She did not like the sky.
It was entirely too far away, and she did not like the vague discomfort it gave her, the knowledge that above her head was simply... nothing. It was easier at night, when she could pretend the stars were simply bits of mica glittering in magelight- but best of all was when it was overcast, the low gray clouds providing her with the roof she so instinctively sought. She knew, of course, that clouds lacked any real solidity, but she took comfort in the illusion.
There were no clouds tonight, and what was worse, the thin crescent of a waning moon made her mica-pretense all but impossible to sustain, and so she pointedly ignored the sky, focusing her attention on the gardens around her. It was where her focus should be at any rate, although she knew full well that sunshy would not be cultivated out in the open like this.
The gardens were beautiful, even to someone who had no special affinity for plants. Some portions were neatly, rigorously maintained, while others were allowed to sprawl and overflow in a manner that came across as more inviting than wild. Bloodborn suspected these portions were just as rigorously maintained, perhaps even more so, as making something look natural must always be more difficult than making it look cultivated. Paths meandered through the grounds, leading from one garden to the next, or to small greenhouses, or alcoves, or to nowhere at all. At the end of one of these paths, she knew, there would be a windowless building, or a cave, or perhaps even stairs descending into the comforting earth- and that would be where she’d find the sunshy.
But the imperial gardens were so large, taking up at least a square mile that twisted and turned about the palace, and she had no idea where to begin her search. She wished irritably that she had a scent to work with, for it would be nothing to track the plant by scent- but if she’d had a scent to work with, there’d be no need for this mission. She briefly considered tracking each unknown scent to its source in a systematic manner- but there were too many. Better to follow the paths one at a time, or perhaps stalk the gardeners, or maybe even-
A dark form moved from one shadow to another. Bloodborn froze, even though she knew it was impossible for the other person to see her. She could see him, however- see him as clearly as if he were standing in a patch of daylight. More clearly, perhaps, since she still found sunlight a bit irritating. He was young, and although he did move like a fighter, per se, he carried himself with an air of confidence that said he knew his own worth. His black hair shone in the moonlight as though it was oiled- but she could smell it was not.
His head turned in her direction, and she could see his expression was one of puzzlement. His eyes searched the shadows- and then locked with hers.
Which was, of course, impossible.
His eyes, black as the space between the stars, widened with the same shock Bloodborn was feeling, and she got the distinct impression he’d believed himself to be every bit as invisible as she was. Then they narrowed in fury.
“Who are you?” he hissed. “What are you doing here? You can go right back to the council and tell them if they don't think I can handle this on my own, they can-”
Bloodborn bristled and drew herself up to her full height- which was half a head shorter than the boy. How dare this human speak to her with such insolence?
But was he human? A tendril of fear uncurled in her belly. All the Arete she’d encountered over the past month had been as far beneath her as children- but perhaps that was only due to their relative youth. Perhaps this one was older, or drank the more powerful elixir. He was certainly handsome enough to be one of the Arete. She wished she could see his teeth.
“Well?” he demanded. “Aren’t you going to say anything?” He seemed angry, perhaps even dangerously angry, if you only paid attention to his sound or his stance... but his scent was heavy with fear. And confusion. And maybe even... wounded pride?
He could not be Arete. He was not arrogant enough. What was he?
Bloodborn pierced his mind to find out.