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Isa Silverhair: The Next Quest

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Isa of the Nordroom

A greyscale, digitally produced image of the head and shoulders of a young, very pale person with freckles, feminine features, and very light, long silver hair which is pulled back in several braids. The image is in slight profile: Isa is looking towards the right, with a slight smile on their face.

Isa is absolutely, certifiably, ridiculously insane. Who in their right mind stands their ground in front of one of those Astro-Rooks? I know they won, but only just. They are completely cracked. They just hide it really, really well behind that cool exterior.

They’re tall, maybe six foot, and built like a silver birch twig. They seriously don’t look strong enough to have made it all the way here, all coltish limbs and long delicate fingers. They certainly don’t look like they can work the Rock, even though those Helms and their lantern tell me otherwise. Not only are they a lapidarist, but they’re a journeyman at the very least. Maybe even a master.

They’re so pale they would never survive in Galleria – they’d be burned to a crisp in minutes. I’ve never seen anyone so young with such pale hair, let alone skin that white. They seriously look like some kind of delicate porcelain doll. Just, you know, life sized. A completely insane, possibly suicidal doll, in clothing that would look more in place on a hunter. It’s probably because of where they’re from – the Nordroom is supposed to be really, really cold for most of the four-hundred, and even when the Brazier burns properly it would still be so, so cold compared to Galleria. It makes sense that they’d wear thick, practical clothing.

They’re not very old: can’t even be out of their teens yet, surely. Older than I was when I left my apprenticeship with fourteen four-hundreds, but I’m pretty sure I’m older than them. Trouble is, I don’t even know how old I am any more, so it’s not the easiest thing to tell. I can journal how many times I’ve slept, but it’s always dark here so am I still sleeping in sync with the Rooms?

Isa’s looking so vulnerable at the moment: they got tossed around a lot during the battle. I honestly don’t actually know how they survived, let alone almost grounded that Rook. I think I was genuinely less terrified when I watched one of them kill Kwame, and I didn’t doubt until the end that he would win. I think that Isa and Eta just made me believe that there might be some hope in this horrid place after all, so seeing that thing, and Isa being chucked about like a ragdoll was just… I had hope, and I was facing losing it. Again. I’m just glad they managed to catch themself with one of those ice shelf things before they fell to their death like Kwame did. That they’re swift on their feet and really, really pay attention.

And that Eta didn’t lose her head either, that she managed to get a spear into a crack when Isa looked like they might be dead. I still haven’t found what that spear did that damaged the Rook so badly, but it came crashing down.

And Isa is still totally oblivious. They both are. They’re entirely, absurdly ridiculous, and one of these days, I swear, I’m going to find a tiny, windowless chamber in this Rook and lock the pair of them in it. I mean, I’m not sure if they want to rip each other’s clothes off, but they absolutely need to figure out that they both want to be together. Maybe they’re both from those cultures where a ‘couple’ means a man and a woman. And just two people. Though, Isa being a them doesn’t really work with that theory. Maybe they’ve just not figured out that just because they don’t have a binary gender, doesn’t mean they can’t love someone, be with someone.

I’ll have to wait until Isa can stand upright properly before I do that. In the meantime, I need to look around more, make sure this thing works. I’ve heard stories of people, mostly Helmed, making these things fly again, but even if we don’t manage that, a Rookhusk is a supremely brilliant home up here. Anywhere, really, but up here, where there’s next to nothing, where people live in constant fear under rocks and in tiny cracks? A Rookhusk is the absolute motherlode. A safe haven, because apparently the Rooks ignore them, and even marauders hesitate to invade because they’re easily defensible. Especially by someone like me, who can get the mechanics working to swat invaders away.

Eta of the Cavefolk

A greyscale, digitally produced image of the head and shoulders of a young woman in older style clothes. Her skin appears to be pale, although the shading suggests she is not as pale as Isa. Her hair is a loose afro style around her head, and is several shades darker than her skin, but obviously not black or very dark. Her eyes are also pale, but her pupils are vertical slits rather than being round. She is looking towards the left, with a very slight smile on her face. Clearly something has captivated her attention.
Eta is such a mystery. I’ve seen other kinds of people, but not her kind. She’s blue. I mean, not Isa’s kind of blue that really pale people can be, I mean actual blue. It’s kind of beautiful, actually. Her skin is the kind of blue I’ve seen in pictures of the Tundroom, where rivers run solid with cold. And her hair is like the ceiling on the clearest, brightest day of the year, that gorgeous bright yet deep blue I’ve been desperate to replicate with paint and not found the right pigments yet. And her hair’s an absolute riot of curls that defies gravity. I mean, mine does something similar when I don’t bother to braid it, but it’s just like a big, black dandelion puff – hers is like a beautiful blue shrub where you can see the shape of every leaf.

And her eyes… Kind of a golden yellow, like a dragon’s. They’re very beautiful once you get used to them, and they really pop against the blue of her skin. They’re also very unnerving until you get used to them, because they’re really obviously not human.

Her arms and legs are longer than most people’s too: she makes Isa’s legs look like a normal length. That makes sense when you think about it, though – she’s like the Jungle Folk, she’s a climber, although it’s walls she’s made for rather than trees. She needs the extra reach to have a better chance at finding safe holds.

There’s something about her I can’t quite place, something skittish like she’s waiting for someone to jump out at her. Maybe it’s just because she’s out of the caves, which she said she’d never done until a few tens ago. But even in the Rook, in the dark, she’s jumpy. She walks around without a torch, which she doesn’t need since she lived her whole life in caves, in the dark, but any time there’s a noise – in the light or the dark – she doesn’t expect, she flinches.

I think something happened to her. Maybe that’s why she won’t go after Isa? Or maybe she is from one of those man/woman cultures and doesn’t even realise she can pursue someone not male?

Or both, I suppose. I really hope I’m wrong about this, because she’s so kind, and so eager to learn. And, I thought she’d go to pieces with Isa being injured, but she’s done exactly the opposite. It’s like her brain shifted gears and this new one is for healing, and it’s so, so fast, so focussed. She’s completely steady, checking Isa for injuries, sorting out what she finds. She even talked me through what she was doing, because apparently Isa doesn’t have a clue and she finds it so incredibly frustrating that people don’t know how to fix themselves. She made me feel what was going on inside Isa’s crooked arm, both before and after she straightened it out. It’s just a different kind of machinery, at least that’s what I had to tell myself, because otherwise I might have barfed. Maybe it is important to know how to heal broken bones, and make sure someone doesn’t die of corruption, and I’ll learn because it is important, especially for someone who travels, but for the most part I think I’ll stick to machinery. I don’t want squishy things and hands covered in blood because… just no. She’s welcome to all that.

The Rookling, Astrid

A line art drawing of a small round tower. It has a flat roof surrounded by crenelations. Approximately halfway up the tower are two arched windows, and between them at the base is a closed portcullis. At the base are six very spindly legs protruding. They in no way look capable of supporting the tower.

I’m not sure what to make of the Rookling. It’s by no means the first I’ve seen, but it’s the first that seems to be so tightly bonded to a person. It stayed fiercely by Isa’s side until Eta managed to convince it I wouldn’t harm them. Even now, it is either right beside Isa, keeping them company, or glued to Eta’s side.

It’s also the first I’ve seen with its leg configuration, and part of me really wants to know how that functions. How do they even hold its weight? They really shouldn’t; it’s insane.

I’ve heard the word ‘astrid’ before – it’s a lapidarist’s word for the way Rook-rock looks to them. I suppose it’s a perfectly sensible name to give a perfectly unsensible pet. A pet Rook that has a name it seems to answer to.

How did this become my life? How did I come to be in a Rookhusk, with an injured person, a girl from caves, and a Rook with a name? Maybe it’s not Isa who’s crazy – maybe it’s me. Maybe I’ve been up here too long and just lost my mind. That seems like a much more logical explanation than this being reality.