Just an idea that I had, and once I started writing I couldn't stop. Hope you enjoy it (: Please leave me a review!

1. Masked and Yearning

Claivony landed gracefully and softly on her feet at one of the messenger's ledges and made her way towards the heart of the building. Unlike most of the other messengers, she did not like to drop out of the sky in a flurry of dramatics, nor did she like to race into the great central hall of the messenger headquarters like some over enthusiastic sparrow. It seemed somehow disrespectful to the reverence that the messenger headquarters radiated. It stood high in the mountains, above the rest of the citadel and rested on a shelf hewn into the cliff's face and had battered every storm and gale nature could throw at it. Claivony only found it proper that one must walk into the central halls so that its vast gold domed ceilings and marble interior could loom overhead and be given the proper deference it deserved.

It had been a simple enough errand; she had only had to fly three hours south to a small village where Highlord Aekhart had wanted to know about the condition of the fishing trade and whether they needed any assistance given the turbulent weather of the past winter. The head of the village had been most civil and accommodating and had sent her back with a small scroll and a dozen smoked mackerel as compliments to the highlord. As she made her way through the central hall where the other heralds where collecting new assignments or reporting on completed ones she felt a sense of satisfaction rush down her shoulder blades and out through the golden tips of her periwinkle blue feathers. In response she let her wings unfold and unfurl to their glorious breadth of sixteen feet, earning the admiring looks of a few other messengers. She did not like to show off, but somehow the completion of yet another errand, left her feeling pleased, and the fact that she was back in time for the celebration the highlord was hosting made her even happier.

She had not seen Costelle, her closest friend and daughter of the highlord, for almost a week, what with her tutors and mentors constantly shoving information and knowledge down her throat, as Costelle had put it. Ever since they had finished school, Costelle, like her older brother Kaelhart had been pushed onto the road of becoming the future leaders of Alatum. Secretly she envied Costelle a little sometimes, not because she had become the most sought after female in the entire wingéd population, but because she had the opportunity to learn from some of the wisest and most intelligent scholars. Claivony loved being a messenger, it was one of the most esteemed positions any of their kind could have hoped for, and she loved flying and seeing other parts of the world. But somehow she always felt like something was missing, her short six years in the academy that all juveniles attended had not been able to quench her thirst for knowledge. Unfortunately flying around from city to city carrying messages for various highlords and other important people had not given her much time to focus on advancing her education.

Of the Alatum, the wingéd race, there were only a few occupations and positions that one could choose that were befitting especially of their station. You could become a teacher or a scholar and spend your live teaching the younger ones, advising the highlord and sorting out all the archives in the library. Or you could become an archer, a warrior, which the Alatum were famous for. There was nothing quite like a volley of arrows raining down on you from a creature with the eyesight of an eagle and the accuracy of a viper. It was the reason why the Alatum rarely found themselves at war with any of the other races. Lastly, you would be a herald, a messenger employed to deliver secret correspondences between warring countries to love letters between separated couples. And Claivony had opted to be a messenger, for she loved nothing better than to soar through the skies with the wind rippling between her feathers. But sometimes she wondered whether she had made the right choice. She could have been an archer, she was an excellent shot, but the thought of killing other creatures when she clearly had an unfair advantage of being airborne seemed cruel, and becoming a scholar would have forced to be cooped up all day in the library, like a cage.

After delivering the message and mackerel to Highlord Aekhart, she found Costelle lazing about in her room in one of the high towers of the highlord's residence, gazing out of the window onto the courtyard hundreds of feet below.
"There you are!" she exclaimed happily upon seeing Claivony and grabbed her hands in delight, "I was scared you would not make it home in time. My tutors have just left me." Claivony smiled at this and kissed her friend affectionately on the cheek.
"And miss the celebration?" she asked in mock dismay, "You know I would fly through gale and snow to be back in time." Costelle chuckled and ruffled her own gossamer wings. Costelle's mother, Highlady Minouelle, had wings like a dragonfly, translucent green and delicate, that shone like a rainbow in the sun. Her father on the other hand sported wings of an eagle, huge and majestic, full of power and speed. As a result, Costelle had been born with feathered wings that were a pale green and stuck out at odd angels as a child. It was one of the reasons why Costelle had been painfully shy at school and had been teased for her odd wings. But she and Claivony had struck out a strong blossoming friendship, which had been solely based on the fact that Claivony's wings too, had been slow to develop, and together they had been the runts of their class.

Though now, nobody could believe that the girls had once been shunned for their wings. For Costelle's had grown into beautiful delicate contraptions that shimmered and glowed just like her mothers. Her feathers were almost translucent and their gossamer appearance made it seem like they softly radiated light. Claivony had always felt a great disdain for her own wings when she was young, for they had been brown and grey and fluffy like that of a newborn cygnet. She could not wait till the day that her wings turned into that of a swan, like her mother's. But to everyone's surprise they had turned a periwinkle blue, with cerulean and green highlights and golden tips, like the kingfisher wings of her father.

Presently, Costelle was once more gazing into the courtyard below with a look between mild disgust and amusement on her pretty features. She curled a lock of her dark hair around her fingers and made a retching sound. Claivony went to join her at the window and her heart did a little somersault. Costelle's brother, Kaelhart, was the courtyard standing below a magnolia tree and talking to a group of girls. From their tall stature and solid but sinewy build they were definitely archers, though at this moment they were more like bootlickers. Even from her great altitude, and with her sharp eyesight Claivony could see them fawning about the Highlord's only son and heir.
"I wager they're trying to secure a dance for tonight." Costelle huffed, and then turned away from the window as if another moment longer would truly make her ill.
"Speaking of which," Claivony said, finally tearing her eyes away from the window with much effort, "has anyone tried to get a dance from you?"
Costelle only rolled her eyes to this and flopped down on her canopy bed with a sigh.
"Oh yes, they've been lining up!" she replied and buried her face in her blankets.
"That must please you, indeed." Claivony said sarcastically and seated herself next to her friend.
"All they see is the daughter of the Highlord of the Alatum." Costelle said with annoyance, "Nothing more."

The celebration was held to honour the first day of spring, a time when their ancestors of flight returned from warmer climates to start families, build new homes and raise their young. As per usual tradition, it was a masque ball and Claivony could not help but feel a childish delight as she stepped into the large residence of the Highlord behind her parents. The main room that was to contain most of the festivities was large and had a ceiling that one had to crane their neck to see. Usually it was a stately white marble hall with a few chairs and tables here and there to receive important guests, but tonight the place was decorated with sprigs of blossoms and vines that the place looked like a flourishing orchard. Everywhere were the rest of the Alatum, dressed in beautiful gowns and robes, making the place a kaleidoscope of colours. The large leathery wings of bats contrasted with the gossamer ones of dragonflies and butterflies, while the rustle of feathers could be heard everywhere. Claivony had her own wings contracted and folded neatly behind her back as the place was crowded and she did not want to knock over any of the other guests with her vast wingspan.

Her parents had gone off to talk to some important acquaintances, as her father was one of the Highlord's captains and closest advisors, and so she wandered around the crowds drinking in all the sight, secretly hoping that perhaps Kaelhart would spare her a dance. Claivony knew she wasn't ugly. Her striking blue wings and thin, but short figure was pleasing enough, and Costelle always swore that her copper curls were the envy of all their female peers. But she knew she could not compare to the beautiful archers that Kaelhart was always surrounded by. There were so much taller than her and their wings were huge and powerful, that somehow accentuated their toned curvy bodies that they barely covered while training. Claivony's body was ideal to be a messenger, small and light, perfect for her proportionally larger wings to keep her aloft for hours on end without tiring. But she couldn't help but feel a sense of jealousy as she looked at the archers, with their imposing physique and sculpted muscles. Kaelhart was clearly the most impressive of all the warriors. His wings were those of an eagle just like his father, but Claivony knew that when he flew with the sun on his back, his feathers turned slightly clear and let through the sun rays making it seem like his wings were on fire. It was the most beautiful thing Claivony had ever seen.

Instead of donning a colourful outfit like the rest of the ladies had, Claivony had upon the advice of Costelle worn a fairly plain white silk gown that lay low on her back below her wings and tied with a plain silver clasp around her neck. This way it showed off her cerulean blue wings and made them seem even brighter. Her mask was made from feathers that had dropped from her own wings and which her seamstress had sewn together and added some small blue crystals too that sparkled delightfully in the light. Costelle had teased her and asked her which man she was trying to impress, for Claivony never took much care in her appearance, but she had kept her lips sealed and only given her friend a secretive smile.

The crowd around her settled down and she looked up to see the Highlord Aekhart and his family descend down from the ceiling with a slow grace. Claivony curtsied deeply like those around but snuck a quick peek at Kaelhart. He was flying slightly behind his father's right shoulder and looked as splendid as ever. But tonight his plain black mask that matched his dark wings, added a mysterious allure to his handsome features, and a small wreath of golden leaves that rested on top of his head made him seem like some god from a legend. As they landed in a small open space the crowd had formed, the Highlord spread open his arms and unfurled his wings fully. He beamed at them and slowly a lively tune started that reverberated through hall. He took his wife's hand and once more took to the air where they dance about each it other in a beautiful intricate pattern. Soon more couples joined them and the room was filled with a blur of wings and colour.

Claivony once more paced the floors, stopping by the tables piled high with fruits and cakes and helped herself to a bunch of purple grapes. Here and there she spotted a few other messengers she was friendly with and they started chatting about how spring would bring better flight weather.
"Not dancing?" a low voice asked suddenly from behind her, and Claivony spun around in shock. Luckily she had finished her grapes, for she was sure one would have dropped out of her mouth. Before her stood Kaelhart, and she was glad she had her mask to hide her blush. This close Kaelhart looked even more handsome. His shoulders were broad and she could see the shape of his muscle underneath his thin tunic. His eyes seemed to spark vibrantly when surrounded by the plain black mask and Claivony had a hard time looking anywhere else.

"I was just admiring the splendour of it all." Claivony said, hoping she didn't stammer.
"Well it seems fortune is on my side then." Kaelhart replied quickly, and Claivony's heart started to race. Did he just say what she thought she heard? He was happy she wasn't dancing yet? Perhaps so that he could dance with her! But her hopes were soon all but dashed when he hastily grabbed her hand and pulled her into the air and looked about him quickly.
"I cannot seem to shake those archer girls." he said with irritation, "Please dance with me, I cannot stand another moment of their fawning and mindless chatter." Even though Claivony was disappointed that he hadn't really wanted to dance with her for the sake of it, she was realistic and was glad that he had come to her to escape his fans. Secretly, she was also extremely pleased that he would rather spend time in her company than with those girls she had seen in the courtyard earlier.

As she twisted and turned in midair, with her wings flashing behind her she spotted Costelle in the corner of her eye dancing with an archer with dark brown leathery wings. The contrast between Costelle's gossamer wings and that of her partner was quite pleasing to the eyes especially when they were darting around each other in rapid steps of the dance. She would have to make a mental note to ask Costelle about this man later. But presently her attention was pulled back to her own partner and her pulse raced a little every time Kaelhart's wings past close hers or his hands touched hers. She had danced with him a few times before, but she couldn't help but marvel at the power of his wings, as they stirred the air against her own wings. Kaelhart's eyes were alight with a glint as he moved around her gracefully and soon Claivony could focus on nothing else.
"I'm surprised you weren't already dancing." Kaelhart said when the dance slowed down a bit, shaking her from her reverie.
"I suppose I lacked a partner." Claivony replied back nonchalantly.
"I don't believe it," he said with a chuckle, "how can you be without a partner?" To this Claivony merely smiled and whirled around him.

The rest of the night proceeded in a blur and all that Claivony could remember was that Kaelhart had for most of the time stuck to her side. Though his aim had been to avoid his hoard of female admirers, Claivony had enjoyed his company as he told her about the training regimes their archers were undergoing and how their weapons makers had forged a new type of arrow that could explode into a net to capture but not kill. In turn Claivony had told him about some of the cities she had been to while delivering messages and all of the different races she had come across. He listened to her most attentively and for a few moments Claivony had let herself belief that he was spending time with her because he enjoyed her company. Half way through Costelle had grown tired of dancing and had waved off her potential partners most unceremoniously. Claivony knew that her friend adored all the attention, but was wary of it as she knew that many of them liked her only for her connection to the Highlord and the potential to be one of the rulers of the Alatum.