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And the humming-girl spoke. Incomprehensible words like everyone else here, but it spoke. And flitted. And spoke again. And oddly, it seemed as if it might just understand her, when she spoke the Ancient words. It poked her, and flitted off.

The woman’s confusion mounted. How could someone understand a language and not speak it? The humming-girl was not mute–it formed the barbarian sounds of these folk well enough. And what was it, anyway? There was nothing like it in the Kingdom, at least that she knew of. And someone would most definitely mention seeing a tiny flying talking girl–the story would have spread faster than the news that Tae-hi-ajima had unearthed her latest batch of kimchi.

She started to turn back to the human man walking up and down the hill, shaking her head as she caught another glimpse of that first sturdy midget, still pacing the main street. And in that moment, the humming-girl returned, with one of the People. He was tall, and bore a staff like the elders carried. At last! Now she would have some answers! Now she could get on with her mission. Assuming, she thought testily, that he can actually form the Ancient words.

Happily, he could. But he was not immediately very helpful, for he said he had never heard of Sun-Ok, the friend she had come to find. But surely she would have sought out the People and especially the elders here? Her doubts about the portal returned. At least he cleared up one mystery–the midget, he said, is actually a dwarf. But in so doing, of course, he raised a whole new set of doubts. A dwarf? They were not real–everyone knew they were just creatures from the tales told to frighten children. Where was she, anyway? Dwarves and humming-girls?

At least she managed to convince him to go indoors, someplace warm, and he led her up the hill to an inn where someone had oddly left a bear fur, complete with head and claws, in front of the door. As she edged past the barbaric thing, someone entered the inn behind her, calling her friend’s name, “Sun-Ok?”

At last! Someone who knew her friend! Now she could deliver the message. She had begun to doubt…to fear that the portal..

She turned back and saw a female elf-blood, who seemed surprised that she was not in fact Sun-Ok. “You know Cheng Sun-Ok?” she asked in the Ancient words.

“Pardon, I thought…perhaps she had changed the way she wears her hair.” The woman looked her over curiously. “I am Avalumiel Diansdottir. How do you know our Sunny?”

“Choi Hon-tae, honored,” she answered distractedly. The confusion was returning. “Sun-ni? No, I am looking for an elf-blood named Sun-Ok, Cheng Sun-Ok. She is a friend from my youth…from home.”

It turned out this “Sunny” was a nickname of sorts that these people had given her friend–at least that made sense, when this Ava-person explained what it meant in the local tongue–the contrast with this wintry realm would have appealed to her friend’s sense of humor. And so they sat and talked of their mutual friend.

But the confusion lingered, her doubts never further than the humming-girl, who buzzed around the elf who claimed she was his familiar and who dozed just across the tall table, her uncertainty reinforced by the midget and the fantastical bull-man who seemed to operate the inn, and who stood not three bow-lengths away. Quite apart from them, the most incredulous things emerged from this Ava-person’s lips.

For she told Hon-tae of earth-demons and sewing, of dwarf-oaths and human partnerships, things that made no sense for the Sun-Ok she had known. But Ava seemed to know some of Sun-Ok’s past, as well. It was confusing, but since Ava could provide no answer as to how to locate Sun-Ok, Hon-tae at last decided that there was no choice but to pass the message, for now, as best she could. She thought for some time of the best way to do that–one that would work whether her doubts were unfounded or not…

“Tell Sun-Ok…please tell her…that blood runs in the stream and snakes are in the grass. Tell her…exactly that.” There, Hon-tae thought. A step toward completing the mission. And not fatal if this Ava…or the portal…