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Stratos Caelus ([personal profile] auspex_caelo) wrote2016-02-04 03:06 pm
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Ex Caelo

Stratos knelt by his brother’s bed and hissed roughly at where his head ought to be.

“Felix! Wake up!” The kid stirred enough to mumble questioningly from under the pile of furs. “The sky is clear. Time to get up, or I won’t show you the Serpent!” Felix wriggled out immediately, shivering even though it really wasn’t cold in their house. Not the way Uncle Terentius kept the fire built up. Stratos helped him dress beneath the glimmering orb of magelight; found his boots, pulled a fur-lined cap over the boy’s head.

“Ready?” he asked at last, shouldering his fur bundle. Felix nodded. Together they crept upstairs and out into the bitter night.

The streets were all shadow, the gloom broken by the glow of banked fires and braziers along the main streets, the torch of a passing guard. It was so late that the tavern-goers weren’t out singing. Stratos led them around the back of the house, feeling a little sense of ceremony as he shoved a crate into place and climbed atop it. Felix was ready to offer him a broom. Once Stratos had swept back the straw lining the roof platform, he swung up and gave his little brother a hand. They had to sweep and climb once more to get to the platform at the top of the roof, but at last they perched in the darkness above the streets. Stratos could feel Felix craning around to peer in all directions, and had to wrap an arm over his shoulders.

“Stay close and mind the rail,” he reminded.

“I’m making observations,” Felix said loftily, pointing. “Look, you can see lights in the chapel. And there’s Thilse’s guard post! Up on the wall!”

“She isn’t on night watch this week.” Stratos swept off the tiny bench and unrolled his blanket.

“But she is sometimes.” Felix finally turned his gaze upward - and sighed exactly the way Stratos had secretly hoped for. The clouds were clinging tight to the peaks of the Jeralls at their right, leaving the heavens clear. Above them was an expanse of glittering void as vast and deep as Stratos thought the ocean must be. (Literally, of course, much deeper, but definitely more beautiful too.) Masser and Secunda had both risen, the great red moon and her little white sister nestled close in the sky tonight. Felix plopped down on the bench and peered up. “Night watch must be the best.”

“Uhm, yes. If you don’t mind getting cold.” Stratos sat down alongside him, draping the blanket over their shoulders so they could tuck it around themselves. “Do you see the constellations yet? The Tower should be up to the south, over Lake Rumare.”

“Like it’s pointing to White Gold Tower!” Felix was delighted to make the connection. Stratos felt himself grinning in the dark. “I see it! I think. Where’s the Serpent?”

“Well…” Stratos pointed. “You see in the south-east, there’s the Atronach’s arm? And just by his foot, to the right, do you see the stars that are a bit brighter?”

“Yes! I see it!” Felix was quiet a moment, despite his success. “It doesn’t look so bad. Just like stars, but I know they’re not: they’re unstars. Why is it at the Atronach’s foot? Isn’t that bad? Doesn’t it mean the snake’s going to poison her?”

“Maybe… but the Serpent’s very small right now, so I don’t think it’s very dangerous.”

“A real atronach would squash it anyway,” Felix decided, with apparent satisfaction. Stratos decided not to argue. He pointed instead.

“Look on its other side - there’s the Thief. She’s the one who watched over your birth, to make sure you’d have good luck and quick feet.” Felix giggled: he liked the the story too much to complain about being babied.

“The Mage is Father’s sign, right? Where’s he?” he asked.

“You can’t see him in this month,” Stratos had to explain. “He’s on the other side of the sky, behind the mountains. So is the Lord.”

“Oh. What does he do? ‘Cause if he marked Uncle, how come we don’t live in a castle and Uncle isn’t a count or anything?”

“That’s not what it means. You’re not a thief, are you? I mean except for sweetcakes. The Lord’s people have lots of strength and good health.”

There was a pause before Felix said reproachfully, “That’s mean, Stratos!”

“I didn’t mean- it’s complicated sometimes, all right? Uncle had to march all the way through the Alik’r desert! That took plenty of strength! If we did that we’d be much sicker than he ever is.”

“…I guess that must have been really hard.” Felix twisted around to look past Stratos, up at the dark peaks draped with shreds of moonlit cloud. “Wish we could see the other stars…”

“You know, there are places where you can see the whole sky from one horizon to the other. There aren’t any mountains to get in the way at all.”
“…Really?” Felix sounded like he was trying to imagine it; honestly Stratos had a hard time with that too. The Jeralls had always loomed
over them, cold and impassive. “Like… Cloud Ruler Temple?”

“No,” Stratos said sharply, suddenly worried about forestalling any plots to climb the crumbling (and much forbidden) ruins. If Felix started trying to sneak off to them like half the older kids in town… “You’d have to go much higher than that, and you can’t do that on these mountains.”

Felix sighed, though it turned into a yawn. “Okay. What are your stars?”

“Oh.” Stratos shrugged. “The Lady- it’s not funny!” He could feel his brother shaking with the giggles. “It’s a good sign!”

“Like Carita and Indara!” Of course the obnoxious Narvain sisters were who Felix would think of. Ugh.

“I don’t know their stars, but I really doubt either of them is the Lady.”

“Maybe the Steed,” Felix suggested, mercifully easy to derail. And mercifully innocent: “Because they’re always riding away to places.”


“What’s the Lady’s blessing anyway?”

“Kindness,” said Stratos quietly. “And tolerance. She- her people are meant to be good at taking care of others.”

“Oh.” Felix was silent for a while, so long that Stratos jostled him a bit.

“Don’t fall asleep out here. I can’t carry you down!”

“I’m not,” Felix protested, suspiciously drowsy. “Stratos? I’m glad you’re a Lady person.” Stratos broke down coughing for a few minutes. “…Are you okay?”

“I- um. Yes. Me too. …And I’m glad you’re lucky, little brother.”

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