This week, we're back with Kirelon and his various troubles. Our main character is not having a very good day. You can find the Google Doc version of the chapter here. Thanks for reading!
It was only when the sun had risen the next day and the first light of dawn touched his face that Kirelon realized he had survived.
He blinked, trying to regain his composure and start to make some sense of where he was. There was a jagged cliff a few hundred feet before him, and he seemed to be moving towards it. He glanced down. The cliff continued for miles, dipping down into a foggy abyss below. His eyes widened, and he remembered. He was clinging to the mast of what had once been his airship, floating with the wind. Kirelon glanced around, trying to get a view of his surroundings—low-hanging clouds floated beside him, and great wall-like cliffs rose up on either side, meeting at the point directly ahead of him. Kirelon started to shift his position on the windwood log, and it began to rock precariously. He stopped moving, though his back ached and his arms felt like jelly.
He was wearing the same clothes he had been the day before, after he had left his tana in the Council chambers and went off by himself. Shirt, trousers, and heavy cloak, though all were dirty and worn from the night he had endured. The night when he should have died. Kirelon had no clue how he had made it through the storm. His strength should have given out, or the rain should have made his fingers slip, or a dozen other possibilities. But somehow he had made it, and he began to wonder if the god he had always prayed to simply as a habit might actually be taking a hand in events. And if he was, what did he want of Kirelon? Why had Chridius kept him alive?
He sighed and leaned his forehead against the mast in front of him, closing his eyes. Right now, he was too tired to ponder that question—or to ponder anything, for that matter. The memories of his experience in the storm were like a foggy haze in his mind, almost as if it had all been a dream. It seemed like he had been on the edge of sleep the entire night, desperately fighting off that fatal state that would cause him to let go of his only lifeline and fall to his death. Now all he wanted to do was give in to sleep's siren song and be rid of this world.
Just a few hundred feet more, Kirelon thought, glancing back at the cliff before him and shaking his head to keep sleep at bay. From the looks of it, his trajectory would take him just above a small platform jutting out from the cliff, occupied by a large, scraggly tree. He just had to ride the wind until then. It seemed like an eternity, and Kirelon struggled to keep his eyes open. I can make it. Come on…
The soft breeze finally took him to the edge of the cliff and over the small platform. Kirelon took a deep breath and relaxed his muscles, letting himself slip off of the broken mast and down towards the ground below. He barely kept himself upright as he hit, so tired and worn out was his body. He stumbled over to the scraggly tree on the incline and leaned against its massive trunk, more relieved than he'd ever been before to be out of the sky and on solid rock.
He closed his eyes, and fell asleep to the whisper of the wind and the rhythmic sound of his own breathing.
When he awoke, slowly swimming up through the ocean of dreams towards the reality that existed above it, the sun had nearly completed its journey across the sky, and now lit the western horizon with golden splendor. He started and got to his feet, surprised that he had slept so long. He glanced around with bleary eyes, adjusted his mind to the passage of time. Something seemed to be missing in the clearing—what was it? He felt a sinking feeling in his stomach as he realized that the broken mast and the windwood log were gone. He swore and stepped up to the side of the jutting platform, trying to see if it was anywhere in sight. It wasn't.
How am I going to get down? Kirelon thought, beginning to panic. He surveyed the cliff, his trained eye picking out what hand and footholds existed on the nearly sheer face. There weren't very many of them. If he had to go down that way, there was a good chance he would come to a spot where he couldn't go any further. And that would be a disaster. He stepped back from the edge, trying to analyze the situation.
He glanced in the direction he had come from on the windwood log, noting that the Clouds looked like toy houses floating in the sky a few miles away from his position. Well, at least I'm still in Argosson. The royal palace and the Temple of Chridius were clearly visible from this angle, built on opposite peaks, but nearly identical in elevation. The temple was perhaps a few feet lower, but that was a relatively new development in the history of Argosson—the palace had been built after the temple, six hundred years ago, when the power was taken from the corrupt priests of the era and put in the hands of the rest of the nobility.
Kirelon squinted at the sun. It was setting on his right—that meant that direction was west, and so he was at the north end of the enclosed valley that was Argosson. He began to stretch, trying to put some flexibility back into his stiff muscles—and to clear his head. After Kirelon had worked the stiffness out of his body, he began to pace back and forth across the small platform, wrestling with his dilemma. He had to find a way to get off of this rock—preferably a way that didn't involve trying to see if he could fly. But what would he do when he found a way? He started at the beginning: someone had sent an assassin to try and kill him. Who would have done that? Kirelon did have enemies—what man didn't?—but he couldn't really think of anyone who would hate him enough to want to see him dead. The first name that came to mind was Tharyon Ubeires, of course, though he quickly dismissed that. Tharyon was a horrible man, to be certain, but also a coward. He wouldn't have the guts to send someone to kill Kirelon—he was, after all, the child of royalty. Besides, the Master Speaker had gotten what he wanted—Kirelon's proposal had been shot down.
Kirelon shook his head. No, it definitely wasn't Tharyon. He went through a dozen other names—his fellow Speakers, members of the court, priests, military men—and though many of them had the resources at their disposal to hire a trained assassin, none of them really had any motive to kill him. Kirelon had certainly been causing a stir in the local politics, but not that much of a stir.
Kirelon sighed and leaned against the tree. He didn't have enough information. If he was going to get to the bottom of this, he would have to go back to the Upper City and start a real investigation. But… Was that wise? If someone was trying to kill him, should he really go back and offer up his back to an assassin's dagger again? The protection of the royal palace might be enough to keep any assassin at bay, but the more Kirelon thought about it, the more he disliked the idea of holing himself up in his parent's home. Moving to the royal palace—or going back to the Upper City at all—would alert his enemy that he was still alive and aware that they had it out for him. And that might send whoever it was into hiding—Kirelon might never figure out who it was, and then the second he put his guard down, the man could strike again.
Where else would I go, though? Kirelon thought, starting to pace again. The Middle City? That could be just as dangerous. The citizens there would probably recognize him if he made too much noise, and if whoever it was who wanted to kill him had access to the Speakers in any capacity, they could pick Kirelon out from the Clouds and Dominate him before he even knew they were there. That ruled out the Lower City, as well—that would just make it easier for a Speaker to find and Dominate him.
Whatever he did, it could potentially be disastrous. I suppose I'll have to figure out what to do when I find a way out of this situation. He focused his thoughts once more on the problem of getting down from the cliff. He could just sit tight and wait, of course. An wandering patrol might pass by, or even one of the nobility out for a pleasure cruise. And if he figured out a way to start a fire… He might even be able to light a beacon. But…staying in one place could be as dangerous as trying the climb—if what his grandfather had said was true, there were more Hedera about somewhere, and Kirelon had a feeling he wouldn't be as lucky in a second encounter with one of the great beasts as he had been with his first. The more he thought about it, the more he realized that the only real option he had was to climb. He didn't have any food or water, and the edge of a cliff was not the most sheltered of spots, especially when a storm came. He started to search the cliff face again.Well, he thought, glancing up at the sky, and then down at the valley. Up or down? It was a shorter climb to the top of the cliff, maybe only a half-mile or so, and there was a good chance he could find some food or water up on the plateau. But that would take him out of the valley, and farther away from help. If he climbed down, it was farther, but there were places he could rest—more jutting pieces of rock along the great wall—and as soon as he got down, it would only be a matter of time before he stumbled into a Lower City patrol or one of the outlying farms. He could be back in the Upper City before tomorrow evening—if he was going back to the Upper City.
Eventually, he decided on climbing down, though he would wait until first light tomorrow, since the little light that remained of the day was fading fast. He wrapped himself in his tattered cloak and sat leaned up against the scraggly tree again, listening to the constant drone of the wind. Because he had just finished sleeping almost twelve hours, Kirelon stayed awake throughout the night, trying to stay as alert as possible despite the way his body ached. In the distance he saw Argosson's lights winking at him—mostly from the Upper City, but some from the other two sections as well—and he wondered what his parents were doing, and his grandfather. Were they worried about him?
The night passed uneventfully—though Kirelon thought he heard a sound that was eerily similar to a Hedera's howl a few hours before dawn—and as the first light of the next day touched the horizon, Kirelon got to his feet and began to stretch again, preparing his already worn muscles for what was bound to be an exhausting climb. As the world around him became gradually lighter, Kirelon caught sight of a Chrin floating in the distance off to the northwest, feeding on some plants growing on the cliffside.
They always seemed so lonely, going wherever the wind took them, solitary grazers that only came together for a brief time during the mating season. Of course, Kirelon supposed they always had the pomo-lethe with them, though he couldn't imagine how the tiny, flying crustaceans could be that interesting of companions. He shook his head and turned his attention back to the cliff. He walked over to the left edge of the platform and began tracing a route down the side of the rock with his mind. He turned around and backed one foot off the cliff, placing it tentatively on a piece of rock about four feet down. His other foot followed, finding a similar resting place, and then he was off, descending inch by inch down the face. He took deep breaths as he went, trying to keep his mind focused on finding the safe places to put his feet. Sweat began to bead on his forehead as his muscles strained with the effort of the slow climb, and he grimaced.
This was going to be a long day.
He climbed down for what seemed like hours, and when he dared to glance up to see how much progress he had made, it seemed pitifully insignificant. Whenever he found an outcropping of rock big enough for his entire body, he rested, but not for long. Instead, he forced himself to keep going long past the point that any other man would have stopped, pushed to the brink of his endurance and his patience. He was exhausted, both mentally and physically, but he did not want to still be stuck on this cliff face when darkness fell.
It was nearing evening by the time he had reached what he thought might be the halfway point, and he realized with a wince that he was not going to make it to the bottom in time. It was just too slow, and he was too tired, having foregone sleep for almost twenty-four hours now. His muscles were drained, and trying to continue in his condition, especially when it was dark, was just too dangerous. He determined that when he reached the next outcropping, he would stop for the night and continue in the morning. He just hoped he could find a suitable one before the light had faded completely.
Kirelon spotted an outcropping and picked up his pace, finding a last reserve of strength somewhere within him and using it to push his aching muscles towards his goal. He quivered with anticipation as he stretched his foot out the last few inches to reach the safety of the protruding piece of cliff.
And then he slipped.
His muscles gave and his foot came free of its spot on the cliff face. His fingers clawed ineffectually at the air as his stomach lurched and he fell into the abyss. There was a scream—his scream. The sound was hollow in his ears, drowned out by the rush of air that engulfed him.
He hit something. The impact of his ribs on the hard surface was enough to knock the wind out of him, and there was a flash of pain. Kirelon spun in mid air, tumbling further down the side of the cliff. He landed unceremoniously on a thick, hard pole that bent with his weight. A tree limb. He was on a tree. He clung to the branch, another spike of fear hitting him as he felt the bough jostling back and forth from his initial impact. He expected it to snap at any moment and send him spiraling downward once more, but the branch wavered less and less until it grew still.
Kirelon realized he had yet to breathe since his breath had been stolen from him a moment ago. He inhaled and began to groan in pain, but his chest had yet to recover from its abuse, and the sound came out as more of a pitiful wheeze. He had survived the fall. Barely. Now all he had to do was figure out some way to climb off of the flimsy branch without snapping it in half. He took a few more deep breaths, though even breathing was painful now, and tried to gain some kind of direction. He was clinging to the branch of a tree, facing down its shaft, but whether or not he was facing towards the tree or away from it, he couldn't be sure. The limb should start growing thicker the closer he got to the trunk, but even as he probed along the branch with his hands, he couldn't really tell if the part of the tree ahead of him was growing smaller or larger.
He started to slide forward, taking a wild guess. The branch made an audible snap, and then tore in half, catapulting him into the darkness below. He screamed again. This time he encountered no resistance. He simply fell—for what seemed like an eternity. He knew the ground was there, and coming fast, but with only the last haze of the sun on the horizon for light and the mountain peaks casting their ominous shadows over the valley, all he saw was blackness. This was it.
The endless abyss gave way to solid ground.
Nast walked along the base of the cliff, wondering when the shipment would arrive. For some reason, everyone had assumed that he would be the best one to deal with pirates. Nast couldn't imagine why.
The evening was quickly surrendering to night, and it was almost pitch black now. He hadn't mixed his everglow, though—he definitely did not want to be seen tonight. Not many in the Lower City knew anything about the people that lived beyond the valley, but Nast wasn't just any citizen of the Lower City. He was its savior. There were entire settlements outside Argosson—Isthus, for one, but also colonies to the north and east of the city. Trade between Argosson and other communities was limited, but wherever there were trade goods or wealth—no matter the amount—there were thieves. And when you put them on airships—well, they became pirates. Nast wasn't entirely convinced that the distinction was necessary, but it was the way of things, so he didn't argue.
Atheor had first encountered the pirates on one of his numerous hunting trips, and after seeing the potential of the situation, had soon worked out an arrangement. Nast stopped his trail of memory as he thought of Atheor. Poor Danas. Nast shook his head. It was horrible what had happened to her—being forced to kill the man she loved? He wasn't sure he could have done the same in her situation. Atheor had been a great man—he had been loved by everyone in the rebellion. Nast wasn't sure what to believe about what had happened. His heart told him that Atheor had to have been Dominated—the man would not have betrayed them easily. But… His mind whispered other things. How well had he really known Atheor? The man had been away quite a few times in the recent past, and who knows what could have happened?
Nast shook his head again as if to shake the thoughts out. It felt like a dishonor to the man's memory to be thinking of him like this. He felt ashamed, and glanced up the cliff to take his mind off of the gloomy topic. Where is Eira? She was late. The woman was blasted annoying—stubborn, bad-tempered, and more trouble than she was worth. Sort of like Danas, he thought with a chuckle. To be honest, that's probably why he liked both of them so much.
There was nothing to see, of course. The airship would be running without lights, even though that was highly illegal. But, piracy was also highly illegal—if you were already a criminal, it made little sense to adhere to another law that was just as detrimental to business. Nast watched the cliff anyway, a dark, ominous wall on his right, rising towards the sky. Then he heard a scream, followed by a faint crashing sound and the creak of a tree. What is going on up there? He stopped and squinted, trying to pick out something—anything—in the encroaching blackness. The clouds above seemed to part slightly, and starlight illuminated the cliff, though not enough to see anything but a flicker of movement along the cliff face. Nast began to grow concerned, all sorts of wild possibilities flashing in his mind. The creaking continued, and then a resounding snap echoed in the valley, followed by another scream, which seemed to grow closer until being cut off suddenly as a shadowed form hit the ground a few hundred yards in front of Nast, next to the cliff wall.
Nast stood in shock for a long moment, staring at that lone figure, barely visible as a crumpled pile on the floor of the valley. Then he started to run. He didn't know much about setting broken bones or healing injuries or anything of that sort, but he needed to do something at least. If whoever it was wasn't dead, they would need medical attention right away. At the very least, Nast could find out who it was. He knelt as he reached the fallen man—and it was a man, he could see that now by the meager light of the stars above—and checked his pulse. Nothing. Not that Nast was surprised. The man had obviously broken dozens of bones, and his arm was twisted at a nasty angle. Cuts and abrasions covered the man's skin, and his simple black clothing hung in tatters around his body. The man's face was swollen and bruised, and his black hair was drenched with blood that ran down one ear. Dead, then. Nast sighed and started to rise, but the moment before he took his fingers from the man's neck, he felt something. It was faint, and for a second, Nast wasn't entirely sure he had felt anything at all. He must be imagining things.
But no…there it is again. The faint, slow throbbing of blood being pumped through the man's veins, just beneath the skin. He's alive. How?
Nast glanced back at the man's face, and then froze. For some reason, it seemed like there was less bruising than there had been a moment ago. He could see the young man's features more clearly now—long black hair curling down over bushy eyebrows, a prominent but not gregarious nose, and thin lips that seemed to purse by default. It was a handsome face, despite the swelling, and Nast wondered who it was. Even with the small amount of illumination he had to work with, Nast could see that the man's skin was very tan. A hunter, then? Or maybe a military man?
Nast shook his head. There would be time for questions later. Right now, he needed to make sure the injured man lived through the night. He couldn't help but study the man's face a moment longer—he could've sworn it had looked worse when he had first looked at it. Whatever, Nast thought. It doesn't matter.
Nast dug through his pack and pulled out his jar of everglow powder, then quickly mixed it with water, lighting up the area in a greenish glow. He swore under his breath as he checked the man over, trying to see the extent of his injuries. He hated having to use the everglow, but there was no help for it. This man's life was more important than a little secrecy. If someone did see him, he was confident in his ability to talk his way out of the problem—and Eira wouldn't land at the rendezvous if she saw a light. Sure, this might delay the pick-up, but the rebellion wasn't in a terrible hurry anyway.
Nast frowned as he noted each injury. Minor cuts, abrasions, scrapes… It didn't seem as bad as he had first thought, though that might have just been because of the poor illumination. The clothes look worse than he does…Nast touched the man's arm, trying to see if it could be salvaged—it was badly twisted, pinned and crushed by the weight of the body it was attached to. Nast couldn't be sure, but it looked like the arm was going to have to come off. He couldn't see how someone could retain use of their limb after that much damage had been done to it.
Nast looked around, wishing someone else was there. He didn't know what he was doing. This man needed medical attention, and fast, but Nast couldn't provide it, and he didn't want to move the man for risk of doing more harm. Nast glanced back at the mangled arm, squinting. Maybe it was just dislocated. If it was broken, he didn't think there was much that could be done, but if it was just dislocated, maybe he could put it back in place…
Nast grabbed the arm and started to shift it slightly, testing its flexibility. The man stirred and groaned slightly, and Nast stopped. After a moment, the man ceased his motion, and Nast continued to adjust the arm. He stopped again, and then shook his head. What am I doing? I have no idea how to… He swore again, and then jerked the arm, trying to bring it back in position.
The arm made an audible snap, and Nast gasped. The injured man opened his eyes wide and cried out once, then fell unconscious again. Nast knelt there in shock. The arm seemed to look better, more in place than it had been, but he couldn't be sure he had actually done anything beneficial. Then the muscles in the arm seemed to stiffen, pulling taut as the man clenched his fist, grabbing a handful of dirt in the process.
The man cried out again as he came awake, and then his breathing became quick and desperate. Nast's eyes widened as he gazed down at the black-haired young man. The various slashes and cuts that covered his body were receding, right in front of Nast. Closing up, healing, restoring the skin to its original unblemished state. Sky above, ground beneath… Nast swore silently, staring in awe. Who is this man?
The man, his face worn and confused, looked up at Nast and squinted. "What happened?" he said, his voice shaking.
Nast didn't know.