you’re really lost,” the siehti continued, “just ask for a guide. The shell’ll provide.”

Hedriar bowed again and hurried. The directions proved far more useful than the shell’s map.

*

Two weeks later, Hedriar thought she was finally starting to grasp how to navigate flat ground and had a much better understanding of why her people eschewed Covenant technology in favour of their own as much as they did. She’d spent a week and a half trying to get used to the way the data shell kept throwing off her sense of direction and ability to focus, then several more days getting used to a data tablet. It was more cumbersome, but it was less disconcerting and, in her opinion, far more user-friendly than the ear shells.

When she wasn’t struggling to handle Covenant technology, she’d taken to exploring parts of Cerulean Station that were noted for their beauty in the hope that one of them would inspire her. She really should not have left Tribesia without a plan, but until she had one she could explore and find her bearings. Probably.

Hedriar was exploring a ground-level farmer’s market not too far from her residence today. It promised delights from all across the Covenant and she was hopeful she’d find some ỳiba taimekakel, but so far she’d had no luck. She had found half a dozen different fruits she wanted to try, however, so her shoulders were aching. Like everywhere she’d been on the station, the market was a delight of different beings: from the velvety siehti to the scaly ssossiss to the humans that looked almost like wingless nidari and multilingual chatter filled the air. Siehti, she’d learned early on, was not spoken as universally as she’d been taught.

She trudged along, adjusting the straps on her frontpack, wings uncomfortably tight with the busy-ness of the market, until the crowds slowed and thinned near the edge of the market grounds. Opposite the boulevard, right at the edge where it met another pathway, she spotted a small café. It looked less pristine than most of the well-kept lushness of the Galactic Covenant, with paint that was chipped and only a handful of chairs under the parasols outside. The sign above it may have been a little crooked, but it was clear and crisp: The Hop and Skip.

The café’s main appeal to Hedriar right then was that no one was using the terrace, despite the warm artificial summer’s day. Hedriar was dressed in as little as Cerulean’s modesty guidelines allowed because she wasn’t used to the warm temperature and humidity at all. Any kind of coolth was immensely welcome. The café’s interior proved comfortable, more spacious than the terrace suggested and brighter with cheerful yellows and pastel blue accents. A handful of people were seated at the tables and a siehti stood behind the bar. Hedriar frowned a bit before moving closer, but neither near nor far-sight could explain why the person looked familiar. 

“Are you lost again?” the barperson asked, their nose and whiskers twitching. That meant amusement, and now Hedriar remembered why they’d seemed familiar. It was the siehti who’d helped her the day she’d arrived. She smiled back.

“Not this time,” she said, settling herself on one of the stools, grateful for the space to stretch her wings a little and put her pack down. “More adventurous, though. What’s the best drink on offer?”

The siehti’s face lit up. They rattled off a list so fast it made Hedriar’s head spin. Taking pity on her, they narrowed it down with questions. This felt good. Familiar, like a game of echo. Questions that begat questions, though Hedriar doubted they picked up on the game. It amused her all the same, to find such a small way to bring home with her wherever she went.

“What’s your name?” they asked as they put down a ridiculously bright pink drink in front of her. She told them. They didn’t quite manage the pronunciation, but she hadn’t expected it and there was a certain charm to the siehti pronunciation. “I’m Seilsūdo,” they continued. “Though most call me Seili. It’s a bit late, but welcome to Cerulean!”

Hedriar smiled and tried the pink drink. It tasted of lemon and she made a face. Seili whisked the drink away, happy to carry the bulk of the conversation, weaving expertly between Hedriar and their other customers without ever making her feel overcrowded or unwelcome. A human at one of the tables winked at her which confused her mightily, but they didn’t seem to be offended.

An hour and about five sample drinks later, when there were only two other patrons left, Hedriar showed Seili one of the fruits she’d picked up. The round, lilac thing fit snugly in her hand and felt fragile without the wrapping it’d been in. One side already looked like it might’ve been bruised.

“Oh, you want to eat that,” Seili said, taking the fruit carefully from Hedriar and studying it. “It won’t keep more than a day with a bruise like that.”

“I thought I could take it home and look up some recipes.”

Seili’s whiskers pricked forward and their ears perked up. The human chuckled and said, “Now you’ve done it,” at the same time that Seili asked her something about recipes.

Seili continued. “You should come into the kitchen with me and we’ll whip up something special.”

“Oh, no. I couldn’t –”

“I insist. I haven’t worked with leilosus in ages and it’s far more fun working together.”

Before Hedriar even knew what was happening, Seili’d swept the fruits she’d left on the bar into a basket, called out something to the remaining two patrons, and beckoned Hedriar into the kitchen. “But what about the customers?” she tried, bewildered by the siehti’s energy and enthusiasm.

“Ah, Szaaz and Jonni are regulars. They’ll tell me if someone needs me.”

Hedriar considered a moment, hesitant to be swept up in the exuberance, but Seili was right. Cooking was more fun with other people, and Hedriar was curious what they’d make. She gathered up her frontpack and followed.

“Right!” Seili clapped their hands and twitched their nose in delight. “Let’s get to it!”

After a bit of fussing to get Hedriar into an apron that was in no way big enough for her and questioning whether the fine down along her wrists required gloves or only made protection desirable, she and Seili got down to the art of making leilos cake with orange frosting and colourful, flavoured marzipan flowers that Seili just… magicked up from nothing. Somehow. While chatting with Hedriar about Cerulean and Tribesia.

By the end of the afternoon, Hedriar’s head was spinning, her belly was full of delicious food, her bags filled with leftovers, and her heart overflowing with good conversation and the promise of friendships.

She’d only seen half the things she’d planned that day, but it was everything she’d hoped for.

*

It didn’t take long before visiting the small café became a weekly event and Hedriar spent time with the other regulars outside her visits as well. They were happy to share their favourite spots and show her the beauty of the station through their eyes. Hedriar still had no idea what to gift the Covenant in exchange for her experiences, but none of her friends seemed to mind, or understand. Jonni’d even told her that her delight at things they took for granted was enough, but she found she vehemently disagreed. She wanted to share something that was hers alone. She wasn’t an artist, or a dancer, or musician. No great cook, no sculptor or weaver.

She often found herself sipping drinks at the Hop and Skip, as she pondered the question of what only she, Hedriar, could share. The café was quiet in a way much of the station wasn’t. Hedriar was seated at her favourite corner table with one of her favourite books. Now that she’d settled onto the station, her family had taken to sending over more of her belongings, though her siblings’d ruffled her for requesting her copy of nesting stories and children’s songs. Hedriar found them soothing, reminding her of the days with her nest-parents, safe and warm. She’d wanted the symbol of those memories to meld them with the café because, in a way, Seili and her other friends had become a part of hers.

“What’re you reading?” old Szaaz asked as he placed a cup delicately beside her book. She’d forgotten all about her order and the ssossiss slissed in amusement.

“Thank you. They’re nidari nesting stories.” Feeling at home and bold, she added, “Would you like to hear one?”

“Oh, certainly,” he said and sat down when she gestured to the chair opposite her. She turned the book around and slid it over. She didn’t need the colourful pages to recite Big Skies, Small Wings, and it wasn’t long in any case, but Szaaz looked rapt, forked tongue poking out to take in the scents in a way she’d come to recognise as attentive. He hadn’t even glanced at the book since the second line.

“Do another,” he begged as the bell chimed to announce a new customer. Hedriar looked down at the pages, the bright smile of the nidari child who’d thought to fly across the world beaming at her upside down. She’d done the same. She’d flown all the way into the heart of the Covenant on her own, but she still had her family and, now, friends. Somewhere behind her, the customer placed their order with Seili. They were a stranger to her. Carefully, she closed the book and stuffed it in her new carrier bag.

She cut off the disappointed droop of Szaaz’s frill. “If you want me to do another, I’ll do it right. These are just children’s stories.” Dear to her, yes, and ones she longed to share, but. They were private stories, unsuited for a place as public as a café. These she’d save for an evening when her friends were visiting. Besides, recitals were gifts of the winds. They deserved to be done right. “I’ll need some space,” she said, trying to decide what would be a good location.

“We’ll make it. Do you need a stage?”

“That’d be welcome,” she said still looking about. “There would be perfect.” It was the corner closest to the doors. As they stood wide open, her voice would drift out on the mild breeze, carrying her tales back to the House of Winds. Probably. The House didn’t cease to exist just because she was on a space station, after all. She paused. “Won’t Seili mind?”

“Doubt it. You know they love stories. No, you sit. We’ll sort this.”

Finding herself blocked from moving furniture for no reason she could comprehend, she took her cocoa and went to explain what they were doing to Seili. They practically bounced on their feet and soon Seili got Szaaz and Jonni to let the both of them help reorder the tables and chairs.

I’d never do this at home, Hedriar thought when everyone was happy about the rearrangements. She’d be too conscious of her nest-father’s shadow. But she was going to recite something here. She’d recite the start of one of the grand tales of how the nidari discovered space. It had a good cadence, and no one would notice if the story wasn’t finished. It felt strange, running the Nidari sentences through her head after so many days of largely Siehti and whatever snippets of other languages she’d managed to pick up from Szaaz, Jonni or the merchants she bought food from.

It felt strange, spreading her wings in a roofed space that was home-yet-not, feeling the breeze only touch part of her, and invoking the South Wind to deliver her words to the lost and the living alike. It felt strange, telling a story she knew only she would understand, giving them nothing but her voice to hold on to.

And yet.

And yet they came, drifting to the tables. Hedriar didn’t notice until the first stanza came to an end that the café had more people in it than she’d ever seen there. It stunned her. When those seated realised she hadn’t paused for effect and the applause started, Hedriar ducked her head and fled into Seili’s kitchen. I shouldn’t have done that. I shouldn’t have. She was not her nest-father, to draw people like the moons drew the tides. She hid, trembling and crouching behind a counter-top, until a soft voice coaxed her into making shortbread and she felt the sheer terror of her daring slough off.

“Better?” Seili asked, blessedly not asking Hedriar what’d upset her so. At Hedriar’s nod, the siehti twitched their nose and whiskers in a smile. “Good. That was… a powerful experience.” They pressed shapes out of the dough. Birds. Hedriar laughed.

“It’s not done,” she said. “I shouldn’t have fled. The lost will be offended.”

Seili didn’t ask, so in the silence of four hands pounding shortbread dough, Hedriar continued. “That’s just the first stanza. I didn’t think so many would stop and find their way here.”

“My till certainly thanks you,” Seili said, laughing gently. “You’re doing more?” That tone was quieter, surprising Hedriar with the concern in it. “If you’re doing more, we’ll need to think of a way to stop you from spooking and fair payment. You don’t have to, you know.”

“I want to.” And Hedriar realised she did, and that she’d found what she could gift the Covenant. Sharing the stories of her people, telling them her way, felt good, even if there had been, at best, a handful of people who’d understood it. It was something only she could do. Perhaps she could weave together her own, with permissions, to share the Covenant as she saw it and tell something entirely new. What better gift was there than affirming their ties through tales?

“But not today.” It took Hedriar a moment to recall that Seili was talking about her recitals.

“No,” she agreed. She had questions that needed answers first. “But next week. When the day is ending.”

*

Hedriar fretted about her decision all the way home and decided to put in a call request to Betri before dinner, knowing her younger sibling had decided to study at the Breath of the World and hoping for guidance. It took a while to get through and it felt like an eternity and no time at all spun together when Betri’s face finally popped up on the apartment’s vidscreen, all bright colours and speckled down.

“Hedriar!” she said with her soft burr of a voice. It already felt strange to see another nidari face and Hedriar reached out to touch the screen as she greeted her sibling. It felt flat and smooth. Betri laughed and, for a while, all they discussed was home and family.

“Dranar misses you,” Betri said at last. Hedriar tensed, pressing her wings close to her back, recalled how difficult it had been to leave her youngest sibling behind. Dranar had been her shadow from the moment she’d declared her gender.

“I miss her too.” One day she’d have children of her own. Find someone who also didn’t care about courtship to get them. Or simply adopt, alone if she found no one. “Give her my regards when you see her.”

“Give them yourself. She’s dying for word from you.”

Hedriar inclined her head. “But not now. I know it’s late.”

“You did interrupt a most prosperous song, yes,” Betri said, but she was smiling and Hedriar knew she didn’t truly mind being called from her work. “I know this isn’t a social call, so… spill. I’ve humoured your homesickness long enough.”

“I was… I read some nesting stories today.” Hedriar ignored Betri’s theatrical eye-roll. “People liked them, so I was thinking… Maybe that’s what I could do. Share our stories. But I don’t know which ones.”

Betri tapped a finger against her cheek. “I can see why you called.” Hedriar flushed and hid herself behind her wings. “Luckily,” her sibling continued as if nothing had happened, “they covered this in orientation and luckily some of us pay attention to important information.”

Hedriar laughed. Betri had always been the dreamer among them. It was why she’d chosen to study at the Breath, after all. Betri sighed longingly. “If I could ruffle your feathers right now… Anyway, anything involving the Covenant is fine. Collected children’s stories are also fine. Anything else…”

“…best avoided?”

“Pretty much. Does that help?”

“Yes!” Hedriar laughed and spread her wings before remembering she was in a relatively small space and snapped them shut behind her. “I’ve yet to find a place we’re allowed to fly here.”

Betri gasped. “Tell me about it.”

It was at least another hour before Hedriar could even think about dinner, but she felt happier and lighter.

*

Hedriar’s happiness only grew as she practised reciting. She’d always been all right at it, had almost decided to join Betri at the Breath because of it. But she’d never have dared recite anything for a crowd at home where her every breath would’ve been compared to her nest-father’s. Here in the Covenant, where oral recitations had faded from daily life, she found a ready audience who didn’t care if she couldn’t live up to her nest-father’s skill.

She discussed how to talk about her experiences on the station with her friends and created a compromise with Jonni, who disliked even the thought that he might become the centre of attention, that let her tell people about her experiences. She and Seili worked out a schedule and a way to manage the crowds. Within a month, Seili had had to hire additional staff to ensure everything went smoothly. Half a year later, the newness of a nidari telling tales - sometimes Covenant ones on request, most often as the winds took her - still showed no signs of fading.

It was bliss until the day Seili wasn’t at the café when they were supposed to be. After waiting what she felt was an appropriate time, Hedriar called her friend. Seili was never late and it took altogether too long for her friend to pick up the call.

There was no video and when Seili told her they were ill, the muffled ‘hello’ suddenly made sense. “I’ll bring you some soup,” Hedriar said, waving away Seili’s protests that this wasn’t at all necessary and they didn’t want their friend to go through the trouble. “Nonsense. You pulled me into a kitchen to bake,” Hedriar tutted. “This is just like that.”

“Hah,” Seili said, the laugh morphing into a cough. “I’d like to see that.”

“Oh, you will,” she replied, mock-ominously. It set off another laughing cough and they said their goodbyes. Hedriar wandered onto the markets, greeting vendors she knew and looking for ingredients. She could have ordered them from the tablet, but it wasn’t the same. She found she liked the bustle of the markets, in small doses, and the soup would be less potent without her best effort to gather what she needed.

It took surprisingly little time to gather all the ingredients, even with vendors now happily chatting with her and helping her find good substitutes for nidari ingredients no one sold. All but one, that was. The last ingredient, a particularly rare root even on Tribesia, was only available at the other side of the station. That was a miracle in itself, but it took Hedriar a while to work out the best way to get there. She’d mastered going places on foot, but using the trams and shuttles still baffled her. The tiny market at the far end of the station was the furthest she’d been from home since she’d arrived. How strange to think of Cerulean as ‘home’ already. It took a little longer than she’d anticipated, but she got to the market before it closed. Satisfied with her purchases, she returned home.

*

Though she enjoyed cooking, she never felt quite at ease in a kitchen - on her own she had a tendency to burn everything - and this soup mattered. She found herself calling her foster parents to talk her through the recipe.

“Isn’t this expensive, treasure?” her foster mother asked, wings shifting behind her in agitation.

“I can afford it, iame” Hedriar said with a shrug. “Besides, Seili’s worth it. They spent a fortune teaching me to bake and cook Covenant food. I can afford a single phone call to make them soup.”

“Ah, you’ve found a close-friend?” one of her other foster parents chipped in unexpectedly, briefly visible as they misjudged their duck underneath the camera. “That’s good. You’re so far from home.”

Hedriar was about to respond, unsure what she might say, when her foster mother interrupted her. “Don’t add the berries before the spices!”

“Sorry.”

“You’re not paying attention, treasure. You know the soup won’t be as good if you’re distracted.”

“I am and I know, I promise, iame.” Hedriar ducked her head. “I was just thinking about Seili and my friendships here. It won’t affect the soup.”

Her foster mother narrowed her eyes at Hedriar and made a noise in the back of her throat. “Good, then. Make sure the turoir is cut in half-moons before you add it, treasure.”

“Yes, iame,” Hedriar said with a laugh and kept chatting with her foster parents about her life on Cerulean. Then, when she’d done all she could for the soup, she said goodbye and called her nest-parents. 

Thankfully, she didn’t have to wait long for them to answer, although all three of them looked like she’d woken them in the middle of the night. They greeted her warmly, though, the first of their nest to venture off-world.

“Did I wake you?” she asked.

“No, no, treasure,” her nest-parents reassured her, but she could see the way two of them stifled yawns and the mess that was their feathers before preening. “We’d only just turned in,” her brood-parent said. That was even worse than waking them and she was certain her face said as much. Her parents chuckled and snuggled together. “Tell us about the station.”

And Hedriar did. It was… nice to talk to her nest-parents like this while the soup bubbled behind her and the data tablet tracked when it would be done. It was nice to feel less alone in the apartment. Unexpectedly, her nest-father clapped his hands. “Look at my little girl,” he mock-whispered to his spouses and they both preened the down around his face affectionately. “So adventurous. So bold.”

Hedriar fluffed with pride. No one had ever called her bold before, not even when she’d applied for the position at Cerulean Station. It felt good. She told her nest-parents about the friends she’d made. Predictably, her nest-father pretended to be hurt that she’d called Betri for advice on recitals instead of him, but he promised to send over some books she’d find useful. Before she’d even had a chance to thank him, the tablet chimed to inform her the soup was done and then she had to explain to her parents what she was doing and why, and then they made her hang up with a promise to call again soon.

She had soup to deliver now, after all, and with that another idea about what would made a great exchange gift. She’d just need a little help realising it.

*

“I told you the soup helped,” Hedriar announced six days later, as she sat at the café bar needlessly preening a wing. “It’s magic.”

“Tasty, at any rate. You’ve got to give me the recipe.”

“I can’t,” Hedriar said, reluctantly. It would have made a grand gift to her friend. “It’s…” Her Siehti failed her. After checking the data tablet, she read out its offered translations. “Secret? Precious? Sacred?” Hedriar shook her head. None of them quite worked the way she’d intended them. None of them captured that elusive feeling of maigi, that sense of divinity and home.

“I’m surprised you found all the ingredients,” Jonni murmured from beside her. “I’d have thought they didn’t sell many products from your world.”

Szaaz added, “And you hate cooking.”

“I don’t hate cooking,” Hedriar said. “I’m just not good at it.”

Jonni snorted, but thankfully, Seili spoke before he could say anything. “Are there any dishes you can share?” 

It was the question she’d been hoping for. Hedriar beamed at them and dug a slim volume out of her bag and held it out.

Seili stared. “That’s… handmade.”

“Open it,” Jonni urged.

It still took Seili a few minutes to leaf through the first few pages. “It’s…” Then their whiskers and ears drooped. “I can’t read this.”

“Keep going,” Hedriar said, hiding a grin. Nidari recipes were almost impossible to find in Covenant databases, but that hardly mattered when she could write her own book of group recipes in both Nidari and Siehti. Just as Hedriar feared she’d put them the wrong way around after all, Seili found Siehti translations. Their whiskers twitched forward as they read, eyes shining with tears and mischief. “I’m adding these to the weekend menu. It’ll be a themed nidari night. Oh, I can do a themed siehti night too.” Seili’s reaction was everything Hedriar had hoped for. A personal gift, friend-to-friend, that ultimately benefited all. Seili stared at the book in their hands. “No, we should see if more people want to share bits of their home cultures.”

Hedriar revised her opinion. Seili’s reaction was more than she’d hoped for. Still muttering to themself, Seili dove into the kitchen, book in hand. Half a minute later, they ducked out again.“Don’t just sit there! I need help!”

Hedriar laughed and used her wings to usher both Szaaz and Jonni into the kitchen before her. “These recipes,” she announced, “you make as a family.” It wasn’t quite the right translation, but it was close enough.

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