Episode One: A New Student – The Last Page

The following is the first episode in my ongoing serial, The Last Page. The Last Page is a loving romp through the otome isekai genre, but with tons more GAY. I started writing it as a way to wind down after a hard and depressing editing session with Smoke & Steel. My brain needed some sweet candy, and this is the result. All my favorite tropes — sheepish sapphics, in love with the villainess, dethawing the ice queen, pretend or fake engagement / dating, forced proximity, unlikely allies, and lots of magic and mystery! If you enjoy this episode, you can read more on my Ream page. Follow me on Ream—which is FREE—and you will get one new episode per week, every Friday! If you want even MORE, you can become a paid subscriber for $4.99 and get early access and TWO episodes per week! As of today (5.8.2024), Followers can read up to Episode 11 and paid members are at the start of Season 2 (Episode 43!).

The darkness presses in, suffocating her just as much as the coarse rope digging into her neck. A shadowy figure looms over her, its features indistinct yet hauntingly familiar. Calloused hands tighten the noose, each tug more merciless than the last.

Ein claws at the restraint, her nails digging into the rough fibers. She tries to scream, but only a strangled wheeze escapes her lips. Panic seizes her chest as the world around her grows dim. The figure leans closer, its breath hot against her ear. A raspy voice, both strange and intimate, whispers something into her ear, but she has no clue as to what.

Drenched in a cold sweat, Ein jolts awake; her heart thunders in her ears as she gulps down mouthfuls of air. Trembling fingers clutch at the silk sheets she has tangled herself in.

The room slowly comes into focus—the canopied bed, the late morning sun shining through the heavy velvet curtains, the lingering smell of the burned-out hearth, and the distant songs of mockingbirds outside her window. Ein presses a hand to her chest, willing her racing pulse to steady.

It was just a dream. The same haunting nightmare that has plagued her for years—someone who seems to know her every fear and secret coming for her, threatening her. It is just a dream; she tries again to remind herself. But the terror still clings to her like a shroud, leaving her shaken and disoriented.

She sits up, throwing the blankets and sheets aside in a messy pile next to the book she had fallen asleep with. Closing her eyes, she waits for the dizziness to pass. Another constant companion: the lightheadedness that can bring her to the floor without warning. Over two decades of carefully watching her step and trying not to 'overdo it,' as so many physicians and healers warned her.

Sliding her feet into satin slippers, she dons the same dress and blouse she wore the day before and makes her way to the dining room for breakfast. The chatter of her family echoes down the hall as they eat breakfast. Father’s bright laugh, Mother’s gentle humming, and Deirdre’s melodic voice rising above all of it. But as she nears, it is not the scent of eggs and bacon that fill the air. Her shoulders slump; she slept through breakfast. Again.

“Did you stay up too late reading or writing last night?” Her father asks her, not putting down the papers he's holding in front of his face, continuing to squint at his own terrible handwriting; Ein had inherited both his poor eyesight and poor penmanship.

“Both,” she replies, snatching a buttered roll off of his plate. “I need to go to the library today. I shall be home before dinner.”

Her mother laughs in disbelief but does not call Ein out on the fact that she has never once arrived home before dinner on the days she goes to the library. “Do you want me to come with you?” Deirdre asks. “I have to go into town anyway for a dress fitting.”

“Oh? This must be the fifth dress you have ordered this month. You certainly are monopolizing Mistress Claire's time,” Ein says, raising an eyebrow.

Her younger sister blushes—her face almost the same shade of red as her strawberry-blonde hair—and crosses her arms. “She makes very pretty dresses!” Their father sighs, still not tearing his gaze away from the papers, but his tone is steady. “Just be careful, both of you.”

Their mother frowns. “It has not been so bad lately. They will be fine.”

Ein nods. “I want to be at the library before it gets too busy with students. Are you ready now, Deirdre?”

Her sister yelps. “What! No! Oh my gosh, my hair is still a mess and I—oh, just go on without me. We can meet up after. I cannot go out like this!” Deirdre races out of the dining room and disappears up the staircase, muttering to herself.

“Be careful,” her mother says one last time as Ein slings her bags over her shoulder and takes her leave.

Hurrying through the bustling streets of Mairgen, Ein keeps her hood low over her face as the voices of merchants and hawkers cry out for buyers. Be careful, both of her parents had warned. With the king’s health deteriorating and his heir, Prince Cynan, more prone to vice than virtue, some speculate that it is time for the Ó Siadhail family—her mother's family—to take back the crown, despite having been supplanted half a century ago by the mac Iomaire family. She has found herself caught in rallies both supporting and opposing such a proposition more than once. Today, of all days, she does not want to be delayed because someone recognizes her. She has already lost all of the quiet morning hours.

The unrest had died down for a little bit after her engagement to Prince Lochlann had been publicly announced, something that had been kept secret even from her for her entire life. Loyalists to the mac Iomaire's said it was putting their rivals too close to the throne; supporters of Ó Siadhail dynasty said it did not go far enough as Lochlann was just the third prince.

Until her mother had informed her of this arrangement, she had been relieved to be the daughter of a merchant and a minor noble, rather than the daughter of a princess. She felt fortunate just to be a member of the upper class, unburdened by the weight of royal obligations. But her impending nuptials threaten to take away the freedom she has enjoyed. It was a relief to live her life on her terms, pursuing her love for books and writing—even if she still published under a pen name—without the constant scrutiny and expectations that came with royalty. She doubts that her secret career as an author will be allowed once she is married and she knows for certain that her quiet writing time will be taken away and replaced with parties and galas.

The most ironic part of the whole affair was that when her mother told her, she had just finished writing a book about a marriage that was secretly arranged between a prince and a merchant’s daughter. In the novel, the two characters despise each other, having developed a rivalry while attending the academy. However, an ancient mystery brought the two of them together, forcing them to collaborate, and their animosity transformed into reluctant admiration, which eventually evolved into love. As with all of the novels she wrote, this one ended tragically with the death of the prince. Every copy in bookstores sold out on the day it was stocked. But she does not love Lochlann. She feels no connection to him whatsoever. They were never rivals, and there is no mystery that could bring them together. The engagement is an intrusion into her carefully crafted world, an unnecessary diversion from the perfectly outlined plot of her life.

Yet, there are silver linings to this arrangement. Engagement to a prince offers access to the kingdom’s most skilled healers and doctors, as well as the Royal Library. She smiles as the tall, marble spires of the Royal Academy—home to many of the premier scholars in Ishoraie and their students—come into view. She urges her horse through the unusually large crowd gathered on the campus grounds, catching snippets of conversation as her frustration rises.

“…new student at the Academy…”

“…joining the School of Sorcery…”

“…magic hasn’t been seen in a century…”

“…from Renlaine…”

Ein would be interested in hearing more about this curious new student if she were not already so vexed by losing precious library time.

As Ein reaches the stables, she pauses; a figure in the distance emerges from the sorcery school, flanked by guards. Her hair is so blond it appears silver, a trait usually only found in those from Renlaine, the island nation to the south. Is that the new student?

Ein hands the reins of her horse to the Ferrier at the gate and takes a deep breath before pushing her way into the crowd gathered outside the library, now all pointing and motioning to the silver-haired woman.

She tries to wade through the sea of curious onlookers, excusing herself repeatedly as she squeezes around people and dodges elbows. The crowd only grows more dense the further Ein walks and a trickle of sweat runs down her temple. Her chest tightens as her breathing grows more labored in the stifling press of people.

Vision blurring and darkening at the edges, dizziness overtakes her, her knees buckling and her hands tingling. Her stomach drops. She pauses, pressing a hand to her forehead as she struggles to orient herself and calm her racing heart. But there is no escape. The curious crowd has her trapped on all sides.

“Please…” she calls out, her voice faint and trembling. But the din of the crowd swallows up her plea. Ein lurches forward, unable to stop the inevitable fall. The last thing she hears is a chorus of startled cries as she collapses. Then everything fades to black.


Ein’s eyes gradually open, her vision taking a few moments to adjust to the light. She can make out a figure leaning over her, their face coming into focus, the woman with silver hair, but no longer accompanied by any guards. Up close, the woman appears older than Ein had first guessed and is most likely closer to Ein’s own age. Her eyes are a striking shade of brown, filled with concern as she inspects Ein.

“Here, drink this,” the woman says gently, bringing a flask to Ein’s lips. “How are you feeling?”

Ein blinks, getting her bearings. She’s still in the courtyard of the Academy still, but someone has carried her to a bench.

“I am better, thank you,” Ein says as she sits up. Dizziness returns, but she tries to show no sign of it. “Are you one of the healers here?”

“No, not yet anyway. I’m one of the new students here at the academy. You may call me Ciara.”

She studies Ciara more closely. “Are you from Renlaine?”

Ciara laughs. “I was told that I might be the subject of gossip for some time. Yes, I am. Are you a student here, too?”

“Not formally. I merely enjoy the library. I am Ein,” she says, a little winded. “Thank you for helping me. I do not do so well on hot days, and I skipped breakfast.” And lunch, Ein chides herself. And didn’t drink any water and… Did everything she knows will cause her to faint. “How can I repay you?”

“There is no need. I am glad to have been of assistance. Do you need anything else?”

“No, I shall be fine. I am sorry for delaying you from your tasks. I am assuming you were heading to the library?”

“That was my plan, yes,” Ein says, getting to her feet, bracing herself with a hand on the back of the bench.

“I am heading there, too.” Ciara’s face lights up. “I believe one of the professors is meeting me there to give me a tour before classes start next week. Shall we walk together?”

“I would be honored,” Ein says, taking Ciara's offered hand.

Ein takes a deep breath as they arrive at the grand staircase to the library, hoping she can make it up all 45 of the steps.

“Lady Ciara!” At the top of the stairs stand Prine Lochlann and hsi personal guard. “Lady Ciara! I have been waiting for you! Are you well? Did you get lost?” Quickening his pace to meet them, Lochlann descends. He takes Ciara’s free hand and bows far more deeply than a prince would be expected to bow. “Welcome to our kingdom. I am honored to formally make your acquaintance.” Ciara dips into a graceful curtsy, the picture of poise and elegance. “The honor is mine, your Highness. Thank you for the warm welcome.”

Lochlann grins. “Please, call me Lochlann. I insist that friends dispense with formalities.” He glances at Ein as if just noticing her presence. “Ah, Lady Eirnín. I trust you are well?”

“Yes, quite well, thank you.” She hopes that he does not notice her still trembling hands and holds back her usual retort about his use of her formal name.

“Lady Eirnín? I thought your name was Ein,” Ciara says.

The prince laughs. “Lady Eirnín Brolcháin. Ein is the name she goes by with friends. What an impression you must have made on my fiancée if she did not even tell you of her royal lineage.”

“House Brolcháin?” Ciara squints. “I do not recall that one from my studies, though I admit I didn’t have much opportunity. The texts we studied at my school are likely quite outdated. I’m afraid I know little of the nuances of your kingdom’s history or current affairs.”

“I shall make sure that the professors find a place for you in the history classes here.”

Ciara glances at Ein. “I thank you. And while I not little of the conflicting houses, I intend to be a loyal and dedicated subject to King Uaithne. He has shown great benevolence in allowing a commoner from Renlaine to enter the prestigious Royal Academy. I am honored by his trust and will strive to serve Ishoraie to the best of my abilities.”

Lochlann smiles and rubs his chin. “And I am certain my father will be pleased to hear of your loyalty, as am I.”

Feeling like an unwanted interloper and more than a little hurt by her fiancé's insinuations about her character, Ein decides to excuse herself. “I am afraid I must take my leave. I have tarried long enough, your Highness.” Although Ein is still unsteady, she swoops into a grand curtsey. “Thank you again, Ciara, for coming to my aid. I appreciate it more than I can say.”

“Of course, Lady Eirnín. I am glad I could be of service.”

“I still insist that you call me ‘Ein,’ please.” Lochlann glances between the two women and places his hand under his chin. “How did the two of you meet?”

“I happened to be nearby when Lady Ein took ill in the crowd and offered her help.”

“I see.” Lochlann presses his lips together into a thin line. “How unfortunate you were caught in that crush of people, my lady. I hope you are fully recovered now.” Though his words are polite, Ein hears the edge of impatience in them.

“Yes, much better now, thank you,” Ein replies. She turns once more to Ciara. “I should be off. I leave you in Prince Lochlann’s capable hands. No doubt he has much to show you. I do hope our paths cross again soon under more fortunate circumstances.”

Ciara’s face lights up, and she claps her hands together. “Indeed. Be well, Lady Ein.”

Ein gathers her skirts and ascends the staircase, fighting against the dizziness. When she reaches the top, winded and lightheaded, she leans against a towering column, turning back around to watch her fiancé and the strange commoner from another land.

His proud and commanding voice carries across the courtyard and is still easily overheard from her position. “My apologies, Lady Ciara. It was supposed to be Headmistress Caoimhe giving you a tour of our grounds today. But unfortunately, she had some urgent Academy Council business to attend to.”

“Of course, your Highness. I’m certain you will be a more than adequate replacement for the tour.”

Lochlann grins and offers Ciara his arm. “Shall we then? There is much to see, and I look forward to showing you all our fine school offers.”

“I would be delighted. Please lead the way.”

As Lochlann guides Ciara towards another one of the academy buildings, Ein shivers, some inkling of foreboding taking root in her stomach. She turns and pushes the doors to the library open, the smell of parchment and leather greeting her.

Ein finds a quiet table tucked away in a shadowy corner of the vast library, grateful to be off her still-shaky legs. She lays out her notes, checking the list of books she has already read, and pulls out her flask, sipping slowly. Not the best start to the day, but she at least made it to the library. She ignores the tiny voice telling her that she will pay for it for the next several days.

Taking a steadying breath, she stands and heads for the section on medicine, her fingers grazing the spines of the books. As she scans the shelves, a flicker of movement catches her eye. A man with long, black hair leans against a bookshelf across the way. Arms crossed over his chest; he gnaws on his lower lip, transfixed on something in the courtyard, his eyes locked on the scene beyond the library’s arched windows.

Ein follows his line of sight. Prince Lochlann is leading Ciara toward the herbal gardens, his arm linked with hers. Ein resists the urge to roll her eyes. This brooding man is trying to catch a glimpse of the newly arrived and much-talked-about Ciara. Like many others, he must be taken with either her beauty and or her rumored magical talents. Possibly both.

Plucking a book at random from the shelf, she turns away, shaking her head. She has no patience for such frivolous infatuations. Let the young men gawk and gossip. She pauses for half of a second, wondering if she could spin this into a full plot for a novel. She looks the man up and down again. If he is a character in a novel, he is like the moon to Ciara’s sun. Orbiting and trying to catch her rays of light, yet often hiding in the dark of night.

Their love story starts off with him being standoffish and cold; rebuffing any attempts Ciara would make at even befriending him. He has some tragic past, some secret he is keeping contained, a secret that keeps threatening to break free; a secret that has made him resigned to a life of loneliness and solitude.

He is lying to himself and tells himself he is happier this way. And then, some freak accident or event of happenstance forces the two to meet, and the instant connection between the two sparks hope inside of this brooding man; hope that this is the woman who might understand him, the woman who might see him for his true self and accept him. But he squashes that hope and ignores her until she finally proves to him that he is worthy of it.

Beautiful. Now, to think of a tragic ending, Ein muses. The brooding man glances at her and glares. Ein blushes and returns her focus to the shelves, selecting several heavy volumes to cover her face and hide her blush as she makes her way back to the table.

When she glances back at the brooding man again, his attention is once again consumed by Ciara and Lochlann. With the books stacked neatly in front of her, Ein blocks him from view. She has wasted enough time and energy on silly distractions. Now, in the quiet solitude of this shadowy corner, she will bury herself in research. Her life depends on it.

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