Interlude I: Smolder

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i.*

“Silent winds, my friend,” said Hinte as she turned, waving her tail. While she appreciated Kinri’s help in the lake, she breathed relief at parting ways with her.  The exile had no appreciation of the thoughtful silence, always annoying her with unhatched questions.  But worse, she acted utterly apterous when she opted not to ask questions. As if her tongue were rubber and her frills were stone.
There were worse issues, however. Such as Hinte deciding to carry back all of those apes.  When she should have known the inquirers would return regardless, when she should have known the weight would have her helpless to fly. Or that it would put her at the mercy of thos rockwraiths Kinri had doubtless stirred up.  Hinte wasn’t helpless.
The apes had escaped because of her tonguelessness. If she had tied them down better, if she had ensured they held no surprises, if she had thought to remove their weapons, if she had brought more emergency mixtures, that incident could have been avoided.  She was better than this.  These were hatchling mistakes, and she did not have the exile’s excuse of being a hatchly sifter.  Her Dozent would be disappointed.
The dark-green wiver fell back on her hindlegs, crouched tensely, prepared to take off.  Then, she remembered.  Apterous rockwraiths.

Sifting VIII: Reglaze

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i. *

Would this day ever end?  This entire adventure had passed in one day, in one evening.  Yet, in my mind, in my aching legs, and in my relationship with Hinte, a whole cycle might have passed.  More had happened today than in any other cycle of my life.
Routine dominated my days. Wake up before the second dawn ring, Kinri. Check by the coutiers, maybe your brother finally sent a letter.  Go to moil at the Llygaid Crwydro every day, except (stars, don’t forget!) not on the purportedly-sacred crestdays and troughdays.  Hope Cthwithach-sofran has time to teach you anything, else you’ll have nothing else to show the day wasn’t waste.  Let Uvidet-gyfar drag you out to play cards at the Moyo-Makao every other day.  Check by the courtiers again, you never know.  If you grow bored of things⁠ ⁠—⁠ when you grow bored of things⁠ ⁠—⁠ you can beg the guards at the south gate to let you out, and fly some laps in the pretty red ravines south of town.  Then sneak out at night and look at the endless stars.
All of the excitement and terror of this break from routine had exhausted me…  but it was worth it, to spend some time with Hinte that wasn’t just phatic fumbling.

Sifting VII: Anneal

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i.*

Along the roads into Gwymr/Frina the scattered lamp- and sign-posts mixed with bright-colored signs warning of trenches and sudden drops. Little glider-scorpions emerged from the deeper crevices, flitting in the night with the short, sporadic glides that named them.  Often the whirring of bats rose with the calls and buzzes of the scorpions, but when one appeared, the other would grow silent, hiding or hunting.
We passed a few houses dotting the ravine at its widest, where the posts instead fenced off their yards.  Here, netting rose from the fence-posts, and blocked any inward flight.  The nets met big poles rising from the roofs, making the houses like spiderly pyramids.

Sifting V: Blow

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i.*

We hunted.
I’d learned hunting from my tutors, but some details were different on the surface. In the sky you could exhaust yourself and fall to your death, or drop your prey and lose it forever.  But the basics hadn’t changed: every predator had its own unique skills, own way of hunting its prey.  Without a lot of strength, or any deadly venom or really big claws, you had to rely on teamwork and better senses⁠ ⁠—⁠ your eyes, frills, and above all else, your tongue.
Hunting on the ground was so much safer, so much more secure, than what I grew up on; the surface had a ton of flightless prey, like so many easy pickings.
For example: the ape I now hunted. Not just injured and exhausted, it also lugged around a corpse, and there was no thought at all in tracking the fear and sweat.  How could these creatures survive in the first place?
I flew low and slow, in a bounding flight, holding my breath for the ape to relax or stop moving⁠ ⁠—⁠ and for Hinte to finish bandaging her tail.  It was only one wound⁠ ⁠— the first fight with the apes was worse.  I couldn’t help the knot of worry in my stomach, but I could think.  Hinte would be okay.  She had to be.

Sifting IV: Melt

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i.*

Kinri.  Do you smell that?  I smell blood.
I flicked my tongue and whirled its forks.  After a beat it was pressed against the roof of my mouth, and I only smelled the evil sulfur of the Berwem.  I ignored it and grasped for the tastes at the fringes.  Grape and chamomile?  No.  Boily crab meat?  No. Faint sweat and blood blowing in from the distance⁠ ⁠—⁠ there it is.
What had happened?  The lake was stingy with life.  And for what it did allow, none were mammals.  Was it something wandered and lost in the lake?  Had it come here on purpose?  Why here, and what did it want?  Was it dead?  Had something attacked it?  But why⁠ ⁠—
“Follow me.”  Hinte’s voice stole into my fluttering mess of questions.  The command to do something felt so simple, so commonsense, almost not worth giving.  But it worked.
Then I waved my tongue.
“Hinte?”  I saw her turn back to me, fangs bared.  “Are we going toward the blood?  It might be⁠ ⁠—⁠ it’s dangerous.  We should head back to town and⁠ ⁠—”

Sifting III: Cullet

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i.*

Up above, past the lake’s shroud, there were birds, clouds and stars.  I looked at the gray blackness above, hunting for something outside the mind-numbing tedium of the lake.  My last canteen had drained to a half.  We hadn’t encountered any rockwraiths.
At one point I’d scribbled flat, imagined monsters in the dust while Hinte wrenched at an uncooperative cryst.  My scribbled rockwraith had snarled with massive claws dripping gore, mouth agape with angled sword-teeth and streams of caustic venom flying forth.  I’d smiled but not laughed, and that kept my throat satisfied.
By now I wouldn’t complain to see a real rockwraith.  As long as it prowled far in the distance, downwind of us, and with no chance under the sky of eating me.  But no.  Instead I sifted, seeing the same three things over and over again.  The ash clouds were still cloudy.  The glass crags were still craggy.  And Hinte was still Hinte.

Sifting II: Shatter

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i. *

I was alone.
As I limped over the molten glass lake, only one set of footsteps cracked the crumbling skin.  My heart floundered in my breast, still wracked even with the argument behind me.  Salty, sour venom dewed on my fangs, my anger leaking out.  My tail uncoiled from my leg, and I drew a shuddering breath, and bit back a cough.
Every motion and habit stood salient in my awareness, with no one else and nothing else to distract me.  The vog renewed its constrictions, so much darker now without the figure in bright-white leading me.  I took another breath.
I needed to dig up five more stones, prove to Hinte I could help her, and convince her to tell me the secret behind all this.

Sifting I: Crizzle

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i. *

Somewhere above, as if waiting, the loversuns still shone.
Below that⁠ ⁠—⁠ past all the ash, dust and smoke⁠ ⁠—⁠ the two suns’ light became a vague hint, offering the lake’s surface to the shadows.  And they accepted, waving their shadow tongues, swishing their shadow tails, and enveloping.
Trudging over the crumbly shell of this molten glass lake, you’d tire of the lack of light or company in your first breath cycle.  The Berwem was vast and empty; there was only me and⁠ ⁠—⁠ somewhere I couldn’t see⁠ ⁠—⁠ my companion, Hinte.
Without dropping my prize, I hugged my wings a little closer to myself, and pouted.  I had lost her again… but it was the lake’s fault, not mine.