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27 January 2006 @ 09:57 pm
Angkast [Part Three]  
Author's Notes: We'll it's been a while in the making, but at last I am pleased to present Part Three in its entirity! Hurrah!! And how the plot thickens... Kinda. Hehe.

Part Three

By Alannah

Cian wasn’t going to allow herself to so much as blink until she at least rounded the corner of the inn and was out of that woman’s sight, whoever she was. She could feel the newcomer’s eyes boring into the back of her head as though she was trying to read Cian’s deepest secrets. But as Cian drew closer to Dahany’s unmoving form again her resolve failed her. She slowed, despite herself, trying to resist the urge to gaze at his still features one last time.

Cian shook her head and moved quickly on; aware she had lingered far too long. The woman was already suspicious of what she was and Cian wanted to give her no more reason to suspect her. She managed to keep her cool as she turned the corner of the alleyway and entered the inn once again. Walking through the doorway she saw more than a few of the locals raise their heads from their mugs to watch her. Colin, the innkeeper, also lifted his head, his gaze following her as she crossed the room. Cian nodded to him as she passed, and began to climb the stairs that led to her room, knowing there would be questions later, and rumours.

Making her way down the dimly lit and close corridor, Cian struggled to keep her mask in place. At last she reached her room and slipped inside, sliding the bolt home after her. Leaning back against the door, Cian closed her eyes and took a deep breath to clear her head before looking over her humble quarters. The room was small, just as cramped as the corridor outside, if not more so, and bare. Nothing seemed to be out of place but to be sure Cian pulled a small shard of clear quartz from her breeches pocket. It would tell her if anyone but her had crossed the wards set around her room. She brought it close to her face and blew gently over its surface, watching to see if the colour would change, but the quartz remained clear and Cian breathed a sigh of relief, collapsing onto her rough bed.

For the first time that day Cian allowed her thoughts to flow freely as she stared up at the slanting thatched ceiling. She felt now that she understood somewhat why many green spies did not survive their first three years of field service. She had made so many mistakes today it scared her. She had grown complacent within Northford and that more than anything showed she was green, out of the Academy only a year.

Cian had heard the stories, same as all the new recruits, about how so many went missing, never to be seen again and still she had allowed herself to become comfortable. Why? Because it was just meant to be a routine mission? Stop in for a few seasons, see if anything was amiss and then move on. Her instructors had drilled it into all of them that even the most straightforward assignment might have unexpected developments and that a moments inattention could get you killed. Now, for all her top scores in training at the academy, Cian felt she might soon be one of those unfortunates who did not see their fourth year or service.

This realisation shocked her and she turned to bury her face beneath the rough pillow, trying to muffle the critical voices in her head, something she had not done since she was a child. They whirled through her brain, telling her she had failed, she was useless, that she would be lying in some dark alleyway, a knife in her back and her blood mingling with the mud. After all, if Dahany had been murdered, what chance did she have?

At the thought of him the voices ebbed away, leaving her mind in a numb silence. Another thing she had not expected. Her best friend Dahany, the only cadet who had been able to match her in every aspect of their training, cold in the dirt, thrown out like a piece of rubbish. This was one harsh reality she never thought to face. Even when he had been transferred into the messenger service after their training was completed it was always in the back of her mind that one day they would serve together again, maybe even more given time. Now that hope was cruelly torn away from her and her heart seized painfully. There were so many things she wanted to say, needed to say to him now that she knew it was too late.

Cian rose from the bed and began to pace around the small room. Now was not the time to give into despair. She found herself in more danger than she would care to admit even to herself and if she wanted to avoid sharing her best friend’s fate there was a lot of planning to be done. Firstly, the message Dahany had been carrying. Surely it had been the one she was waiting for, although she has thought its manner of arrival would be a little less conspicuous than a King’s Messenger. Or was it merely a coincidence that it had been Dahany carrying something to the town she was situated at? If so, why had he been murdered?

Only the contents of the missive would give her the answer. Cian reached down and drew it from her boot, fingering it for a moment in one hand as she grabbed her dagger with the other. There was no name on the front, only a rough circle of wax holding the parchment closed. A seal of a bird on the wing had been pressed into the wax and Cian was reassured that this was, in fact the message she had been waiting for. The chances were slim that someone else would have the same mark in a place as small as Northford.

She slid the blade of her dagger carefully between the overlapping parchment and broke the seal. The wax came apart cleanly and Cian unfolded the message. It was simple, if a little vague, comprising of only a few paragraphs. It seemed that whoever had penned it had wanted to be direct.

Cian darling it read.

It has been many months since we have seen you and we hope you are doing well. Things are well enough back home. Your brother has left the roost at last and is now travelling towards the city Deyagos in hopes of finding more permanent work.

We also have news of an old friend of your pa’s from his days in the capital. Amalia is heading into your part of the land so keep an eye out, perhaps you will cross paths. I know you would enjoy the chance to catch up.

Keep in touch dear. Our love always.

Ma and Pa.

Cian sat back on her bed and pondered the message. The code was simple enough to decipher although anyone else who read it would more than likely think it just a letter from parents to their daughter. At least, Cian hoped that was the case. It seemed the Colonel wanted her to head north east from here, roughly the direction Deyagos was from the Academy. It sounded as though they had received some more substantial information about the area. But how long should she wait before leaving. Straight away would seem too suspicious. Cian decided to give it a few days before she left Northford.

As to the “friend”, Cian assumed the name Amalia was a code, as she knew no one by that name. She resolved to keep an eye out for this person. It would certainly be a comfort to have an ally with her, especially since she had attracted the attention of that strange woman today.

The thought of the woman made her remember she had duties to perform downstairs. It was becoming dark outside. Night came swiftly to Northford with winter quickly approaching. Cian was required to perform in the common room as part of her board here and she didn’t want Colin asking any more questions than he already would. Cian had to salvage something from the disaster that was this afternoon. She already had one person suspecting her and didn’t need any more.

With that on her mind she grabbed her harp case from where it lay and headed out the door, pausing only to reset the wards on her room. Downstairs the room was beginning to get crowded again with men stopping by for a drink after a hard days work. She stopped by the bar to get one of her own before she started performing. Colin came over to serve her.

“Seems you were a mite overwhelmed with what happened earlier,” he said as he handed Cian her ale, watching her curiously. Cian was amazed at how quickly he was distancing himself from Dahany’s murder, only calling it “what happened earlier”, still she shouldn’t have expected any less, she supposed. It was a way of coping, of thinking everything could go on like before, as though there was not any more danger than there had been previously.

“Yes, well… He was an old friend. We hail from the same part of the kingdom. Not seen each other in years, strange that I should be here to witness his passing.” Cian didn’t have to act the sad expression that covered her face. “But then, who knows in what way the Lady works?” she said, shrugging and downing her drink in one. “Either way it was a bit of a shock.”

“Yes, I can see,” Colin, agreed, nodding and placing a hand on her shoulder in sympathy. Cian wasn’t fooled. She knew her story would be known around Northford in a matter of days. The sooner she was out the better.

“Either way, Colin, I shall be leaving soon. I feel I must deliver news of his death to his family.” She nodded her thanks as he placed another tankard in front of her. “That and I don’t think I’d like to see winter in your fair town,” she said, trying to lighten the mood. “My thanks for your hospitality these last few months.”

He nodded his acknowledgement and went to serve another customer and she picked up her drink and moved over to the fireside. Under the guise of inspecting her instrument Cian dropped the message on the flames where it was quickly dissolved into ashes. She stood and began to tune her harp. She had a purpose now. Tomorrow she would sort out her travelling gear, stock her supplies and then leave at dawn the next day.