The Falcon’s specialized head and body shape, the textbook read, as well as its uniquely small wings, allow it to accelerate rapidly when flying at a downward angle. This makes the Falcon particularly suited for high-altitude hunting, affording it the luxury of being able to choose its prey from among many different options. It simply waits until the best option presents itself, then strikes with lightning-like quickness.
“Martyrs save me, tell me something I don’t already know.” Cyleena rolled her eyes as she mumbled, slamming shut the book in her hands. She tossed it aside into what was rapidly becoming a large pile of books she’d declared ’useless," and reached across the table for the next hopeful candidate.
“The Emperor’s Wings: How the Falcon helped Cinderfell become an Empire,” Cyleena read the title aloud to herself, shrugged, and cracked it open. “You know, I’m losing faith in this library pretty fast, Archie. We’d probably have better luck in the Guildhouse.” She idly flipped pages, hoping to find something that would catch her interest. “What do you say we grab some food, then head back?” She waited a moment for Arkh’s response, then looked up from her book when it never came. “Archie?” She set her book down, and leaned forward across the table, to get a better look around her pile of books.
Arkh had his head down on a book, his robes slowly rising and falling as he snored softly into the musty pages. Cyleena got up and walked around to his side of the table, where she rubbed his shoulders. “Hey, Archie, wake up.”
Arkh snorted through his nose, and jerked his head off the book as his eyes struggled to regain focus. “What’s happening,” he inquired, fearfully.
“Relax, Archie. You fell asleep, it’s okay.” Arkh blinked for a moment, then wiped his eyes with the back of his sleeve. Cyleena sat down next to him, and leaned in to examine him. “You feeling alright? You look exhausted.”
“Yeah, I’m…” Arkh shook his head, trying to force himself back into the waking world. “I’m fine, I just didn’t get much sleep last night.”
Cyleena stood up, and began moving back to her side of the table. “Let’s go get some food. I’m not finding anything useful here, anyway.”
Arkh looked down at the book in front of him. “But I was reading…”
“No, you were sleeping.”
“This library has lots of stuff that the Guildhouse doesn’t.”
Cyleena picked up her pack and slung it over her shoulder. “Yeah, and it’s all crap. Come on, I’m hungry.”
Arkh closed his book and added it to Cyleena’s pile, then grabbed his pack. “Yeah, alright. I guess I wasn’t really finding anything, either.”
“What were you looking for, anyway,” Cyleena asked, as they made their way to the door. “Tremme got you doing another research paper?”
Arkh shook his head. “No, just,” he shrugged. “Just looking for something new to read, I guess.”
“Well if you’re that bored, you’re welcome to help me on my project. You know, instead of dragging me halfway across Cliffport.”
“I may have been tired earlier, but I distinctly do not recall any dragging.”
“Well, we passed a waffle place on the way here, and since you’re gonna treat me, there may very well be some dragging before the day is done.”
Arkh smiled at that. “And why, exactly, will this be my treat?”
“Because despite your selective memory, I did not, in fact, want to come all the way out here.” Cyleena looked at him with her best puppy-dog eyes.
“Ah, yes.” Arkh gestured with his hand as he offered a melodramatic bow. “As you wish, milady.”
Cyleena furrowed her brow, and grabbed Arkh’s hand, which she had only just noticed was heavily bandaged. “Archie, what happened to your hand?”
Embarassed, Arkh quickly stuffed the hand into his robe pocket. “We uh…” He looked away. “We were working on making salves and ointments today, and I grabbed a hot beaker. Burned my hand pretty bad.”
Cyleena hissed through her teeth as her face contorted in pain. “Yikes. You alright?”
Arkh shrugged, and turned his head back to her. “Yeah, Tremme took a look at it already. It’ll be fine.”
Cyleena smiled a bit. “Alright, then.” Her face perked up as she noticed the waffle place, over Arkh’s shoulder. “And speaking of being fine, how great do waffles sound right now?”
“Hi, Master Tremme.” Cyleena slunk through the door, a pile of books in her arms. Her hair was a haystack of white and silver, and her soggy robes dragged orange and red leaves in with her as she stepped inside.
“Goodness, girl,” the Dwarf inside announced, noticing her hair. “You get a hood for a reason.”
Cyleena brushed the comment aside with a wave. “I’m just here to drop off some of Archie’s books. He forgot them at lunch today.”
Tremme reached out and accepted the small stack. “Thank you, he’s writing up a report right now, but I’ll make sure he gets them. Lad’s taking to surgery pretty well.”
Cyleena smiled a bit. “Oh yeah?” She pondered silent for a moment. “How does that tie in with ointments?”
Tremme furrowed his brow at the question. “I’m not sure I undersand.”
“Oh, well, Archie told me that you were working on salves and ointments yesterday. I just assumed that meant he’d be taking a break from surgery for a while.”
“No… no, we finished up that a while ago.”
“Well, then how did he burn his hand?”
Tremme shrugged. “I don’t know. He showed up with the bandages yesterday morning, I assumed he’d hurt himself overnight. He said he was fine to operate, so I didn’t badger him.”
“Oh.” Cyleena replied, unsure how to move forward.
Tremme spoke again, taking notice of her nerves. “I’m sure he has good reason, Cyleena. Lad’s fair taken with you. I’m sure it’s nothing.”
Nodding quickly, Cyleena took in a breath. “Well, I should go. Thank you, Master Tremme.”
“Of course, lass. Thanks for bringing these by.” He gestured to the books on his desk.
Cyleena stepped out into the wind and rain, and pulled up her hood.
“How long, Archie?” Cyleena’s voice was cold and distant, and was barely above a whisper.
“About seven inches, but I don’t think we’re at that point…” He’d trailed off as he met Cyleena’s gaze, and quickly realized that she wasn’t in a playful mood. His smirk vanished as he examined her face. “How long what?”
“How long were you going to keep it from me?”
Arkh tried to swallow, but couldn’t seem to get past the lump that had just arrived in the back of his throat. “Keep what,” he barely managed to whisper.
“I know why you haven’t been getting much sleep,” she explained, and Arkh suddenly realized that she looked very tired. She looked like she hadn’t slept in days. “I followed you.” Her eyes began to shine as tears welled up, announcing their intent. “I saw you.”
In a flash, Arkh’s world was red. He’d been careless, and he was furious that he’d left enough clues for her to get curious. He’d spent more than a decade meticulously measuring every step he took, making sure no one could ever even guess… and a single pretty face made him forget all of it. His heart exploded in his head, and it felt like every beat of his pulse was going to push his eyes right out of his skull.
No. Not now. Not with her. She was worth this. He didn’t deserve her, but dammit, he wasn’t gonna let this be the reason. He forced out a slow and low breath, calming his heart as his muscles shrank back to their normal size. He spent a long moment focusing on his breathing, and then finally looked back up to Cyleena. He was surprised to see that she hadn’t flinched one bit. He’d expected her to at least get a little uncomfortable, but there she sat, patiently awaiting his response. Ash help him, he loved her.
After a long moment, he found what he wanted to say, and met Cyleena’s gaze. “The only time I’ve ever hurt anyone with it was almost thirteen years ago. I’ve never—”
“I don’t care about that, Archie, any of that,” Cyleena interrupted him. “I want to know how long you were going to keep this from me.”
Arkh found himself unable to hold her gaze, and looked down at his hands, still bandaged from the night before. “I don’t know.”
“Were you ever going to tell me?”
“I hadn’t thought about it,” he confessed. He’d assumed that he would’ve been able to keep the secret forever, but in this moment, he realized that was never even a possibility.
“Think about it now,” she demanded. “What am I worth to you?”
“I don’t have to,” Arkh responded, almost immediately. “I’d throw this away, if I could. I’d throw all of it away. My magic, my maps, my ribbons. I’d give up everything, if it meant I still had you.”
Cyleena winced almost imperceptively, then folded her arms. “Not good enough.”
Arkh pressed his palms into his face, frustrated that he hadn’t seen this moment coming. She cut through him like a knife, and ripped away every mask he’d ever put up. No one ever understood him—truly him—like she had, and he’d known from the beginning that no one could ever hurt him like her. It had been his favorite thing about her, but now he wished for nothing more than to have given her the simple respect she so heartily deserved.
“Cyleena,” he finally began. “I’m a sorcerer. I’ve known for some time now, but I’ve always rejected my gift. I’ve been warned against allowing the magic to corrupt me, and bend me to its will, and I have chosen the life of a scholar, to guard myself from it. I have hurt people in the past, but always by accident, and I have always taken steps to atone for my actions.” He looked up, and, though he still couldn’t look her in the eyes, studied her face. “I’m telling you this because I trust you, and because I… because I love you. And I don’t want to keep any secrets from you.” He closed his eyes for a moment, then opened them, and met her gaze. “And because I want you to forgive me, for having kept it from you for so long.”
Cyleena dropped her arms a bit, and let her face soften. “That’s better,” she said. “But you’re not done apologizing.”
Arkh smirked a bit, and let out a short, almost pained, laugh. “No…” he trailed off. “No, I don’t think I am.”