Even familiar characters can bring surprises. The revelation that came out of this part was totally unplanned until it flowed out on the page. When it did, it seemed only natural considering her background. So... The remainder of chapter 3.
The breezes lifted her skyward in the blink of an eye. The colorful spires of the towers were dimmed in the darkening sky, but still sent a thrill through her heart. Orienting on the yellow tower, which looked roughly brown in the twilight, she called the winds to send her northward. The Earth Tower stood on the toe of a mountain, with only sheep pastures beyond. A few campfires marked where their tents stood guarding the flocks. Behind her the lights of Twilling glowed bright as people enjoyed the evening repast. Food was far from the top of her list though.
She was experiencing the thrill that every airwalker dreamed of. What was the point in walking on air if you could soar? Twisting, turning, thrilling to the feel of breezes that carried her along on the playful course. Past the mountain toe that spread eastward, she was soon high above the open rolling plains of the middle country.
Excitement swelled in her, bringing with it the desire to experience it all. Down she went, to skim along the tops of grain ready for the harvester’s scythe. A few of the taller stalks brushed the tips of her stretching fingers. This would soon be filling the bakery with the sweet smell of spiced breads. Aeriona’s smile broadened even more with the imagined aroma.
Upward, through the chilling air with a spiral that threatened dizziness. The lights of a few scattered campfires seemed so very faint on the grassy plain below her. It took her a few circles to orient back on Heike, the bringer of color. That star always shined brightly in the Northern sky when it was harvest time.
The stars were all coming out now. Even Autahory, the white, though she was still low in the east. It wouldn’t be long before she chased Heike off to sulk. For now she could rely on him to take her toward Prince Moffatt’s realm.
Within a few hours she could feel the sagging feeling as her body coveted the softness of a hay pile. It was nearly flying into a tree that woke her to the exhaustion. The urgency of the scroll rolled through the back of her thoughts, and she dared not tarry on the ground to rest. Taking a bite of the first journey loaf woke her hunger, and in a few moments she had eaten half of the ones in her pouch. Several sips on the stim-draught tube diverted her thoughts from eating the rest of them for now. The bitter tasting liquid renewed her energy, and sent her back up out of the reach of branches.
Thrice more during the night flight she had to revive her energy, though the journey loaves were gone after the second. It was still dark when the last of her stim-draught gurgled in the tube. This was the time of night when the stars have dimmed, leaving only the small moon for company. She knew it was a fickle guide though, and tried to compensate for its rapid sky crossing.
Luck favored her with another guide, this one not rooted to the soil. Pale light glinted from the road below her. It took only a small change to keep that silvery line below her. A few times she lost sight of it in the dark masses of trees, but they were sparse. The big problem came when the shining road below her twisted around a hill.
She knew the road to be fairly straight, and nowhere did it make such sharp curves. Descending for a closer look revealed her mistake. Cleared roads of bare earth shouldn’t sparkle the way the Ganboat river did. She only knew the highway crossed the river twice between the towers and Frospire, not where it wandered at other times. Had it already made those crossings? Her only hope fell back to the small moon.
Dawn's early light revealed she had strayed just a few miles off course, despite the detour. The king’s road lay off to her right, marked by the few homesteads bordering the bare ribbon among the oat fields. Aeriona corrected to follow it, watching as the light brightened to bring lights to a few windows as farmers woke early for the hard work of harvesting.
The sun was coming up about the time she spied the city in the distance. She had enough energy to bring a smile to her lips, though not much else.Her stim-draught had given out more than an hour earlier, and it was sheer will that kept her going. Part of her mind was trying to convince the rest that it would be reasonable to land and beg a ride from a farmer heading into the city.
Manoga’s capitol, Frospire, claimed the top of one of the rockier hills, surrounded by rolling fields of hearty grain. Only a few leagues away lay the base of the Razor mountains. They cut like a steel edge across the Northern border of three lands. Beyond them lay the cold reaches of the Sky Bowl, a land gripped in ice for most of the year.
The highway she was following topped the hill, straight into Frospire, and continued out the other side. Her eyes followed it into the clouds blanketing the Razors. Involuntarily she shivered, knowing that was her destination. First she needed to meet with the reagent, and rest a bit. Her strength was so far gone that Aeriona doubted she could pull off a lady-like landing.
She dropped back to the ground outside the city gates, startling a dozen farmers waiting to pass through the checkpoint on their wagons loaded with the freshest produce. Her legs shared the same exhaustion as the rest of her, and crumpled with the sudden demand on them. Aeriona fell to her knees. Grasping the pike held by the gate guard.
“Miss? Are you alright? Where did you come from?”
She struggled to her feet. “I need an audience with the prince. Right away.”
“Easy now. Just who are you?”
As she turned her face up to him, he caught a glimpse of the rune etched into her cheek. He quickly wiped his palm across his eyes. It was a gesture she’d seen many times. Wiping the magic from his eyes. Well, it was better than a sword. The other guard, that had been poking the bales on the wagons, joined his partner to face her.
“Ice Giant! Hold right there, you can’t get in.”
“You’re… easily half a head taller, and you call me giant? I come from the Crystal Towers. I need to see the prince immediately.”
It had taken a lot of energy to keep herself aloft, even with the magic of the sky suit. The winds had drained her energy near completely,though concentrating on them had given a focus for her will. Now that solid ground pressed into her feet, a deep weariness was settling over her mind and body.
“My name is Aeriona; your prince called for me. I must see him, please.”
“I’m not going to spend my next month walking the spire because of this. Get her into the wagon while I send Bejorl ahead to let em know she’s coming.”
“Yeah, but she’s one o’ them mages. Turn ya into a goat if you look at her funny.”
“If she turns you into a goat you can have all the free grass ya want. Now git moving.”
She heard the rapid clomping of hooves as the rider sped off ahead. She nodded thanks to the guard as they helped her into a waiting carriage. It was a simple affair, designed more for moving drunks than visiting guests. At least the rail at the side of the seat gave her something to hold onto as the wagon bumped over the cobblestone paved street.
The streets were lining with people gathering for the autumn market. This should have been an occasion of celebration, but she could feel the undercurrent of tension in those they passed. Muted comments about early winter, and unseemly storms reached her. Occasionally there were even comments about her white hair. Those comments carried with them a note of anger.
There was barely a pause at the grand entrance of the keep as the house guards made to block the way. Bejorl had done his job though, and the appearance of the guard captain cleared this obstacle easily. He even assumed the role of escort, leading her straight into the audience chamber, where she stood waiting for only a few minutes before the arrival of Prince Moffatt.
“So, you come to us with a claim that I sent for you. Quite a bold move for one such as you.”
“I am here at the behest of the Crystal Towers.”
“You bear the blood of Ice Giants, though slightly less than their tall stature. Surely it has not escaped your notice that we are oft at odds with them. As for that mark on your face, many have forged such markings to garner favors; some even had a touch of power to aid the deception.”
“No mage would dare to invoke the authority of the Magi Council falsely. The Sonath Tumolt may have been a few hundred years ago, but it is still pounded into us as a lesson.”
“Firstly, you have not proven yourself either a mage, nor the authority of the Magi Counsel. This is my domain.”
“You sent a request for aid.”
“I sent that request four days ago. It is a four day ride each way.”
“Three days of hard riding brought your messenger to the gates of the towers. I am their answer.”
“This borders on utter insult! To answer a request for aid when the Ice Giants have ambushed my gesture of peace, they send a girl?” Not just any girl mind you, One with the ice blood so strong in her veins that size is the only marker to say that she isn’t. You would be what? A Journey mage?”
Aeriona unfastened the flap of the sky suit enough for it to fall open, revealing the twisted rune of her council brooch. “My name is Aeriona Liff, Third Master Air Mage, and council member. The Magi Council was moved enough by the plea of your messenger to send me. I was granted use of ancient magics so that I could arrive in time.”
“I must apologize; the claim seemed too wild to accept. Still you bring as many troubles as you bring possible salvation.”
“Right now I bring you an exhausted mage who needs a bit to eat and a few hours rest before I could summon a breeze strong enough to snuff a candle.”
"My breakfast is getting cold as we speak; come join me at my table while a room is readied."
She followed the prince through the side door, and down a short hall to the more private rooms of his home. A second plate was set for her as the prince whispered instructions to his chamberlain. A serving girl roughly her own age stood by to see to her needs, leaving Aeriona a little nervous at the unaccustomed attention.
Aeriona emptied two platefuls of the food under the astonished eyes of the Prince, and his chamberlain. She filled a third, taking two bites before falling forward. She was asleep with her face in the eggs.
Aeriona awoke to the gently shaking of her shoulder by a woman dressed in the uniform of a servant. Her eyes still felt the grittiness of exhaustion as she glanced around slowly. She had been moved into a bed; her clothes were hanging from a stand across the room. Her body wanted nothing more than to roll over and try to find a dream.
“What time is it?”
"I'm very sorry to have to wake you so soon. You've been asleep a bit over six hours. They have horses waiting in the courtyard, and… My Kyle is one of those trapped. Please…"
Aeriona nodded slowly, still trying to clear the sleep from her brain. She had another stim-draught in her pack, but using it like this would drain her completely in a few hours. She had to get up despite the protesting muscles all through her body. The words had reminded her of just how dire her mission was.
She dressed back into the clothes she had worn for the party yesterday. They weren't the sturdiest clothes for adventuring, but she needed to protect the sky suit. The cloak Lilja had packed snugged close around her shoulders bringing a bit of comfort. The air here was noticeably cooler than her room in the white tower.
When she dug deeper into her pack to pull out the journey bread, the maid interrupted her. "Oh, no. Put those away. I had them make you some of these."
She indicated a tray resting on the dresser that had several soldier pockets stacked upon it; small loaves of bread that the middle had been scooped out, and filled with an egg and vegetable mixture.They didn’t last as long as journey bread, but the taste was far better. They could be fixed at the morning fire, and soldiers could eat them as they marched.
Aeriona grabbed several of them as she headed out of the door. A squire waited in the hall to lead her down to the courtyard. She pulled the cloak tighter as they descended the stairs. The door opened into a wide courtyard with several men already mounted on horses. A mare stood near the front with an empty saddle, the lead passed to another squire waiting patiently.
Already her strength was returning enough that weaving the whispering wind runes was a breeze. With Gadrielle in mind she sent the whisper across the intervening leagues. They would be anxious to know she had arrived.
“Gadrielle, I arrived this morning, safe and tired. We are heading up the trail now. I think you would have loved the flight. I did.”
The keep was on the Northern edge of the city, and so there was very little riding before they had passed through the gates. The few people they passed were better at hiding their whispers, though the fingers still pointed. By the time they reached the base of the mountain trail, they passed three loaded wagons driven by some of the prince’s soldiers. Supplies for those trapped in the snow.