Chapter 9

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            Kallai had barely finished spreading her lunch out onto her cloth when a swirl of winds appeared nearby, quickly resolving into the thin form of Shuu. Without a word to her, he dropped down across from her, his legs crossed, and helped himself to a roll. Only after he’d swallowed a bite did he nod at her. “This spot a good one is. Quiet, open to the sky, and only you here come.”

            She pinked. “That’s why I chose it,” she whispered.

            Shuu nodded. “That what I thought is. Now, before, you say your country by a council ruled is. And council leader has. Who leader is?”

            Under his clearly fascinated gaze, Kallai couldn’t help a tiny thrill of pleasure over having something actually listening to her and let her tongue run away with her. “Lord Vya. She’s going into her second year as the leader. Most people like her, though some people say she’s too militant. Sevilen says she has been pushing to improve the army’s weapons, especially getting properly working tech-magic hybrid weapons. But with the rumours about Jethros has been developing, that’s not exactly a surprise.”

            “Magi magic weird is. Jethros where is?”

            “It’s north of here. It’s a very mountainous country.”

            Shuu shook his head as he took the pear off the cloth that lay between the two of them. “Neither I recognize. My father farther away than I thought must me have sent. Home harder to get to will be. But a way I will find. Some time it may take. Until then, here I will stay.”

            “If…” Kallai swallowed and tried again. “If you want, I can ask around, see if anyone has heard of your country.”

            “Sparrow, I you thank, but my winds nothing have found. If they not can, you will even more difficulty have. Unless…you said magic and technology your mages mix?”

            She nodded. “There have been experiments. Sevilen says nothing’s really worked so far, but they’re getting closer.”

            “Sevilen… That name I have heard. Other students it of have spoken. Often they say coincidence with you it is. Who Sevilen is?”

            Kallai blushed, but met Shuu’s gaze. Sevilen was one topic she could always talk about. “He’s my older cousin. He’s kind of famous. He’s a genius, a master Magi, and an inventor. He’s even been hired as a government mage. They fund his research and he builds them things. He’s also of House Magan. Sevilen might have heard of your country since he hears about all sorts of things, especially stuff form far away. He likes that stuff. I can ask him in my next letter about it, if you want me to.”

            “Hmmm…for now, no. Potential danger with the war there is. My winds first will search. The whole world if necessary they will. Until then, you about me not to speak. Easy for you, a sparrow being,” he said, studying her closely.

            She ducked her head, nervously tucking a chunk of hair behind one ear. She was about to do the same with the other side when a hand closed around her wrist. Kallai immediately froze, body preparing for immediate flight at the first sign of danger, her eyes going to Shuu. He was staring at her arm. Slowly, he turned her hand over, so that the base of her wrist was visible, ignoring the faint noise of protest she made. He touched a gentle finger to the black bruise there. “This how happened?”

            Kallai’s eyes dropped to her lap as she let her hair fall forward again to hide her face. “It’s nothing,” she said, trying to softly tug her arm out of his grasp. “It’s just something I got off a flying rock. It’ll be gone in a couple of days. It could have been much worse”

            He shook his head but released her. “This bad is, Sparrow. Back pushing you should be. No easy victories other students let have. If you do not, always small, hiding bird you will be, afraid to fly.”

            “I can’t,” she whispered. “If I fight back, it’ll only make it worse. Without magic, without any way of defending myself, what can I do?”

            “If you yourself it of not think, of no use it will be,” Shuu said, standing, his tone hard, his eyes flat as they looked at her. “For yourself to stand up you must choose. No one force you can, or truly useless it will be. Enough to do I have. Time to make sparrow fly I not have. For now, goodbye, Sparrow.”

            A moment later, and he was gone in a swirl of air. Kallai stared at the spot he’d been for several seconds, wondering, not for the first time, if she’d finally snapped and was hallucinating him. But looking down at her lunch told her the truth. Shuu had stolen everything but her sandwich.

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