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Authors: J.S. Morin

Aethersmith (Book 2) (2 page)

BOOK: Aethersmith (Book 2)
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Preceding Danberry up the clock-tower stairs, the guards
filed up in a line. The stairs ran in a blocky spiral around the inside of the
tower. It surrounded the great pendulum that hung down near to the ground, and
as they got farther up, they saw a dizzying arrangement of gears, ratchets,
cogs, belts, levers, and so forth. Light shone from above, both from the
moonlight that entered through the clock face and from the oil lamps that lit
the clock from the inside. Pipes ran up the inside walls of the tower, drawing
kerosene from ground-level reservoirs. No one had to climb up the tower to keep
the lamps lit; the upper reaches of the tower were seldom visited, least of all
by the guardsmen.

Men were gasping for breath by the time they reached the
landing at the top of the tower. The last few steps were tentative ones, due to
both fatigue and the expectation of finding a cornered thief prepared to have
one last go at defending his freedom.

“Huh?” Danberry wondered aloud. “Where’d he go?”

There were clockworks all about, but no proper hiding place.
As guardsmen filled the landing all about him, Danberry looked up to see if the
thief had climbed atop the uppermost gears, but there was no one there. Finally,
he noticed that a small access door, used for cleaning the clock face from the
outside, was unlatched. He pushed it open and stuck his head out, fighting back
a wave of queasiness as he looked at the dizzying drop to the cobblestones far
below. There was no place for the thief to have dropped to the museum roof, for
the clock face was to the far end of the building, facing away from the
roofline. Looking up and down, there seemed to be no footholds or handholds
worth noting.

“Well, unless that fella’s part bird, he’s splattered all
over Lords’ Crossing. That’s my guess. Betcha you’d see the body if’n it
weren’t for that blown lamp,” Danberry said, pointing down at the road for one
of the guardsmen who had stuck his head out beside him.

* * * * * * * *

In a rented room, several blocks from the museum, sat a huge
bear of a man, with a shaggy black beard and an unkempt mop of greasy black
hair that tried to hide the fact that he was balding at the top. A toothy
yellow smile split his face as a satchel plopped down on the table in front of
him.

“I heard the alarm from here. Anyone follow you?” the man
asked.

“No, they’re probably searching the ground outside the clock
tower for my gory remains even as we speak.”

The speaker was still dressed all in black, but now was
unhooded. Jaw-length auburn hair framed a face smooth with the signs of youth.
Her piercing green eyes met those of her associate directly, with no sign of
deference or fear. She was tall, and thin of face and limb. The loose black
outfit hid her modest curves and called into question her gender, but only when
her face was hidden away as well; she was unmistakably beautiful.

Her associate reached into the satchel, and took out the
circlet from within. He turned it over carefully in his hands. “I sort of
expected something a bit fancier,” he mused.

“Sure, Zell, let me just nick back into the museum and pick
you out a nicer one. I figured you wanted a dressed-down magic crown that you
could wear with your every-day rags. But I can take you down to Duke Street in
the morning, and get you something that would go with a nice
fancy
crown,” the prowler replied.

“Does it work?” the man asked, shrugging off her sarcasm out
of old habit.

“Try it,” she replied.

The man put the crown on. It looked ridiculous on his
massive head, a thin ring of gold lost amid a tangle of sweat-glossed black
hair.

“Whoa, is this what you always see?” the man asked as he
slowly looked all about the room, especially lingering on the walls and floor.
“I can see you quite clearly—and the two daggers you are hiding. I can even see
Rakashi and Tanner in the next room, and the innkeeper downstairs.”

“Glad you like it.
Now
can we get back on our way to
Scar Harbor?”

“Sure, Soria, first thing in the morning.”

Chapter 2 - Fighting the Tide

The sea thrashed, and the wind howled past Kyrus Hinterdale
as he stood staring out into the approaching storm. His bare feet sank slightly
into the thick-packed, muddy sand left by the receding tide. Kyrus had adopted
the natives’ custom of going about with no shirt in the tropical climate of
Denku Appa, a remote equatorial isle that, for now at least, was his home.

Kyrus had seen many a storm, safe on dry land and huddled
indoors in his homeland of Acardia. His thick northern blood was not so
bothered by the cooler air this southern storm blew; in fact, it seemed a
refreshing change from the often sweltering heat of the daylight hours of
summertime on the island. If not for the steel-grey sky with its otherworldly
look to it, the windblown rain trying to drive itself beneath his skin like a
storm of nails, and the threat of the storm surge washing out the low-lying
village, the day might almost have been pleasant.

Toktu, senior elder among the Denku, had told Kyrus that
this storm did not look so bad as many the islanders had seen. Nonetheless,
most of the Denku had retreated to more sheltered ground, taking refuge in some
caves farther inland. Those who had remained behind wished to see a unique
sight: their “spirit man” wanted to hold back the storm.

Kyrus had been using shielding spells as exercise for his
Source. He had only learned of magic’s existence a few months ago, and was
trying to make up for a youth of lost opportunity. In the realm of Kadrin—which
Kyrus saw through the eyes of his counterpart from the other world, his “twin”
Brannis, each night instead of dreaming—a sorcerer would be trained from an
early age, starting as young as eight or so with formal training. Kyrus had
seen all the rudiments as Brannis had struggled through the early ranks of the
Kadrin Imperial Academy of Sorcery before they finally gave up on ever making a
sorcerer of him, despite his family’s strong magical heritage. It seemed as if,
joined by some mystical connection, their Sources were the inverse of one
another. Brannis was a stone, almost entirely cut off from the aether; Kyrus
found that it leapt to his call and flowed from his Source like a river.

For weeks, Kyrus had been wading out into the shallow waters
near the tide line and practicing holding back the sea. At first, he had just
tried stopping the lapping kiss of water that would tickle the toes of walkers
along the beach. It amused him at first to see the water stop weirdly at an
invisible barrier and crash lightly against it, as if he had fashioned a glass
so clear it did not cast any distortion or glare to betray its presence. With
practice, he was able to form his shield farther and farther out into the tide.
He kept the shield arced so that the vast and cunning Katamic Sea did not
simply sneak around the sides, and he stood close to the center of that arc, as
it seemed easiest to keep an equal pressure of aether in all directions that
way.

With the coming of the storm, Kyrus found both a test and a
purpose. The Denku had taken him in when the notorious pirate Denrik Zayne had
stranded him on their island after expressing concern about potential
retribution in this world for the attack of Denrik’s own twin on Brannis’s
homeland in the other. Kyrus had shared their food, lived in one of their
homes, and had begun to learn their language. In return, he had been able to do
nothing of use for them, save entertain with his magical tricks. Now, though,
with talk of storm surges that might wash away part of the village, Kyrus
intended to keep his new home safe from the storm.

* * * * * * * *

“He is brave, our spirit man,” Tippu commented, crouched
behind a palm tree in an effort to shield herself from the worst of the storm
winds.

Her green-dyed hair was being played havoc by the storm
winds. Clad in just a loincloth and a pair of necklaces—the latter doing little
to either cover or protect her—she shivered against the cool, wet air that tore
past her.

“Yes, very,” agreed Kahli, her long, scarlet-dyed braids
whipping behind her as the wind gusted. She huddled against Tippu’s back both
for warmth and the shelter of the wind. “And look, he does not even shake with
cold.”

“He is a northerner. Their winds are always cold. He sweats
like a hunter even on mild days,” said Gahalu, Kyrus’s best friend among the
Denku.

While the two girls had claimed Kyrus as their own and had
been trying—with limited results—to woo him, Gahalu had been Kyrus’s
interpreter and guide on the island. Worldly by Denku standards, Gahalu had
sailed aboard foreign ships, learned about distant lands, and picked up a few
exotic languages, Kyrus’s among them.

“This weather probably reminds him of home,” Gahalu said.

“This is home now for him,” Kahli insisted. “Look how he
risks his life to defend it.” She pointed to the bare-chested northerner,
standing where the water ought to have been chest deep, with the seawater
stopping eerily a few paces from him at well over head height.

“You said he was not spirit man among his own people, that
they chased him off and wished to kill him. That does not sound like home. Home
is where he is loved. Home is where he will have strong sons who will grow up
to be hunters and elders and spirit men,” Tippu said.

Despite his scrawny body and skin that refused to darken to
the creamy bronze color the Denku felt looked healthiest, Kyrus was an object
of desire and envy among the Denku women. Tippu and Kahli had gotten to him
first and claimed him, but should he decide to send them away, others would be
quick to fill their places.

Gahalu sighed and watched his friend fighting the Katamic.
Kyrus spoke more to Gahalu than anyone else, even though he was picking up the
Denku language quite quickly. He knew that Kyrus had other reasons for damming
the tide, though he had no cause to think the lad was being less than selfless
in this particular instance. It allowed him to strengthen his powers with the
spirit world, and Gahalu knew why that was important to Kyrus.

Kyrus had explained that, with enough power, he could make
himself disappear from Denku Appa and appear in his homeland of Acardia. There
was a girl there, in Scar Harbor, that he missed very much, and he wished to
return to her. He was too polite to shun Tippu and Kahli, and was smart enough
to know that if he did, more would come after him, but he did not want them.
Surely he had fallen prey to their charms—the two girls were not shy at all
about their victories when speaking to the other Denku women—but he always
seemed shamed by it after.

The Scar Harbor girl was like a shark, Gahalu thought: she
had sunk her teeth into Kyrus, and he was not able to swim free of her. Gahalu
found himself thinking like the elder that his grey hairs said he was becoming,
meddling in the loves of the young. For all their inane chatter, he wished the
two girls well in their quest to win Kyrus’s heart. He did not want to see his
friend go.

* * * * * * * *

I had expected this to be harder
, Kyrus thought.

He was holding back a wall of water ten feet high and
hundreds of feet long. He had struggled at first to get the wall shaped
properly. It had to be wider than usual, and therefore could not be as far out
to sea as he would have liked. He had abandoned his usual tactic of standing at
the center of the arced wall, and instead stood close to it. With how long the
wall needed to be to protect the village, to center it at the water’s edge
would have pushed it so far out that it would have had to be thrice the height
and bear a much greater weight of water. As it was, Kyrus was hardly noticing
the effort now that he had it stable.

Aether in, aether out
.

Kyrus was drawing a small, constant flow of aether to keep
up the spell. Aether was fortunately a resource in abundance on the island.
Many of the native species produced admirable amounts of the stuff, and the sea
life inhabited the area in such vast numbers that the supply seemed
inexhaustible. With few sorcerers in his own world, the aether seemed to be all
his for the taking. In his counterpart’s world, sorcerers were common enough
that such vast seas of aether were unheard of.

Kyrus knew that he ought to have felt like a mighty wizard
of the fairy stories, but he knew the trick now. It was still wondrous, but he
suspected that any sorcerer from Kadrin, brought into his world, would be able
to manage much the same with the ready supply of aether at hand. More than
that, though, with the more challenging effort of creating and stabilizing the
wall now past, it was growing boring. Storms were not momentary things by and
large, and this one had already been raging for hours. His feet were aching,
and his back was growing sore from standing so long in one place.

Kyrus knew that he could sit down in the mud, or even
recline, and still hold the wall intact just as well. He also knew that there
were a dozen or more Denku who had trusted him enough to come out as close as
the tree line to watch. Among them were all his closest friends on the island,
as well as Tippu and Kahli. As much as their advances exasperated him, he did
not wish to diminish himself in their eyes. A primal, primitive part of his
brain insisted that the affection of pretty girls was important—and not to be
jeopardized by sore feet or boredom.

* * * * * * * *

Kyrus took his midday meal at his post, holding back the
storm sea. He had grown accustomed enough to the light work of holding the
aether-formed wall in place that he felt safe performing other magics while he
held it. He had chosen from among the multitudes of fish arrayed before him
like a child’s fishbowl, and plucked the Source from a tasty-looking specimen.
Flat and tall, the green-and-yellow striped fish was shaped like the paddles
the Denku used for their fishing boats, and as long as Kyrus’s forearm. Gone
limp as its life’s essence was cleanly removed, the fish offered no resistance
as Kyrus then levitated it over the invisible wall and into his waiting hands,
frying it with aether as it floated the short distance through the air.

Kyrus kept a small knife at his belt—made of steel, it was a
valuable gift from his Denku hosts—and used it to fillet the fish. He ate as he
worked, never taking his eye long from the real task at hand as he continued to
hold back a mind-boggling amount of seawater. When he’d had his fill, he threw
what remained of his meal over the wall and back into the Katamic for other
predators to finish off.

When the ache of his feet finally got the better of him, he
quietly cast a levitation spell, just using it to lift himself up such that his
heels barely brushed the muddy ground.

I wonder if this means I am beginning to think like a
sorcerer, when levitation magic seems like the proper course of action, rather
than sitting down and getting my trousers muddy.

* * * * * * * *

When the storm finally calmed, and the risk to the village
had passed, Kyrus released the shielding spell. He was worn inside and out. It
was the longest he had ever used his Source, certainly, and as best he could
recall, the longest he had ever stood in one place.

With the storm clouds obscuring the sun all day, Kyrus could
only guess how long he had kept up the wall, but he figured six hours at least.
Should anyone ever inquire about it one day, that is what I shall tell them,
anyway
. The overcast sky allowed occasional breaks that let in the light of
late afternoon. Kyrus just had no idea how early it had been when the storm
began, having awakened to a deep grey ceiling of the world.

The freed surf washed around Kyrus’s ankles as he turned
back toward the village, and saw his audience rush down to meet him, finally
feeling safe with the spirit man’s strange magic no longer in effect. Too many
of them talked at once for Kyrus to pick out more than a stray word here or
there in the Denku tongue, which he only understood at a modest pace. When
Tippu and Kahli saw him fatigued, and came to support him under each arm, he at
least tried to focus on what they were saying to him, since he suspected it
would have the most immediate bearing on his evening.

“We will help …”

“… to …”

“… house …”

“I …”

“… you …”

There were too many words Kyrus was unfamiliar with, and
they were both speaking too fast for him to separate the words and decipher
them. He gathered that they were intent on helping him back to the little house
he had been given, but beyond that, it was all gibberish to him. When Tippu
took her long necklaces and slung them over his head as well as hers, he began
to suspect that rest was not on his agenda for the evening.

“Hungry,“ Kyrus managed in Denku, one of the words he had
made sure Gahalu taught him. “Sleepy.”

Kahli seemed to understand the former at least and rubbed
his stomach, nodding eagerly.

Hopefully with a full belly and a worn-out brain, I can
fall asleep right after dinner.

* * * * * * * *

Gahalu stayed back from his friend as the crowd—and Kyrus’s
two amorous pursuers—escorted Kyrus back to the village. The Denku had much
wisdom about the sea, but their people did not make up catchy little sayings
the way so many foreigners did to help make them easy to convey. Thus it was a
Feru Maru saying that stuck in Gahalu’s mind as he looked at Spirit Man Kyrus:
“No man can stop the tides.”

Kyrus just had—and stopped a storm atop it. The young
Acardian was seeking to increase his magical power so he could use it to return
to his home. After what he had just witnessed, Gahalu did not expect it would
be long before Kyrus would try to use his powers to leave them.

* * * * * * * *

Kyrus lay awake on his sleeping mat, unable to still his
mind. Kahli curled against him under one arm and Tippu the other, slumbering
softly. The bedding in the small stone house that some previous mainlander had
built on Denku Appa had been lumpy and uncomfortable, so Kyrus had adopted the
Denku custom of sleeping on the ground. His own head rested on a pillow made
from a sand-filled sack, which formed a cradle shaped for the size of his head
by many nights’ experience; his two companions pillowed their heads on his
chest. He felt badly for having used magic on the girls to lull them to sleep,
but it was easier than arguing with them and kinder than spurning them. He owed
Brannis a debt for having learned a sleeping spell for him to defend himself
with. Even with the spell, the two of them still found alertness enough before
drifting off that they had latched onto him.

BOOK: Aethersmith (Book 2)
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