Winds of Change

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“So what is going on – have you heard all this all over the Grounds?” Dar’s voice was hushed as he glanced over his shoulder.

Rick steeled himself. This was something he never hoped to do… but at the same time, he knew that it was necessary. The Shepherd would protect his flock, his sheep, no matter what… but if one of them was in danger, the way Emanuella had been…. And Dar had a funny way of reacting to Emanuella also, he mused, if he were trying to make up for some kind of guilt from the way they fought so much, so he applied extra effort on her behalf. Yes, Fiorra was right. Dar couldn’t know about this. If he saw Emanuella right now, knew what really happened….

That decided him. Rick scared himself with how easily he assumed an air of nonchalance. “What’s that?” He bit into a peach and wiped the juice off his chin. He offered it to Dar but Dar absentmindedly shook his head.

“I can’t believe you haven’t heard, about the girl that was found this morning in the snow,” he said lowly, looking around as if concerned that someone might overhear them.

“Oh, that,” Rick shook his head and waved it off.

Dar gripped his shoulder with surprising force. “They’ve said she was Kin’keskan. Doesn’t that sound like Emanuella to you?”

Rick hated lying to Dar. But he easily shrugged it off, wishing he could shrug off the bruise he knew Dar’s fingers had just left, and shook his head with assumed indifference.

“Most of what I heard was that she had snuck onto Academy Grounds as a, you know, guest of someone in upper level Weaponry and then they got caught and she was thrown out. I gather,” Rick scratched the back of his neck uncomfortably and continued in low tones in an attempt to be delicate, “that they used her pretty badly.” A sidelong glance told him that Dar was carefully weighing his easy indifference. “I didn’t think Kin’keska clans came through the City except at Spring Market, did you?”

“So… you don’t think the girl was Emanuella then?” Dar asked slowly but deliberately.

Rick feigned surprised as they continued their stroll about the Gardens. “Emanuella? No. She’s a student, plus, she can fight pretty well, as you should know yourself,” Rick clapped Dar lightly on the back a few times with a grin.

Raising his eyebrows and rolling his eyes, Dar grimaced in momentary acknowledgement. Then, “Everything I heard was that it was a Kin’keska student outside after Detention last night,” he insisted. “That sounds like her.”

“Really?” Rick continued his demeanor of amazement. “My level is closer to hers than yours, and no one said anything like that that I’ve heard.” Dar was looking unconvinced. Hurriedly, Rick reinforced this with, “Besides, if it was Emanuella, I’m sure Fiorra would have summoned us to the Healers’ Wing by now, and she’s in a position to know. And I know we would have heard from Fiaz, right?” Rick summoned all of his charm to persuade his old friend, hating himself all the while.

Dar relaxed some. “That’s true.” He sighed. “I guess it was just some out-of-hand party like you said. Still…” and his eyes looked off, distantly.

“Trust me, if it was Emanuella, we’d know. Tell you what, I’ll check into it for you, see what I can dig up, and get back to you.”

Dar stood up, his eyes distant again. “Nah, that’s not necessary. It makes sense.”

Rick had misgivings suddenly arise. He’d seen that particular contemplative countenance enough to know that Dar was pondering personal action of some sort.

“It’s no problem, I’ve a young lady friend over in the Healers’ Wing who could tell me about the girl brought in. And when she was released back to her clan. Or anyone admitted over the last day or so even. Of course,” Rick said sympathetically, “it would help if Emanuella showed her face at our meetings now and again, am I right?” He leaned an arm on Dar’s shoulder.

That seemed to bring Dar out of his reverie and he glared at Rick. “Yeah, if you see her, tell her to get her ass in there next time, will you?”

Rick grinned in reply and watched as his friend left. Then he sank down on a nearby bench, holding his head in his hands, despising himself for the deception, the lies he’d just candidly delivered. He himself would track down whoever had done this to Emanuella and while he may not be as gallant or showy as Dar, he still would not stand for this cruel savagery visited upon his family. Yes, he would find out who… quietly, but surely, swiftly. Someone would pay.

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