I'm here! And I bring you a new chapter!
Sorry that it took so long, but between forum-troubles and homework I just couldn't find the time for the final editing and posting until now.
Now I'll stop whining and let you get on with reading the fic. Once again, many thanks to my wonderful beta-reader manga!
Chapter Rating: PG (Well, it has some Winnowill, and she sort of makes G an impossible rating through her mere presence in a story...)
Chapter 2: The walls’ eyes watch
Rage is the first emotion to come as he sees it: the Child. They all fawn over it, feed it and clean it. Even Mother pays it attention. That, this, everything makes no sense and that angers him. The whispers of the Child’s abandonment only serve to confuse him more. Why bring it to Blue Mountain if it was meant to die? No elfin death was allowed to enter the Mountain, Mother saw to that.
Two-Edge stalks his secrets tunnels wringing his hands. The rage fades away to pure confusion as he watches the Gliders silently quarrel over the Child. Everyone wishes to have the Child by their side. Whose chambers it’s going to sleep in, who gets to feed it, who gets to dress it; everything becomes a competition. Each music maker broods for days to try and think of a more soothing lullaby than the one that had been played the night before. The weavers try to make their cloths softer and every piece of the Child’s clothing more practical each time he grows out of what he has been given to wear. The Rock-Shapers quickly predict the need of personal chambers for the Child as it gets older. They abandon all their art and sculptures, each one trying to find the best place for the Child’s new rooms and ornamenting them with the most beautiful things they can think of.
Mother stands in the middle of this chaos, pushing for things to go her way. She is the one that can grant the greatest of all gifts now: the ability to feed. Only a favored few are given the milk the Child needs and they are looked upon with jealousy by the other females.
The rage returns as he watches Mother nurse the Child. Why does she care for it? He could ask her, but knows she’ll only lie. Isn’t that how the Game goes? He asks, she evades, he screams, she laughs.
He rushes down underground and hides. Here he can ponder and shout without fearing disturbance. And it is here he realizes what the Child’s purpose is. It’s a part of the Game. How, he doesn’t exactly know yet, but he knows Mother, he knows she is planning. If he is to be on equal footing with her he must play his part.
He returns to the tunnels high in the Mountain. The Child is older now. It can walk and talk – poorly, but it no longer just eats and sleeps. Mother is nowhere to be seen; she has returned to her human pets. She is biding her time. So will Two-Edge.
It had been many years since Blue Mountain had been so full of life. Nowadays there was hardly a chamber that had not at some point been visited and thoroughly examined by the child Rayek. And most of the chambers’ owners were more than delighted to have Rayek as a visitor. They nearly fought for the privilege of being in his presence.
Aroree didn’t. Instead she kept as far away from him as possible. Not because she disliked the child; she loved him as much as any of the other Gliders. He was a reminder to them of their youth, of the new lives that had been denied their people for so long. But to Aroree Rayek was also a reminder of death.
Two years were nothing for an immortal such as her and she still recalled the sensation of his dying father’s sending in detail, every word, every emotion. And each time her eyes met with the piercing amber colored orbs of Rayek his father’s voice grew louder. She couldn’t handle that, so she fled.
But this time she could not hide in her chambers. Moments earlier she had seen the child rush down a nearby hallway. He’d been running as swiftly as his short legs could carry him, his movements still unsteady from lack of experience. She had whirled around in the air and began to glide back the way she’d come when she’d heard the soft thud and the horrified gasps. Then the sobbing started.
Weeping was uncommon in Blue Mountain. Yes, when the child had joined their numbers he had cried from time to time; hunger or discomfort fueling his whimpers. But never like this. The sobs that reached Aroree’s ears now were sounds of pain.
Before long all Gliders within hearing range from the child had gathered by his side, hovering around him with despair written in each facial feature. Yet more would soon join them, called to the hallway by panicked sendings. Kireele, the one who’d been accompanying the child last, had curled up in a corner nearby, tear-filled eyes hidden behind his hands. He knew as well as Aroree that he would be blamed – was to blame – for this.
Rayek had fallen. One of his knees was scratched and bruised, bleeding. Aroree couldn’t look away from the wound. She was one of the Chosen Eight, a hunter. She saw bleeding wounds every time she or her bond-bird brought down a prey. This was different; this was an elf’s blood, a child’s blood.
She did not dare touch him; no one did. They all crowed around the child as he sobbed and curled into himself, drawing the injured leg closer to his body. They were all too terrified to be able to comfort him. Their horrified sendings would scare him; their shaking hands risked doing more harm than good. No one touched Rayek until Lord Voll arrived.
Without a word the Lord of the Gliders kneeled by Rayek’s side, his feather adorned mantle spreading out on the floor like the wing of a young hawk. Lord Voll gently put a hand on the child’s head. Rayek gave a start at the unexpected contact, then seemed to calm. He stopped pressing his face against his uninjured leg and looked up, eyes still wet with tears locking with Lord Voll’s steady gaze.
Slowly Lord Voll gathered Rayek in his arms, stroking the child’s hair in a soothing gesture. Rayek moved closer to the Lord of the Gliders, his tiny fists closing around whatever parts of their leader’s clothing he could reach. Lord Voll sent for Winnowill while muttering calming nonsense to the now quiet child.
Aroree left as soon as the healer arrived. She felt disgusted with herself and her fellows but she couldn’t understand why. She dealt with this emotion as a Glider did with all puzzling feelings; she repressed it and tried to forget.
The Child swiftly learns not to cry. Clever. Two-Edge knows Mother would make the Child a cage if the Old Bird saw it cry too often. The safe way is chosen by being careful, being silent. She will not be allowed to build a cage if there is no pain. Two-Edge knows the Old Bird nearly as well as Mother does; knows the old elf would think it cruel. That makes Two-Edge laugh.
And the others, the unimportant ones, they are so anguished as soon as they think the Child to be unhappy. That is why the Child learns to laugh silently. Too much noise scares them; they think it a sign of pain and distress.
Two-Edge does not admire the Child. The Child is too young, too simple for such a thing to be possible. Perhaps something truly interesting will happen, but what such a thing could be Two-Edge does not, could not, say.
Tyldak had settled down on one of his favorite perches, an alcove from which he could oversee one of Blue Mountain’s largest indoor gardens. He wished for time to think and this was the perfect place for that.
His life had been – new and strange of late. Winnowill had not called for his company in a long time. She kept to herself, only speaking to her human servants. He could not say he minded this. On the contrary he relished in his freedom. He’d flown far from the mountain - farther than he had in millennia - to stretch his wings, to feel the winds.
Something kept calling him back to Blue Mountain though. It was not Winnowill and it was not Lord Voll. It was the child. Tyldak, being one of the youngest of the elves, had no clear memory of children. His age mates had never had offspring of their own, none that had lived long enough to be born at least. The elves who were younger than him he had seen when they were children, but those elves were so few and it had been so long ago…
Tyldak did not feel ashamed for this fascination with the child. He was far from the most stricken of the Gliders. Many in Blue Mountain spent the majority of their time attempting to get close to the child. They made him things, wished to teach him things, wished to entertain him with stories and tricks.
Tyldak never did any of that. Instead he studied from afar. He watched as the ones who prepared food fed the child beesweets, thinking themselves unobserved. He hid in shadows and listened to music and tales thought up purely for the enjoyment of Rayek. He saw the child grow and learn both movement and magic.
But most of all he saw the child himself; the dark skin, the strangely colored eyes, the large ears. Rayek was different. Not by choice like Tyldak, but still different, and that intrigued him beyond word or thought. The Gliders were all just different shades of the same shadow, but Rayek was special and not only because of his age.
They were only rumors, but Tyldak suspected the whispers of the child’s powers were true, at least to some extent. He had seen Winnowill train him, once, lifting a large stone with magic. It was a rare talent, being able to levitate other things than oneself; Tyldak could not name more than an eight of elves who possessed the skill.
And Rayek was sure to have other gifts. Winnowill could never have bothered to teach anyone but a truly powerful magic user her secrets. Tyldak did not pretend to understand the mountain’s healer, but since his change he had slowly begun to understand her better. She only took interest in those she could use as tools. If the child had been less magically gifted than she herself, she would not have bothered to become his teacher, only made sure he knew she was the one to make decisions. That she had bothered with lessons told Tyldak all he needed to know.
Tyldak was startled out of his musings by a sudden, unexpected movement, first outside then inside the alcove. Pulling his right wing closer to his body he discovered the small form of the subject of his reflections, attempting to hide behind him. Tyldak couldn’t help but smirk a little. Half of Rayek’s hair had been arranged into neat braids, while the other hung in loose tresses. His dark cheeks were flushed and his mouth was set in a determined, yet surly line.
With one eyebrow raised Tyldak waited for Rayek to explain himself. He did not have to wait long.
“I don’t like it when they make such a big thing out of dressing me,” the child muttered, twisting a few braids around his fingers. “I can dress myself!”
Tyldak’s faint smirk remained in place, but he could not help feeling a little sorry for Rayek. The child was still very young, barely an eight of years, but he had been able to put on his own clothing for quite a few turns of the seasons. That didn’t seem to stop the clothing makers from helping him out, often. Then again, the child was overreacting. If the other Gliders wished to show him such respect, why was he sulking about it?
“Does not Semtra and Ohnri dress Lord Voll? It is a sign of affection and respect; you should be more grateful for it.”
Those words didn’t seem to have the wanted affect on Rayek. Instead of acting repentant, he pouted. Tyldak briefly wondered how long it would be before Rayek saw the world as his elders did. How long was an elf a child? He could not remember any drastic changes in his own mindset, but his memories were dulled by age, so his own recalled youth was no help in this matter.
“But they don’t braid his hair!” Rayek suddenly exclaimed, startling Tyldak back from his thoughts about the aging of the mind. He had to nod in agreement. Lord Voll’s hair was left in peace by all; there was not reason to deny that.
“Our Lord wishes his hair to remain unbraided and we respect those wishes, is that so surprising?”
Rayek crossed his small arms over his small chest. That glint had lit in his eyes again. “But I don’t want my hair braided either! Why do they listen to Lord Voll and not me?”
Tyldak stifled a sigh. Before Rayek, no one had called into question so much of the Gliders’ existence, at least not so frequently. Ever since he’d learned to speak the child seemed to have made a habit of questioning everything about the world around him. It unsettled Tyldak, but not as much as it did the others. Most of the Gliders tried to hush or correct Rayek when his eyes lit with that telltale spark.
Lord Voll seemed to be the only one amused by the child’s inquiries. The Lord of the Gliders would answer Rayek’s questions with a serene smile on his lips, never getting impatient, even though Rayek had no qualms against questioning said answers.
Tyldak saw no point in doing as Lord Voll. Why answer questions when your answers would be scoffed at? No, it was better to remain silent and the child would tire and go elsewhere.
Apparently understanding that he would get no reply Rayek frowned, but seemed to choose to keep quiet and leave Tyldak in peace. Tyldak nearly smiled as his good fortune and stretched his wings. He made ready to take flight, escaping this awkward situation -
“Is Winnowill my mother?”
- and almost hit his head on the ceiling, so surprised was he by this new notion of Rayek’s.
“What by the stars gave you that idea?” Tyldak couldn’t help but exclaim, staring at Rayek as if he’d grown a fifth finger on his right hand. The thought of Winnowill being the mother of anyone sent shivers down Tyldak’s spine; it all seemed too twisted a thing to wish upon any creature.
Rayek let his eyes stray to the small elf sculpture in the alcove wall, something akin to embarrassment – and disappointment? – flowing across his countenance for the briefest of heartbeats. As swiftly as it had appeared it vanished and was replaced by the child’s usual thoughtful, almost defiant expression.
“Our hair has the same color, the exact same color,” Rayek muttered to the elegant sculpture. “And she’s my mentor. She hardly speaks to anyone but me and Lord Voll. And the humans, but they don’t count. Why couldn’t she be my mother?”
Tyldak held his tongue. During Rayek’s first years in Blue Mountain there had been rumors – malicious rumors created by a few of the those who had not been allowed to nurse the child – that he’d been born from the joining of Winnowill and one of her human playthings. They were soon silence by none other than Lord Voll himself, who’d sent the truth of Aroree’s mind-encounter with Rayek’s father. There was only truth in sending and the Lord of the Gliders’ mind voice was the most honest one of all. But that was some time ago now. Had the rumors started up again? Was that how Rayek had begun thinking such thoughts?
“Who is, then?”
It took Tyldak a moment to add this new utterance to the previous parts of the conversation – or questioning.
“We do not know.” With those words he broke the silent agreement all the Gliders had, to never tell Rayek of the fate of his father and the mystery of his mother. Somehow he wasn’t sorry for it.
Rayek’s first response was to frown. Not in anger, no. He looked more thoughtful than anything else. His gaze was still locked on the statue. “Then where did I come from?”
“Aroree found you outside the mountain. Your father told her to bring you to safety. He was…dying.” A slight tremor of the lips was all the reaction these words got from Rayek.
They stood in silence for an endless moment. Tyldak thought about leaving, but couldn’t make himself do so. Instead he waited, staring at the alcove’s sculpture, just as the child had done.
Rayek stood with his back turned to Tyldak, staring out over the garden. He’d crossed his arms over his chest and – from what Tyldak could see out of the corner of his eye – he was still frowning.
“Take me flying!” Rayek suddenly commanded, turning back around to stare up at Tyldak with self-confidence only one who was used to being obeyed could possess. Tyldak blinked, thrown off balance by the unexpected change of topic.
“Take me flying!” Rayek repeated, voice just as calm and commanding as the first time.
“Now?” Tyldak finally managed to reply, raising one of his eyebrows. How could children be so fickle?
Rayek rolled his eyes. “Of course! I-,” he hesitated for the briefest of moments, “I want to see the outside, the forest, and no one else will take me.”
“And what makes you think I will, when none of the others do?” Tyldak asked, mimicking the child stance by crossing his wings over his chest.
“Because you will,” came the reply, accompanied by a small smirk. “And because I need to learn. I can’t fly yet, but I will soon,” his voice held a lot of confidence as he stated this, “and wouldn’t it be terrible, if I flew outside of the mountain and didn’t know what was out there? Anything could happen.”
Tyldak had to return the child’s smirk with one of his own. Clever, but Rayek had never been dull or slow when it came to arguing, even at such a young age. It would seem he had no choice. Either he could bring Rayek on a short flight around the mountain or Rayek would find some way out on his own. He wouldn’t have put it past the child to attempt to climb down from the Aeries.
“Very well then,” Tyldak finally replied and knelt. Rayek stared at him in confusion. “Wrap your arms around my neck. If you don’t, I might drop you.”
Rayek hesitated for a heartbeat or two, before taking a step closer to Tyldak, reaching towards his shoulders. Having made sure that Rayek was securely settled, Tyldak took to the air. The sound of his wings and Rayek’s thrilled shriek echoed through the garden and alcove for a few moments, before fading away into silence.
The Child’s actions have begun to confuse Two-Edge. It has begun to avoid those who dote upon it. It hides from those who wish to feed it, to sing for it. Instead it seeks attention from those who ignore. The Child hides in dark corners, following the Chosen One who once brought it to the Mountain. It attempts to follow Mother down through her twisting tunnels, to catch a glimpse of what she does when she is not teaching it her tricks of illusion. It watches the Changed One – one of Mother’s favorite toys – as he circles the ceiling.
Two-Edge is interested now; riddles interest. The Child has become unpredictable, or at least not easily understood. Perhaps it was time?