Children of the Lonely Stars: Part Seven
Subi was trying her hardest to not be embarrassed. But Strixa's casual chatter about the current state of the Harmonia and how she was certain to be cheated by everyone trying to sell her the new parts she needed seemed utterly unsuited to the grand hall they currently sat in. Subi had contrived to avoid adding to the talk by keeping her mouth full – a thick mushroom soup and warm, crusty bread had been set before her along with a bottle of water, and she was glad to have them. She finally noticed when she looked at her food that the gravity was more like what she'd have expected here – there must be gravity generators or the equivalent magic in the Tower.
Up on the stage – the Children of the Lonely Stars called it a dais – Princess Arabel and Madame Ruska were quizzing Paloma as she sat between them clutching her bowl of soup. Rin sat across from Subi, but he was watching them like a hawk. He'd already finished his food, and sat silently, not even pretending that he had a good reason to avoid responding to Strixa.
Subi thought he was overreacting. The Children had been nothing but friendly to them, and Rin was acting as if he expected them to turn into Sloth clones at any moment. Paloma seemed perfectly fine – she was smiling, nodding, and talking with the princess and the sorceress.
Migradar sat at the table with them – the imposing councilor had already told them to forgo using his title. He looked at Rin closely. Subi was used to seeing mutants around the Space Station, and she was ashamed to admit that she typically thought of them as dumb muscle, which Migradar was clearly not. The big mutant said, "How about a tune, boy? This hall was made for music, not stifled silence."
Even though Rin was being grouchy, he had clearly decided that it was best to listen. He pulled out his violin and carefully tuned the strings – Paloma looked up at him in surprise, and then went back to her conversation – and then began to play.
Uh-oh. He was playing "River Sakh" again. Subi had known he was upset, but this wasn't good. Migradar didn't know that, though, and he asked, "Have you ever heard 'Golden Hill'?"
But that was the best way to get Rin out of a funk. He said, "I've never heard a song by that name, but I may know the melody. Hum it?"
Migradar did, and Subi recognized it just as Rin said, "That's 'Past Yonder River! I know that one."
Rin started to play, and Migradar sang softly,
"On Golden Hill we made our stand
The banners waving bright and tall
On Golden Hill we won the day
On Golden Hill I lost it all.
Where victories all hollow rang
And honors vanished in the night
On Golden Hill I laid my sword
To wander far and find the light."
They sounded fantastic together – Migradar's voice was deep and rich, and the silvery, plaintive sound of the violin practically glittered around the melancholy melody. Subi said when he finished, "It sounds like 'Lay of the Star-Mariner' – the words do, at least. Rin, can you play the melody on that with me?"
Rin asked, raising his eyebrows, "Can you sing the melody? You're an alto."
Before Subi could retort, Strixa sighed. "Didn't we listen to that moldy oldie enough on the way over here? You musicians, I swear, you're all mad. And that's coming from a mad pilot."
Subi winced – did Strixa not see these people, this place? Did she really think that was an appropriate way to act? Maybe as an Alien Aisha she'd seen stranger places than this, but really. But then Strixa asked, "Could someone show me where to wash up? I'm probably shedding space dust everywhere."
Migradar stood. "I shall direct you to Harca – she will assist you with all you need."
Subi knew it wasn't nice of her to be glad to see the back of the little pilot – Strixa had done them a major favor in bringing them here. Even if they didn't really understand what was going on yet. Except for the bit where it could destroy Filion entirely.
"Look! Rin, Subi, look, look, look!"
Subi looked up at Paloma. The little Shoyru was holding out what looked almost like a flower – but a flower made all of glowing light. Paloma said proudly, "It's warm, too!"
Princess Arabel held out her own hand – her fire appeared to be a many-pointed star. She said, "Warmth and light are a necessary skill for all mages out here on the edge of the great darkness. Almaril..." she swallowed, and continued, "Almaril and I were both calling our fires by our fifth birthdays."
Madame Ruska said, "But Paloma has learned quickly – I applaud you, child, for applying yourself to this lesson."
Paloma beamed proudly. "Rin, come see!"
Rin laid his violin down on the table and came to see the flower, holding his hand over it. He said, "It's warm – doesn't it burn you?"
Paloma shook her head. "It just feels warm to me, too."
Rin looked up at Madame Ruska. "What else could she be able to do?"
The tall Kougra gave a shrug of her wings. "Make heat and light in greater quantities, surely. Perhaps help things grow. Conjure air. Heal, perhaps, or looking into the insides of things. Manipulation of the forces of the world, to some extent. I would doubt battle-magic from what I have seen, but most mages have a few offensive spells they may use to protect themselves. There is no telling – not at this early stage."
Rin said firmly, "No battle-magic. She's a kid. My parents would kill me – and I'd deserve it."
Madame Ruska shook her head. "We are hard-pressed here on Filion, but not yet so that we must have children fight for us. Our knights may hold the line until we can find a way to free Almaril. And even if Paloma aids us in that venture, she will not be in harm's way. We intend to seek for her this evening, after I have had time to prepare the spell, and my own role will be shielding Arabel and Paloma from Diamal's influence. They will not come to harm as long as I have breath to prevent it. I give you my word as a mage."
The Grundo princess started asking the Kougra mage about the spell. Paloma seemed to be listening attentively, but Subi didn't understand any of it – even the words she did know didn't seem to be used in the normal fashion. And she was feeling tired again, so she decided to lay her head down on the table. Just for a moment. Just long enough to feel a little better...
She woke with a start to a loud noise. She looked around. "Wait... what...?"
She was in Filion's hall, still. There were several other people in here eating in addition to Rin, Paloma, Migradar, Madame Ruska, and Princess Arabel. All of the people from Filion looked upset at the noise – it was still happening, and Subi realized that it had to be some sort of alarm.
Migradar leapt to his feet as Subi was still raising her head from the table. "Go to the field! Captain Elsoreth will be there! You know what to do!"
Rin said, "We don't! What's happening?"
The other people who'd been eating were all headed straight for the far door. Migradar said, "That's the alarm that says the gate has been breached. Noncombatants go to the caves where we keep the fields – they are easy to close off and defend. Captain Elsoreth of the guard will be in command there. We will wait here until we have more word as to what has happened." Subi looked at the departing noncombatants. She wondered if she ought to be classifying herself with them right now. She asked, "Where's Paloma going?"
Madame Ruska said, "I will be going to the Light to protect it. Arabel will remain with me, and I was going to extend to Paloma the same offer. You will not be in any more danger – not with me at your side. And your strength could aid us."
Paloma nodded once. "I'll do it."
If that little girl could be brave, Subi could be, too. She said, "I'll stay with you, then. Should I try to find something pointy?"
Migradar snorted. "You two are more likely to hurt yourselves than anyone else. They may need hands up in the Light, though – there's gearwork up there."
It was Sir Hildern, running through the door. He said, "It's that Alien Aisha. That pilot woman who brought them here. She went straight out there and aimed some sort of weapon at the gates – blew them to splinters. The captain told me to tell you that she thought the weapon was magical. And the enemy was waiting outside – we're already on the defensive at the main gate to the Tower itself, and I fear we shall not hold it."
Strixa. Strixa? How could she? Paloma cried, "She wouldn't do something like that – she's nice!"
Hildern said grimly, "Saw it with my own eyes. And when she'd done it she was out the gate before anyone could react."
Even Rin, who had been playing the cynic, looked stunned. He asked, "Is there any sort of mind control that Diamal uses? Any way that Strixa might not have wanted to do that? I mean, she's a little nuts, but it's more of an excessive quirkiness than treacherousness."
Madame Ruska said, "Diamal has suborned her somehow. Whether it was by force of magic or persuasion matters little at this time. Come – we must go to the Light."
Migradar said, "I will go with you – my duty is to protect the princess, foremost. If Arabel were to be lost with Almaril, all battle plans will mean naught. Those at the doors know their duties – we've drilled that in the past."
Hildern ran for a door at another side of the hall, staff in hand. Subi followed, holding Paloma's hand – behind her were the mage and the princess, with Rin bringing up the rear. Hildern shouted back, "Bar the door! It may buy us time at the clutch!"
Next they half-ran up a long, winding stair – the gravity generator was still in effect here, and Subi's side was aching and her legs leaden by the time they reached the top.
The first thing she realized was that she was truly warm for the first time in several days. The next thing she realized was that she was in a wondrous place – this chamber was full of wooden and stone walkways, gearwork, lamps, and glowing bulbs, all of which fed up to the great light at the peak of the tower.
A little eventide Grundo woman in purple robes and a horned helmet leaped from one of the walkways. "Ruska! Migradar! Arabel! Thank Mira you're here! What's happening?"
Madame Ruska said grimly, "We've been betrayed, Laitri. A pilot to whom we had given shelter destroyed the gates and let Diamal's forces in. We must protect the Light."
From above, there was a sharp noise – one of the thick panes of glass or crystal that made up the roof of this chamber developed a Spyder's-web of cracks.
Subi's stomach sank.
Laitri whispered in horror, "If they break that glass, the whole Tower could be in danger. Ruska, I'll need your help – and milady, if you can give us strength, all the better. Oh, and someone needs to man the sunward and the starward control boards – you and you, can you do that? Migradar, they may need help, the gearwork should have been oiled ages ago!"
Subi found herself nodding.
Madame Ruska said, "Go to your stations. There is little time."
To be continued...