** The 2019 starts now. A Christmas story in 25 short episodes, posted daily 5pm GMT. (I hope, have only just started writing it, but I'll do my best.) **

Nani swore when she realised what ailed her grandson. She should have seen it sooner.
"Where is your shadow?" she asked.
1/25

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He had given it to a mysterious, beautiful girl he met at the Midsummer dance.
"Did she pay?" Nani asked.
"She kissed me."
2/25

"You fool," Nani shook her head. "Your shadow is your anchor in this world."
No wonder the lad was growing vague and wan.
3/25

He had missed one chance of reclaiming it, at the autumn equinox. And now he was too far gone.
She sighed. "I'll get it."
4/25

The gates never quite close, but at the four balance points of the year they open widest.
So. She had until dawn tomorrow.
5/25

Nani packed a satchel, put on skis, and set off. The only gate she knew of was a mile away. She hoped it was the right one.
6/25

The gate was at a waterfall, a step out from the edge. Nani leaned her skis against a tree and saw a black cat watching her.
7/25

She looked at the stepping stones along the edge, and the spray of icy water around them.
"Want a ride?" she asked the cat.
8/25

Cats, of course, wander realms as they please, but icy water is icy water. Nani was still as the cat jumped to her shoulder.
9/25

Careful steps took her to the middle. She could feel the cat get ready to leap, so Nani took one last step, over the edge.
10/25

She stepped into a spring meadow and halted. The cat jumped down and ran off, without looking back.
"Welcome to the Court."
11/25

A beautiful person stood smiling by the gate. Nani bowed.
"I seek a shadow."
She saw no shadows when she looked down
12/25

"Here?" The person laughed. "Let's go ask the king. May I have your name?"
Nani knew that trick.
"You can call me... Nina."
13/25

Everyone Nani saw was beautiful and wearing bright, colourful clothes. None of them, however, outshone the king. He smiled.
14/25

"Do you see shadows here?" the king said.
Nani squinted and looked around. There was a dark patch by- no, that was the cat.
15/25

"Nevertheless." She opened her satchel. "I offer you this bread I baked."
"Would you offer your youth?" the king countered.
16/25

"I have none," Nani said. It stung. "I offer you these mittens I knitted."
"Would you offer your beauty?" the king smiled.
17/25

"I have none," Nani said. "I offer this stone with a hole in it, which reveals illusions."
She held it up in front of her.
18/25

"Rude!" the court shouted.
Nani quickly put the stone back in her bag. Her look through it had only shown beautiful people.
19/25

"I am sorry," she said.
The king frowned. "Nina, Nina," he said.
Nani felt her name being pulled, but it stayed with her.
20/25

"No youth, no beauty? Then your health, wealth and titles," the king said.
Nani stood as straight she could. "I have none."
21/25

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