Friday, January 12, 2018

Dark Normality

Somber was only a little way into the city, walking just behind Frost and Blaze, when Shaira stepped out from an alley and fell in beside him.

"Anything wrong?" he asked. When he'd left her, he'd also left her mother's floatbeast caravan with a dead body in one of the passenger rooms. Shaira had known about it, but they'd agreed not to say anything until later -- after the passengers had departed, after the caravan had begun its trading. Shaira was meant to be avoiding whatever truthspeaker came to investigate the death, but Somber hadn't expected that to extend to following them into the city.

"No," said Shaira quickly. She was small and wiry, much like Frost; but she was darker, brown of hair and eye and skin. "I just wanted..." she made a vague, uncertain gesture with one hand. "I wanted to ask you how you do it."

Somber tilted his head, puzzled. "How I do what?"

Shaira hesitated, keeping pace with him so that he could keep pace with Frost and Blaze, who had fallen silent ahead of them. "Well," said Shaira, "this monk, this man you studied under, who was taking you back to your families... his ghost comes to you, half-dreaming, and you just... wake up, and start making arrangements."

Somber lowered his brows and pursed his lips. "It was what he wanted," he said, feeling his way through the explanation. "That was why he came to me: so that we'd be warned, so that we could... make arrangements."

Shaira shook her head. "No, it's not that, it's... this can't be the first ghost that's come to you. I mean, you didn't wake up screaming. You didn't doubt whether it was real. You just... took it in and dealt with it."

Somber nodded, slowing his steps while he considered. "...Yes," he said finally. "That happens to me. Not very often, but sometimes. So how do I do it? Is that the question?"

Shaira made a cautious, equivocal gesture, but nodded.

"I'm a deathspeaker," Somber said, quietly but simply. He hesitated, then reminded her: "I told you a little about the monastery. Everyone who studied there received a solid grounding in the mundane arts. That's true, but we all have different strengths. I can call dead bones to life with nothing more than a breath. I don't call ghosts, but sometimes they come to me. Blaze is the same way, but with light and fire."

Shaira glanced at the pair in front of them. "And Frost?" she asked, curiously.

Somber shrugged. "Frost is good at everything," he said.

"That helps," said Shaira. "It does. But that wasn't exactly my question. I figured out that ghosts come to you, because... one did. I just wanted to ask..." She hesitated. " do you deal with that? How do you get used to something like that?"

Somber shrugged. "How could you not?" He looked away, then looked back. "I don't mean to dismiss. But... this is normal for me. This is... It's like you and the drarok. How could you get used to living and working with deadly flying predators?"

Shaira stiffened, then relaxed. "You did," she said. Then she added: "But yes, I see what you mean. And you're right: there are plenty of groundborn who can't even imagine how we manage to live the way we do, or why we'd want to."

Blaze and Frost had stopped and turned back to them, so Somber stopped also. "We get used to what we do," said Somber quietly. "...And we do what we get used to. What's normal for me isn't normal for you, but it isn't anything you couldn't handle if it were."

Shaira regarded him for a long moment, then stepped in and hugged him hard. "That was a better answer than I had any right to expect," she told him. "Thank you. I wish you could have stayed with the caravan -- I'm going to miss you."

Somber swallowed and hugged her back, but didn't answer. He was going to miss her, too.

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