The longest day, the shortest night, the greatest danger.
Nivi’s sandals slid across the satiny smooth stone. He wobbled, sandals slipping on sand, which collected even up here on the roof, arms flinging out for balance. It was a very long way down. The dagger flew from his flailing hand, skittering and spinning, a flashing rainbow-and-metal streak across black marble. Grandma’s scream hurt his ears, but Nivi dove for the sliver of star-steel, his body smacking onto the catwalk well short of the dagger. It teetered on the brink of the marble span, threatening to tip over and crack the glass dome of the temple’s roof. Thank the Night it wasn’t at the other edge, where it would plummet dragon-lengths down to the hard stone of the plaza below. Nivi crept forward on his belly, straining to reach the dagger an arm-length away—a hand-length—a finger-length. His longest finger brushed the cool copper-and-bronze of the dagger’s simple guard and tipped it over the edge.
Wordlessly, he wailed as the blade tumbled down, end over end. The dagger clattered against the glass dome and slid into the shadows. There was no choice. He had to get the dagger. He had to put it back on the altar. He swung his legs over the edge, setting his hands on the marble span.
“No, Nivi! Don’t!”
He ignored her babble, lowering himself down by strength of arm. Then he ran out of arm, and his sandals still dangled well above the curved glass. He let go, dropping half again his height. Sandals slapped on glass as his knees bent, absorbing the impact, and he looked down through the translucent surface at the nave of the temple so very far below. He sidled, sliding his feet rather than lifting them, to the spot where the dagger had vanished into the shadows. He crouched, reached down into the narrow crevice of the gutter where the faintest of glows marked the spot where the night stone rested, and felt around for the hilt.
He found the sharp edge of the blade and he snatched his hand back. Blood welled from his cut finger, a rich crimson red that had no equal in either luster or depth of color. A drop trailed down the length of his finger and he twisted his hand to watch it, forgetting his pain, and forgetting his quest. A shadow fell across him and the blood turned rusty black. He stuck the throbbing finger in his mouth and looked up.
The scales of the dragon were iridescent, like ebon puddles overlaid with a film of oil. Purple, red, blue, and green twisted and flowed across the beast. Horns, claws, ridges and above all, teeth, were white as death, a stark contrast to the black hide. Blazing yellow eyes, bright and burning like sunfire, searched the temple roof. Then the dragon flew past, unable to find a place to land. Nivi picked up the dagger and carefully tucked it into his belt.
His father had sent the dragon to find him. He had to hurry. He jumped up, trying to catch the edge of the narrow span that lined the building’s edge. He came nowhere close to his goal. He ran lightly for the closer spire, every so often trying again to leap and catch the ledge, all to no avail. He reached the corner where the catwalk met the smooth round tower. Nothing. He ran on, faster, keeping the black marble to his left. The second tower offered no way out, either. He was too short. He couldn’t reach the spire doors atop the spans. He was trapped. He rocked back and forth, clutching the sacred dagger.
--Leaf green swirling with cerulean--don’t give up, keep running --vermillion pinwheels on lavender--
Nivi picked himself up and put the wall to his left again. He continued on, slowly at first, and then accelerating as a subtle difference in the grey color of the distant tower’s base drew him in. The spire itself was silver, but the base was grey marble.
There was a door. It wasn’t a large door, barely wide and tall enough for a thin man to duck through, but Nivi had no trouble fitting. There was a partial twist of the stair down from the main roof exit. The nave was below, and the altar. He padded down the spiral stairs. Down and down without pause, into the stone bowels of the depths of the temple. The base of the staircase was abrupt and simple as the other end. If there had been doorways along the way, he hadn’t seen them. He exited the volute.
Deep darkness surrounded him. His fingers scraped rough-hewn rock to either side. He hesitated, drawing back in to himself and rocking. The lambent nightstone drew his eye. Here was light, here was life. He held the dagger aloft before him.
—hematite paling to silver—hurry, Nivi, you must go up, and up—pearl swirling on jade and lapis--
The nightstone in the dagger gave enough light, barely, to see by.