It had been so long since Kirit had flown that the stillness of the Gyre was starting to dizzy her.
The training days were long and changeless, and not long ago she had felt that carving was a welcome rest after endless recitations of songs. Here, at least, there were no children, so much shorter and so much better at memorizing things than she was. She had become distracted again almost immediately, though, her mind winging along the pattern she carved - a stylized, rampant skymouth - and the intricacies of the Spire’s Rise.
As she scraped at the bone walls, carving the pattern the Singers had set her to, she daydreamed about flying. There were other dreams too, dreams of finding her father and of discovering what the bone chips Nat had found meant for the city, but the flying dream was easiest, especially with the Gyre just a curve of the wall away. If she turned just right, she could almost feel a switch in the wind from where someone was flying in the hollow center of the Spire.
Kirit scraped a curling ribbon of bone away from the wall, and watched as a Singer rounded the corner. It was still odd for Kirit to think of herself as one of the gray-robed Singers too, but she did not startle. She recognized the Singer from the gray streak threaded through her braids, but only now, as she approached with a determined step, could Kirit study the older woman more closely.
Viridi had severe eyes and heavy brows like Wik, but a rounder face. Tattoos curled up over her cheeks and under her long hair. She stopped to examine Kirit’s work with a calm detachment, and stood there so long that Kirit had almost turned back to the wall by the time Viridi spoke.
“Do you know that one of our greatest challenges is telling the difference between history and stories?” she said. “Sometimes people carve fanciful things, or things they wished had happened. They could obscure history for future Singers.”
Like Naton had done? Except that he had carved truth in the bone chips, and truth into the walls of the Spire.
Was Viridi trying to trap her with those words? Kirit hesitated before answering. If she had been flying, she would have looked for something to tell her what gusts were coming - dust or insects or other people on the wing, pointing to an updraft.
Instead, she took the carving tool out of the wall and looked at Viridi. “Do you have a task for me?”
“First, just to hear your story,” Viridi said.
What would it be like to fight her? The only time Kirit had seen Viridi fly was at the wingtest. She was a Singer, though, so she was almost as dangerous as a skymouth.
“You’re gifted, but there’s something else, too. What do you want from the Singers?”
Petition. Mercy. Answers. Kirit discarded all of those possible replies behind an expression that she hoped was neutral before she realized that Viridi might be asking something less specific and more poetic. Not ‘what do you want’, but ‘what do you want?’
Kirit had some more leeway, then. She sat back and put her tools down, looking around for a moment to see if any of the Magisters or Wik or Sellis might appear to tell her to keep working. “I want to learn to fly like they do. I want to help the people in the towers. To help my family.” That was dangerous to say, and felt like a banking turn, but it was also true.
“Most of my family lives in the Spire,” Viridi said, and Kirit, surprised, realized that she was trading a little bit of information for a little bit of openness.
Kirit brushed bone dust off her knees. “Do you go out for wingtests often?”
“When there are enough candidates who have come of age, and for other ceremonies. You’ll see more of them as you move through the ranks of the Singers.”
If this were a wingfight, this is where Kirit would tip her wings. If the sun was high, light would shine off of the glass edges. If this were practice, she would know that she still had the advantage.
She tucked her wings, whipped around, and dropped.
“Only if the Singers tell me I can. Isn’t it the same with your family?”
Viridi was silent. It was as if a void had opened up underneath her, sending her sinking away until she could catch another gust. Silent, though, a comfortable knowledge in her eyes. Viridi did not panic when she fell.
“You’ll move to things more exciting than carving soon enough,” Viridi said.
Kirit answered before she could think about it. A bad turn, maybe, a flutter in her wings that gave her opponent a moment to recover from her fall and to angle around. “This isn’t bad. People visit me sometimes. I sing.”
Viridi didn’t take the opportunity to attack. If they had been flying, she would have soared right next to Kirit, gently, and stayed in her wake instead. “Moc and Ciel?” She laughed. “I see them down here sometimes. They’re good company. Do you sing to the Spire?”
Kirit blinked. Had that been what she was doing? She had gotten used to the way voices echoed in the Gyre, grown accustomed to exactly how far she could hear or be heard around the curve of it or where she was likely to catch snatches of rumor from the tiers above and below.
“I’m getting used to its noises. Sometimes … I can hear more than others.”
“Your breathing will start to become loud to you,” Viridi said, with the even tones of someone who was used to teaching. “Catch its rhythm as if it was a gust of wind, and your hearing will fly in between the breaths. That’s one of the ways we listen to the bones.”
“Thank you,” Kirit said, surprised at the sudden switch from discussion of carving to discussion of breathing. Her breath as the wind, the Gyre as breath, the Spire as bone, the rhythm of a second body all around hers…
It was dizzying, but Viridi flew forward and let Kirit tuck herself into formation at her wingtip.
“We record our histories on the Spire walls, because we know that the city is the only thing that can possibly preserve them.” Viridi lay her hand against the wall. “We’re chipping away at the very thing that serves as our archive.”
Buffeted again. Maybe, Kirit thought, that was something that the Spire and the towers had in common - the knowledge that the thing they had fought for could be taken away. The two states - present and not-present, whole and broken - existed together like the two sides of a wing.
She wasn’t sure how to say that to the sharp-eyed Singer.
“But it still needs to be preserved,” she said.
Viridi gave her a long look. “I think you will do good service for the Spire,” she said, and unfolded a piece of paper from under her robes. The pattern drawn there looked like it had been traced from another wall, color rubbed around the center design. It was large, perhaps a plan for a design spanning an entire room. If one walked on it, one would be as likely to get lost and dizzy among the winding shapes as to find solid ground. “This is an old one from my family. It’s not representational at all, but sometimes people find shapes in it.”
Kirit picked up her tools again, focusing on the feeling of the bone dust under her hands. “I’ll work on it next.”
“Like we do,” Viridi said, and Kirit paused in confusion before she continued. “You said ‘they,’ earlier.” Viridi smiled. “You’ll learn to fly like we do.”
And Viridi peeled off, walking sedately down the hall to a door from which Moc and Ciel leaned out a moment later.
Kirit smiled. The pattern would take a long time to carve; Viridi had not given her easy work. It might quiet the nervous energy that had built up in her knees and ankles, though. Even more than before, she wanted to fly.
(Later, she will understand that perhaps Viridi had more she wanted to say, about whatever it was she had seen when Naton had carved the Spire. She had perhaps thought about family, about her son, about exactly how far Kirit and Ezarit had gone from one another.
Later, Kirit will stand in Rumul’s chamber with Viridi in front of her and Wik just behind her, his knife tied to her arm, and say I bid my life for my mother’s.)