Skyldr was actually empty as they left the bar. Shirogane lead them through the streets to the inn—or paths, really, since none of them had even the slightest hint of development. The residents had gone to sleep, and the moons hung high in the sky among the stars, the only light to see by as the lamps and torches had all been extinguished.
"So, where'd you learn to fight again?" asked Ketra as they walked.
"Like I said," Lily said with a shrug, "I didn't really study martial arts or anything like that. I just made it up as I went along."
"Studied dancing, though," said Shirogane over his shoulder, up in front with Phoenixia. "She's a hell of a dancer."
"Simon!" Lily snapped. "Why'd you tell her that?"
Ketra looked curious, which just made Lily even more uncomfortable. "Dancing? What kind?"
Lily blushed, glancing away pointedly. "A few different things."
Phoenixia clapped her hands together. "That's so cool! Can you do a dance for us?"
"How about we get some sleep," interrupted Larali, with a conciliatory glance at Lily. "She's not gonna be doing any dancing tonight, that's for sure."
"'cept what she already did in your duel," laughed Shirogane, climbing the short few steps up to the inn door. It was a squat, wide building with several wings and the best roof in the whole village. Phoenixia and Larali followed him in, but Ketra took Lily's arm, holding her back for a moment.
"Sorry…" she murmured.
"If I made you uncomfortable. I didn't mean to—"
Lily shook her head. "It's fine. I just… it was a thing, you know?"
Ketra nodded. "If it means anything, I think you're a great dancer."
"You haven't seen me dance though…" Lily pointed out.
She smiled. "Yes, I have. You fight in a dance."
Lily paused, considering it. "I mean, yeah, I guess so. But that's not really the same thing."
"In this world, it may as well be." Ketra pulled her hood back up to cover her ears once again. Lily winced, but didn't say anything. They hurried inside to join the others.
The rest of the group was in what passed for a lobby—a small desk for the innkeep, who stared at them all with a pained look in his eyes, plus a few benches, tables and chairs. Lily took one of the benches, not particularly interested how the inn worked, and Ketra joined her a moment later. Requiant seemed to be arguing with the innkeep about something, causing the delay in getting rooms for the night.
"What's his deal?" she asked, since Ketra could probably hear every word.
Ketra waited for a moment, listening in, before she answered. "It seems there's only three rooms available. Requiant doesn't want to sleep in the same room as anyone else."
"How many beds per room?" Lily asked, suddenly uncomfortable again.
"Four. No one has to share." Ketra shrugged. "I'm not quite sure what he's afraid of."
Lily glanced at the front door. "Can you get killed in an inn?"
Well, that's nice and reassuring… "...So what is safe?" Lily asked, feeling even more unsettled. Even if it was a game, she really didn't feel like getting killed any time soon. "Just logging out?"
"Not even that." Ketra smirked. "Inns are the safest place to exit Avo, though, both the ones built by players and by NPCs. If you log out in the open, your body stays exactly where you left it, so you must always find somewhere safe."
"And in an inn?"
"If you are in a room, you'll disappear after a few minutes, whenever the next server tick happens. They're on a ten minute cycle, so it could be anywhere from ten seconds to ten minutes."
Lily frowned. "What about when you log back in? It took a long time for me to get in, and my brother was messing with me the whole time until I actually opened my eyes."
"Messing with you how?" Ketra asked, her lip twitching slightly, as if she were trying not to laugh.
"...He made my hair all messy, and drew something in the dirt so I'd see it right away."
Ketra rolled her eyes. "...Well, when you log back in after exiting from an inn, you get placed in any empty room. The room is totally secure until you open the door."
"So no spawn camping."
"Not exactly, though if someone were to surround the whole building…" Ketra trailed off.
Lily sighed. "Well, that would just suck."
"Yes. It does."
"Has that happened to you before?"
"A few times." Ketra shrugged. "After a while, I just gave up and went for a walk, until a friend messaged me to let me know they'd moved on and I was okay to leave."
"Okay," Michael announced, drawing their attention. He shot an irritated look at Requiaint before he continued. "We're getting all three rooms. I'm paying, so don't worry about the money. Just a part of your reward for beta testing, all right?"
"Speaking of which," said Lily, "who won the loot contest?"
Michael glanced at Susanoo, who shrugged. "Well, right now, you did Liquin."
Lily pumped a fist in the air. "Knew it."
"But he said city," Requiant pointed out. "Skyldr isn't a city."
"The hell is a city, anyway?" said Larali.
Lily glanced back to her brother, who'd sprouted the worst kind of mischievous smile. "...He's right, Skyldr isn't a city."
"Oh, come on—"
"Whoever's got the most loot by then gets the reward." Michael glanced at Manifold, who shrugged. "Which… we'll figure out by morning."
"This is a really crappy contest," Lily grumbled.
"Anyway," Michael went on. "There's only four beds to a room. Manifold and I are taking one room, because we've gotta go over some things." Manifold nodded, though he seemed very unhappy about the idea. The man looked dead on his feet, even more than the rest of the group. His eyes were red and twitching slightly, and Lily didn't think she'd ever seen someone more stressed out, even in the real world.
Guess those rumors of insane crunch time weren't totally wrong…
"And don't worry," Michael added. "Rooms are just as secure when you lay down as they always are. Even if somebody burns the whole place down, your room's safe." He clapped Manifold on the back. "You can thank Harry for that code. He really saved my bacon there." Michael glanced around the room. "So that leaves two rooms with four beds. I figured we'd just split it up by guys and girls, but…"
"But you can't count," said Lily, rolling her eyes. "Who's drawing the short straw?"
Phoenixia shook her head vigorously. Ketra glanced at Larali, clearly uneasy, and Avalynn was just as obviously opposed to the idea. Lily, of course, didn't want to be within a hundred kilometers of Susanoo, much less sleep in the same room as him. Larali was the only one Lily might have expected to be okay with it, but even she wasn't exactly excited about the idea.
"...Draw straws it is, then," said Michael, after a few awkward minutes without a volunteer. He pulled out a handful of short sticks from his bag and snapped one in half. Lily, Avalynn, Ketra and Larali each drew long. Phoenixia drew short.
As soon as she drew it, Michael opened his mouth to object, but she shook her head. "It's fine. Hey, Shiro, you wanna race me to the room?"
"In these young bones?" Shirogane laughed. "You're on, kiddo."
They bolted away. Michael shrugged, grinning at Lily, before he dragged his hapless coworker down the hall to their room. Susanoo and Requiant walked away, leaving the four of them alone.
"How do you know that guy again?" asked Larali, glancing at Lily.
"He's kinda like my uncle, or maybe a grandpa. I've known him since I was born." Lily smiled. "He's the nicest guy. We have him and his wife over for Thanksgiving and Christmas every year. They couldn't have kids because of the blackouts, so… you know."
Larali nodded. "He seems really sweet."
"Masandar esusyl toss fasne dukaparev," muttered Avalynn. She walked away before they could respond, straight to the end of the hall where their room awaited.
Lily glanced at Ketra expectantly, but the other elf simply frowned. She looked concerned, and not just in the usual Avalynn-is-crazy way. "Ketra?"
"I'm not sure," she said slowly.
"You didn't understand what she said?"
"I understood the words," Ketra replied. "But… I'm not sure what she meant, exactly."
"Well, tell us that at least," said Larali.
"I'd like to ask her first." Ketra stifled a yawn, but it was too late. It passed to Larali, and then infected Lily just as quickly.
"After we get some sleep," said Larali, trying to hold back another yawn.
Ketra nodded. She glanced at Lily. "So are you sleeping with us tonight? Or logging out?"
"...Fine," Lily sighed. "One night won't kill me."
"Her snores might," said Ketra, nodding at Larali.
"Nope," Larali shot back. "Made sure of it with Michael when I was building my character. No snoring at all. I'm cured."
"It's a miracle."
Laughing, the three of them made their way back to the room. Four beds, one in each corner, with a shuttered window overlooking the fields back up to the north. Lily glanced at it pointedly, but Ketra shook her head. "It can't be opened from the outside. It gives you another way out, if someone's trying to block the door."
Larali walked over to one of the beds, taking off her shoes and her sword. Avalynn was already underneath the fur blanket in the corner bed, her hair barely visible from the dim light of the hallway lamps. She'd hung up her cloak on the little rack, along with…
Lily leaned in to Ketra. "...Aren't those her clothes? Like… all of them?" she whispered.
Ketra squinted. "...Yeah," she whispered back.
"Vei se peveld, dou litev," said Avalynn, making them both jump.
"She said she can hear us," Ketra translated.
"Yeah, I got that one," muttered Lily. "So… why exactly are you sleeping naked?"
"Why not?" said Avalynn.
"...She's not wrong," said Larali with a shrug. "If we were really in medieval times, that's pretty normal. Plus, you know, she's an elf. They aren't bothered by cold as much."
"Well, lucky them." Lily was already shivering a bit in the cold air, and she couldn't imagine taking off her clothes even with a thick fur waiting on the bed for her. In fact, the whole idea of sleeping under an animal fur was throwing her a lot. It wasn't a real animal, but still… weird.
"Not that this is realistic medieval times," Larali went on. "Not just the obvious stuff, but even like our clothes and whatnot are chock-full of anachronisms."
Lily rolled her eyes. "Kinda figured that out when I spawned in wearing an underwire."
"Ugh, you too?" Larali groaned. "Is it poking you already? Whatever they made these out of, it already stabbed me."
"Well, come on, give it over."
Larali gestured at her, waving her forward. "I'll fix it for you."
Lily glanced around the room avoiding her eyes, embarrassed. Larali sighed. "...Sorry. That was too much, wasn't it? My bad."
"It's okay." Lily walked over to the far bed and sat down, finally taking off her belt and the swords with a relieved breath. They weren't that heavy, and she was more than strong enough, but it was still cutting into her waist all day. "Give me a second."
"Yeah, sure." Larali glanced over at Ketra. "Ketra, you too. Trust me, you aren't gonna want to deal with that in the middle of a fight, and you don't really need the support."
Ketra looked even more embarrassed than Lily felt, as her beautiful face turned a bright shade of pink. It actually made her feel a lot better, if a girl that pretty was more uncomfortable than her. "I… I'll be fine."
"Is this abou..." Larali trailed off. "...Ketra, seriously. You're gonna have to get over that hump sooner or later, you know."
Lily finally dislodged the bra from under her shirt, and passed it over to Larali. The woman fiddled with it for a minute, even digging out an actual needle and thread from her pack. "Where'd you get those?"
"The farmers," said Larali with a shrug. She worked fast, and soon enough, a tiny glint of steel popped into view. "Gotcha." Larali tossed it back to Lily, who caught it easily and set it aside for the morning.
Ketra glanced at Lily, face still bright red. "Could you—"
Lily didn't even wait for her to finish speaking. She turned away to face the wall, where the only thing she could see was Avalynn out of the corner of her eye. To her lack of surprise, the elf's own garment had been tossed into the corner of the room unceremoniously, and Lily doubted she'd be putting it back on in the morning. Probably didn't want to leave it out in the forest 'cause modern clothes would defile it or something…
"Ketra, you've got nothing to be embarrassed about," said Larali. "You look perfect."
"Would you stop talking, please?"
Larali laughed. "Come on, just let me help you."
"Okay, okay, sorry."
"...Here," Ketra grunted, and Lily heard a rustle of movement.
"Thanks." Another rustle, as Larali presumably got to work. "Wouldn't be a problem if not for…" She trailed off awkwardly.
"Damas nara duralav sel Liquin," said Avalynn, finally sitting up in her bed and looking around.
"Would you—" said Ketra.
"What did she say?" asked Lily, still staring at the wall pointedly. "I heard my name."
Ketra sighed. "That we should blame your brother."
"Yeah, no kidding." Lily shrugged. "Although…"
"I mean, he didn't exactly get anything wrong."
"Weird, right?" said Larali. "I feel totally normal. Stronger and taller, but normal. Except… well, I'm guessing he left out the monthly visit."
"Oh, thank god," said Lily.
"But, other than that…" Larali laughed. "Guess sometimes programmers can get it right, huh?"
"Well, MVG has a pretty balanced team," said Lily, feeling a bit defensive again. "I think it's actually half-and-half."
"Thank the stars for the other half," Ketra murmured. She raised her voice. "You can turn around now."
Lily finally tore her gaze away from the wall. Ketra was back in her cloak as usual, as if nothing had happened. She sat down on the furs, still red-faced. Larali rolled her eyes and went back to her own bed. "I'm going to sleep. See you all tomorrow."
Avalynn watched Ketra from across the room, seated upright in her own bed—and still without a scrap of clothing on. Lily squinted, trying to see more detail in the dim starlight from the open window, but the elf's hair kept half of her face still in shadow. Lily couldn't make out her expression.
She sighed and gave up, taking off her boots and the rest of her equipment. Down to just a shirt and pants, Lily slipped under the furs, and found them surprisingly warm and soft already. "Okay, this isn't so bad," she said quietly. Larali sounded like she'd already fallen asleep, if the faint steady breath across the room was anything to go by.
"Hey, Liquin?" whispered Ketra. Lily twisted around under the fur to face the bed next to her. Ketra's pale face peeked out from a thick fur wrapping, snug under the covers with her head against the feather-stuffed pillow. She still looked uncomfortable, despite everything.
Lily grinned. "How's sleeping on elf ears?"
Ketra smiled, breaking a lot of the tension on her face. "Kind of weird."
"I'm sure you'll get used to it."
Ketra nodded. Her covers slipped off just a little, and she hurriedly pulled them back in place. Lily raised an eyebrow. "You okay?"
"Yes. I just…" She shrugged. "I've never slept in the same room as someone else before."
"Well… neither have I." Maybe that's why Kevin was so pissed off… No, that doesn't make any sense. That was after.
"Really?" Ketra looked astonished. "You seem so much more confident about everything."
She shook her head. "What are you talking about? I'm totally clueless here. You're the one that already knows everything. I can't even understand Avalynn." Lily paused. "She's totally listening to everything we're saying, isn't she?"
Lily's mouth fell open. "...Did she just make a joke?"
Ketra smiled. "She's not that bad—"
"—when you get to know her? Suuuure." Lily rolled her eyes, and pulled her own furs tighter around her shoulders as a gust of wind blew through the open window. "...You can't do a spell or something to close that, can you?"
"I can." Ketra murmured something quickly under her breath. With an angry creak, the window swung closed, plunging the room into total darkness.
The loss of light, coupled with the warmth and the comfortable feeling of safety that began to flood through Lily's chest, finally set in. She yawned again. "Good night, Ketra." Lily paused. "How do I—"
"Enlyn, Liquin," Ketra whispered.
With that, Lily pulled the furs up tight again and snuggled in for her first night in Avo. As weird as it felt to be going to sleep in a game, she had to admit it was actually better than her original plan. The bed wasn't quite as soft, and it definitely wasn't as warm—but there wasn't any city noise, any riots or protests, sirens and helicopters, bangs and thumps and who-knew-what-else.
Instead, Lily could hear the faint sound of crickets in the distance, accompanied by a chorus of frogs and other wildlife she couldn't identify. The inn smelled faintly of burnt wood, and in her room, Lily heard the quiet, steady breathing of three people she'd come to know as friends. Friends.
Lily Quinn didn't really have friends—not anymore. She used to, but they'd all fallen away as she skyrocketed up the ladder to fame. Nobody wanted to be friends with someone who they never saw, who canceled on every single outing just to play a few more matches. It didn't matter how successful she became, how much money she had stashed away to eventually retire on. The only social contact she ever had was her brother, and that was that.
For the longest time, without realizing it, Lily had been very, very lonely. Coming to Avo, where every concern had been stripped away? Where she could just do whatever she liked, as they kept telling her? Lily had found friends again. That was worth the price of admission, worth all the needles and weird suits and bizarre cradles and whatnot she'd climbed into.
I bet he did this on purpose, Lily realized. Michael didn't exactly need Lily to see the game to give it her support. She would have done it for family without question, and he knew that. He'd invited her for some other reason. Like an ill-advised attempt to get me to make friends.
Except it wasn't ill-advised—as the continued breathing in the room reminded her—since it actually worked. Three other beds, three new friends. How about that?
Okay… two friends. Who knows what the hell Avalynn thinks? Should've been Nixie in that bed. Oh well.
Lily finally dozed off, the world fading into black as her eyes slid closed.
Where's my alarm…?
Lily jerked upright in bed, slamming her hand onto a non-existent bedside table. The furs fell off her, reminding her immediately where she was. "Oh, right."
"You too, huh?" Larali laughed. She was sitting up in her own bed, the morning sun lighting up her face. She had the menu open in front of her, changing something Lily couldn't read from so far away with bleary eyes.
"I was trying to hit my alarm," Lily mumbled.
Larali laughed again. "I think I woke up four times trying to find my phone." She shrugged. "We'll get used to it."
"This is when I'd be going for a morning run," said Lily. She got out of bed and began to stretch out, even though she already felt limbered up and ready to go.
Larali nodded. "And I'd be doing my workout. We don't have to anymore though."
"Feels weird." Lily glanced around. "Where's Avalynn?"
Larali shrugged. She grinned at the other bed beside Lily. "Our favorite elf's sleeping like a baby though."
Sure enough, Ketra was still quietly dozing away, even with the sunlight streaming through the open window and the birds singing away in the trees. She looked incredibly peaceful, curled up slightly with her hands in front of her chest, as if clutching onto something invisible.
"How's she still asleep?" Lily asked. Larali had been laughing plenty loud to wake them all up, including Lily.
Larali shrugged. "Dunno. I figured maybe she just doesn't wake up to sound. Pretty weird with the whole super-elf-hearing thing, but hey—we're not elves."
"Try shaking her or something?"
She looked surprised. "And wake up our sleeping angel? How could you?"
Lily wasn't quite sure if she was joking or not, but was saved by a knock at the door.
"Hello?" Larali called out. Again, Ketra didn't stir in the slightest.
"It's Michael." His voice, muffled through the solid door, sounded as eager and excited as usual. "I just wanted to let you know we ordered some breakfast. It should be here in a few minutes."
"Got it. We'll be out soon." Larali glanced over at Lily. "Got another perk for you: no need to put on a morning face here. You already look great."
Lily shrugged. She barely ever went out; makeup really wasn't a big thing for her. She touched up for endorsements and the big in-person tournaments, but it wasn't part of her daily routine. "Should we wake Ketra now?"
"Yeah." Larali walked over to her bed and sat down. The instant any weight hit the bed, Ketra's eyes fluttered open. Lily hadn't noticed just long long her eyelashes were—not absurd, but certainly longer than usual. She blinked a few times, twisting under the furs to look up at Larali.
The woman grinned down at her friend. "Still in Avo, beautiful."
Ketra groaned. "I'd like to go back to sleep now, please."
"Nuh uh. We got breakfast." Larali grabbed the furs and ripped them away. Lily started to turn, half-expecting her to be just as immersive as Avalynn—but to her relief, Ketra wasn't quite to that level of crazy. She groaned and made a half-hearted effort to pull the furs back up, but finally nodded and pulled herself up with Larali's help.
"What's for breakfast?" she mumbled, pulling on her cloak and belt.
"Dunno." Larali smirked. "Could be anything. Aren't you excited?"
"Thrilled." Ketra glanced over at Lily. "How'd you sleep?"
"...Really, really well," said Lily. "You were right, you win. I'm still here, aren't I?"
Ketra smiled. "As you should be."
"Can we save the flirting for later?" said Larali. "I'm starving."
Lily stopped putting on her blades. She glanced up at Larali, surprised. "...Flirting?" she asked.
Larali winced. "Okay, I didn't mean it like that."
Ketra's face lit up brighter than the sun peeking through the window. "Can we please just go eat now?" she mumbled.
"Yeah." Larali opened the door for her, and Ketra hurried out, hood pulled low. Lily started to follow, but Larali held out an arm to stop her. "Look, uhh…"
Lily shook her head. "It's cool."
"No, really, there's nothing at all—I mean, as far as I know—"
I mean… she's really beautiful… I'm just not thinking about anything like that right now. And in here, of all places? Lily forced a grin onto her face and shrugged. "Seriously. Already forgot about it. Let's go eat."
To Lily's disappointment, breakfast turned out to be something she was very familiar with—eggs, straight from the chicken coops. Even though these weren't mass-produced industrial farm eggs, they didn't taste a whole lot different. On top of that, the inn didn't exactly have any interesting seasonings. It didn't even have salt. Thankfully, the whole thing was saved the moment they brought out the drinks.
"Mmmmm," sighed Larali contentedly, downing a whole flagon of cider. Lily sipped at hers, but she had to agree, the stuff was delicious. "Liquin, don't think I missed you not having a real drink last night. We're still going to fix that before you disappear."
Lily shrugged. "So, it's just as good here?"
"Even better!" Larali roared, slamming her flagon onto the table, startling Phoenixia next to her. "Isn't watered down at all, and I dunno what the hell they're brewing their beer with, but let's just say I'd love it even if it weren't getting me drunk."
"Still just hops," said Michael, seated near the middle of the table.
"Actually," cut in Requiant from the far end, "most beers in the Northwest are brewed with a combination of hops and syldan syrup, which adds a unique flavor that has been claimed by the Candir Medicinal Association to be hopelessly addictive. Not that anyone can prove it."
"Call me an addict, then," said Larali.
"What's syldan syrup?" asked Lily.
Avalynn spat into her empty plate. "Osandalv masevakas velae suunis sylvecev."
"Something stolen from our forests," said Ketra quietly, sitting across from Lily and Larali at their end of the table.
"Oh, get over it," said Requiant. "The Syldareis sold it freely."
"Della seves masal." Avalynn stood up and walked away with her plate to the little tray where the innkeep had asked them to leave their dishes.
"They were wrong." Ketra sighed. "People like her are the reason the Kingdom disowned us."
"Us meaning Masnas?" asked Lily.
Shirogane stood up with his own cleared plate. He raised his mug in a toast. "Well, boys and girls, it's been fun. I gotta head out though."
Lily got to her feet and hurried over to hug him. "Heading home?"
"Sure am. Gotta go kiss the wife and tell her why I wasn't around last night." He grinned. "Totally worth it though, wasn't it?"
Lily nodded. "You'll come back though, right?"
"Sheesh, Liliquin, you sound like you're already moving in!"
She blushed. "...Well, it's pretty cool so far." She could practically feel Michael beaming at her behind her back, but refused to turn around and give him the satisfaction.
Shirogane smiled. "Yeah, I'll be back."
Larali raised her flagon, and nearly knocked his away with just a tap. "We'll be here."
Shirogane wandered away down the hall toward an empty room. Lily sat back down, wanting to enjoy the last bit of cider before she headed out too. To her surprise, it pained her—but she just had too many things she needed to get done. There were emails to answer, tournaments to check on, opponents to study, training to catch up on. As fun as this diversion had been, Lily needed to get back to the real world sooner or later. She just had to figure out how to break the news to Larali and Ketra.
Of course, she didn't have to.
Michael glanced up, surprised. The rest of them had gone back to pretty banal conversation. Lily and Larali were getting an extensive rundown of exactly how beer was brewed in Avo by Requiant, and neither of them noticed what was happening. Ketra was the first to realize something was wrong.
Ketra stood up, very slowly, looking down the hall towards the rooms. Lily noticed and followed her gaze. Shirogane and Michael were talking very fast. Michael looked worried—and Lily knew her brother. No matter what, he never got worried.
Lily stood. Larali glanced up, surprised, but Lily just shook her head as she walked away. Ketra followed her, but the rest of the group stayed at the table, still talking and laughing.
"What's going on?" Lily asked, coming up next to her brother.
He spun around, shocked. "Nothing."
"What's going on?" Ketra repeated more firmly.
Michael frowned. "...He can't log out."
The menu swirled into existence in front of Shirogane, faint white smoke hanging in the middle of the wooden hallway. Shiro pressed his thumb against his right hand, but the option didn't change in the slightest.
"Try the others?" said Lily.
He did, and each one worked just fine. "Mike…" he said slowly. "If I'm not home soon, my wife's gonna—"
"Give me a second." Michael frowned. He pulled up his own menu, reflected in his irises as before. After a minute, his frowned turned to fear. "...I can't either. Not even with my override."
"What?" asked Ketra.
"I don't know yet," said Michael. "Hang on."
Lily pulled up her own menu, just in case.
She pressed her right thumb against her pinky. The smoke stubbornly stayed pale white. She opened the other menus again, just in case, and all of them worked. Only the Logout option refused to function. "Michael…" said Lily. "I can't either."
"I…" Michael frowned. "It's always worked. Harry and I have done this a hundred times. Nothing changed in that code."
"What does this mean?" Ketra asked.
"La danenav suuna to movekkas." Avalynn appeared just behind Lily, without any of them noticing her listening in. She didn't seem concerned in the slightest. As they turned, she simply walked away again, back to the unsuspecting group at the table still finishing their breakfast.
"What did she say?" asked Michael.
"...She said it means we're trapped," said Ketra, and a horrible sinking feeling plunged into Lily's stomach.