Chapter 9

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Kusarel had never seen a town other than her own all her life, so she didn't have much in the way of comparison. But even from this distance, she couldn't help but suck in a deep breath as her eyes landed on the silhouette of Tremora. The city easily looked to be around four times bigger than her own, with a looming wall encasing all sides. Towers rose up from the walls, probably for lookouts or shooting down enemies in the case of war.

"It looks so...different from home." Just uttering the word "different" made her stomach shift with tension. She and Elkeri had only been traveling by air for a couple days, and already she missed home. Craning her head down, even the trees covering the landscape looked unusual; these were much thinner, with sparser leaves.

"Yeah, it looks intense. Xaiel said it was peaceful, though," Elkeri said, squinting at Tremora. "Maybe this is normal and our town is the weird one."

That thought didn't quite sit well with Kusarel; the idea of living in cities that were nothing like her own, even temporarily, filled her with unease.

I wish I could just turn around and fly home now. But my family wouldn't even be there anymore...they're probably off to the palace right now. I wonder what mother is thinking. Does she miss me?

Her mother's tear-soaked feathers came back to her, and she felt her wings somehow grow even heavier. She had never flown this much before, and she could feel every muscle in her wings screaming at her. Still, this heaviness somehow felt deeper and more insidious.

"Elkeri, do you think there's any chance I could live with my family in the palace?" Her mind went back to what Xaiel had said, about possibility talking with the Empress and getting her pardoned.

Her small bubble of hope instantly popped as Elkeri cackled from her side. "Kusarel, you're gonna make me laugh so hard I'll fall out of the sky."

Her eyes blurred over somewhat as a small amount of tears squeezed out, before she could stop them. Embarrassed, she turned her head slightly away from Elkeri, not wanting her friend to see her like this.

"Aw, are you crying? I'm sorry, Kusarel. I didn't mean to make you sad."

How did she notice that? I know gryphons have sharp eyes, but come on. She just mumbled something in response, so low even she couldn't hear what she was saying. Elkeri tilted her wings and flew a bit closer, nudging her on the side without saying another word.

An hour of blissful silence later and they arrived at the city. The two gryphons landed outside the wall, a ways back from the main gate. Two guards already had their gaze fixed on them, waiting for their approach.

"I wish we could just fly into the city."

Elkeri nodded with a grumble. "Completely agree, but I'm pretty sure they'd swarm us and take us down." Flicking her tail in the direction of the gate, she said, "Let's get this over with already. I want to go in, take a nap, and eat some real food already."

Kusarel ducked her head and followed her friend, keeping a few steps behind her. Somehow, having Elkeri take the lead made her feel a lot safer, like she was shielded from harm.

"Welcome, visitors. Just a couple questions and you'll be good to go," one of the guards called, stepping forward toward them. Both guards wore silver plates of armor over their torso and chest and carried a spear wrapped in their tails, yet their ears were held in a relaxed state. Kusarel remembered what Xaiel had said about Tremora being peaceful and hoped this was a good sign.

"First, where are you from?" the first guard asked. The other guard pulled out a pad of paper and looked at them expectantly.

"Kryga," Elkeri answered in a clear, crisp voice. Kusarel shifted at the sound of coldness underneath the surface, exposing her friend's seemingly innate distrust of authorities. Still, the guards didn't seem to notice, or perhaps they were just used to it; they both nodded, and the one with the notepad jotted something down.

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