The Skies of Aurlin
Author: Caela Kings

Chapter 4
Storms

Think.


It was a miracle he could read in the lighting of the dark hall. It was gloomy in the morning and now, as night began to fall, a shadow befell the old walls and the worn floors, heavier than any other shadow in Aurlin. The old book was in his lap, bereft of any other writing but that one word.

Think. The word mocked him, black ink in a black light. Yet, it seemed the only sensible advice.

“Think,” Feld said it aloud, then scowled. “Dammit—I am thinking.” And so he paced, back and forth. He dwelled in the lower, old halls of Aurlin. The sun had just set, the last meal of the day just eaten, so he had time. He always had time. He flipped through the pages of the book, but it was no help. The rest of the volume was empty, excepting his own little addition on the second page: We are not immortal. But he tended to skip that page.

He shut the book decisively, standing up from the cold, hard floor. The movement caused a great deal of dust to move and shift, and he tried to wave away the stale air. He needed to start his search—but no plan came to mind. There were many halls, secret gaps in the walls. Some, he supposed, might lead outside, or to a window no one would notice. But he couldn't check them all. At least, not in the time he had to turn in his works.

Sinking light from his previous escape flitted inward, lying on the floor. The window was new and stood out grossly against the crumbling stone of the walls and rust fallen along the floor. He walked forward, soft shoes barely making a sound. Aurlin was acutely quiet at night. When the nobles were awake, their voices echoed and bounced through the building. And as the darkness fell upon it, there was a strange feeling.

“Of death?” Feld tasted the word, then shook his head, remembering Ali's remarks upon this place. “Repose,” he decided. The shadows were only deepening, ever steadily. Sometimes, dirt cracked under Feld's heel, or the fragment of marble which had long ago lost its luster. Dust and air shifted in the splinters of light the moon managed to cast, like flumes of smoke.

Feld paused. He reached out a hesitant hand to the moonlight. The dust swirled around his fingers.

And a draft. He smiled broadly. It might only be a change in pressure between here and there, or difference in temperatures. It could be a hundred different things, truly.

There was a hall to the side, very close. It was nothing like the one to Feld's study. Where that one was uniform, this was cragged and pitted—jagged. More like a crack in the wall than a small gap or fault. Like a lightning-split tree. He stepped forward, ran a hand along the rough contour. It was just wide enough, maybe, for a man to fit through. The tiles stopped lining the floors and from there only dirt spread itself on the ground.

It was dark as pitch, small as a closet; Feld could hear his own, quick breathing as he entered. Stones, like placid hands, grabbed at him, snagged his clothing, his hair. He gritted his teeth as it seemed the hall got an inch smaller, though he knew it was his imagination. The dying light and the entrance vanished behind a line of rock and the shadows of Aurlin.

Then, some bird called out, a sound like thunder as it echoed, then rumbled. It came not from within the hallway, but behind Feld—and the poet stopped, startled. But cold air swirled around his feet, something terribly comforting as he breathed in the slight breeze. It felt like a very long while before he placed one foot in front of the other, a strange calm descending him. Time vanished for a moment, and the hall opened wide into a small, moonlit chamber.

It was built as sphere, the marble laid in a multitude of arches ending in a round window at the very top. Silver light danced upon symbols etched in a square, grey table which perched itself in the center of the room. There was no exit in this room, but it did sport a dark hallway on the opposite side, from which originated a cold breeze, brushing through the room and bringing with it a company of spare dust and dead leaves. A dull light came from that, differing from the moonlight of the current room only in its strength. And despite himself, he smiled. Then, he laughed—but it was a flat sound as it refused to echo as it would just a few feet above him, in the white-washed halls. Even then, it, combined with cool breeze, brushed away any hints of weariness just creeping about his bones. It were as if he could touch the moonlight; it almost felt substantial when he did.

Maybe it shall, once I go outside.

The thought sent a sudden and exciting chill down his spine. And he proceeded forward. His fingers brushed against the round table in the center of the chamber; it was as cold as ice and as white as the substance in the light. He shivered as he touched it, walked faster forward.

This hall was well-kept—or, at least, well preserved. It was not just a crack, but tiled and painted, sealed along the top. It ended in rumble, as it some giant had taken a fist to the building, and beyond the ruins was the portal.

The mountainscape seemed transformed. The gold lights had turned to silver and black, shadows of the stones and the clouds seizing all the land that they could and lay, writhing in the moonlight. The wind gusted, the previous breezes a ghost of such force. It was much more vicious than what Feld had anticipated; the clouds flew in torment through the skies.

Yet, it was still awe-inspiring. Moreso as he stepped out, the full force of the winds and chill finally dawning on him. He grinned at the feeling—the gooseflesh along his arms, the billowing of his clothing. It was surreal, like a perfect nightmare come to reality.

There was a rumble and a crash then and the clouds loosed a barrage of rain. The wind swept the half-frozen droplets to the side, and they came at Feld sideways. Water quickly soaked his clothing, through his hair, into his shoes as it pooled on the rocks. They splattered as they fell, creating a mist set to silver flame as the moonlight struck it. However, even that light was fading as the clouds blew in front. It barely mattered though. Through the cover, Feld could make out a speck of light on the other side of the horizon. He'd been out in the ancient halls all night. The thought made him tired out of pure respect of the natural laws of things. He'd been out for so long, simply staring, then walking, then laughing. He should be tired.

He yawned, but attempted to stifle it. He gave the rising, hidden sun one last look before retreating inside. He dripped. The dampness of himself was oddly disconcerting, strange. He'd been in water before, but never in his clothing surely enough. He'd been in rain before—as a bird, though, and water slid from his feathers. Even if it did not, he doubted it would feel so... hindering. The cloth was most certainly ruined too. As he walked, he looked down to his shoes, the material sodden.

Yet something caught his eye in the chamber, making him pause. There were words, carved into the stone of the round table; messy as if they were an afterthought and done after the table had been crafted. He read:


How can you perch so high in the sky?

To remain above the heavens as the waters draw nigh;

And how is it you burn only brightly in the dark?

As below your asylum the heralds do hark,

And the moon behind you doth sometimes wane

In the mouths of wolves everso vain...


The remainder of the poem was made illegible, either by time or malicious purpose, and the entire text was written with strange penmanship, making the letters blockish and angular. He barely recognized them—they were utterly foreign when upside down. Combined with the unfounded malice lining the words, Feld shivered. But he still took out his notebook, scribbling down the lines in blue ink. However, even written mundanely on the sand-made paper, the still filled Feld with a sense of dark foreboding. He snapped it shut and went to stuff it back in his pocket, despite the wetness.


Ali was up with the sun, a wooden instrument in her hands as she bowed it carefully. She called it a viola, from what Feld recalled, though he thought it looked just as a violin did. It was deeper of chest, though, and it made a much fuller sound. Like milk and honey. Her dress was slim and wove with her in blue waves as she swayed to her own music. The sun stained the thinner storm clouds red, but most of the sky remained grey and dark, not even bothering with the pale, morning sun. In the distance, lightning struck. Ali seemed transfixed.

“Why are you up so early?” Feld asked. The observatory was just slightly chilled from the passing night, though it was nothing compared to how it had been in the rain. Feld's joints had started to ache, and his throat too. The warm air of Aurlin did nothing to help, only blowing past him, all the more cold against saturated clothing, or burning hot in comparison.

Ali's music faltered and struck an odd note. “I might ask the same question—Feld! Why are you so wet?” She blinked, witty retort faltering as she noticed her friend's soaked condition. She placed the viola on the tile—it hummed lightly on impact—and scurried over. She had a strange way of hurrying. Her strides never increased in length, only in speed, and so she looked like a small mouse running from a hawk on legs too short.

Her pale mouth twitched in concern. “Oh, your poor clothing—oh, and you. You're so flushed. Do you feel hot?” She reached up to touch his forehead, but he sidestepped her, a grin reaching his face.

“Hot?” he asked. “No, not quite the word for it—but amazing? Yes, I think that's it.” He laughed slightly, then realized he probably was flushed—from the excitement, so it would seem. He certainly did feel flushed. The blood of his ears and fingers burned, but he'd suspected that to be of the cold.

“Amazing?” Ali said, lowering her hand, nonplussed. “You look positively sickly to me. Are your eyes normally so bright?”

“Does it matter?”

“Why are you so wet?” Her voice grew tense, eyes colder. She wasn't mad—Feld was sure—he'd never seen her truly mad before. She was frustrated, probably. He'd seen that before, mostly during their schooling. If she were not a queen, she would not be a noble, he was sure. She was clever, but she wasn't smart. Math confused her when it came to Warren as instinct; her mind ran in circles when it come to philosophy as Sovan ran circles around her. She could not count syllables, nor keep her stanzas straight. But she could play her viola, she could sing, she could dance if coaxed. Alone, that would not be enough, no matter how lovely she was.

I'm acting too happy, Feld realized. He was, and she had no idea what to make of it

It wasn't helping that he was being so cryptic either, but he pushed such a traitorous thought away.

“I was in the storm, Ali,” he said. “It was cold and wet and perfectly wonderful. Better than the first time we went out, anyway.”

Ali reddened, then paled. “You went outside again?” she asked. “How?” She paused, then frowned. She did not like her question, it seemed, and sought to revise it: “Why? Why go back out? Look at yourself. You're a mess, Feld! You must be horribly miserable. You've probably caught a chill too. You look feverish.”

Could she only look at what was in front of her? Feld nearly scowled, but stifled it behind a frown. Ali could be so short-sighted, however. What did his health matter, in front of such grandeur?

Besides, he wouldn't fall sick. And if he did, he would not succumb to it. A chill, he thought, nearly amused, so worried over a chill. The look in her grey eyes warmed him ever so slightly, however. He let out a long breath.

“I have something to show you, Ali,” he said and she sighed.

“You're ignoring me!” Her arms crossed in front of her chest.

“No, I'm dismissing you,” Feld said, taking one of those white arms. “It's different.” He dragged her forward and she huffed a sigh.

“Is this place similar to your office?” she asked, planting her feet down.

Feld turned. “Small, dark and old?” Ali nodded and Feld laughed. “Even moreso.” His own words gave him pause. She would be fine in the large chamber, but down the jagged, shadowed hall? Even in the morning, it would not hold any light. And with the storm, it would be humid, heavy, and darker still. Ignoring Ali's dour expression, he said, “We need light,” took her by the arms once more, and dragged her toward the staircase.

“Where are we going now?” she asked.

“Warren has a light,” Feld said. And not just any light. That floating orb of his would require no hands, and there would be no threat of spilt oil or dripping wax. They arrived at his chambers quickly and Feld knocked loud against the deep blue door. After a second there was a thud, then a string of curses Feld could just barely make out; Ali reddened. Heavy footsteps followed, and finally the door swung open to reveal a sleepy Warren. He was clothed loosely in a soft black robe, his near-white hair in a perfect mess and his cerulean eyes tinged red at the edges. Despite this, he smiled.

“Feld! Ali! What do I owe for such a visit?” He leaned against the frame of his door, yawning just slightly.

“Your services,” Feld answered levelly. Warren arched a near-invisible eyebrow.

“Bit early for that, don't you think?” he asked. After but a fraction of a second, Ali burst out laughing, doubling over, her face more red than before. Feld snorted, and Warren gave him a look of mock hurt. “What?”

“We need some sort of light, and I thought of that glowing... orb of yours.” Feld waved his hands vaguely as he search for the right words.

Warren gave him a flat look. “You are just setting yourself up today, my dear Feld.” He yawned again. “I would loan you my orb—” he winked and rolled his eyes “—but I'm afraid I am the only one who can use it at the moment. It's still a prototype. I'd happily come with, though.” He took a step out and Ali gave another, high-pitched squeal of a laugh.

“Clothes first, Warren,” Feld said.

“You sure?”

“Quite.”

The mathematician retreated back to his chambers, letting the door close behind him. Still, a drowsy feminine voice wafted through the construction: “Who was that, dear?” To which Warren answered unintelligibly. Ali eyed the door, light eyes flashing as if she could see through it.

“Who was that?” Feld asked. “Tria?”

Is that the girl who stole my necklace...?”

She stole nothing, love...”

“I'd assume so,” Ali said with a small grimace. She gave the room a furtive glance. “They should be more careful.” It was forbidden to be out of one's chambers after nightfall—though the rule was rarely enforced, often it was the job of a female's chaperone to keep them in line. That way, their studies would not be interrupted. And if the women were busy, they could not distract anyone else. Except queens of course, but they always proved an exception.

Warren emerged a moment later, impeccably dressed for such a short time, his black vest not very different from his robe. He held a metal band and small, compact ball in another. He lifted them high once he shut the door.

“This shining beauty I call Eon,” he said, gazing at his invention with a sparkling pride. He placed the bracelet on his wrist and pressed a button on the other small contraption. It floated an inch above his hand. “She's powered by the electricity in one's own body and she floats using electromagnetic waves. Our Aurlin stands atop a great deal of iron. She works fairly well as long as I keep her away from other metal—and silver isn't very magnetic, so it usually isn't a problem.” He pressed another button on his wrist and the orb slowly began to gather light. “The electricity is also used to excite the electrons in Eon's casing and they give off the photons you see. She would be completely waste-free, but I'll have to replace her casing every so often. The electricity wears on it.”

“This is genius, Warren,” Ali breathed. A gentle heat started to radiate from Eon.

“Don't touch her,” Warren warned. “She starts to heat up. I can't leave her on for much longer than a few hours before she overheats.”

“What happens to you if you leave the bracelet on too long?” Feld asked. The drawing of electricity seemed the most foreboding part of Warren's explanation.

“Brain damage,” he replied as if he were predicting tomorrow's weather. “But that would take a bit. She would overheat first.” He smiled, a small, joyful thing compared to his usual knowing grin. He turned back to his friends. “So where are we going?”


“That certainly is... dark,” Warren observed. Feld turned to his friend, who was staring at the jagged entrance with baffled eyes. No doubt, he was trying to figure out why someone would ever go down there, much like the intelligent craftsman. Ali hadn't said more than a few words, but she did not need to. She radiated her fear as Eon did light.

“That's why we brought Eon,” Feld responded.

“No, I mean...” Warren closed his eyes, trying and failing to bring the right word to mind. “Not dark, like shadow-dark; but heavy and sharp, and... do you understand?”

“Perfectly.” Feld beckoned Warren forward. “Can you send Eon closer to me? I'll lead you down. Ali, stay close.”

Ali came a step closer. She frowned as she glanced at the crack in the wall. “My dress won't fit in that,” she said. Her tight voice her only indication of any emotional discomfort.

“Take it off,” Warren suggested. “We've both seen you in your shift before. No harm done.” For once, the inventor was speaking genuinely. Ali's frown deepened, making her face appear to have wrinkles it did not, but she complied anyway. She slipped off the bulky garment, skillfully removing most of the skirts at once. She was left with a thin white under-dress, scarcely more than a nightgown. She shivered.

“My dress is going to get dusty,” she complained. “Let's get this over with, shall we?”

Feld stepped into the entrance, Warren following. He kept Eon between himself and his friend, so the only thing obscuring the light was Feld's slim shadow. As silence descended, only Ali's faint yelps were heard. She must have snagged her dress against one of the edges.

However, the second time down seemed to take considerably less time, especially now that Feld had more light. Eon's golden illumination highlighted every niche and hole. Warren gave a disappointed noise as they finally arrived at the main chamber. Light poured in form the skylight and Warren switched off Eon, catching the heated invention in a leather-gloved hand—a garment he'd worn specifically for the occasion; it contrasted with the delicate, white one he wore on his left hand.

“A room and a skylight?” he asked. “You made it sound so much grander.” He rolled his brilliant eyes, then sighed. “ 'Never trust a poet.'—that's my new motto.” He muttered something about “damned alliteration” under his breath, which Feld might have taken offense to if he'd heard more of it. Instead, he felt a stark disappointment. Warren's voice held a joking tone, but there was an edge to it that had been growing since Feld had shown him to the old halls. It made his stomach church.

“Well, this isn't quite it yet,” Feld said, leaning toward him and pointing. “We're going down that hall.” Feld nearly smiled at the thought. “It is absolutely marvelous—just you wait, Warren. It's still storming—” Feld could hear the rain falling, even so far below Aurlin “—so we can—”

“Storming?” Warren asked. “You're excited to go outside while it rains? Feld, have you ever been scrying before? It's miserable when it rains. Why in the nine hells would you want that?” For once, the affable man seemed truly annoyed; it left Feld baffled, and Warren seemed exasperated at his lack of response. Before he could retort, however, Ali pushed ahead.

“Warren!” she chastised. “Please, you're being cruel.” She cast Feld a warm, grey glance. “Let's just see what it's like.” With that, she pushed forward. The hard light of her eyes made Feld think she was about to simply walk right on through, but she paused in front of the stone table. She squinted, noticing the words earlier than Feld. She murmured, “What's this?” Her gait slowed to something a more hazy, her hips swaying as a curious cat would when stalking closer to a strange new leaf or bird. She ran her fingers along the words as she read them to herself. She paused as she reached the ruined section, and an odd feeling of foreboding fell in Feld's stomach. She squinted.

“What does it say?” Warren asked, head cocked to the side as he tried to read it from his position. He made no move to go forward, and Feld's anxiety increased. He gritted his teeth as lines form the foreign poem came to mind.

Ali leaned in closer. “ 'The sun... slain by mists, but a second too late...' That's one of the clearer lines... oh, what's this?” She leaned in closer and some red light glinted in her pale eyes. A spark?

Then, there was a flash of light: yellow and white and orange. Heat followed, and a shriek. The roar of fire filled the small chamber; the flames leapt and danced across the round table, so bright they marred Feld's sight. He couldn't see Ali through them.

And he couldn't move. No, he couldn't move forward. His foot slid backward, he tripped over something—a rock, a small pit, his own foot—and landed against the stoney wall. But Warren rushed forward. Feld's abused eyes could barely follow him. Eon fell to the ground in his haste and clattered on the dirt floor.

A moment flashed and Warren had Ali by the shoulders. Her eyes were open, senseless, made gold and red by reflecting flames. She was frantic with hysteria. Her thin hands scrambled for Warren's arms, claw-like in her panic, and she struggled with her feet, pushing dirt backward as she tried to shove herself away. After a second of such struggling, Warren finally heaved Ali into his arms and carried her to where Feld stood braced against the wall.

“What was...?” Feld stuttered the incomplete question, swallowing fearfully.

“A fire!” Warren snarled. His annoyance had suddenly blossomed into anger, and the flames dancing in his eyes made him look all the more fearsome. He deposited a panicked Ali next to the poet, and found his invention in the dirt. After only a brief look over of the round metal sphere he cursed venomously. “A damned coward is what you are, Feld.” He was akin to a passing storm-wind as he left. “Coward!

 

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