“Begone, skyrat,” the forest-dweller said. “You are not welcome here.”
Arall was behind us, already walking out of the room, her toes releasing a door handle. She was muttering, “I keep telling her that, and she’s still here.” When released, that stone door paused, about to shut us inside, like a trap soon to snap closed.
At least I wouldn’t be trapped here alone; besides that forest-dweller — “her unholiness” — who right now was raining her ire down on me, there was Mawla, slinking around, half unseen.
We’d come to a resident’s room. And now, not six breaths inside, the plain-dweller wiver was — quietly, stealthily — plopping herself down on the bed. It was the bed of the forest-dweller. The bed of the forest-dweller who was still wearing that necklace of bones — the forest-dweller who had no less than seven knives strapped to her side, and had no less menace than poison with scales. It was the bed of the lady who was known as her unholiness.
“C’mon, Kinri. Let’s go.” She meant to the Dadafodd; she’d said that’s where we’d find the drake. “C’mon. My leg is getting done with me standing on it.”
“Sit down, then.”
“I’m not going to sit down, I — we need to get to Dadafodd so I can get my shit bandaged up.”
“If you sit down, maybe your leg will feel a bit better when you start walking aga —”
“We should start walking now! What the flames are we waiting for?”
“Um.” My brilles clouded. “Just…”
Staune piped up for me. Head out poking out of my pocket, she echoed my sister, repeating, “Rhyfel is flying this way.”
Sometimes the stars visited in fire and rock and for a night we fluttered a little nearer to heaven.
Down here, while you rested belly-down on some harsh slab, the stars could almost be painted on a shell, and whatever numinous world they limned could well be an existence apart. Most times it was.
Dusk dwindled away, and the stars were settling down. I thought they’d be as bright and beautiful as ever. Below them, though, as some dark blue dot on some crumbly butte in some forgotten spate of cliffs in the vasty night, I stared up and couldn’t keep the dew from my fangs. Couldn’t not wonder just how we connected to this infinite sky under which two dragons could die, without it even flinching.
A bright white rock was up there, burning its way across the dusk like an arrow sped from some forgotten bow. The night sky was vast and aimless; but then like to a cynosure you could look up, and see that heavensent rock flying right there as it crossed the threshold of worlds, unbarred and unbourned, yet swift on some unknown mission.
I saw it, and I smiled.
Death was breathing quietly in the dark.
The feeling hadn’t left Adwyn since that cursed iron gate came close behind him. From everywhere and in everything — sight, sound, smell — there was a certain malignity, and it settled into his scales. He would molt next cycle, he knew; and it wasn’t soon enough.
Adwyn drew a calming breath and spat out spicy venom. After an inhale the dew came back, and he let it; his soul needed it.
The gate had seen him into a wide entry chamber that turned to a ramp which slinked down to something that already felt somber even when half invisible.
Adwyn knew it was mistaken, but sense was sense.
The schizon-clad drake lighted down on the granite hall like the pupil of Gwymr/Frina. One glance was spared to the male assistant barring the door. Then the adviser scanned the four guards watching.
He smirked, and strode right up to the assistant. “I must speak with Mlaen.” The words came piercing like light, and his studied glare shone upon the assistant.
The other drake could have flinched. He swallowed and said, “She went out looking for you.” He didn’t mean Mlaen.
The drake felt death breathing down his neck. He laughed.
“I cannot imagine killing me will end well for you — or accomplish your goals, for that matter,” he said, peering down at nothing. He smelt the holly.
“One day I’ll find the will, you know.”
“What has it been? Ten, fifteen gyras?” He fluttered his tongue. “I don’t glimpse you doing this out of any lingering hate.”
Something sharp slid into a sheath. “I still don’t like you.”
A smile she couldn’t see. “Understandable. But as long as you do this, I can’t help but still see the knee high little moltling who couldn’t hold a knife steady, or even pronounce ‘kill’ correctly.” Quietly, he knew she wouldn’t do it, knew she wasn’t like him. Not Mlaen’s little flower.
She said, “I’ve come a long way.”
“You have. And some things never change.”
Clouds drew in asudden and hid the suns, bearing down on the world. The ninth long ring came to a close like it was seeking us out in the cliffs, faintly.
Out here little skinks slithered along the cliff faces, hunting the last glider-scorpions and tentacle-snails before the gray season in full fell. The calls of the ax-crested pterosaurs filled the air, sounding reedy and warbly. I saw one swoop down all asudden and fly off with a dust turtle I hadn’t even seen, hiding behind a low fern.
“Poor little turt.”
“Pterosaus have to eat too.”
I looked around. Past the Berwem gate, all the guards had pulled ashcloaks over themselves, though they maneuvered the red sash onto the outside. We walked up that same ravine that wound us back into town last night, limned almost adventurous in the sky light.
The pink guard was slinking back beside the dark-green wiver, more subdued, but not so much as when talking under Rhyfel or Adwyn. “Hey, uh, Hinte, was it? Everyone called you Gronte-wyre, but I don’t think that was your name.”
When the eighth long ring chimed, it didn’t stop on the sixth note. The timbre turned from the bells of the highest carillon to the raw or piercing double trumpets you only heard in the cliffs — because of course the cliffs lacked the restraint and poise of sky music. And yet, the sound closed in like a coming doom.
The trumpets remembered the carillon’s melody inf repetition, and they melted, culleted and reglazed it in the logic of the Frinan anthem: Mlaen’s anthem, the one she’d commisioned only days after taking the throne. It shone out, because you always heard Dwylla’s anthem blaring at Dim-Fflamio games or being played out of key somewhere in the Moyo-Makao. Above, the doom drew closer.
“I can’t imagine killing me would end well for you — or accomplish your goals, for that matter,” Adwyn said, peering down at me with a look of patience and recognition — as if he’d had this conversation before.
In front of me the orange drake flicked his tongue. I had to look up to meet eye with him, and I broke it just as quick. “Granted you even had it in you to do it — and you don’t — you wouldn’t survive my assassination. And if those two conditions didn’t hold, I — personally — wouldn’t recommend this. And not simply because my life is in question, either.” He paused. “Can you tell me why? What purpose could it serve?”
I looked up — further up, at the sky. “Well… like I said, Highness Ashaine sent me here to gain influence over the faer, and I sorta… completely failed at that. They — he wants faster results, and um… you have the most influence over the faer. So with you out–out of the dance, I would have an easier time.”
The orange drake shook his head. “I suppose that would show the ignorance of the Specters. Or their utter disregard for your life. I am hardly the one Mlaen likes — no, loves — most of all. And there is no chance of you influencing or even breathing upon the one whom she cherishes. Your efforts would be in vain.”
As the knife plummeted, my hope fell with it. I hung there on the net for a few beats and then Adwyn arrived.
He didn’t glance at me; he unsheathed a short blade. In a half-dozen quick, precise swipes, he slashed at the netting. But instead of trying to cut all the way through like me, he resheathed the sword, gripped netting and pulled.
It came right apart, and Adwyn had flown through before my eyes unclouded. I flapped after him, frills folded, tail coiled.
Glancing behind me, the flock of guards had reached the nets. But they didn’t all try to squeeze through Adwyn’s hole, they just followed his example, without swords, ripping the net with their claws.
I turned away, looking for the thieves and finding them, after moments of scanning, both flying low over the town. Nothing much had changed, aside from my falling behind Adwyn — about five or six wingbeats — and thieves now having a crushing lead on us: they were more than thirty wings in front of Adwyn.