Scratching awoke Zaifyr, a low, dull noise that bled into the final fragments of his dreams, where he sat upon the edge of a trail. He had no destination, was waiting for no one, and suffered from neither situation until the noise began behind him. As he sat, the scratching grew and grew until the sound of sharp claws tearing at wood could be felt in his skin. The sound persisted until he opened his eyes and saw a large raven on the window seal, its wide, glossy back presented to him. Reaching for the cloth pants at the side of the bed, he pulled himself up, stepped into the legs, and grabbed the glass of water from the table beside him. Approaching the window, he rinsed his mouth and spat past the raven onto the garden that struggled to grow below.
“Good morning, Jae'le,” he said, placing the glass down.
“And to you, brother.” The raven's voice was harsh, unnatural, its vocal cords forced into positions uncommon to it. “How do you find the Watchtowers?”
“There are two Keepers here.” He reached for the chair Orlan had sat on the night before and eased himself into it. “Fo and Bau, the Disease and the Healer. We can assume that the Enclave does not think of this is a simple war which, given that a intact City of Ger lies beneath this very city, is certainly an astute reading of the situation, I think.”
“And Samuel Orlan?”
Zaifyr met the raven's black gaze. “You smell too much.”
“Why would he visit you?”
“His apprentice was attacked by a Quor'lo.”
The raven's beak dug suddenly into its wing, tearing out a black feather, signaling that, for just a moment, Jae'le had relaxed his grip on the animal. Over half a world away, Zaifyr imagined the lean man in his cushioned chair, twisting the long, dark beard that he had grown over the last century. The raven, more itself than it had been for weeks, tried to dig him out, pulling at its body like it might a tic, or loose feather, searching for its annoyance. Then, as quickly as it began, the raven went still, its head rising.
“I won't pretend that I don't find Orlan coming to you more interesting than the girl, or Bau, or Fo,” Jae'le said. “But I doubt there is much else you wish to share?”
“Don't let the past—”
“I know what you are going to say.” Zaifyr reached for the glass of warm water. “I am not interested in being chastised.”
“I was not about to do so.”
“You were,” he said, his voice cold and barren, like the mountains where he had been born. “Now, instead, ask me about this city and this war you sent me to examine.”
Quietly, the raven said, “Very well.”
“It is a holy war, I believe, the first in a long time. The Quor'lo hinted at that, and not slightly, either, which can only mean that the intention of those marching on the Watchtowers is not meant to be a secret. We, and by we I mean the Enclave and every other person with a touch of a gods power in them, are their enemies, and they march against us, as much as they do Mireea. As for the city...” Zaifyr shrugged. “It cannot hold against a large force, not without reinforcements. As far as I can see, none are expected. My belief is that the city is, firstly, preparing for siege and, secondly, preparing to retreat. In my ride up here, the roads from Yeflam were clean, many with rebuilt bridges. I didn't venture to the other side of the Wall, but I've heard that the mining settlements that the Watchtowers can't protect have been forcibly shut down and the people moved into Mireea. The land left behind has been razed already. There are two camps on the trail when you approach the city from Yeflam that support this, though I wouldn't say there was more than a thousand people in them combined. That's Heast's work. He'll prepare for the retreat even if he doesn't fully understand the reason for it. Or perhaps he does, in this case. I don't think that the people in the city understand that, and when it emerges that a force is going to have to stay behind until everyone is gone, there will be a lot of tears shed with the blood.”
“How long do you think they can hold?”
“That depends on the Leeran army and those in charge of it.”
“The priests.” Jae'le hesitated, the dark feathers on the raven ruffling. “With the Quor'lo, did you feel... anything?”
Zaifyr leaned forward. “No. Should I?”
The raven's head shook. “On my way here, I thought to fly over Leera, to see what this army might look like. I had not planned it, but I did not think that it would be of any real consequence and might be of interest to our discussion once I arrived. I did not go beyond the border.”
“You were stopped?” He couldn't believe it.
“No,” Jae'le replied. “Just cautious.”
“What was it?”
If the bird could have shrugged, Zaifyr believe that it would have. “I don't know. That is why I did not go further.”
“You felt something?”
The raven squawked, the sound of Jae'le applying too much pressure on his end of the bond. “I'm not sure what. It is difficult to feel anything, this close to Ger and his brothers.”
Zaifyr leaned back in the chair, quiet. He felt Ger and his brothers, but perhaps because he felt the dead constantly at the edges of his consciousness, he was not as bothered by it as were the other four. He had never been so and, after centuries locked in the wasteland that had been created after the Nameless One's demise, he no longer tried to understand what it was that they felt. He had, in fact, grown tired with the intricate puzzle boxes of theories that peppered their conversations, and began with theft and inheritance, but had no conclusion. The quest to know who and what they were was all that mattered to his brothers and sisters, but he was unable to share it, now. He could forgive them the time he had spent locked in the tower, understood it even, and agreed, for he knew what he had become and the madness that lay at the centre of him. But there was no denying that since the door opened, he had been different, cured, yes, but changed through that, driven emotionally away by their very actions.
“The City of Ger,” Jae'le said, finally. “Could you return to it?”
“If I wanted,” he replied, carefully.
“Are you asking—”
Zaifyr hesitated, then said, “He may be protected.”
“He may.” The raven shifted, its claws scratching lightly as it did. “But, perhaps, we should know in what condition he lies, before the army arrives.”
“Do you think they are coming for him?”
“Do you think they are not?”
“Neither do I. You may leave as soon as you have finished there.”
Zaifyr hesitated, then said quietly, “I might stay. For just a little while after.”
“People will die, brother.”
Unnaturally still now, as if the body of the raven were being gripped tightly by a man who, once, had remade the world in the image he so desired, he said, “What did Samuel Orlan say to you?”
“Nothing that I care to share, brother.”
I have totally given into my desire to have Immortals With A Back Story of Terrible Deeds and Grudges, which may or may not include locking a man in a tower for a thousand years over the body of a dead god, and surrounded by ghosts.
It's a bit different, writing this. I'm conscious of the history around trying to sell the last one (two agents, failed deal, etc) and you know, you'd be a different person to me if you didn't have that occasionally tapping for your attention. Part of me feels the weight of that, and the freedom of it, because lets face it, there's no much to worry a lot about when you've been through all the other stuff. There's always new lows, though, I guess, but you just got to ride them if they come (and don't dwell on them, really). But on the other hand, you got to enjoy what you write, and I am doing that, filling my world full of dead gods, letting debates on evolution and creationism filter in, tossing in conspiracies, and, you know, have Terrible and Awful Experiences Happen to Otherwise Nice People.
But, you know, just under half way of moving along. A siege will soon happen. There will be betrayal. A man with a metal leg may become important.
Don't look at me like that, I know what I'm doing.