She was standing on his shoulders. Literally.
Sifani might have marveled at the strength and breadth of them, if Lorin wasn’t such a great buffoon. A beautiful buffoon, but a buffoon nonetheless. If he was aware of the fact he certainly didn’t care.
He grunted beneath her weight and looked up at her from below, waiting until she looked back to make eyes at her legs. That was just to stoke her temper, Sifani reminded herself firmly. He did excel at that.
“Do you see anything, my milk-tempered maiden?” Lorin asked sweetly.
Sifani dug her heel into his shoulder bone for good measure.
She allowed herself a smug smile at his pained reaction. “It’s only been one minute, Lorin. What do you think I would have seen by now?”
He shrugged, and Sifani almost lost her footing. “I don’t know how they rally the things. For all I know the custodians just say, ‘Go!’ and the birds rush out of their cages for their happy morning jaunt.”
Sifani almost expected it to happen, since the Deities seemed to think it a great joke to prove Lorin right and her wrong on a regular basis. Instead, she stood teetering on her partner’s shoulders for a good five minutes longer, listening to him sigh childishly every thirty seconds or so, probably just to get a rise out of her again.
Then, the great birds they had been waiting for came prancing out onto the wall-enclosed, carefully trimmed lawn, tethered with thick leather leashes – it must’ve been quite the task to get them past those snapping beaks onto those long necks. Custodians jogged behind them, directing them by whistling sharply through their teeth.
Sifani didn’t have to inform Lorin of the birds’ entrance. The squeals that the wretched, cerulean blue Pipers made were fit to raise her ancestors from their graves. She clutched the top of the uncut stone wall and lowered her face behind it so only her eyes peeped over. She and Lorin were only here to deliver a message from Jatan, but even such a simple task would see them at the gallows if they were caught.
“Is he there?” As usual, Lorin’s voice bespoke complete seriousness now that the real work had begun.
Sifani scanned the swirling, gaudy wheel of Pipers and humans, her head spinning with the sight. The custodians’ matching blue garb made them hard to pick out from between the tall figures of the marching birds, but sure enough, as the exercise circle broke off into two separate rings, she saw Ileniel’s face, dark as well-brewed tea, flash into view.
Sifani tapped the center of Lorin’s black-curled nest of hair, and he hunched over so she could hop off his shoulders. They were very strong and broad…
The thought made her want to hit him, but she channeled her anger into her task instead. If she did nothing else during her time with the Reehlers, she told herself, she had to learn to control her temper. “Ileniel’s there, but I don’t know how we’re going to get him alone,” Sifani murmured more irritably than she intended. “There are at least fifteen other custodians there, holding on to the Pipers’ leashes.”
Lorin nodded like he expected no less. “That’s why Jatan sent us, Sifani. Shall we canvass?”
She found herself suddenly grinning at him in answer. She couldn’t help it. Canvassing was perhaps the one and only thing that she and Lorin had in common.
Sifani wrapped her long fingers as far around Lorin’s arm as they would go. Physical contact with another Reehler always intensified the effect of their power. When she closed her eyes and opened them again, the world had been created anew.
Where once the colors of the forest around them were sundry – green and brown, grey-flecked and blue-speckled – they were now all awash with a soft blue glow. The whites had become lighter, the darks deeper. Though Sifani always missed true colors when too long in the epheria, she found herself starving for its otherworldly beauty after much time in the real world, as well.
The only thing that maintained its realism was Lorin beside her. He exchanged glances with her, grey eyes twinkling from behind a dark curl tumbling over his forehead. A genuine smile like that, one that broke the hardness of Lorin’s face, was like a flower growing out of a crack in the rock – always beautiful, always surprising.