Dear diary,

Today was the day of convocation, bringing another week to an end. Cleric Quire spoke of 'the importance of being prepared for change in our lives'. He used the seasons as an example, and also spoke of marriage, because of course he did. He went on a lot about how 'a son must learn from his father how to be a good husband and father, and a daughter from her mother'. As if he knows what he’s talking about. I doubt my mother had to learn from her mother how to hide in her room all day and let her daughters run everything. As no one not familiar with my diary would expect, that put a lot of terrible thoughts in my head. I can't become her, I really can't! Somehow I survived through the entire exhortation keeping a 'properly placid expression' at all times. The agony! (It's easier if I tell myself I'm being dramatic because it's funny. I don't get to be funny outside of my diary.)

Mother made me wear the hideous green dress again. How does she not see that it makes me look like a needle-tree? And why does no one else seem to understand how horrible dresses are? Who designed them? And who tricked women into thinking they're a good idea? Justine was wearing the cream-coloured one with the lace. It makes her look like a cloud. Ruth kept whispering about Marcas Freeman and giggling. How can she like the way he keeps gawking at her? It's awful! At least it's better than seeing Charity pretending to be Kim's friend in the empty hope she can use her as a job reference some day.

Codex recitals were fine. I still can't remember what order everything goes in, and I really don't care. Charity showed off how good her memory is, as usual. She's welcome to the attention. It's infuriating how good she is at her lessons when she's always daydreaming, but of course I can't show that. It wouldn't be so bad if she didn't take such obvious joy in being 'smarter' than everyone else.

Today was partially cloudy, and dinner wasn't hot enough.

The fish are doing fine, but I had to stop Chace from tapping on the glass again.

Random fish fact: Some types of fish never stop swimming, because they need to be swimming to breathe. Imagine having to walk to breathe!

Dear diary,

Charity got herself hurt again. This time it was a fence. I suspect she was running because she was late again. She pretends to be so devout and seems to have no idea that everyone sees through her act. Why does she think she's being married off to a butcher from a different city?

The harvest is proceeding well. We should be well prepared for winter, but there's still a lot to do. There always is.

It will probably rain overnight. We were able to heat tonight's soup enough before it came over cloudy again, and kept it hot enough to enjoy properly.

Picking herbs in a dress is so uncomfortable!

The fish are very active tonight. I hope Chester didn't overfeed them.

Random fish fact: Most fish are covered with protective slime. Do they feel like they are covered in slime? Once I got soaked when a water pipe burst and I could feel my dress stuck to my skin. It was awful. I'm sure I wrote many strong words about it near the start of last year's diary.

Dear diary,

It rained for much of the night as predicted. Chad and Ches found a mud puddle and somehow fell in while trying to race boats made of leaves. Charity was meant to be watching them. She says her injury was bothering her a lot, but I know she had to be daydreaming. Probably working on a maths problem in her head. Weirdo.

Nothing else interesting happened. Just lots of dusting. Mother's making me sew myself a horrid new warm dress for winter. She won't even let me make it red. What's wrong with red?

The weather cleared up before noon, so we got a lot of baking done. Chynella tried out a new pancake recipe. It didn't fail.

Random fish fact: Some fish can swim as fast as a train. Maybe not the very fastest trains. I mean as fast as trains can go on rails. Imagine a swimming train!

I forgot to mention: the largest fish is looking dimmer than usual. He may not be long for this world.

Dear diary,

It's so frustrating playing the role of the perfect daughter. Especially when Charity thinks that's what she is. And what do I even get for it? For now, it means I don't get pestered to be better. It means I get called 'so practical'. It means I get smiles and nods from people who think they know me. But once Charity is married, it means I'm valuable. I don't know if that will be worth all the effort I've put myself through. I can only hope that I'm valuable enough and indispensable enough to Mother that Father doesn't try very hard or is very picky in selecting a 'match' for me, and I get the relative pleasure of mothering my siblings until I become an old maid.

If that doesn't work, it will be too late to switch to the untouchable rebel route. It probably already is. I think it would backfire and have me sent out of the way like Charity. I really hope her stupid injury doesn't kill her. She's my sister, of course I don't want her to die! And that would leave me as the eldest daughter. Why did I have to be a daughter? Charles at least got some input into who he married. Not much but not nothing. Father didn't even talk to Charity about the subject until after. That might turn out alright though. Charity can't hide her feelings, unlike me.

Today was another normal day. Cleaning, cooking, keeping the 'littles' (Charity has the dumbest nicknames) out of trouble, studying whatever parts of the great wisdom of the clerics they allow young women to know about, the usual. The twins (Naming them Chyley and Chyler was one of Father's more terrible decisions. My name's worse though, because it means something that's only value is looking decorative and holding drinks.) are learning that annoying rhyme for remembering the name of the chapters of the Codex of Purity. If I have to hear them sing 'Maintaining Purity of Whatever' one more time, someone's going to find out just how 'practical' I can be.

The wind was unusually still today and so were the fish. But their water is fine and I made sure they were fed the right amount.

Random fish fact: Some types of fish are all born male, or all born female, and change as needed, depending on circumstances. That seems rather convenient.

Dear diary,

There's nothing to worry about. Well, there's plenty of things but at least the Charity situation seems to be handled. I got in quite a row with her earlier. I even called her clumsy and rebellious! I was so sure she had no chance of getting healing, but Father's patrol did something which I think earned him a boon. Also some kind of railway incident has happened, cancelling the 'Forty Thousand Days Since the Last Railway Incident' festival. That's a major loss for Forrester's Crossing. I don't know how something that bad happened while turning out well for the patrol. Charity is hearing the whole story and will fill me in tomorrow for sure.

Actually I am still worried about her. While Chace was reciting his numbers, I saw her talking to a stranger by the herb garden. She hasn't brought it up and I haven't confronted her about it. Yet. I'll remember this in case I ever need to get a favour out of her.

I wonder who will give the boys their mathematics lessons after Charity moves away. I doubt Father will want another daughter to learn advanced maths. Mother won't have the energy for it, and he won't have himself or one of his sons stoop to teaching. (Why is it considered women's work to teach something that only men are meant to learn?) Perhaps he'll pay for a tutor, or just make them figure it out for themselves.

I'd much rather be helping with the harvest, but that's strong men's work. I could be strong! Gloria Carter is strong! I could be like that if Father would just let me. Mother says Gloria only does heavy work because all her brothers died young, and no woman should want to be like that. Mother also says she needs peace and quiet while she's expectant. Or while she's recovering. Kim Riggs is expectant and she doesn't need peace or quiet!

There was scattered cloud cover today but not enough to cause problems with cooking. There was also scattered Chynella today, but not quite enough to cause problems with cooking that couldn't be solved.

The fish seem back to normal, apart from the big one's dimness.

Random fish fact: jellyfish and crayfish aren't actually fish. I suppose that's not really a fish fact, but it will have to do. My mushroom's rather dim and it's getting hard to see what I'm writing.

Dear diary,

Everything is changing so fast. I thought the stuff I wrote about last night was major. Charity getting healed? Amazing, great! 40k day cancelled? Shocking, terrible! But all that seems like small fry now.

If you weren't made of paper, you might ask what could be bigger than a miracle for my sister or a city celebration being ruined.

Maybe it's not 'bigger' for other people, but it surely is for me. Father is talking about marrying me off. And of course it's all because of Charity.

I'm going to tell the whole story from the beginning, because this is my private diary and if I want to draw out the explanation to be as agonisingly dramatic as possible, then I rusting well will do so. This is an emotional outlet for a reason!

I didn't have all the details last night, but in short Father's patrol caught one of the night creatures trying to sneak into the city, after it summoned evil arcane forces to damage the railway, ruining our safety record. In return for their belated effort, Charity was to be given healing, after the foul beast was sent where it belongs. So there was a whole fancy social thing. Charity went off and pretended to be Kim's friend while I tried not to act like a total goof with Justine and Ruth.

I'm going to be indulgent and let myself complain about how unfair it is that dresses look so great on them, while I utterly detest all of mine. And I'm sure mine would look fine on them too. Justine has such a perfect figure. Don't think I'm jealous though. She's quite welcome to it. It's not that my figure is bad either. I suppose it's alright. But sometimes I think I'd be better off not having a figure at all. It's so creepy when the boys stare at me. Of course they don't notice me at all when Justine is around, but somehow it seems even worse that they're staring at her. I'm definitely not jealous of their attention though. I'm just uncomfortable on her behalf. Chastity often complains about boys being so obsessed with 'boring boy stuff'. I wish they really were! Not that it's even boring. I have to pretend it is, of course. Well maths is boring, though it seems important. I don't understand the purpose of mixing letters in with the numbers, but it looks like something that would be useful some day.

So, back to the story. Everything was going alright and we'd just finished our overpriced and overheated pies. The ceremony was close and I hadn't seen Charity since she ran off with Kim. The first sign that something had gone wrong was the sound. It wasn't at all like the sound of a steam boiler bursting, but it made me think of one. It also made me think of the bubbly lemon drink we had on our trip to Deepbloom. And of thunderstorms. There was general confusion for a while but nothing meaningful happened.

The second sign that something had gone wrong was some mid-level clerics' wives yelling about the prisoner escaping. After some more mass panic I learned that they'd found Gloria Carter tied up somewhere. Either a closet or a basement. I heard a few different versions of the tale. Apparently she'd been trapped unable to call for help for hours. I feel bad that I hadn't done anything to help find her.

Later I also heard that her dress had been stolen, and possibly her hair too. Scandalous! She's never going to socially recover from this.

Back to the story, it took a lot of time (and clerics) to get a handle on what was going on. The prisoner had escaped the city, and Charity was missing. Charity and a stranger (who most likely was actually the prisoner?) were tracked to Val's bakery, which was the site of an arcane attack. Sal was exiled for quarantine, and so were some junior clerics. Charity is exiled in principle and presumably in effect, but she's still missing, presumed kidnapped. For all we know, she could be hiding in the city, or anywhere! (Also she wasn't healed and the boon was taken back because the nightwalker prisoner escaped.)

So this is a total disaster. I would say that I never thought Charity would do something this extreme, but I don't really know how much was intentional on her part. Was the stranger she was with last night part of this? Given the timing of the railway incident, it seems likely. Now I regret not speaking up, and if I say something now...

The best I can do is search the area past the herb garden tomorrow morning. I think I saw the stranger come from that direction. Maybe there's nothing, but I can't ignore the possibility of finding something.

What am I even trying to achieve? Charity is gone and this won't get her back. So now I'm on the hook to fulfill Father's promise to the butcher in Deepbloom. But not until my birthday, year after next. Perhaps he will change his mind? Maybe I should ensure that happens.

Or maybe when I'm actually old enough, I'll stop panicking and will feel alright about this? Am I being a scared little girl who's afraid to grow into a woman? It has to be fine, we all do it. When I'm older, this will feel right. It has to.

I... suppose I don't have to decide anything now. There's time. I just wish I knew what really happened to Charity. What was she thinking? What did she do? Is she dead? Is she dying? Is she happy?

What is 'happy'? Can I be happy?

I had to tell Mother what happened to Charity. As much as we know, that is. It was tough, even though Father told me what to say. He's still out doing patrol stuff. Mother is inconsolable. She's hiding in her room and isn't talking to anyone, so everything is normal besides the sobbing.

The sky is clear and the temperature is dropping fast.

The fish are swimming around without any awareness of our problems. It would be so peaceful to be a fish. Nothing to do but swim, eat, and provide a little bit of light.

Random fish fact: Despite their name, catfish don't glow.

A note from Crash Snowdon

RR is now caught up with what I've posted elsewhere, so updates will be slower after this.

Support "Multi-Track Mages Down Under series - Sisters of Rail, Daughters of Titans"

About the author

Crash Snowdon


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