Flurian looked up at his cousin, then across to the judge, then down to the piece of paper in front of him. Reluctantly, he picked up a pen and signed. He liked his country and his lab and the fact that he'd reached a particularly knotty problem that morning. It was regarding sharing of power, and it was still on his mind along with the one from last week about turning gold into lead. He liked the new wizards he'd just met and even though he was going to their country he would rather hear about the effects of the Fantasy tours in the comfort of his lab, or the dining hall, rather than somewhere he didn't know with a bunch of murderous bastards. It would be like the days of the Horror tour all over again. He thought the thought of the tours made him shudder, but then realised it was the overpowering smell of his cousin. He'd almost stopped noticing it during the trial, but the idea of a journey across the ocean trying to influence them… He let out a faint grown and frowned.
"Worried, cousin" growled Jessak at him.
"Not at all. Frustrated"
"You wouldn't want your poor cousin griffin executed, would you? Helpless in some human-jail, then off with his head"
"Jessak" said Flury quietly "we don't have human jails. We have jails where criminals go for committing crimes"
"Humans, fake-human griffins, it's all the same. Somewhere a true griffin shouldn't
go" His feathers ruffled as he laughed, before he said "much like that university of
yours". He laughed again. "Don't worry, cousin. You'll have plenty of time to learn to
be a true griffin after all"
"Oh, so being a throwback can be learned, can it?" Flury frowned again, and then
went off to discuss the implications of the contract
Meanwhile, Lukin's pride was dented and he was trying not to blush. Lukin did not
blush well, he tended towards his entire face flushing bright red, and this didn't help
with the dented pride.
"Ruskin means" said Elda "that if you're linked to Olga in any way, then you can
know where she's gone"
He was most probably linked to her. He could think of lots of things that could link
him to her., He thought of her in his room deftly catching him and guiding him away
from the small pit that had opened when she kissed him. He thought of her handing
him the notebook. By saying he was so definitely linked to her without asking, had
he spoilt all that? Spoilt the jokes and holding her hand and the nights, of also holding
her hand, and he knew he would spoil needing her if he put it the way he almost
certainly would. Nevertheless he does need her. So he wouldn't say it, he resolved.
But he also wouldn't be like Felim and "keep his trouble locked in his breast". He sat
quietly, no longer listening to his friends, their friends, but just sitting there needing
Olga. And she was on the roof.
Later he held her, kissed her face and the air people swirled around them, and he
wondered how it had worked. He was, not absent-mindedly thinking this, but thinking
it concurrently wondering if it was the need, or if the need was the link,, and he kissed
her again and again, always avoiding her mouth, protective and protected and
affectionate. Not kissing her in that way, because that was different, not that there was
anything wrong with that. He was just wondering if it were mutual, if she needed him
the same way when she did kiss him in that way. It occurred to him that she was
wonderful and wanted to kiss and hold him, and that was enough.
"You disgusting crew of horrible little birds" the middling size brown griffin was
yelling at Jessak and his cohort, and Flury felt ashamed and vindicated at once. He
hoped, dearly, that she wouldn't turn it on him- he was trying to do his best at them.
Even when the griffin and youth she appeared to know arrived, her righteous anger
was wonderful to watch. She had a gift for insults that Flury never could have
managed. He was too uncomfortable with the idea of them being hurled back at him,
and preferred sarcasm. At least if someone tried to use your sarcasm against you it
came across as foolish.
Jessak's lot had dispersed now. He hoped she wouldn't think he was one of them, and
felt his stomach, throat and shoulders shrinking into him as he tried to be less… there.
He'd found this years ago, early after moving to the city, where he'd experimented
with keeping his head down and keeping quiet and only saying neutral things for so
long that he found he was only normal size if he was especially enthused. And then
Jessak had had his way, because everyone else who could talk sense to him had the
same way of dealing with it, but none of them seemed to grow and shrink the way he did.
The female griffin, the smaller one, Elda he'd gathered her name was, was staring at him now. "Who are you?" she demanded. "Why are you still here?"
He fought back the urge to say "Because your interesting enough for me not to realise
that I've just been freed from the job I've had for the last few weeks which I loathed."
Or simply "because you're fascinating" and managed to tell her that it was interesting
here. Purely a geographical interest.
She was just as confident at asking questions as she was at insulting brutish griffin's
parentage. And her eyes, and the ways she could throw the whole of herself into
things. He made vague sentences trying to distance himself from, well, everything. He
just wanted to sit next to this beautiful person and have her explain everything to him,
because that would be amazing.
A cynical part of him went "undergrad. That's the reason for the confidence" but it
was something else as well. He'd never seen a person: human, griffin, dragon as
complete in herself as her.
Eventually he shrunk further, and she went away, and he was sad.
Titus tried to take another mouthful of bread. He missed Claudia. Claudia was able to
distract him into eating. At the moment he was too worried.
He tried to think about something less worrying. He would, somehow when not with
the imperial guard, or when with the imperial guard, meet a nice woman. She would
be lovely, and everyone would agree with him on this. He never seemed to meet
Empire women who would be considered nice when they were being lovely. They
were generally being haughty, or disruptive, or more interested in teaching each other
weaving. (There had been one, a while back, but she kept on going off to weave with
his friends mother, and coming back giggling). It was odd, because Claudia always
got very, very frustrated when weaving and cursed a lot. Maybe weaving ideally
needed two people, and Claudia didn't have many friends here.
But the lovely woman would be friends with Claudia. She might even teach her to
weave, or perhaps they would do other things. Everyone would love her and she
would be able to convince them of how nice Claudia was, and to let her keep her
citizenship, and then they'd all think Claudia was lovely too. And then maybe the rest
of the people might gain from so much loveliness, and there would stop being
scandals concerning buggery and poison and overly thin roofs.
Ah, what use was it. There might be many lovely women in the Empire, and although
many of them did not find the womanly arts as much of amusement as his friend had,
still a great many of them had mentors of the type who teach weaving. That didn't
matter, however, because he'd never be alone with one of them for long enough to get
beyond awkward politeness.
There must be options.
Just then he was interrupted by an injured pigeon landing in front of him.
It was true, the place was interesting. A mess, with barely competent tutors, or rather
ones who had been competent and spoilt their talent. It would have been sad if it
weren't for Elda. Or indeed the other students, but also the moments he met Elda and
she turned her entire Elda-esque concentration on him and he felt fantastic, and
comfortable in his smaller body. Sometimes he managed to be his bigger form around
her but she still seems to make him feel tiny and cowed, but in a way he sort of
enjoys. He's not used to this at all.
Then he ends up teaching them, in the place of the malevolent fool who had tied
Claudia to a coat rack, and he enjoys that too. But he still feel's he's trespassing. That
this is Elda's place, really, not his. He wishes his own study hadn't been so soon after
the Horror tours, or that the war hadn't split his country as badly as it did, and that he
ould have had some of her self possession. But he has his own quiet pleasure in
showing these people how magic works.
He expected, when this happened, to feel protective of Elda. But he rather feels that
she, with her confidence and eagerness and acceptance of his presenc there, protects
him a bit. She didn't tell the others whatever she could have known or misguessed
from his arrival. She laughs at him, sometimes, when he walks across the square, but
he doesn't mind that much, just doesn't know why. And sometimes he has a
conversation with her, and he does feel like he's in a nice warm place of
understanding things. He doesn't expect anything to change. He wishes he could fix
or renew the power here, but can't, so stays around and enjoys what there is to enjoy
and change himself.
So it comes as a shock when he's flying over the courtyard and he sees the bubble
form around the students and Corkoran and realises that Elda's in danger, and so are
her friends, and so is the fool Corkoran and crashes while trying to stop them.
And Elda had flown away. Somewhere very, very far away, and all he had here was a
floating statue and the hope that her self possession held in outer space and her friends
were as good at the actual practical side of magic in dangerous situations as he'd
hoped they were in the lab. And that she was, of course.
He wanted to cry. He shrank as he sat and tried to think of things to distract himself.
He would make this into the soppiest sonnet he could imagine (he'd never been
comfortable with how most sonnets were about how cruel and uncaring their love
was, for not liking bad verse or people with lutes or the lover's crest or hair. A "my
lady was lovely and independent and then she attempted to go to the moon and
disappeared" sonnet would be better). Also, it would make it less real.
But he couldn't focus on that either. He made idle conversation in which he infuriated
the statue and flew up to the Spellman Building and down again and talked to the
terrifying Querida when she arrived. He did manage to persuade her he was useful,
and should be here, which was good. He didn't quite manage to evade her
disapproval, but he thought she might be like Elda, in that no one ever did. But
mostly, as the afternoon went on, he got the disapproval for apologising, and he got
much less of it than the rest.
Then the heads of the various states here started arriving, and he began to get worried
again, not about their presence but because something that should be so distracting
wasn't. He waited for his practical side to kick in again, but no. He suspected Elda
would be much better at dealing with them, and decided just do what Querida said-
He spotted something moving out of the corner of his eye. He looked up and it knew it was the terrible pearly thing in which Elda had left, although now it was burning thing, hopefully not terrible "Don't move! Don't take another step!" he said, and froze while Querida looked up as well.
And then the thing, which was now more terrifying, plummeted into ground that instantly seemed to be molten, and began to fade as the ground cooled. He rushed forwards, seeing Elda there. She and the black griffin had collapsed.
"Are you alright?" he asked
"Fine, now I know we're not all dead" in her typical manner and then she looked at him and did whatever the griffin equivalent is of beaming. "I'm glad to be back. I think I love the whole world"
That wasn't in her typical manner. It had all the elements of that but was underscored by something he couldn't place, and he fell back on weak sarcasm.
She didn't dismiss him, throughout all the odd business that followed. She didn't tell him he was foolish for not seeing that the shouting men were brothers. She laughed with him and Ruskin and Claudia about how very, very earnest Isodel and Titus were. She ignored him bumping into her in shock when Wizard Policant became more visible.
After the young and beautiful and terribly earnest humans were married, there was a lot of drinking. Ruskin muttered throughout the evening that there should have been more, because the party became staggered. Olga and Lukin went off to have dinner with King Luther. Felim at some point became entangled with Melissa in a combination of loud arguments and embraces. Blade, after his brief moment of camaraderie with Flury, busied himself with notes, and then went to talk to Kit.
And Flury found himself with Elda, Claudia and Ruskin listening to jokes about Mars, and teddy bears. Then he found himself sharing a bottle of wine with them, which mostly became with Elda, as the others preferred beer. Titus came over and started explaining to Claudia how now she could spend holidays in the Empire, so Claudia left for a polite disagreement.
Ruskin stopped muttering discontent and started trying to explain the Red Book of Costamaret to Flury, who had to explain that yes, he had read it. And it became obvious that Elda was exhausted, and unused to wine, which she'd found she liked a lot more than beer.
He and Ruskin walked Elda home, with Ruskin still enthusing about the Red Book of Costamaret. They reached the concert hall, Elda let herself in and Flury stepped back and asked:
"Still in love with the whole world?"
"Even more of it. Except for headaches." She nodded her head and closed the door.
He and Ruskin walked back across the courtyard and heard Elda's familiar voice.
"Maybe headaches as well. Goodnight."
And at times later that night the dip in her voice in the word "maybe" would come back, and he realised he didn't even want her to explain things. He just wanted her to exist.