Sean spun around in circles on the balcony. His eyes were shut and his arms hung straight out at his sides like wings. The cool currents of air felt like they would lift him into the sky at any moment. Eventually he opened his eyes and stared up at the stars, which danced along with his motion. They looked almost the same as the ones from his home, only lacking the familiar constellations he remembered.
A low murmur drifted up to the balcony from the city, but even that was nearly drowned out by the echo of his footsteps. Of course even the sounds were a subtle reminder of being out of place. He had noticed while traveling the road that there weren't any crickets in this world, and at times the overbearing quiet had made him uneasy. Torches lit the courtyard below and filled the void of sound.
For a moment he wanted to venture into the city and become absorbed into the crowd. He knew it wouldn't be much help, though. They'd all stare at him as normal. No matter what he tried, they always noticed him, and they always seemed to know he didn't belong with them. Velina had said they feared him. Sean had no idea why, but decided that she had to be right. They often gave him chills for some reason.
A voice began to sing within the boundaries of the palace. Sean leaned over the rail and scanned the windows carefully, trying to get sight of the performer. The ritual was performed each night, in order to ward off enemies that lurked in the dark. It sounded like folktale to him, but nearly two months spent in this new place had taught Sean that lore often seemed to be true. Ignoring it brought about misfortune.
Finally he spotted the distant singer; a woman standing on a balcony on the opposite side of the palace. From his vantage, Sean could hardly make out any of her features, except long brown hair down to her waist. He squinted and strained to see more details, but in reality he hardly had to look again. Velina sung in tones that she'd certainly never used in speaking before. The sound of her voice reverberated through the air, finding a path to his ears.
The sounds swept through him and echoed painfully in his skull. Something inside him stirred and Sean felt as though his mind was struggling to reveal some memory. It was a menacing sensation. Something was trying to free itself at the cost of his identity.
Velina continued to sing unaware and the music struck him continuously. The ocean of sound was dragging his consciousness into some dark corner of the mind. Sean stumbled backwards and clasped the hilt of his sword so tight that his fingers began to ache. Unconsciously, he slid the blade from its scabbard and sent it crashing down onto the railing of the balcony. A blinding light flashed as the steel smashed into the railing. The marble stone shattered instantly and rained down to the ground far below.
All of his strength flowed into another swipe. This time the blade struck the marble floor, but no light appeared. The force of the impact freed a chunk of the balcony and sent pain reeling through Sean's arms. His grip on the sword faltered and the weapon tumbled into the air before descending to the courtyard.
The song had ended and slowly Sean's sanity returned. He looked toward Velina and found her staring directly at him. Even at such a distance he could sense the disapproval in her glare. Velina turned abruptly and walked back into the palace. Sean looked down at his feet and almost felt sick. The balcony ended an inch in front of his feet. Another slash would have sent him falling to the garden below in the courtyard.
Sean went inside and closed the doors that led to what remained of the balcony. He took a few steps toward the large bed and stopped suddenly. Now he'd have to go find the sword. Far from worried about it being stolen, Sean knew that it would haunt his dreams all night if he didn't search for it.
He grabbed his travel cloak from the floor and draped it over his shoulders. The closet was full of beautifully tailored clothing, but Sean had no desire for attention. He hoped that he would be able to pass as a servant. It might also spare him from Velina's wrath if she found him.
The chamber doors swung open quietly and Sean peered both ways down the corridor. It looked vastly different at night. Ornate lanterns transformed the pale colors into a gray labyrinth. Sean walked cautiously down the hallway toward the staircase. He had the constant feeling of being watched, no doubt a result of his travels along the highway.
Voices drifted up from the staircase and Sean bowed his head, hoping to avoid attention. Four women entered the corridor and talked quietly among themselves. Sean couldn't catch any of the words, but they giggled periodically.
"Pardon me." One of the ladies addressed him and Sean halted dutifully.
"Y-yes milady?" His voice came out raspy and belied any sense of calmness he might have shown.
"What is a servant doing on this floor now?" She stepped closer and Sean stared at the bottom of her light blue dress to avoid meeting her gaze. "You must be fortunate to escape cleaning up after dinner."
"Aye, milady." Sean realized to late that it probably wasn't the proper way to speak to her, but couldn't change things now. "Are there any services you need?"
"Oh always," she said slowly. The other three women giggled again.
Sean felt blood rushing to his face, then anger began to replace shame.
But, her voice had a tone that dispelled his nervousness. "What is your name?"
"Madric," Sean replied after a brief hesitation.
Her hand extended and landed on his shoulder. In surprise, Sean looked up at her face. She looked to be his age, with dark brown eyes, moderately long hair, and a set of full lips that were bent upward into a smile. Something about her manner relaxed him further.
"I'm Adrienne. You must be new since I know most of the others by sight."
"Yes, I'm from the south."
She nodded slightly. Her eyes narrowed and took on the quality of a hawk surveying its prey. "Well Madric. Perhaps I'll see you again shortly."
"As you wish, milady."
Adrienne and her friends resumed talking and walked onward, seeming to forget about him. Sean sighed quietly and started walking down the stairs. On his way to the bottom, he was thankful that no one else appeared. The only other people he noticed were the guards on station at the entrance to the courtyard. They hardly paid him any attention. One, he noticed, was leaning against the archway with his eyes closed.
The courtyard was for the most part and empty field surrounded by walls. The grass was massed into clumps due to the horses that regularly traversed it. Sean looked up at the palace and easily spotted the smashed balcony. One side of the courtyard was fenced off into a rather large garden. Unfortunately it happened to be directly below his room. Sean approached the fence and had a bad feeling that he probably wasn't supposed to enter. But, he'd already have to answer to a ruined balcony. A little more trouble couldn't result in much more. With any luck no one would see him.
A quick glance around the courtyard showed him that there was no one else nearby. Sean grabbed onto the latticed fence and leapt over it. He landed slightly off balance and stumbled aside.
Flowers and plants filled the garden and gave off a lush, natural scent. At the center was a large fountain, surrounded by a few yards of cleared ground. Near the wall of the palace was a pile of marble stone. Sean saw a glint of metal and walked toward it. The sword had fallen straight downward and most of the blade was embedded in the ground. He gripped the hilt and pulled up.
With a little effort the sword came loose. The metal was unblemished and still gave off a nearly perfect reflection.