The paper crinkled gently between my hands. I ran my fingers lightly over every detail: The way the ends of each hair curled slightly upwards, the raven colors clashing with pale skin, the angle of the cape rippling back from unseen wind, the complex texture of five identical gray belts, the six feathered wings, as well as the way the girl in the drawing held her crossbow. Each beautiful pencil stroke brushed across the page in a wave of accuracy. I felt like I was looking into a mirror. I glanced around quickly, wondering who had left this on the table, and more so, if they had left it purposely for me to see.
Scanning everyone on the main floor of the inn, I narrowed my eyes at the retreating back of a middle aged man who had just finished paying for his meal and was about to retire to his room for the night.
“Sir! A moment, please.” I kept my voice urgent and commanding, forcing myself not to alter the tone and volume and sound more like myself.
His ears perked towards me, and I noted mentally that the tips were pointed. He smiled at the innkeeper, then briskly hurried to the stairs, pretending he had not heard me, pulling his hood over his head. I growled softly in the back of my throat, rising from the bench and striding towards him.
The man turned, mentally sighing, and met the speaker’s gaze, lifting his eyebrows. “Lass?” he asked, quickly studying her. Not worth fighting. Archer build, alert eyes, hidden secret. Better keep to what’s easy. Wait upstairs for Talian.
My wings twitched, and I pressed them closer over my shoulders, hoping they looked like a cloak. I contorted my voice to an accusing level, spilling a hint of frustration into it. “Did you draw this?”
He studied it, face expressionless. When his eyes flicked back to me, he raised his chin slightly, noting the resemblance between myself and the artwork. “I know who did. Why is this your concern?”
I looked past the worn hood, looking for the signs of truth in his human face. He had a poorly shaved graying beard, long light brown hair unfolding around his ears and base of his neck. The clasps on his forearms matched the clip on his hood, a monogram with initials of ‘A.R. the II’ surrounded by a type of herb. My eyes darted down, past the simple belt and satchel slung over one shoulder, stopping on his right hand, where three rings rest on his pinkie, ring, and middle fingers.
“Who are you?” I ask, curiosity the last emotion present.
“Father of Talian and son of Ulasa’wo.”
“I meant your name.” I do not add ‘sir’, hoping being rude had some effect on this man with his stone mouth and refusal to answer. Talian, I thought, reactions inside hidden from the man. I remember.
“I know. I only offer my name to those I feel can be trusted.”
I frowned, my teeth shifting against each other, top against bottom, back and forth. His meaning could not have been more clear. I tilted my head. He did have a good reason, though, for staying silent. I’d tracked more than my fair share of all sorts of people, his kind included, when I trained under the Dark Ruler as a spy.
He inclined his head politely. “Good night, lass.”
When he had gone, I turned my frustrated gaze to the bartender, who had suddenly felt obliged to fill more tankards and mugs. I scowled, but waiting patiently for him to return.
I sprang over the counter and bolted into the back room, where the innkeeper lay gasping on the floor and a shadowy figure climbed parcels leading to the only window, which they had broken to enter.
I unfurled my wings, zipping towards the intruder straight as an arrow.
The attacker paused, his brown eyes calm even as I landed behind him in a practiced stance of defense. He carried no blade. A quiver hung behind his left shoulder, a bow hooked over the other. I made a quick note of his silver and gold armor, the thinnest and most detailed I’d ever seen in the lands here. The armor stopped at his elbows, but began again in fingerless gloves on both his hands. His pale blond hair, so light it was nearly white, seemed to glow from the light of the moon.
The name rose in my throat. “Talian?”
He froze, then turned and launched himself at the window, landing on the frame and steadying himself, before crawling out and starting for the roof.
I glanced back at the bartender, but that was all the hesitation I gave. Pursuing the young man, rain thundered down on us, drenching both me and him in mere moments. Struggling, I followed him up the side of the building and into an open window above.
What a coincidence.
The quarters we entered was the room the man claiming to be Talian’s father had rented for the night.
I pressed myself against the wall, crossbow now in hand.
The young man I had followed shook his head, water spraying in all directions, before he flipped his head down and ran his hand over his hair, slicking it back coolly.
I called shadows to my left hand, and they hovered in a joined sphere above my fingertips. Smashing the shadows into the ground, I shivered as an icy feeling spread through my whole body, as if an egg had been cracked on my head and dribbled to cover every part of me. I rarely used this practice, but now was a time to remain unseen.
“You brought the girl with you.” The voice belonged to the man I had questioned earlier. Why did it sound like he made it a statement?
“I did, father.”
The man paused. “I cannot see her.”
“She’s here, I tell you.” The younger man, Talian, turned and stared at the place I hid in the shadows, and though he could not see me, my body tensed as he watched for any movement.
“Come out, Lishaealda.”
I froze, debating my options, then stood from my crouched position and watched the shadows melt away, trickling like paint down before me.
The man’s eyebrows sprang up. “You have wings? I thought you just really like capes.”
“Who drew the portrait?” Normally I wouldn’t speak this strictly to humans, or anyone, really, but it really mattered to me to know this.
Talian made a few gestures to his father. The man picked up the drawing he had set on the bed. “This is you?” he asked, his eyes never leaving the page.
“Yes.” My wings drew closer to me, looking again like a cape. “Who drew it?”
“You should thank Havom we’re the only ones downstairs who saw this.” The man flipped the paper over, offering it to me.
I warily took it from him and read printing on the back I had not noticed before.
~ Wanted ~
Do what you must to seize her.
Arrest warrant for treason.
Reward for capture or information leading to the capture of Lishaealda,
commonly known as “Lish”.
For description of appearance, see back.
General of the Domain Army
My mouth opened and closed a few times as I reread the passage. “She was there,” I finally said coldly, hiding my emotions deep inside. “She left this purposely for me to see.”
“You know this Kagphnati,” Talian said.
“She is my sister. Why did you hurt the innkeeper?”
“Why do you care?” Talian’s father asked
“Why won’t you tell me?”
“Honestly, I don’t trust you,” the man replied. “And I’m a couspha.”
“I’m a seraph. You can trust me.”
“That’s not why, Lishaealda.”
“Kingdoms, then what is it?”
“You’re wanted for betraying your own sister!”
I sighed. “She choose Vatyn, I choose Havom at the Great Separation. Ours wasn’t the only family that split. Wouldn’t you have done the same? Would you have chosen to be forced to train for that army? Sworn into secrecy by blood, so that any mutterings of information to enemies would result in the traitor’s death? When Havom is the perfect Lord?”
“Why . . . are you here?” Talian’s father crossed his arms.
I looked away, rubbing the side of my head. “I don’t know.” Feeling like I’d be saying that a lot more often, I shook my head. “I really don’t know.”
Talian approached a put his hand on my shoulder. To anyone else, I would shrug it off or lash out. I must have been feeling pretty hopeless, for I let him pull me into a quick hug. Stepping back, I nodded stiffly at him.
“Tailan,” his father said slowly, watching us, “you knew her before tonight.”
The man struggled to find a way to word his question, then turned to me instead. “How do you know my son?”
“Tell me your name first, sir.”
“The night he was cursed.”
Arandre glanced at Talian. “This is true.”
“It is, father.”
I nodded as well. “I should go. If my sister is here for me, it will put you both in danger.”
“You cannot leave.”
I blinked at him. “Farewell.” I turned back to the window, glancing down.
“If you leave this building, you’ll be found.” Arandre jerked his chin towards the window.
Vatyn workers crowded around the perimeter of the inn, questioning villagers by spearpoint, while others forced their way inside.