My eyes widened and I shook my head. “I don’t like the sound of that.”
“I fear you shouldn’t,” Sfetnic mused as he turned back to the stairs and ascended the next flight.
I hurried to catch up again and frowned. “But I thought the dragon kings were popular.”
Sfetnic nodded. “As they are, but popularity breeds envy, and power is always tempting to those too weak to reject its allure.”
I raised an eyebrow as I studied the man’s pale face. “You have anybody in mind who wants this power trip?” He cast me a slightly perplexed look. “Who wants the throne?”
Sfetnic shook his head. “Only suspicions, and they are not enough to act upon.”
“Then who do you suspect?” I persisted.
He grinned at me. “Everyone.”
Sfetnic quickened his speed and left me behind. “You can’t be a little more specific?” I scolded him as I hurried to catch up. “I’d like to know who I’m not supposed to turn my back to.”
We reached the last landing and I was grateful to find there were no more stairs. The hall in which we found ourselves was different than all the others. Gone were the tapestries and statues, and in their places were long murals that decorated both sides of walls. The pictures stretched the full length of the corridor and depicted scenes of dragons hunting their wild prey, and of dragon men with leathery wings upon their back partaking in the daily lives of humans and other humanoid creatures who reminded me of Pennae, but some more closely resembled pigs, others sheep, and still others animals I couldn’t quite recognize.
Sfetnic shook his head. “They will not be so foolish as to commit such an obvious act of treason. Their ways would be more subtle and designed to hide their guilt in the matter.”
“Comforting. . .” I muttered as I swept my eyes over the walls that populated the corridor. “Why is this hall different from the others?”
“These are the private quarters of the king,” he explained as he stopped us in front of a pair of ornate wooden doors.
I lifted an eyebrow. “All this for one guy?”
He turned to me with a twinkle in his eyes. “One ‘guy,’ and his queen.”
Sfetnic kept his eyes on me as he pushed open the doors with one hand. They swung inward and revealed the lavish apartment in which I’d found myself earlier.
My heart faltered a little when I wasn’t greeted by the handsome face of Luca, but I shook off the unfamiliar disappointment and pointed at the interior. “So I stay in here until when?”
“Until we deem it safe for you.”
I sighed. “All right, but I hope I won’t be an old hag when I come out.”
Sfetnic chuckled as I walked past him and into the room. “I doubt such a fate will ever befall someone so beautiful. In the meantime-” He grasped the handles in both his pale hands and bowed his head to me, “-I wish you a good morning, My Queen.”
A wide range of emotions swirled about inside me at the title even as he closed the doors behind himself. I strolled over to the bed and leaned against one of the large foot posts. The room offered no more scenery than it had before, and so my mind wandered back to the eventful events of the day. All the trouble centered around that theft, and the lack of a witness to describe the two men.
My eyes widened as I was struck with a brilliant idea.
I hurried to the door and grasped the handles, but paused. They weren’t locked, but my determination had faltered somewhat as I realized there was no way Sfetnic would let me join the hunt. He would take the information and give it to the guards, and I’d be left out in the cold. That is, if I could even find him among the mess of corridors and rooms.
A sigh escaped my lips as I grasped the bed post and eased myself onto the bed. A yelp then blurted from my lips and I immediately jumped back onto my feet. Something had jabbed me in my thigh. I rummaged in my pocket and came out with the feather Pennae had gifted me.
A devious plan popped into my mind.
I hurried to the window and leaned out. The long, steep drop presented itself to me as before. That was a problem for a mere mortal, but a bird woman, on the other hand. . .
I turned away from the window and held up one arm while my other hand grasped the feather. The point of the shaft hovered over the top of my wrist. I hesitated as doubt began to creep into my mind.
What the heck was I even doing?
Here I was trapped in a strange new world with strange new people, and I was tempting fate by going outside on my own. I’d been chased, crowded upon, and seen conjury beyond my imagination, and more of the same waited for me out there. There was also that whole kidnapping thing Luca had done with me.
What about that peaceful, boring world I once lived in, with its securities and sameness?
A grin spread across my lips and my heart, only a short while ago so still and suppressed, leapt inside my chest.
I grasped the feather tightly in one hand and brushed the thumb and forefinger on my other hand up the soft vane. Small sparkles of colored dust flew out from the tips of the vane and floated out. They danced above my head for a few seconds before they whisked away into the metropolis.
It felt like an eternity before I saw a gleam of light float out of the streets at the foot of the castle like a tiny comet, and behind that comet came Pennae. The sparkles floated upward, and she tilted her head back to follow. Those dancing lights swept around my head before they slipped back into the feather.
I leaned out the window and waved my whole arm at her. Pennae waved back, and then gave me an exaggerated shrug. I pointed at the window sill, and even from that distance I saw her sharp mouth drop open. She furiously shook her head and pointed a feathered hand in the direction of the gate.
I shook my head and cupped my hands over my mouth. “The window!”
Pennae threw her arms up and shook her head. I clasped my hands together and leaned out so she could see my pleading face. Big mistake.
I yelped as I felt my waist slip over the smooth edges of the stone sill. My arms flailed about and my hands managed to catch the edges of the window frames. I dug my nails into the wooden lattice that connected the panes, but I still slipped far out of the window. My hair fell loose on either side of my face as I looked down that dizzying height. I could feel my fingernails scrape along the wood as I slowly lost my grip. I was going to have plenty of time to scold myself for a lot of poor life choices.
Pennae’s feathered face paled and she flung her arms out on either side of her. She leapt into the air and flapped hard. White feathers burst out of her long sleeves and she was propelled upward by the wind beneath those magnificent wings. She flew as fast as a hawk and tumbled into me. I went flying backward and together we rolled across the room. We crashed into the door with Pennae on top of me.
Pennae rolled off of me and sat back on her haunches. She breathed hard and what little of her cheeks I could see under tufts of feathers was red. “What. . .are you. . .thinking?”
I clutched my chest over my furiously beating heart and sheepishly smiled at her. “I’m not sure that played into the equation.”
She frowned at me. “You almost got yourself killed, and for what?”
My humor dropped off. “For a chance for both of us to help your king.”