Armando had been spending many late nights working on his current project. It was to be the new Science and Technology Center for Preva University, his country’s most prestigious institution of higher learning. He and his business partner, Jonas Ramsey, had compiled information from various sources, the faculty, staff and student body, to determine what was most necessary for his alma mater. After several planning stages, the drafts were being solidified and becoming one real blue print.
The excitement of completing an assignment so important to both him and Jonas caused them to stay up well into the night. At times, Jonas’s wife, Felicia, would call, good-naturedly complaining that she was forgetting her husband’s features. Taking the hint, the two would put aside their work for the time being. Jonas would rush home to see his wife.
And Armando? He would often be alone. Of course, if he wanted, he could talk to Viktor and sometimes, he would. Yet, as wonderful as his assistant was, Armando’s situation was less than ideal. The person who Armando wanted to see was his sister, his sister who had cut him out of her life.
It had been six weeks since Kiana had run away with Syrik Amasi. Armando often found himself distracted by thoughts of what had happened. There were so many nights he now stayed awake, thinking about how his family had fallen apart. It had all started when his parents had died. No, specifically, they had been killed when he was ten and Kiana was seven.
Ramón and Olivia Medina had been heavily involved in mending the differences between Arlka’s demon and human population. Arlka, the home nation of the Medinas, was location on planet Kaved, which was filled with demons and humans who had been in conflict for the past 400 years. Most of the planet was divided, demons in one area and humans in another, with purposefully little to no intermingling. Arlka was one of the few nations on the planet where the two groups could sometimes live side-by-side. In Tesha, Arlka’s capital, the groups at least had made an effort to get rid of the animosity. While there were still pockets of beings that strictly stayed with their own kind, some had wanted to put aside fears and prejudices. For that reason, they’d created a task force.
The Medinas had been at the forefront of the movement, having local meetings and organizing national symposiums to close the rifts. Not everyone was pleased with the progress and one day, while coming home from a symposium at Preva University, the couple had been killed by a demon faction. Their young children became orphans and, while Armando and Kiana were fortunate enough to have a kind uncle to care for them, it did not make up for the loss of their parents. Over the years, Armando’s unhappiness changed to hatred of demons. His understanding nature shriveled, replaced by the fury he nursed over the two decades following the death of his parents. Now, here he was, alone, his actions and those of his sister occupying many hours of his day.
He refused to apologize for his feelings about Kiana’s relationship. Still, sometimes, he found himself wondering how she was doing, what she would think of his latest project. She had often given her opinions about his work, her sharp eyes and mind pointing out methods for improvements, even though she had no formal training. Had there been no animosity between them during the past two years, he was sure she’d be here, talking excitedly with him. Her departure was a harsh and unwelcomed change in his life. It sharpened the pain and anger he felt over his parents’ death.
Shaking his head to come out of his depressing memories, he noticed that a large Memdor hawk, known for having beautiful multicolored feathers, was perched outside his window. He had seen many varieties of the species. However, this one was certainly unique, the silver-tipped, dark-blue feathers holding his attention. It also appeared to enjoy this location, as Armando had seen it numerous times. Glad for the distraction, Armando opened the window, letting the slightly crisp spring air into the room.
“Why are you so often here?” Armando asked. Then he laughed, a part of him believing he’d actually get an answer. Perhaps it was the sharp look of intelligence in the bird’s bright eyes. Or maybe Armando was just supremely tired…and lonely.
Sighing, Armando watched the bird take off, realizing that his voice must have startled it.
Panicking at the unexpected attention, Izdahl had flown from his position. When he was safely away, he changed back to his usual form, disgusted with himself.
Is this to be the extent of things? he wondered as he strolled Tesha’s busiest street, Am I forever going to watch Armando from a distance?
In the form of a bird, having closely observed Armando for almost six months, Izdahl had learned his moods. Today, the architect had been particularly pensive, his mouth slightly down-turned, a deep furrow in his brow. Izdahl guessed that Armando had been thinking about Kiana leaving and he was partially right. What he had not considered was that Armando would pay him any notice, at least, not enough to open the window and plainly interact with him.
Well, he wasn’t truly interacting with me, Izdahl told himself, He was talking to “a bird.” Maybe that’s enough right there to stop being interested in him. He could be crazy, just as Syrik says.
Izdahl chuckled softly.
“Jonas, I’m really not in the mood for—”
“Nonsense.” Armando’s best friend and business partner cut him off. “I’m tired of you brooding over what happened with Kiana. You need to get out and do something different. Felicia’s cousin is having a recital. Her ensemble is performing and you should come with Felicia and I. Bring Viktor too. We’ll all have a great time.”
“I don’t know…”
“Of course you do. I’ll pick you up tomorrow at 7:30 PM.”
“It would be nice to get out,” Armando admitted, “I’ll tell Viktor about it too. He should enjoy the recital. He’s much more knowledgeable about classical music than just about anyone I know.”
“Then it’s all set.”
The next night, Armando was making final preparations to leave for the recital. Viktor’s keen eye pointed out that Armando’s tie should be redone. It was too loose, at least for Viktor’s taste, and no gentleman would go out looking so unkempt. The assistant was as fastidious about dressing as he was about the preparation and presentation of food. He freely gave advice about those subjects, as well as many other matters, and Armando had come to value his opinion.
“Are you sure you don’t want to come?” Armando asked as he made the suggested adjustment to his clothing.
“I’ll be spending the evening with a lady friend,” Viktor said, a sheen of anticipation coming to his brown eyes.
“I see,” Armando said, laughing, “So, I shouldn’t be expecting you home early.”
“Or at all, as the lady and I get on quite well. She plays a rousing round of…chess.”
“Naturally,” Armando smirked.
“Incidentally, since I doubt I will be coming home tonight, I have programmed the serving robot to create your breakfast—and lunch, should my plans go as I wish.”
“You’re ever so thoughtful,” Armando commented, laughing. He checked his appearance once again in the mirror and, satisfied, went downstairs to await his ride.
As promised, Jonas, along with his wife, Felicia, arrived at 7:30 to pick up Armando. Armando had truly been looking forward to the evening but soon ended up fuming.
“Did you know any demons would be here?” Armando whispered fiercely, his words jagged with anger.
He was thankful his friends had been able to get a private balcony for the three of them because, in his present mood, he was already having difficulty keeping his voice down. While he was quite angry, he didn’t necessarily want to call the attention of everyone to himself. He did, however, want to make sure his friends knew exactly what was on his mind.
“It was likely Armando; they do share the city with us,” Jonas replied, “You cannot completely avoid them nor should you want to do so.”
“But half the ensemble is full of demons. I have to sit here and listen to them play. Not only that, the brother of the demon who took my sister is in the ensemble! Surely you two at least knew this.”
“Actually we were hoping to ‘expand your horizons’,” Jonas said, his hazel eyes filled with mischief, “I can see it’s not working.”
“How clever of both of you!”
“Do you want to go home?” Felicia asked, concern in her grey eyes, “We can leave during intermission.”
“I…it’s just…Nevermind. We can stay,” Armando sighed. Felicia patted his hand in comfort.
While he tried his best to enjoy the performance, Armando seethed inside for the next hour. He let go another round of his fury once he, Felicia and Jonas were in the car. Eventually, his ranting caused Felicia to lose her temper and she was not one to sugar coat words once she was annoyed.
“Oh, put your prejudice aside!” Felicia snapped, turning in her seat to face Armando.
Jonas, knowing the explosion was coming, laughed despite himself. In the rearview mirror, he could see his friend giving him a scathing look.
“I’m sorry you’re bothered by my attitude,” Armando began coldly, “If I had known, how you felt, I—”
“But you do know,” Felicia cut him off, “You refuse to be open minded. I cannot stand the way you talk about demons. You’ve let the death of your parents practically destroy you. And now that you’ve driven Kiana away, you’re even more bitter than ever. It’s no wonder you can’t see how many humans and demons at the reception were attracted to you. Your anger clouds everything and is going to eat you alive. It is well past time for me to be candid with you! I’m going to make it clear that—”
“Felicia, come on now,” Jonas admonished, “That’s enough.” Felicia turned her flashing eyes on her husband.
“Then you tell him. I’ll no longer let him spew his dislike around me,” she told her husband. She focused her attention again on Armando, “I’m pregnant and I don’t want your negative vibes affecting my baby.”
“Darling, you’ve made your point,” Jonas said, his voice a bit sharp. He sighed when he saw a frown come to his wife’s face.
The truth of the matter was that Armando deserved Felicia’s words. Jonas just couldn’t bring himself to say the same things. He’d wanted to address his concerns with Armando so many times but he had refrained. Yet, it was truly better that the problem be handled directly. Armando had been getting out of hand, often going into prejudice diatribes about demons. His dislike had even cost the company some good business; several potential customers who were demons had opted to take their offers elsewhere. Those lost opportunities, Jonas believed, had contributed to Medina and Ramsey, Inc going through incredible struggles during its earlier years, more so than most businesses had to endure in their beginnings. He had never formally discussed this view with his partner and was thankful that the company had eventually become successful anyway.
The rest of the ride to Armando’s home was filled with uncomfortable silence. Jonas had tried several times but failed to begin a conversation and change the mood. When Jonas pulled up in front of Armando’s place, Armando left the car, the edges of his mouth slightly down-turned. Felicia exited too, wanting to apologize.
“Oh, I didn’t mean to be so harsh,” she said, giving him a hug.
“I see. You just meant to be a little harsh?” he asked, finding himself chuckling despite his annoyance. It was quite difficult to be seriously upset with Felicia. Her petite stature, freckled face and vibrant eyes could charm so many, including him.
“You understand what I mean,” she said, pinching him on his arm, “Don’t be obtuse.”
“Fel, am I really so bad?”
“The absolute worse,” she teased.
“I’ll think about what you said,” he told her.
“Thank you.” She got up on tiptoe and gave him a kiss on his cheek.
“That’s enough of a love-fest,” Jonas chimed in from the car. Felicia laughed and, after giving Armando another hug, she returned to the vehicle.
“Night,” Jonas called out. Armando waved and the pair then headed to their home. When he went inside, he found that Viktor had left a teasing note for him:
Dear Treasured Employer,
The automatic kettle was set to have water heated for you by now. Two slices of lemon are refrigerated and the usual amount of sugar is in your favorite cup for your nightly tea. The book you’ve been reading is on the table near your favorite chair in the living room. The documentary on the building of cathedrals you wanted to watch has been recorded for you. Enjoy the rest of the evening. Sleep well.
Armando laughed, wondering if it was wrong to be so predictable. Perhaps he needed to do something a bit out of the norm, something unexpected.
After creating the hot, slightly sweetened liquid, he went to his office, wanting to do some work before going to his living room and reading. Despite his original intentions, he fell asleep at his desk, visions of Izdahl Amasi in his head. Images from the concert replaying, Armando kept on seeing the demon’s piercing eyes repeatedly looking at him. During the intermission, Armando had felt several pairs of eyes on him but it was those of Izdahl that had held his interest. He’d been looking at the demon too, sometimes finding it hard to stop staring. The inability to ignore Izdahl had been discomforting and still was, particularly since the being was now invading his sleep.
Why did he have to be there, Armando wondered groggily when he awakened, More importantly, why was I dreaming about that filth?
Remembering Felicia’s scolding, he shook his head clear. Maybe he could try to be better.
He stretched to pull the sleep from his limbs. He was in the middle of doing so when he saw a dark blue, silver tipped feather on his windowsill. Carefully, he retrieved it and, twirling it between his fingers, he admired the way the light hit the feather. It was then that a block on his mind broke. While the concepts for Preva University’s new Science and Technology Center were coming along nicely, he and Jonas had wanted to add a special element to the building. They wanted an aspect of the design to carry with it the notion of the advanced ideas that would be nurtured in the complex.
Armando began to work, the look of the feather inspiring him. He’d run his ideas by Jonas when their workweek began.
Sitting in Syrik’s living room, Izdahl recounted the look of anger he’d seen in Armando’s eyes during the recital.
“I’m surprised he didn’t get up and leave,” he told Syrik.
“Izdahl, I cannot imagine what you see in him,” Syrik remarked, “He doesn’t respect us.”
“It’s because of what happened to his parents.”
“He can’t hate all Nitelge because of what some have done. Are we even sure it was any of us who did this?”
“You’d be more understanding, if you weren’t at odds with him over Kiana. And as far as I know, it was some of us who did it.”
“If you weren’t dealing with ‘unrequited love,’ you’d be objective. Really, Izdahl, have you no pride?”
“This from the being who had to steal a woman.”
Syrik laughed loud and hard at his younger brother’s jibe. After taking a sip of his wine, he looked at Izdahl.
“Seriously, I believe you should keep trying,” Syrik said, “In time, you will win over Armando and it will be worth it. You’ve been interested in him for so long. Maybe something good will happen.”
“Do you really think so…or is the wine talking?”
“No, of this I am certain. In many ways, Armando is like me, stubborn but in the end, he will do what is best and that means, being with you.”
“These are the kinds of words I want to hear, brother.”
“Of course…Now, I will go back to being the unfeeling oaf. My bride-to-be will return from town soon and I wish to give her some attention. So, you have to get out of my damn house.”
“You’re all about hospitality,” Izdahl said, preparing to leave.
“Right. Of course.”
“You’re going to Mother and Father’s for dinner, right?” Syrik asked as he walked his brother to the door.
“Then I’ll see you tomorrow. Oh—and Izzy, don’t go too far in your fascination with Armando. At this point, you’re basically in stalker territory.”
Izdahl gave Syrik a look of loathing only his older brother could inspire. Then he left, a grin on his face, despite having been treated, once again, to his sibling’s obnoxious streak.
Away from the busy capital city, Armando enjoyed the soothing noises of the Arlkan countryside. He led his horse, Yohan, towards the dense Genzi Forest that was now a short distance away. He was halfway into the nest of trees when Yohan whinnied, side-stepping several times and shaking his head sharply, pulling at the reins in Armando’s hand.
“What is it boy? You’ve been here before. You know these wo—”
The hair on the back of Armando’s neck stood up and he wasn’t sure why. A strange feeling came over him. Someone or something was following him and, while he could not pinpoint the cause of it, he sensed that this being was dangerous.
Armando turned his horse around, pushing Yohan, demanding that his horse get out of the woods as soon as possible.