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In the world of Nideon

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Ayan

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When Ayan woke up, Audeni was still asleep. Not wanting to disturb her, Ayan quietly dressed in her school uniform and went downstairs to the hotel lobby. It wasn't hard to be quiet. Ayan's foster mother had trained her and her brother, Leo, to be thieves, so Ayan had learned early how to convince a silk skirt and shirt to barely rustle, even to a fabric wizard like herself. Though that that life was behind her, old habits died hard, and she left the room without even waking Audeni's dog, Watson.

Once Ayan arrived in the lobby, however, she kicked herself for not having thought to bring her embroidery hoop. Not wanting to return to the room, and with nowhere else to go, she sat in one of the big velvet chairs, pulling her knees up to her chest and gazing out the window. After a while, one of the hotel staff approached her. "Can I get you anything ma'am?"

Ayan looked up, startled by the polite language. People weren't usually so polite in her home country of Antarand. Those who were seemed to think that having one hand made Ayan helpless. The man who had spoken wore a wrinkled uniform, as if he had been too busy to iron it. But he smiled underneath a myriad of freckles dotting his skin, which was as pale as her own. All those freckles reminded her of Leo. "Do you have any writing paper?" Chances were he understood her native Imk, but she spoke in Shugbo because she needed the practice.

"Sure!" He disappeared and returned a moment later with a clipboard containing several sheets of hotel stationary and a pen.

"Thank you." As Ayan accepted the items, she brushed her hand against his sleeve, sending a silent communication to the linen fibers to stand straight. They didn't all listen, but the worst of the wrinkles smoothed out.

He looked down at his shirt and back at Ayan. "Faraday?"

She nodded. "I'm going to take the train later. I can't believe I'm going."

"Good luck." He winked and left to attend to another guest.

Ayan settled down to write a letter to her brother, but she couldn't seem to get past Dear Leo. She imagined his frown at getting a letter from her clearly written from a fancy hotel in Nefrale. Their last meeting, the day before she had left Antarand, had not gone well.

"Well look at you, all prettied up. You've got shoes and everything." Leo practically spat the words at her.

Ayan didn't feel entirely comfortable in the shoes herself, since most Antarans only wore them for special occasions. But Audeni demanded she look "respectable" these days, and she was likely expected to wear shoes at school. The rest of her clothes--a knee length skirt and a long tunic with the extra length knotted at the waist--felt off too, even though she'd made them. "I came to say goodbye," Ayan told her brother.

"And you couldn't say goodbye before? When you went to live with... her?" Leo gestured at Ayan's clothes as if they had turned her into Audeni.

"Oh, you mean when I was in prison? I'm sorry, I should have asked the guards if I would go for an hour to see my brother. Should I have mentioned that you were an accomplice in trying to steal the royal jewels?"

"That's why you sold out then. To escape the law." Ayan half expected Leo to add, "they weren't the royal jewels."

"I didn't sell out. And I did it because it's what dad would have wanted." Ayan fought back tears as she spoke. She had hoped her brother had cooled down in the last months.

"How would you know what dad wanted?" Leo yelled, "you were only six when he died!"

"You were only seven!" They were certainly acting like they were six and seven.

Leo rubbed his temples. "You don't mean anything to them, Ayan. You're just a pet. They're going to use you until they don't need you anymore. Just like they did mom."

Ayan stood a bit taller. "Audeni Dennen is not a Yub priestess."

She expected these words to cut Leo, who still followed their parents' faith, but he didn't let the hurt show on his face. "No," he told her, "She's worse. She's the king's sister. She'll chew you up and spit you back out."

Leo moved to swing the door shut, and Ayan caught it with her right elbow. "I'm going to Faraday. I'm going to learn to sew. Properly. And I'm going to open a business. Legally." She said the words as if their foster mother, Altiane, didn't have legal work. Though they both knew better, and though she hadn't come to fight, she wanted to hurt him now. Without waiting for a response, Ayan turned on her heel and walked away. As soon as she rounded the corner, she ran.

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