Falling Rain: Part Two
The horizon was lost in a veil of rainwater. Storm clouds had painted the sky a metallic grey, and a thin mist hushed every silhouette of a house, the chilly nighttime air hardly pierced by the dull, flickering lights gingerly glowing from some of the windows. Arrihaz sat quietly in the doorway of the house from his memories, listening to the ceaseless pitter-patter of raindrops drumming on the roof. The little cottage was perched away from the main neighborhoods, a short walk away from the very edge of the Citadel, with a stunning view of Meridell sprawling below.
This was the house he had lived in for a large part of his life. A house that he now only visited in dreams. For now, if you went to that spot, you would find nothing but a charred foundation. And without the two who had been with him for so long... it simply wouldn’t have been “home” to begin with.
He was a sizable cobalt blue Eyrie at the time, before he had been painted to match his alliance. The warm glow from the fireplace illuminated him from behind, and his bright eyes were turned toward the heavens, to a slice of sky visible through the overhang of clouds. He could see a light peppering of stars riddle that one spot, and imagined with a youthful fascination how beautiful the sky must look like behind those clouds.
“There’s going to be thunder and lightning,” a gentle voice said from behind him.
Arrihaz’s gaze never lowered. “Yes. A storm’s coming,” he agreed softly.
The voice belonged to a petite, fragilely beautiful Eyrie. Back then, her feathers were an intensely dark crimson, and everything about her was too thin. Although she had always been fairly sickly, all the more adding to her older brother’s protectiveness, there was forever a tender warmth in her glowing yellow eyes. It made people smile in a hushed, fascinated sort of way.
The larger Blue Eyrie looked down at his little Red Eyrie sister. “The sky was so clear this morning. I suppose you never know when a storm is brewing.”
“Sometimes. Sometimes you don’t realize it until you’re drenched.”
“Lieutenant Colonel? Hey! Arrihaz!”
The Darigan Eyrie suddenly shook his head, as if to clear it, his crimson eyes coming into focus to find the face of a Fire Zafara across the table from him. “Good morning, Brai,” he murmured.
“You were spacing out there,” she remarked, grinning light-heartedly as she sat down across from him. “You feeling alright, Sir? Maybe it’s the weather. Absolutely gloomy, isn’t it?”
“Yes. The cold brings back memories,” he mused, shaking his head dismissively. He righted himself, sitting up straight and glancing down the long table they sat at, one of many sprawling down the length of the huge room. Each was crammed full with soldiers of every shape and color, each, like him, wearing some manner of uniform, a few in no more than cloaks like Brai, while some had even more patches and medals shining on their chests than Arrihaz. It was strange, eating with fellow soldiers of every rank in the same mess hall. Each had their own bowl or plate of some poorly conceived meal or another. The food they served here looked more like an idea of the food than the actual thing. And whoever had the idea, Arrihaz mused, was not a pleasant person.
“Oh yeah?” Brai was saying, clearly not having taken the hint. “You’ve lived up here almost all your life, isn’t that right? With your sister and a human, and I heard--”
“I am well aware of my own past, Corporal,” Arrihaz interrupted, a shade touchily.
The Zafara flustered. “Oh. Ah. Forgive me, Sir, I didn’t mean to...” she trailed off, clearing her throat sheepishly. After a few long seconds of silence, she pressed into a more generic topic of discussion. “Terrible food here, isn’t it? I guess Kass’s men are too busy being spooky to learn how to cook properly.”
Arrihaz flicked his eyes down to said terrible food on the table in front of him. He had a bowl of something strongly synonymous to stew, and a fresh-baked loaf of bread sat in between him and Brai, but he lacked the appetite to do it justice.
Brai slurped at her own bowl of soup’s resemblance and cast her eyes about the room.
“But sometimes,” his sister had continued, “everyone knows. That’s the funny thing about rain. It can be so beautiful, or so dangerous. Too much or too little would be bad. But right now... it makes everything look kind of magical, doesn’t it?” She smiled softly, her pale eyes oddly glossy though the mist.
“Yes,” he agreed softly. He sat down in the doorway, and his little sister sat beside him, leaning her minute weight against him as she rested her head on his shoulder. In between the doorway bridging inside from outside, their backs were warm but their fronts chilled by the rainy dusk. “And tomorrow we can jump in the puddles if you’d like to, Nolim.”
He felt her head nod against his shoulder. “If Lara doesn’t make you train too hard first,” she replied teasingly.
“I’m getting stronger every day.” He looked down at her with a slim smile.
Nolim’s eyes lingered on the overcast sky. “Sometimes rain starts out gently, and then swells into a violent storm,” she said rather suddenly. “And it can catch people off-guard. But some people know to expect it.”
Arrihaz furrowed his eyebrows slightly. “What are you talking about?”
“If one drop of rain falls and, by chance, hits just one person...” She had a strange, faraway look in her eyes. “Then that person will go through the rest of the day waiting for the rain to start. ‘It’s going to rain today’ will never leave their thoughts, all because of that one drop of water, they may worry or make new plans or just carry an umbrella around. And then maybe they’re the only one who wouldn’t be surprised when the rain started to fall. Because they were the first one it touched.”
“Funny what just one drop can do, isn’t it?”
Arrihaz looked up sharply. “What?”
“Smoke bombs!” Brai was weighing a grey bomb in her paw. “You know, I was never very good with blades, but explosives— well, maybe that’s why I’m still around.” She grinned toothily and shook her head. “I was just talking about the other day. You remember when I dropped one of these and we mopped the floor with them—”
“Too easy,” someone scoffed.
Arrihaz and Brai both looked over as a Shadow Lupe took a seat beside the Eyrie, as though he held a gold-plated invitation in his pocket.
“Oh. Hello, Captain,” Brai greeted him with a notable lack of luster. She swirled the soup around in her bowl absentmindedly.
“Ooh, do try to refrain from leaping with joy,” the Captain replied dryly.
Arrihaz was less than excited to see Captain Firieq, as well. His fur blacker than the night was a tousled mess, his eyes were like flakes of shale, and he had a smug smirk perpetually plastered on his handsome face and a devious glint in his eyes. Although he was a lower rank than the Lieutenant Colonel, not even Arrihaz was spared from the Shadow Lupe’s dry sarcasm.
“It’s just too easy,” he repeated, shaking his head and heaving a dramatic sigh. His single golden hoop earring clanked softly. “Where’s the challenge? Meridell is even weaker this time around!”
“Well, they weren’t expecting it,” Brai responded blandly. “And besides, Kass sent that Court Dancer to keep the king out of our way, so it’s hardly a fair fight. Things are a mess down there.”
“But where’s the fun in that? We’ll have this war won by the end of the week, at this rate.” Firieq offered a sideways smirk. “They’ve hardly touched us. Don’t you agree, Lieutenant Colonel?”
“They’ll retaliate,” Arrihaz answered flatly, with a slight shake of his head. “We’ve only been at war for a few weeks now.”
The Silver Wocky a few seats down snorted. “You place an awful lot of hope in Meridell,” he sneered, the last word dripping with disdain, as though it would have to be properly beaten before it crossed his lips again. He had been watching the three of them in silence up until now, and Arrihaz recognized him as the Wocky who had snapped at Brai on many other occasions before, always rambling about “place” and “duty.”
He was in no mood for this.
Arrihaz shot a bland smile of disdain in his direction. “If I’m not mistaken, Major, I am the only one of the two of us who has never lost a battle against them,” he countered smoothly.
The Wocky stiffened. His eyes slowly narrowed, but for once he remained silent, his lips thinning. After a beat, he stood up. “Mm. Well then,” he huffed. “Enjoy your breakfast, Sir.” With a curt nod of his head, he stood and walked stiffly away.
“Crazy old man,” Firieq remarked with a quirk of his brows. “Major Mahlou. He’s been in the service so long he probably used to ride a Chomby into battle.” He snickered at his own joke, shifting his attention back to Arrihaz.
“He’s just stuck in his ways.” Brai shook her head and went back to sipping at her stew.
Arrihaz had offered the little Nolim a baffled smile. “Nol...” He just trailed off and shook his head.
The first rumble of thunder met their ears, and the two siblings looked toward the sky in unison. The clouds seemed to be growling like a beast in warning. A few deathly silent seconds later, a web of lightning thronged the sky.
“Oh, isn’t it beautiful, Arri?”
“I just love rain,” she whispered. She relaxed, listening to the hiss of the rain around them and watching the sky expectantly.
Arrihaz had nodded and leaned against the doorway with a soft, content sigh. “Storms aren’t scary at all.”
“What are you two doing?”
The pair looked over their shoulders at the human standing behind them. She was of an athletic build, with short black hair and piercing blue eyes. “If you leave the door open, the house will get cold. And you two will get wet once the wind blows that rain in here,” she reprimanded.
Nolim simply smiled quietly in reply. “Come sit with us, Lara. There was lightning a moment ago.”
The girl paused. Although she was strict and always pushing Arrihaz to be the best he could possibly be, she had a soft spot and cared deeply for the both of them. She had taken them in, after all. Something in her liquid blue eyes seemed to soften when she looked at Nolim. “Just for a little longer, alright?” She frowned as if deeply annoyed, but sat down behind them with her legs crossed and glanced upward.
They were silent for a moment. Another clap of lightning drew their eyes out over the very edge of the Citadel.
“Look out there,” Lara said, pointing ahead. “What do you see?”
Arrihaz stared blankly out at the misty, blurry shapes through the rain. “Nothing,” he replied slowly.
“The mountains,” Nolim said.
Now that they were pointed out, if he looked closely out past the edge of their floating world, Arrihaz could see them too. They stood apart from the sky only as the stroke of a poorly inked pen, a line thin and quick and gestural.
As he was opening his mouth to say so, his sister broke out into tiny, muffled coughing. She closed her eyes tightly and covered her mouth, leaning feebly against Arrihaz, who quickly sat rigid and looked at her in concern.
“That’s right.” Lara looked at Nolim with a strange, faraway smile. “It’s cold out here. You should go inside, before you get sick again.”
Brai pushed aside her empty bowl. “All I’m saying is that I’m not sure what Kass is trying to prove,” she was in the middle of saying.
Firieq helped himself to a chunk of their bread. “No comment.” He snorted and shook his head. “But I’d watch it if I were you. Anyone who’s tired of looking over their shoulder for Kass is tired of life.” He took a rudely huge bite of bread, chewed loudly, and said through a full mouth, “Now get outside and await orders. I won’t tell you again.” He stood, winked, and then turned on his heels and strode cockily away.
The Zafara smiled tightly until he had gone. “Man,” she grumbled, deflating with a sigh, “how come I have to be in HIS division instead of yours?”
Arrihaz just smirked a little and pushed his chair back. “Because you have the worst luck of anyone I’ve ever met. Come on.” He stood and trailed after the rest of the soldiers streaming out of the mess hall.
“Your sister is truly remarkable,” Lara had commented softly, once Nolim was warm in bed. “But she needs you. Always protect her, Arrihaz.”
Outside, the daybreak was crisp and subdued. A white-fade moon hung sheepishly on a hook of morning sky. It looked out of place. The heavens were somber with clouds.
“Brilliant,” Arrihaz grumbled. “Another ghastly day to slosh through.”
Brai suddenly broke into a lovely peal of laughter, which irritated Arrihaz very much. He rather liked his misfortunes to be taken seriously. He looked at her with a frown, but she only smiled. “Don’t be silly. The sun will come out soon. You’ll see.”
Around them, people were trudging off toward their stations, and orders were murmured through the crowd. But Arrihaz and Brai remained, staring out quietly at the hazy Meridell mountains on the horizon.
The Fire Zafara sighed and folded her arms. She glanced up sharply, as though she had felt something on her head. “Ah. It’s going to rain today. I just felt a drop.”
A raindrop glided down Arrihaz’s beak. He closed his eyes.
To be continued...