Age of Pretense
Fire Emblem: The Sword of Seals and the Blazing Sword
THE OSTIA DAILY
Tuesday, The 12th of Fimbulvetr, 3012
UNIDENTIFIED BODY FOUND IN OSTIAN ALLEYWAY
Ostia, Lycia - Around 7AM on Tuesday morning, police received a report from a local business owner that a corpse had been discovered in an alley behind Antica Street. The body was charred beyond recognition, and there was no salvageable evidence left to identify the victim aside from a custom switchblade found in the man's hand.
Local gang fighting has been on the rise in the Antica district, and authorities suspect that this homicide is the result of the growing violence between rivaling crime rings. The burns found on the body were unusual, and indicated that the damage was not due to fire, but rather overexposure to UV radiation. There was also no evidence of arson in the alleyway, so it is likely that the murder occurred at another location.
The state advises residents of the Antica District to avoid traveling by foot late at night. Ostia City Police are increasing safety measures in Antica until further notice. To report any suspicious activity, please contact the police immediately.
- o -
Chapter Three: The University of Ostia
When they arrived, it was half past ten and Fae was completely exhausted. Ezekiel turned the lock on the red door, and flicked on the light. A cat darted past the opening of the hallway ahead, but otherwise the apartment was utterly still. The floors were pristine and shining, almost with mirror-like quality, and the place was modern and well furnished.
Ezekiel took off his coat and and hung it in the closet in the entryway, offering to take Fae's as well. She shook it off absentmindedly while keeping her prized shoebox, meandering down the hall, intently taking in the pictures and the furniture designs. The living room had a high-vaulted ceiling and large windows that saw outlines of the Ostian skyline. She almost jogged up to it, but it was too bright in the room for her to see through the glass. Zeke reappeared behind her, his tall figure clearly moving in the reflection of the window.
"Do you like it? You'll be living here."
Fae turned about, her skirt whirling around her knees.
"It's very nice," she smiled, and she took off her hat to shake her hair loose. The cat came up behind Zeke, rubbing the entire length of its body against his nice trousers. Ezekiel stepped to the side with a groan. Coarse gray hairs stuck to one of the ankles. Fae laughed, and crouched down, reaching out slightly curled fingers. The animal watched her a little apathetically, its baby blue eyes intent, unblinking. Finally, it approached her hand and rubbed against it too, ears twitching, tail swaying.
"He's really cute!" Fae said, still smiling brightly. "What's his name?" Zeke was picking the hair off, the contaminated foot perched on the opposite knee.
"I call him Hector, but he doesn't respond to anything. He's a right little snot, but when he does seek you out, he can be good company."
"Hullo Hector!" she said cheerily, despite how tired she was.
Zeke showed her to the guest room, setting her bag down next to the bed. It was simply furnished, with dark gray walls, a side table with a lamp and a desk by the window. There was a private bathroom and a mostly empty closet on the wall opposite the door. Fae also noticed the faint but definitely present scent of lemon and mint. It eased her, even if only a little.
"Well, if you need anything, don't hesitate to let me know. My room is at the end of the other hall, just past the kitchen."
Fae thanked him and he shut the door as he left. She had never before stayed in such a nice place as this, but instead of marveling at her new housing arrangements as one normally might, she first moved to the window. Setting the shoebox on the sill, she checked the door cautiously, and then tipped the lid open.
A familiar power radiated out undeterred, feeling almost soft against her fingertips. With a sigh, she closed her fingers around the light blue stone nestled in the folds of the old shirt that served as cushioning. When she took it fully out of the safety of the box, it seemed to glint mysteriously.
Fae looked at into the depths of the stone for a little while and then snapped into decision as she quickly unlatched the window and slid it up. Pressing against one side of the screen, she popped it out expertly. Then she climbed out.
The light pollution was stronger here than it was in Pherae. Still cradling the stone in one hand, she slipped onto the fire escape, lightly following the metal staircase up each story. With her hand trailing the iron bannister, she turned at each new flight, completely oblivious to the cold and the wind tugging at her skirt in quite immodest directions.
She so wanted to see it, though. This city, this land that her friends had loved so much. When she reached the roof of the complex, she hopped lightly onto the balustrade, and stood there, perfectly balanced, her face looking towards the rest of Ostia.
The towers stood straight up into the air, many of them perhaps half a mile up so that the tops of some were touching clouds. They were ethereal and beautiful. Even from this distance they were so large and she knew she would feel insignificant standing before one.
Sophia had mentioned a city once. It was so long ago, back when the Nabatean wilderness had been her home, sheltered in the sands, outside of time and history. Fae missed that long, long hair that smelled sweet, the distant but kind eyes, the elegant hands perched on top of the dark tomes.
She sat and pulled her knees close, her own hands closed over the stone.
"Fae, there is a city to which you must go. It is full of many people. You must go..."
The wind rippled through her shirt, and she could hear a siren wailing in the distance. She shivered as she watched the city with all of its lights, with all of its people.
And once it started, it was impossible to stop.
It had been a while since she had allowed it to happen, and it had been quiet then too. When she was young, she would wail shamelessly and wear her affections on her sleeve. Over the years she had told herself to be strong. She was not human, so she should not be so weak. Even if she were the last of... even if everyone she would ever love would...
Fae felt something soft press against her bare leg, and with a start she lifted her head, the evidence of her tears exposed on her cheek. The gray cat purred, wiping his face against her ankle. Hesitantly, she took one hand off of her dragonstone and stroked the comforting fur of the small creature.
And like a candle being blown out, all the images of dear friends and old places were shut out of her mind. She wiped her face with the back of her hand with resolution, though if she were honest with herself, it was more like disguised resignation.
"I wonder, cat," she whispered, perhaps a little disdainfully. "You who do nothing but sleep and scorn others every day throughout all of your short existence, do you live any less than Fae does? Who is more pitiable of the two of us?"
Hector stretched, his blue orbs constantly watching her face. Fae then withdrew her hand and eased herself onto her feet. She turned her gaze one last time to the glowing city.
"I'm here," she told it, "and I'm alive."
- o -
When Dr. Lyman came into the office that day, Rolana Bowman was in a very bad mood.
She had been very patiently waiting at her desk up until that point. There was nobody else in that morning, as was the norm at that hour of the day. The old analog clock ticked on the eastern wall and a fresh pot of coffee steamed from the corner. She contented herself with a cup, drinking it black and taking in the bitterness as she read the day's paper.
As soon as the door opened, she made her fury known and descended upon him without mercy.
"Calm down, Rolana," Zeke began before she said anything, recognizing the poisonous look on her face as she rounded on him. She was wearing her glasses today, the artsy ones with the plastic brown rims, and her curling lime-green hair was pulled back tightly. In her hand she was holding thick paper manuscript, and she forced it into his face.
"I found this lying on your desk. Unmarked. Completely untouched, even." Her voice was icy. Fae lingered in the doorway, bewildered. Zeke put down his bag and looked apologetic, running a hand through his hair.
"I'm really sorry Rolana. Things were really hectic before I left for Etruria and-"
"And that's fine," she snapped, her fist resting on her hip, "I hadn't expected you to look over it during your trip. But I had expected for you to have returned a week ago, which would have been plenty of time for you to look over it and get it back to me in time to review everything. But no, instead I had to go through the lengthy effort of contacting Nick Osman to ask him why my thesis advisor suddenly dropped his responsibilities, was absent at my dissertation proposal, and has yet to proofread the paper that I need to submit to the department in two days."
Zeke plucked the manuscript from her hand and smiled, seemingly undaunted.
"Do you remember the days when you called me 'Dr. Lyman' and respected me in a way that one ordinarily expects a grad student to respect her professor?"
"I wonder," she retorted with a smug look. "Were those also the days before I realized how terribly disorganized you were and began my second vocation as your personal secretary out of sheer pity?"
"Touche," he conceded, bowing his head. He waved the paper in the air as he made his way to the coffeepot. "I'll have this back to you within the hour."
"I'm counting on it," Rolana growled, but in truth, her anger had mostly subsided and she was more amused now. Saint Elimine above... she would be up all night frantically working on the review. For that, she would exact her vengeance on him later. But for now Rolana chose to exercise restraint as there presently was a third party witness.
"And who are you?" she asked, looking over at Fae, who snapped to attention. Ezekiel turned slightly as he poured himself a mug.
"Oh, this is Fae. Fae, Rolana's one of my graduate students. Unless something catastrophic happens, she'll be graduating this year and will move on to bigger and better things. Perhaps she'll even earn herself a less-clumsy professor for her postdoctoral studies."
Tch. It was sort of sad when he said it that way.
"It's nice to meet you," Fae said politely, and Rolana was immediately taken in by her large green eyes.
"Likewise," she replied and shot Zeke a questioning look. He gathered its meaning and responded accordingly.
"Fae has been living alone in Pherae. I became her legal guardian the day before yesterday."
Rolana stared at him.
"As in... she's now living with you."
"Zeke! You can hardly take care of yourself, how on earth are you going to look after someone else?" She gesticulated with every word to indicate her exasperation. "And by yourself? Saint Elimine, you've essentially made yourself a single father!"
"So that's why you should just marry me and move in too." He chuckled and casually gestured with the hand still holding the manuscript. "It would just make everything considerably more convenient."
Fae looked incredibly confused. Rolana came to her aid and grasped her hand. The younger girl was surprised by the touch, at that outgoing gesture.
"He's joking," she said gently, and then to him, "You, sir, are a scoundrel. Well, run along now. I still need to submit that paper tomorrow, and would be much obliged if you could get it back to me as soon as possible. In the meanwhile, I can show Fae around campus."
"How kind of you," he returned, and turned the first page on the manuscript. As he dropped his gaze down to the first line, Rolana went to retrieve her coat.
"Oh, by the way, Elijah's going to be here today. He asked to stay at your place while he's in town."
Zeke, who had been on his way to his personal office, turned and peered over at her from the top of the paper.
"What? Shouldn't he be in school?"
"He's participating in a fencing tournament of some sort, so I guess he got exempt from his classes. He'll be here until the end of this week."
"Huh." He shrugged and retreated into his office. "All right."
Rolana laced her arms through her jacket sleeves and retrieved her keys from her desk. She looked over at Fae, who peered back at her. "Well, shall we go?"
- o -
The University of Ostia was old and boasted a heritage that had lasted through the centuries. The architecture was therefore quite beautiful and the whole campus was a visage of the old Elibe. Fae loved the ancient trees, the crowds of students breathing out vapors in the cold air, and the vine-covered brick buildings. It seemed like a world of its own, hidden within the metropolis of Ostia. The enormous towers were closer here, and no matter where one stood, they could be seen invading the skyline.
She liked Rolana as well, despite the unusual first impression. She liked Rolana in the same way she liked Ezekiel. They were frank and deeply intelligent. Perhaps she had recognized the collegiate culture that had rubbed off and clung to them like the smell of ink and old books. It reminded her of old memories. The hum of magic, the rustle of cloaks, the talk of noblemen...
No, she stopped right there, and with great will, forced her mind to the present.
"This is the College of Engineering," Rolana pointed out as they passed a large building with cranes towering over them. "Pardon the construction, they're adding another wing to it this year."
Fae acknowledged it, and they walked together in a quietness that was not as awkward as a quiet walk between two strangers might be. The two of them seemed to enjoy enough the crisp autumn air and the path of fallen golden leaves. Nothing else seemed lacking.
"So, how did Zeke end up finding you? Do you have any idea what he's up to?" Rolana asked the question lightly, but Fae had the impression that she was merely controlling her wild curiosity.
"He told me he heard about me through a friend. He wanted to help me. I think he's a good person."
Rolana stuffed her hands inside her pockets and observed Fae carefully as they walked.
"Well, yes," the graduate student said, dismissing the overly simplified statement, "But don't you think it's strange?"
"Perhaps a little."
A crisp leaf crunched under Fae's foot, and a smile spread on her face at the sound.
Rolana, who had been unsatisfied with the answers she was receiving, forgot her dissatisfaction as she watched the girl purposely hop from one leaf to another, demolishing each under the tip of her shoe. Fae herself become lost in her childish game as she balanced carefully and surveyed the concrete for her next victim.
"Weird," Rolana said distantly, though she was not quite sure to what she was referring.
"Why, what do you think? Have you known him a long while?" Fae momentarily ceased her game, and directed her full attention back to her chaperone.
"I suppose so. I was in his lecture as an undergraduate when he was just an associate professor. He's much the same as he was then; careless, very whimsical, and considerably unprofessional for all his flirtation." At this, she rolled her eyes. Her tone indicated much disapproval. "He's the type that can charm women out of their senses, but he has no intentions of being in any sort of relationship; it's more his means of manipulation. That's why he can be so open about flaunting it. And he is brilliant, I'll give him that, being relatively young for being in his position at the uni. But I'll also agree with you. I think he is a good person, if any such moral judgement can ever be made so casually about anyone. I just never know what he'll do next or what he's scheming."
"You admire him a lot," Fae observed brightly. "I can tell because you have a lot to say about him." It was vexing to hear, so Rolana chose to brush it off. This proved to be quite easy to do, since at that same moment her mobile began to titter in her pocket. She checked the name flashing on the screen before excusing herself.
"Hi Elijah. No, he's in; he's just not picking up because he's very busy. Are you on campus now?"
As Rolana picked up the call, Fae looked down to search the sidewalk for more fallen leaves she could occupy herself with. She had scarcely begun when a prickling sensation ran up the back of her neck.
Sharply the girl spun around in response. She thought she saw a strange flutter of movement between the figures of two students walking on the other side of the courtyard. She frowned, certain that someone had been staring straight at her just the moment before.
"All right, we'll meet at The Broken Egg. See you then." Rolana hung up, replaced her phone and looked at Fae, who was still staring. "Is everything all right?"
The younger girl turned around, the frown vanished. "Yes."
"Well, Elijah just arrived in Ostia and hasn't eaten yet, so we're going to go meet him and get brunch."
"Who's that?" Fae asked, following Rolana as they switched course, cutting through the courtyard instead of walking beside it.
"He's Zeke's... cousin once removed? I think Elijah's father was Zeke's cousin. Well, they're relatives, at any rate. He was in town all last summer for a government internship, I think he's around your age. You'll probably like him. He's a good person like Zeke. Probably better." She smiled at the last descriptor and corollary, though it seemed that she meant it.
Fae glanced discreetly back to where she had felt someone staring at her earlier. Then, curling a loose strand of hair behind her ear, she turned away and walked on.
- o -
"...is she there with you? …Good. Let me speak with her."
There was a rustle and some indiscernible exchange of words as the phone changed recipients.
"... ….Hello." Her voice betrayed nothing, and even without the noise and the distorted sound quality of the phone, he knew she would have been hard to read. He spun in the chair, away from the desk, to the windows where the towers framed the view, just barely revealing the Ostian capitol building on the other side of the street.
"Good morning, Irene. How are you? I hope the accommodations at Bern Keep are to your liking."
There was a short pause. When she spoke again, her accent made her sound even more severe.
"What do you want, Lysander?" The man raised his eyebrows with amusement as his lips curled up at the corners, taking his goatee with them.
"Still intolerant of any small talk, I see. Would you please tell me where he is?"
"You mean Lionel."
"You know I do."
"I don't know where he is."
Lysander stood up, slipped a hand in his pocket and approached the window. "All right, let's say for now that I believe you. Can you at least tell me how long he's been gone?"
She paused again, and he waited graciously.
"Are you sending a search party?"
"Of course. I am responsible for you both. Now, how long has it been?"
"I don't know. My duties with the Way have been keeping me busy. I haven't the time to look after him."
"You seem rather calm for having just misplaced your last living family member. Aren't you concerned, my dear?"
"The goddess assures me of his safety, Lysander. I have nothing to fear."
He turned to sit back down. There was an old sepia photograph on his desk on which two girls stood beside each other. The younger one had a wide smile, her eyes large and prominent on her face. The other girl also had prominent eyes, but because of color, rather than size. One eye was clearly darker than the other. She was smiling gently as well.
He glanced at the photograph, his gaze focusing specifically on the smaller girl.
At that moment, his eye caught the headline of the newspaper someone had brought in for him earlier that morning. Sitting up promptly, he pulled it closer and scanned through the article. Irene said nothing on the other end of the line, as if waiting for him to conclude the conversation.
Satisfied, he pushed away the paper and got to his feet.
"Thank you, Irene. That's all."