Avela sits on the edge of the city, legs crossed and hands on hans knees, with hans face turned upward toward the stars, the moon, and the nebula. Ne basks in their light, absorbing it through hans shell. Ne has cast aside hans clothing, for ne wishes to taste their light as it is.

Each source has a slightly different flavor. Avela prefers them to the light of the sun, whose flavor has a bold strength which borders on harsh. The sun belongs to Maela, but the lights of night belong to Cinashe. Avela finds his touch to be far more delicate. The night moon, Senia, tempers the light of the sun, giving it a cool, balanced flavor. The stars are like seasoning upon this flavor, each with their own unique taste, but so blended together as to be indistinguishable.

It is the nebula, that cloud of pure light that arcs through the night sky high above the clouds, that brings Avela the most joy. The wisps of red and gold, traced here and there by blues and purple, make han want to sing. This wonderful manifestation of the God of Light, Cinashe, is perhaps the most beautiful thing in all the world. Its light is certainly the most delicious.

Avela hanself is beautiful, though ne does not tend to think of hanself as such. Hans shell is unmarred and as clear and bright as well-cut crystal. Beneath it, pure white mists swirl and fold in on themselves, moving constantly, like a thick bank of fluffy white clouds forced into a glass vial. Hans wrists and ankles are thin, but in a way that makes one think of a graceful blade rather than a fragile stick.

Within Avela are other lights created by Cinashe. They are wisps, animate balls of light that have something like a life but display few signs of intelligence. They float around the borders of Marenhelm, appearing mostly at night. Avela has chosen the colors of the wisps ne has absorbed carefully, for among cloudwalkers they are a source of both nourishment and fashion.

The wisps within Avela are shades of azure blue, with two pale violet wisps mixed in for variation and complement. They float freely through the clouds inside of han, occasionally pressing up against the crystalline shell that encloses them. When ne has absorbed all that one of them has to give han, ne will absorb another, but until that time ne is sated with what ne has.

Avela stands. Hans time of meditation is, for now, at an end. Ne has grown anxious. Ne is filled with the desire for motion, as ne has been hans entire life. Ne has often been reprimanded for it, by hans parents and hans grandparents and other older cloudwalkers besides.

Hans toes curl over the edge of the rock on which the city of Marenhelm stands. Ne leans forward. Beneath han, the rock drops away. It curls back underneath han, to where han can’t see it. A field of clouds obscures hans view. It is meant to obscure. The cloud bank is pinned to the city by the monoliths, and in Avela’s lifetime it has never been parted.

The floating isle of rock on which Marenhelm stands sits in turn upon that bank of clouds, which Avela knows holds the city in up in the sky; which ne knows is meant to hide the city from the prying eyes of those who walk the earth below; and which ne knows is meant to keep them safe, but which ne blames for hiding the rest of the world from han and from hans kin.

Perhaps it is hans youth, and perhaps it is something ne will come to comprehend with time and education, but Avela does not understand the cloudwalkers’ desperate need for privacy and secrecy. Hans parents do not echo hans interest in the lands below. Hans grandparents certainly do not. Avela’s teachers have a cursory knowledge of it, but they show no interest in revealing more to han, or in learning more themselves.

The Senate, Avela feels, will never show interest, or if they do, they won’t admit it. They were too old and too set in their ways of secrecy and their fear of being discovered. The Questioners hardly seemed to live up to their name. They spent most of their time pondering their writings about Cinashe, Rohac, and Alao, the members of the Aurelian Ennead that they held in highest regard. Avela wanted the to ask questions about the world below, but as far as ne knew, they did nothing of the sort.

Only the Kestrels got to know anything of Aia outside of the cloud-formed walls of their city. Only they got to leave the city. Only they lived up to the cloudwalker name, and actually got the chance to walk the clouds. They did not use this as Avela would. The did not bring knowledge of far-off lands or learned about the cultures of the earthwalkers. They behaved simply as another line of obfuscation and defense, further ensuring that no one ever learned of their home.

Avela knew ne had to become one of them. Ne wanted to know what hid beneath the clouds. Ne had seen pictures and read stories of Aia, but pictures and reading were nothing like seeing for hanself. Ne could scarcely imagine such vast tracts of land as hans teachers described, nor could ne picture the variety of land-bound vegetation, like trees, which sounded so different from the ferns and grass and other plants that grew upon the rock of the city.

There was only one problem with Avela’s plan for hans life. Ne, as hans parents had so often told han, was not fit to be a Kestrel. Like all cloudwalkers, ne could walk upon the surface of the clouds as easily as though it were solid ground. Like most cloudwalkers, ne could pull and manipulate the clouds with hans will, to some extent. Yet unlike those very few who were allowed to become Kestrels and Obfuscators, Avela could not produce clouds of hans own.

This would be less of a problem if hans ability to manipulate clouds was stronger, but it was weak. It was, perhaps, the weakest hans family line had ever seen. Unless ne was working with something as trivial as a puff of steam, clouds under Avela’s controls moved at a sluggish, geriatric scud, far slower than even Avela’s slowest walking pace.

Avela pulled upon the cloudwall now. A thin thread of it reached outward, stretching toward hans beckoning hand. The cloudwall, pinned as it was to the city and maintained by the obelisks, was particularly hard to grasp and control. This alone gave Avela hope that, with practice and determination, ne could strengthen hans power.

Ne had shown hans parents, once, that han could pull upon the cloudwall itself. They had been impressed: need had felt it clearly within the reverberations of their voices. The could not manipulate the cloudwall at all, themselves. Yet they had also been afraid for ne, for some reason. Afraid, perhaps, that ne would somehow ruin the stability of the cloudwall. Or maybe that one of the Obfuscators, passing by, would see Avela pulling upon the wall, and misinterpret hans actions as interference with the Obfuscators’ work of hiding the city.

Avela held no such fears. Ne practiced daily and nightly, whenever ne had a free moment, because the difficulty of manipulating the cloudwall made moving mundane clouds feel easy. Ne hoped that, like other things in hans life, doing someting difficult would increase hans ability to do something similar, yet easier.

Ne had seen no such changes, but that wouldn’t stop han. Avela had decided it woud never stop han, even if ne never saw improvements, because ne wanted to be a Kestrel. Ne needed to be among the Kestrels, to be a farwalker, who walked the clouds to the edges of Aia and back to report hans findings. That, ne had determined, would be hans life.

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