Part IV: Madness
There is a language which children can read. If they never get a chance to use it often, they forget it as they grow up. The chance to use it comes at a price though, and the child would never choose to pay that price.
But the child doesn’t get to choose. It just happens.
Those who read it are valuable. They do not read the language of the mind; they are not seers. They read the language of the heart; they look into your eyes and see your soul laid out as legibly as words.
What sort of horror has that child gone through to read souls so fluently?
Sometimes the country’s highest record keepers would visit the library for the sake of pulling some ancient fact out of the crumbling archives, but it was rare. Dust coated every shelf, every scroll, every ancient book. Now, however, the door was ajar. A glow created by faery magic was shining from beyond the labyrinth of shelves.
Prithvi’s antennae put forth a smaller glow. She lifted the hem of her robes out the dust and crept toward the other light.
To think this mess is where we keep the history of our kingdom, Prithvi chided herself. If I’d known, I would’ve had it cleaned up long ago. The path to the light source was marked by a disruption of the thick dust that covered the book bindings; it was freshly smeared away with an impatient hand, just enough to read the titles.
As she came around the last bookshelf, Prithvi’s eyes centered on the bright red of Saraelye’s hair. The queen sat on a high stool facing away in the sphere of her magic lighting. She was flipping through a book on the table, mumbling to herself. She held loose papers and scrolls to its pages then tossed them heedlessly aside when she was done, until she found a tattered scroll that seemed to satisfy her.
Prithvi made a tentative step forward, but the board on the floor gave a short loud whine as she put her weight on it. Queen Saraelye’s wings buzzed and her light flickered as she jump and spun around in start. She now stood straight and tall on the stool with her wings stretched out and her breath held. Prithvi brightened her own light to make herself more identifiable, but the anger in the queen’s eyes and stance did not waver.
Prithvi stepped back, but finally Queen Saraelye shook her head and hopped down to the floor. "Don’t sneak up on me like that," she said softly. She turned around and shuffled through the papers wearily. "Now where’d it go…?" She found the paper she wanted and tucked it into the book. She gathered the others into a pile and placed them between two books on the bottom shelf in the corner of the room. This was clearly not their proper place, but with the location, the shadows, and the size of the surrounding books, it was unlikely that anyone would find them by accident.
"I’m sorry… your majesty," Prithvi said meekly when Queen Saraelye turned back around.
"I left the door open didn’t I?" the queen asked rhetorically. "I should have shut it to keep people from wandering in…."
"I’m sorry, I didn’t mean…"
"Oh, don’t worry," Queen Saraelye said. This time she seemed to be addressing Prithvi instead of talking to herself, but she opened the book again to inspect the page marked by the inserted paper. "I don’t mind you so much. I just don’t want random people coming in, learning a bit, going to gossip about it…." Prithvi leaned forward to look at the book. "On second thought—" the book slammed shut. "—I do mind you. Nothing personal. You’ll probably be the first person I tell when I’m ready."
Prithvi shrunk away like a child caught misbehaving. She nodded.
"Oh, did you come in here to make sure no one was messing around, or did you want something?" Saraelye asked.
"Uh… b-both, actually," Prithvi stuttered. She composed herself and said, "Master Roki and his squad have returned. They have all suffered injuries due to a wyvern they encountered on the way here. Most injuries are minor, but Roki’s wings are damaged beyond use, and he has a broken antenna."
Queen Saraelye cringed. "Um, the wyvern?"
"Dead. Burnt on the beach."
"Ah…. I take it you’re not done yet?"
"The squad brought Aikel and Kyri back with them."
"They did?!" Queen Saraelye grinned ecstatically. "Where were they found?"
"On the beach, where the wyvern was fought. We haven’t had a chance to ask them where they’ve been."
"Injuries? And Pegasus and Unicorn?"
"Nothing more than the occasional scratch or bruise. Pegasus and Unicorn look perfect. They’re resting in some free rooms at the inn."
"Wow, there were free rooms at the inn?"
"Once the corpses were relocated, yes."
Queen Saraelye sighed. "Give me an update on the refugees…."
"The current count is 212 humans—but that’s probably inaccurate as humans are glued in place when you want them to move and wandering about when you want them to stay put—and 17 dwarves. That excludes the 27 humans and two dwarves that have died from their injuries since arriving. A pair of elves got caught up in this too, but they aren’t exactly refugees.
"We have people stuffed in the inn, in storerooms, in root-caves, in any spare space we can give them. Aikel and Kyri were given separate rooms, but we’ll have to make them share one now.
"Ah, I forgot to mention that girl. The sprite girl that was their guide. She’s back safe and in her own bed, but they brought two other girls back with them."
"They brought two other girls back with them?"
"Yes. A third elf, and, oddly, a centaur."
"A… centaur. A blond woman with talons on her back legs?"
"No, your Majesty. She’s a little girl with red hair.
"Whatever, if that’s all the big news about the refugees, I need to talk to Aikel and Kyri. War report can wait, unless you can tell me on the way to the inn."
* * *
Saraelye was surprised to find Aikel up pacing around his room while Pegasus slept calmly.
"Ah, restless?" she asked.
He jumped, startled, as he was apparently used to people knocking. His clothes were ripped and tattered. His hair was knotted, and his eyes were red and tired.
"Where have you been?" Saraelye asked.
"Ah, orcs and… ugh." Aikel sat heavily on the bed with a sigh.
"Oh, now you’re tired," Saraelye laughed. His heavy landing didn’t disturb Pegasus, but the sinking matress allowed Aikel’s chains and medallions to spill onto the floor. Saraelye spotted its dark blue gem and picked it up. "So this is why you’ve been gone so long…" she said, fingering the Flame and Sea Orbs.
"We got lost," Aikel grunted.
"I hope I’ll get a better story than that later," said Saraelye, "but get some rest for now."
"No!" Aikel jumped up and grabbed her shoulders. "What’s the next orb? We can go find it now!"
"Meadow Orb…?" Prithvi mumbled. She had been standing in the doorway, but she quickly retreated when she saw Saraelye’s furious glare.
"Meadow Orb! Where is it?! Tell me, and we’ll go now!" Aikel raved. "We’ll get another step forward, and the more we’re away from this city, the less we’ll draw the enemy here!"
"I told you to rest!" Saraelye yelled. When he started to protest again, she picked him up by the breast of his tattered clothes and heaved him onto his bed. "Rest, damn you!" She calmed down and said, "Rest now while you have the chance, and be grateful for it. You’ll get new clothes tomorrow and then I have a job for you."
Aikel was still stunned from being picked up and thrown by a woman as tall as his shoulders, so he didn’t answer as she left the room.
* * *
Kyri tried—in vain—to suppress a giggle.
She, Gelrini, and Himeki were loitering about on one of Nalya Troop’s high platforms. There was nothing but a nice view of the rest of the city on one side, save two large branches that hung over the edge and provided bushes with their leaves. The other side of the platform was occupied by the tailor shop, and there was a bridge on either side that led to a lower platform. Kyri sat on a log made for sitting, while Himeki lounged on the base of one of the branches, and Gelrini pranced around chasing the glowing insects.
The tailor’s shop was called Cho Mereki—Yousei later told them that it meant Little Fanciness back when the store was made, but modern slang made the phrase translate better as Little "Fancy Woman"—and it was decorated with bright paint around the lining and flowers lined up in front. The windows were obscured by racks of faery-sized clothing, but there was a lot of racket coming from within. "Ow!" was a frequent sound, as well as several other unclear panic-filled phrases in Aikel’s voice. A woman’s voice yelled things like, "If you’d hold still, the pins wouldn’t poke you!" There was a series of loud crashes and bangs right before the door was flung open.
"The sleeves aren’t too long! I adore long sleeves! They’re perfect, I swear!" Aikel cried as dashed from the building. A pair of tights had gotten tangled around his ankles on the way out, and he tripped and fell on his face.
The exasperated tailor appeared in the doorway armed with a threaded needle and a tape measure. "Okay, okay, I won’t change the sleeves!" she cried, "but I’m sure your pants don’t fit right!"
"They fit fine!" Aikel screamed as he sat up and crossed his legs. "Stay away from me!" He crawled, awkward pose and all, toward the "bush" near the edge of the platform and attempted to hide there.
Meanwhile, Kyri, Gelrini, and Himeki were doubled over with laughter. Kyri had been annoyed by the fussy detail-oriented woman as well, but Aikel’s reaction was unnecessary.
"Fine!" the tailor cried. She turned to Kyri. "You’re my witness! If the queen is unhappy with his clothes, it’s his fault, not mine!" Seeing Kyri nod, she turned and slammed the door on her way back inside.
Aikel took a few seconds to catch his breath. "You shouldn’t be laughing at me! You look ridiculous!" he yelled at Kyri.
Kyri looked offended, but Himeki, who was sitting on the branch slightly behind and above him, said, "Not as ridiculous as you!" She reached down, pulled a stray sock out of his hair, and tossed it aside. "But it’s okay…" she consoled, her torso still convulsing with laughter, "I love you now, Aikel, since you’ve made me laugh so much…."
The wave of red that spread over his face was the only acknowledgement he gave her. When Saraelye arrived and informed him that he was "Aww, so cute!" he only tried harder to hide behind the leaves.
Kyri’s clothes were mostly white. Her pants were ruffled in such a way that they looked like a skirt. The collar was blue, and the short loose sleeves where lined with blue. The area around her chest was covered in transparent cloth up to the collar. She had a glove made of tough blue cloth on her right hand, and a soft white cotton glove on the left. She thought it was much fancier than necessary.
Aikel’s neck, chest, and shoulders were covered by heavy leather. His blue shirt hung down in the front and back. It had white sleeves with blue cuffs that hid all but his fingers whenever his arms were relaxed. His pants were white, and he had a dark blue cape.
"What did you want us to do today?" Aikel asked Saraelye.
"The mobs of panicked humans crowding into wherever we can fit them allow you to guess what’s happening in Felanci right now, I’m sure," she said, waving her hand at the rest of the city. "Master Roki’s scouts report that a small army of goblins are about…. I’m sending as many of my warriors as I can spare to help you. Come with me, and I’ll tell you more."
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