Sagacious Breath of the Heaven had not had a good morning. Most of it had been spent running over heaven like a chicken with its head cut off. He’d talked with Five Tears Forgiveness, and discovered what had happened in Creation. He’d managed to trace the orders for the Wyld Hunt that had – thankfully – already failed, and then spent yet more time moving from superior to superior.
There had been no subtle way to deal with this matter, of course. If he’d not been distracted the night before, maybe he could have saved Kestrel’s life without having to actually look like he was saving Kestrel’s life. Thankfully, there is a bias among the Sidereal toward not slaying ones own kind that worked in his favor and he had been able to get the death sentence lifted.
Kestrel was now considered an independent Sidereal, verging on the Gold Faction, rather than a Rogue Sidereal and a criminal to all heaven.
If Breath could talk some sense into him, he might even be able to safely rejoin the Bronze Faction. There would be consequences, of course. There were always consequences. However, those consequences could be dealt with latter. For now it was more important to him to deal with the forces that had arranged to see Kestrel dead, the ones that had worked against him last night.
He already suspected what he would find.
Cricket and Kestrel
Part 4 by CrownedSun
Pale Cricket, a dim smile playing on her face, moved carefully and quietly through the small marketplace of Sijan. Vendor to vendor she walked, a small basket tucked under her arm, which she was slowly filling with fruits, small sweat-meats and other provisions that had been lost when her house burned down.
“How much for these oranges?” she asked the pasty-faced salesman, who rambled on and on about the quality of his produce, but to tell the truth she was not entirely paying attention to the conversation anymore.
What had been his name? It had a disturbing tendency to slip from her mind, and yet whenever she thought back to him she couldn’t help but remember. Kestrel; the latest of her “suitors”. Yet, she couldn’t escape the fact that he was different from the others. He was handsome, more refined than most of the men her mother introduced her to, and he had a certain mysteriousness to him. He could dance like a God, and yet for some reason she hadn’t even realized she’d spent most of the festival in his arms until her mother had pointed it out to her.
Then there was the fact that the Wyld Hunt had come for him.
“Yes, thank you,” she noted, reaching into her pouch and pulling out some dinars. “I appreciate the trouble you no doubt went to get these; now how much do they cost?”
It was strange, she was forced to admit as she put the oranges in her little basket and walked away from the strange little man who sold them. She had always expected that the Wyld Hunt would come for her, not some young man that her mother had arranged for her to meet. If she didn’t know better, she almost would have imagined that the old ghost had arranged it herself.
With a chuckle at that thought, the young pale woman barreled unthinkingly into a scrawny pale young girl who couldn’t have been more than 9 and looked as though she hadn’t eaten a thing in a few weeks.
“Oh,” she said, helping the little girl up and straightening out her hair in a fashion not dissimilar to how her own mother used to treat her. “Oh, I’m so sorry! I really should watch where I’m going…”
The little girl just fidgeted under the attention. She was small, dressed in oversized brown rags with a soft black headband barely holding back unruly black hair. The large green eyes, however, as deep as the leaves of the East, were what startled Pale Cricket and caught her attention.
She reached into her hand basket, pulling out an apple and offering it hastily to the little girl, “Please, eat. It’s the least I can do, and you look quite hungry…” She smiled, softly, as the girl took the apple and hesitantly bit into it. “I’m Pale Cricket…”
Sauda stood out over the balcony of her midnight palace, her diaphanous black gown barely covering her form. She looked out into the distance, over Yu-Shan, but her eyes were hard and her face bore a most unkind expression. In her eyes, she saw not the glorious landscape of her home but rather the darkened lands of Creation. The Midnight Hour opened itself up to her, and she looked down from the vault of heaven and saw that which transpired under cover of darkness.
There, upon a street in the city of Sijan, was her lover. Summer Kestrel leaned up against the wall of a building in a dark alley, restful and content as he had often been upon her bed wrapped up in her sheets. The air was chill, and the night dark, but Kestrel slept soundly and contentedly. Next to him, her head lying upon her shoulder was a woman with pale skin and long soft hair. She was beautiful; not as beautiful as Sauda, at least not in the eyes of the midnight goddess herself, but dark indeed.
Whereas before, Sauda had only been slightly angry at Kestrel for leaving her for so long, now – seeing the two of them so close – the ancient and unspeakable wrath that filled her began to slowly build.
She stood upon the balcony, in her diaphanous gown, for nearly an hour before she suddenly turned and stepped back within.
Summer Kestrel rested uneasily in the Garden, wishing that Cricket had let him come with her to the market if they needed food that much. She had been quite adamant, however, and no amount of argument had changed her mind on the issue. He was in constant danger, hunted by the Realm, while she was not.
It was flattering in a way, but the more he sat here in the garden the more he knew that he shouldn’t have let her go alone. If nothing else, he should have followed after her and made sure that she was safe. After all, while the Hunter might have come after him that didn’t mean that she was safe just yet.
Every moment that passed, his worries grew. Maybe the Outcaste had been a distraction, intended to get him to back off – if so, the plan had worked beautifully. Thus, Kestrel had gotten up and moved to the front of the Garden before he decided that he should just wait. In all likelihood, she was perfectly safe, and the odds of him wandering around in the city trying to find her were too good. Three other times he almost wandered off into the city after her, but each time he found himself back in the garden admiring the assortment of flowers or staring up at the Sun.
Finally, however, Kestrel couldn’t take the waiting any longer. She should be back by now, and thus something could very easily be wrong! He’d managed to half-run all the way to the large wrought-iron gate before he spotted her walking up the trail and let out a long breathe.
Sagacious Breath of the Heaven found himself, as he had expected, upon the front stoop of the palace of the Goddess of Midnight. It was not a location in which he was unfamiliar, both from his youth and more recently. With a single bejeweled hand, he knocked politely upon the door.
A small servitor, dark of skin and shadowy of form, came and opened the door. “The Mistress has been expecting you,” it said, it’s tiny black eyes staring up at him from the shadows of its form.
Breath of the Heaven just waved the creature away, stepping into the elegant confines of the Godly Palace and looking around. He had not actually been here that often lately; most of their more recent meetings had taken place in his own pagoda. It was less likely to attract the attention of Kestrel, and besides he found his own home to be more comfortable. A long life of service to the Bronze Faction had done him well, and the Goddess of Midnight had fallen unto hard times since they first met when he was a young and naïve Chosen.
“Where is Sauda?” he asked the shadow servitor, his voice carefully measured to convey both the desire to be obeyed and the etiquette of the divine.
“In her study, Master Sagacious-“
“Yes, yes, thank you.”
He knew the way quite well, even though precious little of his time in this palace oh so long ago had been spent in that location. Nonetheless, when she would rise in the night and exit herself from his company, he would often wander the halls of her palace and very little had changed since then. He imagined Kestrel did the same thing.
Soft footsteps heralding his approach, Sagacious Breath of the Heavens stood lined in the archway leading into the study. The room was as elegant and darkly beautiful as it’s owner, draped in dark fabrics and soft flowing silks. Pale lights shone from the walls, and the goddess herself sat lounging on one of the couches as if she was waiting for him.
“Shut up,” he said, cutting off her softly purring voice. Once that voice had been the all of his existence, and the slightest whisper would arouse and excite him. Now he found it vaguely grating. The Sidereal stepped through the line of silks, pushing them aside with a steady hand as his eyes fell upon the form of the godess – who sat now upon the couch, staring at her with shock and anger.
“I know what you tried to do with Kestrel,” he noted. “I talked to your pretty servitor, the one who distracted me last night.”
She raised a brow, “I really do not know what you are referring to, dear Breath. Please, sit here with me and we may discuss this matter…if you wish,” she said, a soft smile and a beckoning hand reaching out to him. The offer was unmistakable in its nature.
He just laughed, running a hand through his hair and shaking his head. “Dear dear Sauda, if you believe that offer of sex can make me forget about what I discovered you really have fallen on hard times. You were subtle once; the bribes that littered that gods office, gods, I would have had to be blind to not see it.”
Eyes narrowed upon him now, but he just grinned back at them. There was less amusement in those eyes now, but instead the dull venom of one who was not in the least bit amused at being talked to such.
“You had best watch yourself, Chosen,” she said, her voice a light purr. “Or have you already forgotten how our first affair ended?”
Breath just grinned lightly, “Sauda, my dear,” he began, his voice dripping a bit of sarcasm at the words. “I was young and naïve when first I joined your company, much as others I could name. I made the mistake, a common one I am told, of believing that you were good for something other than an pleasurable nights distraction.”
She gasped lightly, and rose up from the couch, but Breath just laughed and continued as if he didn’t care at all.
“Leave Summer Kestrel alone. I will not warn you again, Sauda.”
He just smiled, bowed low, and left. ‘Maybe’, he hoped, ‘that would distract her from Kestrel for a while…’
“Her mother and father are dead, she’s wandered all this way because she was told that Sijan was the city of the dead and she might find them here,” Cricket said, her voice a soft whisper so that the young girl wouldn’t overhear. “I just couldn’t let her wander the city alone, until some Guild slaver grabbed her up. She’s blessed for having made it so far, and there’s no one else here to look after her…”
Kestrel just smiled, lightly, having said nothing the entire conversation except to look right into her eyes with that silly little grin.
“…and what are you smiling about?” Cricket noted in a exasperated voice, unable to restrain a bit of a giggle.
“Nothing, nothing,” he said, shaking his head – the look falling from his features as completely as if it had never been there. “Does she have a name?”
Cricket just grinned, shaking her head a bit, and nodding. “She says her name is Shoat, and she says she’s from the Scavenger Lands – near Kajeth, in Halta.”
Kestrel nodded, looking back over toward the girl. “Well, what do you intend to do with her? I don’t think we can keep her for very long…”
“No,” Cricket admitted, her voice a little sad as she looked over at Shoat as well. “It’d be too dangerous and…I’m not good with kids. I know people who are, though, and I can try to find her someone that can take care of her and keep her safe.”
Kestrel just nodded, letting the kids comment go – thankfully, as far as Cricket was concerned – uncommented upon. She was getting to like this one more and more.