Silas was rarely awake in time to see the sun come up, let alone up, dressed, and walking outside in the crisp last moments of darkness. The air was chillier than he thought it should be, but it had been less than half an hour since he had been asleep under a stack of warm blankets as thick as his arm. It could have been the comparison that made him tuck his chin into the collar of his coat, not the actual bite in the fall air.
It was quieter than he expected too. He had never been so aware of the pattern of the pavement on the main streets, but without a crowd, or even a single passerby, the rectangular, cross-hatched bricks were the most interesting thing in sight. All the doors they passed were closed, as were the windows, except for the few that had swung half open in a forgotten way, like they had bounced when someone slammed them shut. The seller’s carts that took up space on certain street corners were now only boarded up boxes, and while the breeze touched his hair idly, there was nothing hanging out for it to toy with. He expected an echo of his heels at least, but even that noise seemed to be missing, dulled into nothing in the city still asleep.
Cerise found Mione in the west corner, which was not such a great surprise. Mione had held apartments there for the last three decades, a set of rooms comfortably seated in the rounded corner of one of the old constructions. The tangled porches and stairs and open walkways of the palace had knotted around it more wings and roofs were built, but her little windows were always clear, a smattering of shining glass, refusing to conform to the grid of the common rooms on the walls that had risen up around it. Mione liked to wander in the places she knew well, keeping watch, or just reminding herself of what was there, and Cerise often had to walk in circles, up and down the levels, looking for her.
“Nice tattoo,” Kloe said, falling into file behind Eli. His next haul on the lines went easier, with her weight added to the pull. Eli glanced over his shoulder at her, then faced forward waiting for the next command.
“Thanks,” he said.
The sun was almost directly overhead now, and coming down so hard, Eli could feel the weight of it on his skin. After working for hours, his shirt started to cling to his skin, and he had stripped it off, just to get rid of the few ounces of cloth. His tattoo, scrawled down the side of his ribs, was now perfectly visible, though he couldn’t remember the last time someone had commented on it.
“You can read it?” he asked.
Kloe laughed to herself. “Yeah,” she said. “I know a little Darin.”
Iva watched the evidence of the changing seasons every day as she walked home from shop. The green trees on the corner repainted themselves in orange and red. The buildings seemed to shift their towns to match, square chameleons intent on setting themselves on fire to keep company with the trees.
Out came men and women’s heavy coats in dark colors, covering over skin and white shirts. The breeze changed direction, cut different lines through the city center and through Iva. She changed her route home just to stay out of it. The birds flew away or dropped their feathers and traded their bright summer wings for brown and gray feathers.
The night crept in sooner, and the sun woke later. Iva moved slower in the morning, and faster in the evening, eager to be home in the dark hours. Snow drifted in, silent in the middle of the night. The trees lost their leaves, and the buildings faded to quiet colors.
And one row at a time, little paint pots stacked up the front windows of the market houses. Gold and orange, and purples so deep they were almost black. White and red and blue and green, bright and intense and thick as the coming night. They patterned the windows, each one about the size of Iva’s thumb, climbing toward the ceiling as they counted down the days to festival.