“Heads, I win. Tails, you lose. Your choice.” And the girl smiled as she said it, her mouth a charming, crooked line.
In her chair, she relaxed without leaning either forward or back, her spine carelessly straight. Her dark hair was braided loosely down her back and a too-bright scarf held it back from her face. With one elbow propped lazily against the table, she let the silence stretch. And she waited for the unnecessary reply.
The rain arrived, late, after the heat of the day had bled out and the evening breeze had sunk in deep. The sun had not set, but it had abandoned its strength, filling the last hours of the day with cool light. The air had smoothed and thinned, no longer dragging at lungs and skin as people moved about.
Though Toera had decided against moving. Her day had gone on long enough. She sat on the stone bench at the end of her street without any real intent, and felt the first raindrops on bare arms.
Like heavy mint or the kiss of gold.
Looking up, Toera watched the rain fall and gleam from old, gray clouds. It steadied, thickened, moment by moment. Hands wrapped around the front of the bench, shoulders braced, she shivered. She blinked it out of her eyes. Slowly smiled. Grinned.
Taryn hesitated on the balls of his feet, wondering how there could be so much hazard in the cut of a smile. Blinking across at Lord Brance, he tried to decide if the twenty feet between them had played with the lines of his face. There was smoke enough in the Practice Court to twist things, but the look in the older boy’s eye was sharp as anything.
He had heard some stories about Lord Brance, of course. He’d had his ears covered or been sent out of the room for others. Not even the things he’d eavesdropped for had prepared him for the challenge that felt like a command rolling off him as easy as a whisper. The smile felt like a promise. It sank into Taryn’s stomach like a threat.
Not that he would back down. The Practice Court clattered on around him, hissed and cracked with fire and speech. No one else in the wide hall had bothered to be alarmed, so he rolled into his next step, taking his place on the sparring line. As soon as he moved, it became absurd that he had stopped.
He had been a conqueror between these pillars for the last two years, an untouchable and, sometimes, bored devil.
“Ready?” Lord Brance asked, just loud enough to be heard over the clamor.
She was surprised when she saw him, and caught herself halfway out the door with the breeze brushing her hair into her eyes. She was slow to let go of the handle and let the door fall shut behind her, slow to pull her hair back. When she smiled, it was careful and raw, like pulling an old gun off the closet shelf.
And they both paused, trying to remember after all this time, if it was loaded.
He took a breath, tucking his hands down into the pockets of his coat.
She drew her hair behind her ear.
“Hey, Trouble,” he murmured.
Her smile cracked wider, slanted, and suddenly obvious.
“Hey, Stranger,” she said. “How have you been?”
It was just a smile, already half-formed on his lips before he saw her over the head of the others packing the street.
It was just a reaction, surprise at meeting someone’s eye in the anonymous rush, a pleasant cover for the awkwardness of being singled out and spotted.
“We’re almost out of time,” Jerdan murmured, holding Danneel’s elbow under the bare cover of the doorway.
She leaned against the wooden frame, hand on the cool paneling, head on her hand, and listened close. She watched the rain come down hard. The heavy drops bounced against the dry ground right now, gathering in brown puddles on the surface. In a few minutes, the puddles would sink into the dirt easier than the driving rain, and turn everything to mud.
Mud held footprints too well. They were almost out of time, if they still wanted to run. She could almost make herself believe that it was a biting truth. She could almost breathe it in deep enough to start a panic in her blood. But a laugh came so much easier.
It had been a good long while since she had been out of time.
When charging into dangerous situations you can either be fast and silent or fast and prepared. It was a simple truth, with a single, large exception which Jasen wasn’t sure why he had never noticed before: if you caused the dangerous situation, you had the foreknowledge to be all three.
He didn’t figure it out until he felt the cool line of a knife leaned against his spine and angled against the muscle of his neck while his sword was still padded in his sheath. He had moved quiet and quick into his hiding place in the far corner of the dim warehouse, but she had been ready for him.
“We told you to stay home,” she murmured, leaning close behind him with one hand firmly on his shoulder so that she could speak into his ear. She didn’t lose the angle on her knife, placed perfectly to slide in and twist so that nothing below his chin ever answered his mind again. It was chilling, even knowing who the voice belonged to.
Teleportation spells were simple things, though there was always a moment of hesitation right at the end, as the caster tried to decide whether it was best to direct their subject to the floor or the couch.
There was no way to teleport oneself – or if there was, no one had figured out the exact mechanic to make it work – but making another person appear in your given location was easier than anyone could have imagined. Pick up a photo. Think hard. Murmur the words. Blink once.
There was some warning to the person on the other end. Just enough for them to know they were about to leave where they were, and put on a sufficiently shocked look to alarm whoever they were standing near at the time. Enough time to drop what they were holding sometimes, or to stand up if they were quick about it.
Tarra paid one of Dene’s nephews three sugar sticks to wait on the forward peaks and watch the horizon for sails. He was an eager little thing, with brown hair grown too long below his ears and eyes that could spot a frog three yards away in the weeds. He grinned at the thought of doing a favor for Dene’s soon-bride, grinned wider when he saw the thick sticks, and ran out the door with one already stuck in his mouth.
The hawks had come in days ago, and Galen’s ship could arrive in port any of the next four days. Tarra herself had lived long enough on a ship’s schedule to know that it was more likely to come in on the fifth than it was the first, but she also knew her brother. Galen was always around at the right times, and today was his birthday. Waking, lying in bed and looking at the sunrise turning her ceiling from ash gray to warm brown, she could believe that he would walk through the front door that day. If he did, she intended the whole street to celebrate with him.