Whispers were on the chilly wind that always puffed against the stone wall of the city. People spoke in hushed tones about how warm the days were, even if their homes were filled with a perpetual coolness. The mix of heat and the absence of it made for some strange times, that was for certain. But it wasn't supposed to be that way. Not this late into the year. Soon, everything would be warm, warm enough to heat the wind and threaten to melt their city. "Yuck!" Keiran's youngest sister spat, walking alongside him with her tongue rolled out in disgust. "Why does it hafta be so hot?" Her definition of hot differed from the norm. The City of Winter was well known for its lasting cold, always dropping below the average. Even its citizens seemed cooler to the touch than they should have. As such, the younger girl, despite the crisp breeze floating about them, had rolled the sleeves of her coat all the way up to her shoulders and was fanning her hands on her face. "I do not know," he answered, calm as always. "It will not be for much longer. And I suggest you be careful with that coat. Mother made it just the way you wanted, and she won't fix it if you rip it, you know." For only being eleven years old, Kriya already had a slight disrespect for authority. She showed off that little tidbit by flipping her hand at him, but she did roll the sleeves down to her elbows. "I know... It's just... Did she hafta make a real heavy one like this?" She tugged at the material for dramatic effect. "Yes, because you know how cold it can be." The age difference between the siblings was beginning to show. "When we bring about winter again, you'll find--" "Royal Keiran!" someone called, running forward to stop Keiran and Kriya. Keiran saw the man as a messenger, marked by his cap made of all colors. He was unconnected to any place, choosing to deliver messages across the Seasonal Cities. "I have a message from...," he bent to catch his breath, "from your Council. It's about the City of Summer." Summer? They have no need for us, Keiran thought, taking the outstretched papers from the messenger's hand. "Thank you." He fished a few silver coins from his pocket, throwing them toward the messenger. "For your trouble." "Thank you, Royal," he replied, giving him a slight bow before jogging off. The action wasn't necessary, but some people believed the Royals to be above everyone else. He'd learned to ignore that fact. Besides, he had more important things to think about now. He flicked his thumb, opening up the message. "What is it?" Kriya asked, hooking her hands over his forearm and pulling herself up to try and read the message. Keiran's dark eyes scanned the paper before narrowing, and he snapped the message shut. "Go home, Kriya," he ordered, watching her face fall. "I need you to tell Mother that something is happening, and I'll do my best to find out what it is." "Are we gonna be okay?" she questioned, a twinge of fear creeping into her voice. Kriya was too young to understand the message, but he smiled anyway. "Yes, we'll be fine. Now go on." Giving her a pat on the shoulder, he watched Kriya skip away. As soon as she was out of sight, he whirled on his heel and made his way to the far end of the city. A tall steeple climbed into the sky, signifying the ceremonial building of the Royals. It was used as a meeting house, the Council headquarters, and the summoning platform for the Royals. Most people spent so much time there, the building had been affectionately referred to as the Second Home. "Keiran! We have important news," an old woman, Royal Issen crowed, beckoning him forward. They were all twice his age and then some, but he shared their dark, dulled eyes and their white hair. It was the price he'd paid for extending his power to help them. "So I saw. We have no business with the City of Summer, nor have we had any problems with them. Why are we discussing them?" he asked, choosing to cross his arms and stand beside the wide summoning altar. "You've noticed how the days have grown warmer, yes?" asked another man. He was Royal Tellean, the oldest, and therefore wisest, of the remaining Royals. Keiran had put years of trust and faith into the man, so he was inclined to nod at the question. He had felt the days growing warmer; it hadn't been Kriya's imagination. "The Summer Royals control the warmth, but it has only become stronger, not weaker. Autumn will be upon us soon, and I fear that with such a rising heat, the new season will not come." "The City of Autumn would never agree to that!" The last Royal stood, hand planted on her staff. The most outspoken of the Royals, Royal Pymata also happened to be the strongest, even in her decaying age. "They would not stand for such a betrayal!" "They may not have a choice," Tellean replied, watching Pymata glare at him. "If Summer reigns, their only option would be to confront the City by force. A war like that hasn't happened in centuries! The City of Summer would not risk a prolonged engagement with them." Pymata and Issen looked ready to counter, but Keiran straightened up. "We should speak to them," he offered. All three Royals looked his way, but only Pymata answered. "You want to travel all the way to the City of Summer? That's a two week journey! We need you here, Keiran," she said, watching as the others nodded in agreement. "Sitting here discussing won't help us figure out why the air is warmer every day," he said. "Everyone has been feeling it." "Then you, Keiran, will be our envoy, our messenger," Tellean said, pushing himself from the long pew. "Our allies in the City of Spring should know of this. They too will have felt the effects of the heat on their land. Tell them what we know, even if there is little information. The Spring Royals aren't politically inclined, but if a threat was coming, they would want to know and stop it." The Royals continued to discuss the other cities, and after a while, it was decided that Keiran would become a living message for the City of Spring. He would travel to the Null, the wide, expansive forest where their power would not work. From there, he could find out why the sun beat down harder than it ever had.