From the author: This is the first scene of my new novel Firewing - release date May 22, 2020
It was a no moon night. Neither Seliene nor her daughter lit the night sky, only a myriad of stars. From where Cathren stood, it seemed as if the sky was stars upon stars, a mere lace of black against the light beyond.
Yet, spreading darkness came from the west and she shivered a little. Reason told her it was simply storm clouds, but she had been so on edge lately. As if some internal darkness shaded her.
A storm would only fit her mood. A natural storm, her mage-sight told her. Good. One could never be sure, not here. Not with all the mages in Losana.
There always seemed to be too many and too few, all at the same time. Cathren turned and walked back into the academy.
She felt so confined. So...trapped. She had her shop, she had her journeyman status...but she was not going on any journeying.
That was it. She needed to go somewhere. She needed to move, to keep moving, to fly until the moons set and the sun rose, casting summer's heat across the land. Laran, though...
He had told her exactly what would happen if she left Losana. In as many words. If she ever left Losana.
She would like as not outlive him. He would like as not find somebody else to be her jailer. The one person who truly understood was out of town.
She knew she was fortunate to even have been permitted to live, to be permitted what she had. A livelihood, a lover...that was more than so many had.
Tolerance and acceptance? Too much to ask, and she knew it. Even if she slipped away, followed the trade routes north, she would be no more welcome there than here.
She needed to fly. She dared not. Beria was occupied, so even that substitution was denied her. For what it was worth; they both knew the other was a mere distraction, nothing more.
Once Laran was out of town, she could at least go far enough to fly, without him 'shooting her from the sky'.
It was bad enough that he hated her. Worse that he seemed to have enough power, enough support, to treat her like...a child.
She abruptly knew exactly where she would go. It was the middle of the night, but that would not matter. Pulling on a cloak, she walked out from the academy gates.
The guards did not stop her...curfew was for students and Cathren had graduated. Had the ring, even. She had feared they would deny her that.
It was a warm night, and she regretted the cloak, but it would serve as a stave against recognition. Yet another reason to want to leave Losana. For the largest city on Yirath, it was small indeed.
Along the street, there were more people out than one would expect for the middle of the night. Beggars who had no place to go mingled with drunks returning from the taverns. A man groped a woman in the garb of a prostitute right in the street. She ignored them, even as the woman giggled.
Normal people, ordinary people, going about their lives...although not decent, hardworking folk. Even at this time of year, such would likely be in bed.
She kept walking. Her eyes flicked from side to side, wary of thieves and footpads. Any who tried anything with her would regret it, of course...she firmly held the words of a paralysis spell in her mind, in case she needed it. Normal practice. She was a woman alone, apparently easy prey for those who were neither decent nor hardworking.
Perhaps she should let the ring be visible. It might deter at least some of those inclined to attack. Others might take it as a challenge.
Instead, she shifted her cloak a little, so that the fact that she carried blades was visible. Whether from that or chance, none harassed her on a quick walk through town.
The tavern was closing its doors as she arrived, but the young woman doing so opened them again swiftly when she saw Cat's face.
"Can I come in?"
The door opened the rest of the way so Cat could step into the common room. The drunks had been expelled, but the place not yet cleaned. It smelled of mead and wine.
The woman who was in the process of pulling a broom out from behind the bar stopped. She dropped it with a clank as she moved to hug Cathren. Not swiftly, for she was not a young woman and had clearly indulged much in her own good cooking.
Cat hugged back, carefully. "Mother."
The most casual of glances could have told that this was not, in truth, her mother, but the affection between them was clear. She released the much shorter form after a moment.
"Something...let me guess. Is Brother Laran being an ass again?"
"Mother!" came the voice of the younger woman, moving to clean mugs.
"Pheh! When you get to my age, you can use whatever language you like."
"There is no again about it. Laran is Laran. He is never going to change."
"He is not your father."
"He might as well be," Cat said, finally, moving to sit on one of the tavern's chairs. "He is my keeper, at any rate."
"He has been threatening you again."
"Yes." If Laran had his way, she would have been slain as an infant. She could not help but hate him, a little.
"Somebody should talk to him." Mother Liesa sat down as well, her eyes on Cat.
"It's been tried. This is his compromise." It was as far as Laran would bend. To confine her to Losana, where the academy mages could keep an eye on her.
"He still thinks you're going to wake up one day and summon Arok."
"What if he's right?"
"What if there's a geas on me that might cause me to one day do just that? We don't think so, but there are gods involved. We can't be sure." She looked down at her hands. "I suppose the reason I don't outright defy him is because I wouldn't trust me either."
"I trust you."
She looked up at the woman who had been her mother. "You're biased."
"So is Laran."
"Laran is worried about the big picture. Somebody has to be. He's still an..." She tailed off. She was not using the language, even if Liesa was.
"Ass," Liesa supplied, gaining another shocked look from her daughter. "He's a narrow-minded fool. Besides. He should know he can't keep you confined forever."
"Just because I'm miserable..."
Liesa cut her off. "What was it R'vor said?"
"Wanderlust. But there's nothing to be done about it. He'll track me down and kill me if I leave. And while I could take him...he wouldn't come alone."
"No, he wouldn't. Maybe if R'vor was here...no, it wouldn't change his mind. Apparently, he'd rather have you go stir crazy."
"And then when I acted on those feelings, he'd have a reason to take me out." Her shoulders rose then fell. "More likely, he simply does not understand." Did not understand that she needed to fly, to escape, to see something other than the city and the academy and the shop. To travel.
"Most likely. Does any human really understand a demon?"
"If there's anyone capable of understanding both races, it's me." Cat brushed back her dark hair. She looked completely human, but for a moment, it seemed that her eyes shaded to red.
"And even you have problems." Liesa paused. "I have just the medicine for you." She ducked behind the bar, coming out eventually with a small cup. "Here."
Mead. Good mead...expensive, the best Liesa had. Cat sipped it slowly, savoring the flavor. It was too strong for even her to want a tankard of, too strong and too sweet. It was, though, exactly what she needed. "Can I stay here tonight?"
A promise that, for some reason, sent another chill over her, and this one was not the wind coming from the threat of stormThe canik got right under Cat's feet as she headed for the store. "Out of the way," she growled at it. She was almost in a bad enough mood to kick it. Almost.
Kicking a canik would get her bitten for sure. The creature hopped up and ducked out of the way, forelimbs tucked against itself and tail lashing behind it. It was clearly worried somebody would step on said appendage.
At least it had a collar on, like they were supposed to.
She opened the door and then the shutters, but the wanderlust was still with her. A vague dissatisfaction. This was not the life she was supposed to be living. Even if it could make her rich.
She did not care for money. Laran was right...she was more demon than human in mind, if more human in physiology. She felt the summer heat...although not as much as some. She felt the wind, though, could almost see it.
A cage was a cage, no matter how large or gilded. She shook her head, setting up for the day. The worst part was that she would get used to it, that she would become just another citizen of Losana. Just another merchant. Her only chance of freedom was Laran's death, and she was sure he had deputized a successor. Watch the halfbreed. Be sure she never does anything significant or important.
She might have killed him herself had she not had the fear that he was right. Visiting her foster mother had helped a little. A little. She needed R'vor. She needed Ylsa's arms around her.
She needed the wind. Tonight, she promised herself. He could not completely deny her, they had tried that. She had gotten the worst imaginable case of cabin fever.
Tonight, when the light faded, when people would be less likely to observe her and make the signs of various deities in fear. Not that those same people would not come to her store if they needed to. There were few good alchemists in Losana.
Despite that, her only customer of the morning was a bustling housewife who sought a preparation efficacious against tela fly.
All she could do was mix powder in her mortar and think. Thinking was the last thing she needed to do.
She had no choice, her mind would not quiet. Female demons came into heat. Perhaps what she was feeling was some vestige of that cycle. Yet it could just as easily be Arok trying to influence her. Or simply the first thing that had come into her head.
Demons were wanderers. Demons did not stay in one place. Humans did that, settling in their villages and towns, spreading across a world that had been given them by the gods.
A world the demons claimed the humans had no place in. The worst part was, the demons were right.
Cat is living as quiet a life as the only human/demon hybrid in existence can; practicing as an alchemist, spending time with her adoptive family and her girlfriend, and keeping her head down. But she is the only human/demon hybrid in existence, and when cultists attack her and those close to her, her quiet life ends. Instead, she must cross the face of Yirath, see the deep-running conflicts for herself and face her destiny in the demon city of Arok-Kor.
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