“Not wi’ yer glove, use your cloak, ye gobwit!” another of the mercenaries said, at my back. “Ye think we’ve gloves aplenty to just give out?”
“What is this stuff?” I heard Gilliam ask.
“Breathe through yer filter, Uplander. Lest ye wan’it t’take root in yer pipes.”
The grinding, grating stopped with a lurch, and the comparative silence within the domelike shelter was filled with the diminishing sounds of our scouring at the seams. The patches of greenish-black tarnish became less and less aggressive, until they stopped trying to creep through the seams altogether, and we were left listening to harsh, if muffled, breathing.
Through it all, Grellk kept one of his yellowed eyes on the compass-like device in his palm. After several minutes, he grunted, snapping the device shut, and gestured towards the metal wheels.
A chorus of screeching moans sprang up, as the panes of the dome began to lift and separate with each turn of the cranks, until they were again fully retracted.
The street outside did not look much different. The fog had thinned somewhat, with a few low swirls and eddies snaking through the heavy, still-humid air.
“On we go, then,” Grellk grumbled. “And keep clear of any standing water,” he further warned.
The air held a metallic edge that even crept through the filtering scarf, one that set the tip of my tongue burning. I did not care to find out what it would have been like without the spongy scarf’s protection.
We’d gone perhaps the length of two blocks before Aurora called for a halt.
Grellk glowered, and shot a yellowed-eye glance at the light pulsing within tall spire in the distance.
“Time may be coin,” he grumbled, “but make it quick. We’ve other contracts, you know.” At a gesture, our escorts turned their backs, forming a circle around us, watching the streets and alleyways.
Aurora had stopped paying attention once they’d halted, and worried at one of her gauntlets with a thin, kinked bit of wire. This she turned, like a tiny crank, and the tension in one of the dragonstone settings relaxed, eventually freeing the lefthand gold-veined clear stone.
She gave a slight wince, as she lifted the gem free, and gestured for her near-sister’s arm. Silva, of course, frowned, and tried to refuse, but Aurora ignored her. The shrike pulled Silva’s arm closer, golden eyes tracing the twists and whorls of the pattern, her gaze coming to rest at a spot where three branches twined. She traced their twisting pattern backward with one finger, humming softly, and the metal… flowed can really be the only term I can think to call it. The knot unraveled, and Aurora slipped the rounded dragonstone from her gauntlet into the space. The metal slithered back into place, the golden threads in the core of the gem flickering and then taking to steady, soft light.
Silva muttered something to her sister, which did not carry the cadence of thanks, and Aurora snorted.
“Would you rather one of them carried you? That paltry stone at your neck is not enough, and we must conserve the blacks.”
Silva frowned, then pointed to her palm. “Nih’la.”
“Oh, no,” Aurora said, folding her arms. “What if its imprint tries to harmonize again, while you’re levitating? The point is to avoid leaving a trail, not igniting a sunstone beacon for them!”
The shrike shot one last look at Silva, and then turned to Grellk. “We’re done paying you to stand around.”
The dwarf gave a gravelly bark of a laugh, and then we were underway again.
Glancing behind, I could see lighter patches dotting the greenish-gray of the paving stones, spaced at even intervals. The place where Silva had been standing was clear of the the slick tarnish, and the eddies of mist actually curled around those patches.
Where Silva walked after that point, she left no such tracks, as the blackening at her heel and toes healed over almost instantaneously, with the added power of Aurora’s white dragonstone.