This is a 4101 word long excerpt from Storge Draft 2.5, in chapter 9. At this point in the story, Luca has earned a job with Acheran, displayed his magic in the arena, and practiced controlling his magic after his family goes into hiding in the Avian city. Meanwhile, Lyss, queen of the Atilan, has imposed city-wide curfews, manipulated the Avians into joining her side, and placed a ransom for Luca, while the Anarchists plot their next move. All the links go to those excerpts I’ve previously shared, if you want to catch up, but hopefully that summary should give you enough context for this snippet! If you aren’t familiar with the story, you should first check out the WIP page. I hope you enjoy reading!
Acheran solved his puzzle for the seventh time as the moon slid past the rings to mark the second half of the night. Only a lunatic should know how to tell the time by the slant of the beams through the ceiling door, but Acheran was all too familiar with this hour. He laid on his stomach so his wings formed a shadowy tent over him. Nimble fingers assembled the ball out of carved stone pieces and dropped it to the cushions in exasperation. In any other circumstance, the night would be a relief, a time when the world was quiet, and he had time to think and create in peace, briefly unrestrained from the demands of the day. He treasured the opportunity to fly in wide circles over the city and wander through the clouds as moonlight sliced through the moisture.
Stupid Atilan curfew.
Acheran pulled himself up from the wide bed, and made his way into his workshop, talons clicking on the stone floor. He poked around for a project to work on, cast aside each half-finished idea, before looking around the room and deciding on a course of action. He snatched up a handful of tools and tossed them in a knapsack, and rummaged through his storage until he found several metal rods leftover from an excursion into blacksmithing. Yes, he let his space become cluttered, but no craftsperson could embrace minimalism when they constantly needed spare supplies for late-night inspiration. Many of the items on his to-build list involved new methods of storage or organization, to take advantage of the apartment’s small layout. One day, Acheran wished he could move to a remote place with more room to experiment freely. His more ambitious charm-work proved much too dangerous to do in the city. The first rule of a proper laboratory: No neighbors.
With the city falling apart further every day, it would be smart to run away from the conflict before the fallout could reach him. An appealing idea, but one he never truly intended to take. His inherited business provided him with free access to the materials he needed. He enjoyed a shelter from the consequences of the Atilan actions because of his connection to Chara. Nothing threatened his comfortable life, and any dissatisfaction merely proved to be wasteful, dreaming.
He cringed to think of how cramped the Laine family must be, forcing themselves to stay in a room smaller than his space. Luca’s magic was more dangerous than any charm-charge if he lost control—the performance in the arena drove that point home, loud and clear. No wonder the Atilan wanted him for his power. If he learned how to channel it correctly, his reservoirs could power any machine that operated on charms and recharge dead ones. What an irony that Acheran never noticed before, when he hired the two troublemakers. He told himself that he had a hunch all along to make himself feel better about the oversight. Maybe it was for the better he never used Luca for that purpose—associating with them posed enough of a threat now that the bounty existed.
Hopefully, these materials would be enough for the project he had in mind. He grabbed the last of his tools and the permission slip he obtained earlier that day, and took off. He would be back before anyone could catch him out at night. Escaping boredom and satisfying his commission in a timely manner were worth the risk.
The light of Illara filtered silver and violet through the Aral rings, illuminating the city with a soft hue. Clear skies let the starlight form spirals as it entered Laoche’s atmosphere, and Acheran spotted the constellation Chorer through the buildings. The “Crown of Heaven” and Chara’s namesake. Acheran made an armoe to it before soaring off. A cool wind carried him around the canyon effortlessly, and soon he reached sight of the Laine’s new home. A moment later, magic shocked through his wings, and he recognized a figure huddled on the ledge next to the door.
Luca looked up at Acheran as he landed. “What are you doing here? There’s a curfew,” he whispered. “Shouldn’t you be asleep?”
“Fine now. Thanks,” Luca hesitated, then finished with a shaky breath, “Just a nightmare. What are you doing here?”
“I’m an insomniac. I’m always up. And usually, bored. I wanted to get started on a railing for Enne,” Acheran said, sensing that Luca didn’t want to talk about the dream. That was alright. He could guess, and he didn’t want to know.
“You can do that? Won’t the landlord object?”
“I have a permit.” Acheran pulled the slip from his paper. “This is on commission, actually.”
Luca took it and squinted at the writing. “Did you ask for this commission just because of Enne?” He asked in a disbelieving tone.
“I offered, and he accepted because it was something he was planning to do anyhow,” Acheran said. He hadn’t planned for Luca to accompany him tonight, and didn’t want to make an overture of his minor act of charity. It was really the least he could do, shoving them here in an inaccessible, too-small to be accommodating apartment. Luca merely nodded, and Acheran gladly dropped the issue. He unslung the metal bars from around his chest, set them quietly on the ledge, and began working as Luca sat in companionable silence. After a few minutes, he began talking to himself quietly, arguing with no one over the project.
He tried to bend it into shape over the rock, crimping the center with a set of tongs and cursing his lack of forethought to bring a torch. This is what he got for impulsive after-midnight projects. He grabbed tools, but the wrong tools for the job. In any other circumstance, he would just fly back home, but now Luca was watching and he couldn’t just awkwardly leave him alone like that. He’d seen one of his supervisors do this before; maybe he could salvage-
The pole flipped out of his grasp as he shoved it. It smacked him in the face, remaining completely straight. Acheran unleashed a string of swears in his native language. “You. Stupid. Stick. If you don’t behave, I’m going to turn you into a knife handle. How would you like that now, huh? The stupid thing wants to hurt people, not be something helpful. Nooooooo. You’re too self-important for that.”
Luca broke his silence with a peal of laughter, poorly muffled by his hand over his mouth. Acheran cut his rant short as he remembered his audience. His lower wings twitched with embarrassment.
“What are you laughing at?” He rubbed his head and shot a pained glare at his friend.
“I’m sorry. You were arguing with a metal pole,” Luca said. He picked up the stick and handed it back to the Avian.
“What’s so funny about that?” He asked, attempting to pitch his tone as less offended, and rather indignant facetiousness. Luca didn’t answer the question, so he turned back to trying to bend the pole into the shape he needed to make it stick straight out of the stone.
“Could I help?”
Luca held out his hand for the pole and Acheran obligingly handed it over out of curiosity. He grasped it around the chosen point, and a faint glow escaped as he channeled magic into the metal. Acheran expected the now-familiar pins and needles feeling in his wings, but Luca redirected all the energy into the material until it was glowing orange. He bent it into shape on the edge of the stairs and held it up for Acheran’s inspection. He just nodded, still somewhat shocked by the show. Acheran couldn’t tear his eyes away from the freckles and scars that burned as hot and bright as the metal.
“Does that hurt?”
As soon as the words leave his mouth, Acheran regretted them, but Luca answered before he had the chance to cringe at his own morbid curiosity.
“No… Is that strange? I probably should fear it, after seeing the sort of damage I can do. But it feels natural. Exhilarating, even. It feels right.”
Luca leaned over the edge to quench it in the river. The metal hissed and cooled, and he pulled it from the water to hand back to Acheran. The light under his skin didn’t dim for another few seconds.
Acheran squinted at the weld in the moonlight, his eyes taking a second to adjust now that the glow had dulled. “That’s good. Crude, but good for lack of a forge. When did you learn that? You’re handier than I remembered. I’ll miss that skill in the shop.”
“This afternoon. Grace helped me figure it out,” Luca said with a wry smile that dropped almost immediately as he continued talking. “I’ll miss being helpful. My magic didn’t even have the chance to be useful before putting my family in danger.” He rubbed, almost reflexively, at the faintly glowing scars, as if he could brush away the light.
“You saved many people in the arena.” Acheran started drilling into the stone to create an anchor point for the railing post.
“I got my ass kicked. Grace saved people. Her powers are useful. So are Enne’s.”
“Their abilities wouldn’t work without you around. You support each other.”
“I guess,” he hesitated.
Luca’s voice trailed away and an awkward silence fell between the two of them as Acheran wracked his mind to figure out how to encourage his friend. He kept his hands busy. The familiar work grounded him so he could think. How could he possibly relate to Luca’s unique situation? What sympathy could he offer that wasn’t just empty condolences or false encouragement?
Thankfully, Luca filled the space before he came up with a thoughtful response. It seemed the late hour and lingering nightmare left his mind muddled, and he needed to just talk out his thoughts. Acheran could fill the role of a sounding board, if that’s what he needed. Especially if it meant he didn’t offer any useful advice in response.
“I just wish I didn’t have to hide it anymore. Maybe my magic could be useful. It could help people, at least entertain them for a little while. I want to use it. I’ve suppressed it so long I don’t even know what I can do. How come the Atilan want me, when I don’t even know myself?”
Luca rubbed his eyes and pushed his hands through his hair. “I want to finish what I’ve started. I should help take down the Anarchists, or persuade the Atilan to make things better for everyone. But I know that will never happen. If doing what’s right is impossible, then why do I feel so guilty sitting here? I’m not even keeping my family safe by hiding. As long as I’m with them, Lyss will hunt them. If I can’t fix things here, then maybe I need to run away. But how?”
He tapped his foot on the stone as he thought. Where could he go? The outer isles? Further into the Avian city? As far as Arga? He might sneak out with a work crew, like how they came here. Acheran had little doubt someone as impulsive as the person who threw himself into a fight with the anarchists would think twice about stowing away, no matter the risk of discovery. Acheran finished drilling the posthole, set his tool aside, and picked up the rod again to fit it into place.
“I could join the circus!” Luca exclaimed.
Acheran stopped, holding the rod midair. “Join what now?”
“I could join the circus! You know, the performing magicians and musicians that travel from city to city around the archipelago? They do magic tricks! I mean, they’re not really magic, since most of them are Debilan and it’s not allowed. I think they’re slight of hands and tricks and smoke, but no one would ever know if I used my magic. They might have even figured out real magic. The Atilan would never suspect it! I could perform for people and make them happy, even for just a little while.”
Acheran squinted at Luca, trying to figure out how this plan could work, but willing to humor him anyhow for the sake of conversation. “What about your family?”
“They could come along! Enne can use my magic to hear her surroundings. I don’t know how she does it, but she never misses a beat.”
“She never told me that.”
“Oh.” Luca grimaced. “I doubt she would ever tell you, even though it doesn’t matter anymore. She’s so paranoid. Probably for a good reason. I’m the worst offender of her sanity.”
“I don’t blame her. That’s an interesting ability. I’ve never heard of it, but your family is strange enough as it is.”
“Guilty as charged.”
Acheran redirected the conversation to the circus act. “What about Grace?”
“Um… She could be a stagehand, or something? She’s dramatic enough. Or!” Luca wagged a finger in the air. “She’s a good clown, and if that doesn’t work, we could always cut her in half.”
Acheran considered this seriously, sitting back on his heels and resting his head on the joint of his lower wing while he made motions with his hands as he tried to illustrate his thoughts. “If we could get you into the city inconspicuously… Maybe you could hijack one of the travel wagons? You could smuggle yourselves to the next stop on their tour and start over on another island.”
“We could make our way to our father’s island and find a family to live with for a while. I could see Isrian and Arga. They don’t care about magic there.”
“You’d have anonymity and live too far away for the Atilan to find you. The only problem is getting you guys into the circus. They’re in the Atilan city now, probably composing mourning poems for the council. You’d need to bide your time. But they’re all sponsored. You’d have a hard time convincing them to take you, or stowing away without being seen.”
“Could we?” Luca asked, his voice completely serious.
Acheran shook his head. “They’d turn you into the Atilan in a heartbeat.” The ridiculousness dawned on him now, and he laughed at himself. “Running away to join the circus. That’s a good one.”
Luca pouted. “It was a good idea.”
“Oh, of course. Just not a feasible one.” Acheran said, nodding his head in complete agreement. The idea left him in a good mood, and he hazarded a joke to make Luca feel better, “Though I have to disagree about the circus roles. You’d be the clown.”
“Hey!” Luca froze for a second, and Acheran saw he’d caught his junior employee off-guard with the tease. He feared for a moment that he might have offended his friend, but then Luca laughed too and said, “you know what? You’re probably right.”
Acheran breathed an internal sigh of relief and gave him a sideways smile. “Of course I am. Hand me that hammer and the cloth out of my bag?”
Luca fetched the tools and Acheran set to work chiseling another hole out of the rocky ledge to fit the piping. This worked much faster than the rotary drill. He covered the back end of the chisel with the cloth so the sound of metal clanking on metal wouldn’t echo through the canyon and wake everyone. He collected the dust carefully in the palm of his hand, added another dust from a small pouch at his waist, and sprinkled in some river water. It formed into a sticky substance that he smeared around the pipe to adhere it to the rock. Soon it looked like the pipe grew out of the rock itself. Luca watched in fascination.
“How does that work?”
“The latent magical properties holding this rock together wash into the water. When I add it back to the rock dust and give it a jump start with a bonding substance, it fills the hole like it was the original rock.”
“Could I do that?”
“I dunno, maybe. You can try the next one if you’d like.”
Luca extended his hand to try the trick, and Acheran brushed the rock chippings plus dust into his hand. When he released his magic, the mixture momentarily caught fire, and he dropped it in surprise, where if fizzled out on the stone.
Acheran raised an eyebrow at the smoldering pile of shavings. “How did you manage to safely heat and bend metal with a malleability point of a white-hot furnace, and yet you blow up hypothetically nonflammable rock?”
“That… is an excellent question,” Luca said. “I suppose it worked just fine without my magic behind it. I probably just overwhelmed the spell.”
“You added enough magic to push it over the activation energy barrier, and much too fast for the reactants to keep up,” Acheran explained. “Did you see the steam coming off the first one? It’s exothermic, and you released even more heat, which caused the flare.”
Luca frowned slightly at the technical explanation, and Acheran hurried to assure him, “Yes, you have the right idea. Very perceptive of you.”
“Oh. Thank you…” He relaxed and sat back, satisfied with the answer, if not his attempt. “That doesn’t seem like a charm making technique.”
“It’s not,” Acheran answered the unspoken question as he fixed the rail that Luca had failed to install properly. “It’s a construction trick.”
“How did you learn?”
“Charm making or construction?”
Luca shrugged. “Both. I don’t think you ever told me how you came to run the shop.”
Acheran inspected the rest of his materials and handed over the rest of the supportive rods. “I’m going to start on the rail itself. I’ll tell you if you do the rest of them without causing a fire. While I don’t care about being out past curfew, that’s under the assumption the authorities don’t catch me.”
Acheran searched his tool belt and his memory until he found the parts and the place he needed to begin. He carefully worded his answer to leave out Chara’s name and position. Luca didn’t need to know his connections in the Avian government lay so close to home. That would only worry their family and they would never let him help, for fear that he would turn them in. A small twinge of guilt ate in his stomach at withholding the information after the family already put so much trust in him. But this story already ventured too far into a personal territory for his comfort, and he told himself Luca would forgive the white lie. Everybody kept their secrets.
“I have a sister. For as long as I can remember, she always knew she wanted to earn a role in the government, all these grand dreams of working her way up through the bureaucracy. She’s three years younger than me, and when we were kids, she would argue with everyone to get her way. Whenever we wanted a favor from our parents, I always told her to do the talking, because she was better at persuading them. She was funny, a precocious, ambitious kid, while I was the shy, awkward one. We had our fair share of disagreements, but mostly, we get along pretty well. Our parents loved us both, and did their best to support me, but I’m not sure they quite knew what to do with their son who couldn’t make eye contact with strangers and would rather paint than study law.”
He worked as he spoke, winding a wire around the rod to anchor the handrail into place. The excess he turned into a flower. Enne would appreciate that addition. Luca didn’t interrupt with more questions, so he continued,
“My father was a construction worker, and so when I reached the right age, he started bringing me along to be trained. He thought that since I enjoyed working with my hands so much, I might take to the job. I learned a lot about the craft. I learned I loved creating, that I had a knack for sculpture. And I learned I hated the crowds and noise that come with the work. I stuck with it for a couple of years, but soon I would have to commit to a proper trade, and I still didn’t know what I wanted to do.”
“I think I was afraid of being forced into doing just one thing for the rest of my life. My sister excelling at her studies. She wanted to change the world. She had this fire in her eyes when she talked about her dreams. I envied she had something to work towards, and I didn’t. I wanted to change the world too, to not stagnate in her shadow as much as I wanted to support her, but I didn’t know how. Too many ideas called to me, and I couldn’t commit. I was lost. I spent a lot of time on the outlook.”
“In the end, it was my mother who staged somewhat of an intervention, though I didn’t know it until later. The previous shop owner was a friend of the family, Master Micho, an intimidating old bastard I tried to avoid when possible. She told him to give me some ‘gentle encouragement.’” Acheran laughed at the memory, speaking with a fondness even as he told the derogatory introduction.
“He all but dragged me out of my room one morning. Some ungodly early hour, saying he needed help with a big job. I protested, saying I already had a job that was exhausting enough as it was, that my father would kill me if I skipped work to go on a fool’s errand, but he wouldn’t hear it. The rest is history. I was too curious for my own good, and he was a brilliant teacher. When he retired to go live with his grandchildren in the Outer Isles, I took over the shop.”
When he looked up from the railing, he saw Luca had finished his rods and now sat, staring into the middle distance and resting his head on his hand.
“I know it’s not as dramatic as the Atilan hunting you all your life, but I hope I didn’t put you to sleep.”
“Oh no, just thinking,” Luca said, flustered to be caught not working. He moved to the rod next to him and mimicked the flower design of the finished post. “Where are your mother and father now?”
“They live three hours’ flight upriver, out in the suburbs. Last I saw them, they were doing alright. That was a few months ago. Dad was putting in a balcony garden then; I wonder if it’s finished yet. He’s always doing work in the house. I guess I learned that from him, never being able to sit still, trying to beat time.”
“Are you still scared?” Luca asked. His voice pitched high, and the words came tumbling out almost faster than he could speak. “Scared you’re running out of time, that is? Scared that the world is moving too fast and you’re not ready for it to change, and you won’t ever be ready when the future comes crashing into the present? Scared that you’ll be powerless to change the world until it’s too late for it to matter?”
Acheran gazed at him through the dark, the weight of the words settling heavily on his wings.
“Don’t be. I spent too long feeling sorry for myself to let you make the same mistake.”
“I don’t want to sit around feeling sorry for myself. I want to act, but anything I could do would only cause trouble. We’ve come full circle again,” Luca grumbled.
“You’re not completely stuck—you practiced your magic today with Grace, you just showed me,” Acheran pointed out.
“I suppose that’s right. Ma gave us some more drills. I’m just impatient having to work so slowly, in secret. Grace came up with an idea at dinner that we could try to garner the support of our community, to stage a rebellion of our own. There are so many ways it could backfire, it’s such a distant hope…” He trailed off, but when he spoke again, his voice was resolute. “Hope’s all we have. I need to be prepared to kindle that.”
“Luca. I think if anyone can kindle the hope of the Debilan, it’s you. And I’m prepared to build it up alongside you,” Acheran said, and with that, gave a heavy blow to the final rail, completing the stairwell.
Thank you for reading! Next week I’ll be sharing my May Goals Recap. If you feel so generously inclined, you can support my writing by leaving me a tip on my Kofi or donating using the secure box below. Until next time, thanks for reading and happy writing! 🙂
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