Aurora shot her sister another withering glare.
“Release me,” she said.
“Near-sister, this is not the time to argue. Release my seals!”
Silva looked as if she was going to argue again, then snapped her mouth shut. She took a deep breath, and sang a tri-chorded note.
The sound washed over me, sent an icy shiver down my back. I felt it press me back into the seat. The air itself thrummed with some incredible power. I could feel it prickling just beyond feeling.
Above and behind me, Aurora’s voice lifted, blending a pale fifth into the chord. Her note cracked, and then broke as it became a keening shriek, like the sound of a hawk on wing for prey.
The shrike abandoned her place on the seat, leaping into the air. Her hair gleamed like a miniature sun, her eyes two points of molten gold. The wings again tore free from her back, but the bones were thicker, the membranes stretching as they flared.
Aurora hooked her hands into claws, gave a flick of each wrist, and her vambraces slithered, twin whips of streaming golden metal lashing out to wrap around the great tank on the back of the carriage.
I could see the muscles bunch and tense along her arms, and Aurora’s wings gave several beats, creaking as she pulled against the carriage’s momentum. Red and white light flared amidst the shrike’s golden glow.
Silva gasped, her look of resolve crumbling to one of concern. “Stabdha murkha aja,” she muttered. Her fingers twitched, but she did not tell her near-sister to relent.
The iron carriage was slowing. WIth each pull of the wings Aurora had sprouted, the wheels turned slower. I could hear the metal of the tank groaning as the shrike pulled against it with the two long, golden leads.
Aurora sank slightly lower with each beat of her wings, as the carriage’s momentum became less and less. She glanced down, once, and I saw her feet twist, elongating. Bones shifted and flesh rippled, until her lower limbs resembled something nearly dragonlike, three-toed and tipped with dull golden talons.
They were perfectly suited for the running strides she needed once she could no longer remain airborne. She kept her wings open, and they still beat, between each stride. The talons dug deep into the gravel, punched into the ironwood planks as if it were soft pine.
And still the carriage slowed.
Finally, it stopped, giving one final jolt when Aurora collided with the tank along the back. Her hair was plastered about her face and back, steaming. Her wings sagged, the tips dragging along the ground as she took a few short steps.
“Away!” Silva called, when Ana and I reached towards the gasping shrike. She tugged at our sleeves, ushering us towards the cart’s doorframe.
A tall, wooden-framed tower rose above the tracks, an impossibly large tub of what looked to be iron perched atop it. A pipe projected from the thing, the rust-lined spout gaping over the tracks. Two heavy blackened chains swung amidst the swirling dusts kicked up by our rather unorthodox stopping procedure.
“That chain!” Silva said, pointing. “Pull it. Make it quickly!”
Gilliam and Varis leapt ahead of us, each grabbing a link, bringing their weight to bear against the chain. Each link was as big around as their wrists.
High above, the tub gave a grating, creaking groan, as Gilliam and Varis sank closer to the ground. They each gave another haul at the chains, until their toes brushed the ground.
A torrent of brackish water gushed from the rusted spout, a heavy column of it falling on the carriage and shrike. The dust cloud billowed away from the downpour, to be replaced by plumes of steam.
We did not need Silva’s urging to hurry away from the clouds, retreating further away from the tracks, towards a squat structure huddling a little ways back from the water tower.