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I eyed my lover warily. After a long day shaping metal and glass beads into dangles, I would have been content to relax outside beneath the trees. Nashada, on the other hand, conducted hunts through the ruins, drank late at night at different cheldzan, and attended parties and clays at any hour he could contrive. I loved him, tail to ear-tip, but trusting him to choose my entertainment was a different matter.

"Oh, come on," Nashada said, pulling me after him.

Beneath crumbled blocks and behind partial walls, deep shadows hid from the light cast by fire bowls. The Jokka waiting with us for admission to the clay were washed in the numinous palette, gold glimmering, purple darkness. I knew I would recognize no one in the morning, and while I could appreciate the artistry, it heightened my discomfort.

"Why is it so dark?"

"It's supposed to be mysterious," Nashada said, grinning. "It's a special clay."

My misgivings doubled. "What do you mean, 'special'?"

"This clay-keeper, everyone calls her Ke Pediná. She writes naughty stories."

Before I could voice the objections that crowded my throat, Nashada dragged me in, handing two claim stones to the eperu at the arch. The seating area was no more than a selection of broken stone benches and fallen columns, artfully draped with veils.

"Naughty stories?" I hissed at Nashada once he'd chosen us a bench. "What are you talking about?"

Nashada's slender fangs shone in his smile. "What more do you need to know? Ke Pediná sets down graphic love stories. I thought it might be fun to come and see just how graphic they were."

My mouth worked, but I had no words. Clay-keepers were among the most honored members of our society, for they guarded our history, our stories, our knowledge. Periodically, they set out pieces of our truths with their collections of painted stones and clay bits: stories spelled out, letter by letter, for people to read. The thought that one of Het Kabbanil's clay-keepers used his precious store of letters to set out graphic love stories explained why he needed a title to hide behind . . . and Ke Pediná, "Honored Tease," only stressed the indecency of the idea.

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