“You do not believe me, do you?” the Benefactor asked thoughtfully, as they strolled through the statuary corridor.
“I…sir…” The world contorted around Kio as though the old Rokhshan statues were waving at him. Lights swirled in front of his eyes as emotioned whirled thoughts in his head–he’d eaten, the Benefactor had sat patiently while he’d eaten, but the dizzy feeling had only increased.
Was it something the Benefactor was doing? Did this always happen in the presence of divinity? He wished he had a frame of reference for talking to gods.
“I do believe you, sir. I’ve always believed in you.”
The Benefactor smiled. At the sight of it, all the warmth of the surface world flowed through Kio’s veins.
“Thank you, Kio.” The corridor resolved itself. They were strolling down a sunlit crimson carpet, faded by the years. The Benefactor reached the stairs that wound down to the mist garden, and motioned for Kio to go first.
Kio hesitated. The Benefactor’s smile turned to a frown, as though regretful he’d made the young man feel uncertain.
“I never meant to suggest your belief wasn’t genuine, Kio,” he said gently. “Only that I recognize what a strange experience this must be. You know that you are the first member of your line to see my face since Great Rokhshan himself.”
He looked up above the door, where stood a mosaic of a stylized Benefactor presenting the Heartsphere to Great Rokhshan. “The depictions have gotten…interesting, since then.”
Kio wanted to grab the nearest rock and hack the mosaic away.
Down in the mist garden, the Benefactor sat on a flat rock, and motioned for Kio to sit across from him. He did so, not managing to keep from shaking.
“I…saw you. In dreams,” he blurted out.
“Is this a dream, Kio?” asked the god in the grey wool suit.
Kio shook his head. His stomach was leapfrogging too much for him to be dreaming.
“Those were not dreams either,” the Benefactor went on. “I have visited you before, Kio. I have kept an eye on you, intervening only when you truly needed me. I must say, you have managed better than I ever expected.”
Kio thought he might melt off the rock and soak into the grass.
The Benefactor stood up. “I only wish to do you a favor,” he said. “To bolster your faith.”
Kio opened his mouth to protest that his faith needed no such bolstering, but the Benefactor was already moving. In three strides, the tall man crossed the mist garden’s grass, and leapt off the edge of the platform.
A strange, strangled sound bled from Kio’s mouth. He twisted, half-standing, half-sitting, over the rock. There was still dew hanging in the air where the Benefactor had sprinkled it. Scattering light.
He’d made it one step before he realized how ridiculous he was being. The Benefactor was a god. Of course gods couldn’t die by falling.
But what was he doing?
Kio waited. His heart hammered. One could go mad waiting for the gods to finish their work.
Thumps and scrapes came from below the garden, barely audible over the high-altitude gusts. The sky that morning was a flat white layer–an overcast morning below, with a bright sun far up and behind him. Kio could make out the shadow of Nashido moving about far under his feet.
The next instant he felt a sensation so strange he nearly lost his footing. It was as though the castle had torqued hard in midair, but without actually moving.
The shadow on the white sheet of cloud shrank by a fraction of a fingerwidth.
Kio had once read in an old book of terrology a fact that had bewildered him at first, but that made increasing sense the more he thought about it. The surface world, the book said, was constantly spinning, and any objects in the sky close enough were caught in its orbit. He’d assumed Nashido couldn’t possibly be affected, but then realized it was the only way to explain why they kept circling over the same areas of surface.
Next, he’d wondered if people on the surface, constantly living with that spinning, developed any sort of sense that it was happening. They probably didn’t know they felt it. But they would definitely have known if it stopped.
Kio himself had a similar sense for the motion of Nashido, like a sailor living years on end on the same ship. That was how he felt that the Benefactor had changed something. Nothing really moved, but he felt the switch in his bones.
The tall man clambered back up over the side of the mist garden, straightening his suit and running a hand through his hair. “There,” he said, “I’ve fixed your problem.”
Which one? Kio racked his brain. His being trapped? Karla’s having betrayed him?
Then he remembered. “Rune decay!” he blurted out.
“No longer,” the Benefactor told him. “Runes are notoriously tricky things. People treat them as passive spells when they really do have minds of their own. Fortunately, I know how to reason with them.”
“You…you fixed them?” Kio asked stupidly. The Benefactor smiled.
“I did what they required, no more.” The deity of the Rokhshans took his seat again on the rock across from the last of that line. “But this castle should remain intact. Of course, it was never falling that was the issue…the Heartsphere remains aloft through magic powerful enough to give even me pause. The danger is that the castle would pull itself apart under the spell of gravity, and fall to earth without the Heartsphere to support it.”
Kio hardly heard the horror of the last sentence, preoccupied with trying to imagine magic so strong the Benefactor would have nothing to do with it.
“Is that why you’ve come?” he managed to say.
The Benefactor shook his head. “Merely a favor I realized I could provide you with. The true purpose of my visit–now that we’ve established human and god can speak freely–is to discuss something with you.”
“What could you…”
Kio trailed off. A lump was forcing its way through his throat, and he knew where it was coming from: the letter, still strewn across the desk in the library with a dozen half-finished copies. He looked down at the ink stains on his fingers, and couldn’t form any more words.
The Benefactor touched him softly on the head, coaxing him to look up.
“Kio, it’s about Karla Harpooneer.”
“What…” he choked. “What about her?”
“What she’s done to you,” the Benefactor said. “What she’s done to this castle.”
A floodgate burst open within him.
He found himself telling the Benefactor everything: the whole history of their ten years together, the trials they’d faced, all the things they’d achieved under false pretenses. The times she’d risked her life for him when she’d really been grooming him for gods-knew-what, and might have let him go any one of them, had she decided in that moment that her mother’s directive was more important. The story of everything after the bone dragon’s first attack, right up to Karla’s departure for the surface.
The Benefactor nodded throughout, touched Kio’s head or shoulder for sympathy when he stopped to regain composure. Once or twice he asked clarifying questions, or led Kio down some other line of inquiry.
Finally, when Kio had no words left in him, the god stood up and stretched his arms above his head.
“Lord Rokhshan,” he said, using the title for the first time. For some reason, Kio didn’t mind it like he had with Medwick.
“Yes?” he mumbled.
“There are things that can be done about this.”
I’m a self-supported artist, and I rely on donations to keep bringing you The Clockwork Raven. Check out my Patreon to see the bonus content you can get if you pledge. Even $1 a month helps–and gets you a personal shout-out!
Thanks to Lynne, David, Paul, and Thomas for their continued support.