Rousing VIII: Repine

iiiiii

i.*

“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.”
I waited, then sighed, then said, “You aren’t going to tell me who they are?”
Adwyn lifted a brow, then whisked a wing dismissive.  “Why?  You already know them.”
”I can’t imagine who,” I said, brilles clouded.  “Does Mlaen have some family in town or something?”
”Oh, that she does⁠ ⁠—⁠ and you know them as well⁠ ⁠—⁠ but he isn’t whom I’m thinking of.”
At the adviser’s smirk I growled; but nothing happened.  Staring at the almost playful gleam in his metallic-red eyes, there dewed a twitch of sour in my glands and I glared down at the ground.
I said, “I don’t see how any of this helps me!”  The words came out hard and I flinched at how loud my voice was.  Even in the privacy of the alleyway, I wouldn’t, couldn’t, risk anyone hearing this conversation.  Lower, pleadingly, I said, “Can you at least fake your death or something if I can’t kill you?  I need this.”
Adwyn was regarding me with a small frown.  It looked fake, mounted on the same face as so many smirks, even as his tone rung true.  “You are serious,” he said.
”I wouldn’t joke about this!”
Adwyn lifted an alula to his temple, brilles clouding.  “How were you planning on ever killing me?”
”I don’t know!  I had the knife.  I… thought of stabbing you with it a few times, but I couldn’t do it.  Maybe I would ask Hinte for some poison for your food or something.  I⁠ ⁠—⁠ really don’t know.”
His brilles remained clouded.  “Why would you take orders from your family?” he asked.  “You’re an exile.  Or was that a scheme as well?”
”I really did have a falling out with my family.  I⁠ ⁠—⁠ things happened.  And⁠ ⁠—⁠ leaving was the cleanest solution at the time.  But my brother appeared before I would have⁠ ⁠—⁠ left.  He said I should go somewhere in the Dyfnderi protectorate instead, and that he had a plan, and that when it all worked out, I could come back.  Everything would be fixed.  And I could finally be stargazer.”
The orange drake half-cleared his brilles.  “There is a small problem with that, I glimpse.”  I heard a smirk in his voice, but I had no idea why it never ventured out to his lips.  At my tilt, he said, “You cannot return to the sky.  It would violate the Severance.”
I coiled my tail.  Looking up at sliver of sky I could see in the alley, I murmured, “Ashaine said that was a detail, that he would take care of it.”
”He cannot,” Adwyn said.  Then, low, “Unless he means to goad the sky into another war, after over a hundred gyras of peace.”
”Ashaine has moved mountains for me.  I trust him.”
”You should not.  You simply do not send dragons whom you respect and value on missions that couldn’t possibly end with them alive and⁠ ⁠—⁠ effective.”
”But…” I started, because I knew that’s how it had to start.  I just didn’t know how to finish it.
”Unless they gave you some special means to accomplish this, I do not think this is an objective given in good faith.”  A significant pause, then an orange head leaning closer.  “In fact, tell me more about this Specter ‘illusionmaster,’ your…  sister.  Why is it they couldn’t kill me themself, if that’s truly in sight of their ends?”
”Because, um.”  I looked up.  “Well, the cloak’s mosaic⁠ ⁠—⁠ the uh, colors it was producing, seemed a little off.  Like something was wrong with it, or something was interfering.  Maybe that was a part of it?”
”And yet, she trusted that cloak enough to appear before you, in the middle of the market.”  He sighed.  “My point is, Kinri, that all you are suggesting is doubt.  You wish to trust them simply because you can doubt their ill intentions.”
”I’m doubting your speculation!  I already trust them.”
”And you shouldn’t.  Where were these dragons when you were exiled?  How much help have they been to your living a life on the surface?”  The orange drake looked away, and came back with some look in his eye.  “Why not trust me, instead?  I can assure you I would never send you on a doomed mission.”
”Why should I trust you?  I don’t even know what you want!”
Adwyn nodded.  “I suppose that’s fair.”
The orange drake sat on his haunches, and waved his foreleg for me to do the same.  I remained standing.
”Would you mind my sharing a little story from my past?  I’ll keep it short.
It should render some things aclear, I glimpse.”
My head stayed still.  I said, “Go ahead.”
”Very well.  I have told you I was thirtieth in line for the Geunantic throne, correct?  Well, when I hatched, I was forty-and-sixth.  You must understand, this is not a number that tends to wane smaller as time grows on.”  For once, Adwyn smirked, and because of that I could believe him.
”I was young then, and quite unsubtle in my methods.  But I was subtle enough to avoid official punishment.”  The orange drake pulled the root of something from the gravel.  Having long broken off and been exposed to the elements, the root was dried and hardened.  “Of course, everyone knew I was guilty⁠ ⁠—⁠ they called me the black ascendant⁠ ⁠—⁠ but none could prove it.  Our justice system is flawed that way⁠ ⁠—⁠ or some would say, featured.”
He gazed up at the sky, and at the skylands floating above.  “I still don’t regret any of what I did to advance this far in succession.  What I do regret is how it affected my sister when she found out.  It hurt her, and I wanted some way to make it right.  So I went to the king.  He is a wise, philosophical drake⁠ ⁠—⁠ judgment being about all he is good for with our parliament allowed to do much of the more important things.”
The orange drake looked back at me, at me.  “I wanted a way to make things right.  He didn’t give me one, but he did give me a path to follow, that I might better understand.  His first suggestion was monasticism.”
The military adviser smiled a smile that had lost at something.  “It will come as no surprise I didn’t accept this.”  He rolled the root around his toes.
“Next, he gave me a challenge, a method to reach my own enlightenment.  I would go to Gwymr/Frina, and try to reunite it with Dyfnder/Geunant, like so many others have.”  He stood the root up on his foot and balanced it there for a moment.  “He said I had the head on my withers to pull it off,” he continued, hissing a little laugh.  “He told me to do this, but with one stricture: I could not kill anyone or anything along the way.”
As he continued, his voice began in low, approaching tones.  “It may look, to some, not a fitting punishment for my actions.  But I think it has given me a sort of wisdom.  I think I understand better than most the value of peace, and the price of violence.  This has become why I want further peace between our two strongholds, and why I do not think a path of violence is the one down which you should go, Kinri.”
Adwyn snapped his root, and dropped it.  “It won’t end well, simply.”
I was looking down, scratching the gravel.  “I guess that makes sense.  But you haven’t given me anything.  None of that helps me.”
”I suppose.”
Adwyn looked over toward the horizon blocked by cliffs, where the loversuns ran themselves to the rim of the world and clouds and skylands danced before the suns’ gaze.  “So, what are we to do?  I rather hope it’s been settled how unfortunate an idea your plan was.”
I stamped a foot on the gravel.  “What else am I supposed to do?  Rot away on the surface with no hope of ever returning to my home?
Adwyn looked tilted at me.  “Tell me, do you think you’re stuck on the surface with return only an invisible dream?  Or is it something you’re truly anticipating and working toward?  I confess it doesn’t sound as though you have seen your own mind on this matter.”
”It’s⁠ ⁠—⁠ complex.”
”Tell me the complex answer, then.”
”I…”  I scratched the gravel again.  “It’s⁠ ⁠—⁠ I want it.  I want it, but it does feel like a dream sometimes.  And it’s not a contradiction because it’s about, uh, timescales.”  I poked an alula at the military adviser.  “What about uniting Gwymr/Frina with the Dyfnderi protectorate?  You’re trying to do it, but you aren’t going to do it tomorrow, or overmorrow, or anytime this cycle.  It’s hard and no one’s done it and some dragons say it’s impossible, but you can’t just… not try, even if you believe them.  What else can I do?  I have next to nothing down on the surface.”
Adwyn nodded.  “You are, in fact, quite right.  You’ve only missed just one crucial fact: you cannot do things on this scale alone.  I have help: two other canyon-dwellers with me, along with allies in Rhyfel, Cynfe, to name two.  Even the faer is sympathetic, if naturally opposed to change.”
Another smirk, again giving his words that curious tinge of honesty.  “Whom would you rather assist you?  A distant, invisible brother who has helped you none at all, or myself, who at the very least is responsible for your being in Gwymr/Frina at all?”
My eyes flashed clear.  “You’re going to help me return to the sky?”  I couldn’t control my pitch.
”Not quite.  But you don’t want to return to the sky.  You want somewhere to belong.  I can help you with that.  In fact, I don’t think you’d even find that in the Constellation, were you to return.  The same things you ran away from haven’t gone anywhere, have they?”  Adwyn shook his head.  “Alas, the choice is yours.  Make your decision.”
I turned my back, speaking low, “But where would I fit into any of this?
What could you want with my help at all?”  Even with my back turned, I watched Adwyn’s cast shadow, waiting for his reaction.
It was his shadow folding frills, as if he’d just won at something.  A drop of embarrassment flickered through me.  Had I fallen for some trick?
A movement distracted me⁠ ⁠—⁠ closer to the patch of shade near the alley’s mouth, there came another shadow, waxing, that of a dragon flying low overhead on a glider.  But a motion from the drake’s shadow jerked my focus back to it.
He was speaking; he said, “Why, Ushra’s granddaughter clearly sees something of value in you.”
I spun around, saying, “But she doesn’t!  She doesn’t trust me at all⁠ ⁠—⁠ she thinks I’m flimsy and fearful and completely useless.”  What would she think when she found out about⁠ ⁠—⁠ all of this?
I watched Adwyn’s assured look falter at that.
There should have been a thrill of being right, of landing a retort he couldn’t counter.  But if his helping me was conditional on me being useful, if he only thought I was useful because of Hinte…
Behind me came the crunch of a dragon’s landing, and the voice I least wanted to hear in reply said, “You are not completely useless.”  The voice was jagged.
I spun around, catching Hinte standing there in her soot-covered cloak and glider.

ii.*

Adwyn had left us alone, if after an exchange with Hinte that was her glaring and his smirking back until he bowed his head and turned to leave in the direction of the head guard and the scribes returning to town hall.  I tried⁠ ⁠—⁠ really tried⁠ ⁠—⁠ not to wonder what message he would send the faer.
When he seemed out of earshot, the dark-green wiver looked blankly at me from the mouth of the alley and stated, “I never said you were useless.”
”You called me untrustworthy, and scared.  And flimsy!  You have your name in all of the papers, and work beside Rhyfel, and I’m just… your…”
”Friend.  You are my friend.”
”Your friend, who drops your knife while you are out being a hero.”
”Who can still fly, while I was being stabbed in a burning building.”  Hinte brushed an alula over a soot covered shoulder.
My mouth had opened to reply.  It closed and I dropped my eyes to the cloak’s wings.  “I’m…  sorry, I forgot.”  I kicked a bit of gravel.  “It’s just… I can fly, sure, but all it left me was being nothing more than a useless messenger.”
”Kinri, your group recovered a body.  We did not.”
”I⁠ ⁠—⁠ maybe.  But still, I’m sorry.  I shouldn’t have forgotten so soon.  I keep doing that.”
An alula brushed my cheek.  I looked up to rust-orange eyes.  The dark-green wiver smiled at me, and I broke eye, looking up.  Her smile flattened to normal just as I stopped looking.
Hinte said, “I had forgotten too.  The pain is waning, and this glider means I can still fly.  Slowly.”
I hesitated.  “That’s… good?”  Her tone was chewing gravel, and as I glanced between her frown and the length of gold-winged brown wood, I bit my lip.  I was missing something.
”I think so too,” she started, “then I wonder why I fly so slowly, and I remember that it is not real flight.  And then I am wondering what it would take to exterminate the rockwraithen.”
”A lot of hunters and enough aris to pay them?”
”No,”⁠ ⁠—⁠ she waved a wing⁠ ⁠—⁠ “just the right germs and cultures.  The forest once had songwraithen⁠ ⁠—⁠ banshees.  They were a menace, until one alchemist came along with a plague fermented just for them.”
”Huh.  That’s…”  I jerked my gaze down to the fledgling alchemist.  “—⁠ scary!  Could someone do that to dragons?”
”In principle?  Yes.  But there are anti-alchemist monasteries and orders almost waiting for something like that to happen.  Covalan glass can catch any crafted plague, and these monasteries have secrets to counter alchemical strains.”
”Anti-alchemist orders?”  I tilted my head, frills curling.  “Do they have anything to do with why dragons here hate alchemy so much?”
Hinte nodded once.  “Opa says they do.  Dwylla was an acolyte of one of those orders, the Ohmal cult in Anterth/Gwirion.  Until he met my Opa, that is.”  Hinte watched me nodding, and absently added, “Gronte had told me stories of him.  If anyone is to blame for the superstition, it would be him.”  She was shaking her head.  “Yet somehow, Gronte sees something worth admiring in him.  I only see the reason this town is such a mess.”
I was flicking my tongue, then blurting, “What Ohmal cult⁠ ⁠—⁠ hey, wait,  you’re distracting me!  Don’t change the subject, Hinte.  We’re still talking about our… um.”
”No, it has already been settled.”
”What’s been already settled?”  The voice rung out, loud, but didn’t come from left or right.  I glanced around, then behind me, then joining Hinte in looking up.  Digrif was there, winging down behind the black-clad wiver.  He landed with a thump, glancing at the alchemist, then behind her at me.
I was saying, “Nothing!  Hi Digrif!” and squeezing my way out of the alleyway.  Hinte stepped aside first, though.
The fledgling alchemist glanced clouded at Digrif.  “Kinri had said I thought she was useless.”
My claws dug a little at her phrasing.  By now I was out of the alleyway, between the two other dragons with a sort of triangle between us.  I was closer to Digrif, and Hinte was facing me.
Digrif was flicking his tongue.  “Well, did you?”
”She has proved herself capable.”
I snorted, and growled, “So that’s a yes.”  I spun around, tail whipping, claws scraping gravel, away.
”Where are you going?” Hinte asked.
”I⁠ ⁠—⁠ don’t know.  Just… going.”
Why are you going?  I told you aren’t useless, I admitted you were capable.  Nothing is wrong.”
I spun back around.  “You can’t just say that!”
”I can.  Why can’t you say it?”
”Because it’s not!  I mean, it is.  I mean…”
Hinte tossed her head to the side.  “I hate this.  My friends keep getting upset for secret reasons, and they expect me to say something, and when I do, it is just the wrong thing.  What do you want me to say, Kinri?”
I stopped and turned around slowly.  “Do you even know why I’m upset?”
”Because you think I think you are useless, even after I told you I do not, several times.”
”No!  It’s not just that.”
”What is it, then?  Do you want me to apologize?”
”I guess?”
”Fine.  I am sorry for whatever it was I did that set you off.  I don’t think you are useless.”  Hinte clouded her eyes.  “Are we still friends?”  The words were slow and light.
”Um, yes?”
We stood there like that for a few instants, me scratching gravel with my face knit like fabric without seams, her folding up her glider with a slight frown.
Then Digrif said, “Now hug.”
”Um.”
”Why?”
”Because you’re friends again!  It’s what you do when you make up.”
”I guess.”  I opened my wings as I looked over to the fledgling alchemist.
She took two steps toward me, then snapped open her wings and pulled me up into her embrace.  It took two tries for me to return the hug, get my wings in the right place.
We hugged.  It was three breaths before Hinte pulled her wings back.
”Are you happy now, Digrif?”
”Well, are you happy, Hinte?”
”Do not ask me that.”
”Aww.  What about you, Kinri?”
”Um.  Ditto?”
”Oof.  Why are you two so dark? We’re supposed to be heroes.”
”No, I am supposed to be heir to my grandfather’s knowledge and future high alchemist of Gwymr/Frina.  That is all.”
”But don’t you want to be a hero?”
Hinte opened her mouth, then closed it.
”I want to be a hero.”  With how Digrif and Hinte glanced at me at this, I wondered if I had timed it wrong.
Hinte rolled her head at me, looking back to the warm-gray drake.  “I want to save dragons.  If that makes me a hero, I do not care.”
”So you do want to be a hero, see?  But to be a good hero, you need to be a beacon of happiness and positivity.”
”Why?  It sounds fake and manipulative.”
”To inspire hope in others!  To stay determined!  To enjoy what you’re doing?”
Hinte only shook her head.
”Well, what would you suggest?”
”A hero fulfills her oaths quickly and efficiently.”
I glanced tilted at Hinte.  “Um, maybe that isn’t the most important thing.”  The words wormed out.
Hinte glanced back at me, witheringly.  “Then what is?”
”Well…”
If Uane were answering, her unthinking response would be upholding the supremacy of House Specter.  I hadn’t believed that.  Neither had Ashaine, once upon a time.
I said, “I don’t know.  It’s just⁠ ⁠—⁠ if you might die, or be arrested, or–or something, if you followed orders… would you?”
”I do not receive orders.  Were I a soldier or a lesser alchemist, then yes, as that is what the position requires.”
I clouded my eyes and looked away.  I held Hinte’s exasperated look in my mind, and imagined how it might darken if she learnt what had just happened between Adwyn and I.  I could hope, but Specters knew secrets didn’t last.

“So, now that the gang’s all here, what’s next?”  The warm-gray drake had shifted position; he had started walking right before realizing we weren’t going anywhere, and stopped.
The black-cloaked wiver waved a wing out at the active crowd of guards and scribes.  “Wait for this kicked anthill to calm down.”
”Yeah, but till then?  There isn’t all that much we can do right here.  I feel like we should be contributing to something.”
”To what?  Nothing is happening, save the administration scrambling to get a record of their failure.  If someone needs us, they can find us.  We are not hiding.”
”But Adwyn-sofran told me to find you.  Maybe he expects us back.”
”Adwyn is the one who left.”
”Maybe something came up?”
Hinte glanced at me, face at an angle where Digrif couldn’t see it, making an tongue-twisted, exasperated face.  Smoothly, as she looked back to him, she turned the tongue twist into idly licking her brilles.  She said, “Fine.  We will find Adwyn, and he can tell you to wait.”
I looked between the two of them.  “Um.  You’re going to see Adwyn?
Together?”
”That is what I just said.”
”I’ll⁠ ⁠—⁠ leave you two to that, then.  I’ll just be… not doing that.
Over here.”
”You don’t want to see Adwyn?” Digrif asked.  “Oh, does this have to do with what he pulled you away to talk about?  It smelt serious.  What was that about?”
The black-cloaked wiver turned back to me, adding, “Yes.  I am curious why ‘Ushra’s granddaughter’ came up in this conversation.”
I looked between the two dragons.  Beneath my cloak, my tail twisted into knots.  Even though I felt it in my glands, I didn’t let shame or worry dew onto my fangs.  I was flicking my tongue.
I said, “Does it really matter?  I’m…  it’s⁠ ⁠—⁠ settled.  Don’t worry about it.”
”You are not standing steady, Kinri-gyfar.” Hinte noted.  Was that metaphoric or literal?  I looked at my legs.
”Adwyn seemed to worry about it, though,” was Digrif’s response.
I folded my frills, looking up at Digrif.  “But we talked through it, really.  Everything is fine.”
”I saw the look he gave you before he left, Kinri-gyfar,” Hinte said.  “He was never at ease around you, but now it resembles more the look he gave the thieves driving the cart.  I think that tells on its own.”
She was looking down to the ground, then peering, her forked tongue whirling in thought.  Very slowly, she said, “If you want me to continue to trust you, tell me.”
”I didn’t believe Adwyn,” Digrif blurted.  “When he said you were the one behind it⁠ ⁠—⁠ I didn’t believe him.  Well now, I⁠ ⁠—⁠ don’t know.  Tell me it wasn’t you who betrayed us to the thieves?”
”It wasn’t.  At all!”
”And how would we believe that?”  Hinte stomped a foot.  “Adwyn suspects you still, even after this private talk with him.”
”Because I’m your friend!  Because I really didn’t do it.”  I looked from Hinte to Digrif, back to Hinte, before huffing a sigh.  Staring starlessly up at the sky, I said softly, “And Adwyn doesn’t suspect me.  He knows I’m on his side, now.”
”Then when Digrif and I find him, we shall ask him.  He’ll vouch for you, and waive all doubts, will he not?”
”Well…”
Digrif bumped me with a forefoot.  I looked up to a yellow-eyed face that wasn’t smiling, but was lined with some compassion.  The lovely drake said, “Well, I am your friend, Kinri, and I believe you.  But maybe…  if we should believe you because you’re our friend, you should open up to us because we’re you’re friends, too.”
The warm-gray drake smiled.  “If you want that is.  Hinte’s just being a little… Hinte, right now.”
I couldn’t help but reflect dimly a little of Digrif’s smile.  A bit of his humor might have come with it, because I laughed and said, “You should see her when she’s being a lot Hinte.”  The wiver narrowed her brow, and I popped tongue at her.
”Well, what’s that like?”  Digrif flicked.
”Let’s just say that if I hadn’t been there, she would have exploded someone’s face.”
Digrif’s eyes flashed clear and his mouth formed an ‘o’.
Hinte hissed, but it sounded harsh more than laughing.  “I did.  The second time would have left scars.”
But the dark-green wiver tossed her head.  “Do not distract from the conversation, Kinri-gyfar,” she said.  “Were Digrif’s sweet words enough to get you to explain or will he have to kiss you as well?”
My eyes flushed.  “Err, is that an option?”
Digrif said, “I think it was a joke.”
”Maybe.”
”Again, will you explain?”  Hinte rolled her head.  “We cannot tell how slow the scribes are going to take, and I do not think your confession to Adwyn was brief.”
”It’s not a short story, no.”
”We’re listening,” Digrif said.
”Well,” I started, “I’m not going to start at the beginning, because that would take too long.
I looked between the warm-gray drake and the dark-green wiver, and took a breath.  “Okay, so I have a brother, and⁠ ⁠—⁠ hm.  Maybe I will need to start close to the beginning.”  I scratched my cheek.  “In the sky, drakes can’t become House Zeniths⁠ ⁠—⁠ the leaders, basically⁠ ⁠—⁠ because they aren’t as suited to the task as wivers.  Or well, maybe they are, but it’s just the way things are done.
”And that’s the problem.  My brother, he’s the best leader out of my mother’s children, out of the four of us⁠ ⁠—⁠ well, three, after what happened to little Doikko.  And I guess four again because Ashaine had said she’s laying⁠ ⁠—⁠ has laid now, I guess⁠ ⁠—⁠ a new daughter to replace me as heir.
”Uane was always a little impulsive, too willing to be alone and do her own thing, to be a leader.  And me, I was a good heir; that’s what they used to say.
Calm, polite, pretty but not too pretty, smart enough.”  I flicked and twisted my tongue.  “It wasn’t fun⁠ ⁠—⁠ the rules chafed, the judgments stung⁠ ⁠—⁠ but I closed it off and flew on, because that’s what you do when something’s important and you care about it, right?  But then I realized, why should I care about any of this?  And it all fell apart.”
”You are meandering.”
”Am I?  Sorry, I guess.  But that’s the dilemma we⁠ ⁠—⁠ they had had.  Uane was too unmanageable, I was good enough till I wasn’t, and Ashaine is a drake.
But aside from that?  He knew all the histories, the etiquette.  He even knew the politics and the economics, though he wasn’t supposed to.
”And then⁠ ⁠—⁠ he went to Taivas/Kuolemma.  He changed, I changed.  Uane changed too, but she doesn’t matter so much.  When he came back, he’d become some special adviser somehow⁠ ⁠—⁠ even though you don’t see drakes in that position.  And me, I was a pariah.  I’d lost my any inheritance I might’ve had, I’d all but lost my status as future Zenith of Specter.  Things just kept getting worse for me, and better for my brother.
”I was exiled, and it only took a few gyras.  It was like⁠ ⁠—⁠ it was that the whole family hated me.  Even my dearest older brother just… didn’t seem to care anymore.
”But he did, and just before I’d–I’d⁠ ⁠—⁠ just before I had… left, was going to leave, he found me, told me he’d only acted around the others, but still loved me.
”He had a plan.  He said he was going to become the Zenith.  And he told me he would bring me back to the Constellation when he did it.
”But he needed my help.  He wanted connections in the cliffs.  He wanted to send me to Dyfnder/Geunant, but we settled for Gwymr/Frina.  It’s a smaller town, life would be simpler.  Ashaine had said it himself: maybe his plan won’t come together, and I⁠ ⁠—⁠ I really will die never seeing the Constellation again.  The last winner always plans for failure, right?  Err, that saying sounds a bit weird in y Draig.
”And…  that’s the secret.  I’m not really loyal to Gwymr/Frina.  I’m acting on behalf of Specter…  and of the Constellation, kinda.  Not really, but that’s how they’ll see it.”
Digrif tapped his chin.  “That sounds… okay?  You aren’t hurting anyone, just trying to get home.”
”No, but that’s not the all of it.  When my brother said he wanted connections, he meant like the faer.  I’ve inched closer to that, but they don’t think I’ve moved at all.  I don’t know how they know all they know.  But clearly it’s not perfect.”
Hinte narrowed her brow.  “What do you mean, all they know?”
”Just stuff like how we’re friends, but I haven’t used our friendship to curry influence with or through your grandfather, or⁠ ⁠—”
”It would not work,” Hinte cut in.  When I tilted my head, she continued, “He would rather I had let you die in the lake than waste a drop of his precious Wundervernarbung.”
”Really?  What’s his problem?”
”I do not know.  But perhaps, you know how old he is; I think he’s seen enough death that one more just isn’t a difference.”
”But Gronte seems so much nicer!”
”Seems,” was all she said.
Digrif lifted his head.  “Well, the old three is all dead except for Ushra.
I bet that probably hurts.”
”Old three?”
”Old three.  Rhyfel the elder, Dwylla the eternal, and Ushra.  Together, they were once the adventurers in the cliffs!  They fought monsters and saved dragons, and blazed glory all across the country.  Then, they found a Dyfnderi labor camp plagued by monsters, and disease and⁠ ⁠—⁠ they say⁠ ⁠—⁠ the terrible demon of the lake…”
I was listening with wide frills, and Hinte staring at Digrif with an expression too light to be a glare.
”The stories go that the trio descended into the pits beneath the lake and slayed the demon, and then the monsters and disease disappeared, and the dragons above were so happy they made them rulers on the spot, and they were the best rulers.  Rhyfel created the guard, Ushra was the healer, and Dwylla became the first faer.  Once, Anterth sent a whole army here, and they stopped it themselves!”
Digrif clouded his eyes for a second, as if remembering how it went.  Hinte opened her mouth, but Digrif spoke: “But eventually, Rhyfel died in the first battles of the Dyfnderi’s Spider War.  Then, Dwylla was slain by Aurisiuf of the night.  But Ushra just…  survived, all this time.  By alchemy, they say.  I even heard he fought Aurisiuf and lived!  That drake is scary.”
Hinte curled her frills.
I asked, “How do you know all of this?  I study Frinan history with Chwithach-sofran, and he never said any of this.”
”I like history.  It’s fun.”
Hinte said, “That’s because it’s all nonsense.  Chwithach has the sense to only teach what he can prove is true.  These are tales spun by drunkards and parents.  You’d think Aurisiuf were some kind of monster, listening to them.  Or Dwylla was some kind of saint.”
”But he was a monster, basically.  He struck mysteriously in the dead of night, and no one has ever seen his face.  He could have been a conjuration of the demon of the lake, for all we know.”
”We don’t know.  Kinri, can you continue?”
”Yeah, but we can make theories.  Me, I think the Aurisiuf is secretly Ushra’s brother or some relative.  It explains why they fought, why he might have something against Dwylla.  And if he’s really the one behind this, how he’s could still around after all this time.”
I saw Hinte cover her face with a wing and look to me, but I jumped into the new topic.  “You think he’s a forest-dweller?”
”Yeah.  It’s not that hard to scent.  The cliffs used to have a lot more forest-dwellers, until they all disappeared.”
Hinte snapped her gaze to Digrif.  “We didn’t disappear, we were killed! On Dwylla-drwg’s own orders!”  She sighed.  “Did you not learn of the Inquiry with all of your ‘history?’”
”But that was alchemists, not forest-dwellers.”
”Digrif,” Hinte said in a warning tone.  Turning to me, she added, “Kinri, can you get back to your story and forget this residua?”
”Okay, okay.  So the things the Specters know⁠ ⁠—⁠ they know we’re friends and your grandfather is important⁠ ⁠—”
”And do not know we cannot be manipulated.”
”—⁠ Yeah.  They also think Bariaeth is disloyal to the faer and that I’ve stayed away from him.”  I wiggled my tongue.  “Oh!  The faer apparently has a brother and I don’t know them.”
”Mlaen was picked from the educated ranks of Anterth’s temples.  It is more than likely he does not even live in Gwymr/Frina.”
I shook my head.  “She said that they live here.  And that I’ve met them.
Adwyn even knows who it is and won’t tell me,” I said in a tone that was not a whine.
Hinte snapped her tongue, holding it out for a beat.  She yanked it back into her mouth and shook her head.  “It must be a well-kept secret.”
Digrif tilted his head.  “But you know all kinds of secrets.”
The fledgling alchemist flung a glare at the warm-gray drake, but her look relaxed, and she smiled.  “Exactly.”
Digrif frowned.  “Well, why do the Specters know it?”
I spoke up.  “Uane made it seem like it was obvious, as if anyone paying attention could taste it.
Hinte said, “I don’t think it was.”
”Maybe.  But… that’s not the part that has Adwyn suspicious.  It’s the⁠ ⁠—⁠ reason my sister contacted me.”
”Which is?”
”Adwyn.  She⁠ ⁠—⁠ they⁠ ⁠—⁠ he wants me to kill Adwyn.”
Digrif shouted, “What!”  Quieter, he said, “Why would you do that?  Why would they want that?”
Hinte was nodding.  “Yes, that makes sense,” she said.
”How?”
”Digrif, you would not understand.  Kinri-gyfar, remember last night, in town hall?  Who was there?  The faer, her assistant, Rhyfel, Adwyn.  The rest of the advisers do not take their roles as seriously, and Mlaen doesn’t take them seriously.”
”I thought she just didn’t want to send for them.  She just sent for whoever was in wing.”
”Except Bariaeth.”  Hinte shook her head.  “It is telling that the faer cared so little for his advice to hold that meeting without bothering to send for him.”
”So you’re saying Adwyn is important?”
”Adwyn is intelligent.  Imagine you were the Specters here.  This one drake guessed that there was more to Kinri, drafted the plan to fake the ape’s death, realized the bodies had been stolen, and convinced Kinri to switch sides.
Hinte took a breath.  “He’s been annoying.  It is as if every setback is his doing.  Wouldn’t you want him dead?”
”No!”  Digrif stomped.
”Why not?”
”Killing is wrong.  And Adwyn’s been doing the right thing.”
Hinte growled.  “Regardless, the Specters see it that way.  It is the cleanest solution.”  Hinte licked her brilles.  “And if Bariaeth catalyzes their plans, then Adwyn’s absence would make whatever he’s up in town hall that much easier.”
”Wait, the Specters are with the thieves?” Digrif asked.
”Yes, it is obvious at this point.”
”But why didn’t they tell Kinri?”
I sighed.  “Maybe they don’t trust me.”  Who would?
Digrif kicked a rock.  “Kinri.”  I looked to him, and his gaze was very intense.  “Are you going to kill Adwyn?”
”No!  How could I?  Everyone knows.”
The warm-gray dragon spread his lips a big grin full of pointed teeth and fangs bedewed with one drop of sweetness each.  “Then you’re still a good dragon.”
He nudged Hinte.  “And we do trust you.  Right, Hinte?”
”Not quite.”
Digrif closed off his grin and scowled, but Hinte spoke before he could:
”Why did you reveal this now?  You never told us you were a Specter agent.
Is it because Adwyn confronted you?”
”I… yes?” I said.  Hinte’s face hardened, and her rust-orange gaze burnt into me.  “No!  I told you because… we’re friends?  Like we all said earlier.”
”You confessed to Adwyn first.  Are you his friend, too?”
”No…”  I looked down, something⁠ ⁠—⁠ sour dewing on my fangs.  “Look, Hinte.  I wouldn’t have told Adwyn anything if I thought I was really going to kill him.  Hinte, I am a Specter!  Do you think I can’t lie?  I told the truth because I wanted to.  Honestly.”
Hinte turned around.  Digrif had had his foot on her, but he didn’t stop her.
I stared at her back.  “Do you believe me?”
”I believe you wouldn’t have done any of this if you didn’t have to.”
The black-cloaked wiver began walking off.
”Are you mad because I broke with my orders?  Like, um, warriors are supposed to not do?”
”Did you swear an oath to serve your brother?”  She had stopped, but didn’t turn around.
”Um, no.  We⁠ ⁠—⁠ Specters don’t really do oaths, ever.”
”Then no.  Honor does not imply following without question.  It implies that when you make an oath, a promise, it means something.”
”Okay, but well, do you… trust me, Hinte?”
”I trust you not to kill me even if someone asks you to.”  She had already started high-walking away.
”I guess that’s something.”
I watched the black-cloaked wiver walk away.
”Since um, since you aren’t mad, and I won’t kill you, does that mean I can⁠ ⁠—” I glanced at Digrif “—⁠ we can follow with you, wherever you’re walking to now?”
The black-cloaked wiver slowed to a stop.  She shifted her wings, lowered her head, worked her frills, all without turning or glancing back.
It felt like we were there waiting, watching, for a very long time, but it couldn’t have been.
Hinte said, “That is your choice.”
She walked on without us, and we followed.

iii.*

“I glimpse you’ve made your decision.”
We’d found him, a ways from the alley and chatting sparsely among about five guards, and patient-looking Adwyn.  The guards looked new faces; but among them you saw a familiar black-tongued cliff-dweller, that sneering, bamboo-plated prefect, and that pink drake.  The military adviser had stood between Gwynt and the still-talking prefect, and might have been listening to what the prefect was saying; but the orange drake had broken away and now padded toward us.
Beside me, Hinte was glancing between me and the adviser, and on the other side of her, Digrif was waving at the guards.
I flicked my tongue at the orange drake.  “Why do you say that?”
”Would you be returning with Gronte-wyre if you two held any outstanding issues?” Adwyn asked.  “Whatever tensions there were have settled, have they not?”
I frowned.  “It doesn’t feel settled.”
Hinte looked hard at the orange drake, asked him, “Do you think Kinri is working with the thieves?”
”There are more likely suspects.”
”Yes or no, do you believe Kinri-gyfar betrayed us?”
”The world doesn’t grant a glassy yes or no,” Adwyn said.  “Remain cautious until we’ve found who truly is behind it.”
She flicked her tongue.  “You have no idea, do you?”  Turning to me, Hinte peered for a breath.  Then she nodded once at me, and quickly looked away.
Adwyn looked between the black-cloaked wiver and me.  Behind him, the five guards continued talking without him: Gwynt starting to talk loosely, and the guards all listening, aside from the prefect, who stared at Adwyn and looked to have been stopped mid-sentence.  The pink guard looked between the rest and us, laying down, and he grinned almost savagely.
Adwyn spoke in a precise, serene tone, the very one he’d used when asking for debriefs.  “Hinte-ychy, why don’t you tell Kinri how you really feel?”
Hinte scowled.  “Why don’t you?”
The orange drake smirked, and looked at me.  “I think,” he said, “that your saying she doesn’t trust you hurt her, on some level.”  He looked at the spaces between us.  “And,” he continued, “discovering that you were a kind of traitor, or more, that you were capable of contemplating murder, or even following through with it, perhaps it scared her.”
”Not,” he quickly added, “on a visceral level, but a more abstract sort.  As if a pet snake was found playing clarinet, or a tentacle snail began shuffling and dealing cards.  It’s… unsettling, I’d call it.”
I glanced at the scowling wiver beside me.
She growled.  “I am not afraid, and I am not hurt.  I had been baffled that someone whom I owe my life to would claim I do not trust her.  I am angry that someone would hide something like this from me.  And I hate that someone’s brother would give them such a lowly order.  I am not afraid, and I am not hurt.”
The black-cloaked figure whipped around.  I hopped back and snapped out a wing to stop her.
”Hinte⁠ ⁠—”
”Quiet.”
She pushed past my wing and there really wasn’t anything I could do.  Hinte started off, then paused.
Without turning, she asked, “May I go, Kinri?”
I waved my tongue.  “Um, I can’t stop you?”
She stalked off at that, alone.
”Where is she going?”
”To be alone, most likely.  Or perhaps to find Rhyfel the younger.”  The military adviser turned to the guards behind him, who still chatted⁠ ⁠—⁠ even the prefect had joined back in at some point.
With Adwyn having stepped toward us, we could see two plain-dwellers who were out of sight: a tall one with spiky horns and a longer one whose face might have felt the wrong end of a club a time too many.
The military adviser waved at the second one.  “Follow her, obliquely.  Tell me where she goes.”
The guard nodded after a few beats, and tapped wings with the other guards⁠ ⁠—⁠ but I jerked my gaze to Adwyn.
”What!  You said she wants to be alone.  So you send someone to follow her?”
”You forget, Kinri-ychy, that this is bigger than personal drama.  This concerns Gwymr/Frina itself, and you three can still be suspected.  Furthermore, Hinte still has an unclairified connection to Aurisiuf.”
Adwyn was looking down at me.  It wasn’t hard⁠ ⁠—⁠ everyone was taller than me⁠ ⁠—⁠ but I couldn’t help but notice it, here.  “There is being nice, and then there is neglecting to consider what Hinte would honestly have to lose in allying herself against Gwymr/Frina.”
”Her friends?”
”I’m looking at both of them.  Would you two truly choose Gwymr over Hinte?”
”Um… no.  Not at all.”
”Well, probably not.  Friends are important, and Hinte wouldn’t do anything evil.”
I asked, “What about her home?  She’d lose that, too.”
”Her home is as much the forests as it is the cliffs, if not more. She grew up in the forests, and came here when she was already closer to adulthood.
And… Gwymr is not welcoming to outsiders and loathes alchemists.  I suspect this would diminish her fondness of the land of glass and secrets.”
Digrif flicked his tongue.  “Why are you accusing everyone, Adwyn-sofran?
First it was Kinri, then Hinte, but they haven’t done anything.”
”I am not accusing, I am being cautious.  There is no clear indicator that Hinte is guilty or innocent.  There are, however, reasons to believe she could be involved, and those are reason to be cautious.”
My voice chilled.  “There are reasons to believe you could be guilty.  We have nothing to prove anyone is involved.”  I very deliberately glanced aside, and dropped my voice to a murmur.  “One may be forgiven for wondering whether you are doing this for more than appearing to be active and effective.”
”Kinri, for your sake I will repeat myself: this is a matter of Frinan security, not petty drama.”
Digrif looked confusedly between the orange drake and me.
I didn’t release the chill in my voice, even though I should.  “So Hinte stalks away in anger because you forgot what tact was, and now it’s a matter of Frinan security.”
Adwyn looked, peered, at me for a little bit.  Then he sighed, shaking his head.  “With much respect⁠ ⁠—⁠ which, I suppose may be more than you deserve⁠ ⁠—⁠ I do not answer to you, and you hold no authority to speak of.  The decision is mine, and the decision is made.”
I mirrored his sigh, and my disappointment was real as I said, loud, “Well, I’ve tried.  When your spy has his face half-exploded⁠ ⁠—⁠ I suppose the decision is yours.”
I saw the pause in the stride of the spy, who’d slinked away maybe twenty steps already.  I watched him step forward slower, with more hesitation, as complex looks crawled over Adwyn’s face.  And the pink-scaled guard was looking at me.  I cleared my brilles, but glanced back to Adwyn as he spoke.
He was saying, stiffly, “Should that happen, it will have been your friend’s choice to commit crimes and reap the punishment.”
The reply rushed at the heels of his.  “That isn’t what happened after the incident at the Berwem gate last night,” I said.
He didn’t yell.  “So you think that simply because her grandfather is⁠ ⁠—⁠ who he is, Hinte should be above laws?”  He tossed his head.  “No.  I will endeavor to punish anyone who interferes with the workings of this⁠ ⁠—⁠ situation.  No matter⁠ ⁠—”
”And if⁠ ⁠—”
”Screaming fires, will you cool it?”  The pink guard⁠ ⁠—⁠ Ceian⁠ ⁠—⁠ had broken from the rest and arrived behind Adwyn.  “Blinking silly⁠ ⁠—⁠ look,” they said, whisking a wing at a butte maybe a dozen wingbeats away.  On that butte sat a dark form holding a vague light form that could be a scroll.  We couldn’t make out exactly who this was⁠ ⁠—⁠ but I don’t think we needed to.
As we all looked over, the figure jerked up, leaping and slipped out of sight on a glider.
I grinned.  “See?  She’s not doing anything.”
Adwyn tilted.  “Then tell me, why is she running away?”
The pink guard said, “Blueface, why are you arguing when Adwyn’s already given the order?  The drake’s long gone.”  Then, in a tone that had lost all of its edge, “Sofrani, why are you bothering with this argument?”
A cryptic smirk.  “I have a certain interest in Kinri.  I would like to see what she is capable of when she isn’t putting on acts.”
”Ah, so strange adviser stuff.”  The pink drake stretched their neck, and looked between all of us.  “Listen, boss said we were waiting for something important from the hall, so we’ll be here a ring.  Jarce found some decks in his bag and we’re going to start up some card games.  You want in, Sofrani?  I’ll even let your certain interest go first, and pick her opponent.”
Adwyn turned to me.  “Well, Kinri?  Care for the diversion?”
I peered at the orange drake.  The fire that had me speaking a chill tone, leaping to Hinte’s defense, still burnt in my glands.  I could still reach for that dewing, find something biting to fling at the military adviser.  But… I could see farther than a few strides ahead, I just deliberately didn’t.  They were both practiced habits.  And when it came to what I wanted, at its simplest, Adwyn did want to help me.  If there was something to be gained from attacking him, I’d do it with more planning.
I gave him a cleanly-cut smile, and there was no fire behind it.  Adwyn was a drake of rules, and maybe I didn’t like those rules, or what they led to, but I could respect that they didn’t come from a place of malice.
I told him, “Um, sure.”
Ceian whistled, and grinned at me.  “Pretty.  So, name of the game is Wicked Licks.  Who do you want to go up against first?  I’d go for your boy with the twisted horns over there.  He’s easy pickings.”
I hummed.  “I’ll go with…”  I smirked at the drake.  “Adwyn.”
Adwyn smirked back.  “I can’t imagine picking me would end well for you.”

6 thoughts on “Rousing VIII: Repine”

  1. “Were Digrif’s sweet words enough to get you to explain or will he have to kiss you as well?”
    My eyes flushed. “Err, is that an option?”

    Digrif needs to be killed off

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Typos noticed: [ed: fixed, thank you!]

    Since you asked, I think I was more attentive to grammar, etc., than with previous chapters. Despite your fears, I didn’t mind this chapter at all; it has Digrif, and it’s not talking I object to (I write loads of talky scenes) so much as the plot failing to move forward. The yak moved the plot here, so I am content.

    Like

    1. Hmm, no edit option. It occurs to me that Digrif is a nice addition because he’s (apparently) so very straightforward and uncomplicated; he serves as a foil for both Kinri and Hinte, lightening things up a bit when Hinte is scowling and Kinri is fretting.

      Like

      1. Do you mind if I edit the typos out of your comment after they’ve been addressed? And in the future, I’d prefer corrections to be emailed if that works for you.

        That said, thank you for the thoughts on the chapter. It’s always interesting to see why people like the characters they do. Glad to see you don’t feel this was a pointless chapter. Last I checked, my beta disagrees :/

        Like

Leave a Reply to Thedude3445 Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s