There was only one place where the prying eyes of the city could see a circus freak for free of admission. An insignificant little park, the only patch of green in the large neighborhood.
Judging eyes drifted in the freak’s direction, mouths whispered to their lovers, and they pulled their children closer like she would attack them. A human turned monster in their gaze, she ignored them. Just from the way they stared, she could hear their thoughts.
What happened to her?
What a freak. She should be locked up.
That poor girl. I wonder if it was a blessing or a curse.
Of course, she couldn’t see their mind, nor could she mellow their thoughts as she could in her imagination. She looked different, but it was only their society’s beauty standards that made her stand out so much.
She tried to hide her dark gray hair by stepping into the shadow of a tree. She was a silver streak in a sea of brown. A screaming noble couldn’t have gotten more attention. Her heartbeat quickened under their stare, pulsing at such a volume in her ears that made it impossible to ignore it.
Morita tried not to look back at them. Their whispers would only grow louder.
Sometimes, she would stare back, daring them to meet her freaky tawny eyes. Most dropped their eyes in shame, but a few would meet her gaze. Fewer still, that saw something beyond the abnormalities.
And one of them was the target of her annoyance. He was late.
Where is he?
When she raised her head to search the park grounds, the rim of the setting sun complimented her golden irises. The underside of the sun grazed the shimmering horizon like an orange leaf gently brushing the ground. Budding trees and the runes atop churches cast shadows for migrating birds. Brilliant light streamed through the thin ash in the air. Another reason why she wished she had taken her cap.
The foreigners—usually the Aserish—that visited this time of the year were always pleasantly surprised by how sunny and windy Melbaysín was.
Winds blew at twenty kilometers per hour on average over the mostly flat peninsula. Djinhelm, its capital and the largest hub of oceanic trade, was even worse. From the west, powerful gusts of sea breeze created small dust storms that shot through the narrow streets.
Morita spotted two boys running toward her, paying no attention to their surroundings. She stepped out of the way, and they skidded to a halt. Their eyes widened and their mouths opened.
She straightened up for intimidation and glared at them. For a second, she worried that they would make a scene, but they scrambled away and continued their game, though she noticed that they stayed away from her.
Their youth reminded her of the market square that used to be here. Instead of the delicious smell of fresh bread and fruits of her childhood, all she could catch now was the slight scent of ash and sea breeze.
“You all right?” said a voice, so close that if it hadn’t brought memories of comfort—in that exact tone with the same words—she might have stiffened with alarm. She glanced up to see Falor watching her, arms crossed over his chest.
He was more than a head taller than her and coupled with a good taste for fashion, he was quite the sight. The long tails on his dark red tailcoat, emphasized by the short front, only made him look taller. In Morita’s opinion, he would’ve caught even more eyes if he had a cane and wore a hat.
She noticed that the red of Falor’s hair and eyes were almost the same color as the red of the sunset. Like the Gods hadn’t been bothered to change the shade of red before they painted the world.
Like her, he was a freak. Perhaps that was what drew them together in the first place. She tried to focus her gaze on something in the park when he looked at her. Not because she had unsaid feelings but rather, the warm orange intensity was like a hand around her lungs, taking her breath.
“They didn’t get near me.” She knew that wasn’t what he had meant. “What is it that you wanted to tell me?”
Falor’s gaze hesitated on her for a second before he said, “I heard that Severath is dueling tomorrow.”
She sighed. “If I had a delfou for every time—”
"Corvid is his opponent,” he said, grinning, like that would grab her attention.
And it did.
She shivered despite the warm weather. A notorious vigilante, Corvid hunted anyone with a bad influence on the city. That included criminals, merchants, nobles, and the handful of men that thought they could compare to him.
Due to his merciless methods, which Falor would savor in the newspapers the mornings after, he had become a tale in their city. His reputation spread a long way out of Djinhelm, and there was nothing he didn’t know when it involved his city of djinn and hellions.
“But Corvid always kills his targets. Duels don’t end in death,” she said.
“No, Corvid made a deal with Severath. If he can win, his life will be spared. A bit less romantic than our classmates’ romance novels.”
“The ones they read, or the ones they write?” She smiled and then glanced over at him. “I assume there’s a reason for coming all the way here to tell me.”
“Do I have to have a reason to see a friend?”
“Well, I wanted to tell you personally.”
“Because you want me to care.”
Falor flashed her a dazzling smile. “No, because you’re coming with me. Tomorrow at three at the Jourugent.”
She raised an eyebrow. “What makes you think I want to go?”
“Because Alorza, Volorial, and I are going,” he said like the four of them were a package. But they were, unfortunately for her.
Morita grew serious again. Why do they always have to come with us? Falor and I hardly go anywhere without them now. Just let us have one day together, it’s been so long, she prayed, not sure to who—or what—since she didn’t believe in any religion.
Her father didn’t believe in Deism like most Melbands. It was a common idea among all four religions that two godly brothers existed somewhere, watching the worlds while balancing the other.
Deists believed that the God Brothers created the world, but that the holy deities, lesser beings made by the God Brothers, created Verotz. The paradise of immortals. They believed if they worshipped the deities in their life they could go to Verotz when they died.
Of course, there was no proof of deities or God Brothers. But even if Deists were right, Morita wasn’t going to paradise.
Religion was just a concept to her. She heard about it, that it existed, but she could be no more sure of it than of the nation of Asere. Except Aserish toured Djinhelm every year and no deities had shown themselves. In another nation, atheism was a crime punishable by death.
Morita wondered out loud, “I wonder where we go if we’re don’t believe in deities.”
Falor raised an eyebrow. “Ah. That sounds like a question for Alorza. Speaking of, we’re meeting up at the Jourugent.”
Morita’s feeble protests fell on deaf ears, so she trailed after him. They both knew she’d go anywhere with him no matter what.
That was how it always was. Falor was her torch in the dark. While it sometimes burned to be with him, he was the little spark of adventure in her dull life.