Part One (Table of Contents coming soon)
Okay, this is mostly exposition. Whee!
Sitting in the shipâ€™s rigging, leaning at an impossible angle against a single rope, Alina felt the wind caress her as it blew through the night. It was dangerous to be up here, even in the darkness â€“ if anyone saw her, they might wonder how a simple personal slave was able to sit so effortlessly amongst the ropes â€“ but the chances of her being spotted were so slim as to be nonexistant. None of the Wyld Huntâ€™s officers were out tonight, and her Charms were more than sufficient to guard against even their efforts.
At the same time, she was far more concerned with what lay on the horizon than with what might happen now. She had grown used to hiding herself from those around her; Citrios knew of her tendancy to vanish from time to time, but did not question it, and none of the others cared enough about the comings and goings of a mortal slave to notice. The coming battle, however, was worrying.
â€œI need you with me for this.â€ Citriosâ€™s voice had been grim as they prepared to board the ship. â€œSomething is terribly wrong with this, and your visions might reveal something.â€ He smiled sadly. â€œThey already had, if I had listened.â€
â€œI donâ€™t understood.â€ Standing in the bedroom, she had shaken her head, reaching out for him, but he was busy filling his pack with supplies and hadnâ€™t seen. He answered without turning, and for the first time since the summons had been given, she had heard the rage in his voice, carefully controlled like a banked flame, but threatening to burn out of control at any moment.
â€œThis Hunt. Itâ€™s notâ€¦ not usual.â€ He paused then, and looked up, staring into space. â€œTheyâ€™re going after my old master, the one who tutored me at the Cloister.â€ A long time ago, before she had known him. When he had had ambitions of religion, before his family pressured him into a more secular career. â€œThey say heâ€™s plotting with rogue spirits. He couldnâ€™t. I know him too well.â€ Flames flickered across his skin. â€œItâ€™s impossibleâ€¦â€
Now, the wind whistling across the sea was cold, and she shivered in the darkness. It seemed like a strange choice, out here in the West, for a master of Heshiahâ€™s path to travel. Alina looked ahead, as though she could see the island towards which the ship was heading. Six Dragon-Blooded and two talons of soldiers sent to destroy a single Immaculate monk.
It struck her as profoundly tragic, but that might just be Citriosâ€™s attitude about the whole thing. He maintained that it was a mistake, that when they found and returned his master, the whole matter could be sorted out.
Sometimes she wondered how Citrios had survived thirty-five years of Dynastic politics.
All things considered, she was just as glad that Citrios had brought her along, if not for the same reasons as him. This wasnâ€™t her first Wyld Hunt, and while it meant concealing herself carefully, surrounded by an army that could and would kill her if she were found out, it also gave her a chance to watch over Citrios, and protect him. It also gave her a chance to observe other Immaculates, and continue her own training.
Her lips quirked up, and she made a quick twist with her wrist, bringing a chakram of burnished blue jade to her hand, turning it over. She had taken it when its first owner had died facing a powerful Demon in Arjuf, and his family believed it lost with its owner. A stroke of luck, which she had taken advantage of. As furious as the Hunt would be to learn of her presence, how horrified would they be to learn that she was stealing their secrets, their religious rituals and paths? The pathway of Mela came easily to her, and she was farther along the Wind Dragonâ€™s Way than she would have thought possible a few years ago.
The thought briefly crossed her mind that some day, maybe some day soon, she would embark on a Hunt against another Solar, and her loyalties would be forced into conflict. She pushed it aside; she had enough nightmares without adding to them.
Sighing, she returned the chakram to Elsewhere and slipped off the mast, passing sailors like a ghost as she returned to Citriosâ€™s cabin. They would be making landfall with two days, and then she would see if this mission was everything she feared it would be.