Kaitlin wiped her forehead with her sleeve wearily as she gathered her things. Her sword and sheath, her bottle of water, and her gym bag. Everyone had gone home for the day. The gym was quiet. Not even Asterisk was around to bug her.
She showered and put on her everyday clothes again, shoving her t-shirt and pants into her bag. As she left she locked the locker room, making sure it was properly closed. At the reception desk out in the lobby she handed in the keys she borrowed every Wednesday and bid the janitor goodnight on her way out.
The cold night air whipped against her skin. When she sucked in a breath, the wind ripped at her throat, making it feel raw and sore after just a few breaths. It was November.
She had just began contemplating hopping on the bus when a familiar honk made her jump. In the parking lot, a set of red brake lights glowed at her and the car honked again. Kaitlin approached with a crooked smile, throwing her sword and bag into the back seat before taking her seat in the driver's seat.
"You know you're not supposed to drive," Kaitlin reprimanded gently. "You don't even have a license."
"Would you rather walk home in the cold?" Asterisk smiled. "I thought you'd be thanking me."
"You could at least put on the AC," Kaitlin grumbled. "It's cold in here, too."
"I put on the butt toaster for you."
Kaitlin's seat slowly heated up underneath her and she leaned back with a small sigh. "That's better."
"So are we going to go?"
Kaitlin started the car. It shook to life with a few rusty coughs before falling into a comforting hum. They pulled out of the parking lot and turned.
Asterisk was tired. Kaitlin could tell, because her face was pale and gray and she had dark shadows under her eyes. There was also the way she leaned back in her heated seat with her eyes half-closed, already half asleep. It was actually quite obvious.
"Will you be okay for tomorrow?" Kaitlin asked.
"Ye," Asterisk replied. "Just let me sleep soon and I'll be fine."
"I'll get everything ready tonight. You just rest up, okay?"
Kaitlin parked by the side of the road and got out, pulling her stuff out of the backseat. She made sure Asterisk actually got out instead of sleeping in the car before locking it and fishing out her house keys.
"Are you excited?" Asterisk asked.
"I always am," Kaitlin said. "It's fun."
All those years ago, she and Asterisk had started keeping in shape on the Outside by training in the park. They had jogged, done push-ups and sit-ups, and sparred. They used whatever they had around; sticks, plastic toys, brooms, anything. Fairly soon, Kaitlin's body could keep up with her Board-savvy mind in a swordfight. It felt good. She lost some weight, which was nice, too.
It was only when they noticed the small crowd that always gathered around their sparring Asterisk had the bright idea of getting real swords. At that point, Kaitlin had already decided to become a swordsmith; there weren't many places and schools that offered it – in fact, only one -, but she went for it. She learned basic blacksmithing, then went to a trained swordsmith as an apprentice.
Kaitlin managed to get ahold of a proper sword that somewhat matched her Skofnung from the Board. Ast did the same.
They earned surprisingly good money one day Asterisk lost her hat in the middle of a spar. People misinterpreted the upturned cap and threw money into it. Kaitlin had half a mind to object, but at the same time, she had nothing against a little extra money. Ast was unemployed, but got money on a monthly basis in disability benefit. It was because of her long years spent behind the walls of the institution and her still on-going problems, but she sure enjoyed pretending it was completely because of her arm and that she was thus incapable of helping Kaitlin at the most inopportune of times. "Oh no, I'm disabled, I can't carry that…"
After sparring at the park for a while – and earning some quick money doing it – some passerby expressed interest in learning how to use a sword. The next time, after finishing their spar, the girls asked around the crowd if anyone else would be interested. The response was largely positive.
They rented a gymnasium and invited people to come. The first class was mainly just for information; what Kaitlin did and what she did not do, the potential rules and regulations, and info about equipment. She made it very clear that neither she nor Ast knew the first thing about actual swordplay as a sport, and that the swordsmanship taught would not adhere to any previously set rules. Despite this, people were startled when the first class came, and slowly but steadily they lost students. A few remained, though, and with a smaller group they learned faster. They liked it. Kaitlin suspected they were mostly live action role-players out to enhance their experience with some real, gritty sword fighting. She didn't really mind that. The classes were fun. She was surprisingly apt at teaching. Asterisk joined them in the gym, but Kaitlin did most of the talking.
The students liked Kaitlin better. She was somewhat smug about it.
The reason was that Asterisk was much more likely to beat them up, while Kaitlin was much nicer to them. Just like when she danced standard step on the Board, she adjusted her speed and power. Ast, on the other hand, was just as rough on everyone. It was a good thing they practiced with fake weapons, or else Ast would have murdered all of them by now.
Tomorrow, there was a fair. They had been hired to come there and give demonstrations of their swordplay – people liked it because it looked realistic, and Kaitlin wasn't about to argue. She had, after all, developed it on an actual battlefield while struggling to survive. Apparently, people liked that. She didn't mind being hired, either. It made a living. Sometimes people would buy swords from her there, too – and those were pricey. She liked being a Viking. Well, pretending to be, anyway. Kind of. She got to wear a costume.
Life had sorted itself out. It was nice. They were getting by – at least for now. And that's all that mattered.
"I'm going to bed," Asterisk said. "Wake me up when we're leaving."
"Alright," Kaitlin replied, shouting out to Ast as she pulled her small suitcase out from under her bed. They'd be gone a few days. She needed clothes.
"Good night, Kaitlin."
"G'night, sleep well."
Asterisk closed her bedroom door and disappeared for the night. Kaitlin sat up in her room for a while more, staring absentmindedly into the ceiling with a shirt in her hands. How nice.
She quickly finished stuffing her suitcase and closed it. She was working hard on the Board, but Flang would probably come in pretty soon and distract her. It was late. It was time to stop working.
Kaitlin put her pen down and drew the curtains on her large office window. The Kingdom was quiet. Somewhere out there in the dark, on the other side of the forest, Asterisk was settling into bed with her Erin.
Kaitlin was warm and comfortable. The familiar knock on her door sounded.
"K? It's time to go to bed."
Apparently, it was a White Kingdom habit to nickname people by their first letter. Kaitlin liked being called K by Flang. It was friendly and cute and nice.
"K, are you sleeping?"
"No, I'm coming," Kaitlin said. "Just a moment."
"It's nearly midnight."
Kaitlin put out her light, encasing the room in darkness. Then, she left, meeting Flang in the hallway. The blonde was looking at her disapprovingly.
"You always do this, K. One of these days it's going to come bite you in the ass. Please stop working so late."
"Sorry," Kaitlin smiled. "I'll try. Promise."
"Okay, K. I trust you."
Flang put her arm around Kaitlin's waist and quickly kissed the corner of her mouth. "Let's go to bed," she said. "You look exhausted."
"Alright," Kaitlin agreed, letting herself be led down the hall. Since Asterisk had moved out, the main bedroom was theirs. It was nice there.
Everything was pretty nice. Flang's teeth never corrected themselves, even though she was a proper adult now. She ate lots of iron and did lots of queenly things and had lots of patience with Kaitlin's shenanigans. Despite being a proper adult, Kaitlin never outgrew herself. Flang said it was nice.
Outside Kaitlin felt warm and cozy in her bed, knowing that even if she was alone out here, she would always have Flang on the Board. Just like Asterisk had her 'rin. Kaitlin's mom was worried about her daughter and sometimes asked if she was secretly dating Asterisk, but Kaitlin just smiled and said that no she wasn't but don't worry mom.
Don't worry mom, Kaitlin's fine. She's actually a King with a beautiful Queen and a whole kingdom that she won a war to unify, and that horse she always wanted as a little girl, too. Her life is actually pretty fantastic right now. Not that you'd know, of course; the Board is her own little secret because she'd be shacked up faster than Ast with a gun if she told anyone.
Kaitlin never outgrew her horrible sense of humor, either.
The poll that has been on my profile since D8 started has been replaced (Kaitlang came out on top with 12 votes out of 18; Astlin has 4 and Asterin has 2). That's really all I wanted to say, but I'm not a fan of "empty updates", so here's a little addendum instead. I felt like I should've mentioned the Outside more in the epilogue, so that's what this one is about. As always, is open for questions and comments, as well as information posts. If you're not on tumblr, that's okay, you can ask questions without one and simply bookmark the page if you're interested in keeping tabs on D8 (and keeping track of if your question was answered).
Thanks for reading.