Birds is in her rooms - they are still draped with white, and the harpist in the corner is still lazily plucking out laments - working on a new book. Spread out in front of her are many thin reed slats and delicate red twine, with which she is weaving them together into scrolls.
Birds To the side there is a tiny portable forge, still heating up, and a number of clay coin moulds.
Lucent There is a knock on the door, but he does not wait for an answer, stepping inside... and taking on the sights. "It has been a while, Birds. I hope I am not interrupting anything important...?"
Birds doesn't answer immediately, but waves Luc onto a chair. After a moment, "I'm just working on a book. What's on your mind?"
Lucent "Confused. I turned my face and the world has burnt to ashes. Everything is different."
Lucent "Including you..."
Lucent sits down, the orb of Jupiter coming out of its socket... and shifting to different configurations as he nervously taps his finger upon it
Birds "How do you mean?" Birds, observing that a batch of pale green metal-of-hours is done melting, lifts up the crucible and fills several moulds.
Lucent "Zahara? Cerin? Thirteen? The Sunlands? Even you... you are more... distracted? Less cheerful..." He sighs, tapping the orb as it turns into a hybrid of Jupiter's sign and a question mark. "... not that there is much to be cheerful about, I suppose."
Birds takes a businesslike bite out of a loaf of plain bread. Lucent can see that something is different - every other time, Birds takes a moment to savor the taste in a moment of closed-eyed contemplation, but not this time.
Birds "There is not much to be cheerful about."
Lucent The azure orb detaches from the coronal, and Lucent taps it. It makes an harmonious sound, something soothing... vibrations touching Birds like river water. "What happenned? What happenned to you, Birds?"
Birds "Terrible things."
Birds breaks the coins out of their molds and starts polishing them as she continues. "In Wasirru, I saw Alawhi die. Then, returning from there, something happened to me and I know not what. I was TAKEN FROM BEHIND and hurt and RELEASED. I woke up here, or just at the gate, knowing nothing." (...)
Birds "Cerin is lost and Zahara is broken and Thirteen is suffering and cannot say it. And I...I promised Wei Dan that I would not die, that I would return, and I WAS LYING TO HIM. And you come here in the company of the dead."
Birds decides not to even mention Markuran.
Lucent "... sorry. I... maybe if I had been around here..." He begins to lowers his head, but gets up, coming closer to Birds. "The dead are just chaperones. Part of a deal. I wanted to do my part... and thought my part was to see where the sun's shadow falls. I should be here, keeping faith..."
Lucent "But Alawhi was not dying. I am sure she did everything she could."
Birds pours more metal - dusty red, this batch.
Lucent "... or was she lying?"
Lucent realises he really should have read the second book of Night before stepping into Birds' room...
Birds "At the defence of Golbai, Wei Dan promised to Alawhi, "I will return while you yet live!" By not disagreeing, she accepted that promise."
Birds "Then she did not allow him to fulfill it."
Lucent "By dying?"
Birds "By dying." Birds weaves some more reeds into mats.
Birds "She chose her death, and that is a very auspicious thing, but..."
Lucent "But she could not help that, Birds. Some times... such things happen. She did not lie..." He tries to find the words. It is hard. By all rights she did... and any other words he might have sabotage what he will say next.
Lucent "But the rest... we can make it better. We can piece Zahara together. Like I did myself. We can bring Cerin back. We can talk to Thirteen. I will..." He walks over to her, holding her hand... "Birds. I promised I would return, and saw all gone. Alahwi promised she would return and was unable to. That tells me something. We are broken when we are apart. But we can fix that if we are together."
Birds shakes her head. "There are so many things that I want to do."
Birds "We, just the eight of us, are not enough."
Lucent "No. And that is why I journeyed into the shadows to get us allies."
Lucent "To redeem our kin."
Birds "If we are to be together, then all of us must be, even the dead."
Birds "But we must forget the dead, too. I am not Alahwi anymore."
Lucent "No, you are not. But Alahwi was the most compassionate person to walk the land... and Kai once told me that you were all that stood between the Circle and evil. You hold her power."
Lucent "But we should honor, not forget."
Lucent "That is what Netheos was about. Is that not what the books are about?"
Lucent "Honor, remember, and write more on top of it?"
Birds "Maybe. Maybe that is what they are. I have to think about it."
Birds Birds notices that the next batch of metal - beautiful alchemical bronze, peacock-blue and shining - is ready. She doesn't move to pour it yet.
Birds "Speaking of books and forgetting the dead..."
Lucent "Please do." He nods, looking at the metal... "Imrama's book will be beautiful."
Birds "Your book is only half of one."
Lucent "It... is? I had not noticed."
Birds "The half dedicated to your predecessor isn't done. The text there is actually a copy of Song of the Imperial Kitchens at present."
Lucent "Well, I am glad I make you think of food."
Birds raises an eyebrow. "Very well. Will you pour the blue bronze? I have to add some things to the other crucibles."
Birds skims off some impurities and drops some small ingots of things into the molten metals. One turns a soft shade of pink-purple, and another becomes translucent and streaked with the hues of five-colour jade.
Lucent walks up to the miniature forge and picks the bronze... without gloves, without tools. Fire and heat does not seem to bother him in the slightest.... and pours it on the mold. "Of course, Birds!"
Lucent "What do you think we should do for the others? Thirteen, Zahara...?"
Lucent "I am going to talk to them later, try to soothe Zahara, see about Thirteen... he has... changed too much since I last saw him. And I owe him an apology, like I owe Cerin."
Birds makes a motion like weighing things in her hands. After considering, "While she yet loves Cerin, and Cerin remains lost, Zahara is a danger to us."
Lucent snaps his fingers, and all of the Coronal break into multiple lights... and appear all around the room as flowers in an elaborate heavenly garden. If he could not do anything for Birds with words, yet...
Birds "There are two ways to rectify this situation."
Lucent "There is only one. We will bring Cerin back."
Lucent will not contemplate the other one. The smiling lady shall not be shunned.
Birds pours the last few metals. The blackened-silver ghostmetal is intractable, but finally slips into its mould.
Birds Biting back a sharp reply, Birds says, with a great deal of tension in her voice, "I'm glad that you can see the world that way."
Lucent "It is the only way to. There is nothing else but us. And we have to preserve beauty."
Lucent "What can I do to make you happier, Birds?"
Birds looks in Luc's eyes and sees the hope there. "There is a war coming soon. Survive."
Birds "Somehow, we must survive."
Lucent curls his lips upward slightly. "Only if you promise to do the same."
Birds breaks the ghostmetal mould. Besides the coins, there is something else there - a chain hung with seven keys. Birds puts it on. "I promise. Somehow."
Lucent "I promise. I will survive. For you." There is a flash of light. Purest light of dawn, not the burning near-orange of the animas of dawn, but the light through the leaves of forests, with dew and mist. Pure, immaculate like every new morning. Sealing his promise with a knot around both his souls, through his heart. "Keys...?"
Birds "I have just decided it. They are the keys to seven secrets, for you, my seven companions. When I die, they will unlock something."
Lucent "Secrets... I have many. But it will not wait on your death." He walks closer to her, touching one of the keys... his key. He knew it. "There will come a day you will touch this key to my forehead, and you will learn my secrets. There will be nothing hidden."
Lucent goes to one knee in front of Birds, picking a ring. It is beautiful adamant, the fire of the south from its forges in golden sand still burning within, inlaid with two beautiful, otherworldly safires held by Orichalcum. "If you accept... it will be the day you become my queen."
Birds takes Lucent's hand with the ring, and lifts him up. "You made me a promise. I'll make you a promise too. If we both survive the war, then I will accept your ring."
Birds "And then there will be no secrets between us."
Lucent touches it to the tip of her fingers... and it reflects the light of the stone. "Keep the ring with you, even if not on your finger. It reflects the stone. Like a lake does the sun. With the ring... the promise you be mantained, until the war is done, and you put it on, or cast it away."
Birds "But until then, Lucent Copper Haze, we have things that we must not say to each other, not to anyone, and I will not have it any other way." Birds takes the ring and slips it onto the chain of keys.
Lucent kisses her forehead... and Jupiter disssassosiates from the flowers, shining all around them, as if to bless their secrets "Yes. Until then, Birds. Let us keep ourselves alive. Let us keep them all alive."