When this part of the story came out, I was thinking at first that it was too easy. Nothing had been shown to prelude this. Then all sorts of subtle possibilities popped up. This has points that will come back as big conflicts in a few chapters. Things are not always as simple as they first appear. This part was three times as big when I wrote it, but trimmed down a lot of redundant garbage.
The seal puffed away into mist without destroying the scroll, and Aeriona began reading the details it contained. Part of her brain that was beginning to think clearer again, wondered how it was that she was getting an assignment from the very council she’d just become a part of. The rest of her brain was stumbling over the scrawled details of council authority, and finally getting to the heart of the matter. Prince Moffatt had sent two hundred soldiers over Quintiliss Pass.
Her hand dropped to the side, with the scroll banging her leg, as anger overwhelmed her thoughts. In an instant she rounded on Rees Garath, standing there with his hands clasped in front of him like a prayer arch. Serving time for the towers was not slavery. There were agreements and contracts to cover all of it, and he had known her limits. Her voice would have rattled the windows were it not for the ward seal Gadrielle had placed.
“I thought it was clear that I would never take part in a war?!”
“This is different. Lives are at stake. I know you like to work with crafters and scholars.”
“But soldiers fight. They kill people. You want to give them magic to make that easier.”
“This isn’t about him. Read on. Soldiers are people, with families that care about them.”
Aeriona held her glare on him for several heartbeats before the curiosity drove her to open the scroll once more. The men had been transporting a relic to the Ice Giants as a token to negotiate. Manoga and Skybowl had been bickering back and forth for ages. Prince Moffatt wanted to bring on another period of peace. Despite the efforts of the court Journey Mage, a storm had struck the mountains. His soldiers were trapped beyond reach in deep snow. His court mage had fled, leaving them without any hope.
“But the first snows shouldn’t happen for another month! Why would his mage run?”
“I don’t know, and I’ll be sending someone to see about that. The rescue would really be beyond a journeyman anyway. That’s where you come in.”
“Manoga is like three days away, maybe four! His men could be dead by then.”
“Two and a half if you ride without sleep. Just ask his messenger that arrived a few hours ago.”
“That happened three days ago?”
“Seven. Twice he’s sent crews to dig them out, only to have more storms hit that pass. Nine men have died trying to dig through. One group of diggers was buried under an avalanche.”
Gadrielle reached to pluck the scroll from her hand. Aeriona watched with mouth hanging open as the older mage slipped the rolled scroll into a leather tube. She was still trying to grasp the magnitude of the situation. Thoughts of Carandell, and the missed party had been replaced with visions of waist deep snow. Gadrielle laid the cased scroll on top of a pale green leather pouch decorated with the Elvish script. Ancient Elvish. She took a deep breath, and paused before extending the two items to Aeriona.
"It's just the sort of thing you like. Help people, rescue ancient artifacts, storms. Really though, you're the best one to get there in time to do some good, and the only way to do that is…"
Aeriona gasped at the implications. Could this really be one? She slowly opened the flap on the pouch. Inside was a folded gray leather piece with silver thread pattern. Not the thick rough leather like John wore; this was as soft as velvet. Knowing the Elves though, it would protect just as well as thick stuff.
She held her breath with anticipation as the sky suit pulled free to dangle from her grasp. Reading about such artifacts is far different than holding one in her hand. The color was a soft grey that shifted even as she tried to look right at it, causing her eyes to sort of slide off. Intricate leaf patterns were picked out in the finest silver thread. It was questionable if even the modern elves could duplicate the work that went into it.
The long sleeves, and legs had ribbed sails connecting them; It turned the whole body into a sail with arms stretched wide. At the tips of the sleeves were the glyphs that bound the whole suit together. The tomes in the deep vaults had spoken of such suits, with their elemental counterparts, being special even in the first era of runes. Long before the cataclysm. Only a handful had survived the intervening millennium. She had spent countless hours delving through the tomes searching for such things.
“I know you missed a lot of your own celebration party, and that you’re desperate to get back to Carandell, but time is critical here.”
“I’ll get some things right away then.”
“No time for that. I’ve…” A knock sounded on the sealed door. “Speaking of such. I think this is her.”
Gadrielle’s hands burst into the green fire as she traced the breaking line on the ward. All of the magic lines flared to life, and sucked back into her hands in a mirror mimic of when she’d set them. As the last of the green fire seeped back through her fingers, Zumas pulled the latch on the door. Imediately it swung open,admitting a breathless student carrying a stuffed pack. Aeriona had seen the girl before, but couldn't recall her name.
Between pants the girl waved, and held the pack out to her.
"I got…the cloak, and… some other…stuff…Got some…journey bread too. Ran all the…way." Her eyes grew suddenly wide and locked onto the pin on Aeriona’s chest. “Council?”
Now Aeriona remembered her name, Lilja, one of the few Elven mages in the towers. Lilja was a fifth-year fire mage of some talent. They had met only a few times, but she had liked the girl. Any chance that familiarity might grow into friendship had just vanished though. Ristalli had woven her fate thread in the most twisted manner she could think of.
Zumas stepped up to lift the pack from Lilja’s hand while turning her back to the door. "Thank you young one, now go ahead and join the group on the third floor. I'm sure you'll enjoy it."
“Is she really?”
“I know that Ji’Lin is there. He might show you some tricks with fire.”
Rees led Aeirona into the inner office, which looked more like a private library, so that she could change into the sky suit. The legs were crafted for the limbs of the Elves, and what should have come to her calves came to her ankles. It bunched a little at the shoulders to fit the elbow joints right. The sail spines left the lower arm free for use without disturbing the flight.
Aeriona spent a few minutes marveling over such fine details in a suit she’d never thought to even see, let alone wear. The legs had enough give in them to actually walk without trouble. With the straps adjusted right it snugged around her leaving barely any ripple to disturb the wind. She filled the little breast pouches with a few journey loaves. That meant she could snack in flight. Such ingenious designs. A knock on the door startled her from inspecting the collar fastening which had a tube rising from it.
Gadrielle’s voice. “Is everything alright in there?”
She grabbed the pack from the floor, slinging it over an arm as she opened the door on the elder mage. “Yes, ready.”
“Actually my dear, the straps for the pack go under the sail here. Snug it tight. You don’t want it shifting when you’re a few thousand feet up, trust me.”
“Wait, you used it?”
“Not I, though I wish it had been possible. I’m not strong at all in the winds.”
Rees took her hand to pull her along toward the window. "I know it's late, but lives depend upon you. You should be able to make it there by morning."
Gadrielle stepped up handing her a flask. "Here"
Aeriona took a swig, expecting water, or at least the mild wine. "Gahh!"
It was nearly like swallowing a bit of Gadrielle’s fire. The stim-draught would rid the wine from her body and keep her alert for several hours. She'd pay for it later, but she needed a clear head now. She grimaced as the bitter tasting liquid coursed down her throat. Like stepping from the water on a hot day, she felt the warmth spreading outward.Within moments her mind was sharp. Her awareness of the wind stretched out feeling the shifting breezes.
Subtle magics wound up through the suit calling to the wind, and bringing near visibility to the air currents. Gadrielle fumbled a little, and strapped the flask to her side. The other end of that mysterious tube pulled loose from a pocket near the flask to stick in the top of it. She could drink with a slight tilt of her head, if only it were something tastier than Stim-draught.
The excitement of the moment drowned out any last minute reservations. This was the chance of a lifetime for her. She bid them all a good night, and stretched her arms wide. Aeriona called, and the winds came like a faithful hound. She hadn’t planned for this when dressing for her party, but braiding her hair kept it from blowing wildly like the rest of the mages in the room. The strings of beads felt chilled against her neck.