The owl bearing the letter of assignment came just after crack of dawn. The insistent rat-tat-tat of his taloned claw against her bedroom window stirred her from sleep. Bleary-eyed, she had risen from the soft, warm nest of her bed to unlatch the window and let him into her home, where the avian immediately held out a leg without so much as leaving the sill. After she'd retrieved his bounty, he flocked over to perch atop the coat rack in the corner with all the familiarity of a longtime friend and none of the self-awareness of a guest.
The resident pursed her lips, trying to feign some degree of disapproval through her amusement. He was becoming expectatious now; the next time, he might demand a slumber party with her Abraxan. She retrieved her wand from her bedside and charmed the sheets to make themselves as she tiptoed out of her room.
A few minutes later, she came tiptoeing back with a shallow bowl of treats she had bought at an owl emporium on her last visit to Paris. She set the bowl on the hardwood floor in the middle of the room before tiptoeing out again, drawing the door to a near-close behind her.
The sky was bright by the time she came out of her shower in the guest bathroom. Zi Shang decided to put her nightdress back on—she had nowhere to be and it always felt a luxury in its own to wander about her home in sleepwear. She unsealed the envelope and read the letter whilst brushing her teeth over the kitchen sink. It had snowed intermittently throughout the evening before and the world through her windows gleamed white for miles, but this would be summer in comparison to where she would spend the next few weeks in.
East Siberian Russia in January. She expected the assignment, as soon as she heard news being passed around the Society's headquarters. This was the more exciting part of her job, in relative to days and nights in the deepest caverns of Alexandria Museum, poring over fossilised scrolls, stones, barks, and just about anything a fellow kindred spirit of her kind can conceivably mark their minds' processes upon.
In truth, the content was not always as mystic and enigmatic as one may imagine. The least so ones were always her favourite.
The magiphilologist hummed an old tune from her childhood as she charmed rice to boil and gathered ingredients in a mortar to brew some thunder tea. In her own head, she began compiling the list of tasks she would have to see to before leaving to Munku Sardyk. She would have to hire the caretaker in town again to look after Wàng Chén. Knocking at her front door startled her such that she nearly dropped the jar of pickled radishes she made last month. Briefly, she considered going to the door as she was, but her sense of modesty ultimately won out and she pulled on a woollen cardigan hanging next to the door before drawing it open.
Bare-faced and bare-footed, the woman stilled at her own threshold.
"Albie," Zi Shang said quietly, more recognition than greeting.