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Noble Sacrifice: Chapter 9: Down by the River
Blinded Angels: Book 1: Noble Sacrifice
Ellis sat quietly for a while after Nana Thea left, eating their breakfast. Nothing here made any sense, but maybe that was just the cost of having magic in the world.
“What would you like to do first?” Lydia said as she put down her book.
Ellis squirmed in their seat. “I don’t know what’s possible.”
The door opened. A handsome young man with the same silver shimmer to his eyes as Nana walked in. “Mother is looking for you, Lydia.”
His blue eyes pierced right through Ellis’ soul.
Ellis glanced away, their cheeks burning from embarrassment. They hoped they hadn't been staring.
“How?” Lydia almost grunted the word. “She told me to help... whatever. Cyril Graycek, this is Ellis Nicks, one of the trespassers caught last night. Keep an eye on them while I go find out what Mother wants.”
Ellis did their best to pretend her words didn’t embarrass them and forced a smile.
Cyril Graycek nodded with a grin. His short blond hair bounced with the motion. He trained his crystal blue eyes on Ellis and said, “So, are you ready for a tour?”
Ellis wilted a little as Lydia stormed out of the room. “Sure.”
“Good, and call me Grey, not Cyril or Cy. Unless you have something specific in mind, I could take you down to the lake to feed the knuckers.”
Why did everyone insist on saying things Ellis didn’t understand, like the words should make sense?
Ellis forced another smile, and said, “That sounds fun.”
“It sure beats carrying boxes around and setting up fairy lights.” Grey chuckled.
Ellis faked a laugh. They’d known people like Grey, and they were too pretty to bare anything less from those around them.
"If you're not interested, I'm sure I could think of something better." The graciousness with which Grey spoke took Ellis off guard.
"I'm sure whatever you want to do will be fine. Honestly, I don't know enough about what there is around here to even know what it is that I might want to see."
Grey chuckled. "I've often wondered what that would be like, to be a stranger in a new place. I've lived here all my life." He motioned towards the door. Was that a wink?
There is no way the stranger just winked at them.
“Follow me.” Grey said, and led them out of the tower.
Ellis stood up, and after reminding their legs how to walk, took a few tentative steps forward.
It wasn't like them to get flustered like this, but when was the last time that a handsome man offered to take them out and show them the sites?
Under the sunlight, his skin was far paler than it appeared in the room. His eyes sparkled, lending him a truly unearthly appearance.
They walked together through the courtyard. Grey waved at a couple of people and called out their names. They called back with a wave.
“To be honest,” He said after they passed far enough beyond the gate to not be easily overheard, “I’m glad you gave me an excuse to get away. I’m not a big fan of the attention they insist on paying me.”
Ellis couldn’t understand what that was like. People rarely paid them any attention if they didn’t want something or just to make fun of him.
“So, you are from the great beyond.” Grey said. “What’s it like out there?”
“The sisters paint a pretty accurate image.”
Grey frowned. “Oh. I hoped the stories were just that.”
“You’ve never left whatever this is?” Ellis asked.
“Nah. I mean, looking like I do, it would attract too much attention, and I don’t care what they say, I know there are still hunters out there.”
"Hunters?" Ellis asked.
“It hasn't been all that long, since you're kind, hunted mine down.” Grey kicked the ground after he said that. “Sorry about that. I hate all of this talk of different kinds of people. We are all born different, but that shouldn't separate us. It's just hard, because I grew up hearing the stories about the hunters.”
“I didn't think you meant anything bad by it.” Ellis said. “I can only imagine how some of the people I grew up with would react if they found out there was actual magic in the world.”
“Fear. At least that is how I have always had it explain to me. I understand why some people would be afraid of us, especially people like me, but we're not mad beasts looking to cause trouble.”
Ellis laughed. “Half the people I know make it their object in life to go about causing trouble.”
Was it inappropriate or rude to ask what it was about Grey and his people that scared others? As tired as they were being asked about their gender, they didn't want to ruin this outing by asking the wrong question.
“So, what would you like to know about us?” Grey asked as if he had read Ellis’ mind.
“I don't think you realize what a hard question that is.” Ellis allowed some of their frustration to show through. “Everything is different here, but somehow the same. How am I supposed to know what to ask about, but I don't even know what all there is to ask about?”
“Huh. I hadn't even considered that. How about if I just tell you what I think are the most important things for you to know.”
“You are in Blackwood County, which is governed by the dark lords and ladies of the house of Blackwood. Uh, they're not kings or queens or anything like that. Wow, I've lived here my entire life and I don't even know how to describe it.” Grey laughed.
“You see what I'm talking about?”
“How about this, anytime you're curious or confused about something, don't be afraid to ask me about it? I have a thick skin, and it's really hard to offend me.”
Ellis raised an eyebrow. “Do you really have a thick skin?”
“Not particularly, I mean, if you cut me, I bleed, but that also might cause me to cut you back.”
Something in Grey's expression told Ellis that he was only half joking when he said that. They wanted to ask if he had ever killed anyone, but they didn't. One, because it felt like an overly personal question. Two, because they didn't really want to know the answer to it.
“Ok, so let's start with something simple. Do you have a job?” Ellis thought that was a simple way to manage introductions.
“I am the gamekeeper for the village, and for all the Trivian lands.”
“So, you're like a farmer or a cowboy?”
Grey blinked a couple times, then chuckled to himself. “I suppose, after a fashion, I make sure the wyverns don't cause too much trouble, and keep an eye on all the magical beasts that roam through the wild.”
Ellis stopped walking for a moment, and just stared at Grey. “You must be really brave to face down such legendary creatures.”
Grey shook his head. “Not really. Most creatures will only harm you if they perceive you as a threat.”
Ellis smirked at Grey. They've heard that kind of talk before. My dog’s not dangerous, he loves everybody. Three stitches later, Ellis learned their lesson.
What would it be like to be surrounded by all the creatures of myth and legend every day? For someone who grew up amongst them, it would probably be boring, no different from seeing a dog or cat. Funny, the little tricks the mind played.
Grey walked with a confident swagger Ellis had rarely seen outside of a movie. If they lived here, would they adopt a similar gate? Somehow, they doubted it.
The scent of autumn leaves merged with a wet fishiness.
Up ahead, a large lake opened up from the end of the trail. “Don’t come out here alone until you know you are ready.” Grey said. “There are a lot of hungry things hiding in those trees.”
“That you will protect me from?”
“Yep.” Grey stopped. "But I would rather not have to."
The genuineness of his smile warmed Ellis's heart like the first rays of sunlight after a cold, dark night. Their heart fluttered.
“Wait here for a minute.” Grey said.
Grey walked down to the edge of the lake and kneeled down. He fluttered his hands on the surface. A deep moaning sound rippled from the center of the lake.
“Try not to make a sound.” Grey said softly and fluttered his hands on the surface again.
A spray of water erupted a few feet away from him, and seven large dragonflies spiraled into the air.
On closer inspection, they weren’t dragonflies, though they shared a similar silhouette. Each one had different colored fishlike scales in red, blue, green, gold, purple, fiery orange, silvery white. Each one was the size of a large house cat.
“These are knuckers.” He said softly, “Where is your mother today?” Grey asked the little dragons. “I suppose she is off feeding.” He stood up and stretched his arms out to the side. “Stand like I am.”
The knuckers swooped around his arms in elongated figure eights as he slowly turned around.
Ellis copied Grey’s pose and watched everything carefully. “Are they dangerous?”
“Like I said, only if you wish them harm. These are just babies, so they would probably just run away. I doubt there's anything they could do to hurt us.”
Grey turned slowly and faced Ellis. He made a trilling sound deep in his throat and the knuckers flew from his arms to Ellis and back in complicated patterns, each one taking a different path.
Their wings hummed from the speed and sent little jets of cool air around Ellis’ arms and neck that tickled.
They couldn’t stop themselves and laughed.
Showers of glitter fell from their wings as the little ones flew faster and faster in divergent figure eights.
The little creatures took more interest in them, and the sensation built with every pass. The harder they laughed, the more excited the little ones became.
If this was a dream, Ellis hoped they would never wake up, but nothing this wonderful ever happened to them in a dream.