The Skies of Aurlin
Author: Caela Kings

Chapter 10
Transgression

IV.

You smell like death,” Cane said. Iythara had been allowed to sleep in his spare room, and she had just emerged from her den. I fluttered to the window, giving Trai a wary look as she snuffed at me. Iythara shot Cane a look that could have killed if he had not smiled so widely back at her as he tossed her another fruit. “Then, again, most from Step smell like death. But your scent is stronger.”

Thank you,” Iythara grumbled, tearing into the flesh of the fruit. Her guard from the other day had weakened.

I'm not insulting you,” Cane said, throwing a piece of meat to Trai. The dog-wolf caught it with a snap of her jaws and a powerful jump. He looked at me, but hesitated as he was unsure what to grab from the unending bowl of fruit. “What does the bird eat?”

Spar.”

What is 'spar'?”

His name is Spar. I guess he eats what a falcon eats.”

Ah, I see.” Cane threw a small bit of meat at me as well, but I made no move to grab it. I had eaten as Feld, so I did not hunger. He frowned and gave me an odd look. “Anyway, your scent intrigues me. It is... different from anything we have here.” He paused, leaning against the small table, regarding Iythara with thoughtful eyes which appeared gold in the dawn light. “No maps, no guide—something brought you here, little cat.”

I walked here.”

But how did you know?”

She squirmed a bit, lip twitching. “Spar helped me here, and I saw...”

How?”

I can see.” She was insistent, a bit of her normal conviction returning.

Through death?”

I don't know...”

Cane paused, then, he snatched up his bright scarf like a flag and headed out the door. “Come on then, little cat.”

Where are we going?” Iythara lingered by the wall, looking for all the world like a timid feline, cornered by an energetic hound.

Just over the clearing,” Cane said. “I want to show you off.”


He took us to the largest building in Moonmire. It was nothing compared to Aurlin, but it did hold a strange charm to it. It was hardly a building, but more of a large hallway shaped as a triangle. The towers were perched on it, one on each corner. In the middle was a well-kept courtyard with a circle of stone chairs in a bed of red leaves, and a larger one at the head. Only one was filled—the largest one, in which sat an old man, dressed in white robes. There were a few other Wolves, and even a couple wolf-hounds, though not as many as men. The hounds turned at our approach, the thick fur along their shoulders rising.

Master Cane,” one of the Wolves greeted—though I am not sure what place he held, as he wore black robes rather than grey—putting a calming hand on the head of the closest hound. It looked up and licked his arm.

Master Titus,” Cane said back, bowing also to the other Wolves. Trai glared at Titus's dog and it returned the glare.

And what have you brought for us today?” He grinned the grin of a basilisk. “A girl and a mutant bird?”

I ruffled my feathers and sent the Wolf a vehement stare. He did not appear to notice me.

This doesn't concern you, Titus,” Cane said, voice tightening. He moved past the Wolf and to the seated white-clothed man. He went on his knees, pulling Iythara down by his side. Titus moved to the side of the courtyard, talking quietly with the two other Wolves. Cane looked at the ground as he spoke, “Imperator, I would like to request permission to allow my friend, Iythara, to reside within Moonmire until such a time arises that she must leave.”

The white Wolf yawned. “I see no reason to deny this request. Rise, Cane. This Iythara is allowed to live in your dwelling so long as she does not break our commandments. Go, now. Titus!” he gave a wave of his hand, simultaneously dismissing Cane and summoning the black Wolf.

Iythara turned to Cane as they left. “What was that?”

Come with me, little cat.”

Why?” Her white eyes narrowed. “Tell me.”

I will,” Cane insisted with a wide smile. “Trust me.”

It was as if those specific words were a cue. Iythara crossed her arms over her chest and gave Cane a stalwart stare.

Fine, then,” Iythara conceded. “At least tell me where we're going.”

Stubborn little cat, aren't you? Just past the clearing. Over there, see?” He pointed.

She frowned, but followed the Wolf. It was not far—only a few more paces into the forest, connected to Moonmire by a small, tile path, leading to a cliff. It out-looked a calm river and the rest of the forest, out toward a body of deep, blue water just before the foggy horizon. A forest of black trees lay off to the side, marring the red ones like mold to blood. Cane sat; Trai sat beside him. I left for a nearby tree as Iythara seated herself a couple steps away from both 'wolves'. Cane watched the girl with his sharp eyes.

The sun rises over that crest there, see? In the morning, everything is bathed in a gold haze, and the faeries sing by the river. Mindless little things they are, so joyful over such a sight. At night—if you want to listen—you can hear them weeping and they cling to the willows as they cry. They sound like the sea at midnight.”

Why are you telling me this?”

Cane held up a hand for silence, before holding out a hand. Eldritch pooled into it, swirling like a heat shimmer in his palm. “What is this?” he asked.

Iythara blinked. “You keep asking for names, and I don't have any.”

Then, what is it?”

She paused, eyes watching the Eldrith intently, like those of a hawk. “Sight.”

You use this to see?”

Yes.”

Cane nodded, quiet. Then, “That is the way of Death, little cat. That is why you smell of it. You steal the soul of another and you see through it. Sight is deceptive. Sight is flawed. Is that blue over there sky or water? Is the black tree or ash? Am I man or Wolf? This, this, is the power of Life and you must use it accordingly. I want you to feel.”

Why are you telling me this?”

Because I hate to see ability wasted. If one magic is used, it can be closed and another opened. Once, there was a time when no ability was wasted. A boy was given a hound pup when he was just a child. When he came of age, he was bound and the wolf killed. But if he had ability, he could free himself and the wolf, and so they were sent to us. But then everything collapsed, and the pines grew, and everyone forgot. You and I will remember.”

Is that why you want me to stay? To teach me?”

Exactly.” He stood. “Only a being made pure of Life can wield the way of life. We Wolves use the way of Displacement. We do not use power, but we move it.” He let the Eldritch pour from his hands and pool on the ground below. “We flow with the currents of power, instead of fighting it, so we do not gain the same deformities of the Step.”

Iythara glanced up at that. “If I do that these will go away?” She scratched at the spurs along her knuckles. Cane frowned and her face dropped.

I... no. They won't continue, and I'm sure you're life will extend to what it should be. But damage that is done can never be undone.”

Oh.”

Displacement.” Cane clarified. “You took Death into you. Death colors itself with no color.”

White?”

Lack of color,” Cane corrected. “White is the color of purity.”

Life?”

Grey.” Cane gave a toothy grin, and Trai let her tongue roll out of her mouth in an oddly similar gesture. He laughed and scratched at her furry chest. The Wolf lay down on in the grass with a content sigh, Trai laying her head against his chest. “We'll stay here for the night, and then to sunrise, and then to zenith. And you will not watch until you hear the forest sing.”


Someone opened his door.

An unknown light pierced through the murky darkness, making Feld roll over in his sleep. It wasn't morning, was it?

No, not at all. It was still night. That light was not bright enough to be the sun. Unless the lingering clouds had finally retreated—in which case, the poet wasn't quite sure. It was too late to be thinking of such complicated things.

But the light persisted. It reflected off the nearby window and sprawled across the wall. It was an eerie sort of blue, he realized before bringing a pillow over his head. Soft darkness overcame him and he sighed as sleep came again.

Only to have someone call his name. No, not call: whisper. Like a breeze. He smiled as he remembered the wind. He was Spar, but he wasn't flying. It was simply a particularly windy day—and the window was open. Yes, one had to be, considering he was indoors. He was perched on a tree sculpted of metal, the air was laced with a swallow's song. It was night, but he could still make out the details of the chamber. Ornate, gold, beautiful. Like Aurlin, but with the colors of Moonmire and Nightside—deep greens and blues and reds.

“Feld...” The voice was behind him, and it was not one he recognized. A hand gripped his shoulder, sharp and painfully cold. He gasped, waking and pushing the pillow to the other side of the bed.

“Ah, sorry, Feld,” the voice said again. “I didn't mean to scare you.” Warren, the owner of the voice, gave an apologetic smile, gesturing Eon to the side. Feld blinked the sleep from his eyes. The room—his own room—came into more focus and he reached for his glasses.

“Warren?” He yawned. “It's... what time is it?”

Warren checked his watch. “Thirtieth hour.”

“Ah... okay. Then, are you aware of the Regent-forsaken hour it is?”

“Quite,” Warren replied, smiling larger with each second. “I have a surprise for you, Feld.”

Feld devoted a moment to thought. “Is this surprise the greatest poet to live in Aurlin, ready to gift me his unwritten commons and unending servitude?”

Warren paused. “I don't believe so.”

“I wish you a pleasant night, Warren.” Feld went to turn back over, but Warren's hand on his shoulder once again restrained him. Feld resisted the sudden urge to shake it off.

“Wake up, Feld!” Warren insisted. “We're going to have a great deal of fun and I'd feel incredibly horrible if you didn't come.”

“Warren, it's illegal to be awake at this hour—how can any fun be had?”

“That's exactly why we're having fun!” Warren exclaimed, then paled at how loud his voice was in the nightly silence. “It's harmless—just a little music, a little dancing for a few hours down in the tertiary ballroom. It's a Gathering within a Gathering”

“There's a tertiary ballroom?”

Warren nodded. “Barely anyone knows about it.”

Feld snorted. “Fine then. Why not take Sovan or Tria with you?”

“Sovan's in a foul mood and you know it. And Tria's already there.” He grinned. “She secretly enjoys having me here—I swear it to you.”

Feld yawned again, weary tears coming to his eyes. “What about Ali? She would enjoy that—whatever that is—I'm sure.”

“I already asked Ali,” Warren replied. “Trust me, I'd rather go to her when it comes to things such as this—but she's still shaken by that insane child.” He shrugged. “I can't imagine why. Anyway, you're my last resort, Feld!”

“Glad to be of service,” Feld mumbled, sitting up fully. “So where is this Gathering within a Gathering?”


The room would have been no different from any other in the Main, had it not been night. Instead of being lit by its wide windows and white lights, inventors and others were forced to bring in their own sources of illumination. Eon's blue light mixed with the yellow of a lantern, with the red of a metallic torch, with the silver of the full moon. There was laughter and talking, and the air was free from the stifling quality the morning's meal had held. In fact, it all felt terribly free. Aurlinite talked with Aurlinite, proclaiming poetry, throwing glittering machines into the air to watch them fly. The few women present were dancing with their chosen partners to the soft, under-spoken music. None of the musicians had sheet music, nor did Feld think they had coordinated their thoughts. But each tune was played so perfectly, they simply melded within each other in a strange and haunting melody.

There were servants as well, a fact Feld wouldn't have noticed if Ter had not emerged from another door, hefting an armload of books for the noble by his side. He glanced at Feld with his dark eyes.

“Illan!” Warren exclaimed, heading over to a stout, brown-haired man. He turned form his current conversation to wave to the strange inventor. “Illan, this is Feld, another poet. Feld, this is Illan.” Feld smiled.

“Good day to the both of you,” Illan replied, “So, Feld, you are a poet, too?”

Feld coughed. “As little as I can be while still holding the title.”

This made Illan laugh. “I see Warren dragged you here?”

“'Dragged' doesn't reflect the maliciousness of the action.”

“Ah, but he means well.” Feld saw Warren flash him a smile out of the corner of his eye as he began a waltz with Tria.

“Oh,” Illan continued, “and I just wrote the best little thing—it reminds me so of this. Ah, how did it go...” He paused, taking a sip of his drink. He nearly spilled the dark liquid as he gave a wordless exclamation and dived into verse:


'Go' it shouted, and there it went,

There went the shout, and there it goes,

And their shout went a-going!

It shouted to it—itself to go whence,

To whence the shout goes to itself.”


He laughed. “It's an odd one, I'll give you that—but I do have a fondess for it. Perhaps if I prod it enough I can make an epic of it.”

Feld grimaced. “I've never been one for epics.” He'd rather read one, though, than another piece of Illan's poetry. It sounded like a madman taken to be a prophet by his benighted tribe, lauded for his insane rambling, as his people searched for truth within them and found it only because they looked with the conviction of idiots.

“Me either,” Illan quickly agreed. “That's why I have to prod them. Wine?”

“Thanks, but—”

“Ter! Wine!”

Ter looked over to them. “I apologize, sir. You'll have to ask Rem for any drinks.”

Illan scowled. “Well, I'm asking you.”

“Of course, sir. I apologize, sir. I'll be right to you.” Ter disappeared through one of the servant's entrances in such a manner that made Feld grind his teeth. He was like a mouse—yet Illan appeared to be the cat. Was it the mouse's fault if he had to run?

He's always running, Feld thought, trying not the glare at the poet before him. Ter returned, holding out a a small cup of wine. Feld took, turning back to Illan.

...innovation—” He'd been talking for awhile, Feld realized “—fellow poet, that is what we need as artists! We need something new, something with structure and new colors and brighter ones than what we have now. Change is always good, you know. Why else would we have so many inventors with their brilliant machines—why can't we invent too?”

“Why not, indeed,” Feld agreed absently. He has the sudden urge to down his wine, though he'd never been one for alcohol.

“Oh, I can see the look on your face. You don't agree with me. But haven't you ever written something you've known your peers would never accept, simply because it has never been done before?”

Feld looked up. “Yes. I believe I have.”

Illan caught a glint in his eye and moved a bit closer. “See, now, I know I was right. I would just love to hear this little piece of forbidden writing sometime...”

Then, like a brush of chill wind, the room went silent.

And a harsh voice, “What is this?” A hiss; a poisonous snake looming from the bushes. Feld nearly jumped, and he spun toward the entrance where the voice had spawned. The Regent stood, eyes an eerie shade in the strange light. He was not dressed in His normal black robes, but dark furs—even Regents needed to sleep, it seemed. But He still knew, and now He was here, and a just anger swirled in those burning eyes the color of life—no, death. The air trembled.

“What is this?” He repeated. His voice did not rise above a whisper, but it went though the large room like a hurled spear. “A betrayal, by my own people. My chosen intellectuals—the best. And I see you here?” Two of his Risen flanked him, walls against the swarm. “Do any of my Aurlinites know the punishment for this transgression?”

No one answered. The Regent tapped his golden, dragon-tipped staff against the floor, evoking a loud rap. The Risen began issuing orders. Two by two, in lines. One pushed Feld forward, making him collide solidly with Illan in front of him. The whole half of the line stumbled. The Regent stood back.

Ter managed to push through the crowd and to the Regent. His guards were occupied, it was simple enough. The Regent looked to the servant wearily, but listened to his soft-spoken words. Both pairs of eyes, white and black, followed the Aurlinites out.

A hand fell on Feld's shoulder, pulling him back.

“This one?”

“Yes, that one. That'll do.”

One of the guards held a white light in his hands, light the whole room greyscale. But then the Regent left silently, bringing the guards and the light with Him. Feld would have been left in clueless in the darkness had not Ter found him and led him out. The door shut carefully behind them.

“What was that?” Feld asked, blinking in the sudden light. “Where are they being taken?”

“Nothing horrible,” Ter reassured. “Just a bit in the Under.”

“The Under?”

“Under Aurlin.” Ter shook his head. “Really, tonight was barely anything. Something like this happens every Gathering. They're taken down to the Under for an hour or two, and let out with a stern little warning. If this is just the first time, of course. But I managed to get you away.”

“But... why me?”

“You've already broken a window. They would have kept you down there for a day and a night, and you don't want to know the terrors that lurk down there during the day.”

“Horrors?”

“Light.” Ter shook his head again. “Nothing important. Nothing horrible, yet. Warren's fine. Tria's fine. Get your sleep, sir. You look as pale as a ghost.”

 

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