Quintilla awoke with a start, groggy as usual, and turned to her door. A melody whispered at the edge of her mind, vanishing rapidly to the darkest corners of her thoughts the way a dream flees from wakefulness. The beat remained for a moment longer, a deep echo thumping away in time with her heartbeat.
“Again?” she muttered, rolling out of bed with a thud. Eyes still closed, she reached around blindly for the carelessly discarded pants of the previous day. The rough leather of a book, last night’s discarded plate of chicken residue, the leg of a chair, and a crumpled piece of paper all passed under her hand before she felt the familiar mixture of piled cloth that represented the pile of clothing she called a wardrobe.
The cloth was already firmly in place around her waist before she realized that the steady tapping sound did not herald another obnoxiously early visitor. What had begun in a low key and slow tempo was now increasing in speed until the individual notes became chords and then a chorus of insistent song on the roof above her. Again, for a moment, she could hear the beat amidst the noise, but the melody, far off again, was too quiet to hear.
With a sigh, Quintilla plopped down on the edge of the bed. From behind her head, Corbie’s beak and head peered around at her face. She pulled the lute from amidst her things and tried a few tentative notes. She stopped. Almost unbidden, her foot found a rhythm within the sound of the rain and she began to play.
The cover of the Farmers’ Market was fortuitous. Not much difference whether it’s a man or…the weather…behind you. Fortune could be a cruel mistress, but she her passionate caress was saved for only the most daring lovers. The risk; the danger; playing with fire; it wasn’t for just any man.
But he certainly wasn’t just any man. To be responsible for so many, for their hopes and dreams, and for this place; he was every man. A place to do some good, for a change. Something he wanted to do, for a change. Despite the risk; despite the threat; it had turned out to be good for him.
The rain had come out of nowhere, causing the early risers of Eastport to run for cover. Again She had smiled on him: no need to look like a fool scurry out of the rain if you’re already running. Everyone knows you run, but the running doesn’t stop the seeing. Fill them with wonder when you solve their problems before they tell you, but it’s a trick. Wave of the hand over here and…
Of course it wasn’t the same with real magic. Dangerous power, but another risk, another rush. On the jazz.
He had stopped for too long now. Wouldn’t be good to seem afraid of a little rain. His quick stretch and reprieve over, he picked up again where he’d left off, heedless of the rain. No rush. Maybe just a touch quicker now; gut it out ‘til I get back to the yurt. He let the other thoughts melt away and let his eyes and ears take over; the only sound audible amidst the hiss of torrential rain his own foot hitting the ground.
The figures swam in front of Amir’s eyes. Though working the figures was usually a satisfying experience for him, the previous night’s entertainment had not left much time for sleep. Vermek’s usual promptness of waking him up had not been delayed this morning and, once awake, Amir saw little purpose in laying about.
His eyes, still scanning the figures, blurred for a moment and gently closed as his head hit the notebook in front of him.
PLAY! PLAY! PLAY! Oh shes awake to play raining play I love to play! Clean clean smells clean oh water cleans up the smells less confusing BALL! the ball the ball shehasthe OH! Where is it? Get it there! Come back come backcomebacGOTTIT! I GOT IT! BALL BALL!
Oooooooh feels good on my head and my back and BELLY! OH THE BELLY! yes yes yes yesyesyes BALL!!!
Where is it ball oh where pet ballohwhereohwhereohsmell THERE! GOT IT BALL! BALL BALL BALL!
Clean and oh soft on my ears neckohtheneck oh yes YES! ballandshessoftbellypetlick Oh oh sad wait BALL no pet lick salty lick rain outside not rain inside not rain on face lick oh roll and belly and BELLY!
Door? Oh and door and wet and MUDDY! MUDDY WET COOL OH SO GOOD OH! OH and shes happy and BALL!! OH she has ball and throw and WAIT!
widdle time. Here. No. Here. No wait. FOUND IT! here yes ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh.
TATER!? Me its me thats me she is I’M COMING! BALL! OH NO! BIG AND FLUFFY AND OH NO MY LOVELY WET AND MUDDY AND
RUN! Muddy ha ha muddy oh everywhere! OH THE BALL oh the towels BUT OH HER!
Oh not mad not mad BALL! Oh bounce it oh bounce it I love the bounce give me the bounce the way it sounds the way I chase it I hear it I smell it I see it oh bounce it oh the ball oh bounce oh
“This sucks,” Rheed said to no one in particular. The rain had soaked everything, coming far too abruptly and early for him to protect his fire or his gear. Everything was soaked. It was not a long walk to the tower, but breaking camp in the chill rain with no fire to warm him was going to be miserable.
He got to work, years of training and experience sinking into his body and letting his mind wander. The dark clouds above were looking more ominous as the run rose higher behind them. The rain pounded down on him as he cleared his campsite and began to trek through the woods toward the tower.
The haze in front of his eyes almost caused him to miss the movement in the trees. He stopped suddenly, as his hand silently closed around the sword belted at his side. He could see the dark form moving slowly, its frame highlighted by the falling rain. The darkness of its color was not, as he had first supposed, simply shadow. It was black, even through the rain.
Recognizing the shadow warrior on sight, Rheed let his pack fall where he stood. Ripping his sword free, he charged with a roar, flipping the shield from his back to his arm in one fluid motion. The collision was intense, dragonborn and shade each snaking his neck to unleash his breath on the other. The caustic black slime clung to Rheed’s shield, the overpowering smell causing him to choke down a mouthful of bile. His own burst of frigid cold had struck home, eliciting a shriek of pain.
For a moment there was silence, broken only by the hiss of falling rain and the tinkle of a single flash-frozen raindrop against the sword blade.
Puggle tossed another of the mostly cleaned bones to his companion. They had met in the night to avoid the goblin patrols, but the harsh weather had trapped them together in the damp hollow of an old broken rock. The ancient pine, rare enough in the region, had grown up through a gap between two granite boulders and now provided them with almost complete protection from the rain.
“Long rain. Storm coming.”
He barely spoke the common tongue, but his friend didn’t seem to notice. Satisfied slurping and crunching noises were his only response.
“You like? Want more?” Puggle eagerly picked up another uncleaned bone, but this time it fell short against the rock beneath their feet.
It was at least a nuisance, if not a predicament.
The dripping had started directly over her bed; onto her face. Drip, down fell the water, homing like an arrow or a wizard’s magic missile, directly into the middle of her forehead. The chill had, of course, awoken her from a pleasant dream in which muscular young wizards magically cleaned and organized her shop while she lounged amid cushions and furs. Of course the first real rain of the spring was a downpour of indescribable proportions. The whole roof had been thatched in a hurry and she had been sure then that the work hadn’t been done to her, admittedly high, standards. Drip, and again the water fell, this time onto the linens and pillow.
Wetness was a more obnoxious adversary than waking up early, and as an industrious businesswoman, Kai was no stranger to adversity. After a bit of impromptu furniture moving, she’d found a ladder, a long stick, and some tar.
This had resulted in a slight accident involving poor balance, sticky tar, and an old pillow she had discarded nearby. Sitting on the floor in annoyance with her arm covered in feathers, Kai blew a few strands of hair out of her face. She reached over for Plan B: a bucket. Sighing, she decided to look on the bright side; a quick step outside would provide all the water she needed to clean herself off. As she walked down the stairs, another drip fell from the ceiling, directly toward the bucket.
Her annoyance only increased with the sound she heard behind her.
The sound of metal on metal beat out a slow rhythm. One…two…one…two…
Like a heart pumping blood, the beat went on where no other motion could, counting steadily. One…two…one…two…
Two fingers moving one after the other, playing on a thigh, metal on metal. One.
Eyes dark, even the closest observer would miss the tiny pinpricks of light. Two.
Time, one, passing, two. The seconds ticking. How many seconds had ticked away in the onetwoonetwoonetwo?
Aegis eyes brightened as the rain began to beat against the tower. His fingers, absently it seemed, continued to tap against his thigh. One…two…one…two…one and two…one…two…
The flourish, unintentional, was nevertheless right. One. It was the right song and he could hear it. Two.
The storm was coming. One. He could feel it in his components, in his body, and in his soul. Two. The song reminded him; the song invigorated him; the song was…
The memory flooded back in an instant, driving right into him. He knew, inside, as though he had never forgotten. One. Another piece. Two. The song. One…two…one and two one two and one and two and one and…one…two…one…two.
He remembered another storm. Tap. Another time. Tap.
His voice, strong and deep, was wasted on the empty room. He was lost within the passage of the tap tap one two before and after, but in the moment he knew that none of it mattered. She was guiding him, giving him purpose again. He had waited. He had listened for her song. The harmonies almost sang within the very metal of his skin now. Aegis. Name. Purpose. The words echoed in the perfectly shaped room.