Cloudbound

After the dust settles, the City of living bones begins to die, and more trouble brews beneath the clouds in Fran Wilde’s Cloudbound, the stirring companion to Updraft. Available September 27th from Tor Books.

When Kirit Densira left her home tower for the skies, she gave up many things: her beloved family, her known way of life, and her dreams of flying as a trader for her tower. Kirit set her City upside down, and fomented a massive rebellion at the Spire, to the good of the towers—but months later, everything has fallen to pieces.

With the Towers in disarray, without a governing body or any defense against the dangers lurking in the clouds, daily life is full of terror and strife. Nat, Kirit’s wing-brother, sets out to be a hero in his own way—sitting on the new Council to cast votes protecting Tower-born, and exploring lower tiers to find more materials to repair the struggling City.

But what he finds down-tier is more secrets–and now Nat will have to decide who to trust, and how to trust himself without losing those he holds most dear, before a dangerous myth raises a surprisingly realistic threat to the crippled City…

 

 

Chapter 3
Heart of the City

Kirit stared at me. She pressed her wings to my chest.

I grabbed at them, fearing she’d drop them over the Spire’s side next. Grabbed her hand too.

This wasn’t how it was supposed to go, not any of it. I stood there on the Spire, clutching at Kirit, but hearing Doran’s words after I’d been elected to the council.

He’d come to find me at Densira. Brought a bolt of silk for Ceetcee, teas for Elna. We’d stood on the balcony, and I hoped he’d ask to mentor me on the council, as Ezarit had already asked Hiroli Naza. Doran’s robes were richly quilted; his many tower marks were woven in his hair. And his laugh boomed reassuringly.

“Son,” Doran said, “you were handed a bad game and a second chance. More than one. The Singers killed your father, impoverished your family. They did it to scare people. They used you to do it.”

Yes, they had used me, and my family. Doran felt that, when Ezarit had known me all her life and hadn’t paid it any mind.

“You screwed up, too, didn’t you? My own kids screwed up once or twice.”

I swallowed my pride. Some Laws had certainly been broken. They might have needed to be.

“You broke Laws. Not without good reason, but Laws nonetheless. Now you have another chance. Now you’re a hero who saved the city from skymouths, from Singers. You could be a good leader, maybe even great, to unite the towers. To help us rise again, on our own this time.” He looked at me quietly for a moment. I waited him out. He was a trader; he was pitching me hard. He cleared his throat. “To do that, we need invention, curiosity, and decisive action. We need to uncover the city’s secrets, set them out for all to see. We can’t inch at the hard parts. Sound like you?”

Oh, it did. I said as much. He’d clapped me on the shoulder. “Tell your family you’re apprenticing with a lead councilor, then. And tomorrow we start on the hard part.”

“Like what?” I wanted to start right then.

Doran smiled, pleased. “That’s the metal in you. But it’s delicate too, like a good wing. You can’t talk about this until enough of the council agrees with us. I’ll show you how to get people to agree with you. This one will go over easy, but it gets harder after that.”

“What will go over easy? If it’s a question of safety, we do what we must.”

“We need to cut ourselves off clean from the Singers. Kirit does too. She’s had enough time to recover. She needs to help the city’s leaders, if she won’t become one herself. She’s offering to help a little bit, but she’s stubborn.”

“That sounds like Kirit.”

“Does it? I worry she might be affected by her injuries, her fever.” He was concerned about her, about me. “She doesn’t understand the tension in the city right now, that’s for certain. We need to help her understand.”

I’d said yes. I would help my mentor. I’d help my city. And my friend. Yes.

Now, atop the Spire, I wrapped Kirit’s fingers around her wings. Made a warding sign with my hands. “Put these back on. It was decided. You’re not guilty of anything.”

My satchel shifted when I reached out to take her arm to let her know I wasn’t judging her. The Lawsmarkers inside clacked and rattled. She pulled her arm away.

“I’m not guilty? Of letting skymouths terrorize the city? Of taking Singer vows?” Her voice rippled across the air in angry waves. “Who decided who isn’t guilty? Who has done all this deciding in the city’s name?”

Kirit, my wing-sister, wingless atop the Spire. Shouting. Irrational. Unlucky. She would fall, and I would be responsible. I said what I could to calm her.

“It hasn’t been technically decided yet. There hasn’t been a vote,” I said. “But there will be, and the vote will carry.”

The look in her eyes when I said that made me regret every word. But she put her arms through her wingstraps again, and angrily began buckling them. “What about the edges? They can’t help where they were born. Will you throw them down too?”

“I hadn’t—wait. No! Kirit, wait.” No one was talking about edges.

“What do Ceetcee and Beliak think of this?” She stared at me, the wild strands of her hair flying in the wind, her scars stark on her anger-darkened cheeks. “What about Elna?”

They didn’t know. None of them. It was Doran’s idea, and he’d sworn me to silence. “I couldn’t—” I ground my teeth hard. It had all happened fast, and I’d sworn, we’d all sworn. All the junior councilors, and some senior delegates. Vant had been all for it. “Kirit, I shouldn’t have told you, even. I’ll be punished.”

“By whom?” she yelled.

“The edges are safe. Those who listen and are acclimating, at least.” I kept trying to make this better, and all I was doing was making it worse. But she had her wings back on and both hands free. Something I’d said had been the right thing. So I spoke again in a rush. Her safety was important too. “You’ll have to renounce the Singers, of course. To keep your citizenship. Take a tower name again.”

Wide-eyed, she gripped the front of my robes. Maalik launched off my shoulder with a noisy squawk. Her silver-marked face came close to mine, and I felt her breath hot on my cheek in the cold air. “Renounce? How can I possibly do that, when it’s clear I—” As she shook me, a curl of her hair brushed a mark on her cheek. A dagger. “Doesn’t the city have bigger problems than prosecuting Singers?”

“The Singers are dividing the city. The city is angry and needs to be appeased. Haven’t you heard? It needs leadership. You don’t understand.” Doran’s words. My heart pounded, this high above the clouds, my wings still half furled. Even with wings, if I had to dive after her, we’d plummet fast.

She shook me again. “Tell me everything. Help me understand what’s happening, Nat. We get no news at Grigrit.” She gestured to her carry-sack, to the codex pages. “I was trying to bargain with Doran for information and food for the edges. But no one will tell me anything since I declined the council. It was not the most politic of decisions.” She’d stopped shaking me. Looked up at me, her eyes wide. “Tell me what’s going on. Once, not that long ago, I did that for you.”

She was right. In the Gyre below us now, she’d told me Singer secrets.

All the fears I had about telling her the truth? She’d felt those. And more. I knew fully what she’d done back in the Gyre. Broken Singer Laws to save me. I’d been so angry with her that I’d forgotten.

I started to speak, but she spoke first, fierce and determined, misinterpreting my stunned silence.

“Tell me or I’ll tell everyone about the trial, starting with Elna.”

Elna. We’d tried to protect her from the developments in the city as much as possible. Anger flared. “She’s ill, Kirit. You haven’t seen her since Spirefall, and you’d tell her this?”

“If I had to. I am sorry to hear that she’s sick. I had no birds, no messages. I’ll come to see her. Is it a cough?”

I shook my head. How could she have missed the birds we’d sent? Had someone at Grigrit intercepted them?

“But, Nat,” she continued, alarm increasing, “look at what we just saw. The Spire—I broke it so badly that the heartbone is dying. Tell me what’s happening to our city.”

My mouth went dry as I made the connection. Dying Spire. “Bone eaters don’t eat living bone.” Our eyes met, wide with horror. Parts of the Spire might already be dead. Yes, there were greater dangers than the Singers. We’d grown up near Lith, a blackened and broken tower that had fallen only a generation before, sending so many—families, artists, leaders—into the clouds.

“First we warn the towers closest to the Spire,” Kirit said, her anger with me displaced by the threat. “If the Spire falls, it could damage their tiers. Or worse.”

“Grigrit, Bissel, and Naza won’t like this. They are wealthy and well-positioned.”

“They were well-positioned, but not anymore. And they don’t have to like it, Nat. They only have to prepare.”

The city’s center was at greater risk than anyone had imagined. The Spire was not merely unstable, it was dying. And if it fell, like Lith had before it, many more would die too.

Below us, in the evening light, flight classes wobbled on patchwork wings, returning to their towers’ safety. A few oil lamps began to light up tiers on Varu, Bissel, Grigrit, warm glows among the bone spurs. A melody accompanied notes plucked on a dolin, nearby. The tiers were wide open. None had barricaded themselves behind shutters. No towers attacked one another.

It was a happy evening. The kind songs said the Skyshouter had returned to the city.

For a brief moment only Kirit and I knew the truth: that soon everything would have to change.

Excerpted from Cloudbound © Fran Wilde, 2016

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