A Very Cold Staircase
Published: June 17, 2023
Blurb: Just another day of trying to maintain the Spire's administration for Powdersnow.
Though the weather was fair outside - enormous clouds of dreamdust and starglitter lazily rolling across the sky - the stone steps were icy against his feet, sending a shudder of a twitch through his muscles with every step.
It made him thankful that the spiralling staircase was devoid of others - no one could see him pause every sixth step or so, reaching around the stack in his arms to rub at the soles of his feet with an irritated and embarrassed hiss.
It always took another moment to balance the precarious array of papers, scrolls, and books he carried, but balance them he did, and set off diligently.
At least, for the next six steps.
Even if the steps were cold.
Was it too cold?
His mind snapped to a checklist - the recent weather, the time of year, the shifts in the conceptual plane, Ivy’s newest suggestions - scanning for possible sources of unusual temperatures. He couldn’t recall the average yearly temperatures for these regions of the Spire off the top of his head, but it wouldn’t be hard to make a trip to the archives and get comparative data-
-And stars, fuck, his feet were cold.
Powdersnow let out a long sigh, nudging himself to rest against the wall of the stairwell, tailtip flicking in irritation. It was difficult to see past the stack, but he could barely make out the twinges of a window on the outer wall, flooding the room with pale orange-pink light.
His ears flicked. Was it already moonrise? Blast. This was why he kept asking Ivy to hire another secretary - personal assistant - either. Either worked. Shunt this work off to some mortal so he didn’t have to cart around literal carts of scrolls.
Though he’d have to train them. And get them a new set of keys, and finagle the wards so that they were whitelisted, and - well, wasn’t that worth the effort of not having to do menial work like this?
Though, could he trust them to accurately and quickly learn the classification system the archives used for sorting? Maybe he needed to prep something like, like notecards first that they could use to train. How was he going to write notecards. Would they find that patronizing? No, probably not.
Maybe it would be better if he hired a proper trainer? What did a proper trainer even look like? Then again. That would probably be a waste of Spire funds. For a person to pull carts. And sort cart contents. Why did he need someone else for this, again?
Aptly, a throb of pain radiated from his ankle. He glared down at it. Okay. Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad to struggle through training someone.
And if he had a more proper plan in place, then Ivy could probably be pressured into signing on a mortal. Probably from Tower Two. Hopefully from Tower Two?
Not that Tower Three would be... a bad source. It’s just - oh, stars, listen to him. About to start Tower separatist rhetoric. If Ivy could hear his thoughts, she’d probably toss him out the nearest window.
Or, probably not. She wasn’t really that kind of person. She’d make a brief angry-pouty face, then settle. He mentally apologized for briefly thinking so little of her.
He blinked, wrenched from his train of thoughts by the sight and buzz of several of his papers levitating.
It took another second before his eyes caught the glow of magic around them, and he glanced to his left, and his stare fell upon a smiling Fragment at his side.
“Three minutes,” Meleph said, and the sound of his voice roused both frustration and excitement in Powdersnow’s chest at once, cascading into each other, swirling.
But Powdersnow only narrowed his glare, biting down on his lower lip. “What?”
“That’s how long you pretended not to notice me.”
“Wh- I didn’t pretend, I was - give me those!”
He swiped a hand at the levitating papers, but Meleph gave a light chuckle somewhere in his throat and simply lifted them higher. Powdersnow huffed.
“Staring wistfully, I noticed,” Meleph finished. “What even are these...?”
With a flick of magic, a scroll unfurled and zipped in front of Meleph. He hummed as he scanned its contents, chin cupped in hand, looking rather thoughtful.
“They’re important logs of-”
“Are these... census records? Oh, Snowy. That’s cute. Why are you hauling these upstairs?”
Powdersnow made another attempt to grab - but Meleph’s hand closed around his wrist instead, almost teasingly. He glared for another half-second before managing, “They need to go to the archives. Upstairs. So I’m taking them. Upstairs.”
“Then let me make this easier for you,” Meleph said, and waved his stupid little hand once more.
The entire stack - books, scrolls, and all - lit up in Meleph’s colors and lifted out of Powdersnow’s arms, light as feathers.
“You’re going to drop them,” he said, almost automatically.
“Me? Drop your papers? How could you think so lowly of me?”
Powdersnow hissed. “They’re sorted in a very particular way. You’re going to mess them up!”
“I’m maintaining the pile arrangement you had them in.” said with a smile.
“You are NOT supposed to be here!” he finally settled on, swarmed with a rush of adrenaline at finally finding the right angle. “How did you even get in here!”
Meleph gave a little laugh, this time lifting a hand to cover his mouth. “There’s the typical greeting. You must be quite distracted to be so delayed in getting to it, pet.”
“I’m not distracted! You just - It’s not appropriate to - you’re-”
But the rest of his spitfire snuffed out as soon as Meleph took a step forwards, closing the distance between them. His breath hitched in his throat, head tilting back - Meleph was still on a higher stair, aggravating their height difference, but he could see the other’s smooth and calmed little half-lidded smile bearing down on him.
A hand raised - not the one casting the spell - and cradled his jaw, gentle but with a familiar firmness behind it. Thumb traced over bone, brimming with affection and - unspeakable emotions.
Part of him raged in offense. How dare you presume to know me so well.
But the rest of him was quiet.
“I’ll escort you,” Meleph said, with a finality, “as you would otherwise insist on unacceptably carrying these like a mortal.”
He didn’t have it in him to agree verbally, but he did have it in him to cross his arms, pout, and begrudgingly climb the next step.
Meleph’s smile broadened, and he matched Powdersnow’s grumpy pace with a bounce in his tail.
“Is this where you store all your records?” he asked after a moment, eyeing the windows.
“Not all of them,” Powdersnow said, firmly, “Just the archived census material.”
“There’s enough of that to store in a tower by its lonesome? Fascinating.”
He huffed. “This isn’t a proper tower, not a numbered one. It’s an offshoot, a, a minor one. It’s not even a tower, really. Can’t you tell by the size?”
“It’s still a sizeable lot of space for mere census records.” Meleph nodded at a landing. “And we’ve just passed a door, there. What’s behind that hall, hm? Census documents?”
“W-Well. It’s not just census stuff. It’s archived - stuff like, where populations of animals live, the level of dreamdust - it’s not interesting. Records. Statistics?”
Meleph chuckled, a hand in front of his mouth, “I find that interesting.”
Powdersnow’s muzzle scrunched.
He caught Meleph glancing at a few other doors, light wood inset with platinum engravings, as they passed them. He, too, stared at them briefly - though he didn’t know by heart what lay behind each.
Maybe he wouldn’t be a good trainer for a mortal after all. He’d have to go through all this material and make sure none of it was sensitive before hiring anyone else and giving them permission to this building.
How long would that take? Probably at least the lifespan of a mortal. He’d probably have to write down what each archive contained, too, lest he forget. Maybe mark it on the doors on a plaque of some sort? Or maybe he’d already done that, but just put the plaque inside the rooms?
What a headache.
He lifted a hand to his forehead, letting out a tiny sigh of stress. Meleph’s hand drifted to his shoulderblades, rubbing in a brief-but-firm circle. He shrugged the other away, grumbling.
Out the windows, he could see several of the Spire’s moons rising out of the horizon, blurred and obscured by the thick clouds that lingered in the distance. It was moonrise.
Tower Twenty blotted a stark line against their pale light, swaying slightly in the wind. Faint halos of magic still radiated from its peak, the faintest ringing of its bell barely discernible.
He... he hoped they were alright.
“Thoughtful?” prompted Meleph.
Powdersnow shot him a narrowed glare. The other’s smile quirked another inch.
“Very well. Then I’ll conjure a conversation for us. Have you received word from the COR recently?” Meleph asked, so nonchalant that for a second Powdersnow believed it was innocent.
He scowled. “What kind of a question is that? ‘Word’? No, we haven’t been in communication. Why?”
“There is some sort of upheaval going on with the Original Timelines. Supposedly, the COR is losing authority over them.”
His ear flicked.
In an abstract sense, he’d always be happy to hear the COR losing some sort of power. But in a real sense, it felt - alienating? Unusual? Uncomfortable? - to hear that the... Originals were pushing away. Or being pushed away?
“Good for them?” he offered. “I don’t know much about them.”
“I suppose they’ll remain in a state similar to the Spire,” Meleph continued, “wherein the COR maintains a sort of protectiveness over them, but cannot force their hand.”
“So, what? Plan to take your conquests to one of the Originals? Which one is the Dijamant-resonating?”
“Beta. And no,” punctuated with a light laugh, “the amount of attention that would beget... it’s not worth the prestige, though it is tempting.”
“Restraint? From you?” the smile in his voice was evident, in spite of himself.
Meleph laughed again. “I’ll simply have to take you to visit sometime, when all this calms down.”
“What! I’m not- I’m not going to leave the Spire.”
“A visit, Snowy. Temporary by nature.”
“Well! I’m not going to visit either way!”
“Mmhm? Not even in the Spire’s winter? No interest in being a snowbird?”
A dozen threads weaved in his mind’s eye, a dozen responsibilities he’d have to arrange someone else take over, a dozen candidates for each position, a dozen pros and cons for each, a dozen-
“I would take you to BCS-981,” Meleph said.
Powdersnow paused. Then: “What’s so special about that one?”
“It’s the one I selected as a home for myself.”
There was a long minute, as if Powdersnow expected Meleph to continue. He did, didn’t it? That statement was a hell of a cliffhanger. What was it like? What attracted Meleph to it? What was unique about it? How had he changed it since moving there? Why that one?
Why show me?
He should probably say something. His brain formulated, but his mouth opened of its own accord, betraying him - “It must be nice, then.”
Meleph tilted his head half an inch, then rounded on Powdersnow with a quieter smile.
“I-I mean,” he said, quickly, “I’m still not going to visit.”
“Hmhm, we’ll see if your opinion changes.”
“Oh? You’re going to convince me?”
“I know I can.” the smile flashed again.
Powdersnow huffed, arms crossing again. Mostly of their own accord. Mostly.
They came to a stop at the top of the long staircase, where a stout little hallway opened up into an alcove of bookshelves and desks. Though its atmosphere was homely and comfortable, the floor was still frigid marble under their feet as they entered.
The stack of papers flitted onto one of the desks, in the perfect haphazard order he’d been carrying it in. With a small hum, Meleph placed his hand on the top - briefly, as if considering it - before glancing to Powdersnow, eyes still half-lidded.
“You’ve escorted me,” Powdersnow said, not meeting Meleph’s gaze, “so you can shoo now.”
“Observant of you,” came the reply as Meleph strode to a chair, pulling it away from its desk. “Here, sit.”
The chair groaned slightly, old and aging, but the cushion on it was still relatively comfortable. Meleph hummed, pulling it back slightly to inspect it. Powdersnow yelped at the sudden movement.
“I would believe you if you told me this... seat was older than the Spire itself,” Meleph hummed, disapproving, “I’ll have new chairs sent.”
“This is just some piss-off little building for storage!” he yelped in response, “it doesn’t need new chairs!”
“You seem to spend an awful lot of time here.”
“I have to store the records! And sort them!”
“Then you need a comfortable chair to do that work in, no? You’re going to give yourself back problems.”
“I don’t keep bones!”
Meleph burst into laughter. Powdersnow’s face, warm from embarrassment, twinged further pink. Stars, Meleph never stopped giggling to himself.
It was... frustratingly... attractive.
“Fine,” Meleph said, after a brief recovery, “then let me just fix this one chair.”
His hand alighted on it again, this time blitzing with magic. A shudder bolted down Powdersnow’s spine at the sudden rush of power - he felt like, like a river down Meleph’s arm, a surging wave out of his hand. An absurd amount of magic to burn on something as simple as a chair.
But it worked its way down the furniture beautifully. The wood shifted, twitched, then morphed into straighter and more stable and prouder legs, sheening with new veneer and youth; the cushion fluffed itself as its stuffing re-packed and bulged; the back gained its own separate cushion against Powdersnow’s shoulderblades, and he fell against it with a startled shriek.
He glanced down.
The patterns had taken on a familiar dark blue tint, and the wood had new carvings inset - carvings of diamonds, in the very familiar style which Meleph wore.
He shot the other a glare.
“It’s a much nicer chair, now,” Meleph said, gleeful, fully aware of Powdersnow’s irritation, choosing to ignore it.
Well. It was.
A nicer chair.
Nobody else ever came to this building. So. They wouldn’t see it and question it. And ask Powdersnow where it came from. And raise their eyebrows at him allowing Meleph to.
Make him. A chair.
Though this probably did mean that. A mortal assistant. Was out of the question.
He rubbed his face, dispelling the pink. With a loud huff, he admitted: “I guess it is.”
“Do you find it comfortable?”
“Then it’s accomplished its goal,” Meleph surmised. “It must be pleased to have already reached the pinnacle of its existence so soon after rebirth, no?”
“Are you going to get poetic over a chair?”
“Only a chair made for you to sit in.”
Fuck. He was blushing again. He haphazardly waved Meleph off, other hand reaching up to try to cover his face.
“I’m distracting you from work, aren’t I?” said with an amused chuckle. “I should leave you to it.”
“Yes. You should.”
“Then... a kiss for the road?” Meleph pointed at his cheek.
Powdersnow frowned, then pouted, then huffed, then crossed his arms - but leaned forwards to peck Meleph, a tiny little thing of a kiss.
The purr emanating from the other told that it was anything but, however. Meleph’s hand wrapped itself in the back of Powdersnow’s hair and pulled him up and forwards, just enough to lock their mouths and hold him steady for a few painfully passionate seconds - and then released him, letting him rock back into the chair, his feet pressing against the ground in the motion.
Which were still cold, actually.
“Actually,” Meleph began.
“Oh no. What now.”
“I brought you something for that as well.”
Before Powdersnow could finish, Meleph magicked a pair of kneehigh socks, dark blue in color - his eye color - into his hands. He presented them with sparkling eyes, smile with extra teeth this time.
“WHAT!” Powdersnow bristled, face flushing, “Wh-where do I even start with that?! Are you reading my mind? What makes you think I would wear socks? E-Especially socks in your colors!”
“Is that all? Usually your list of protests lasts a bit longer,” Meleph said, tail swishing from side-to-side.
He reached to lift Powdersnow’s legs and slip on the socks. In flustered-pink silence, Powdersnow allowed it, though the pout hadn’t left his face.
Once they were secured, he wriggled his foot experimentally. They were... indeed warm. The insides were lined with a soft fluff, almost like fur - sort of similar, he guessed, to the faux-fix trims on Meleph’s shawl and dress... things. But fluffier, somehow.
Which did make them... comfortable. Could even be said to be... nice. He lowered his leg, pout worsened.
“It’s not mind-altering magic,” Meleph clarified, after a few moments. “I was watching you. Of course I noticed how much these were bothering you.”
He tapped the socks, then gestured to the floor with a dismissive hand. Almost a disgusted hand.
Powdersnow narrowed his eyes. “Uh-huh. I think you’ve been planning something like this.”
Powdersnow pointed at the coverings on Meleph’s legs. “Yeah, you walk around with shoes all the time. You make it very clear you’re a fetishist.”
Meleph barked a loud, pleased laugh - one hand wrapping around his waist, the other half-lifted as if to beg Powdersnow to stop. He recovered quickly, but his grin had grown several inches and had taken on a more wild tone, “I suppose you’re right.”
“Of course I’m right!”
“Yes, of course.” Meleph leaned forwards to press another kiss to Powdersnow’s lips. He tensed, then relaxed - but it was brief, gone as quick as Meleph had given it. “Take care with your cold little feet. It was a joy to visit.”
“I’ll figure out the backdoor you keep using,” Powdersnow said, prodding Meleph’s chest. “I bet it’s near the base of the entire Spire, isn’t it? It’s that weird blip of magic we keep getting readings on that’s below the cloud layer, isn’t it?”
“Hmhm, have a good rest of the day, love.”
He didn’t speak as Meleph gave a slight little wave, finishing the small motion with a snap of the fingers. In a flash, Meleph was gone, having teleported off to stars-know-where.
Powdersnow stared at where he had been standing, now empty, a space begging to be filled. The faint creaking of the tower coupled with the wind pushing past and through the windows, a haunting space-filling sound.
But the chair was still plush and comfortable.
It was strange, he thought, quietly, embarrassed, tail flicking, that a room always felt so abandoned after Meleph departed.
But he willed those thoughts away - and picked up a stack of papers, and busied himself with sorting the first of many documents.