He really had to be out of shape if the Tower’s endless stairs were giving him that much trouble. Eihall paused to catch his breath, leaning against one of the pillars that lined up the hall. How long had it been since he’d wandered down these corridors?
Eihall’s mouth quirked up as he remembered his first visit to the city, recalling the wonder that it had held for him then. He had studied under Aristophe for nearly a year, chased Salo and Quinne into the labyrinthine passageways that made up the lower levels of the library. His hands ran slowly down the rough stone of the pillar, sobering up. Now Quinne was gone, and Salo headed up the Healer’s Guild. And him? With a sigh he pushed away from the pillar and moved slowly to the alcove of the Keepers. He whistled to Tiernag as the chimera doubled back, curious eyes taking in the stone rooms.
“Later I will take you to visit Tereg. Its overdue.” He promised with a small smile, crouching down to scratch behind his ears and just under his jaw. A promise was a promise, after all, and it would give him the chance to catch up with the boy. “In the meantime, behave. Don’t eat any of the sendings.” Tiernag whuffed at his hand and Eihall stood up again and led him into the small room.
It was clear that some things remained the same; the noise level rose as one crossed the threshold, the cacophony of sendings and assorted creatures slipping out of their habitats and into the common center room. He looked up to the tree that housed the winged guests, marveling at the bright orange blooms that curled up towards the light. Set in the corner that faced the outside of the building it spread out its branches alongside the inner walls, testing its reach. Upon them sat a half dozen brightly coloured feathered sendings, chirping to one another as they plucked at the blooms with their talons.
Obviously used to the safety of the tower none really paid attention to Tiernag as he padded to the tree and put his front paws on it, watching the creatures just out of reach. The bark shuddered under him and with a startled yip he moved away, returning to Eihall’s side with a rather contrite expression.
Eihall chuckled and patted his side. “I did warn you. Wouldn’t be much of a chimera hold if you could go around eating one another, would it?”
At his words he heard a soft laugh just behind him and whirled with a frown, unhappy at being caught unawares.
“Sorry.” A woman stepped out of one of the smaller rooms still stifling a laugh, but at his expression rearranged her lips more evenly. “Apologies, I didn’t mean to laugh. But you’re right, it wouldn’t. I can just imagine all the complaints we would be getting… no offense, but mages can be an irascible lot.”
“I’m not —“ He began defensively, aghast at the thought that she’d think him a mage. He wasn’t a Questor, and he wasn’t one of the researchers or alchemists that frequented the library form. “I’m not a mage, strictly speaking. I’m here visiting.”
At first think she didn’t appear to be one either. Gone were the robes so usual in the tower, as she favoured a loose pair of trousers and a long belted tunic instead. Her dark hair was held back from her face into a ponytail and he cleared his throat as he realized her bright eyes were watching him as he took her in.
“There aren’t many visitors these days. I’ll have to have the name of the person you are here to see to put it in the log. Oh, and this one’s name.” She crossed the room towards them both and held out a hand to Tiernag; the chimera sniffed it discreetly and then looked back at its companion.
“Tiernag. This is Tiernag, I mean. And I’m Eihall.” He remembered the log book, and tore his gaze from her towards the book. At least they still kept it in the same place. “I came here to see sep Aristophe, and I am not sure how long my business will keep me here. I have lodgings in the city, but while I am here —“
“Sep Aristophe?” her eyes moved sharply to his face before she turned aside to retrieve the book. “He doesn’t see too many people, particularly this early. For your sake I hope you’ve an appointment.” She smiled. “Tiernag. I haven’t seen his like in person before, though I am familiar with most breeds. He’s beautiful.”
Eihall snorted. “He certainly agrees with you.” He could almost feel him preening, just then. “And yes, I do. I was summoned, so I am not sure how long it may take me to attend to my business today, tem.”
“No matter, Tem Eihall.” She flashed him another smile, and held out a small piece of paper. “He will be well cared for until you can retrieve him. Today at least he might even end up with a habitat all his own - many of the mages are away at the city celebrations, I am told. Will there be anything else?”
Eihall shook his head, carefully putting the small document in his pocket.
“No Temu. Thank you for your care with him. Tiernag is a good friend, and I am sure he will behave for you.”
“No doubt.” With that she withdrew with the chimera into one of the small side rooms. Eihall waited a minute longer and then headed up; it was always a poor idea to keep Aristophe waiting.
( Continued from the prologue I posted earlier. Wondering how confusing it might be to readers that haven’t read the first book, Winterborn)
Eihall ignored the brush of whiskers against his shoulder, still firmly in the grip of the dream. Within he could almost look through his sister’s eyes, watch the plains as they shifted and rolled into a different sight. Hear her laughter, as she looked down into Kinnean’s eyes.
The light licks on his cheek woke him abruptly and he half sat up, dislodging the chimera’s paws from atop his chest. Still shaken he rubbed his face before giving Tiernag a long pet, scratching the fur just under the juncture of wings. He winced as he slid out of bed and into his breeches, glancing about. There wasn’t much there to indicate the rooms had been lived in for a few weeks; there was a change of clothes and a handful of parchments, some travel necessities and Aristophe’s letter. Eihall picked up the latter as he slipped on a thin tunic, which obscured most of the recent scars; he glanced over the wording again, making certain the Questor had not left anything important out of the agreement. Aristophe had a tendency to misinform, now and then.
He held out a strip of jerky to Tiernag, grateful for his company. He hadn’t been conscious when the chimera arrived, but Vasil had told him that it had made its way into his rooms and waited at his bedside; he would not be moved, and Vasil and his men had thought it best to let him be. It had been nearly two months before Eihall was fully conscious and coherent, but his first memory was much like every morning’s since: a furry face pressed up close as dark eyes looked him over, Tiernag’s tongue lapping over scarred skin. By the third day he’d willed himself out of the bed, slowly regained his strength in preparation for what he still had to do.
Vasil would look well after Vassillgaard while he was away; he had done much during Eihall’s convalescence to see to the reconstruction of the damaged fortress and the land beyond. With spring now opening up the passes anew his clan began to heal and rebuild; he hoped they understood why he wasn’t there to aid with that rejoicing.
Somewhere out there his twin waited to kill him.
Eihall had to find her first and make certain neither her nor her goddess could harm another. While Mirin may believe her dead, Eihall could feel Yelena in the storm clouds, the whisper of wind against his skin. They had shared the goddess’ waters, and such a bond could not be severed quite so quickly.
No one was to blame but him . He’d seen Ythelen’s madness claim his sister, carve up pieces of her soul with every passing year. He should’ve looked into her eyes and known the goddess alone looked back, long having devoured her mortal spirit. He should have known when he sent Kinnean off that he was condemning him to die at her hands.
He should have known. He should have stopped it. He didn’t.
A lost eye was inconsequential; he could adapt. Kinnean, however, was his phantom limb; he could still feel him at his side, only to turn and find him missing. The wind carried his voice, his chiding wisdom. When his eyes closed at night it was only his friend’s face he saw, only his smile - so rarely won- that warmed him.
The pools had dried with the goddess gone, one last betrayal at her hand. They were a clan left godless and alone, a child orphaned and broken. He’d been unconscious those long weeks while his wounds closed over and healed, while his mind pieced together the fractured memories of those last battles. It was but a reprieve, this peace. His duty was not complete, not while she lived and Hunted through the clans.
Eihall put down the letter and slid on his eye patch, the leather still new and rough. Vasil had assured him it would soften some in time, and as it had been a parting gift as he’d set our for Nyara Eihall hadn’t had the heart to refuse it. A promise and a binding; Eihall’s place was at his clan’s side, once this last thread was cut.
He had failed to track her down, but he knew she wasn’t far. Yelena’s presence permeated Nyara like a shroud; she was here, hiding somewhere past the traces of old magic and older artifacts. Broken mechanisms that had long stopped moving on their own shielded her from him, and he had no true sight to see past them and find her. Still, Aristophe had agreed to help in the search; she had made enemies of the Council and the Questor and both held grudges long and well.
Eihall stepped out onto the hallway as Tiernag trotted closely behind, tail wagging. The chimera had loved coming to the city, much to Eihall’s surprise. It disappeared now and then to explore the alleyways and courtyards close to the guild’s tower, but invariably returned to Eihall’s side; more often than not it brought him little improvised gifts ( the odd rodent and strange vermin) that had to be disposed of discreetly. He doubted that Salo and the other healers in the tower would have appreciated the gesture.
He stretched his hand to scratch the rough fur where it met scales, a smile ghosting over his lips at the chimera’s obvious delight. He straightened and leaned out one of the many windows that lined the outer halls of the tower, watching as the silent city slept. Nowhere else in what was left of the sidhe empire did humans and sidhe co-exist so openly as here, and he had marveled at that when first visiting the city as a child. Walking up to Aristophe’s office in the Questors tower had allowed him glimpses of the old architecture and craft of the clans; there had been precious little of that left at Vassillgaard or the neighboring plains by the time he had grown up. It was in that study that he had really learned the stories of the clan wars, memorized the feats and grudges of his people. It was there he’d learned about the loves and losses of his grandfather’s generation, about the great-uncles he would never know. It was also there he had met Salo and Quinne first, the only youths in a tower of ancients.
His eyes trailed below now to where the city stirred; it wasn’t the libraries and towers that first came to life, but the merchant districts. He could see them distantly, the ant-like shadows as they opened up their stalls, began to turn on lights within their homes to start the day. He wondered if Tereg and Mirin would be among those lights, as he had not seen them since arriving. Perhaps it was there that Tiernag disappeared each day. He closed his eyes to feel the early morning breeze, test out the day.
No ill winds. Yet.
“Up so early!” Salo had been tending to the garden just outside the courtyard when Eihall made his way past him. Sunrise was only starting to creep out over the domes and terraces of Nyara, pale light illuminating the dew on the herbs. Eihall paused and inclined his head, ever thankful to the healer.
“Tem Salo. I have business in town.” He began, as Tiernag trotted up behind him.
“Ah. You and Tiernag both, Eihall?” the shorter man smiled, violet eyes obscured by dark bangs. “You do remember that Nyara is different from Vassillgaard. Few here are awake before the dawn.” He pointed out.
“You are.” He smiled, brushing off a dewdrop carefully. “And I go to see Aristophe.”
Salo’s face clouded over at the name. Although he held great respect for the man he’d always been half afraid of the old Questor. Quinne had been too, even since they were children in the tower halls. He couldn’t say that Aristophe had at all mellowed with age.
“I’d ask why, but I suspect I prefer not to know. Anita would get it out of me, you see.” He plucked a few leaves carefully. “Though even he may prefer daybreak for meeting, Eihall. Perhaps you could break fast with us first?” he asked hopefully.
Eihall brushed away dark hair, scowling slightly.
“Salo, the offer is appreciated and much welcome but I’m still not… fit company.” And he was certain Anita still blamed him for not coming in time to Dragonkeep. That conversation he was not ready for, not yet.
“Hm. Well, it stands for when you are. Here.” He pressed the leaves into Eihall’s hand. “I know the eye still troubles you, and sleep eludes. These can help- just have a care to not chew more than one each day.” He smiled, closing Eihall’s fingers round the herbs.
“She’s done with blame, Eihall. She’s trying to move past.” He watched as the horselord pocketed the herbs and nodded, the chimera pulling lightly on his breeches.
“But I’m not.” Eihall said simply, looking at the other. “Too many promises to keep.” He allowed a brief smile for his friend and clasped his forearm briefly as the healer returned the gesture. “I suspect my business will keep me in Nyara a bit longer, if you’ll have me.”
Salo grinned, eyes bright. “The tower always welcomes you openly, you know that. Besides it is always open to those in need of healing, and your wounds are but closing over still. We grew too distant when you went back to your plains, Eihall. I look forward to your visit lingering a bit.”
Eihall smiled. “You were but a pup when I went back. I’m glad that Quinne could look after you a little longer then…” he trailed off. “I know I owe much to your kindness and your talent, Salo.” He hoped they would yet have time to reminisce, but he dared not linger and draw Yelena close. “At any rate…” he pulled away, looking toward the light slowly coated the rooftops. “Aristophe is likely waiting.”
Salo shivered, following that look. “You best be off then, lest he be in a mood.” He murmured, glancing out over where the waters of the moat darkened and coalesced.
Eihall turned at the uncharacteristic tone, only to be butted imperiously by Tiernag.
“Ruled by my betters then.” He inclined his head and made his way towards the city square.