Chapter 8: A Vulture Emerges
She was awake before the sun, as seemed to be her new routine, and sat cross legged to begin meditation. Her focused energy and mind were soon interrupted by whispers from the other room, broken by the occasional giggle as the Corpegara arose. With a quiet sigh she rose and began the day.
Breakfast consisted of fresh apples and a lot of water for her two companions, who seemed to be affected by the bright morning light. A hot mug of tea sat steaming before her on the table when Abby groaned for the fourth time. “I am never drinking that stuff again. Were you trying to poison us?”
“If I were trying to poison you, you would be dead.” Lyssana smiled, her head tilted slightly as she took a sip of her tea. Neal’s raucous laughter echoed off the marble walls of the kitchen and Abby’s face paled. You’d think the girl would be used to Lyssana’s responses by now.
A faint knock on the door caused the room to quiet again as she slipped from her chair to meet a courier who handed her two wax-sealed letters with a bow before scurrying silently down the hall. The first was held together by a golden seal with an open hand inside the circle. She knew that was the seal of the House of Frigya, the house to which she had been born. How conceited to receive word in the form of a gilded letter, as though she was not of their blood. Cold anger settled into the pit of her stomach, but she ignored it as she turned to the other letter. Royal blue was the seal that boasted a potion bottle with green wax as the liquid and she furrowed her brows as she ripped the seal and began reading.
“See the bounty board and find M.L. It will prove fruitful. You will need backup, competition is fierce.”
She frowned at the scratchy script and lack of signature. She even flipped the page over to examine the seal, but there were no hints as to the sender. Lyssana tucked the note into her pocket along with the unopened letter from her family. She would read it and respond appropriately once her guests left.
They stared curiously at her as she took her seat once again, the now cold tea all but forgotten. “I didn’t realize you were so popular,” Neal chuckled. “Get any good packages in the mail?”
“Unfortunately not, just my allocation note,” she lied. Every month she would receive a letter from the vault of how much gold in Drams had been deposited into her account, along with a detailed summary of what Istima took for her expenses. It was a shock when she received her first one the week prior, and it was then she realized how little she needed to worry about money.
Abby looked around the room as though to reiterate Lyssana’s last thought and a shy smile spread across the smaller woman’s face. “Can I ask how much a place like this costs? I mean, not to sound rude, but my entire room in the dormitory would fit inside your kitchen.” Neal elbowed her gently and gave a disapproving look that Lyssana pretended not to notice.
“You may ask, but I do not think it is important for me to answer.”
She did not know how many others could afford a place like hers, but she could not imagine it was many; for there were only two other housing towers aside from her own, and one housed the small dormitory rooms. Money was a key to status, and status was everything here at Istima. Lyssana did not trust anyone with her financial information. She did not even trust herself with the vast knowledge of it, only paying attention to the number that was allocated as her monthly allowance for living expenses. Of course she did not spend even a fraction of that amount, but it would be saved for a dire situation. So long as she continued to excel and rise in rank. That much had been made very clear.
Abby and Neal left shortly after, mumbling they needed to nurse their hangovers, and Lyssana was happy to have peace once more. The Corpegara knew it would be time for the market today and she could sense their excitement. It was their favorite day of the week. And she would be lying to not admit she also enjoyed the casual stroll through the stalls as her friends flew high above.
With the sun now well above the horizon, she grabbed her basket and made her way down the slope to the markets below. They were closer to the docks than they were to the Winter Court, which meant it was always bustling with people running about their errands. They usually stayed out of her way and she had grown accustomed to being treated differently because of her silk clothes.
After having a plush carpet purchased for delivery, the rich orange and pink swirls reminded her of the islands and would help add color to the cool marble floors, she purchased enough food for the week and continued on her way toward the bounty board that was posted near the docks.
M.L. Only one name matched the initials and she furrowed her brows at the poster. Michael Lecht was a burly man with a burnt scar down the left side of his face, where his eye once was, and his hair was long and matted. The reward was quite a hefty sum, and when she got to the description of his crimes, she saw why. “Mage violations of a classified nature. Failed to appear before the court due to association with forbidden magical practices. Last known location: The village of Scerna. Proceed to hunt at your own risk.”
Why had someone told her to go after this man? It seemed far out of the league of her expertise, but she took the poster from the wooden slat and tucked it into her basket anyway, along with a card with information about how to turn in a bounty for the reward.
The idea of becoming a bounty hunter rolled through her thoughts. She had read a book about this – the people who pursue bounties here were called vultures. Once someone successfully turned in a bounty they had the thanks of the Birds, which resulted in payment depending on how the bounty was delivered. Perhaps it was through the capture of this man that she would learn more about the secret knowledge she sought. The poster did mention forbidden magic, though she did not know how anyone could ever think to send her down that path. Unless Cavit sent the note. Perhaps he wished to hunt this man with her? It seemed sneaky, even for him, to leave such a cryptic message; though there was only one way to find out. She would ask him tomorrow.
She dropped her food and the Corpegara off at her apartment before heading out again, this time with a more secluded destination in mind. The book she had previously read only vaguely mentioned The Birds, she would need to do more research if she was going to even think about attempting a bounty.
The library was a vast network of buildings that stretched all over Istima. While most students never needed to check out a book outside their court library, it still offered general books for checkout that were found in other courts. Books specializing in court magic were kept only for the students of that court, usually behind magic barriers for safekeeping, but more common topics were shared more freely. She had only been once to pick up her books for class, but she recognized the face behind the desk. It was the third year student from her first visit.
“I thought I might see you again. You don’t have an easy face to forget. Still remembering to be yourself? This school has a bad way of turning even the most self assured into dust.” His kind eyes watched her and she noticed a sharpness that had not been there before. Or maybe she had simply not noticed.
“I am who I am.” She eyed the third year student cautiously. “I am here for a book about the judiciary system within Istima.”
His eyebrows rose in surprise, but he nodded and led her to a tall wooden bookshelf. “This is what we offer in the Winter Court branch, but if you’re looking for anything else, I can probably direct you to the Summer Court library, I know they have a pretty extensive section, so just let me know.” His voice held an air of an unspoken question. She did not indulge him.
“Thank you, this should do.” Her amber eyes scanned the binds of each book, looking for a title that might reveal the information she needed. There, Eyries and Their Jobs. It was a thinner book, but she pulled it from the shelf and went to a nearby bench to begin reading.
The Birds were essentially a magic enforcement guild, divided into ranks that held specialized jobs. The Eyrie of IStima was esteemed and well known for their strong, unified presence on the island. The Birds were organized like a military, but their ranks were all named after birds. Sparrows, crows, and so on up to kingfisher. In addition, there were roles outside of the hierarchy. Researchers, healers, and diplomats. At the very end of the list were bounty hunters, or vultures, as they were known by the Birds. If she were to catch Michael Lecht, she would need to report to a Raven or a Heron, who specialized in dealing with rogue mage hunting, within the Eyrie of Istima.
The Eyrie, she learned from a different book, was located on the end of the street from the bounty board, outside the market. It was close to the docks to ensure that dangerous criminals did not need to be drug far into the city to be prosecuted. It sounded easy enough on paper, but enforcing such a thing seemed difficult in her mind.
The next book she found was a fantastical tale called Bounties for the Soul: What not to do when hunting. Though it seemed more satirical than resourceful, she found it very informative. It turns out there was a potion one could use that would inhibit a potential bounty, rendering them susceptible to influence and making it easier to bring them in cooperatively. It could be ingested or injected, but too much would prove lethal. All bounties could be turned in dead or alive as a general rule, but you got more money if you turned them in still breathing. Apparently a rookie mistake was being too confident and getting yourself killed by taking on a bounty that was too strong. The book recommended not doing that.
Oh, and if you’re going to kill your bounty, make sure you bring something that proves they are dead. Like their entire head, since that was easier to carry than a body, apparently.
What a strange book indeed. She scribbled down the name of the potion that she couldn’t pronounce and shelfed the book to take her leave.