Zefir lay on his accustomed ledge in the Inventrix’s laboratory, the pipes beneath the mountain warming the rock and seeping into his mechanical bones. He lifted his head, staring down at the Navigators flying with Innari. Shiran’s new flyers, these able to reach farther distances than even the most remote of the Lesser Clans, far beyond what was familiar, could keep up with Innari’s long wings and great endurance. Though none of them were sentient, the Navigators flew them true.
Shiran had said, “Our Navigators were once explorers. See here, Zef? I’ve added to the histories all of the information my predecessors had hid. Our true past. Hopefully this knowledge will give our people new purpose.”
Now, the young Inventrix stretched from hunkering over her work, her ten-and-six year old body bouncing back from the discomfort quickly. Zefir still found it difficult sometimes to look at her, remembering when the Three had appeared at such an age when going through the Trial. But her eerie rapid growth had slowed this year, and now Zefir sniffed at her familiar scent. That at least was unique enough. The scent of oil, grease, and metal, but with an underlying smell of her odors—like freshly baked flatbread when she helped in the kitchens, or the mud of the river when she helped with the rice planting.
The Cog Clan was still getting used to their Inventrix being part of their daily lives, socializing, and assisting in the smallest of places.
She threw on her leather flight jacket, and padded across the stone. “That Navigator of yours is late.”
Zefir cocked his head, listening. “He’s coming.”
He nudged at her and she threw her arms around his nose, just like the other young Navs did when he came to visit them. She placed a sweet kiss on his dragon-shaped lips, and as always he puffed a warm breath at her, making her grin when her wild halo of dark hair ruffled at the air movement. “Oh, I know. I can hear just as well as you, Zef.”
Zefir came to his feet and stretched his wings, before laying them flat against his back once more. “Council matters usually have him running behind.”
“That I’m all too aware of,” she said wryly. “Ah, but I left him an easy lock to pick.”
Zefir grimaced. “He hates when you give him one too easy.”
She chuckled in a way that reminded him of Seren, but he tried to put the similarity from his mind. But Seren had never smiled quite like Shiran. “I know. That’s why I did it. Plus, it seems easy at first, but there’s a second layer—”
The door locks began to slide open, the gears shifting in place; the door opened on its mechanical hinges and Valin strode inside, wearing the new uniform of the Council. His Nav tugged at the high collar, undoing the green and black buttons, sighing in relief. “The second layer was clever, Shiran. But are you clever enough to convince the Council that these bedamned uniforms are wretched?”
Zefir regarded his Navigator, thinking on how well he looked in that ‘wretched’ uniform. Elder Lyth often joked that he was getting fat on the flatbread she gifted to him every time the Council of the Cogs met with the Wheelteeth Elder Council. Valin was anything but. He’d gained back lean muscle, his skin glowing in health. The scar on his cheek was a puckered, shiny bit of skin that jumped whenever he frowned, and danced whenever he laughed. He wore it well.
The Inventrix waved away his mild complaint. “Hurry and put on your flight gear! We’ll be late.”
Sometimes Shiran still sounded like an eager girl-child, and it always made Zefir chuckle, happy that she was able to be both Leader and growing child.
Valin eagerly traded his green-and-black Council jacket for his well worn flight jacket, patched in half a dozen places with off colored material. He nodded to her with a grin, and in two steady leaps he was in his rightful place behind Zefir’s Nav panel. Shiran, no less graceful and quick as bird, took one bounding leap and settled herself just behind Valin.
Zefir launched himself from the ledge and gloried in the simple joy of flight, and Valin’s steady hand at the Nav panel as they flew for the Burned Stone.
He could see Jarre leap to the ground from his landed longflight flyer, its huge brass-colored wings contracted at rest, its body flechette sleek. And next to it was Ferrei and Innari, his sibling sending him a thought-greeting with her customary joy.
The Quarethstras, both in their own Council green-and-black, were already moving for the edge of the stone, waving a greeting to Elder Lyth and Atsuke Xei. As Zefir watched, Daimo came trotting forward from the vast expanse of the forest around them, carrying his constant companion, Qinethi Rhin, who also seemed uncomfortable in her new Council uniform. She often seemed to shrug her shoulders, looking for the old familiar feel of her bow—but she no longer carried it.
So many were gathered together from both Clans that Zefir had to sniff against that pressure behind his eye. But even more he could see how many were not present, perhaps still chaffing at the new peace, remembering only their old hatreds.
Shiran slid from his back, and bounded forward before collecting herself, trying to appear more of a Leader and less of an untried girl. She reached into her jacket pocket and withdrew a hand-sized contraption with letters stamped on it.
Elder Lyth needed help across the slick black glass, and Valin hurried forward to assist her. Those familiar hands settled on his arm, and she smiled at him in her wry, knowing way. “Mayra has been asking after you.”
Valin chuckled. “Nonsense, grandmere. She’s asking after Zefir. He takes her flying when you’re not looking.”
“A natural Nav, that one,” said Zefir, grinning. “Our Navs are always saying a first flight should be around her age—what? Ten-and-three now?”
Orenna Lyth nodded reluctantly, for she was overly protective of her young charge. “I’m not certain if she’s old enough to take part in this ‘exploration’ Navigator Wing you’re throwing together, though it’s all she talks about. I know you’ve had interest from both Clans, which is good, but my little Mayra is still too young.”
When they reached Shiran, both of the Clan Leaders inclined their heads to one another in respect.
Shiran nodded to Zefir, and Zefir arched his neck in an S, keeping his head at a proud, ceremonial angle. To those assembled on either side of the Stone, the Clans still keeping a firm, delineated separation, Zefir spoke, “There are more names of those lost than can truly be counted. But today, from both sides, we will memorialize our lost ones by forever etching their names in the stone of obsidian. And in peace, those names will no longer be separated by Clan, but laid to rest amongst one another.”
There was solemn silence around him, and he gestured to the Council members. He met the gaze of his family members, loving Ferrei’s serious nod, Jarre’s indefatigable grin, and Innari’s glowing thought-voice.
His squad, now and forever.
Shiran placed the device in Valin’s hand. “Type in the name you wish to memorialize, and place it on the rock.”
Valin, with his techie mind, quickly used his thumbs to depress each letter, then kneeling he placed it on the stone. In the upper most corner the device made cutting noises, and when Valin removed the device there was a name etched into the stone itself: Kerlan Nyru.
Ferrei knelt next: Kerlan Denaru.
Then came the name of Elder Lyth’s mate. Xei’s father. Jarre’s entire lost Wing. Soon, a line made of both Clans intermingled, each placing a new name down on the stone.
Zefir touched Shiran with his nose, blinking back the sensation in his eye. “Can we…?”
They had previously discussed whether or not such a thing would be proper, but Shiran nodded now. “Yes, Zef. If you mourn them, then their names belong on the stone.”
After the line had thinned, Shiran took up the device and knelt: Mirena. Seren. Kirwen.
He heard his Navigator move to stand beside him, and Valin placed a hand on his shoulder.
Zefir took in all of the names of the fallen, closed his eyes, and was finally able to mourn.