Dearest Delphina, April 13
Neither of us have managed to stay in one location for any length of time, have we? I am preparing to leave Anchiasu sometime in the next few days, although I cannot say exactly when. I ought to return to Cellen, but I delay because I must be completely confident there is nothing remaining in Anchiasu that will require my attention. It would be impossible for me to make this long journey twice in one month! A mistake made in haste could be unimaginably costly, even considering how critical speed is to us. Eerily little has happened since I sent my last letter, which makes me uneasy. It has given me the leisure to send separate letters to you and Liam for the first time since I left Cellen. Delphina, I fear I have not been quite candid in relating my experiences here. Certain details were omitted in my previous letters. I wrote only about events pertaining to our mutual crisis, but now I can explain everything without upsetting Liam with the details.
As you already know, Augustofe and I once had quite a passionate romance, but in spite of your coaxing, I never cared to disclose the details. At the time, I believed he was a closed chapter in my story and had no wish to dwell on the past. I would never go so far as to call him as a beau of mine. Such terms are not exactly applicable in Anchiasu and anything resembling a typical courtship is not exactly applicable for Augustofe. His broad shoulders and bronzed skin remind me of a tiger—both fully aware of their power and fearing nothing. There is no telling a tiger what to do. You don’t chase him; he hunts you—and there are no white gloves and fluttering fans involved. This was the impression I had the very first time I met him. To me, even though he wasn’t a native of Anchiasu, he embodied everything about it. The bold colored fabrics, nomadic lifestyle, and particularly devilish spirits were all as exciting as the feeling of Augustofe’s eyes watching me even when his back was turned. I made so many mistakes on that trip, not only new to my craft, but taken so off guard by the foreign nature of the spirits. They were so capricious, the djinn especially, and didn’t hesitate to do me a mischief even when they knew I was only trying to help them. On one such botched occasion, Augustofe followed me out of the cave and drawled, “Miss LeClaire, while I don’t particularly give a care, you are aware that thing in there almost succeeded in killing us?
I adjusted my headscarf to shield my eyes from the blinding sunlight and smiled. “They are just so fascinating—“
Without any warning, he spun me around and pressed his lips against mine, stealing my breath away. My pulse intensified under his grip on my wrist. I didn’t immediately struggle, so he didn’t let go. I had a moment of hesitation where a part of me crossed its arms and huffed at his presumption—did he really think he could take such liberties without any prior permission? Then the image of the tiger flashed into my mind. Brazen, self-assured, and dangerous, but also fiercely protective if you’d let him. So I closed my eyes and tilted my head back into the kiss. I was a woman mysterious as the devils she danced with, strong enough to hold my own against this scorching sun of a man and not be eclipsed. But I was also seventeen, far from home, and this was his game, not mine, so when he finally slackened his hold on me, I asked softly, “What was that for?”
“You’ve got spunk, Cassie.” He chuckled. And with that, he swung onto his horse and trotted off, singing one of his favorite sea shanties at the top of his lungs. And that was the end of calling me “Miss LeClaire”. These brief moments between us continued for my entire visit until the night before my departure. I had spent the whole day teaching the tribe how to create their own wards, but inwardly waiting for Augustofe to appear so we could say our goodbye. When I didn’t see him all day, I returned to my tent and packed my things as slowly as possible, still waiting for him to throw open the canvas flap and either declare I couldn’t go or declare that he would come with me. We had never discussed a future together and I didn’t have an answer ready even if he had proposed. I was a girl who knew who she was, but didn’t know who she wanted to be. At midnight, I sneaked to his tent, which glowed with lamplight and we quarreled.
“Say goodbye?” he scoffed when I voiced my complaint. “What for? I know you, Cassie, and you aren’t going anywhere. You love it here and there’s no point denying it.”
“You aren’t even going to ask me to stay?” I squeaked, furious at myself for sounding so vulnerable.
“You cannot seriously expect me to believe that you need such romantic frippery? Weeping at your feet and swearing I’ll die without you, is that what you want? E’gad girl, I thought you were stronger.”
“Alright,” I retorted, lifting my chin. “Let’s put that to the test. ” And with that, I turned on my heel and left. I boarded my train the next morning without a single tear. When my anger finally dissipated off I was surprised to find it had burned away all regret. The part of the tragic heroine was not for me—there were enough of those on my client list.
When I arrived back at the tribe, it did not surprise me that after all these years, Augustofe would greet me like I’d never been gone. He lifted me off my feet with his embrace and I couldn’t hide the truth—I was happy to see him. Oh, how different he is from Liam, though, Delphina! I could not help spend many hours at night comparing the two. Augustofe has been such a source of comfort to me here—he does not understand my work, but he is always by my side and I never worry about him.
“Cassie,” he said to me during the long hours we waited behind the ridge. “Don’t you wish we could have more of these adventures together?”
I laughed. “Come back to Cellen with me and we can run around the countryside and nearly die of dehydration everyday!”
“What’s so special about Cellen?” he huffed.
“Absolutely nothing, which is why I travel so much. You know, for all your talk of adventure, I’m surprised you don’t roam the lands as much as I do.”
“Well, what can I say? I love Anchiasu, even more than I loved the sea. You love it too, Cassie, you just forget when you’re back home.”
I didn’t respond, keeping my tempest of thoughts inside.
You are the only person I can confide to. For the short hour I gave myself to write this letter, I set aside clues and investigations and selfishly focused on my personal troubles. I expect to receive a letter from Liam tomorrow, with answers regarding Rasmus’ exhumation. Then I will know better when I must leave here. So watch for another letter from me shortly.