Chapter 12

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"Whoa," Ink breathed. Sterling had always had such a drab colour palette—gray hair, gray paint, gray smoke. But Amber Falls seemed so alive—multicoloured cloth flags flapping, brightly painted arches and trellises, stained glass windows.

Liazu left up and soared leisurely through the air, gentle wind ruffling his feathers. A couple citizens glanced up to watched as he looped around, but turned their gaze away, uninterested.

Ink wondered what kind of world didn't marvel at winged flying boys. Certainly the kind of world she longed to explore. It seemed impossible that anyone could grow used to impossibilities, but then again people seemed to shirk wonderment on the daily.

Shiara started walking down the hill. Ink and Daisy followed reluctantly. Ink measured her pace so as not to go racing down the hill's rather steep slope. She realized that she, Liazu, and Shiara could be the first living people Daisy had ever met.

Jay had always been a bloodied mess. Ink didn't know what it did to a child, seeing only the dead. She doubted it was anything good.

There was nothing closing the village off. In Sterling there had been a huge stone wall enforced with magic to block off the parts that touched other kingdoms. The woods, while not technically a barrier, had always been associated with evil. Only the foolish would dare cross.

Ink couldn't see any kind of palace. Nothing to indicate a hierarchy. Just before she stepped onto one of the gravel paths, she cast a quick glamour, calling up her usual disguise as Bell—a short, slender build, rumpled curly hair, and pixielike features.

She could spot people with hair and skin tones in every colour imaginable, so she doubted her hair would make her stand out, but the disguise felt safe.

The three of them walked into the village. A couple people seemed to recognize Shiara and stopped to chat. Wings, horns, and tails seemed to be the norm here.

Despite the cold, everything seemed to radiate a sense of warmth. Music and cheerful chatter spilled from open doorways. The smell of melting butter and brown sugar filled the air, mingling with the aromas of salt and sweat.

So this was what civilization was supposed to be like.

Shiara seemed to be leading them towards a small, squat building. Ink noticed more than a few passing glances her way.

"Why are people looking at me?" She asked Shiara.

Shiara grinned. "You look too normal."

"Huh?"

"We don't get a lot of humans here," she explained. "Your kind are limited to the Seven Kingdoms. Very few ever get out. Amber Falls is home to Mystics—ones who have magic."

"I have magic," Ink pointed out.

She shrugged. "You're not human."

Ink didn't bother to argue. After all, she still didn't know what she was. "Are humans the only non-Mystics?"

"The term is 'Aura'," Shiara said, "and no. Dwarves, elves, trolls, ogres, and giants are Auras too."

"Don't some humans have magic, though?" Ink asked. "I know a couple humans who can do stuff."

"Like?"

"Psychic things," Ink said, thinking of Lavender. "With their minds."

"You mean the Aura Abilities?" Shiara paused to smile and wave at a pretty girl with pointed ears and red eyes. "It's not magic, exactly. It's how people who aren't Mystics became known as Auras. There's energy around everything. Some Auras can sense it, even manipulate it to a certain extent. Psychic senses, rock-shaping, light bending... things like that. It's not magic, though. Aura Abilities manipulate what's already there. Mystic powers draw on other things."

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