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Prologue

Una, Chapawee Territories. (1, Caróg, 593 AP. Evening.)   Dusk fell softly over the small outpost known as Una, a cold mist encroaching from the surrounding hills, and venturing along the unpaved pathways between its handful of stone and lathe buildings, carrying the sharp scents of pine and cedar from the surrounding forests. Few people were still out, most having taken shelter inside the only inn. A blacksmith prepared to turn in for the evening, the embers of her forge a dull glow in the fading light, as she ducked out from under the eaves of her workshop, and waved goodnight to the guard in the watchtower above.   Tiponi peered down curiously into the growing shadows between the inn and the general store. Two figures clad in dark clothing stood in the alleyway below, their appearances a stark contrast; his sienna-hued skin was barely visible in the low light, curly sable hair pulled back into a low ponytail, while her opal-colored skin almost seemed to glow under the short espresso bob of her hair. Their voices were low, and Tiponi crouched closer to the railing to hear them.   ________________   “Storm take that thrice blasted vexatiously bothersome woman!” The shorter figure cursed articulately. “She’s the most infuriatingly inconvenient creature I’ve ever met!”   “Technically, we haven’t met her yet.” The taller figure pointed out, his tone low and smooth, and his mocha eyes twinkling in amusement as he leaned against the wall, watching his companion.   “Fine, then she’s the most infuriatingly inconvenient creature I’ve never met! And I wasn’t done being angry yet.” She retorted her voice evening out, though her storm blue eyes flashed in the faint lamplight as she glared at the wall.   “Apologies my friend, do continue to yell at the wall. Your audience is captivated as always.” He waved to the empty alley around them, grinning at her. “Try not to kick it this time though.”   “That may have been a tactical error.” She admitted.   “An understandable lapse of judgment, under the circumstances.” He agreed, still smiling.   She glared at the wall a moment longer before the absurdity of their conversation made her laugh. “This is why I prefer working with you, Itri. Everyone else says I complain too much and drive them mad.”   He shrugged. “It’s part of your charm.”   She sighed, pinching the bridge of her nose. “How are we going to fix this? How did I not know about this? Can you stay on her trail while I go-”   He was already shaking his head. “The only thing that will get us past the northern border is the Odyssey Weavers seal, the Lunar Conclave respects the scribes. They’ll only let me through if I’m with you. And you know they won’t let you near those ships.”   “If I could do this by myself I wouldn’t have dragged you here in the first place.” She scowled. “We’ll never manage to get this close to her again if we leave now.”   “So, write Brann. Tell him to send someone.”   “I already sent him bad news twice in the past month. He’s got enough to worry about. Neither of our guilds can find out about any of this.”   “I didn’t say ask the guilds, I said ask Brann. You know those are very different things. We wouldn’t be up here if not for him anyway.”   “It’ll take nearly two days for the message to get to him. The expedition leaves in five, and if she’s really headed towards Dearmad falls we’ll be out of messenger reach before then. Which means we won’t know if he can’t send someone. We can’t let them leave, it violates the accords, it’ll mean war, you know it will.”   “It’s Brann. He’ll send someone.”   “I really hope you’re right, because you and I will be trapped in the middle of this mess if he doesn’t.” She sighed. “Come on, we’d better get started. I have a letter to write and we need to get more supplies. Make sure you get yourself a thicker cloak, it doesn’t get warm where we’re going.”   As the two figures stepped back into the street, they failed to notice a young girl on the balcony two stories above, her expression impassive as she leaned back into the shadows, a pale feather twined in her ink black hair.


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