Kieran set the bag on the counter as carefully as he could, but the glass rattled nonetheless. Capri winced, but managed to keep from turning around. She still startled easily, still remembered the sound of gravel underfoot as the Hounds moved in -
Halloran approached her, having felt her little spike of distress across their soulbond. “I’m okay,” she said, a little too quickly. And unnecessarily. Halloran knew she wasn’t. But she still wasn’t used to having someone in her head all the time.
She wrapped her arms around herself and stared out the window, watching the fog roll in. “Are you sure they won’t do something again? The Council? With it being the anniversary?”
“No,” Kieran said quietly.
She nodded. She’d managed to beat it into everyone’s heads that she was not a kid and did not want to be lied to. “Should we be out there? Doing something?”
“No,” Kieran repeated, unpacking jar candles. “The Kithrayna aren’t allowed to endanger ourselves, and you…”
“Last Tamrani female in the city. I know, I know. But they can’t keep me locked up here forever.” It’s been too long already, a whole year. Granted, the first few months of that had been spent separating her mind from Halloran’s, and getting to the point where she could talk again, sleep again. At least I’m not having the nightmares every night anymore.
Halloran touched her shoulder, and she turned away from the window. “Where do you want the candles?”
She shook herself and grabbed two candles from Kieran. “In the windows. One in each window.”
“You don’t think it’s a little conspicuous?”
“You think it’ll even show through the shields around this building?”
“Then why do it?”
She hugged the candles to her chest. One for her mother. One for her father. “Because we’ll know. My mom… when my grandpa died, she lit candles. A light against the darkness, she said. Against entropy.” She looked up at Halloran and Kieran. “There is so much darkness in this city.”
Halloran nodded and took candles from Kieran, who went back for more. Kieran hefted a candle in his hand, frowning. “I don’t have anyone specific to light one for. I didn’t lose a loved one. Not in the Purges.”
Capri shrugged. “Light one for your mom anyway. And… one for everyone.”
They had huddled in the Library’s basement, these three, through the longest night of their lives - Capri feeling the pain of the living, Kieran hearing the cries of the newly dead, Halloran’s shields the only thing keeping them sane. They had flash-bonded, Capri and Halloran the soul-deep bond of kiri’totharan, and Kieran simply the bond of those who have been broken alongside, of trauma shared.
They had survived one year beyond that night.
That night would never go away.
They distributed candles around the apartment; they lit them, remembering Capri’s parents, Halloran’s family, everyone. The world they had lost when the Hounds poured onto the streets.
It was Kieran who broke their long silence. Leaning over the kitchen counter, hand wrapped around a mug of hot cocoa, his voice quiet: ”What now?”
The fog curls around your feet, dispersing in swirls of grey as you walk down the cobblestone street. You can hear the music from here - Driftwood Angels. Sara Tallart’s voice. The coffeehouse is a bright-shining beacon on the unusually-quiet street, corner of Sheridan and Sinclair; golden light spills out from its plate glass window. You open the door, walk into the concert, smile at your friends, unwind your scarf; it is just now autumn, just in time for the festival that’s no longer held. Not since -
The song ends, the crowd applauds, and in the shifting of bodies, you see it. Tucked between the kitchen doors and the stage, one of the jigsaw puzzle tables, loaded with candles.
No - more than one of the tables. Three, fitted together.
You wander over, and Victor’s eyes flick up at you. Of course the Kirayth are here, they’re everywhere, especially tonight. And of course it’s Victor - his partner Joseph is dating Sara, after all. Ordinarily there’d be rules against that, against Kirayth guarding their lovers - too much potential for distraction. But Joseph’s an old hand at this, having been Kirayth from the very beginning. And Tyka’s is considered safe haven anyway, one of the two havens in the city.
You’d been here that night. Many of the people in this crowd were, you realize. You spot the Telenias over in the corner, remember him that night, remember the scenes outside the glass -
And you wonder why so many of you have returned here tonight. Reminding yourselves that you survived?
Victor’s sprawled across a few chairs in front of the tables. He straightens and gives you a courtly nod, hands you a candle. You hold it, and you remember.
Remember running, gasping, sobbing.
Remember fetching up against that door, getting pulled in.
Remember all the wounded. Remember the first aid kit thrust into your hands by a trembling Tyka… remember putting pressure on bleeding wounds, doing rudimentary stitching, sedating people. Triage. A night of blood and noise and the heavy scent of fear, and you don’t want to remember -
But if that’s true, why are you here?
Victor asks if you’re okay, and you nod. You strike a match, light the candle, wedge it in with all the others. It’s warmer here. There are that many candles. Enough to light the whole coffeehouse, if they spread them out. If they didn’t have to worry about the Council. Fat pillar candles, votives in glasses, tapers dripped into place, making a little corner of your beloved city glow.
Because everyone remembers.
Because you lost so much.
Because you cannot let it happen again.
The courtyard was overflowing with light.
Kieran slowed, watching Alyssa add a candle to the forest of candles sprouting up around the stone fountain in the center of the courtyard. She saw him and smiled, looking a bit abashed. “We had to do something.”
“I understand,” Kieran said softly, remembering Capri’s face as she lit the candles for her parents.
“And I don’t think - you don’t think the Hounds will come, do you?”
“They haven’t yet. They haven’t emerged in force since the Purges - just a pack here and there.” They had not been to House Narsan, and that did worry him. They mostly kept their predations to the other half of the city, to L’Arath and Ziroth - but they’d ventured into Tarak a bit, and into Lhri’nahr. Edging ever closer into his territory. He imagined a pincer poised to snap closed on his House and his people, and suppressed a shudder.
Kieran smiled. “I told you, Alyssa. Just call me Kieran.”
“Kieran.” She paused. “What do we do now?”
It was his first year as sole leader of his House; he had barely stepped into adulthood. His impulse was to ask Donna what to do. But no - he had to learn to lead on his own, terrifying as that may be. He was still figuring it all out. And still needed to break his people’s habit of calling him Kithrayn - he was no Jeramie or Kristian, to stand on formality. He was just another guy.
Just another guy who happened to almost remember the Fall. Just another guy soulbonded to the lost Lishaya. Just another guy who was the reincarnated leader of this House from time immemorial.
He didn’t get the luxury of being just another guy. Never. And especially not tonight.
He heaved a sigh. “I don’t know. It’s not a thing we can raise money for, you know? There’s no safe form of activism. None that I can think of.” He eyed the fountain and its piles of candles. “You didn’t light all of those, did you?”
“No. Pretty much everyone did - from this block and the next few.”
“Alyssa, could you do me a favor?”
“Of course, Kith- Kieran.”
“Round them up, okay? And have them go get their friends. Whole House, if we can. I’ll order takeout. And we’ll talk this out… figure out what can be done.”
The farmer’s market has been crowded with chandlers all week - bunches of hand-dipped tapers or thick pillars, the whole market smelling faintly of beeswax. Business has been brisk.
Because everyone lights candles now.
You buy a bundle and slip it quickly into your bag, bury it in apples and butternut squash. This is risky. Maybe too risky. This is within sight of the house that used to belong to Bartomn, after all; that movement at the window could be Alanna, watching.
But everyone’s buying anyway.
You stroke the waxen tapers and think of loss - but also, now, you think of solidarity. You watch as everyone in the market passes by, darting glances at the House that fell, hefting candles, pressing them to their hearts. You watch one chandler break down in tears at the power of it, of everyone needing to remember the dead and needing to remind themselves that they were still alive.
You settle your tapers in thrift-shop candlesticks, and you sing.
(The Tamrani are no more, so you must light a candle for them. Sing, sing for the lost House, for the lost Lishaya; sing the return.)
The fog rolls in, burnished by the setting sun, and you think at first that all of the light is reflected from that sunset. No.
In every window, there is light, flame dancing. Every window of every apartment building. There are people on the rooftop gardens, there are people leaning out over their balconies, holding candles. You are a people abandoned by your gods, but this is a prayer nonetheless.
Kieran adjusted Capri’s mask, letting his fingers trail from the soft leather to her soft skin. “You sure you’re all right in those boots?”
She danced a few steps back, executed a neat pirouette, and bowed. The boots made her several inches taller - markedly taller than the average Tamrani. With her height camouflaged and her features obscured, she could pass, shouldn’t set off any red flags for any Councillors or Hounds. The Council had been more active lately - more along the lines of skulking malevolently than an outright attack. But if they were going to attack, this world be the night to do it. Halloran hadn’t wanted to let Capri join the vigil, but she’d insisted.
She had not been outside the Tower these five years, after all.
Halloran paced, peering out the windows. Even Fenris seemed quieter than usual. He handed Capri a cloak - full-length, to hide the boots and maintain the illusion of average height. She fastened it, three silver buttons over her chest. “Be careful,” he said, his reticence clear. “Vic and Joseph are assigned to you, and Halloran-”
She hugged him. “It’s okay. I promise. I’ll be careful, and it will be okay.”
Fenris nodded and stepped away. “Let’s move out,” he called, and the Kirayth mobilized - clad in black leather with their silver flame logo emblazoned on the backs and arms of jackets. Armed to the teeth. Wary, but with their practiced calm. They had held the line five years ago. They could do it tonight, if they had to.
Halloran stood by the door, lighting candles; he followed Kieran and Capri out. The Kirayth fanned out into the twilight.
Capri suppressed a gasp. Halloran felt it, but Kieran was distracted, being hugged by a small mob of chattering Narsani. He flashed a grin at them, and Halloran slipped his hand into hers. She leaned back against him, breathed deeply.
She recognized some of those parading. Grown-up old friends, shadows of a past - intimations of some alternate world where she wasn’t officially five years dead. Halloran squeezed her hand again, waves of strength and comfort flowing over the soulbond. He did not need to ask her if she was ready, and she did not have to tell him.
They stepped out into the flow of Dasaroi. Was anyone in their home tonight? It felt like the entire city had poured out into the street. A river of their people. A river of light, wending its way down narrow cobblestone paths, flowing toward the deep and ancient heart of the city. Those not carrying candles carried drums, pounding the ancient call of House Bartomn; as they emerged from beyond the Tower’s shadow, there were other instruments, guitar and flute and voice. There were masked dancers - masked for fear of Council retribution, but free in their anonymity. Capri clutched her candle, willing the tears to stay in her eyes and not spill forth.
Singing and walking, hundreds of thousands of candles burning, down to the heart of Shayara. As close as they could get to where their race began.
The outer wall of the castle, impassable to any until the true Lishaya returned.
Someone had reproduced the mural from the city’s entrance on the castle wall - Tiala na’Roth, the Firstborn, war-torn, cradling the city in her outstretched hands. And a makeshift shrine had sprung up around it - candles and flowers, written prayers, scattered beads. Driftwood Angels stood by the castle gates, tuning up, as the light swept in from all over the city - and Sara Tallart’s voice rose, rich and strong, singing their new song.
Singing an invocation - turning a vigil into a summoning.
The light was a tide, golden and bright, and Halloran wrapped Capri in his arms; they joined Sara on the chorus, they and everyone there - come home, come home. Capri’s alto and Halloran’s baritone, her feeling him singing, his chest pressed to her back. Capri tilted her head back and sang, willing the message into the night; Kieran joined them, and she could feel his hope and his longing, his soulbond with the true Lishaya, wherever she was, extending out - Capri wove her song, her hope, in with his. Come home.
The heart of the city glowed, pulsed, and the voices and hope rose into the night - come home.