This has been floating around in my head since an Attic quizz about what the characters were doing ten years after ToB, but it had to wait for the heat prompt before I finally worked up the courage to actually finish and post the thing. So I guess it could fit both topics? It's not much of a story, really, just Valygar thinking about things.
Anyway, thank you so much for reading! I'm a bit new to this, and I'd very much appreciate any comment or advice you might have. : )
Edit : Oh, it's supposed to be Eldath towards the end, I thought maybe I should say it because I suppose it wasn't very clear...
The sun had not fully risen yet, and Athkatla was already wrapped in thick, sultry heat, as it often happened near the season of summer storms. The sky was brazenly gray and overcast. Clouds hung over the city low and heavy, loaded with thunder that wouldn't break and rain that wouldn't fall, and there was hardly a draught of air to be felt, even up here on the roof.
Those days were the worse, in his particular line of work. The crippling heat got on the nerves and clouded judgement, and more people than usual let themselves carried into rash reactions and outbursts of temper that they would normally have exerted control over. The wave of overcast heat had been dragging on and on for days, and the people in the city were beginning to grow weary of it, he could see it in their tired eyes and dull expressions as he walked the streets going to his office. He would have a lot of work later on today, and even more tonight, what with crowds of people coming back home from a long day of hard work on the harbour or outside in the blazing heat, with maybe a bit too much drinking afterwards in the tavern. The rain days were usually better, with considerably less people drunkenly wandering the streets at night.
What a subject of wonder it was, that even within the sheltered walls of Athkatla, even crime and strife, the necessary byproducts of large gatherings of people over the same enclosed patches of land, would be susceptible to something as simple and natural as the weather. It felt almost like a confirmation of a thought that had entered his mind sometimes, that maybe the people who packed themselves up in overgrown cities were deluding themselves thinking they were free of the contingencies of nature, when they could in fact do nothing but keep following its rules, even outside of their own awareness.
Thunder could be heard rumbling around the city sometimes at night, rolling in the hills that surrounded Athkatla on all sides except for the sea, though never for long, and never bringing with it the long awaited rain. He wondered how many people here ever paused to consider this, that they were living all of their lives in a hollow in the ground near the water, that must look from high above, amidst the cultivated farmland that surrounded it, like a flat stone cast aside and abandonned in a field. Maybe more than he suspected, now that he came to think of it.
Watching it from above, stretching quietly under the morning sun, it was hard to suspect Athkatla could be anything but peaceful, with the river glistening not far in the distance and ships cruising lazily in the entrance of the harbour and out into the sea, sailboats, trade ships, fishing boats of all sizes and colours. The grayish glow of the rising sun blurred the lines, and from the right perspective, the city could even look almost like a garden – a passably overheated garden – with narrow alleys curling upon themselves around patches of trees and grass, forming complex patterns.
And yet it took no more than a careful second look to see it for what it was. Any garden disguised unsuspected depths of brutality and violence, every living thing fighting for survival, and Athkatla was not very different. The wilderness stretching just beneath the surface and seeping through at the seams was visible in glimpses, in any clump of weeds clinging desperately to the bricks of a wall, any rash outburst of uncontrolled temper brought about by the heat. The thought that such beauty could hide such a den of unanswered crime and corruption was indignant to the mind.
That was probably why he had accepted the job in the first place, among other things. Another was this – that his family's monstruous deeds had brought so much pain and suffering to the people of this city that accepting the responsibility was the very least he could do to repay them, and absolve the crimes of those of his kind.
Valygar looked down at his hands, and felt only the shadow of an old fear. They were beautiful hands, he had been told multiple times as a child, perfect for the Craft. All Corthalas had them. He had sought to bury that shape under years of practical work and toil unfit for them, but it had never quite worked out the way he wished to. Their natural shape was still visible under the calloused skin, and with it the errors of his own kin forever carved in his own flesh.
Now the old feelings left him mostly alone, though. What could have been mattered less than the path he had shaped for himself, and he could look at his own hands without fear that his own flesh would betray him, and without shame and guilt, almost. At least the guilt he looked upon now was his own, and not that of his family.
Most feelings seemed to be leaving him alone these days. The old fear and hatred were now things of the past, as well as the blinding rage that had threatened to overtake him when he had discovered the gruesome horrors and rampant corruption that plagued the city where he was born. He wondered sometimes if it was the job getting to him at last, or if he had been so used to anger and despair than anything else seemed like a refreshing and peaceful change. He did the best he could, and even if that was not always enough, he hoped at least that every day he worked at trying to keep the peace contributed in a way to changing things a little. He cared still about the suffering that he witnessed, but all the anger he still felt was tempered by alertedness and quiet competency, and the empowering knowledge that he had the capacity and rightful duty to do something about it.
A gust of warm wind came up to him from the long gray estuary, doing little to relieve him of the heat of the day. He looked around, almost surprised to find the roof empty, as he had thought he felt a presence behind him. He settled back against the chimney and sighed in frustration, nodding slightly to himself. It was annoying when that happened. He thought then he heard chuckling at the back of his mind, which only served to annoy him more.
The presence had been lodged in his head for quite some time now. It had appeared seemingly out of nowhere one day, and refused to leave ever since, lingering often just beyond the boundaries of his consciousness. They seemed to be rather in tune with each other, as much as that bothered him, and seemed to work in favour of similar goals, though he hardly acknowledged that, even to himself. He would probably never get used to it, though it was disturbing him maybe a little less than before. They had come to an understanding of sorts, over time. He would work all he could for that common goal – which he was prepared to do anyway, with or without Her – and She wouldn't pry or expect praise from him more than what his actions already spoke for. They would do that, and they would be both left in peace, which was only fitting, given her portfolio.
The wind carried to him the chiming of a temple's bells, and he realized at last that he was going to be late if he stayed here any longer.
All right, all right, I'm going.
With one last departing look for the city that stretched still peacefully at his feet, Valygar quietly got up and left. He had enjoyed the sight while it lasted, but soon the sun would be fully risen and the heat unbearable, and there would be much work for him to do.