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I was thinking of blood again so I went to practice my archery. That’s what I always did when I thought I was going to kill something. I hit the bulls-eye every time and nothing had died yet, so at least I had that going for me.
I don’t know any other sixteen-year-old girls, but the ones in my books don’t obsessively fire arrows because they feel the urge to bite someone. They worry about suitors and ribbons and things. Then again, a few get fed to dragons, so I seem to have it better than some.
The queendom of Amentia is one of the smallest, poorest, and coldest empires on the continent of Brivora. Our palace is a ramshackle old castle, cold as stone, and the grounds are a mess. The grass in the clearing where I stood was long and tangled. Tree branches stretched like desperate arms across the sky, blocking out the light, and the ivy increased its stranglehold with every passing year. At one end of the clearing was my target. From it sprouted about two dozen arrows, all perfect shots. At the other end was me.
My long black hair was drawn up and every so often I fanned my damp neck, sweating despite the chill. Leap had curled up on my discarded cloak into a perfect ball. His eyes were slitted and he watched me firing, purring when I glanced at him. Far above us Griffin was hovering over the clearing, golden wings spread against a steely sky.
Leap and Griffin go with me everywhere. I’m not really sure why. Griffin turned up first, a gangly, teenaged eagle with bum-fluff sprouting from between her new grown-up feathers. Leap followed a few months later. I had been practicing my archery and he’d come tunneling through the long grass like a furry shark and plopped himself on my cloak. He’s a sort of cat, I think. He purrs and has whiskers, but he’s very lithe and his green eyes are enormous. He’s got a pelt that’s soft, and slick and shiny like an otter’s, but he’s small enough to pick up and cuddle and that seems to be enough to call him my cat.
There was still an hour before sundown but the forest around me was blackening into an early twilight. I could practice well into night if I wanted to, still firing perfect shots. My eyesight is strangely keen. So is my hearing. I can hear an acorn drop in the forest from half a mile away.
I was reaching for another arrow when I heard a scream. It was high and sharp, the noise evaporating quickly in the brittle air. I froze; it had sounded like my sister, Lilith. I tried to decipher the tenor of her cry. Was she in pain, or merely frightened by a mouse?
Leap lifted his head, his ears pricking curiously in the direction of the castle. His pupils dilated. I shoved the arrow back and hooked the bow to the quiver, shame burning in my cheeks. Any normal person would have flown to her sister’s aid without a second thought.
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