For the decade that she had walked this world she had never seen a room so heavy. It was struggling to breath as much as she was, weighed down by the dark furnitures and the maroon banners and the dull carpets and too many solemn men in dark cloaks. They were all speaking, some over another while others merely contributed to the murmur of discussion that she was left out of: the only time she was involved was when she first stepped in hours ago and shocked them with her existence as she stated her purpose of saving her brother. Her wings felt that their colors might’ve been offensive by how much the inhabitants of the room stared, so they drooped sadly towards the floor.

She decided to watch their mouths very closely to see if she was offending them, squinting to match the angry noises to words since she was not as familiar to this language as her brother. Still, it didn’t take a linguist for her to read their body language and their grating tone, and she was far from optimistic.

The deep murmurs died down, and the man with a stiff collar enunciated as though she was dumb, “We are deeply sorry, Lady Eridani, but you must understand that your brother said himself that we should consider him dead if he should fail to return.”

Do they even know her brother? She still remember the way he smiled after he caught when she, a fledgling, tripped and fell into a forested ravine. No one knew that he broke an arm and a few ribs in their rough landing until they got home, when their mother crumbled him in a tight embrace after hearing about what transpired.

The memory unsettled her, urging her to blurt out, “Just how dense can you all be?”

She gladly showed herself out of the meeting room and into the freedom of the manor grounds. If she squinted, she could pick out a line of blemishes in the Creator’s clear sky canvas. Birds, reduced to miniscule blots in this distance. She subdued the urge to take off and join them, choosing to walk on instead. Just why wouldn’t anyone help her brother? How could anyone abandon their friend?

More importantly…How could he abandon her?

She traced a scar in the earth the humans cleared as a decorative path, following it to distance herself from the baroque building. The shade thrusted forward by outstretched leaves and branches sheltered her, whispered with rustles empty promises. How does her mother turn a cold shoulder to her own son in the face of death? Still the entire clan would not approve of her rashness once they find out that she snuck out on her own to find the whereabouts of her brother…they probably already did find out…

“Lady Eridani,” She jolted, fearing it was one of her clansmen; standing just outside of the circle of shade was no Nokshan, but one of the dark-cloaked men that sat at the head of the table.

He introduced himself as Francis, “I am deeply sorry for the harsh tones of my fellow rebels. We’ve all been quite devastated when we caught news of your brother’s capture. He was almost like a brother to a lot of us…”

She stiffened in her seat under the tree, glancing at the stranger before her for his bold claim.

Francis sighed, brushing stray leaves and dried sticks off a boulder for his own seat, “To me…he reminded me of my son…”

Eridani was more forgiving now, meeting directly the rebel’s deep eyes for the first time.

“Cornelius was also so rash…witty…and so eager to change the world for the better,” Francis seemed to be distracted by his fingertips for a second as though his nostalgia slipped through them. “It was a storm…when he thought it was the perfect opportunity to ambush General Marcellus’s forces during the night. When he and his squadron went around the mountains they were caught in a landslide…not even a part of the body could be recovered.”

“…I am sorry…”

“…You must know that, as rebels, we’ve all lost things…for what? Every day I fear what would become of us if we fail…will we just be a blemish in history? Will we even be in history?”

Eridani hated the dejection, felt sorry for both Francis and Cornelius, but most of all, was angered by the suggestion that his brother’s death would be for nothing, “You can’t just sit there and mope about the past! You can’t just assume that he’s dead…We must do something, mustn’t we?!”

Francis arched a brow, “Lady Eridani, we have expended our forces. All of our men are tired and are dying too fast. We are but eggs dashed against a rock…”

“I can help!”

The rebel leader appeared shocked, “Apologies for my bluntness, but you are an outsider and I dare not hurt any more of you.”

“You would kill me if you don’t let me help…I…” She didn’t notice the tears that stealthily made their way down her cheeks until they leapt off her chin to their deaths upon the back of her hand. “I…”

“I understand…but…”

“Please…I cannot imagine losing my brother…I…”

“…” Francis got up, and she thought that she had thoroughly annoyed the man and was terrified that he would leave her, too; instead, he stepped into the circle of shade offered by the tree, “What type of man would I be if I let another son of mine die in vain? Come, Lady Eridani,” he offered his hand. “Let’s go save your brother.” She could not read Francis’s face in the shadows, but the promise of adventure was clear enough.

The air stilled, the birds shrieked, and the line of birds beat their wings steadily forward high above, drawing away further as she studied the handful of hope before her.

She smiled through her tears and seized it.


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