Silver Apples of the Moon (silver_apples) wrote in 1602ficathon,
Silver Apples of the Moon
silver_apples
1602ficathon

Title: Katia's Journey
Recipient: penknife
Request: Kitty Pryde meets either Enrique or Javier (or both).


Madrid, Spain

“We were so careful,” Samuel de Pryd whispered.

“You sought to keep two secrets in a city full of people looking for both of them. It is no surprise you were found out.”

The Grand Inquisitor looked at the two people huddling in their chairs. They were pale, the woman crying quietly. “I am not without pity. Your secrets are known only to myself and one of my spies, who will tell no one. I came in disguise,” he indicated his brown robe and hood, “so your neighbors will not wonder why the Inquisition visits you. I could turn a blind eye to a family of Jews, and have in the past. But Jews who harbor the Witchbreed?” he shook his head sadly.

“Please,” Theresa begged. “We’ll do anything.”

The Grand Inquisitor smiled.

“I can save you, and I can save your daughter, but not together.”

“We have to choose?” Theresa gasped, horrified.

“No. It is not you or her. You three can die together, or survive apart. You will leave. Tonight. Whatever you can’t carry, you will leave behind. I shall take care of your daughter.”

“You won’t hurt her?”

“If she cooperates all will be well.”

“She won’t. She’s stubborn. And if she tries to run, you won’t be able to hold her.”

The Grand Inquisitor pulled a small flask from his pocket and offered it to Samuel. “A simple sleeping draught. You will not have to explain anything. I shall convince her.”

“And if she doesn’t agree?’

He shrugged. “Can a ghost be killed? If she does not like my offer, what is to keep her from simply walking through any obstacle until she rejoins her loving family?”

Hand trembling, Samuel reached out and took the flask.
******
Katia pushed open the door to her home, struggling to balance the heavy basket. It would be easier to simply walk through the door, but she didn’t dare. The street looked empty, but spies did not announce their presence. She was tired of hiding; no one could hurt her if she was found out.

But they could hurt her parents. They could chase them out of the city, take everything her family owned, burn their house. All it would take was one mistake on her part.

“Mother, I’m home.” She heaved the basket onto the table and rubbed her sore arms. While she was proud to be considered old enough to go to market alone, she wished she had company to help carry things or shorter shopping lists.

“Welcome home,” her mother hugged her tightly.

“Is everything alright?” Katia hugged back, confused by the tight embrace.

“I love you, and I’m proud of you. Always remember that.”

“Is something wrong?” Over her mother’s shoulder, Katia saw her father and a tall man in a brown cloak, his face hidden beneath the hood.

“Of course not,” her father said, smiling, though it looked strained and false. “You must be thirsty. Here.” He pushed a cup into her hand.

Puzzled, Katia stepped away from her mother. “Thanks,” she said, hesitantly. She drank, deciding it best to humor her parents until they explained their odd behavior. Setting the cup down on the table, she started unpacking the basket. She’d only removed the first few items, however, before her vision started to gray. She staggered and reached for the chair to sit down, only she ended up on the floor. Looking up, she realized she hadn’t missed the chair, but gone through it. Had the stranger noticed? “I’m sorry,” she gasped, scrambling to her feet. “I…” Her father’s face loomed over her, his features blurred and his words incomprehensible, then everything went dark.
*****
Domdaniel, Spain

Katia awoke on a cold floor, harsh sunlight in her eyes. She sat up, squinting.

“So you awaken at last. The sleeping draught took you harder than I expected.”

Katia looked around. She was in the center of a small circular room. There was one window and one door. The man from before stood next to the door, only he’d removed his cloak to reveal red Ecclesial robes.

“I am the Grand Inquisitor,” he announced.

“My parents…”

“Undoubtedly well on their way to Poland by now.”

“What did you do to them?” Katia stood slowly, head spinning, but unwilling to continue the conversation at the man’s feet.

“Nothing. I merely offered them a chance to escape with their lives. Lives that will no longer be burdened by their unnatural daughter.”

“My parents wouldn’t leave me,” Katia whispered.

“No? Their lives are hard enough without having to protect a witch.”

“But they have. They never told anyone, made me promise to be careful. They would never turn me in.”

“Of course not.” He smiled sadly. “But they didn’t turn you in. You were found out by one of my spies. Your parents simply did not refuse my offer. Why should they? Protecting you was safer than turning you in. The parents of Witchbreed do not fare much better than their children. But once you were discovered, continuing their protection could prove fatal.”

Yes, Katia thought. Everything he said was true. But she couldn’t believe her parents would abandon her. “My parents love me.”

“They loved you, yes. When you were pure. When they believed you human. Perhaps, behind the natural hate and disgust they feel for the forsaken creature you have become, they cherish their memories of you. Loving you now, though, is like loving a mad dog that savaged his master.”

I will not cry, she promised herself, but she felt a tear escape. “What now?” she whispered.

The Grand Inquisitor offered his hand. “You will join me, and I will protect you. I have use for one with your particular talents.”

“You mean curse.”

“Are you cursed? The Witchbreed are the servants of the Devil. He has offered them gifts, in exchange for their souls, and they, weak and greedy, accepted. But God also offers gifts. He bestows them quietly to his children, demanding nothing, but asking that we use his gifts to serve him. Those Satan has touched bear his mark. They are deformed, twisted, though some possess inhuman beauty, as Satan did before he fell. But God’s favor is subtler. Those he has blessed often appear no different than ordinary people, for God’s gift is not meant to cause pride or vanity. Nothing about you, dear child, sets you apart, and your powers are subtle. You become as intangible as the air, and none can hold you. Do you think the servants of the Devil can so easily escape God’s chosen? No, I believe God has chosen you, unlikely and unworthy as you are, to be one of his servants. Will you accept his favor?”

Katia ignored his hand and met his eyes. “No. I shall not renounce my God and embrace yours.”

He shrugged, dropping his hand. “Your faith, misplaced as it is, is admirable. God obviously does not require you to be a Catholic; nor shall I.” Katia gaped at him, too stunned to answer. He continued: “Where better to hide a Jewess than under a nun’s habit? No one would anticipate such a deception.”

“How can you say these things? You burn Jews and Witchbreed for their sins.”

“But you cannot be burned. Thus I know you are one of God’s chosen. How else could you be immune to his cleansing fires?”

“So I should seek out others to be burned? My life in return for theirs?” Katia backed away until she felt the wall at her back, ready to pass through the stones and run if he came any nearer.

“The servants of God will be spared, the servants of Satan condemned.”

Katia shook her head. “You’re mad,” she whispered. “I’ll have no part of this.”

“You are confused and frightened. I will give you time to think on what I have said. You are in a tower. While you slept, the stairs were destroyed. The only way down is to fly, or to fall. Though you walk through walls, your feet stay upon the ground. What would happen, I wonder, if there was no ground? Would you float like a cloud, forever doomed to drift above the earth? Or would you fall?” He turned and walked towards the door. “I will return in two days time. You have till then to reconsider my offer.”

“And if I still refuse? What will you do then?”

He looked at her over his shoulder. “Why, nothing. Only wait to see if one who can turn herself into air can survive off of air.” He opened the door, stepped through, and closed it behind him.

He’s lying, she thought. He could not leave if there were no steps. Slowly, still dizzy from the sleeping draught, she staggered to the door and pulled it open. It was not even locked. Looking out, she saw three feet of stone floor, and then nothing. She dropped to her knees, one hand clinging to the doorframe. She was in a stone tower, the walls curving around her. Other than her room at the top, the tower was empty. Jagged fragments of stone and wood jutted from the walls, and thick dust hung in the air, mute testimony to the destruction of the stairs and other rooms. She crawled backwards and huddled on the floor, breathing raggedly.

He’d said the only way down was to fly, she remembered, but he had left easily. The Grand Inquisitor was Witchbreed. He hunted and burned his own kind, all in the name of God. Her parents had betrayed her, and she was the prisoner of a madman. A madman who could tear down the inside of a tower in the space of a few hours and then fly to the ground, and who would leave her here to starve if she did not help him. Katia huddled on the floor, the shock of these revelations numbing her mind and body.

Slowly, other thoughts came to her. How was it that this room stayed up, when all that supported it was gone? Could there be a way out below the room? A secret stair that she was meant to be too frightened to discover? Taking a deep breath, Katia thrust her head through the floor. It was dark, and she worried that a moment’s lapse in concentration would send her body tumbling after her head, but she needed to see if there was any possible escape. But no, only some iron bars braced against the tower wall, supporting the room.

The room itself was bare except for a plate with some bread and a pitcher of water; barely enough to satisfy her for one meal, and she had two days before the Grand Inquisitor returned.

She crawled over to the food, still too shaken to stand, and broke off a small piece of bread. Nibbling slowly, she stared out the narrow window as the sky darkened and the first stars appeared. Eventually she fell asleep.

The next morning brought no hope, and new fears. Looking out the window to the courtyard below, she saw blackened stakes hung about with chains. Had the poor souls who’d perished there refused the Grand Inquisitor’s offer? If she were weakened by lack of food, would she be able to stand in the flames without being burned, or would her strange abilities desert her when she needed them most? Was burning preferable to slow starvation?

She had to escape. She could turn herself into air, perhaps she could walk on it too. Katia stood in the center of the room and looked up at the ceiling. She stretched out her arm, focusing all her energy on how much she wanted to touch the ceiling. Nothing happened. She strained upwards, willing herself higher, but the ceiling remained above her reach. She jumped.

She’d hoped to keep going up. She’d expected to go up and come right back down, hopefully becoming solid before she passed through the floor. It never occurred to her that she might simply hang there, standing on air as if it were solid. Surprised, she lost concentration and fell back to the floor.

Shakily, she stood and walked over to the pitcher. She took a small sip, not wanting to waste any should her plan fail, and set the pitcher down. Then she walked back to the center of the room and raised her leg, firmly placing her foot on nothing. She shifted her weight and raised her other foot, climbing an invisible staircase. Slowly, carefully, gaze focused on the ceiling, she walked upwards until she was high enough to touch the ceiling. She stood there for a moment, then started walking down, still refusing to look at her feet floating above the floor.

Once safe on the floor, she became solid and sat down, breathing heavily and shaking. She could do it. As long as she could stay intangible long enough, she would be able to escape. But it was a long way down. If she lost concentration, started to fall…

She shook her head, refusing to continue the thought. She picked up the pitcher and drank, but it didn’t help the dry feeling in her mouth. She closed her eyes, and started walking down.

After a few minutes, she opened her eyes. Dark stone walls curved around her, afternoon light streaming through the windows. She was close to one of the walls, so she altered her path, not wanting to walk through the wall and be seen. She glanced down, then quickly shut her eyes. She was still very high up. Perhaps the fall wouldn’t kill her, but it would break bones. She continued walking downwards, hoping she was staying near the center of the tower but not daring to open her eyes again, lest she lost her concentration. When her feet finally felt the cold, heavy feeling of walking through a solid object, she took a quick step up, then opened her eyes and willed herself solid, dropping an inch to land on the stone floor. She was panting and sweating, and her legs ached as if she had truly just walked down hundreds of steps. She was exhausted, and was tempted to just lay down here until she recovered, but she couldn’t risk being discovered. The door to the tower was to her left. She walked over, her body feeling heavy and sluggish, and pulled at the handle. It was locked, and for a second she almost despaired, not sure she could become intangible again so soon. But she had no choice. Closing her eyes once again, she took a deep breath and stepped forward.

She was free. She looked around, but no one came running to stop her. And they couldn’t stop her, she thought, giddy with relief, they couldn’t even touch her. No one could lock her up or force her to do anything she didn’t want to.

She would go home, she decided. Her parents wouldn’t have really left her, it was just one of the Grand Inquisitor’s lies.

Hours later, she stumbled against a tree and collapsed. It was full dark, and she couldn’t go another step. Praying that she’d be safe while she slept, she slumped over and closed her eyes.
*****
She awoke with sun shining in her eyes, her whole body aching, her stomach growling, and dew making her clothes damp. She struggled to her feet, wincing as she moved. Even the cold stone floor had been better than this. She looked around, hoping for a familiar landmark, but there was only flat countryside dotted with trees and bushes in all directions. Katia leaned against the tree, for a moment not even certain which direction she had come from. Reason reasserted itself; she had not circled the tree before lying down, so she had only to go around it now to continue on her way. She did not know the way home, but for now, going away from the Grand Inquisitor was enough.

A few hours later, she came to a small farm. Her pride abandoned, she knocked on the door and asked for food. The woman gave her some bread and fruit and reassured her she was traveling in the right direction.

By night the meager meal had worn off. She was even more tired than she had been the night before. Her feet hurt, and she knew if she pulled off her shoes she would find blisters. She’d passed other people on the road, but other than one peddler who’d given her a drink, no one had spoken to her, or even acknowledged her existence except to go around her. So when she saw the lights of a house up ahead, she didn’t go to the front door, but instead crept around back and walked through the wall into the kitchen. It was empty, the only light coming from a banked fire. Katia felt around in the dark, straining to see, until she found the larder and pulled out the first food she touched. She kicked her foot against the wall as she turned, and cried out.

She froze, tense and worried. She should run out of the house now, but she was too tired and hungry. After a minute with no noise from the rest of the house, Katia walked over to the table and set down the platter. From the dim light she could see the remains of a chicken dinner, and she eagerly pulled off bits of meat and crammed them into her mouth.

The door creaked open and candlelight wavered in the doorway. “Who’s there?” a man’s voice demanded.

Katia swallowed a few times as the man came closer. “Who are you? Get out, or I’ll set the dogs on you!”

“I…” An idea came suddenly, and Katia grinned briefly before composing herself, trying to look sad and lost. “I am just a poor beggar child,” she said, making her voice high and childish. “I lost my Mama and Papa. I’m looking for them, but I’m so hungry. I haven’t eaten in days.”

“You’ll not steal from me, urchin,” the man growled, grabbing at her. His hand went through her arm, and his eyes widened. “What trick is this?”

“It turned cold,” Katia continued, enjoying herself for the first time in days. “It was dark, and the snow came down and hid the road, and I got lost. I knocked on a door, but they turned me away. I was so tired, I lay down there, and went to sleep. The snow covered me like a blanket.” She reached out towards the candle. “I’m still cold. I can’t feel the flame. And I’m always so hungry.” She stepped forward, hand outstretched, and the man stumbled backwards. “Why do you turn away the cold and hungry?” she whispered.

The man crossed himself, muttering a prayer. Katia stepped closer, her hand passing through his shoulder, and blew out his candle. Then she turned and walked across the kitchen and through the closed door.
******
Six days after escaping, Katia arrived in Madrid, her home city. She looked like a beggar, she knew, her dress dirty, her shoes worn through, and most of her face and body hidden under a ragged horse blanket she’d taken from a stable she slept in two nights ago. She was ashamed of both her appearance and the stealing, but grateful that at least the dirt and blanket hid her from anyone who might recognize her.

Katia looked around nervously. If the Grand Inquisitor were to come after her, this was where he’d lay his traps. But no one attacked her or followed her. Soon she was in sight of her house. Ignoring her exhaustion she ran forward, pulling open the door.

“Mother! Father! I’m home!”

No response. The house was empty. Everything of value had been taken, and most of the things without value were gone too. Katia searched for some message for her, some hint they’d expected her back, but there was nothing. They’d left in a hurry, but had not been dragged away.

Katia’s clothes and few other possessions were among the objects left behind; either her parents couldn’t carry the extra weight, or they couldn’t bear the reminder of the child they’d abandoned. Numbly, Katia pulled on a clean dress, remembering how she’d looked forward to this simple act when she had been struggling to get home. She hunted through the house, finding some meager scraps of food, and from that Katia made her dinner. Then she wrapped herself in a worn blanket, clutching an old rag doll she’d thought she’d outgrown, and cried till she fell asleep.

The next morning she sorted through what her parents had left her. Some clothes, a pair of boots in need of repair, a few old toys, two pots and a pan, a knife in need of sharpening, a few blankets, and some food. Everything else was either too big or too worthless for her to take with her.

In a hollow space between the walls, where no one but she could reach, Katia had hidden a little money. She’d intended to spend it on something frivolous—a bit of lace for her hat, or a bag of sweets, perhaps—but now it was all she had to live on.

She did not dare stay in Madrid. It would be too easy for the Grand Inquisitor to find her. In the night she’d entertained ideas of following her parents to Poland, but in the morning, looking around at the empty house, still sore and aching from her trek across the countryside, she gave up. This past week had been hard enough; she could not imagine the dangers and difficulties she would face trying to make her away across several countries alone. She did not even know if her parents had truly gone to Poland, or if the wanted her. They’d handed her over to the Inquisition readily enough.

With the money tucked in her belt, the food wrapped in an old scarf, and the rest of her possessions bundled in one of the blankets, Katia set out. She had no plans yet, no destination, she just needed to get away. She hadn’t made it more than a few streets before a group of boys confronted her.

“What have you got there?” the leader asked, poking at the bundle.

“Nothing for you,” she retorted, backing away.

“Let’s see.” He grabbed at the bundle, and Katia clutched tighter, turning intangible without thought. For a moment she thought she’d lost, expecting the bundle to slip through her fingers, but instead the boy’s hands were suddenly grasping at air.

I can turn other things to ghosts, she thought, wonderingly. She’d never tried to carry anything with her before. The boy grabbed at the blanket again, his hand passing through it.

“Witchcraft!” One of the other boys shouted. The rest took up the shout, backing away. Other people on the streets turned to look, some crossing themselves, and Katia hugged the bundle to her chest, suddenly afraid.

“They can’t hurt me,” she whispered, but found no comfort in the thought. She ran, not looking, passing through the boys who screamed and ran from her.

Katia did not have the strength for a long run, but no one followed or raised an alarm. The confrontation had banished the last of her doubts. People knew what she was; she could not risk staying. She hurried down the street until she came to a small shop, assorted odds and ends on display in the windows and around the door. There she sold everything but the food, the clothes she was wearing, and one of the blankets.

“Don’t often have young girls selling things by themselves,” the old man behind the counter muttered.

“Father’s sick,” Katia explained, the lie prepared before she’d left her house. “Mother’s tending to him, and we need the money for medicine.”

The man nodded. He’d heard that story many times before. “You don’t want to sell that last blanket?”

Katia shook her head. “I picked it up by mistake. Mother meant to take it to Father. He has chills. I need to hurry back.”

The old man pressed the coins into her hand. “Bit more than this lot is worth, but for a pretty girl with a sick father, I can spare a few extra coins.” He smiled and winked, and Katia smiled back nervously, then hurried out the door.
******
Four days after she’d returned home and left again, huddled in a corner at an inn, a meal of watery soup paid for with the last of her money, Katia overheard the news that the Grand Inquisitor had been changed with treason and witchcraft, that his compound had been destroyed—the speaker claimed fire had rained down from the heavens, punishment from God—and that the Grand Inquisitor and his most trusted followers had escaped to parts unknown.

Katia stared fixedly at her bowl, irrationally worried that showing interest would convince people she was Witchbreed.

She should be happy that he was gone. No one would chase her now. She was safe.

Only she wasn’t safe. She was alone and abandoned. Before there’d been a strange kind of comfort in knowing there was someone who wanted her, who’d provide for her. She’d never accept his offer, but at least then her beggar status had a twisted kind of pride to it. Now she was just another unwanted person.
******
Rumors started flying after the destruction of Domdaniel. Stories of flying ships, treachery and intrigue, monsters and men who summoned lightning were the subject of nearly every conversation. And mixed in with the stories was the news from England. The Witchbreed were being hunted and killed, the faint tolerance they’d survived under gone with the queen. Under James, the merest suspicion that someone even knew the Witchbreed was enough to get him arrested and tortured. In Spain, the Witchbreed had been granted a reprieve, as the Holy Father’s agents attempted to sort out the mess the Grand Inquisitor left, but soon, people whispered, a new Inquisitor would come, and Spain would be cleansed as England was.

Katia wanted to leave before that happened. And the stories told her where she could go too.

In the New World, so the rumors said, the Witchbreed had set up a safe haven for their kind. Some said it was a fortress, built in a single night and patrolled by demons; others said it was a normal town, apparently unprotected, but an invisible wall kept everyone out; still others said there was nothing to see, and only Witchbreed eyes could find it.

All the stories agreed it was in the New World, near a colony called Roanoke, where the Witchbreed had first landed after fleeing the newly crowned King James.

Katia saw no reason to stay in Spain, so she headed for the coast, hoping to find a ship bound for the New World, and from there to make her way to the Witchbreed settlement.

The docks were an unpleasant place, especially for a young woman. She’d grown used to being ignored or chased away, but the sailors’ smiles unnerved her. For two weeks she haunted the docks, until at last she learned of a merchant ship sailing to La Pascua Florida.

She had no money for passage, of course. But for a girl who could walk on air and through walls, that was no challenge. She waited until night, then walked across the water and into the ship.
******
Katia huddled in the hold of the ship, hidden among crates and barrels. The sailors were searching for stowaways, prodding at shadows with sticks and prying open chests. They’d already searched her corner, the pointed stick meeting no more resistance than air. They had found two other stowaways though, and dragged them out, loudly declaring they’d throw the unfortunate men overboard to swim for shore.

Finally the last of the sailors headed above deck, and soon the ship was moving. The hold was dark and stuffy, crammed full of supplies, so that the only way for Katia to stretch out or move comfortably was to turn intangible. For the first few days she stayed hidden, stealing bits of food and drink from the supplies packed around her. But by the third day she was desperate for air and light, and snuck out to the deck.

It was night when she finally crept out of the hold, but the moon and stars seemed astonishingly bright to her, and the sea breeze was a welcome relief. She walked around the deck. Most of the passengers and crew were sleeping, and those who were awake simply assumed she was a passenger.

Katia spent the entire voyage like that; hiding for days at a time, then daring to go above deck when she felt she’d go mad if she didn’t. She grew heartily sick of salted meat and dry biscuits. She spoke to no one, and entertained herself by practicing her powers and sorting through the assorted crates in the hold.

The journey took fifty-eight days, although Katia did not know that, having no way to mark the passage of time. It was a quiet voyage, with only a brief thunderstorm and a few days of calm to slow the trip. On the fifty-eighth day, she heard shouts above her head, feet running, and risked poking her head out the side of the ship for her first look at the New World.

It was little more than a smudge on the horizon, but getting closer as she watched. She'd intended to stay onboard until nightfall, but after seeing land so close and listening to the excited voices above, she couldn't bear the thought of staying hidden any longer. She crept out cautiously and mingled with the other passengers. No one paid any attention to her, and if anyone noticed a new face, they were willing to overlook it. So close to the end of the voyage, there seemed no point in punishing a stowaway.

Katia closed her eyes and tilted her head back. Even with her eyes closed, the bright afternoon sun made her eyes water. This was the first time she'd seen the sun for more than a few seconds in nearly two months. Birds cried, circling the ship, and Katia opened her eyes to watch. Mixed in with the usual gulls--so like the ones she knew back home--were large flying lizards, the largest she’d ever seen. Around her, the other passengers chattered excitedly, but Katia simply watched the flying creatures soar and dip.

They sailed as close to land as they could, then climbed into lifeboats and rowed to shore. One grizzled sailor helped Katia into the boat and smiled at her.

"You must be the ghost," he chortled.

"I beg your pardon?"

"Couple of the other sailors claimed the ship was haunted. Said they saw a woman walking the decks at night, and she vanished through the deck when anyone came close."

"I didn't..."

"Eyes play tricks on you at night, and it's safer to see a ghost then a stowaway you can't find come day."

"You won't tell?" she whispered.

"Nah. You made it, free and clear. Not much point in telling now. 'Sides, I figure the trip you just had was punishment enough. It's a hard enough crossing without spending it hiding and afraid." He winked at her. "You did it though. Well done."

Florida was warm and sunny, with thick, lush vegetation. Katia helped unload the supplies, glad for the exercise. The settlement was a short hike from the shore, and they were welcomed with fresh bread, fresh meat, and strange fruit that was an expensive delicacy back home.

It was tempting to stay here, to try and make a life for herself in the warm sun, among people who spoke her language. But she'd spent her life hiding, denying who and what she was, living in fear of discovery. The hardship of the trek to the mysterious Witchbreed colony would be worth it if, for the first time ever, she could admit to everything she was and be accepted. So she spent the night on the beach, feeling the sand move beneath her as if she were still on the ship, and the next morning she set out, heading north along the coast, trusting that that would at least take her to someone who could direct her the rest of that way. She stole more supplies, the guilt she felt long since buried beneath habit and necessity.

She looked up the coastline and felt dread pool in her stomach. What if she got lost? Ran out of supplies? Was attacked by savages or wild animals? Got sick?

No attacks could hurt her, she reminded herself, and if she stayed near the coast she was bound to go in the right direction and meet other settlers. Which left only food and illness to worry about.

She closed her eyes and breathed deep, then began walking. She had not gone far before she heard shouts, and curious (and willing to delay the final stage of her journey), she headed towards them.

Four boys, armed with sticks, were clustered around something, jeering and beating whatever lay at their feet. Katia pushed forward and saw a small leatherwing fluttering on the ground.

"Stop!" she ordered, shoving the nearest boy away and scooping up the wounded lizard, which keened and flapped feebly.

"Give it!" one of the boys ordered, grabbing at the leatherwing, but his hand passed through it. He tried again, but Katia was already moving, pushing past the other boys, concentrating on remaining solid, not wanting to send up an alarm so soon. She wrenched free of them and ran. They gave chase, but soon gave up, going in search of easier prey.

Katia stopped and put down the lizard, who cried and floundered on the sand, too injured to fly. Sighing, Katia picked him up again, and he stilled, resting quietly in her arms.

"Guess you like me." She scratched the top of his head, and he closed his eyes, pressing into her hand. "Well, I'd be glad of the company, and perhaps you can help me catch fish and find plants that are safe to eat. What do you say, little fellow? Want to find the Witchbreed with me?"

The lizard opened one eye to look at her, yawned, stretched, then clambered up her arm, using claws and beak to clutch at her sleeve and his wings for balance. He settled on her shoulder, nuzzled her hair, then closed his eyes again.

Katia giggled. "I'll take that for a yes."

The trek before her was as long and dangerous as before, but now, for the first time since she woke up in the tower, Katia felt hopeful about her future. The leatherwing on one shoulder, supplies slung over the other, Katia headed north, smiling.

The End
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