The hostel door swung open, followed by a chilly breeze. The owner glanced over from behind her small welcoming desk, smiling brightly at two girls filling the doorway. A tall-looking woman, followed by a younger child dressed in assorted colorful clothing, stepped forward. The child looked worn from her travels and rubbed at her eyes.
The woman turned to close the door, then wrapped her arms around the child protectively before drawing closer to the counter. They took a moment to remove their hoods and adjust their wraps, exposing their black raven hair. Then the owner noticed their brilliant hazel eyes.
Golden flakes surrounded their iris like little sparks of flame dancing from a fire. The woman's eyes were hard and threatening, but the younger girl was the opposite. Her eyes were big and still full of hope. Were they mother and daughter? The owner’s curiosity perked. They were so young it gave her a sense of nostalgia. It was refreshing to see such youthful spirits walk in through the doors.
“Evening, ladies. What brings you here tonight?”
“Just a bed for my sister and I. Anything will do.” Her voice was melodic yet cold. The distrust was palpable, a tone the owner was well acquainted with. Anyone walking into a hostel late at night had a story to share, regardless of age or appearance. The owner reached for her pen, dabbing it in ink to write into the ledger.
“How many nights will you be staying?”
The lady glanced down at her sister, hesitant. “For a few nights. We’ve traveled a long way and may need some time to recover.”
“Alright. What name shall I put down?”
Absently she replied to the owner. “Drina Forest.”
An alias, the owner thought while writing the name. It was a feeling she had in her gut. Drina reached into her satchel and pulled out a small coin pouch. After taking the payment, the owner smiled warmly and led them down the right side hall.
The small hall turned left into a larger room lined with rows of bunks beds. Storage chests fitted every bed for the top and bottom, equipped with a lock. The owner led them to the farthest bunk in the corner and took a large ring of keys in her pocket. Jingling the keys, she removed the matching key and handed it to the eldest sister.
“Take the top. I hope it will give you comfort and safety.”
Drina relaxed, offering a small relieved smile. She assisted her sister into the bed to sleep as the owner turned. Drina called softly out to her before she left.
“Um.. sorry, what was your name, ma’am?”
“Luludja, but please call me Lulu.”
Drina nodded, nervously brushing her loose raven hair behind her ear. “Thank you, Lulu.”
With a nod and soft chuckle, Lulu turned to leave Drina with her sister. The room was quiet, with occasional grunts as renters shuffled in their sleep. Drina twirled the key in her hand a bit, contemplating the chest. Thieft was limited in such establishments, but she couldn’t relent her mistrust. Instead, she pocketed the key and joined her sister.
Leaning against the wall, Drina gently guided her sister to cuddle beside her comfortably. Carefully removing her satchel, she rummaged through it to remove a fan.
“Lana,” Drina stiffened at the sound of her name and glanced down at her sleepy sister. “Will we stay a while? For real this time? I’m tired of constantly walking.”
“Ocian, please! Call me Drina while we are in towns or cities. Also, speak in common, not our native tongue.” Drina brushed her sister's hair off her face and shoulders, scanning the room with worry.
“I know you are tired, but we must keep moving. We’re not safe, even here.”
“Do I really need to go by that name?”
Her voice was groggy and barely audible while she fought to stay awake. Tenderly, Drina continued stroking her head and sighed heavily. After all the lectures, Jeta still had much to learn. A name was a deadly thing to give away, especially for a Gypsy. Power was tied to names and bloodlines. With one wrong step, Drina knew the consequences awaiting them.
Ocian’s power hibernated within. Drina, on the other hand, was not. She could see and speak with ghosts. It took considerable concentration to conceal and lock away her gift. Drained each day, it was to keep them safe. Drina couldn’t risk exposing them and getting caught by the wrong people. She could only instruct Ocian to control her emotions and learn their teachings when her power awakened. Even now, Ocian was sensitive to Drina’s energy. Another reason to contain it.
“Yes. I promise there’s a reason. Now go to sleep.”
It didn’t take her much convincing before Ocian fully drifted off. Drina sighed heavily. Now if only she could follow suit. Sleeping in hostels always made Drina anxious. It wasn't enough to drop her guard, even with a few empty beds around them and a good view. Being constantly alert took a toll on her, especially while suppressing her power. She preferred the wild and its dangers. There wasn’t a need to contain her power with nothing but trees and wildlife.
Though, for some reason, it didn’t take much effort to relax here. Something about the aura in the hostel gave off a sense of peace, like light waves that passed over her. It lulled her in a silent song, vibrations of peace that resonated with her spirit.
The brief tranquility didn’t last long. Several footsteps echoed through the room from the hallway. She tensed, shaking off the enchanting spell to watch other guests enter the room. Several people looked like they had been partying in the nearby pubs, while others slumped in while carrying traveling gear. It was odd how quiet and respectful the guests were while making their way to their beds. Usually, hostels would get loud and rowdy with the drunkards. Drina readjusted herself to observe the door better, careful not to disturb Ocian while she slept.
Nervously, she began to fiddle with her fan. It was long with a black wooden guard carved with intricate vines and roses. The fan folds were decorated with constellations, each sign drawn with brightly burning stars in and around them. A small chain of little beads dangled from the base of the fan. At the end was a larger gem carved into an intricate rose in bloom.
It was her mother’s heirloom, a tool given to each girl in her bloodline. Since finding the fan, it became a source of comfort. Unable to uncover the truth behind her mother’s death, she couldn’t trust anyone. With constant fear and deceit around her; It was the reason they fled to escape Castromnia.
Closing her eyes briefly, Drina poured her thoughts into the fan and took a deep breath. She needed to clear her mind and focus. Slowly rolling her fingers over the folds, she waited for the tingles of energy to prickle against her skin. The sensation would trigger her reaction to flick it open flawlessly, a well-practiced skill she’d developed over years. Several whispers call out at her in a slur by the third fold. Drina paused with concern, hovering her hand near the unopened panel. Was it coming from the fan? Opening her eyes, she honed in on the source. It was coming from the entrance.
There in the frame, a woman appeared from around the corner. She wore light white clothing wrapped with a dark sash around her hip and torso. Her blond hair shimmered in the dim light when she entered the room. Her deep violet eyes sparkled like the night sky and connected with Drina’s. It felt like time moved slowly, every second lingering for minutes.
The pit of Drina’s stomach flipped. Emotions began to stir, and her control slipped. Whispers to grew louder, this time bouncing from all around her. Entranced, she couldn’t stop watching. The woman smirked devilishly back, holding her gaze while moving through the room.
Drina dropped her attention back to her fan to recover. Her heart was pounding frantically. Regaining her focus, the image on the second panel of the fan finally registered. In the dead center of the slip open was Cygnus, the swan of grace, beauty, and romance. Drina’s jaw dropped.
Snapping her fan closed, she rested the tip of the fan to her lips. Maybe reading a fortune with strangers present was a mistake. Opening the fan fully, she studied the rest of the constellations. Stars flickered across the dark purple fabric, some brighter than others to represent the present influencing energies. Images of animals and figures shifted and moved while small particles of cloud gently floated along an invisible breeze. Though the fan was not alive, the magic embedded into it would suggest otherwise.
Glaring at the swan, Drina clicked her tongue. Why out of all of them did it have to be Cygnus? It flapped its wings elegantly, turning its head towards her as if to gloat. Not a single cloud covered over the panel, and its stars shone brighter than any other. Sneaking a second glance, the woman stood at her bunk with her chest open.
Drina absently fanned herself, biting at her lip. The voices were no longer soft whispers and the air grew icy around her. It wasn’t until she could see her breath that she realized how much power she was leaking. Drina snapped her head at Ocian to check if she was still sleeping. Thankfully the cold didn’t wake her. Collapsing her fan against her leg, Drina rubbed at her temple. She needed to calm down. Indulging in a fling was a terrible idea, no matter how tempting. Before Drina could gain control, the voices stopped at once. The abrupt change was almost disorienting.
“Hey, sorry to bother you. I just couldn’t help noticing you when I got in.”
Drina’s heart skipped from the sweet alluring voice. There, by the food of the bunk bed, stood the women. Her beauty was even more magnificent up close; it took Drina’s breath away.
“Oh.. sorry, I thought you were alone.” The woman’s smile deflated a bit after noticing Ocian beside her.
In a hushed whisper, Drina tried not to panic. “No, it’s alright. It’s my sister. We had a long journey today, and she passed right out.”
The smile returned more significant, and the woman took a step closer.
“I see, where from?”
Drina nervously spun her fan around in her hands. How was she going to answer her? Castromnia was a large country with five regions: Ellstria in the south, Scion in the northwest, Bablalion northeast, Vercian east between Bablalion and Ellstria, and Gasfriac in the center. Drina was from the southwest borders of Scion, a region well hated because of the tyrant king. He started a war with Gasfriac and divided the entire country. Many refugees were flocking into the neighboring areas, often unwelcome and distrusted. It was worse for Gypsies; no one welcomed a gypsy, refugee or not.
“We came from West Vercian, near the lakes of Laruia.”
Drina smiled dimly—another lie she would have to bear. The woman brightened, trailing her hand along the side of the bed frame and toward Drina’s knee. Shivers shot throughout Drina the moment her hand connected with her skin.
“Vercian! That’s quite the trip. What brought you here to Ellstria?”
Tiny ghosts orbs began to float around them. Drina swallowed hard. It was impossible to calm down with this seductive dish before her. The wandering hand went under the slit of Drina’s skirt from her knee up her thigh. Unable to concentrate, Drina’s eyes drifted from her face down her neckline to her cleavage. Flicking her eyes up to the woman’s, she cleared her throat.
“I hear the sights are spectacular.”
With a chuckle, the woman withdrew her hand to grab the ledge. Stepping on the bottom bunk she lifted herself, bringing her face inches from Drina’s. Sandalwood engulfed her senses while staring deep into the violet abyss. The woman tilted her head and bit the corner of her lip.
“Nice to meet you, Drina.”
Swallowing hard, Drina knew she was in trouble.