The layout of the castle hadn’t changed since the start of her sleep. Each hallway was as she remembered it. Some paintings and statues had moved, but she cared not for Terran vanity. Completely unnoticed, thanks to her skill of blending, she walked past small groups of servants, people whose fear of the Empreena was like the stench of bark-rot to Rosa’s sensitive psychic nose. To the uninitiated, blending might seem like invisibility, but the Magi knew that was impossible. It was simply the old trick of changing one’s appearance to match the surroundings. Camouflage was the closest Atheē word, if Rosa remembered correctly, though the Magi practice was slightly different from how the Terrans thought of it.
It was a day full of excitement, this Midwinter. Servants bustled to and fro, anxiety pervading their thoughts. She knew there would be a banquet that night, unless things had changed drastically, though she doubted it. Terrans were creatures of habit. Reading a few servants’ surface thoughts, she confirmed her opinion: the banquet was even being held in the same hall she’d frequented in her days at their Court. Perfect. This was her chance to gather information. Maybe I can discover what year it is, she thought as she began her walk down to the hall.
The large deathtree doors were the same as the day she’d lifted them into the castle, if slightly more polished from millennia of use. She doubted anyone knew the meaning of the carvings on them: they symbolised the friendship between Magi and Terrans, embarking on a new era of discovery together.
The irony made her gag.
Realising she could not open the doors and walk in while blending, as it would create quite a stir, she prepared to shift. But doubt attacked her: could she keep the blend up while shifting? She didn’t know. It had been a while, and she was a bit rusty. It was a risk.
Footsteps pounded down the corridor, and she looked up just in time to get out of the way of a Terran in formal military dress, who stopped in front of the door to smooth his hair and catch his breath.
It was hole-digger.
Perfect. He can let me in.
Putting him in a position of servitude, even if unknown to him, was her way of gaining reparations for the headache he’d caused her with the damned alarms.
As he opened the doors and entered the hall, she remembered that she hadn’t yet figured out why he’d used the terrabane. Before she could, she was distracted by something…someone broadcasting. Looking for the source of the mental buzz, she saw a young Terran girl sitting at a table next to an older man in military uniform. She was talking to him half-verbally, using mental projection for the other half of her conversation.
Foolishly too, thought Rosa, though truthfully she was surprised and pleased to find a Terran with such powers. The man himself had no psychic powers, though he was receptive to them, and did not know that he was being projected to, although Rosa could see he did sense something…strange about his young friend. Interesting.
All at once the mental buzz broke off and the girl looked up and across the room, right at Rosa.
Had the treebeing a heart, it would have leapt into her throat. As she did not, she settled for a moment of stark panic before realising the girl’s powers were not strong enough to see past her blend. Just in case she was wrong, though, she slowly backed into a corner of the hall where she would be doubly hidden by shadows, and settled in to observe.