Chapter Two

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The bird's silver wigs flapped against the harsh wind, the glimmering yellow trimmings across its back winking in the weak sunlight. Its talons were sharp like honed spindles, yet as they rested on the woman's shoulder, they did not seem to hurt her at all.

She smiled. A sorrowful hue dyed her eyes navy as she reached out a finger, tapping the top of the bizarre bird's head. "Don't be afraid, Azrah," she whispered. "The storm will pass."

It was the bird's turn to regard the woman with a doubtful azure eye, brimming with meaning the blurry image could not possibly convey.

A violent shiver shook me awake.d

My eyes cracked open, squinting at the brash sunlight pouring through the cracks of the skylight. Where am I? My head pounded with a force not even war drums could emulate. It felt as if I could hear the people march to my funeral.

I wiped my damp eyes. That was impossible. There was nobody to attend my funeral.

Fragments of my memory spun around my head, mocking my muddled figure. All I remembered was pain, pain, pain. Then darkness, a light, and pain once more. The sharp staccato of my heart tapped sluggishly against my ribcage. My recollection of the incident might have fled my mind, but the panic that accompanied it haunted each breath I took as I struggled to sit up.

And sloshing through a sea of broken memories, the dream I had just jumped out of reigned above with pompous clarity.

My eyes felt fossilized as I glanced around the unfamiliar chamber. I was tucked in a rigid bed pushed to the corner of the room. The walls, the floor; everything was crafted from ancient oak, emitting a pungent odor that drilled into my nose. There was no lavish furniture, just a meager chest and a bedraggled desk and chair. The cause of my nausea became apparent as I found myself blankly staring at the seat before me. It was rocking left and right.

A grave was easy to sneak into. A ship, however, wasn't.

The moments were fleeting. They didn't wait for me — nobody ever did — but for once, I couldn't complain. I leaned against the rigid headboard, glancing out of the narrow skylight. Soft clouds hovered through the metal bars, concealing the shy sky from the sailors' curious glare. It wasn't often that Metsuva hosted a relatively clear sky — even if it did, the piles of freshly woven cloths would have preoccupied me. My confusion seemed to melt before the simple glory of the blue.

I could have stayed there forever. Maybe I would have stayed there forever, hadn't a searing sting suddenly attacked the skin of my throat.

"Saints!" I tried to exclaim. Only a strained croak came out, scraping my throat like a box of needles. How long had it been? Days? Weeks? I kicked the stiff sheet off my body and stumbled to my feet, approaching the mirror's stained glass. My raven hair resembled the beaten nest of a bird, and dark circles shadowed my eyes' every move. Yet most shockingly, a large red scar encircled my neck, like a necklace I could never get rid of.

Despite the agonizing ache in my head and the dread building up in my chest, I gathered the weak sparks of my determination and burst through the cabin's door, taking the flight of stairs immediately to my right.

The clear air of open sea swept by my skin the moment I climbed the last step. It was so intense, the feel, the odor, even the light whoosh it made as it zoomed past my hunched figure. The ocean stretched over the skyline, leaving no room for a harbor, a body of land floating about, any sign that I was still in Metsuva. My pulse picked up as the fresh air started clarifying the situation.

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