Astrid looked around and was surprised at how quickly she had travelled from the guest estates to the Golden City on foot. Her plain, common clothes were comfortable enough, though she felt frumpy and a bit unattractive wearing what felt like cloth sacks. She had decided to try out her father’s habits, however, and this cold Northern city was a great place to hide beneath bundles of mis-matched furs. She had been far too outspoken against her father doing this to get caught doing it herself.
Her musings led her bungling straight into a tall, bearded Cambion. Unused to walking about the streets like a commoner, Astrid took in a breath to object to this man’s clumsiness when she simultaneously spotted the large signet ring on the man’s finger and remembered her pretend station.
“Oh, I do apologize, milord,” Astrid mumbled, beginning a lady’s curtsey, but remembering midway to bow awkwardly and stare at her feet. “It won’t happen ag—”
The man, a member of House Grav, though she didn’t recognize who, began walking away from her mid-sentence. It was as if he hadn’t even seen her. She shook her head and looked after him a moment. He had a very strange look to him. Like he had forgotten an important appointment but couldn’t be seen hurrying.
Having nothing better planned, Astrid followed him.
The man seemed to be heading for the center of the Golden City, where the main thoroughfare stood with trinkets and baubles for sale, but turned suddenly Southward. He wound through alleys and even walked through a building filled with scantily clad dancers. Simply opened the front door and continued on as if he owned the place. He nearly lost her until the dimly lit back room flooded with light as he opened the back door and continued walking, leaving the owners of the building staring at one another.
They were nearly out the main gate, and Astrid was wondering if she was curious enough to continue following him outside the city, when he stopped suddenly, nearly giving Astrid away. She turned into a small alcove and sat, making herself as small as possible. From there she heard a voice she recognized and couldn’t help but peek out to see if it was true.
“Did you think you could hide from me, Alem?” Astrid hadn’t seen Cerlissa Grav-Norsca in nearly five years, when her and Gwind had visited her father in Cliffport, but she was right. It was her stepping from the shadows toward the Grav man. The man, Alem, looked around as if seeking help, and seemed to try to say something to her but the words died before they could make themselves known.
“Alem,” Cerlissa chided him, “come, let me see you.”
Alem swallowed and hesitated, taking a kerchief out of his pocket to wipe his brow, but took a few steps toward her. For a moment, the air was tense but nothing happened, then, in a heartbeat, she had crossed the remaining distance between them and grabbed his wrist. Slowly, she twisted it up and back. He still had the kerchief in his hand when she reached up with her other hand and grabbed it, throwing it in Astrid’s direction. It hit the wall with a thunk near her face, and she thought for sure she’d been spotted until she realized that neither of them were looking at her.
Alem began making a gibbering noise just before Cerlissa grabbed his whole face in one hand. She thought he might have been saying something but she couldn’t understand the words.
“We had a deal, Alem.” Cerlissa snarled at him. Astrid could feel the demonic power building in her, getting ready to explode. Alem began making a noise Astrid had never heard come out of a man before, and she covered her ears with her hands.
Astrid knew there would be a massive fallout for this. She could feel the power building, and when it exploded she didn’t know what would happen. She heard what sounded like a horse half-screaming nearby, then it happened. The power released itself…. but it felt further away than expected. It didn’t hurt.
After looking around for a moment, bewildered, she peeked out of her hiding spot to see Alem, standing alone. The wave of power washing over her from the opposite direction, miles North.
Astrid decided to wait until Alem left.
After a few minutes, she peeked out. He hadn’t moved.
Astrid looked again. He hadn’t moved. Her bones were aching and she finally just lost patience. Stepping out of her little alcove, she faced Alem head on.
…Nothing. No reaction at all.
Astrid narrowed her eyes at him and looked around for the kerchief. When she picked it up, the signet ring was inside.
“Alem Grav.” Astrid said aloud.
“I am Alem Grav.” He replied flatly.
Astrid moved closer and took a better look at him. He wasn’t there anymore. Lost. She’d seen it before, though she’d never known that it could be forced upon a person.
She sighed, “Alem Grav, walk to the Grav Estate by way of the The Wall.” He turned and went, saying nothing. It wasn’t likely that anyone would hurt him, and the guards on The Wall would recognize his state soon enough. She started walking in another direction.
After a few minutes, she cursed herself. She still had the ring and didn’t know what to do with it. She should have put it in his pocket or something. If she returned it to the Grav Estate, there would be questions that Astrid wasn’t interested in answering. If she simply left it somewhere, whoever found it would more likely sell it, rather than return it to his family.
As she mused, she looked around to find Maker Lane. It was getting close to evening time. She’d have to begin the walk back to where she was expected soon, or her entourage would be missing her.
A woman walked by her, then. The brooch on her shoulder revealed her to be a lady of House Rosornos. Perfect. Astrid mussed her hair and hunched her shoulders.
“Lady!” She cried out to her, “Excuse me, lady!”
The Cambion woman toward her, and Astrid made sure not to make eye contact.
“Excuse me, lady. You dropped this.” With that, Astrid shoved the cloth firmly into the woman’s hands and scurried away from her, doing her best to get lost in the meager crowd. She could hear the woman calling after her, but didn’t turn. She didn’t want to be recognized.
That would be embarrassing.