This follows on from last week’s flash, The Sleeping Army.
Artemuse followed the passage, and it didn’t take her long to realise that it coiled upward in a tight spiral. She had no idea where the vaal’kyr roost would be, but it didn’t surprise her that winged creatures might prefer to live above the city, as opposed to under it. Her skin prickled, longing to shed itself in favour of her soft white feathers, and she rubbed her arms to distract herself. She couldn’t fly, not down here.
She wondered how Eddister was getting on, if the Sleeping Army was on the march. Should she still call them the Sleeping Army, or were they now the Awake Army? Artemuse stifled a giggle, and then shuddered. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d slept. Sleep deprivation must be starting about now.
Without warning the passage opened out into a small chamber, and a thick wooden door blocked her onward progress. A huge iron ring served as a handle, and she hauled on it, fully expecting the door to be locked. Instead, the door swung towards her, and the roar of the wind filled the passage.
Artemuse peered around the door, her eyes confused by the bright daylight beyond. She forced herself out of the chamber and onto a wide platform, bounded by high battlements on three sides. Vast nests, made of ebony and oak, lined the platform along one side, hugging the shelter of the battlement behind them.
Vast empty nests, thought Artemuse.
The vaal’kyr had already left their roost.
Momentary panic seized Artemuse, no longer sure of what to do. She’d thought her part in this drama would end with the ringing of the Death Knell, but the refusal of the Monarch to intervene had forced her to involve Eddister, and the Sleeping Army. He had sent her up here to speak with the vaal’kyr but now they were already on their way to the city.
Speaking of which, where was the city?
Artemuse clambered up the wall behind the nests, digging her fingers and toes into gaps between the stones. She looked over the battlement and gasped. The roost was indeed within the city, and she guessed that it was built into the side of the palace itself. The reason no one had ever noticed such a massive structure was obvious once she looked down at the glimmering, flickering city below.
The roost was on the astral plane. Somehow, she didn’t know how, she’d managed to reach the astral whilst still in her physical body.
The confusion forced her backwards, and she sat down with a thump, pressing her back against the comforting solidity of the wall.
“What do I do now?” She needed to ask the question allowed, yet the sound echoed, sending ripples throughout the astral plane. Artemuse winced. Her plan had never extended this far, and she’d felt comfortable handing control to Eddister. Only she couldn’t do what he’d told her to do, and now he was probably miles away, leading the Army to the Plains. The guards would be worse than useless, and she couldn’t go back to the Monarch…which just left the Queen.
Artemuse kicked herself for not thinking of it sooner. The Queen was the most powerful mage in Rhodenius, and while she didn’t understand astral magic, she’d be able to take charge and allow Artemuse to return to the tower. It was possible that she even knew about the Army, although Eddister’s existence was probably one mystery too far.
She stood, and moved away from the nests. The desire to fly uncoiled in her chest, and she allowed herself to be buffeted by the wind that roared across the platform. Her cloak rippled behind her, and her skin erupted into thousands of soft white feathers. The call of the snowy owl escaped from her throat before her mouth morphed into a beak. Her wings pulled her into the air, and lifted her above the platform.
Artemuse sailed over the battlements, and a loud pop that hurt her ears told her she’d broken the barrier between the astral and physical planes. The cold air rushing either side of her overcame the pressure change, and she spiralled down towards the palace courtyard.
The Queen would know what to do.
To be continued next week!