Warning: This work has been rated 16+ for language.
I ignored the stack of papers on my bedside table. Productivity would have to wait until tomorrow, as even the usually soothing hum of nighttime traffic on the road below made my head throb. Despite the persistent glow of the moon that seeped through my tattered curtains, and how wretched I felt, and the pathetic fact that I had slept more than twenty-four hours straight already, I soon drifted into a heavy sleep.
Cool morning light tickled my eyelids the next morning and pulled me from my dreams. As I blinked away blurriness, the muffled sound of Albin rustling about in the kitchen floated into my room. He was probably getting ready to leave for one of his morning lectures.
I heard the floorboards creak cautiously as he quietly moved down the hallway towards my room. I closed my eyes so that only a small crack of light seeped through my lashes, just enough to see by. He slowly pushed my door open and peered in, hesitant with reluctant curiosity.
"Frieda?" he whispered tentatively. "Frieda, are you awake?"
I slowed my breath so that my chest rose and fell with sleepy consistency.
"Frieda, if you're faking this, I swear..." he continued, still in the innocent and tentative tone. "I cannot find the tea box anywhere, and if I find out that you've stashed it in your room and neglected to tell me--!"
How is it that he can come across so meek and yet his words are so furious? I wondered, still squinting at his smudged features.
"Frieda!" he hissed.
To put him out of his misery, I gradually opened my eyes. "Albin, is that you?" I murmured in mock confusion.
"Thank Arapalia. Do you have the tea box, Fred?"
"Hey, keep your voice down. Petra's probably still sleeping!"
He smirked at me. "Anything for Petra."
Pushing myself up from under my voluminous sea of blue bedding, I glared at him. "I haven't a clue what you mean. And no, I don't drink tea, as you know very well. I drink..." my gaze drifted over to the empty glass next to my bed, then shifted back to Albin. "...I drink coffee."
"Well, who has the tea box?" He asked, a lock of golden hair flopping impatiently across his forehead.
"I'll be damned if I know!" Frustration seeped into my voice, as I was still irked by his comment about Petra.
He backed out of my room, hands raised in surrender. "Okay, okay, I'll leave you in peace."
Furrowing my eyebrows, I scootched to the edge of my bed and stared absentmindedly at the wall across from me. My eyes traced the faded and creased wallpaper. Anatomical sketches of plants and herbs sprayed the off-white paper with a mossy green, echoing the much more real mould that was slowly invading the upper corner of my wall. It suddenly hit me how pathetic everything was... what the hell was I doing with my life?
Distracted by self-pity, I got dressed in flowing, colourful pants and a tight-fitting black shirt. Bright geometric patterns cascaded from my waist, encircling my legs in joyful hues. Maybe the cheery optimism would sneak into my thoughts and lighten my mood.
Treading across the room, I pulled my blinds open. They clinked in the morning sunlight, as bright air and chaotic noises flooded my room. I told myself I'd look at the work wanted ads after I ate. After finishing my breakfast of pastries and clementines, the papers looked no more enticing. But I wiped my sticky hands on my pants and forced myself to look at them again. The Tsqali-Shui dragon still seemed depressed, its dull red scales cracked and dry. Probably lived in a cramped enclosure with no water to bathe in.
I flipped to the next page, where I was met with valiant soldiers proudly upholding their duty. A young lady stiffly saluting was replaced moments later with a line of recruits doing push-ups. One lad hopped up and waved at me before a shrill whistle rebuked him. I dropped the paper onto my bed and examined one of my hands, soft from shelving books all day. The army didn't want me, a girl with Monish blood pumping through her heart that was slowly counting down to an explosion. No matter if I was a Jadian citizen, I still had the potential to be a traitor.
A shuffling in the hallway drew me from my thoughts. "Albin, I swear to the galaxies that I don't have the tea box," I said with impatience serrating the edge of my voice.
"No, Petra has it," someone answered in a preposterous imitation of Albin. Looking up, I found Petra leaning in my doorway, dark hair dishevelled, eyes drowsy, and grinning cheekily. She looked so youthful and adorable in the dreamy daze.
"Pietro, you should be sleeping!" I squinted at her, worried. "Is something wrong?"
She scrunched her eyes like she was about to cry, then promptly started giggling. "Nothing's wrong Freddie, don't be so anxious."
"Heartless hooligans have horrible humour." I lay back onto my bed, taunting her to our game.
"Yes, and grumpy girls get ghastly gifts," she replied, flopping down next to me.
"Ghastly gifts you say?"
She held up the wooden sailboat and then levitated it upwards, so that it was suspended above us, its outline bobbing against the sea of a water-stained ceiling. "All done. It's to celebrate...you, I guess."
I beamed at her. "Pietro, you're a darling. I love it!" I sat up to hug her, and her strong arms gripped me sleepily.
"I'm glad," she whispered, giving me one last squeeze. "But hey - how's the job hunt?" She lifted the page that proclaimed, "Foot soldiers wanted!"
"Oh - that's just -"
"Are you thinking of joining the army?"
"Oh, that's good. It isn't safe."
Her careless dismissal of the ad hurt more than she could possibly imagine or intend, pricking my scalp with disappointment. Attempting to brush it off, I changed the subject. "You should really get to bed, Petra, you just got home two hours ago!"
"I finished the sailboat, so now I'm going to go sleep. And you," she jabbed me in the stomach, "should go job hunting!" Her dreamy face was etched with tired crinkles. With a sigh, she hefted herself up and strode across the hallway to her room. Her door clicked shut and I blinked, a momentary breeze of loneliness whispering through my mind.
She was right, though. I needed to find another job and if I didn't start looking now I'd never get around to it. I shoved the work wanted pages into my canvas bag and threw in a shawl, just on the off chance the weather got nasty. I briefly considered my umbrella, but it looked rather dismal and despondent and completely not up to the task if it were to start raining. I could always use magic, as unappealing as that option was.
Emerging out onto the cobblestone street, my senses were bombarded by sounds, smells, and sights that filled the air like bees buzzing around a hive. I ambled along, passing under the shadows of trees that grew up from the middle of the road. As I rested in the shade, a fortune-teller, dressed in navy and dark purple robes that billowed like a windy night sky, waved me over. Grasping my hand she eagerly cried, "Oh, you've got adventures ahead of you. A future chock-full of surprises, or I'll be darned. Come here, dearie, let me tell you the story of your life!"
I let her tug me across the street to her stall, which was ladened with orbs, enchanted jewelry, herbs, and an assortment of other knick-knacks. She pulled down an opaque glass globe from its perch on the top of the pile and began rubbing it conspiringly in her hands. I watched, amused, as pulsing indigo swirled upwards. She was adding the special effects for the viewer's benefit, though she could still have some genuine prophetic talent. Her gaze drifted up from the globe and she locked eyes with me. "Oh, dearie, you've had a wonderful childhood, haven't you?" I couldn't tell if she was serious, or if her comforting smile was a sarcastic smirk in disguise.
"Yes, positively perfect," I replied, figuring I could play along.
"And I see an equally wonderful future ahead of you. Blooming romance, yes, you're a lucky sweetie, he's the man for you..." She looked up, and this time I definitely saw a mischievous spark in her eyes.
"Dashing, is he?"
"Yes, a dashing prince for this innocent darling - he'll save you from great disasters, I assure you. No need to fret, princess, you'll be in strong hands." Her sweet face morphed into a taunting smile before she tossed the globe into the air and it continued its path upwards, disappearing into the clouds. "That'll be 50 cahjbres, my dearie. High-quality services require compensation."
I snorted. "Compensation my ass. Your high-quality services are only high in fraudery."
She shrugged. "Have it your way, honey buns, but bad luck shall plague you."
Twirling her voluminous skirt, she too evaporated into the air. I thought perhaps I heard her taunt me with one last "dearie" before she completely faded into nothingness.
I knew she was just some would-be witch, but I still found it curious that everything she said was so completely and consistently inaccurate. Considering the encounter, I wandered down the twisting street until I reached Demblestif Avenue, where loud and heavy traffic pulled me from my haze of thoughts. Three young girls went racing past, dressed in colourful scraps of clothing. I watched them gallop down the street until suddenly, the smallest one skidded to halt. I wasn't sure what had caught their attention until they ran back a short distance to a tent that was pitched at the opening of an alleyway. The beige canvas material flapped in the cool breeze. The three girls crowded around the entrance, obviously intriguing by what was inside. I couldn't help myself, I was lured by their youthful enthusiasm. I sped up, ignoring all the peddlers who tugged at my shirt with undying persistence.
Nearing the tent I saw a group of Jades my age, and a few youngsters like the girls, all gathered around and chatting with excitement.
"I feel like they'll underestimate me 'cause I'm skinny but then I'll blow their minds with my strength and they'll promote me to front lines 'cause I'm that impressive."
"Nah, they'll think you're trash 'cause you're a twig and they'll be right and they won't accept you 'cause you're weak." Two young men near the outskirts of the group were exchanging speculations about something, though I wasn't entirely sure what. The "skinny" one had a mop of brown hair which he couldn't be bothered to keep off his face, veiling his features from my view.
I was about to proceed through the clump of people to see what was in the tent, when the skinny guy grabbed my hand. "Hey honey, where are you going?"
I tried to gently tug my hand away, but he held firmly. "Please let go," I said politely.
"But your hand is so soft," he crooned.
"Oh, she's ferocious, is she?"
Disgusted by his attitude, I squinted at him with contemplation. Perhaps this was worth some magic. Biting my tongue in concentration, I flattened the arches of my feet so they met the ground and tensed my free hand so that it tingled with exertion.
I call upon the invisible breeze that trembles even the most magnificent trees; wreck storm upon the face of this rival let him crawl through the dirt and beg for survival.
I whispered the final word aloud and dug my fingernails deep into his hand on the last syllable. A gale erupted from between our palms, propelling the idiot into the gutter and whistling by my face in a congratulatory gust. I hadn't meant for the "breeze" to be that powerful, but I didn't mind that it was. He slowly sat up, spitting water from his mouth and brushing leaves from his face. Mud splattered his tidy white shirt and shorts, and the look on his now revealed face was priceless.
"I'm ferocious, honey buns." I smirked condescendingly.
He merely sputtered in response, rage contouring his forehead. I tilted my head at him, savouring this minor victory.
I spun around, apprehension twisting from the pit of my stomach and slowly twining upwards.