Prelude – The Jump
“Today’s a bit of a milestone; time to break my record of consecutive days without dying.”
– Valeo Sorte
Crouched on the ship’s bow, the final notes of Valeo’s life were spent gaping at the stars. Typical, really. Below his feet, the crew dreamt pleasant thoughts of everything under the moon, oblivious to the quiet plight of their latest stowaway.
Peering over the ship’s railing, he lost himself to the endless roiling clouds and shadow of Darksky miles below. A chill pounded through him that had little to do with cold. By sheer force of will, he turned away, pulse quickening.
Valeo, sweat clinging to his puffed sleeves, bent to check each shoe, running thin fingers along thinner soles for any sign of serious wear. No proper legend snagged a boot on a loose nail and started their story chewing splinters. Satisfied, he reached for the rope, fastening it around his ankle. Then, he took a deep breath, trying again to feel it, to flex honey heat infinity–his luck. He was a Fleetfoot, so luck should have been his birthright, commanded as easily as skipping stones.
Sunrise was imminent. A quiet calm had settled over the flying ship as it glided through the sky, clouds bursting against the hull like dandelion clocks. A floating island came into view, the steady rise and fall of its mass almost imperceptible as the day began to warm around it. Peace. A strong southerly blew strands of crimson and white hair into Valeo’s eyes, and it was easy to believe all the world had vanished, and here stood the only person left alive–an idiot worrying a few coils of rope and a nursery rhyme.
“Eleander Ropp goes up…up.“
Out of luck. Out of options. Out of time. He had to catch an Albatross, had to cast his die on a single jump, one even he would be hard pressed to land.
A subtle rhythm shattered the stillness, easily missed by those not listening for the beat. For a brief moment, the smile that once so easily found Valeo’s face was nowhere to be seen.
Tension tugged his muscles into piano strings, his impatience gnawing at the keys. The rope fell forgotten from his hands, anchored to nothing but a fool’s hope. A curious mass flickered on the horizon, moving closer to the ever-growing beat of drums.
Wings. Ever-endless wings.
Valeo shook so badly he couldn’t even clasp his hands. Wings became a rhythmic roar. Hundreds appeared over the sky–dark russets, bright blues, canary yellows, dusky browns–every color imaginable as far as he cared to see. They fluttered in perfect unison, flowing with a grace and precision he’d never thought possible.
Every breath of his life had been spent striving for such levels of perfection. Despite nineteen years under his belt, Valeo had never even come close. And the noise. . .
Threepwin was right. It sounded like the hands of gods.
Valeo closed his eyes, imagining each galloping heart as it fought gravity’s embrace. Another strong breeze played across his face, carrying with it the scent of pine and fish. He lifted his arms and a second of weightlessness embraced him. A peaceful intersect between flight of fancy and reality’s grit. Eyelids rose, revealing gold desire. All tightness in his body vanished, rocketing down the elastic lines of a simple choice…every ounce of him in its wake.
Valeo sprinted toward the far railing. His muscles hummed, his lungs thundered, his stomach sang all the fears he would never admit. It was a song of bone, blood, and sinew, and he was conducting the orchestra.
Fifteen feet remained between him and open air. He, too, was flying now, toes punching out the punctuation of his life on the wooden planks. Hundreds of birds blazed beneath the ship, each the size of a horse, gliding across an azure sea of sky.
Valeo screamed, the sound somewhere between a trill of excitement and a terrible death rattle.
One of the birds called back.
The rail was there, under his foot. He felt the press of wood for but an instant. Flipping forward, his weight carried him into a dive, plunging into a day just awoken. In a blink , Valeo Sorte was gone, the trailing rope flapping in the sunlight, a whooping cry still on his lips.
It was time for luck to truly wake up.