Seoc MacInnes was fairly sure that he was standing at the top of the world. It was a wonderful feeling.
Snow had fallen on the mountain the previous night, as it had during nearly every night of their stay in the goblin city. Unlike the previous instances, though, today the morning sun had not been powerful enough to melt it from the barren face of the peak. Now the world glistened in the afternoon’s autumnal light, alive and dancing. The wind bit cruelly at the exposed skin of Seoc’s face, but he was not unduly bothered by it. The rest of him was warm, well bundled with multiple layers of woolen clothing, plus fur-lined boots, cloak and gloves. He had never much minded the cold anyway. It was little to compromise for this spectacular view.
Indeed, he was on top of the world.
The goblin watchtower, which extended from the very top of the mountain like a crooked finger, twisting high above the city, had no battlements. It didn’t even have any sort of substantial wall, just a low lip that Seoc could have easily stepped over. He had no intentions of doing so, but the possibility was exhilarating all the same. Here he stood, on top of the world, and two steps from hell.
Two steps and a very long drop, that is.
Or if his body chose this moment to have a seizure or an inexplicable fainting spell, and he fell the wrong way…well, that could do it too.
Seoc contemplated inching back to safety, but his reckless side won out, and he stayed where he was, gazing out over the precarious edge. He could see for what seemed like a hundred miles from here. Northward sat Magramland; he could make out a distant glimmer of white that could only be Waelyngar, separated from his current location by the vast expanse of russet orange that was the Waelyngar Forest. To the east lay the Barroughthens, with its flat, swampy plains extending to the horizon, sodden with fog. And in the south, the wooded basin known as the Carvil Valley watched over Murkintsen’s northerly border. A sinister sentry it looked today, too, hiding in the shadows of the mountains surrounding it.
He grinned, not knowing quite why, and the wind quickly stripped the moisture from his teeth. An odd inclination to shout came over him, and he did, wordlessly, with a sort of joy that he had forgotten he had ever possessed. He was alive, he was free, he was one fateful slip from the precipice of doom and he couldn’t care less.
“Mind if I join you?”
Seoc looked over his shoulder. He had not heard Seymour coming up the stairs behind him—then again, he couldn’t hear much of anything over the wind.
“O’ course you may.”
The Aechyed emerged onto the tower balcony and ambled up beside him, arms folded to pin down his billowing cloak. “Feeling better, I see?”
Seoc nodded. “I canna remember feelin’ sae weel in all o’ my life,” he replied, realizing after the fact that this statement was entirely true. He had grown accustomed to the pain of sickness and starvation in Waelyngar, but his torment had begun long before that. Never had he known a day in which none of his many illnesses and infirmities had troubled him, or in which his skin was unmarked by cuts and bruises, or in which a cloud of gloom did not wait at the edge of his every happy moment.
Seymour frowned, but made no verbal response, probably because there wasn’t any appropriate verbal response to be made to such an assertion. A shadow passed over the Aechyed’s face, slowly enough for Seoc to notice it, quickly enough for him to forget it a moment later.
“An’ how aboot yerself?” Seoc asked. “Are you feelin’ better?”
He shrugged, smiling slightly. “I’m doing well, all things considered.”
“I noticed you have no’ been drinkin’ as much.”
“That’s one of the things considered.”
Seoc smiled. “I’m prood o’ you, Sey.”
“Thanks,” Seymour mumbled, blushing noticeably.
Seoc returned his focus to the Carvil Valley, lost in its shadowy shroud. Somewhere, at its other end, just before the valley floor rose to meet the next mountain range, lay their destination. For some reason, Seoc wasn’t entirely certain he ever wanted to reach it. “We leave tomorrow?”
The human stuck out his tongue in disgust. “Please, no.”
“If you have an issue with the schedule, little fish, take it up with the Uarla. I am merely following his suggestion.”
“Damn his suggestion. That’s too fuckin’ early!”
Seymour’s sharp teeth flashed in a broad grin. “Careful, Seoc. If you don’t mind your language, you’ll start sounding like me. Anyway, I had the Uarla send word to your uncle that we plan to arrive in Carviliet tomorrow evening, and if we are to achieve that goal, we must depart before first light.”
Seoc sighed deeply. “I just dinna see why he canna send us one o’ his nice flyin’ carriages ta ride in, spare us a lot o’ trouble.”
“Does seem logical, doesn’t it? But there must be a reason for the route we’re taking.”
“What reason would Uncle Alasdair ha’e for—?”
Seymour interrupted him with a shake of his head. “I don’t think your Uncle Alasdair is the one making the decisions in this case. I don’t think it's him at all.”