41 Ymiden 719
Emptiness; the streets and houses of Westguard were empty. Those who had perished in the cascade of infections, dragged out and set on the bonfires. Around the walls resounded echoes of faintly crackling pyres that had yet to smolder black. Dusk lingered on the horizon, more night than trial, and wisps of clouds suggested ethereal storms in the near distance.
Llyr sat on a windowsill, both legs outside with his heels against the wall. He stared out at the evacuated city. He’d only just managed to get the children asleep, and though he had the night before him, he felt as if time slipped far too quickly through his fingers. A faint breeze blew through his white-blond hair, but it only worried him. He worried that it held contagions within the air, that it was the sign of the ether storm coming closer, of many other things that it could mean.
He wore the layers of his bundled clothes, but in the evening coolness and the privacy, he started to remove them. The biqaj unwrapped the scarf around his neck, then set it on the inside of the room. He glanced about the interior space; a washroom of luxurious means with a tub unlike the stone ones in Quacia. It was made from gleaming copper and large enough to fit three people. Whoever it had belonged to before had kept it clean. The house was one of the cleaner ones left behind, and he would keep it that way in case the owners ever returned home. While he didn’t have admission to stay in the abandoned place, the domicile had a number of decent beds he required for the children. It offered protection from the lingering madness of those Etzori who had refused to evacuate, along with those who had arrived in Westguard looking for family.
Though he felt an instinct to smoke again, a habit he gradually adjusted to, he only had a few sticks left. He would wait. Llyr considered whether it would be best to travel out soon, or to wait. He thought of how he’d advised Mister Kiwi the trial before. While he felt certain it was the correct course, he also could feel the apprehension of staying still while everything else moved around them.
Without magic, the lull of his sparks against his soul, Llyr realized how much he’d allowed identification with such new aspects to his life.
In a way, he missed the warmth of ether in his vessel. In another way, during the past several trials of Ymiden and on, he glimpsed who he’d been before Ashan. The magicless mortal… the sharp-tongued runt… his father’s trodden son… and yet, he was not like he’d been before. He’d grown so much stronger, more resilient. Though he’d endured abuse since his first breaths in the world, in varying degrees of grief and rebellion, now he felt as if he could almost endure… anything
. Truly endure. Not simply suppress it in hopes that it might vanish if he simply turned a blind eye to pain.
Llyr surveyed the street below. He wondered if he could jump and land safely without the use of his mutated wings. It wasn’t a far distance to go, the window was only on the second story of the house. However, he couldn’t risk even that much. If his ankle twisted or something went wrong… he sighed and returned into the room. The biqaj picked up the scarf he’d discarded before and headed out of the washroom. He walked through the corridor, peeked into the bedroom, but everything looked fine.
He continued to the ground floor. Llyr tossed the scarf onto the nearest chair. He unbuttoned his coat, then set it along with the scarf. Llyr retrieved the dagger from the holster at his belt. He hadn’t gotten much use of it, least not as much as likely would have suited him. There were few moments anymore, however, where he had such time to himself and so, he would give his dagger some attention.
Llyr swung his arm, slicing the air with the razor-sharp edge of the straight blade. He brought it back around in an arc, then swung again. Again. And he paused in the next repetitive motion to quietly sigh. He tossed the dagger, a moment of airborne weightlessness to the weapon before he grabbed at the hilt with his off-hand. The smooth handle tapped against his palm, but then tilted. He tried to catch it, but the dagger simply flipped around and then fell to the floor in front of him.
Muttering a couple swear words at his fumble, he bent over and retrieved the dagger. He thought of the various capabilities he’d seen with other men and their daggers. Llyr wanted to be like them, so apt and able with a dagger that he’d never fumble again!
Dagger hilt in hand again, Llyr walked in a circle. He spun on heel and stabbed near a chair, forcing the blade forward. Another repeat motion and then he spun to the opposite side to stab some more. He truly had little idea as to what he was doing, other than the feel of the blade as it moved in response to his intention.
He thought of some fights he’d seen in the past several trials during his time among the Etzos territories. How expertly men like Kasoria put into the swish and thrust of their blades. Llyr tried to mimic a stance he’d seen from the other man, though his own dagger was much different than the Etzori’s weapons. His ice-blue eyes narrowed as he tried to add a neat little scowl to his expression.
Llyr leapt forward. He grabbed a nearby pillow, threw it into the air, then slashed at it with the dagger as it fell. Cotton and downy feathers went everywhere. He brushed the fluffy carnage aside, then stabbed into the pillow before it reached the ground. The biqaj hoisted the slaughtered decor up on the blade. He paused for a trill, staring up at the pillow, then he jerked his arm forward. The pillow slid off and as it went in front of him, he kicked it. He fell forward, stomping it into the ground, twisting the ball of his foot into what remained.
“A waste of quality down,” Kiwi’s calm voice softly murmured from behind him.
Llyr spun around and nearly threw the dagger at the other man who stared unblinkingly back at him, either in complete faith that the blade might never leave his hand or in complete confidence he would miss even if it did. He paused in mid-motion, keeping hold of the weapon just at the moment before letting go. His breath quickened from the slight startle, he rhetorically asked, “How are you always so quiet?”
“I step lightly,” Kiwi replied either unaware that the question hadn’t really been asked as one or not caring to begin with. “It seems you have been…” He eyed the feathers, the dagger, and the quiet childless room. “Busy.”
A quiet snort sounded from Llyr. He holstered his dagger and shook his head. “Busy? Hardly.”
“A polite term for ‘wasting your time’,” Kiwi clarified with a nod.
Llyr rolled his eyes. They had darkened in shade, but remained blue in hue. He said, “It is not a waste
of time to…” he paused, glanced at the pillow, then didn’t finish the statement. Instead, his lips pursed and he clicked his tongue against the roof of his mouth. The blond waved a dismissive hand at the mess. “I was about to… do something else.”
What was it… he tried to remember what he’d been planning before he’d gotten distracted by the thought that he might actually practice proper mundane skirmishing.
“Eviscerate some cushions, maybe?” Kiwi’s brow rose, the question worded as though it were sarcasm but his tone suggesting it was genuine. “You were the one who asked those… children to treat this house nicely, should its owner return, I believe.”
“Yes,” muttered Llyr reluctantly.
“I am no father, but this sort of behavior might set a poor precedent,” Kiwi offered.
“It is fortunate they are asleep then, isn’t it?” The other man only nodded in reply, as Llyr picked up the remnants of the slashed and stabbed pillow, then started to collect the feathers from the floor. “How do you fare, Mister Kiwi?”
“The proper answer would be ‘well’, Mister Magpie,” he replied, whatever feelings - or lack thereof - he really felt kept to himself. “Though you may rest easy in the knowledge that I seem to have been cleansed of whatever ailment afflicted my skin.”
“Oh, so I might be able to touch you now?” asked Llyr without a moment’s pause or thought.
Kiwi blinked. “I… I was under the impression you might be worried about the children, but…” He frowned, confused rather than displeased from what Llyr understood of the man’s carefully constructed expressions. “But yes. I suppose so.”
Silver-blue blush rose to Llyr’s cheeks, a delayed realization of how his tongue had spoken his first thought without consideration for the situation at hand. He said, in awkward acknowledgment, “I- I only- because I wanted to… hug you earlier. Yestertrial, and… that’s all.” Kiwi’s frown lessened, though he didn’t seem to be very clear on what it was Llyr was talking about. “Yes, the children, though. Of course. Of course, I thought of them too. Things have been...”