A peace had descended on Fenris' thoughts; the quiet, comforting surety that comes to those who know they were right. He felt no need to shout about it, or to seize his friends by their collars and point at the floating city and towering spires. He had believed, and it had come to pass, and he was content.
That belief had wavered over the years - disappeared almost entirely at points - but it had returned when it most mattered, driving them north and across the mountains: into her arms. Aera was unlike anything he could have imagined; very different to the stories told by his parents, or in the Watcher tomes. They'd spoken of a woman, in very vague terms, never describing a physical appearance and defining her only by her actions: a saviour, a warrior, a leader. Upon seeing her in the flesh, complete with mechanical devices and tubes and pipework emerging from her body and snaking out to every corner of the spire, he had at first been shocked, then awed, then frightened as she'd struck out at Tranton.
That moment had passed. A misunderstanding, nothing more. The man had always been headstrong, quick to anger, unpredictable. And Tarn - his hopes had been true all along, beyond even the limits of his imaginings. The boy had always seemed special and to hold great promise, from the moment he'd demonstrated his resolve in escaping the machine rooms. Tarn had shown signs of hearing the voice of Aera, as Fenris' parents had described their ancestors, with knowledge coming in the form of dreams, but Fenris hadn't dared to think him playing such a critical role in the future of Aviar, Lagonia and the wider world.
They estimated that he had potential to be a viable totem: the highest source affinity, not seen for generations. It was no more than unlocked possibility and might still prove to be of no consequence, which is why they were putting him through the trials as rapidly as possible. Fenris sat on a bench at the side of the training hall, watching Tarn and the other trainees going through their sessions.
Despite his potential, Tarn was still at the very earliest stages of being a mentee, usually a rank reserved for pre-pubescent children. The boy had a lot of catching up to do, which Fenris was absolutely confident he would be able to handle, given time: the problem was that time was in short supply.
They had Tarn up on a set of gymnastic equipment, performing basic physical challenges which didn't seem to relate directly to the abilities of Aera or the other trained Avians, such as their polyant guide, Akila. Looking across the packed hall, a mixture of men and women, Fenris could see a wide variety of exercises taking places, from remote manipulation of controls similar to those on the flying discs, to an odd, meditative combat technique that he didn't fully comprehend, to an enhanced martial art that appeared to momentarily disobey his understanding of physical laws. The higher ranking students were taught in pairs, or individually, while the younger ones were kept together in classes. Tarn was an anomaly - as he so often had been in his life - in that he was having one-on-one tuition from an adept, despite his currently latent capabilities.
Fenris smiled to himself, wondering at where his life had brought him. So much seemed inconsequential, yet he knew that every step, every decision, had been essential to getting him to this place.
The return journey played on his mind, much as he was tempted to let himself wander in the glory of Aviar's floating islands. Living above the clouds gave each day an unreality that divorced him ever further from his previous life.
Yet he knew that Lagonia was waiting. A cold war had been brewing for decades, its temperature rising a few degrees each year, and Tranton Seldon's arrival had accelerated it towards boiling point. The sabotage of the Mountain Breaker had been the start of it, he knew. If he had still been head of security he may even have chosen it as a target himself; though never during the day, when it was being worked on by civilians. There would be retribution from Bruckin, fire upon fire, until the valley was engulfed. Everyone would blame everyone else, until the reasons for fighting had been long forgotten.
Aviar held the key, not to conquest but to peace. They would root out the disease at the heart of the valley, ending Kraisa's corrupting influence at long last, and then set Evinden on a new path where all of its regions - the Headland, Lagonia, Aviar - could once again be reunited.
A fleeting notion flickered briefly that if they moved quickly enough they might even be able to prevent open conflict. Perhaps King Guijus could remain on the throne, maintaining stability even while the valley opened her borders. In spite of how he had been treated by the king, Fenris held no especial ill will towards the man. He had wondered briefly at whether Guijus might be Kraisa in disguise, the witch having traded bodies over the years in order to acquire power, but that notion made little sense. For all his errors and misjudgements, Guijus had been a kindly ruler, at least by Lagonian monarchical standards, and had demonstrated genuine enthusiasm at Tranton's arrival.
It was more likely by far that Kraisa was hiding in a far less prominent role, from where she could safely and silently manipulate the levers of politics without being directly exposed. Fenris had his suspicions.
No doubt, challenges lay ahead which were easily the match of anything they'd encountered already. Their situation was much changed, though, with the support of a city-state as advanced as Aviar. What had been for months the impossible efforts of only a few - himself, Kirya, Tarn, then later Tranton and the Bruckin soldiers - was now a movement that had momentum and real power.
The sense of being able to act with his true motivations on display was unnerving, as he had spent so much of his life hiding his true background and intentions. He had constructed a shell of Fenris Silt, onto which he'd layered the responsibilities and prejudices and suspicions of the royal protector. There were times when he had worn that mask too tightly.
He was distracted from his thoughts by Tarn running up, face covered in sweat and breathing hard. "Did you see?" the boy asked excitedly. "I made it all the way to the top of the climbing frame, and then swung back down!"
Smiling, Fenris stood and put his hands on Tarn's shoulders. "Of course you did," he said. "You can do anything you set your mind to, Tarn. You proved that when you found your freedom. You are a remarkable young man, and I am fortunate to have met you. You are the right person, in the right place, at the right time. Never let anyone tell you otherwise."
Tarn beamed back at him, the bounded back to his teacher, who led him away to another area of the hall for his next lesson.
Fenris had never had a family of his own, but in that moment he felt the contradictory pull of a parent's emotions: pride at the child's achievements, and sadness that their stewardship would soon no longer be needed.
YOU ARE READING
The Mechanical CrownFantasy
An explorer, a princess, a slave and a sword. A belief that the world can be better. The Mechanical Crown is an epic adventure full of intrigue, mystery and romance. When Tranton Seldon becomes the first to cross the mountains in hundreds of years...