With the Flesperian envoy’s arrival, an Archiiral Conclave was in order. Rastite—its people—grew wary.
The representative carried a matter none of them had any knowledge of. It’s been two days since their arrival, giving the envoy and his escorts time to set their camp outside the city.
The urgency of the conclave left Sirius and the rest with nothing to do for those days. Dyie instructed the four of them to hold their activities to make sure there was no suspicion on them. The last thing they wanted was another war.
Sirius roamed around after cleaning his spearblade and dagger. Blaze was on the terrace in the middle of training, striking the air with his fists. Castellone was in the library skimming through a leatherbound book. Servants and tenants went about their business.
From the yard, he gazed at the city of rust as his mind wandered. If the Archiiral Conclave was happening, it meant all Archii had to attend.
For the time being, he went down the slope and travelled through the alleyways unseen. Until he came to a house with thriving vegetation fronting the property.
He had no idea what brought him there, only that he felt like he needed to be. So there he was. A balcony on the second floor with the scent of witheroses and desert lilies.
From inside echoed the carefree voice of a child.
“Rius!” Astrum ran and jumped into his arms.
Sirius patted the boy on the back.
“Hey, hey, remember that map you asked me to do?” Astrum said when he was set down on his feet.
“Well, it’s done! But it was reeaally hard to draw. I can be your art teacher if you want.” Astrum beamed before running to get the paper off Caltha’s desk and presented it to him.
When Astrum pushed the paper on his face, Sirius had to lean back to see the drawing clearly. “Wow. You added...pineapples?”
Astrum raised his hands up to demonstrate. “No. Those are pirates! That’s their hair, all spiked up.”
From the adjacent solarium, Caltha laughed. When she looked up from the flower arrangement of desert lilies, their eyes met.
He held her gaze. So did she. A code seemed to have passed between them that only they knew.
He liked the sound of her laughter. A sound that told him there was nothing to worry about. Where everything that revolved around her was, in a way, safe.
“Hi,” although he knew it was late for that.
Caltha tended back to the flowers. A smile lingered still. “What are you doing here?”
Astrum glanced at Sirius who absentmindedly surrendered his map. His attention robbed of him.
“There’s a conclave.”
“I know. Shouldn’t you be Dyie’s company?” Caltha trimmed a leaf.
“He took Genon this time.”
Caltha inserted a stalk of lily in a glass vase.
Sirius glanced at the balcony. A subtle breeze flowed inside. Out there, it was unrestricted, almost free. “Crolis is not around.”
“I know,” she replied.
“I just thought you might want to step outside.”
Caltha stopped what she was doing. “With you?”
“Although you can always not.” Sirius looked at Astrum.
The boy was clueless, his eyes were wide. Why would Sirius invite her but not him?
“I’d love to,” she said. “Astrum, coming with?”
Astrum blinked at her. “But you gave me homework, remember?”
Astrum gathered his map and coloring pencils from the desk, hugging them to his chest before rushing to the door. “You two go ahead. Oh, and grab me some agano snowpuffs while you’re at it!”
His footsteps thudded as he ran from the room and into the hallway.
Sirius blinked at the closed door, baffled by Astrum’s behavior. He looked at Caltha. “Something I said?”
“Not really.” Caltha glanced at the other desert lilies staring back at her accusingly. She promised to finish the arrangement the minute she got back.
Sirius watched her disappear behind a partition in her room where her walk-in closet was. A door opened then closed. There was shuffling from inside. A bottle crashed to the floor. Caltha gasped.
It seemed to him like she was fighting a war on the other side.
Meanwhile, he glanced around the adjacent solarium which carried a variety of plants. They were well taken care of. It was rare to see thriving flora in the wastes, but she knew what she was doing with them.
He stopped in front of the wasteland’s native flower, the witheroses.
Their petals were the color of rust. A message to accompany the city in its slow descent to decay. But it was also the color of sunset. The occurrence of every day that concluded another chapter.
In a way, they calmed him like an image of home.
“They’re beautiful, aren’t they?”
Sirius glanced at Caltha who emerged beside him. Her hair was tied to a ponytail. Her face appeared clearer. Fresher. “So are you.”
Caltha smiled casually. “Thank you. Shall we?”
“I’ll meet you in front.” She headed for the door.
Sirius took the balcony.
Outside, Caltha noticed Sirius wasn’t making the effort to conceal his identity in public. At least he was still wearing the scarf. She pulled him to a stop and yanked the fabric up to his nose bridge.
She avoided his gaze. “In case we run into some, you know.”
She turned around and went ahead. But when she realized she left him behind, she glanced back then waited for him to catch up. She had a look asking him what he was waiting for.
The tug she made on the scarf loosened. Sirius adjusted it to keep it in place before following. He guessed it was alright to hide a smile behind the scarf as he walked beside her.
Realizing that he wanted to get a better view, he took a silent step backward, letting her take the lead. Better.
Caltha looked to the side. Something caught her eye. Her reaction though, was something of worry.
He turned to the direction she did.
“We should help them,” she took a step toward the alley.
Sirius held her arm. “Don’t.”
Caltha looked up at him with a slight crease on her brows.
“It’s their choice. I doubt they’d even listen in that state.” Because he knew better than to try to knock reason on people who chose oblivion.
Sirius stood in front of her, blocking her view of the stoned individuals.
Caltha looked away in silent defeat. He was right. But would she allow that to make an excuse to trample what lay ahead?
Crolis was not there for supervision, and she was currently outside. No walls to keep or bound her.
Now, when was the last time she was able to be with Sirius like this? Not once. Because he always had something to do, and she was often kept under supervisory eyes.
What exactly did he had in mind when he invited her?
She looked up at him, trying to search for an answer. Though his body was facing her, he was looking to the side, to the forum ahead. Where people were.
She tugged at his shirt. “Let’s go.”
“Huh?” But he was already led into the place where he, of all things visible, wanted to go the least. Specifically, because of the crowd. The one thing he wanted to avoid. “Calla—”
“You know, I’ve never actually tried that snowpuff flavor Astrum was talking about. We should make a stop there later.”
Was it a bad move on his part to actually walk with her given this opportunity? As long as there was no harm, he’d dive straight into the animation.