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"I received a letter from the Priory. I have been called to Lornar’s Pass to fight against Scarlet’s floating marionette. I am wanted for my gate expertise, they say, to work on a small team.
I said my goodbyes at the Durmand Hall. Hal said he would pray for me. I do not think the gods intervene in things so small as my life.”
"Early this morning, when I came home from the night shift at the Durmand Hall, there was blood everywhere. Estel came downstairs while I was scrubbing the floor clean again. She sat on my step, on the stairs, and I asked her what had happened. She told me Shun had been shot and then she started crying. By the time I had finished the floor, she had stopped. I brought her upstairs and tried to get her to go to bed. Shun was fast asleep. Estel kept getting up to check on him.
Someone tried to pick the lock of the front door this afternoon. She did not succeed. Estel had a lot of guests today. I made them tea. Then Hal came to pick me up.
We did not go far - we went for a walk in Queensdale. I told him I did not know what to say and he said that was fine.
I think I would like to do it again.”
"Get up." A man’s voice, angry, impatient. "You can’t sleep here, brat."
A sharp pain in her side, and Estel sits up, blinking. “You kicked me,” she murmurs, astonished, rubbing the sleep from her eyes.
"You’re in the way. Shove off."
Estel stumbles to her feet and moves out of the way. Her makeshift shoes are falling apart, and she can feel the cobblestones under her toes. The man - older and heavier than her, were she to pick a fight - is opening his stall for the day. Choose your battles, Herald. Not here, not now. It just isn’t worth it.
Her stomach reminds her that she’s bloody starving. Not here, though, no. Estel retraces her steps across the city, the city she knows better than anything else, to check on her hiding spot.
There’s a kid about her own age standing nearby, and Estel drops quickly back into the shadows, scowling. An unfamiliar girl dressed in clothes too nice for this part of town stands not two feet away from the hidden store of all the things Estel has ever owned. Not that it’s much, but property is property and everyone needs to have something that’s theirs.
Her hand is on the tree trunk. Estel’s tree. The girl’s hair is pulled back into two loose ponytails, and it’s a very light color, white but not quite, almost lavender. She looks back at Estel, her expression dull. Around her neck are heavy bruises, as if someone tried to strangle her, and around her wrists and ankles are delicate silver chains.
“‘lo,” Estel mumbles, trying not to stare. She runs her hands through her own hair, tangled and unwashed as it is.
The girl opens her mouth to speak, but no sound comes out. She tries again, and again, and finally manages. “Help me.”
Seriously? She’s asking her?
"What’re you runnin’ from?" Estel asks, suspiciously. "What’s your name?"
"…no name. I cannot say it now." She holds herself with confidence, head high, but her hands are trembling. She’s afraid.
"Can’t call you nothin’." Estel steps forward, holding her hands up as if she’s trying to approach an animal.
The girl shrugs one shoulder, apathetic. She’s quite pale - she looks like she’s sick. Help me.
For a moment longer, Estel hesitates.
"Both of us are no one," she says, eyes feverish and voice raspy but she means it. It’s true. Maybe that’s what does it.
"Fine. Tell me what’cha need."
"His name is Hal. He wanted to be a librarian before he joined the Priory. He talks to me and does not expect me to talk back. I do not think he expects anything."
When I was in the room, my father gave me a doll. To play with. I was supposed to play with it. Or maybe I was supposed to talk to it, to alleviate what I did not have a name for but Estel would call ‘loneliness’.
I removed the head of the doll and left it under the bed. Then, I used it to practice my illusions, designing clothing for the doll that I could project onto its body. I started simple, but my work gradually got more complex - I had a lot of time.
When I told my father how I had started practicing in a new way, he was pleased. To encourage me, he got me books on sewing and embroidery and lace patterns. I studied the books and the doll’s illusionary clothing became more elaborate, more detailed. I learned how to replicate folds in clothing, delicate swirls of lace. I could do appearance… but texture was all guesswork, because I did was unfamiliar with what the fabric might feel like. Soft, I thought, but not smooth, because of the holes in the lace.
When I left the room, I did not bring the doll. It never had a name.