Book 1 Chapter 41

She’s looking at me again.

Or at least, that was the feeling TsuYa got from the strange little girl. He didn’t know how she could see anything through the white cloth that was tied across her eyes, but the way that she moved her head plainly spoke of one who could see.

I wish she wouldn’t do that.

Something about the way she simply sat there bothered him. Maybe it was because he couldn’t see the rest of her face. Maybe it was the strange black hair. Maybe it was because she hadn’t uttered so much as a single sound. Never.

Or maybe it was something else. Something that tugged at the back of his mind.

Why doesn’t she go and play or something?

The little girl never did. She seemed perfectly content to sit there and watch him. It didn’t matter what TsuYa was doing. Eating breakfast with one spoonful of dripping milk held in front of his mouth. She was watching him. Leaning down to lace up his sandals for a morning walk. She was watching him. Coming out of the showers, toweling out his hair. She was there watching him, too.

That was the most discerning time. He almost broke down and ordered her to go away, but something within held him silent. Something told him that he, too, should wait and see.

Though at the current moment, it was hard to hold his tongue. The girl kept distracting him as he attempted to lay out one of the old maps he found in his father’s study.

Father gave him full access to all of his books, papers and research while he was away on the journey. Curious as the Apprentice was, TsuYa could never pass up a chance to learn more about the things that his father took interest in. The girl, however, was not given permission to be in this room. Yet, there she was, sitting in the corner watching him pour over the crinkled map.

I wish Aunt SaRa would come and get her out of my hair.

It was a strange map, hand-sketched on a parchment, weathered with travel and time. TsuYa could recognize his father’s scratchy handwriting along side of another more ornate script, probably Kudako’s. There were various scribbles and notes in the margins, coordinates and thoughts on flora and fauna.

I think they actually drew this out while traveling.

TsuYa carefully traced his finger along the faded ink lines, the paper hissing with age in response to the light pressure. He could make out tiny sketched-in symbols that indicated the places that he knew so well.

Here’s Nefol and Arddun. There’s the Host Gate. The Dragon Pass.

His eyes followed the squiggly mountains to the south.

And this must be the city we’re in. Ceiswyr– I think it’s called? We’re actually not all that far from home.

The little girl shifted her position ever so slightly, her gaze never leaving the man at the desk. He almost forgot she was there as the map drew his interest. TsuYa frowned and continued his inspection. His nose began to itch as he became more aware of the pressing dust that capered through the pale streams of sunlight from the parted curtains.

Where’s the Outterlands? That’s where Father’s going right now. He said it wouldn’t take too long, so it has to be here somewhere.

His face grew grim as he searched over the rest of the sketched in features of land.

The Lost Hills. The Black Forest. The Upperland Mountains…

TsuYa paused, eyes running along the border of the landform. There was a deep, black outline that surrounded the edge of the continent on every side. His brow wrinkled and the chair creaked as his weight shifted.

I remember the stories… this is the Dragon’s Cleft. The Outterlands are on the other side… I wonder how they plan on getting there.

“Erph!” as TsuYa leaned forward, his head bumped against something. Peering up, he realized that the little girl was now perched on the top of the desk. She was also sitting with her face close to the map that the two of them had knocked their heads together.

The girl’s face turned upward, shrouded eyes falling upon him in what seemed to be a puzzled expression.

In a fit of surprise, TsuYa spluttered, “What are you doing up here? Don’t touch Father’s map!”

She shifted backwards, pulling her hands away from the map and folding them behind her back. The little black wings spread precariously as she balanced for a breath’s moment on the very edge of the desk.

“Hey! Be careful!” Afraid that the girl was going to fall, the Apprentice reached out to catch her.

“Nuuuuuuuuh!” the girl jolted away from him sharply. Landing lightly on her feet, she sprang away.

TsuYa jerked back too, startled. It was the first sound he had heard from her.

“It’s alright, calm down! I was just…” he got to his feet, hands spread to show her that he meant no harm.

It was too late. The girl was already on the other side of the room, pressed against the wall. Her veiled eyes never left him. He could feel the weight of their gaze burning into his flesh. Something about it made his skin itch with discomfort.

Why does she follow me around if she doesn’t like me?

TsuYa dropped his hands by his side in a dejected motion. He gave a deep huff, “Nevermind.”

She was afraid. He could tell by the way she trembled as she curled up against the wall. But he didn’t know why. He didn’t know why she didn’t just leave if she was that afraid to begin with. He didn’t know why she watched him. He didn’t know why she made him feel so uneasy.

TsuYa tried to ignore her, peering back at the map, but it did little good. It was really hard to simply forget about a child sitting in the corner, petrified with fear. Eventually, he had no choice but to turn and meet her gaze.

Or… what passed as a gaze.

“Listen, I didn’t mean to snap at you, okay?” he offered, tone still rather disgruntled. “It’s just a very old map and it can rip easily. It doesn’t belong to me, so I don’t want to get it messed up. That’s all.”

She remained staring at him, unmoving.

TsuYa frowned in return.

Slowly, her wings drooped, the newly-grown black feathers shimmering in the filtered-window sunlight. As he studied her closely for the first time, he could suddenly feel something more behind the weight of her gaze. Something that seemed so full of sorrow. So alone.

His mind shifted instantly to the image of himself, not much older than her, standing and staring out the window. Dressed in black. Heart torn by the news of the death of his father. So full of sorrow. So alone.

She’s having as tough a time in this weird city as I am, I bet. I mean, the way she looks, I don’t think anyone will have much to do with her.

“Hey,” TsuYa leaned back, sitting down in the chair. One hand reached into his vest pocket, rummaging around carefully. He pulled out a small, wrapped parcel and held it up for her to see. “You look like you could use something to eat.”

The girl still didn’t move.

The Apprentice slowly unwrapped the bundle, revealing a number of fresh, sweet smelling thin-wafes. He held one out to the girl, “Aunt SaRa makes the best cookies in the world. You’re really missing out if you’ve never had one.”

She still didn’t move, but her gaze had shifted to the cookie in his hand. He couldn’t tell, but he thought there was a hint of interest.

“Come on. If you don’t want it, that just means more for me.” Then he grumbled, eyebrows drawing downward, “I wasn’t going to share to begin with, you know?”

So much for trying to be nice. I shouldn’t have anything to do with her. Why should I even bother to–

The girl got to her feet.

TsuYa froze.

The girl froze.

His hand trembled slightly, still holding the outstretched cookie.

She cautiously made her way towards him, feet pattering on the floor. She paused when she was a meter away.

TsuYa swallowed, reaching the cookie out further, “It’s chocolate chunk?”

With a grab the speed of lightning, the girl snatched the cookie out of his hand and dodged back to her spot next to the wall. As if she was terrified that someone might take it from her, she shoved the whole thing into her mouth with a growly crunch, chewing as quickly as she could.

“Whoa, whoa there,” TsuYa’s eyebrows shot up. “There’s more where that came from. You don’t have to eat it so fast.”

Even though her mouth was completely full, she began to lick the chocolate off of her hands in quick little slurps. It reminded him of some sort of wild animal. He drew back, uncertain and disgusted.

I wonder what in Light’s name happened to her. Normal kids around Nefol don’t act like that.

Having finished the wafe, the girl peered up at him expectantly. Crumbs dotted her mouth, unnoticed.

“Er, oh? You want another?” TsuYa rattled the package of cookies in front of her.

She nodded. Slowly at first. Then more vehemently.

The Apprentice pulled out a cookie and held it towards her. The girl flicked out her hand, reaching to snatch it again. TsuYa yanked it out of her reach.

“No,” he said firmly. “You don’t take it like that.”

She made a little sound of frustration.

He reached his hand out once more. Again she tried to snatch it. For a second time he pulled it out of her reach.

“No,” he repeated. “Take it from my hand with some manners and I’ll let you have it.”

One little foot stamped on the floor. Once again, a sound of frustration rose in her throat.

TsuYa held the wafe out again.

This time, the girl inched towards him carefully. Very calmly, she reached her hand out and took the cookie from his fingers.

Feeling rather victorious, the Apprentice praised, “That’s right. There you g–”

The moment she took it, the girl stuffed the entire wafe in her mouth, just as she had the first time. Backing away from him, she began to clean her fingers of any traces of crumbs or chocolate.

“Hrm…” He watched her for a while, a thoughtful frown spread over his face. Silently, TsuYa leaned back in his chair and began to munch on a wafe of his own.