Part 03: City in the Sky

Filia!”

At the sound of her name, the short brunette looked around. She did not immediately see who was calling her. This level of the tower was vast and open, little more than an open forest of massive pillars on a stone floor surrounded by a metal handrail. The sky beyond was blue with small white clouds, the view unobstructed in all directions save one, where the Father Mountain stood. The sea breeze picked up her long hair and flipped it around her face. With her left hand she smoothed it away. She smiled just a bit when she saw the silver-haired man in tan leather approaching from behind one of the giant stone tower supports.

“Dartain. What brings you up here?”

“Looking for you! And visiting with Eleyta, of course.”

“Well met,” Filia responded. When Dartain reached out his hand she hesitated, then took his forearm in a firm clasp and pressed her cheek to his in an informal greeting.

“So what are you doing up here?” Dartain asked, releasing her. As she stepped back, he looked down at what she was doing without comprehension.

“Oh, Gomph has me in the tower conditioning the sworl traps.”

“Sworl traps,” Dartain replied, bemused, as he peered into the dimly lit cavity set in the side of the pillar. “Why are there sworl traps on this level?”

“Sworl knows few boundaries,” Filia replied, “and you never know when you might want to tap some. I expect they mostly use this level for parties and ceremonies and such.”

“And you are doing what, exactly?”

Filia responded by reaching into the cavity with her right hand, which held a short, wooden rod set on one end with a spray of golden wires. As she inserted it into the cavity, the walls of the cavity began to glow with a faint green light. The light revealed what seemed to be tree roots, some several fingers thick. On the largest was a small semblance of an old man’s face, set in sleep. Filia stroked the roots with the golden wires. Above their heads, from thin slots in the pillar, diaphanous membranes emerged. Pale blue, rose, and green, they waved back and forth as if fluttered by a slow breeze, even though the breeze was actually blowing a bit harder, and in a different direction.

“Someone has to come up here and wake them up periodically,” Filia explained as she performed her work, “or else the trap atrophies.”

“Have to wake the lazy creatures,” Dartain responded.

“Laa-zy greatures?” came a small, gruff voice from withing the cavity. Dartain started, and peered inside. The small face was awake now, pouting and blinking as if awaking from a nap. “Ah, ah’m no laa-zy greature.”

“No, of course you’re not!” Filia replied.

“How …?” Dartain asked, curious. Filia laughed.

“Psychic memory,” Filia replied, continuing her stroking. Above their heads the membranes grew, showing more detail and intricacy. “The enchantment absorbs the personality of the people who work on it over the years, until you can actually talk to it and it can talk back. It helps us work on them. So, friend,” Filia continued, addressing the mechanism, “how are you today?”

“Fine, fine,” replied the small face. “Nize na-ap, good zleep.”

“No problems, anything I can help you with?”

“Na-ope, no problemz.”

“Great. Go back to sleep, then. Good night.”

“Goo-ood night. Zzzzzzzzzzzzzz …”

Filia closed the ornately figured wooden door as the fluttering wings withdrew back into the finely machined slots. This done, she turned back to her companion.

“I’d love to chat, but I should probably get back to work. I have four more traps to do on this level and ten on the next one up.”

“Actually, I ran into Gomph on my way up here,” Dartain explained. “He asked me to send you back down. He said he had a job he needs to talk to you about.”

“What, and tear me away from all this excitement up here?” Filia said in mock distress.

“Well, he didn’t say what he wanted, just that he wanted you down in the workshop,” Dartain replied. “But first come up a few levels and say hello to Eleyta with me.”

Filia hesitated, frowning. “I…I really can’t. I’d like to, but I need to get down to the shop if Gomph wants to see me.”

“It’s okay,” replied Dartain, “Gomph expected it would take me a lot longer to find you up here. He actually expects to see you in two hours. You have time, really. And Eleyta has been asking about you.”

“Well,” said Filia, her gaze fixed on her worker’s pouch as she stuffed the tool inside, “I guess … I guess it’s okay, as long as I don’t stay too long.”

“Good. Let’s go.”

Dartain led the way, crossing through the thicket of pillars until they reached a simple staircase set on the side of the tower. The pair wound their way silently up the stairwell. As they climbed Filia looked out into the expanse of space that the tower overlooked. She had yet to tire of the view. Far below and spread out for many, many leagues was the city of Selkwyth. Here and there towers reached up from the clutter of the cityscape — former temples now used as universities. None had the height of the Tower.

The central spire of the city was built long ago on a dormant volcano, and was continuously being extended upwards and outwards. Far below entire wings of the Tower extended outward, buttressed against gravity and the winds by means both mechanical and magical. To the southeast she could see the ocean, slate-blue and still. North along the coast sprawled the garrison and the airfield. Airships could be seen here and there, trailing grey exhaust, while flights of dragons weaved through the sky.

Four floors up the staircase reached a catwalk extending out into open air. At the far end a massive fin reached out and down from high over their heads to join the catwalk. Where the two touched there stood a lone figure, dwarfed by the architecture. It turned to face them as they arrived.

“Dartain!” The voice was clear and clarion, almost musical, carrying a feel of glad greeting.

“Well met, Eleyta!” Dartain called back. He widened his stride and hurried towards his sister, Filia trailing behind. Eleyta also moved forward, keeping one hand on the catwalk railing. The wind played in her loose, silver hair. She was dressed in long, narrow swaths of beige linen that streamed out behind her as she ran and danced in the breeze. Peeking in between the fabric, her skin was a pale blue, marked in sinuous flame-like patterns with dark-blue tattoos. The two closed and wrapped in a hug. Filia noted the contrast between the paleness of Eleyta’s skin with the rich, olive tones of Dartain’s skin.  While they embraced, a flight of dragon riders swept past, racing in a great spiral up and around the Tower. Filia stood, entralled, watching the whole alien scene. Finally the Eleyta looked up at Filia.

“Filia!” Eleyta exclaimed. “Well met! So good to see you again!”

“And you, Eleyta,” Filia replied, looking out across the city.

“Dartain tells me that you and he are both on the same stratball team at the circus. How fun!”

“Well, I’m just a second,” Filia said, glancing at Eleyta for a just moment before looking out at the city again.

“She actually has been called in to play a number of times,” Dartain countered. “She is quite agile in the water. I think she even scored once.”

“Really! How wonderful!” Filia glanced back at Eleyta, and saw that she was staring steadily back. Eleyta’s eyes had become a brilliant blue, with flashes of silver. Her pupils were a disturbing grey, the mark of an acolyte of the Whind, those who were gifted with and studied t’sight.

“It was just the once. It was almost an accident.” Filia dropped her gaze to the catwalk.

“I wanted to come up and see if you were eating properly,” Dartain explained, taking his sister in his arms and lifting her off the catwalk. Eleyta squealed and laughed in delight. Setting her back down, Dartain ran his hands up and down his sister’s rib cage. “You are still too light, but I can’t feel your ribs anymore. You must be eating better.”

“Sister Francy insists that I do. She actually cooks a special meal every day and eats it with me.”

“Good.” Dartain gave his sister a kiss on her cheek. “We know how enthralled you are with your studies and being able to t’see the things you can. But even if you can see into other worlds you still have to live in this one.”

“Yes, brother,” Eleyta replied, cocking her head and smirking. “Tell Mother that I’m fine. And tell her to come visit me more often herself!”

“I will. I also came to give you this.” Dartain reached into his own workpouch and brought out a small leather sack tied with a pink drawstring. “Mother sent it.”

“Ah!” Eleyta took the sack and palped it, feeling what was inside. “I know what this is.”

“Mother said you were having problems sleeping. She said this would help.”

“Yes, it will. Thank her for me.”

“I will. Well, we must be going. Gomph wants Filia down in the workshop in about an hour.”

“You’d best get going then. Good bye.” The two embraced, then Eleyta held out open arms towards Filia. Filia slowly stepped forward and accepted the embrace and cheek. “Goodbye!” Eleyta repeated, and strode back toward the end of the catwalk. The pair watched her disappear through the door at the end, then turned back themselves. They headed down the stairs.

“Filia,” asked Dartain, “why are you so shy around Eleyta? You hardly looked at her once.”

“I …” Filia hesitated. “It’s … well, it’s … it was her dress. It’s just strips of cloth. It doesn’t even connect. You can see, well, anything, and everything. She’s really just naked.”

“Oh,” Dartain said. “I keep forgetting you’re from Braemond. People are more … traditional … there.” He nodded once, then cocked his head. “But Eleyta’s a woman. You must see naked women all the time, even in Braemond. Women do bathe there, don’t they?”

“Yes, they bathe,” Filia replied, a hint of exasperation in her voice. “But not in a crowd, like here, and not with the men. And certainly not with their brothers.”

“What do I have to do with it?”

“It’s just, well, you’re her brother. I don’t know how else to say it. Women in Braemond aren’t naked around their brothers.”

Dartain considered. “But you seem okay at the circus, and we’re all naked there in the team pit when we get ready for the games.”

“I always dress and undress at home, before I arrive.”

“Oh. I hadn’t noticed. But it’s not just that. You are always shy around her, no matter how she’s dressed.”

Filia was silent.

“If it bothers you to talk of it …”

“No, it’s okay. I … I think it’s her skin. She … remind me of … someone.”

“It’s Jaspin, isn’t it? She reminds you of Jaspin. We all do.”

“No, not all of you, not all the time. you don’t, much, not anymore. It’s just … her eyes, and how she stares at me. It reminds me of … of how I got here.”

“She stares at you because she has to,” Dartain explained. “As her t’sight grows, her sight dims. You know that.”

“I know. It’s just uncomfortable, that’s all. I do like her. She’s nice, really. I just … I have some problems sometimes.”

They came off the stairs four floors down and crossed to the central core.

“Well,” Dartain said, “I need to get back to work also. Will I see you tonight at the circus?”

“I’ll be there,” Filia replied.

“All dressed and ready to play,” replied Dartain, grinning.

“Yes,” agreed Filia.

“Well met, Filia,” Dartain replied, extending an arm.

“Well met,” Filia replied, taking it. She smiled lopsidedly, and pressed her cheek to his. He then stepped away towards the central core. There an arch opened onto an empty shaft that fell far out of sight below, clear down towards the heart of the volcano. Dartain held his hands up and half-closed his eyes. He stepped through the arch and fell away. Filia then approached the arch. She likewise held up her hands, feeling the magical field that clung to the walls of the shaft. This was a technique that had taken her many months of work to master once she arrived in Selkwyth. Once assured that the field was active and aware of her, she stepped out into the open air, and dropped towards the floors below.

* * *

Gomph was bent over a magnifying glass in the workshop when she entered.

“Did you know that the seeds of this fern are six-sided?” he asked as she approached.

“No,” she replied. “Should I care?”

“Most people would be extremely interested in that fact,” Gomph replied, straightening up and flipping his glasses back up his forehead. He turned to face her. She stared at him for a long moment before replying.

“Sure,” she said slowly. When he maintained his gaze she continued. “Dartain said you called for me?”

“Yes.” He did not alter his gaze, but just stood there, motionless. “I want you to go on the expedition.”

“I can’t,” Filia replied evenly. “I have to stay here and work.”

“You work for me,” he replied. “I want you to go.”

She stood still for a moment, almost meeting his gaze. “There’s too much that needs done in the Tower. We need to …”

“Filia, I need you to go,” he interrupted. “I need your hands and your skills. The Tower will wait a few weeks while we’re gone. The rest of the staff can take care of things until we’re back.”

“What do you need me for?” she asked plaintatively, dropping her gaze.

“Gomph, are you in here?” cam a voice from the workshop door. The two turned to see an older man in red-trimmed white robes entering. He was leading a tall, thin man by the hand.

“Yes, we’re here,” Gomph replied. He took off his bulky glasses and set them on the workbench, then stepped toward the door.

“Is this Filia?” asked the man.

“Yes, this is she, Proctor Quaternus. Filia, this is Proctor Quaternus, the seer who chartered the expedition.”

“Well met, Proctor,” Filia replied, clasping her hands and giving a small curtsy.

“And this is Staun,” Quaternus said, indicating the thin man. Filia looked him over. His blue, tattooed skin showed him to be an adept of the Whind. She could tell instantly from the cant of his head and his stiff posture that he was blind. His eyes were an amazing blue with flashes of silver, and his pupils sparkled and glittered with light. He was dressed in the same beige strips of cloth Eleyta wore. Although his garment was perhaps a bit more opaque, and was decorated with silver threads, it was equally revealing. Filia concentrated her gaze on his face,

“Well met, Staun,” Gomph said. “I’ve heard you were well recommended.”

“I am the best,” Staun said simply. He did not turn to look at Gomph as he spoke.

“Modest, too,” Filia said, then looked down as both Gomph and Quaternus threw glances at her.

“We’ve come straight from the final trials at the Whind Spire,” Quaternus said. “Staun was the graduate with the highest scores.” He and Gomph both looked at Staun intently.

“We’ll be sure to see to it that we support him in every way possible,” Gomph replied.

“Excellent,” Quaternus replied. He looked directly at Filia for a moment, then nodded. “See you both aboard in the morning.”

Filia watched as Quaternus led Staun away, then turned back to Gomph.

“So I don’t suppose I have any say in this?” she asked evenly.

“Of course you do,” Gomph replied. “You’re free to refuse. I just don’t know why you would. This is a great opportunity!”

Filia watched him pack his glasses away in their padded case. “OK. I’ll go.”

“Okay.” Gomph looked at her. “Pack light. Only ten bricks per person of luggage.”

“I don’t think I even own that much,” Filia replied.

“Good. Well, take the rest of the afternoon off and get ready.”

Filia nodded, and after a moment walked off to put away her tools.

* * *

The air at street level was still quite warm from the midday sun when Filia approached the circus later that night. There was already a decent crowd at the public gates, and a part of her thrilled at the idea that they were, at least to one degree, there to see her. Her and her team, of course, and the other players and teams, to be sure, but her nonetheless.

She turned aside and approached the players entrance, where the guards nodded her in. Her uniform, gaily colored stripes of shiny cloth wound around her body and limbs, marked her as a player and served as her passkey. A few other players were arriving as well. One was already in uniform, the others were not. Together they ran up the long stone corridor that circled beneath the massive stone bleachers to the team pits. Hers was the far pit.

The scene in the pit was of congenial chaos, with almost fifty bodies filling the area with movement and noise. It was a scene of gay chaos, with brown, beige, and olive bodies jostling heedlessly about. Only half the team was in uniform; the rest were either in street clothes or various states of undress. Some were busily winding themselves or each other into uniform, while others were running back and forth to warm up, or tossing small jodi balls up over the pit to other players on the other side. In the center of the melee Filia could see the coach and the captains talking, gesturing and pointing out towards the arena.

As the other arriving players plunged down into the mass, Filia hung back. She stopped halfway down the ramp, casting unsure glances down and back up the ramp. She retreated a step, then stopped.

“Have they not started yet?” Filia turned at the sound of the voice to see Dartain come up behind her. He was in uniform, and stopped with her to look down into the pit. “We should have started by now.”

“What’s going on?” Filia asked, her gaze aimed off to one side. “Why is everyone still getting ready?”

“The guards wouldn’t let us in when we first arrived,” Dartain explained. “I heard there was some trouble inside, maybe even a firewyrm.”

“A firewyrm?” Her head picked up and she focused her eyes on Dartain. “Here?”

“What I heard,” Dartain shrugged. “They delayed the game. Coach is probably getting pretty nervous. Let’s go down.”

He headed down. Filia hesitated, then followed, fixing her gaze on his back. Together they passed across the pit to the far side. There they joined a dozen men and women standing near the gates, jodi sticks strapped to their right hands. Dartain and Filia took jodi sticks and began to strap them on.

“So what did Gomph want?” Dartain asked.

“He wants me to go with him on the expedition.”

Dartain spun to face her. “Are you serious?! What did you say?”

Filia didn’t look up, but studiously kept her eyes on her work. “I said I’d go.”

“How wild!” Dartain grabbed her in a spontaneous hug. “Lucky you! Oh, I wish I were in your shoes!”

“I’m not wearing shoes,” she replied wryly. “And I wish I didn’t have to go. I’d actually rather stay here.”

“Why? It’s an honor! To travel halfway across the world!” A whistle sounded and they both turned their heads. The coach and captains were waving their arms for attention. Dartain turned back to Filia. “We’ll talk more after the game.”

The two split up, Dartain going to the rear of the pit with the goal tenders, Filia to the center with the swimmers. Most of the players were fully suited up now, with jodi sticks strapped on and the few jodi balls ready to go. The captains circulated, giving instructions to group leaders, while the coach lectured the goal tenders. Then the customary pre-game chant started.

Seconds later, the gates opened and the teams poured out. Filia ran with the team onto the field. They filed past the icon, giving the traditional touch to the golden posts, then the game was on. Filia was posted in the water, parrying attempts by the chargers to pass the main ball through and flinging jodi balls at the secondary goals. Most of the action was up on the dry field, but Filia did see some play. She made an impressive save by leaping out of the water and knocking away a jodi ball with the end of her stick. Ultimately, their team lost, but the game was interesting enough that Filia didn’t mind.

After the game she stood by the podium, looking up at the opposing captains as they stood, bloody and bruised, and received their trophies. Her gaze especially fell on the single female captain as she accepted her trophy and held it aloft, the blood from her wounds running down her face and bare breasts, the remnant of her shredded uniform dangling around her waist. Filia’s eyes especially lingered on the ghosts of tattoos that still showed through the woman’s tawny skin, tattoos of slender flames.

2 Responses “Part 03: City in the Sky”

  1. Jeff Reding says:

    ‘. . . little more than a open forest of massive pillars’ should be ‘an open forest . . .’

    ‘And you are …?’
    Are what? The previous paragraph doesn’t seem to lead to this question and the next one doesn’t seem to give an answer.

    ‘ “But first come up with me a few levels and say hello to Eleyta with me.” ‘
    There should be only one ‘with me’ in this sentence.

  2. Kethrios Administrator says:

    Fixed, thanks!

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