Rhiadi looked up from her work for a moment and gazed out at the azure sky. Her fingers stilled on the clean-papered surface beneath them as her mind wandered. Bits of feather scattered around her dreaming hands as they curled around the tiny figure she had been working on a moment before.

The eagle crouched in the middle of takeoff, muscles tensed, eyes intensely forward, concentrating on the feeling of leaping from its perch. The detail was exquisite, perfect even through the magnifying glass she used when creating her miniatures. Even the golden eyes – beads of perfect pale amber – seemed to hold an intelligence despite the cold, unliving material they were made from.

The woman’s own eyes were pale green; in the light from the window they took on a silvery cast. Her face was highlighted with milk and shadowed with cream. The tips of her long pointed ears were translucent, and delicately pierced with golden baubles. A wisp of pale brown hair had escaped the carefully pinned up style that she used while working, and lay indolently beside her high cheekbone. It drifted away as she tilted her head, musing.

She had always been fascinated with birds. They, and the Hivvin who resembled them, were the only creatures who truly flew in the skies above their world. It had always occurred to her as strange that her kind, the tall and slender Aelden, could shift their forms into any number of animals who could walk or crawl upon the ground, climb trees or leap long distances, but not a single one could become a bird who could take to wing and soar among the clouds. That talent was either lost to them, or had never been available.

She let her breath escape in a slow, controlled sigh. It would not do to scatter her materials at this late stage, where only a few fragments of feather remained to glue onto the bird’s form. She turned again to the model, one graceful three-fingered hand absently pushing the errant lock of hair behind her ear as the other picked up a tiny barb with her silver tweezers and resumed the meticulous process of gluing together the eagle’s joyously erect crest.

A shaft of sunlight illuminated the dust drifting lazily behind the curve of her naked back, which was crossed by the ties of the fine apron she wore as her only attire. Around her in the relative gloom, scenes of fancy in various stages of completion rested in anticipation of her delicate touch.

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