She slept on top of the world.
Her aimless wandering, fuelled by paternal resentment, had reminded her strongly of her childhood. She chuckled softly at fond recollections of spirited competitions to stay atop the peak for as long as possible wrapped in nothing but a cloak. A foolish game for children with little imagination and even less funding for their limited free time. Whoever stayed out the longest apparently had the greatest connection with the Lady and it was said that if you could stay out all night the Lady would appear to you and, with her breath, warm your bones for ever more.
Most children failed within the first hour, others, more determined, were dragged home by parents with cold stares and angry mutters. Astraea's parents had never dragged her home and on her longest run she had awoken to find herself in a hospital bed with ether being pumped directly into her veins. Her father had lashed her for every coin she had cost him and she had never dared try again.
Tonight; despite the waves of emotion that crashed against the barriers of her self respect, the dull resonating impact sending shivers down her spine, sleep came easily to her.
She awoke to gasps and huddled mutters; the blazing light of the morning sunshine causing her to shield her eyes as she searched sluggishly for the source.
"Do you think she...."
"She looks fucking freezing if you ask me"
"My da says...."
A gaggle of children stood in a ragged semicircle around her, spears at their sides, eyes bulging with excitement. As she turned to face them, uncoiling like a snake from a basket they followed her sinuous movements transfixed, charmed by the very possibility of a myth bursting into reality.
She kept her face serene, enjoying the tiny gushes of excitement that coursed through her. So much hope... so many dreams. She breathed it in and the raging storm of her troubles seemed to wash away.
They were petrified, held immobile by their own excitement and she held their gaze standing resplendent on the edge of the world, sun blazing off her armour, casting her features into shadow.
A little girl broke first stepping forward hands twisting in her skirts, eyes downcast as she shifted in a guilt ridden two step.
"Did ya see her miss... did ya see the Lady?"
Astraea let her face break into a wide smile and winked.
Galahad was already there, resplendent in a freshly pressed and immaculate uniform and though he gave no indication that he knew or cared of her arrival she half wished he had. His attention was not her goal but she longed for any excuse to enquire about the weapon clasped to his belt. Beautiful and ornate, the hilt alone showed incredible craftsmanship. For a moment she shuffled, eyes looking at her own trusty spear. Unfussy and unordained it had a point at the end and a haft to break teeth with. She couldn't help but smile, though it was morphed and distorted into a jealous leer. It was all she had ever needed and was certainly all she would ever have but to see such a blade so close.... yet so far made her stomach lurch.
She had considered heading to Galahad's once it had been clear she had no place to stay. They were not firm friends yet she had little doubt he would have offered her a bed. One look at the high arching gates of the manor house, still so impressive even a hundred meters away had sent her off in the opposite direction.
He was the son of a General, she the daughter of lowborn if noble warriors. He had his place and she had hers.
She felt the pain first. There was a sharpness to it, a raw animal anguish that struck her on the most primal level. She struggled to breathe her chest suddenly tight, throat choking on grief. Tatiana bounded forward an overeager puppy yet the pain seemed to ooze from her like fresh stab wounds.
Astraea knew she was not the only one who had suffered last night.
Before she could move, more pain, excitement tinged with anxiety and a loud voice bellowing through the silence
"Take him to the war hospital. Don't let him die,"
The man was moaning softly, trussed to the back of a horse like a fresh kill and he cursed loudly as he was pulled onto a stretcher. She was up and moving quickly yet a figure blocked her path, black coated and imposing she found herself looking into a mismatched gaze, a single blood red eye clashing with the cool wintery blue on the other side. It was entrancing in its own way, both eyes seemingly at war with one another, perhaps sign of a conflicted soul.
She reached out gently and felt no concern only a driven focus tinged with flecks of resentment and even jealousy as she looked upon the three. Curious she allowed the Inquisitor to steer her away from the wounded man and into another building.
She would come back for him later.
The woman took the couch and Astraea took postion against the mantle of a disused etherfurnace leaning at ease spear in hand, happy to take a power position in the centre of the room.
The woman worked and talked with a practised and uncompromising air, dousing a wound that had coated her chest in blood yet Astraea felt no discernible pain or discomfort until the woman had thoroughly doused the wound. She was business like, uncompromising and practical and Astraea merely nodded until
"Late last night, something happened at the Black Glacier. Or rather, something happened to the Black Glacier. The red veins... they turned blue. Which, if I remember my history correctly, has never happened before,"
Astraea gave a little shudder standing straight. Was this the sign... the sign that the Lady's power in her own land was dwindling and a new type of daemon. She ran her finger over the tattoo on her neck.
Lady protect them... a worse thought. She gave a small shudder though she forced herself not to look round. She did not want.... her... to find another type of daemon to summon.
Perhaps the Inquisitor noticed Astraea's sudden intensity, perhaps the tattoo of her mark however she met Astraea's gaze. Astraea sensed shame and distaste even as the woman stared at her swords. This was a woman resigned to ask for help with this new threat though every word seemed to cost her.
"Well, what do you say? Two of us weren't enough. Perhaps four will be."
She met the inquisitors gaze
"Four will be plenty."
She withdrew her talisman from her pocket her tone suddenly business like though there was a fire blazing in her eyes.
"I will heal your colleague immediately for the 4th."
She jerked an accusatory finger at Tatiana as she moved towards the door
"but she is not coming!"