As Royalty Does: Part Three
One day, I walked beside a river. The grass was green, the water blue, and the sky bluer still. Birdsong and the perfume of wildflowers filled the air. It was quiet, and tranquil, and as I always do when I find myself in such situations, I thought.
I thought of a lot of things – of why I see different colours differently, what made the water move, whether I could construct mechanical wings like birds’ – and then I wondered, briefly, if others thought like I did.
Sometimes it seems as though the world is made up of Virtupets robots – they do not think, they hardly feel, and they do exactly what is expected of them without questioning it...
-Akira Amira’s Reflections In A Shattered Mirror (Prologue).
“This is incredible.”
“Is it, sir?” Axe said with polite interest. She was dusting, the feathery brush gripped in her curled tail, briskly swiping clean the many flat surfaces. She always gave the impression that her mind was completely on the job, but sometimes Zeekaye wondered.
“Yes! It’s... well; really I suppose it’s just a collection of thoughts, not particularly unusual ones at that, but it just has a hint of something I haven’t seen before... it’s fresh, unique, new, and trust me, I’ve read enough that I know what I’m talking about. It’s chaotic, there’s no order! I really don’t know what the big fuss about the book is! But then I read a few more pages, and... ugh!” He waved it for emphasis. “And the title! Most people think it’s referring to the state of the world, but it’s referring to the state of the book! It’s self-mocking throughout, and that somehow makes it so much more meaningful...” He sighed and flopped onto a large, ornate armchair. “But I still don’t see how it helps with the present situation.”
Axe stopped and raised an eyebrow. “Is it supposed to, sir?”
“Well, my mysterious brown-feathered friend left it for me. It hasn’t really helped so far... though I suppose a little insight into the politics of this place couldn’t hurt.” Zeekaye pushed his hair out of his eyes and glanced at her. “Any ideas?”
“Lunch might be a good one, sir,” Axe said dryly.
“Oh?” He paused and frowned. “Did I have breakfast?”
“No, sir. Nor dinner last night. I appreciate that you’re confused by the situation, sir, but starving yourself really isn’t going to help.” She sounded half-amused, half-exasperated.
“It isn’t deliberate. I guess I was just... absorbed.”
“Anyway. What’s on the menu?”
“Whatever you wish, sir. You could even go to the chef yourself and request a specific meal.”
“Yes, but I’d prefer not to. That chef creeps me out. All those tentacles.” Zeekaye gave a mock-shudder. The chef was a Mutant Jetsam. Zeekaye wasn’t really one for discriminating, though. “To be honest, I don’t like most of the people in this manor. They all treat me like I’m somebody important.”
“You are, sir.”
“Not important enough to be treated as fragile and tip-toed around in case I shatter.” He pushed his hair out of his eyes and glared at Reflections In A Shattered Mirror, as though the book were to blame for everything. The book gave off a remarkable impression of literate innocence.
“Understandable enough, sir.” Axe’s tone was quiet.
Zeekaye glanced at her. “You weren’t included in that, Axe. You’re fine, trust me. I wouldn’t have got anywhere in this if it weren’t for you.” He gave his most mischievous grin and continued, “In fact, why don’t we have lunch together?” He looked out the window. It was bright and sunny. “A picnic!”
“That would be considered most inappropriate, sir. I am below your standing.” The corners of her mouth twitched. “However, you’ll need someone to carry the picnic basket. I shall be your servant accompaniment.”
He grinned and offered her his hand. “Excellent. Shall we go?”
“Oh, you have got to be kidding.”
The Ogrin shook his head. Various beads and feathers tangled in his hair rattled. “No. I’m perfectly serious.”
“You mean he’s been there...” Phizith pointed. “The whole time?”
“Yes, that is exactly what I mean.” His voice betrayed his impatience with the Pteri.
“Uh-huh. How do you know?” Phizith stuck his hands in his pockets and looked down, over the edge of the Citadel. The levitation spell got a little dodgy this close to the edge, and it felt like you were plummeting when you were standing still. Most disorienting. “And you never answer when I call you ‘Everett’, so what CAN I call you?”
The Ogrin preened. “You can call me Shaman.”
Phizith wagged a finger at him. “You’re mixing up name and description there. Definite sign of ego.” He frowned and turned back, thus missing the Ogrin’s seething expression. “Ferndale,” he mused, and then shrugged. “Never heard of it. Still, there are lots of little provinces down there; I suppose it’s feasible enough. Only question being, ‘Why’? Ah well, guess I have to go get him back - not that he can’t take care of himself, mind. This whole thing’s rather disappointing, adrenaline-wise. I’m still bored.”
Prophetically, that was when Shaman pushed him enough.
Phizith was startled enough that he didn’t have time to fry the guy, much as he’d want to. Indeed, he had enough on his plate keeping aloft, never mind actually gaining altitude. Shaman had probably disappeared in a puff of smoke or some such rubbish anyway.
The Pteri was again reminded that he’d never quite got around to practicing his flying technique. He could definitely have used a little more expertise; the winds around the Citadel were tricky, and his balance had been off to start with. In the end, he just spread his wings and glided in slow circles.
He hadn’t flown for a while, and enjoyed it more than he expected – so much so that he wasted quite a bit of time experimenting, seeing how adjusting the positions of certain feathers or moving his tail in a certain way affected his flight. It was kind of fun, and he could see why Zeekaye liked it so much.
After a while, though, he closed his wings and stooped. The air rushing past his body deafened his ears and stung his eyes, so the fast approaching ground seemed just a blur. This was more like it.
He skimmed low over the ground, searching for... Ferndale? Yes, that was it. Ferndale.
Zeekaye stood on his balcony and waited.
This was becoming something of a ritual for him. The cool night air, the height... it was almost as good as flying again. Almost.
The bruising on his wings had faded quite a bit, and the pain had reduced to a dull ache. He could fly again soon. Return to patrolling the skies.
That was why he was an Aviant, really. Oh, he could talk about justice and honour and bravery, but deep down, it was just for that. Just to fly.
He held a Brown Pteri feather in his hand, and scanned the skies.
It was another flier, he was certain of that. One of the few people who listened to the wind’s call. Not Aviant-trained, but able to outfly one of the best. Zeekaye wanted to meet them, whoever they were.
If he told himself the entire truth, he would admit that this was largely due to the fact that he had reached a dead end. As far as he could tell, he’d been abducted and taken here for no reason at all, and that made no sense at all. Of course, that was the whole point of Reflections, proving that the world was completely nonsensical. Only by knowing that, could you make sense of the world. That’s what Zeekaye thought the writer was going for, anyway. It was difficult to tell.
She’d come down light as a feather. Lighter. His ears had been tuned to the wind and he head heard nothing, nothing at all. Boy, was she good.
“Hi,” Zeekaye said amicably, trying to hide his much-bruised pride. “You’d be that mysterious free-flier, then.”
She gave a little wave. “That’s me! My name’s Robyn.”
“Zeekaye.” He extended a hand and half-bowed. “It’s a pleasure.”
“Likewise, I’m sure.” Robyn shook it, but there was an expression of distaste on her face.
“Not one for social niceties, I take it?” Zeekaye leaned back against the balcony, allowing his ears to half-fold over his face. His expression was inscrutable.
Robyn shifted uneasily on her feet, and leaned against the other side of the balcony. Her feathers were a rich brown, the plumes strong and healthy, and there was a gleam in her eyes. “I don’t like Aviants,” she said bluntly. “I’ve always thought you were a bunch of cowards, frankly. What’s the point of flying, if you didn’t learn it by yourself? I was taught to fly by the whisper of the wind in my ears, by the shine of the sun on my feathers. None of your fancy training for me.”
“And yet, you end up as a thief and a rogue, hated and feared in equal measure by the inhabitants of the lands you so innocently fly over.”
“And yet, I end up as free as the wind that carries me, as free as the sun that lights my way,” Robyn corrected. “It’s all a matter of opinion.” She looked away with a half-shrug. “But still, I suppose I’m sorry.”
“You fly well,” she admitted, and Zeekaye smiled inwardly at her grudging tone. “For an Aviant. You almost beat me.”
“It was Halloween,” Zeekaye said flatly. “And it was full moon. And... I was too arrogant. I should have heard you coming.”
“Yes, you should have. You’re arrogant, alright.”
“Yes, well.” His tone became slightly testy. “What am I, a humble Aviant, to do against the great aleron herself?” He gave another half-bow, this one mocking. Robyn’s eyes narrowed.
“Like I said – you’re as arrogant as a Grarrl bully, and as stupid. Flying isn’t everything, you know.”
“Isn’t it? And I’ll have you know, you’re the first person to describe me as ‘stupid’. Ever.” Zeekaye looked amused.
“Arrogant,” Robyn repeated again. “And stupid most definitely. You don’t know why you’re here by now, even with the book and your fluffy little helper.”
“I do, actually. I’m here for no reason at all. Bureaucracy.” He paused. “Wait. Have you been watching me?” His ears gave an inquiring tilt in her direction.
“You fly well,” Robyn said, crossing her arms. “And I stopped you from flying. That’s why I’m sorry.”
“And you accuse me of arrogance? You have a lot more to be sorry for than that!” Zeekaye snapped. “You fly overhead and you leave your mysterious little hints and you insult me and you think I’m arrogant?” He was yelling at the end, ears standing straight up from his head, and eyes glaring balefully.
“And now you presume to shout at me! As though you think you’re better than me!” Robyn’s voice became higher-pitched and rather more like a shriek. “You, with your elegance and your pretty manners and your fancy clothes and your wonderful manor and your perfect family, you think –”
“Not my manor! I didn’t choose to come here, you know!” Zeekaye yelled, frustrated. “I –”
It was almost comical how both heads turned in the direction of the door. Axe stepped out, and went over to stand by Zeekaye, raising an eyebrow at Robyn, who smirked.
“We were just discussing our mutual arrogance,” Zeekaye said brightly. Robyn looked at him in bewilderment – how was it even possible to go from spitting rage to cheerfulness in such little time? “Sorry if we disturbed you. Axe, this is Robyn; Robyn, this is Axe. I’m sure you’ll be wonderful friends.” He pushed them gently towards each other. Axe regarded the Pteri, who looked a little unnerved, and then bowed to the floor.
“Yes, sir.” She straightened. “Would ma’am perhaps like some tea? Or coffee? It is, after all, past ten o’clock, and if you’ll pardon me saying so, sir and ma’am look rather tired.”
Zeekaye hid a grin. Reverting to overly courteous servitude – that was so very Axe.
“Coffee would be good,” he began, and then stopped. “Hey, Axe. You didn’t call me ‘sir’.”
“Sir?” Axe looked blank.
“Back then. You said ‘Zeekaye’, not ‘sir’.” He raised one eyebrow at the Usul, who raised one eyebrow in return.
“Did I, sir? How very interesting.”
Zeekaye flicked an ear. “I heard something.”
Robyn shrugged. “I don’t hear anyth -”
“What I hear, Robyn, is that very distinct sound that comes when cool wind blows off hot feathers, and it just so happens to be a sound that I am rather familiar with.” Zeekaye grinned. “Excellent! Things ought to get interesting now!”
“I’m sorry, sir?”
“My brother. Phizith. He’s right there.” Zeekaye nodded upwards. “So very like him to make a dramatic entrance...”
The Fire Pteri had been lying on the slight roof overhang, and now he dropped down, with all his hard-won agility. “Dramatic? Me?” He put on his best ‘innocent’ face, and then leaned against the balcony on Robyn’s side. “Don’t believe we’ve met. I’m Phizith and I came to look for him...” He jabbed a thumb at Zeekaye. “Hey, bro, you do realize that there’s this nasty mage trying to kill us all?”
To be continued...