Chapter 24

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MAIEL SAT UP, NOT QUITE AS RESTED as she hoped. Her room grew dark while her eyes were closed and the smell of sulfur spoiled the air. A deep frown turned her expression severe in the dim light. Swinging her legs around, she got up and went to open the curtains. The sun set on the other side of the building, casting long shadows on the ground below. The light would soon be gone and the shadows would close in even more. Vratin and humans continued to wander the streets, innocent, naive, and oblivious of their reality. Opening the rest of the curtains, she hoped not to be caught so unaware by the imps this building housed. If the moon's reflection was strong enough, it would adequately amplify her dwindled strength. Turning back, she eyed the room in search of enemies where the light didn't reach. The whispers were quieter here, less intense than in the basement of the basilica. This building wasn't quite so old with quite as many memories. Maiel realized she'd heard the voices of the imprisoned, those who refused to know they passed on, but who knew the secrets of Esztergom. A gray dashed behind her. She turned quickly and watched the apparition pass through a door, unaware she even stood there.

A crimson glow lit a small spot on the bed, distracting her before she could ward the room. She stepped toward the mattress. To her dismay, several feathers lay on the blanket. Maiel picked up the lost pinion. Tears blurred her eyesight. Quickly gathering them up, she searched for a place to hide them. There was no way she would leave them to the humans, and have them traded as relics and used to anchor authority for their church.

A fireplace sat cold on the wall between her bedroom and the bathroom. She tossed the feathers on the pile of wood. Wiping her eyes, she looked for matches. Her heart pounded in her chest, attesting to the progress of the human-like form she took. Soon, all the feathers would be gone. Her wings would shrivel and fall off, like limbs of a dead tree. Then she would slowly shrink, becoming shorter and thinner, critically weaker than when she arrived. Last, the light of her eyes and the little life of the penannular would be gone. Her atman would be trapped until the lesson was hardlearned. Maiel slammed her fist on the mantel and cried out angrily. Resting her head against the shelf, she wept over the feathers.

An iron wheel on the outer bricks of the fireplace caught her eye. She spun it and heard the gas come on. She spun it back, and looked around for the means to light the fuel. A tiny brass box sat on the edge of the mantel. Lifting the lid, she found the matches inside. With a flick of her thumbnail,  she lit  the first and watched it burn out. Her tears stopped, as she stared at the small light of the bright flame. She blinked, releasing herself from the allure of the fire. Drawing another matchstick, she turned the wheel again and lit the fire.

The feathers turned black, smoking, then finally burned. Their smell filled the room, disguising the scent of her enemy. She hoped the smell of her burning feathers wouldn't draw them to her. Maiel settled on the floor in front of the fire, watching her feathers disappear in the flames. The heat warmed her cold skin, but not her miserable mood. She found another feather on the floor and tossed it onto the fire.

"Oh, Dominic, what've I done?" Maiel growled into her knee.

"Indeed, what have you done?" a familiar voice asked from behind.

Maiel jumped to her feet, facing the intruder. Morgentus sat on her bed, twirling a ruby feather in his fingers. He gave a slow smile, running the plume under his nose.

"You missed one," he said.

Maiel drew her sword. It felt heavier than she remembered. The atman inside the sapphire hilt grew dim along with her hope for any aid from the world that had created it. Morgentus chuckled, knowing it. He sauntered toward the fire and threw the feather on the charred logs.

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