A/N: This is 3 of 3 chapters uploaded today! Finally got the formatting to copy-paste/upload without me manually inserting everything constantly, so have the rest of the story!
Midwinter had always been a hard holiday.
All right. To be fair, High Holy Days had always been hard. It was honestly bizarre to see how much tension had been missing this Midwinter, because Kiara had known Kir's absence had affected the family. Had impacted everyone in ways she had no way of recognizing, because she had grown up with him gone. But of all the things to change with Kir's return, with Kir's existence, she hadn't expected High Holy Days to get easier. Well, not that much easier.
It was heartbreaking.
A double-set of raps on her door set her eyes to rolling and she opened it, staring down at her nephews and saying, "No, Kari hasn't arrived yet. Why are you so convinced two days past Midwinter is the day? This is the third time you've stopped by!"
"Midwinter was on a Solsday this year," Devin replied, coming in at her gesture, "And the Honorable Kari said our fish and story exchange would be scheduled for Second-Days, though he might have to take the fish and run if there was an emergency in progress, and if he's already here, today being letter-delivery day would make sense! And we're right, because Kari just finished with his story and took the fish and said he'd be delivering letters next! He just wanted to finish his fish, he gave the story first this time."
"He said something about lording it over someone named Hansa too," Ivan shrugged, "Is Lukas coming here?"
"I think Lukas is at Nana's place," Kiara replied, only managing to get a few steps away from her door when another set of raps pulled her back. This time she expected Lukas, but was surprised – and a little alarmed – to see both Ma and Nana behind him.
Greetings exchanged, Kiara waved them all in and offered hospitality, very pointedly not including Lukas until last. Her brother at least winced, as well he should, because they had a deal not to spring parental visits on one another without warning!
"Honored Kari stopped by to say he would be delivering a letter shortly, and that this letter was to the collective," Irma said, taking Lukas' usual chair and rubbing her hands together briskly, "We won't do this every time, Kiara, just – just this first. The others we can wait for a family dinner or for you to pass them on."
"I'll believe that when I see it," Kiara replied dryly, Ma huffing a laugh because she at least knew Kiara was right.
It would take at least a few of these letters before any of them were willing to take their coming as given. Kiara rather doubted anyone would end up taking them for granted, except perhaps Devin and Ivan. They were young enough – Ivan especially – to forget in all but the most abstract way what living under the old regime was like, missing uncle no one ever spoke of and all.
"So what story did you ask Kari for this time?" Lukas prompted.
"Devin made a list of questions about Vanya Flamesinger, so we asked for that one," Ivan said, shrugging, "We know it, but his version was different enough to keep it interesting. Also Devin got to ask his detail questions."
"And Kari laughed when we asked, and said how timely, so there's that," Devin agreed, grinning at their intrigued glances and continuing, "He deferred one of my detail questions even because apparently the letter should explain or at least sort of answer it!"
"That – is rather worrying, actually," Tamara murmured, brow furrowing as she glanced Lukas' way – no, Kiara realized quickly, as she glanced Lukas' arrowhead's way. "What question was deferred?"
"If the music Vanya Flamesinger used to call fire was at all related to the way Uncle Kir hears fire, and if so how and if unknown what sort of testing methods could be used to get an answer," Devin replied promptly, Ivan shaking his head at his older brother.
"You really are lucky one follow-up per question was included," he muttered.
Devin scoffed, "Please, luck had nothing to do with it, that was negotiated."
"Whatever discovery was made could have happened less than dramatically," Lukas said, even though he sounded extremely dubious, and rightly so.
Ma sighed heavily, exchanging a heavy and oddly amused look with Nana before saying, "Only one thing for it then. Time to start taking bets."
"Three meals of dishes on whatever discovery being entirely accidental," Irma fired off.
Ma scoffed, crossing her arms and saying disdainfully, "Please, that is a given. Four net-mendings on a student being in the middle of it."
"Three button sets on this Flamesinger-fire connection being the least of it," Lukas offered, Kiara about to make her own offer when Kari appeared on her table, a rather thick envelope under one paw, and his blue eyes gleamed, the Cat taking in the scene.
:Ah. Bets. Any others to add before I pass this letter off?:
"No," Kiara said cheerfully, snagging the letter out from under Lukas' grasp and saying, "Ah! You can't read it Lukas, you made a bet that might bias you! Boys, either of you making a bet?"
"Ma says gambling is recklessly stupid and if she finds out we did it without rigging the game first she'll ground us, and we're still grounded from the whole sneaking off to meet you thing," Devin replied, "Besides, Uncle Lukas took my bet."
"I was going to bet on there being little to no drama at all, but that letter looks way too long for that to be a good idea," Ivan admitted
Every Dinesh scoffed, Tamara patting her youngest grandson's head and saying wryly, "Oh Ivan. You are so very young. Never bet on the drama-free option, not if a Dinesh is involved."
Kiara, meanwhile, had unfolded the letter, recognizing the first hand as Kir's and snickering at his opening lines, clearing her throat before starting to read.
"Dear family," she recited, "Regardless of what Anur attempts to claim later on, he cursed us. I would like that stated for the record. We were cursed. We made good time back to Sunhame, nothing dramatic en route, but it was all an attempt to lull us into a false sense of security…"