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The Snowdrops. Chapter 1

Chapter 1

A Friend in Need Is a Friend Indeed

Dina was standing on the road, in the light of the streetlight, squeezing a watch and a rumpled envelope in her hands. She was gazing with anxiety and thoughtfulness in her eyes at the stars, paled by the glare of yellow streetlights. It was a cool evening in May, and the nightingales soundly trilled in the bushes of lilac. Dina’s heart was filled with impatience and joy. Today! Today it will happen! Today she will meet her friend once again! She had not seen Nicklis in four years. Dina glanced at the letter in her hands.

A few days ago, while checking the mail she found this envelope in the mailbox. Nicklis always sent all his letters with birds, which could fly over the barrier between the worlds. Surprised by this new way of delivering the mail from Elvia, Dina hurried to open the envelope. Nicklis wrote that he had come to her world to do something and can meet her, if, of course, she would like to do that. Dina, who got crazily excited about such news, immediately wrote a reply, suggesting going to her sport sword-fighting training together. It was on Wednesday, so today in the evening. Nicklis agreed, and they decided to meet on the road not far away from Dina’s house, under a small birch tree that grew on the side of the road.

Dina was there twenty minutes before the time, that strong was her impatience. The time passed slowly and with it the moment of their meeting came closer, immitigable and inevitably. At some point Dina felt as if she did not even want to get together again, that she does not want to reborn this friendly affection in herself, that she does not want to talk… And at the same time, she wanted to feel that she truly has a real friend again. During all these years Dina had not found a person, who could have become a good friend to her. She had a few people from school, whom she knew in person, but they did not know how to understand her well enough, so she never called them friends.

Dina’s gaze was tracing down the street. Her inquisitive eyes examined every shadow and every bush, shaking from an indescribable unrest and impatience. Suddenly one of the shadows moved, Dina flinched stronger and froze. From the darkness behind the fence of the old garden, across the street from her own house, appeared a slender shadow. Walking up to the road, the person stopped and looked around, and in the light of the streetlight Dina recognized the bright orange hair. Nicklis turned around, saw the birch tree and his friend under it and walked to her in a silent manner. Dina saw something familiar in his springily gait, but also something new, some other movements, that came to him with age.

He smiled, squinting his glistening eyes and showing a row of his even lower teeth, which funnily stood out a little, compare to the upper ones. The same oddly flattened nose and the scattering of red freckles, the same triangular eyebrows, which gathered cute wrinkles on his forehead, the same long pointy ears, and the same lower jaw. One was different: his face became longer and more angular, the high cheekbones were now softly outlined, and the gaze of his light green eyes became more serious and deeper, than it was before. Dina smiled back unwittingly. Her eyes did not miss any details. Nicklis was dressed in human clothing, into a green sweatshirt without a hood, skinny jeans, and new moss-green sneakers. His hair, as usual, was combed to the back on the top and collected into a disheveled bun, and rest of it, let loose, covered his ears. However, all the humanness of his clothing could not hide his very well-shaped elvish body.

 “Early stars shine upon the day of our meeting!” exclaimed Nicklis, walking closer and laughing in a sincere happy way. “Greetings!”

“Welcome to our world… again,” said Dina, smiling too.

“Have you been waiting long?”

“No, not too long,” lied Dina. “Are you dressed well enough for running? It’s our last training, we will not be pitied.”

“I would not say that I like your world’s cloths, but I think it will be fine for the training,” replied Nicklis.

“Just so you know, jeans are not stretchy,” said Dina and laughed.

“Yes, I’ve noticed,” Nicklis chuckled. “Also, why do all the shoes here have heels?”

“That’s not a heel, that’s a regular sole. Sneakers are all like that. If you need something to have a thin layer between your feet and the ground, you will need Converse,” Dina put her foot on the heel, showing him her worn out light-blue Converse shoes.

“I’ll remember it,” said Nicklis businesslike. “Well, shall we go?”

“Let’s go.”

They walked together down the street.

“Well, tell me, how’s your life?” suggested Dina, smiling.

“My life’s good,” replied Nicklis. “I’ve finished the school and have found a job, I do scouting for the Queen of Orlind. I took some time off, for a month, to come here to you.”

 “So you’re here only for a month?..”

“No, the speed of time here and in my world depends on me. I can live here for a year and there it will only be a day, and the opposite: it’ll be a year there and one day here. I decide how much time I want to miss in this or the other world,” explained Nicklis.

“A-ah… So, what are you going to do here?” asked Dina.

“I got enrolled into your school!” Nicklis laughed. “I said that I was homeschooled. Now I need to pass the exams, but I am pretty sure I will not be able to do that. I know too little about your world.”

“Hm, that’s true,” agreed Dina.

“What about you?”

“What about me? I’m a senior, finishing school this year and I’m hoping to continue studying in Moscow,” said Dina.

“Interesting,” Nicklis smiled.

“Well, we are actually here. I’ll introduce you to everyone. Are you going to live where you did before?”

“Yep.”

“Let’s go home together?” Dina almost begged him. She did not like walking home alone at nights.

“Of course!”

Glancing at her friend gratefully, Dina came closer to a small white building, which hid in the shadows of bushes and trees. Pulling on the door, Dina dived into the heavy, oily-black from the chain armor and weapons duskiness. There were many people here, mostly guys. Everyone chatted. There was only one girl – tall, gloomy, very thin, always wearing a black leather jacket with rivets. Dina glanced at her. Her dyed hair was shaped into a high ponytail, which fell onto her face, with painted eyebrows.

Dina plucked up her courage and loudly greeted everyone. The noise died out, and she introduced Nicklis to her comrades. Everyone immediately was interested in the new person in the group, and Dina had a moment to slip into the changing room to put on her training clothes. Blue sweatpants, sky-blue t-shirt, her light-blue shoes… Dina threw her long and heavy light-brown braid over the shoulder and fixed her forelocks. She unwittingly examined herself in the mirror which hung on the wall of the messy changing room. Little in height, but well-shaped figure, rounded face with blue eyes almost without eyelashes, and a rather large nose, fluffy eyebrows, round ears which sticked out – Dina, not fully satisfied after gazing at herself in the mirror, started to bite her lips to let them gain more color, then smother her forelock and let it down her face. Contented with the result of her moves, she calmly went out into the room, where warriors gathered.

* * *

The training was as always tiresome, and, once Dina walked down form the steps of her club onto the road, deep into the evening, she realized that she was extremely weary. Nicklis was well accepted into the group, though, it was the last training of the year, and everyone was upset that such professional came to them only at the end of the season. After showing himself during the combats and games, Nicklis proved to be a good warrior. Dina from her own experience remembered the power of his strokes.

Soon everyone came to the road in front of the building, and Dina sighed, waiting for Nicklis to stop discussing some very specific type of chain mails. She examined him with a smile, his noble handsome face and his strong hands with thin wrists and long straight fingers.

“Dinka, are you going home right away?” suddenly asked a husky voice somewhere from the side, making Dina flinch and come out from her dreaminess. She turned around to see right in front of her a pretty, light face and blond dyed hair, combed to the side. She recoiled and said offendedly:

“I think I already told you not to call me that!”

“Well, sorry, so, are you going home soon?” continued the young man, coming closer. There was no way for Dina to escape – a wall was behind her.

“Yes. And I am going home with Nickita,” replied she, trying to make her voice sound firm.

“What about me?”

“How must I know?”

“Why do you need some Nickita, when you have me?”

“Get away from me,” demanded Dina.

“Well, I will not! Until you will say…”

“Excuse me, Vladimir, but I find it unworthy of your name to do such a thing to a woman,” said Nicklis’s voice seriously and a little indignantly. “Why did you jam Dina like that?”

Vovka, that was what he was called by all the other members of the sword-fighting club, turned around and made a step back, freeing Dina, who hurried to jump away and hide behind her friend’s shoulder.

“Excuse-me-excuse-me!” Vovka put his hands on his hips. “A traitor! Very well, goodbye, you will receive no respect from me from now on! And I will deal with you later! Not now, it’s not the time yet!..”

He turned and walked away down the street, scratching the asphalt with the soles of his red shoes. In fear Dina snuggled to Nicklis’s warm elbow and watched her torturer walk away.

“Let’s go, Dinka,” said Nicklis and, allowing her to hold on to his arm, said farewell to everyone. Dina was so anxious and scared by Vovka’s persistence and by his formidable voice that she could not say anything and only waved her hand. Once it was only two of them on the road, Nicklis asked:

“Are you friends with him?”

A strange, resentful bitterness sounded in his voice, as if he was very offended by this idea.

“What? No!..” Dina glanced at him fearfully. Nicklis’s lips were pursed tightly, and wary, slightly sad wrinkles gathered over his eyebrows.

“No! I never thought of being friends with him, but he wanted me to be his girlfriend,” explained Dina, almost ready to cry. “You see, he… He spoils my life! Last time he walked behind me all the way home, and I even had to call mom, so that I would not be so scared!.. I don’t know what he wants of me, but I am sure there’s no good in it!.. I’m so glad you came back, you can protect me from him now!..”

“Dinka, calm down,” Nicklis stopped and, putting his large warm hands on her shoulders, looked into her wet eyes. There was no more distrust or enmity left in his face. “Its’ okаy, you hear?..” I’m sorry I was so jealous about our friendship, sorry.”

“It’s fine,” Dina wiped off the tears with her sleeve. “It’s alright.”

“I should not judge you for having other friends. People have more friend than just one,” said Nicklis, and they continued walking.

“What about elves?” Dina laughed, but her laughter sounded moisty and shaky.

“I meant “people” as creatures of any race, like “folks”,” explained Nicklis, smiling at her joke.

“Are you here alone this time or with your ancestors?” asked Dina, trying to hide her charging and weariness. She worked so hard to look strong, but it happened to be that the first impression of her new, adult Dina that Nicklis got was that she is a weeper.

“Maybe, it is not as bad for your world to call your parents “ancestors”, but as far as I know, in the society in which I was raised, to say so means to insult the name of the parents,” said Nicklis, embarrassedly wrinkling the bridge of his nose.

“Oh, gosh, I am so sorry!” exclaimed Dina and realized she was blushing. “I didn’t mean to insult your parents, I didn’t know it was bad!..”

“It’s okay,” replied Nicklis. “It’s about as bad as to call my parents “the ones about to die”. Ancestors are those who are already dead. In elvish it would be irlenel – the ones who have left this world or ancestors… Though there’s another world, rather beautiful – lenelverte, literally “the ones who walked before the world,” so, “ancestors”.”

“Aha-a… Right, elvish. That’s why you say such strange harder “e”, instead of “e” sometimes,” Dina squinted cunningly and gazed at her friend.

“So noticeable?” Nicklis seemed upset.

“Sometimes. But that’s not bad! I really like your accent!” Dina laughed.

“Thanks,” replied Nicklis quietly. “Actually, elvish is a very interesting language. I can give you a few lessons on it, if you’d like…”

“I would love to do that, but I’m not sure if I would want to learn something new aside from schoolwork right now… You can’t imagine how much I need to remember when I’m preparing for the exams.” Dina sighed.

“As you wish.”

“So, are you with your parents or alone this time?” Dina was burning with shame, knowing how she managed to offend her friend by that question before. How could she be so careless?!..

“Alone. They need nothing here, and it is hard for us to be here,” said Nicklis.

“But you came here for more than just the exams, right?”

“Yes, that is right, but I cannot tell you more for now,” replied Nicklis guiltily but honestly. “I will tell you everything, once the time comes.”

“Okay,” Dina felt some strange feeling deep inside her soul. Why did he come here? More problems with Orlando or… what else was binding him to this world when the solution for Orlando was found?.. Dina stopped some distance away from the gate that led to her garden and glanced at her friend. The light fell through the open windows of her house on the fence, the road and on Nicklis’s freckled face. Why, why are his facial features so fine? Din could not find one flaw, nothing prevented one’s eye to slide down the lines of his head and shoulders. Why is he so handsome and so far away from her? Why does he live in a different world, why is he an elf? Why is she asking these “whys”? Maybe he is not as far as she thinks he is, maybe, he would want to stay in this world?..

“Let’s go to school together tomorrow?” asked Nicklis, gazing straight into Dina’s eyes.

“Let’s,” she agreed. “Should we meet here in the morning?”

“That works.”

“Good night,” Dina glanced at him, thought for a second, and then suddenly hugged him, and stepped back immediately, blushing. Nicklis seemed to be rather surprised by this movement but kept a calm expression on his face. Dina smiled guiltily and slipped to the gate.

“Let the stars shine upon your dreams,” said Nicklis quietly, into her back. Dina turned around, looked at his well-shaped silhouette in front of the dark garden on the other side of the street, smiled as a sign that she heard him, and ran on the path to the house. She quickly climbed up the stairs, walked into the hallway and, throwing shoes off her feet, she glances at herself in the mirror. Her eyes were glittering, cheeks and ears looked red… Dina sighed, closed her eyes, took a few breaths, which calmed her down a little. She did not want to show her excitement to her parents and sisters.

Dina took two steps up, opened a heavy door padded with wadding and leather, and walked into a large living room, illuminated with light. Doors on the left led to the kitchen and pantry, next to them were stairs to the second floor. On the right there were a few chairs and a couch, draped with a blanket, and next to them stood a long, beautiful table, on which dinner was already placed. Across the room from the chairs was a fireplace. It was rarely used, but during dark winter evenings it created the needed coziness. Dina’s youngest sisters played on the carpet in front of the couch. Olga was finishing putting together the dinner at the table. Igor was placing some ivy on one of the cupboards. He stood on a stepstool, holding a pencil with his mouth. Sometimes he used that pencil to fix the further parts of the ivy. Everything in the house also bloomed – spring came even here. Dina did not have time to recover from the aroma of lilac, as she was blown away with new, astonishing fragrances of the house flowers.

“Hello, dear, how was your day?” asked Olga with a smile, placing sauce bowls on the table.

“The day was amazing,” stated Dina, flopping down on the chair. “Nicklis’s back!”

“Nicklis?” Olga seemed surprised. “Again?”

“Yes,” Dina sighed.

“Well, how is he?” Olga smiled again.

“Very good-looking,” Dina laughed. “Strange as always, but who is there who would be interesting and would lack some strangeness?”

“Yeah, life without strange people would have been boring,” Olga eloquently pointed to Igor, who was trying to reach a pot placed very high up on the wall. Dina laughed.

* * *

Late in the evening, before going to bed, Dina decided to do a few notes in her diary. She sat at the table motionless, already wearing her light white night gown and with brushed hair. She was deep in thought. Her fingers fumbled the pen, but her thoughts did not want to take their places. Then Dina put her hand on the paper, and her wrist, bending, pulled the fingers. Her hand was drawing on its own. Up and down, and a soft outline of a chin appeared on paper, slid up and to the side, stretching out a lean triangle of a pointy ear. Dina smiled, drawing and thinking of how hard life is on her.

In her large family, where there were six sisters, any new “friend” gave hope to the girls that he might fall in love with one of them and marry her. The mentioning of Nicklis’s return lit up that hope in them once again. However, Dina never liked to feel that hope, because it always reminded her of novels about marriage according to the monetary status, and it scared her. This is not how she pictured her future, though her mother always said that you do not pick future, it decides for you on its own. Dina took her hand off the paper and glanced at the drawing. How strange and how well-formed was this Nicklis. Dina felt both pleased and horrified about his appearing in her world. What if he is interested in her, what if… he loves her?..

Dina straightened her back and closed the diary. She needed to realize what was happening to her. Dina always loved. She though, she was always filled with love to all living creatures, she always wanted to share this love, and, maybe, even receive the same love back as a reply. She wanted to love someone truly. Sometimes she felt sad because she did not have such person in her life who would have agreed to take her love and pay back in the same manner. All these four years, while writing letters to her friend, Dina always felt warmth in her heart every time she thought of him. He was there, far behind the barrier, but Dina knew that he existed. But he was there, far, in a different world, though she wanted to have him here, next to her… And now he came back, awoken something new in her heart, something burning; renewed their friendship. But the idea of love seemed wild to Dina. She thought too much of herself to imagine that Nicklis came to this world just because of her. He never confirmed it. It’s just very selfish. Dina was very ashamed for all the words she said wrongly and for all the poorly going situations, but she knew she had no way of avoiding them.

She carefully closed the window, pushing off the apple branches with little white blossoms on them.  She pondered about the meeting with her friend, painfully reliving all that went wrong and humiliating. Probably, she shouldn’t have even hugged him, elves have different ways of showing their affection. Dina sighed and, pulling the blankets off the bed, lay down and stared at the ceiling. Tomorrow will be a new day, and she will get the hold of everything then. There was no need to worry about failures which have already taken place, since there is nothing one could do to them.

* * *

At seven in the morning the alarm rang, and Dina opened her eyes. She realized right away that it was cloudy today by the pale light from the not curtained window. Her room was small. It fit a narrow couch-bed at the left wall, a table below the window, shelves with books on the right wall, and there was a tall mirror that snuggled between the shelves, a wardrobe at the feet of the bed and an easel across the room from it, in the corner next to the door. After throwing a glance at all her possessions, Dina climbed from under her blankets, sat at a stool in front of the mirror and started to brush and braid her long straight hair, which wrapped her body like a cape, when she let it hang down.

Morning chores were filling her head. Get ready for school, get dressed, eat breakfast. The last several days Dina kept forgetting to think about her school uniform, but today was a special morning, and she remembered that she has not worn her favorite ribbon-neckties for quite a while.

Deciding on a light-blue shirt and green ribbon, she styled her bang, grabbed a thin coat that was hanging on the easel and a brown scarf and ran into the hallway. She heard her family’s voices on the first floor. Shoving her scarf into the backpack, Dina threw her belongings next to the couch in the living room and went to the table, greeting everyone.

Before leaving the house Dina got to argue with her younger sister Ira on the subject of who will go to school first. They needed to get there at the same time, but they did not want to walk together. Though, today Dina was not in a mood for a quarrel, and she allowed Ira to go first. Ira livingly threw a bag with her textbooks on her elbow and hopped to the porch, clicking her heels. Dina sighed, following her with her eyes. Ira looked five years older than her, and sometimes Dina got disturbed by that fact. Finally, after Ira was hidden by a turn of the road, Dina walked down the path into her garden.

She lifted her eyes. Nicklis was in his place next to the fence, as always. Walking closer and examining him, Dina felt amazement washing over her. He was dressed most wonderfully: a double-breasted wool coat of olive-green color, buttoned all the way to his chin, a long, striped scarf with tassels of the colors of green lichen on the fence, pants of moss-green and classic leather shoes. Dina slipped to the road, not really believing that she had such neatly styled friend.

“Good morning!” said Nicklis, noticing her. “How’re you feeling?”

“Really good,” Dina laughed. “Listen, I was thinking yesterday… Sorry that I hugged you, ok?.. You probably have different ways of greeting each other. Forgive me if it was inappropriate to do…”

“Don’t worry, you did no harm to me. To be honest, elves really don’t do such things after such long separation, but that is alright,” replied Nicklis. “Don’t be anxious about it, you are not at fault for having different traditions…”

“Okay!” Dina felt easier. “How do elves usually greet each other?”

“In this situation, when greeting a young lady, it is allowed to do this,” Nicklis carefully took her hand, bent down, and touched her wrist with his dry warm lips. Dina, laughing, looked into his squinted green eyes, playfully glittering under the shadow of long red eyelashes.

“Alright, then how does the young lady reply?” asked Dina.

“You can nod slightly to show respect – elves rarely bow for real – or do a small curtsy, that depends on you,” said Nicklis.

Dina carefully and easily brought one of her legs behind another, touched the ground with the tip of her shoe, slightly bending her knees, and straighetened out once again.

“Not every Orlind’s aristocratic lady can do greetings this gracefully,” confessed Nicklis, watching her. “Shall we?” He gave her his hand, and Dina carefully took him by the elbow. His coat was slightly rough and very warm, so Dina’s fingers heated up right away. It was an unusually cold day – the aroma of lilac was very strong the previous night. When lilac blooms the weather always turns cold.

The sky was grey, but green grass and small leaves on the trees did not allow the world to gain the colors of autumn. It was spring, despite the weather, and it was spring in Dina’s heart as well. She felt like she was a young apple tree, which bloomed in its full blossom for the first time, and it was a very good feeling.

“Listen,” Dina glanced at her friend. “I always wanted to ask you, what does your dad do for living?”

“My father?” Nicklis looked up into the sky. “My father is a respected art critic and art collector in Orlind. He tried to serve in the military, but he could not continue doing that because of his character and some of his phycological issues, which showed up right away. The thing is that the parents of my father died… were killed, to be precise, before his eyes when he was only nine years old – he is gray-haired since then – and this trauma still does not allow him to live in peace.”

“Oh…” said Dina with sympathy. “That’s hard… Why do you call him “father”, not “dad”?”

“Father always was strict with me,” Nicklis sighed. “He always required seriousness from me, even some formality. Ever since I was a child, he forbade me from calling him “dad”, but I myself never dared to do so.”

“Huh,” Dina slowly shook her head. “My dad is more tender to me, than strict…”

“You are a daughter,” Nicklis laughed. “And I am a son, added that I am the only boy among the kids, I was raised to become an heir worthy of my family… Actually, my father was always more forgiving to my sisters. It used to offend me, because nothing was pardoned for me, and they could escape with their misdoing very easily. Though, father often entrusted me with things he would never entrust to the girls, so I was usually proud of that.”

“Interesting. I never had brothers, so there’s nothing to compare to… Did you fight with your sisters when you were younger?” asked Dina, smiling cunningly.

“Ha, yeah, I did,” Nicklis chuckled. “Most of the time with Filnara, the one, whose birthday is on the first of September, remember? To be honest, she is stronger than me… Our difference is less than two years, and we often didn’t get along, when we were little. My older sister, Mariel, was always “older”, so we never argued with her as much. And my third sister, Linsi, is nine years younger than me, and also, she doesn’t have a warlike character. At first she was little, and then we became friends with her, when she caught up with us as far as in the understanding of life, it became even easier to be friends. I think I have the best relationship with her out of the whole family…”

“Huh… I would have wanted to have a brother,” noted Dina thoughtfully.

“So would I,” replied Nicklis. “I used to have one…”

Dina stared at him in surprise.

“I was six, when he was born. I remember it very well. It was November, the year was very wet and cold. Our little one, sadly, could not survive the winter. He was a month old when he got sick for the first time. We all tried to heal him, that’s when my father showed me the very first methods of using elvish magic… But our work was vain, he died in a week. I will never forget this, even though my memory seems rather blurred. Mom was so shocked, she did not get out of bed for a few days, and we were all afraid, that she would not be able to bear it, but… we managed to bring her back to life. Elves do not give names to their children right away, but, if my brother would have lived, his name would have been “Niladis”. Father wanted all the names of the sons to start with an “N”, in honor of our ancestor – actually ancestor – Niriel The Copper.”

“Such a sad story,” noted Dina, holding on to his sleeve.

“Yes… Because many newborns cannot survive winter many elves in Orlind are born in the spring. My birthday is in March,” Nicklis smiled.

“Cool, mine’s in February.”

“We’re almost at the school… Listen, Din, can we part here?” Nicklis glanced at her guiltily. “I do not want people to think something strange about our friendship, it would be better, if they wouldn’t know… Would you like to meet after the classes, on the porch?”

“What can they think?!” Dina blushed. Nicklis looked at her meaningfully, and she sighed.

“Okay… In which class did you get enrolled?”

“The eleventh, same age as yours,” said Nicklis. “Forgive me, I thought that would be better…”

“That’s okay, I’m not against it,” Dina tried to think logically. Truly, if they would not walk around the school together it will be more peaceful for herself, less problems.

“I’m glad you understood me,” Nicklis looked deep into her eyes. “Good luck.”

“You too…”

“You can go first.”

Dina nodded, let go of his elbow and quickly walked down the street to the school. A strange bright and burning star was shining in her heart… Why, why do they have to part? Why is she afraid of mockery from her classmates?.. Dina sighed heavily. In reality, she herself was wishing to escape all the issues that may arise with them appearing in school together, and she did not want to put Nicklis to danger from jealousy of those people. There were some persons in her class who were ready to fight for her, which annoyed her greatly. None of these persons could even hope for friendship from her by virtue of their behavior and the differences in interests.

Familiar noise and hubbub, endless and tiring, already filled the school. Dina broke through the crowd into the changing room, where she disposed of her coat and walked back to the foyer. Nicklis was already there, he was in front of the mirror, fixing his long green tie.

Before the beginning of the class, when Dina was arranging her textbooks on the desk, Dima Tuna sat down next to her. Now he became taller and slenderer, but never lost his nickname. Dina noticed that he was dolled up like a rooster: yellow tie with embroidery, violet shirt, and bright-pink socks.

“Why are you so nicely dressed today, huh, Dina?” asked Dima, by a slow movement of his had smoothing down his long bang, which was brushed to the side.

“I cannot be dressed well?” asked Dina, placing her hands on the desk.

“Way too pretty,” noted Dima.

“Listen, go back to you place,” said Dina. “Leave me alone.”

“Why? Would you not let me sit by you?”

“I will not,” Dina lifted a textbook and quietly but persuasively smacked his fingers, which were clinging to the desk.

“Ouch!.. Why not?” replied Dima, who clearly did not understand the warning.

“You will distract me.”

“I wouldn’t. Can I stay? Please,” begged Dima factitiously.

“No, that’s my final word.”

“I will let you use my homework for the science class,” Dima started to placate.

“Why would I need your homework? You think I don’t do it myself?” Dina was offended.

“Well, please, Dinka, I will give you a candy,” continued Dima.

“Be gone,” said Dina more strictly.

“Well, I will not be!..”

Dina sighed, grabbed her textbooks from the table and moved to the desk next to Taya Burova. At least she could have a decent lesson here, away from Tuna’s attacks.

* * *

The lessons were slow and painful. Especially tough was algebra, when the teacher was thoroughly and soporifically explaining how to trace a specific type of graphs. Dina was trying to comprehend the explained and also fought with Tuna, who was at the desk behind her and who continued pulling on her braid. Dina could not understand his attachment to her braid. They were not in the first grade to pull girls on their hair, but for some reason Tuna got a lot of pleasure from catching his classmate’s braid and tying something to it or pulling off the ribbon.

At around two in the afternoon Dina – hungry, upset, and tired – walked out to the school’s porch. Strong western wind blew her in the face, and she wrapped her scarf around her neck. The only thing that comforted her in these agonizing surroundings of the school was the thought that she will meet her friend after the classes once again. Oh, how she thirsted for communication with him, for talking to the creature whose thoughts were sent deeper and further than the thoughts of her flighty classmates! Dina did not walk against the current of her class, but all these talks about fashion and new TV series seemed shallow and almost useless to her.

The bell rang a while ago, but apparently Nicklis’s class was delayed. Dina stood on the porch, leaning on the railings and watched the digits on the screen of her phone change with time. She waited. Soon, aside from a group of sixth graders who were busy playing the new game which consisted of throwing a water bottle and trying to make it stand as it landed, appeared two young women from Nicklis’s class: Sveta Tishok and her friend Luba Marakueva, who was left for another year in school. They stopped on the steps and whispered something between them, then Sveta turned to Dina and, unable to hold back the giggles, exclaimed:

“Waiting for your fiancé, are you?”

“I don’t understand what you’re talking about,” replied Dina, though she felt her cheeks treacherously burning. She stared at the tips of her shoes, accompanied by Luba’s sniggering.

“No, she doesn’t understand!” Luba told Sveta in the especially loud voice, which made Dina even more embarrassed.

“Wait-wait, he’s going to come out and kiss her! He didn’t even look at any of us during the classes! Wait!” whispered Sveta, grabbing Luba’s sleeve. The school’s door opened under Nicklis’s strong arm, as he stopped at the entrance, keeping it open to let out a small woman and a little seven-year-old girl, whom she held by the hand.

“Thank you,” said the woman, turning her tiny face with a sharp nose to him. Nicklis smiled politely, and she ran down the steps, telling her daughter:

“Well, you’ll redo the exams and start going to this school, look how nice people here are…”

Dina wanted to cry. Nicklis went to her, fixing his scarf. Sveta and Luba, giggling, dropped down from the porch, and they only saw their dyed ponytails jumping as they went.

“You seem very sad,” noted Nicklis, examining his friend.

“Yes, I’m sad,” replied Dina. “I’m sorry that this poor girl will end up in this school, in this system… How can one live when their interests do not correspond with the interests of the system?”

“You just need to learn to live with it,” said Nicklis. “To find ways to walk away from the system or just ignore it.”

“How can you take this all so easily? You look at these people and don’t get horrified? You hear puns and jokes because you want to be different from everyone else, and stay calm and deaf to this mocking?..” Dina stared at Sveta’s and Luba’s disappearing figures with an empty look.

“You know what I want?” replied Nicklis with a question. Dina gazed at him slightly bewildered.

“I want you to see a different society,” said Nicklis. “So that for at least a little while you could abandon these hardships. I’m sorry it’s so frustrating for you…”

“Yeah, I also want to live somewhere, where I would not be pulled on the braid, because it seems a little too long, and where I will not be told that a bow-tie made from ribbons is stupid. Many think that I am loony, because I draw elves in my math notebook and make plastic eyes for the test-tubes for chemistry…” Dina smiled sadly.

“Golte Evere, how mean it is to say things like that about you!” Nicklis seemed indignant. He gave her his arm. “Let’s go!”

They went down the steps of the porch.

“Listen, did they try to mock you today?” asked Dina.

“They did,” Nicklis snorted. “But I didn’t let them. You see, I am a redhead. I was “strange” since childhood. Red-haired elves are not very common in Orlind, almost like red-haired people in your world, and I was often insulted because of that fact. I had to learn right away to ignore that mocking, though it was much harder for me when I was little. I fought at the Order almost every day, and my poor parents could not make me disregard all that. Now I have gained enough experience in that part of life and learned to stay calm.”

 Dina nodded in response. How come, though, that she, so unremarkable, with a light-brown color of hair and not even that beautiful managed to get so many hardships in communicating? Apparently, it was about her on the inside now.

“Should we walk by the river?” suggested Nicklis.

“We should,” agreed Dina. “I have a headache, it’s nice to wind out.”

“Really? I almost never get headaches,” noted Nicklis quietly and sadly. “I don’t have anything to help you with it…”

“Oh, I don’t need anything!” Dina laughed. “It’ll go away with the fresh air.”

“Well, good… What major are you going to be applying for?” asked Nicklis with a strange concern in his tone.

“I want to paint and draw, and to sell my works,” explained Dina. “But for that I need to sharpen my skills better, so I will be applying to the academy, to study to become a classic painter. Mom says that I will not be able to have a family with such an income, but that is what I can do for all eternity, so I decided that I will be surviving, like a real artist! I am ready to suffer!”

“Hm, interesting,” noted Nicklis, smiling. “If you get married well, you wouldn’t need to suffer. You’ll be doing your favorite thing and live on the husband’s earnings.”

“Oh, let’s not talk about that!” begged Dina. “We argue so much about all this at home, I have no strength left for this subject!..”

“Sorry, I didn’t mean it… Did you know that there’s an art academy in Orlind too?” asked Nicklis carefully. Dina looked at him with her eyes glittering.

“So… you think it is possible?”

“What is?” Nicklis glanced at her with fear.

“For me to study there?”

“Why not?..”

“O-oh… That would’ve been so awesome!.. But I’m a human.”

“And what’s wrong with that?” Nicklis suddenly became passionate. “I think there’s nothing strange in it. Queen Nerl’ supports the internationality of our country, I’m sure humans are no worse than elves, when it comes to studying! In any case…”

He got embarrassed and cautiously looked at his friend. Dina, gazing away and thoughtfully examining the street, felt how much she was relieved. Can she really hope for his affection to her, and later for even deeper relationship?.. If there is no such huge difference between elves and humans in his world, then, maybe she has a chance to love him and be loved back… But how? Is it really possible? Or is this all just a beautiful dream?.. Dina was scared. She was afraid to think that far ahead, because you never know what can happen in the future, though, she really wanted to think of it…

“You know, what if you do give me elvish lessons on the weekend?” asked Dina, smiling. “I will have some free time.”

Nicklis’s expression brightened, his eyes shone happily.

“I would love to give you a few lessons!” he laughed, and Dina also felt glad because of his smile and because of the look of his lower jaw, which stood out slightly more than it was supposed to.

They walked to the river front, warmed by each other’s presence. The river front was just a bumpy road, which led by the fences and houses along the shore to the docks. The water was high, and it rushed down its course in rough, muddy flows, carrying with it all kinds of spring trash. There were not many people, the river roared, and Dina felt with excitement the strength of its current. She picked up a little chip of wood and threw it into one of the dark whirlpools. The poor chip disappeared in the mighty flows of the river.

“The horror,” noted Dina, not letting her eyes off the spot where it went away. “The current is so strong now. It’s creepy to think what will happen if you end up in there…”

“Dinka, do you hear?” asked Nicklis. Dina glanced at him. He was looking somewhere along the shore, to the docks, and there was worry, burning in his eyes.

“What? I don’t hear anything…”

Nicklis suddenly jumped off the spot and ran down the road, untying his scarf as he went. Dina, bewildered and frightened, followed and caught up with him only at the docks. Here she heard piercing, desperate shout and then saw Dima Tuna, who was flouncing about the docks. He was pointing to the water, but could not say anything, only mumbled something similar to “help!”. Dina glanced at the river and at the tall, red from rust boats that were tied by the shore. Among horrifying whirlpools and several pieces of broken wooden planks, right under the broadside of the ships, she noted a little body, pushed by the merciless current.

Dina froze in horror and woke up only when Nicklis threw his coat into her hands. Then she got her voice back:

“Nick! Nick, are you mad?! There’re planks in there, what are you doing?!..”

Nicklis did not hear her. He threw off his shoes, ran across the docks and jumped. Dina screamed. Something punched her in the heart, some strange, unexplainable, anxious pain rose in her heart, as he disappeared in the water among the cascades of muddy splashes. Nicklis had dived under the floating logjam, which has been forming next to the shore, and had come out of the water on the other side of it. He shook his head, allowed the current to carry him and went to the boats.

Dina dropped her friend’s coat and ran to the edge of the dock. Dima, exhausted because of the fear, helplessly sat down onto the little column, used to tie up the boats.

“Nastya… Nasten’ka…” he whispered, lowering his head and unable to look at the river anymore.

“What were you waiting for?” asked him Dina.

“I can’t swim…” Dima glanced at her guiltily. It was a completely different Dima, scared and no longer as colorful as he was at school. Even his cockish tie seemed faded and pale. Dina sighed and stared at the water anxiously. Nicklis swam down the stream, caught Nastya and disappeared behind the end of the boat. Dina waited with her heart pounding desperately. People, attracted by the shouts, started to gather on the shore. Dina counted the seconds, not letting her eyes off the ships. Nicklis managed to defeat the current, and he swam back into the open part, where he was more visible. Holding Nastya’s head over the water, he pulled her to the shore.

Dina stood on her knees to help him as soon as he would be close enough. Nicklis reached her, grabbed Nastya more tightly and lifted her up. It was deep in this part of the river, and Nicklis’s head went under the water. Dina squeezed Nastya’s coat and pulled her onto the dock. The girl’s skin had a bluish-marble color, which scared Dina to death. She did not breath, and Dina had no clue what to do now. Thankfully, someone from the crowd went over to help, and the first aid was given. Dina looked around. Nicklis, clinging to the side of the platform of the dock, was still in the water. He could not climb out himself, the water pulled him down the stream, and the wall of the dock was covered in seaweed and kept sliding from under his feet. Dina reached out her hand. Nicklis grabbed her sleeve with his wet and cold fingers and climbed onto the platform. To Dina’s surprise, he seemed light for his height and shape. His shirt was torn and the hair sticked to his face. Nicklis fixed it quickly to cover up the ears.

“You’re ok?” asked Dina quietly.

“Aha,” replied Nicklis, shaking from head to toe. Dina hurried to bring him his coat. A strange wave of apathy covered her now. The fear did not leave yet. She was still incredibly worried, even though everything seemed to end well. Nicklis was back on the shore, Nastya woke up and started breathing – everyone safe and alive, why is she still so anxious? Dina looked at Tuna, who wrapped his sister into his own coat and hugged her tightly. Tears were running down his cheeks. Dina gazed at him with curiosity. She never saw him like this before.

“Nick… thank you,” breathed Dima, turning to Nicklis, who was slowly tying up his shoes. He lifted up his pale face.

“Thank you…” repeated Dima.

“No problem,” Nicklis stood up and suddenly took Dina’s hand with his cold fingers. “Let’s go.”

Dina glanced at him in surprise, but silently obeyed and followed him to the road, leading home. Throwing her backpack onto the shoulder, she walked next to him, bewildered by the shortness of his words and quickness of the motions. She felt that something was not right, but she could not tell what. She was delighted with her friend’s courage and fearlessness, but something did happen to make her heart pound worriedly. Why did he have to do this? Why is there this uncomfortable pain in her heart now? What happened…

Something hot and sticky suddenly burned Dina’s palm, which was hiding in her friend’s large hand. She flinched and stopped, and Nicklis unwittingly let go of her hand. It slid out of his wet fingers. Dina stared in horror at the bright, rusty-red spots of blood on her hand.  She raised her head. Nicklis looked her in the face, tightly pressing his grey lips together, and there was fear in the depth of his eyes.

“Oh, Gosh! Nick, what is this?!” breathed Dina, smitten by the suffocating numbness and terror. “Where’d this come from?!”

“Quiet,” said Nicklis and came closer to her. “You hear me? Quiet, it is all right.”

“No! It’s not all right!” Dina showed him her hand spattered with blood. “What happened to you?!..”

Nicklis sighed and lowered his gaze. After a moment of silence, he explained:

“When I dove, there was something under that logjam… Something sharp. I did not check what exactly happened, but, apparently, my shoulder is ripped up… Hush!.. Don’t panic, I beg you!..”

“O-oh…” moaned Dina.

“Most importantly, don’t panic, otherwise I would go nuts too!..” pleaded Nicklis. Dina tried to think quickly. What to do with this now?! She felt like she was unable to move, she was so terrified to realize that something this bad had happened to her friend. The fear came in a wave, threw cold shivers into her fingers and treacherously squeezed her throat. But an idea appeared in Dina’s mind.

“Hurry! Let’s go to us, my mom is a doctor, she knows what to do!” exclaimed she. “Is it bleeding badly?..”

Nicklis carefully unbuttoned the top of his coat and put his hand behind it. He glanced at his friend guiltily, not pulling it out.

“Then we need to hurry,” said Dina, trying to give her voice confidence. “Let’s go!”

She grabbed his elbow and dragged him. Nicklis silently followed, pulling his hand out of his coat, while a few drops of blood fell to the ground. Dina thought her world was on the edge of being destroyed. She needed to hurry, she had to come in time, otherwise everything will be taken away…

“Don’t rush, please,” asked Nicklis. “Do you happen to have a handkerchief which is ok, if it gets dirty?”
“Aha,” Dina pulled out of her pocket a handkerchief, and Nicklis wiped his hand with it and put it on his wrist, so that the blood, streaming down his arm, would not drip. They walked quickly. Dina’s fingers were freezing from fear, her mouth dried out. Her heart pounded, echoing more and more of the anxious pain. The closer they were getting to her house, the weaker Nicklis was becoming. Now Dina had to pull him, so that he would not slow down his pace. Never before she happened to be part of such situations, never before she saw so much blood. A few dark spots appeared on Nicklis’s coat, which horrified Dina even more.

Finally, they reached the garden. Dina fiddled with the lock of the gate twice as long as she usually did, rushed into the garden, dragging along her wabbling friend. The blood, which leaked through the handkerchief, fell onto the planks of the sidewalk, and Dina charged for the porch. Nicklis stumbled upon every single step of it, and his hand were in a stranglehold on Dina’s sleeve. Throwing open the heavy door that led to the house, they flew into the living room.

“Mom!” screamed Dina, once they stepped onto the painted planks of the wooden floor. “Mom, where are you?!”
Nicklis leaned to her shoulder and quietly and shortly breathed into her head, as if there was not enough air for him. No one else in the world Dina would have allowed to be this close to her. Olga came out from the kitchen, wiping her hands with a towel.

“Oh, man,” she exclaimed, clinging to the white towel with her wrinkly hands. “My dear ones, what happened?..”

“Nick is wounded!” breathed Dina.

“Sit down here! And take off the coat!” Olga moved one of the chairs next to the table and ran to the kitchen.

Nicklis slowly started to unbutton his coat, but Dina could not stand it any longer. She pushed away his hands, quickly unbuttoned the coat and pulled it off. The shirt, from the collar to the hem was soaked in blood, and Dina felt unwell from this view. She covered her mouth with her hands, suffocating from her friend’s pain, and started to cry. Nicklis, on the other hand, silently sat down and thoughtlessly stared at his hands with his fireless eyes.

Olga brought from the kitchen some bottles and a box of cottonwool.

“How’re you? How much does it hurt?” she quickly opened the package with gauze.

“I can live,” replied Nicklis quietly. In fear and despair Dina stared at his face, white as canvas, with darkened veins on his forehead. His wet hair sticked to his neck and pitifully spread out over his shirt. Olga quickly made a few cotton sponges and put them into the wound to stop the bleeding.

“So,” said she, looking Nicklis straight into the eyes. “This needs to be stitched, I cannot do that. If the bleeding stops, would you survive half an hour? I will get the doctor who knows how to work with such damages.”

“Is there another way?” asked Nicklis, slightly squinting his eyes.

“Well, I do not think you would like to drive to the hospital, not saying that it’s fairly far from us,” with an affectionate motion Olga moved his hair from his forehead behind the long pointy ear.

“How do you know?..”

“I’m a mother, I know everything,” Olga smiled. “Well, will you be able to bear this?”

“Yes,” there was so much courage in Nicklis’s voice, that Dina felt like a true coward next to him.

“Dina, open the windows and make Nicklis some water with sugar. If the cotton fills up, would you be able to change it?” asked Olga, dressing up quickly.

“I would,” said Dina, also trying to be brave.

“I’ll be quick,” Olga slipped through the door. Dina sighed heavily and went to the windows, let them wide open, then walked to the kitchen and dissolved three teaspoons of sugar in a glass of water. She brought the glass back to the living room and sat down in front of her friend, suggesting that he would drink the water. Nicklis obediently took the glass.

“I hate sweet water…” said he quietly.

“So do I, but it’s important,” replied Dina and carefully inquired:

“Does it hurt?”

“It does,” Nicklis sighed.

“How do you stay this calm? I would have fainted long ago,” noted Dina.

“Let’s talk about that later,” asked Nicklis, wincing.

“Okay…”

Fear did not let Dina stay in one place. She gazed at her friend’s sharp knees, his grey hands with long fingers, laying on top the green pants. The shirt had been loosened and sticked out on one side over the belt, like a yellowed wing. Nicklis stared at something right in front of him but did not seem to see anything. Dina carefully took his hand. Nicklis did not reply to this movement. He kept staring thoughtlessly.

Dina stood up, went to the window, and stopped, hugging herself with her arms. If only this all ended well… She had never worried this much before; she had never been this scared. And this was not the fear for her own life, it was the fear for a creature so dear to her. The fear came in waves. Sometimes it lessened, becoming disgusting and slimy, squeezing her throat. Sometimes it would rise, pull out warmth from her hands, make her legs weaker. Now Dina felt strong and sharp fear; and the painfully anxiety, which tortured her since the moment Nicklis dove into the river, grew into actual pain.

The further Dina walked away from her friend, the more painful it was. To be next to him, to lift him up was what she had to do, but she felt like she was not a big help right now. Nicklis could deal with himself without her.

“Dinka, come here,” called Nicklis quietly. His voice sounded surprisingly clear in the silence of the living room. Dina turned around, quickly went to him.

“Yes?” she stretched out her hands, and Nicklis squeezed her little palms with his cold fingers. He gazed at her with a guilty and sad look, and Dina wanted to cry from this desperate expression of his face. She could not do anything, and it hurt him so much…

“Nick…”
“Tsh-sh… just hold my hands. There,” Nicklis closed his eyes.

“It’s easier this way, isn’t it?” Dina carefully rubbed his straight fingers, trying to warm them up.

“Don’t say anything…” asked Nicklis. Dina squeezed his hands tightly, pressed them together, covered them with her little palms. Nicklis was silent. So tightly silent, that Dina’s heart was being torn to pieces. It was probably easier for him to endure this waiting than for her. Dina remembered about her mother’s request, plucked up her courage and looked into the hole in his shirt. Things seemed bad there. The cottonwool was soaked in clotting blood, and one could barely tell the difference between it and the edges of the wound.

“I’ll let go,” said Dina.

“Just… not for long,” begged Nicklis, opening his eyes. “Please…”

“Nay, I’ll do it fast,” Dina took a bowl from the table, closed her eyes, and reached into the hole. Nicklis also closed his eyes. The cotton was warm, sticky, and slimy. Swallowing shakingly, Dina pulled her hand out and threw the cotton into the bowl. In a few moments fresh cotton was placed in the wound, and Dina sighed in relief and took her friend by the hands again.

They sat like that, hand in hand, for the next twenty minutes. Dina thought she could feel Nicklis’s will to live fading with each drop of blood. He kept his head low, his mouth half-open as he breathed fast and lightly, and the tips of his long ears were now sadly hanging down. But finally the door opened, and Olga entered the living room, followed by her friend since college, Svetlana. She was a tall woman with dark hair, silvered in a few spots, and a long fine face. Upon coming into the house, she went to the one, by whose fault all this had happened. Dina stood up, to give her more space, but Nicklis’s hand squeezed her fingers. She glanced at him, his eyes begged her not to let go… Svetlana clicked her fingers at Nicklis’s chin, which made him lift his head in surprise, and then she nimbly took off his tie with her dry, hard fingers. She hooked up the edge of the shirt and jerked it so that the fabric got torn apart. Once the wound was freed from clothing, Svetlana began her job.

Dina could no longer watch it. She let go of Nicklis’s hand, walked away from the table, and stopped in the middle of the room. For a few seconds she froze, feeling that she should not have left her friend, she must help, but she cannot do it… she does not have enough strength… these thoughts made her feel ashamed and sad. Tears came to her throat, and Dina wept, hiding her face in her hands. At the same moment her mother’s tender arms embraced her. Dina buried her face in her mother’s chest and felt like she was tiny and weak, so helpless in this cruel world.

“Well-well, it’ll all be alright,” said Olga, striking her fair head. “It’s alright.”

Dina did not reply, there was too much feeling filling her soul for her to explain.

“Well.. It’ll all be past. Go, bring one of dad’s shirts, Nick doesn’t have anything to wear to go home,” said Olga, and Dina obeyed.

She walked up the creaky staircase to the second floor of the house and went into her parents’ bedroom. Everything here smelled of wet clay because Igor’s whole bedstand was covered in pots with flowers. Dina spent a long time, going through his shirts, sobbing quietly. Igor was by a head taller than Nicklis, which made the search slightly more difficult. Finally, Dina found one old green plaid shirt, which was a size smaller than other ones and could fit a bit better. Pressing this shirt to herself, Dina ran back down to the living room.

Svetlana was already finishing bandaging.

“Well, my hero, it would be best for you to lay down for an hour or two,” said she, tightening the tie of the bandage.

“That’s alright. It’s not the first time,” replied Nicklis. “I had worse.”

“You’re still under painkillers right now, that’s why you’re so cheery. Drink a cup of tea, eat something, stay here for at least half an hour, and then you may go. You might get dizzy again,” said Svetlana.

“Okay,” Nicklis sighed.

“What were you doing, if that’s not a secret?” inquired Svetlana. “Did a cosplay go poorly?”

“What’s a cosplay?” Nicklis was taken aback.

“He saved a girl from the river,” declared Dina proudly, giving him the shirt.

“Your ears are really cool,” noted Svetlana. “I get to work with role-players. They often get their arms put out and legs broken.”

“I’m not a…”

“Yeah, we were going to have a party with costumes after school, and we made the ears yesterday, so,” interrupted Dina.

“Huh,” said Svetlana. “Well, get well now, fairy.”

She patted Nicklis on the head and left.

“I’m not a role-player, and obviously I’m not a fairy!” noted Nicklis offendedly.

“Let her think that way,” said Dina, laughing. “You yourself don’t like showing your race.”

“Well, yeah… who are “role-players”?” inquired Nicklis quietly.

“People who do role-plays,” explained Dina. “You want lunch?”

“No, thank you. I would not mind some tea, but I’m not hungry at all,” said Nicklis.

“Okay,” Dina went to the kitchen. The fear was gone. Now, placing the heavy kettle on the stove, she felt absolutely broken and incredibly tired. Once the water boiled, Dina made the tea and returned to her friend. Nicklis moved to the couch and peacefully watched the world of the living room from there. He looked much better now, which calmed Dina down. The paleness now was washed off slightly, the hair started to dry out and stopped looking so slicked and pitiful. Ira came home from school. She started at the spots of blood, but did not say anything, went to her room. Olga, after sending off Svetlana, entered the living room.

“Well, my friend, are you better?” asked she.

“Yes, thank you,” replied Nicklis politely. Dina smiled. She was sitting next to him, placing her head on his shoulder. In any other moment, she would not have allowed herself to do so, but now she was so cold from everything she lived through, and she needed to be next to someone.

“Din… Thank you,” confessed Nicklis quietly, turning to face her. “Your hands saved me…”

“But I let go in the most important moment…” noted Dina in fear.

“That’s okay, because you already gave me enough hope to get through this,” explained Nicklis. “I learned to abandon pain and fear, but in this world my strength is rather strange, for example, I get tired faster for some reason…”

“We have a deferent atmosphere,” said Dina. Nicklis glanced at her surprisedly and with a strange excitement, flaring up in the depth of his green eyes.

“That’s a very precise term,” noted he. Dina smiled, not paying attention to his special happiness, and closed her eyes. How many things happened today… Dina thought that now she could not make herself come off the couch. Her cheek was warmed by her friend’s shoulder, and this calmed her. Dina lowered her eyelids and did not realize how she fell asleep.

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