Out for the Evening

Ellandra stepped out onto the streets of Highside Stacks, the night mist swirling around her well-shined shoes. She drew her heavy cloak tight around her shoulders in an attempt to ward off the chill. She walked with purpose, each step making a satisfying click as her heel met the stones beneath her feet. She enjoyed the sound. I should wear heels more often, she thought to herself. An elegantly gloved hand emerged from her cloak to flag down a passing cart, then passed a few coins to the driver before they were off to the Oriat.

It wasn’t often that Ellandra went anywhere, but her mind was clouded by racing thoughts of late. She desperately needed an evening to forget herself, even if for a moment. She missed the days when her life revolved around quiet libraries and busy dig sites, making discoveries regarding a past long forgotten. Recent events had overturned everything that she knew.

She began to absentmindedly rub at the back of her left hand, fingers drawing an unseen image over the silk glove as her thoughts strayed to the crystalline figure once more. She wouldn’t like you. The words rang in her ears over and over again, an unbidden echo that added to the immense weight already burdening her. Perhaps, she thought, but that wouldn’t be new. I was drawn to the Welcomer because I’ve lived a life where I’m rarely welcome anywhere, why should now be any different? Mismatched hazel eyes slipped closed in an attempt to block out her thoughts once more. It never seemed to work, but she took some comfort from trying. Instead, she contemplated Theathana’s burden. If Elfetesh was to be believed, Theathana and Alseta were one and the same. Or would be. No, we’re supposed to be enjoying a night of no worries, she told herself sternly.

Soon enough the short journey was over. She delicately alighted on the street, gazing around at the warm lights of the Oriat. Ellandra had hoped that a night of revelry and music would set her right, yet she found that now she was here it didn’t hold her interest as much as it usually would. She nodded politely to those that greeted her, but did not offer smiles. That would invite conversation that she found she didn’t want. Music drifted out of the many establishments she walked past, giving her momentary distractions until she was out of earshot. She lingered by the door of one, the melancholy piano playing within soothing her more than she expected it would accompanied by more pleasant thoughts. Not everything that had happened recently had been awful.

A slight smile came to her face at all the more joyful memories she had made. It seemed that there was never a dull moment with her new companions and the people they met. Had she stayed in her office, her nose in her books, she never would have made the acquaintance of a living runelord, a sorceress of legend, a very beautiful man from the surface, and vampires.

What would Sylas make of this form? she found herself wondering before stopping herself, a light blush adding color to her pale cheeks. The melancholy music had ended, giving way to an upbeat piece more suitable to dancing. She shook her head. She’d often found herself wondering what people thought of her, appearance or otherwise. She had wondered that a few times when she first met Baniti, but hadn’t given it much thought after that. She’d mostly given up wondering that with her usual six companions. Mostly. They often had more important matters than her moments of vanity. Though she’d be remiss to not wonder when she was surrounded by people who were just so interesting. And not terrible to look at, she added.

Ellandra laughed, a soft, high, melodic sound. How silly of her to even consider such things! She was involved with such dangerous tasks now and yet she wandered around sounding like a schoolgirl who had a new crush every week. She had to admit, it was better than her more recent ruminations on doom and gloom. Satisfied that her outing had put her in a better state of mind, she made her way back home.

She looked in the mirror and sighed. She did enjoy this form, but she had little use for it outside of its beauty. With reluctance, she put away the fine clothes and returned to her tunic and trousers that had become commonplace. A colleague visiting her apartment once saw the boxes in her wardrobe labelled with various names when she had opened it to get her coat. “You keep mementos from past lovers?” he had asked, aghast at the idea. She had simply laughed in Arden’s warm tenor and affirmed the man’s suspicions.

She turned again to the mirror and this time, she watched as her appearance blurred as if she had removed her glasses. Within a few moments, Arden stared back at him. It never failed to surprise him how right Arden felt. Returning to him was like returning home each time. Escaping into another identity offered him a brief reprieve, but he had accepted that disappearing wasn’t always the answer.

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