The following story took place during the winter break of dinner dates, dancing, and a suspiciously quiet inn.
“Rufelt, what do you dream about?”
The co-owner of Tails and Scales paused in cleaning a mug at his bar. The glossy countertop and recently reupholstered chairs were polished by a thousand occupants, the wood smoothed and stained by countless spilled drinks.
He got a lot of questions as a [Bartender]. ‘What do you think I should order?’ ‘Where’s the bathroom?’ ‘Who are you to tell me how much I’ve had to drink?’
Those were all popular ones, but he also got questions like that from his regular guests. Any [Bartender] could tell you that there were times when you were just a drinks-dispenser or doing crowd control and counting coins coming in.
Then there were moments when someone sat down and, whether you liked it or not, you were getting a story. It was a cliché because…it happened.
The bartender was not your friend. At the same time, they were being paid to serve you drinks. To some people, they were one of the few confidants you could meet in your day, and the drinks didn’t hurt with loosening the tongue.
No one paid him enough to hear the dark stories. No one had enough gold for one of the nights when someone confessed something that had him calling the Watch as soon as he could slip out—or staying up thinking about what they had told him.
Mind you, Tails and Scales had a selective clientele. They took anyone on some nights when they wanted to make money, but Lasica and Rufelt got to choose their customers, and some were so well-paying that they made up for clients who ordered the cheapest drinks.
Rufelt’s bar was back in business. Things were—good between him and Lasica.
Not perfect. But there wasn’t an illusion that things would be perfect. They were not—as they had been—drowning in things said and unsaid. It felt like Rufelt had woken from a dark dream.
And that dream—that nightmare—was a woman and a period of his life he would never forget. Belavierr…and the work of Demons.
He talked to people about it. Not his patrons, mostly. But he’d joined a group of people who talked about how they were doing, and after his run-in with the Stitch Witch, he’d been directed to a class he’d never known existed.
Chaldion, or rather, one of his people, had introduced Rufelt to an odd subclass that was rarely seen outside of a city like Pallass.
It was an odd class. How did you heal a thought? Before his loss, Rufelt wouldn’t have understood what the need was for that—or rather, how it touched on him. But that was because he would have thought it was something a [Soldier] or [Adventurer] needed.
It didn’t occur to him that everyone lost a loved one eventually. It never seemed to the Gnoll, the City Gnoll, that you talked to anyone about that, aside from maybe your family, your partner, or your closest friends.
He knew the Plains Gnolls shared things, but it was inconceivable to him. Yet Pallass did have [Thought Healers].
He wasn’t sure how well they did their job. The first thing the [Thought Healer] had asked was whether he wanted to work with a specialist on erasure or one on reflection. When asked, they had explained that some [Thought Healers] could simply help you block out a terrible memory. They worked with [Soldiers] a lot.
The one he’d worked with leaned on Skills. [Introspective Moment] was their Level 20 capstone, and he’d use it to reflect on things. See how he and Lasica had gotten to their lowest point. It was useful—but it was a Level 20 Skill.
Rufelt, as a Level 40+ [Bartender], was…keenly aware sometimes that he out-levelled everyone he met. Everyone. It wasn’t bad, but it didn’t make him happy to realize he was higher-level than some [Generals] of Pallass. Yes, they had a different class, but Rufelt was sometimes a bit of a levelist when it came to hiring people to reshingle the bar or do plumbing and so on.
He knew he shouldn’t be. There was talent, and levels didn’t match competency or ethics, etcetera, etcetera…but the [Thought Healers] of Pallass were low-level.
Not a one over Level 30. It suggested to him that their methods weren’t perfect. But they worked, he talked to people—and he always had a treat for a certain little Gnoll girl with white fur.
She would come into his bar, sigh, order a cup of milk in the most pretentious way possible, and he’d stir in some syrup or honey with a flourish and maybe froth the milk up and draw something in the foam.
He was onto coffee, now, too. Milk froth let you decorate it in shapes. Annoyingly, Lasica and one of his helpers were really good at doing bunnies or cute shapes. Rufelt was more into stylized art…and everyone kept asking for Lasica’s coffee drawings.
Anyways, that snooty little child would soon start forgetting to copy her mother, and she’d often have a friend and giggle and laugh and pester some guests. A kid. But a brave one.
—The point was that Rufelt went to a [Thought Healer], but he thought he was mostly ‘done’ with his sessions. They were fairly expensive, anyways. What did this have to do with the question being asked to him?
Well…the Gnoll who was leaning over his single cup of cheap Wheat Ale was sipping it and trying to make it last the night over a plate of fried greens and half a venison steak.
That was one of the cheapest meals you could order. It was still as tasty as Lasica could make it. Snap peas fried up with butter but still moist enough to crunch, the kind you could pick up with your paws and nibble on over your drink all night. Rare venison—Rufelt had never met a Gnoll who liked well-done steaks that he respected. Spiced up properly, though, and still steaming since Lasica’s dishes had [Retain Heat] on them. You got an entire hour before they even began to cool.
But the meal fit the Gnoll who was in his work-clothes. A bright gray hat with Pallass’ symbol—scales and a gear in place over a brass plate on the top of the cap—and overalls stained with oil. His fur had a bit of it as well, and he looked tired and was slightly hoarse.
Felkhr, or the Flying Gnoll of Pallass, was as famous in Pallass as Rufelt, if not more so. He was a subject of either ridicule, sympathy, or a kind of wary amusement depending on who you asked. Like Saliss, he was one of Pallass’ crazies.
The Gnoll was famous for jumping off the walls of Pallass and trying to fly. He’d been doing it for…oh, Rufelt had to guess at least eleven years. Not consistently; he’d get into a spree of attempts, back off, not do it for eight months, then be back at it again.
All kinds of contraptions too. Wings made of bird feathers, parasols, even entire vehicles, which shattered and he had to clean up. The poor fellow had broken more bones in his body than Rufelt had broken mugs in his life. Spent more money, too, on [Featherfall] scrolls, his inventions—
He was a regular at the bar. He came in like clockwork most nights, ordered the cheapest option on the menu, and took his time over one drink if it was the last day in his shift.
Tonight, Rufelt made a gesturing motion with his paw. He didn’t answer the question right away.
“Slide me that mug, would you, Felkhr? I’m testing out something new.”
Without a word, the Gnoll slid the mug two-thirds empty over the bar. Rufelt caught it and then pressed down on something as he lifted a tube up.
A glossy tube made of links of metal shot some more ale into the mug. Felkhr grunted.
“Walls, what is that?”
“It’s a tube. For dispensing drinks. I bought it to test out. It might beat walking over to the keg if I’m selling drinks.”
“I can see that. But why in the name of someone else’s Ancestors did you add that? Look at it. Each link has to be forged manually, and it’s got to be airtight. What a pain in the paws to make, and it must cost a fortune.”
Rufelt paused, about to brag about his latest acquisition in the name of bartending technology. He blushed—and Lasica, who’d come out with a plate for Chaldion at his table, turned.
“Do my ears deceive me? I could have sworn I heard my voice over there. But it can’t be because my darling Rufelt doesn’t listen to that nonsense. He has to have the keg tap. No matter what it costs.”
Rufelt blush deepened, and he slid the mug back towards Felkhr. Some of the guests chuckled as Lasica gave Felkhr a smile, and he raised his mug. Rufelt muttered under his breath.
“It didn’t cost that much.”
Felkhr was sipping from the frothy head of his cup. The pretext for the demonstration had filled his mug, and he seemed genuinely embarrassed.
“Sorry. I didn’t mean to get in the way of a spat.”
“It’s nothing. You’re right—it’s too expensive to do for anyone but my bar. I hear some of my colleagues are trying wood…”
“Huh. I doubt it’d work. You’d have to be careful with it. Even if you did links of the wood in slats a foot long…you have to have a resin at the seams. And it’s hard to have something both watertight and malleable. One split and you’ve got drinks on the floor, and if you flex it wrong—it’ll just rupture.”
The Flying Gnoll indicated the idea with his paws and grimaced just imagining it. Rufelt nodded.
“It might work—but you’d have to be very careful.”
“No, it’s not even good for that. The wood’ll get filthy and nasty, and the resins we use—you want to drink that?”
“…Good point. Maybe a tube made out of leather or…?”
Felkhr was nodding.
“You have to make sure it’s not alchemically enchanted. Frankly, you want an intestine or something.”
“But practical. Metal’s the other option. What is that, steel? No, it’s not steel…it’s in links, and each link flexes just enough to give you a tube. Who made that? Pelt?”
He had a good eye for this kind of thing. Then again, he worked with [Engineers] every day even if he wasn’t one himself. Felkhr was a lift operator when he wasn’t jumping off the walls. Rufelt leaned over.
“Actually—it’s a special alloy. Not sure what it is, but it’s not Dwarfsteel. But guess where I got it?”
“Dwarfhalls Rest? So they’re finally working the smithies.”
Felkhr’s eyes lit up, and Rufelt smiled.
“They had an expert in Invrisil, and they came through Pallass. We got to talking, and I put in an order, oh, a month back. It showed up already.”
“Now that’s metalwork. Our smithies are in trouble. It’s definitely not steel; it’d be far heavier than that. Can I inspect it?”
Felkhr got up and inspected the metal with great interest. To Rufelt, it was just a fun device for his bar with great practical uses, no matter what his wife thought. But Felkhr…
“It’s not Dwarfsteel. It’s light, probably tough—fascinating. Can I ask who you talked to?”
“I’ll give you their [Message] contact. So…what’s this about dreams?”
When Felkhr sat down, he had a fresh mug of ale, and Rufelt might offer him a third top-up that night. And Lasica was going to send out some fries in a second, he just bet.
The Gnoll accepted the little gifts gratefully. He was miserly with his coin, but he’d always put a silver coin in the tips-jar at the end of every week. He’d done that since a decade ago, and their relationship wasn’t as strong as some.
You could argue that the Grand Strategist, Chaldion, was one of the guests that Rufelt knew very well. Or Saliss. Even Magus Grimalkin, a new customer, was showing his face more and more often.
Especially since he had a guest—Lady Pryde Ulta, and the Sinew Magus did not actually eat out that much. Lasica wouldn’t stop speculating about that.
“…The dream is just a question I keep getting asked. By Totene, our mutual healer.”
That was another thing Rufelt had in common with Felkhr. He hadn’t realized it, but the two Gnolls both went to the same [Thought Healer]. They’d seen each other in the clinic one time, and it had surprised Rufelt.
“Dreams…I’ve discussed a lot with them. Not dreams, per-se. But they were mostly making sure I wasn’t cursed. Lots of magical tests and charms. What, do you move onto dreams?”
“I think they’re getting desperate. It’s been six years, and they keep asking me. I think they’re onto something, but I keep lying to their faces.”
“—Huh. Why do you keep going if you’re lying?”
Felkhr paused with a bite of venison raised to his mouth. He blinked at Rufelt, then grinned.
“I have to. Remember? The Assembly of Welfare passed that resolution?”
Rufelt’s mouth opened, and he put the mug to one side.
“Wait a second. That was six years back. All that hullabaloo about your flying attempts. They’re still paying for it?”
“You’re still paying for it with your taxes. Twice a month.”
“Ancestors. And no one’s told them to stop?”
“Eh, it’s fun. I steal those snacks they have for us in bowls all the time. And I do know all of them by name, but most have given up on talking me out of my ‘crazy ideas’. Totene’s onto dreams, now.”
He spoke so casually that Rufelt had to remember the incident back then. There had been an entire resolution of concerned citizens, and he’d refused to sign the petition…Felkhr sat there, staring across the bar.
He had good weeks and bad weeks. Everyone did. This seemed like a bad week. Maybe a bad year. After all…Rufelt looked around and then grabbed the keg tap.
“Give me eight minutes.”
The Gnoll whirled across the bar, filled mugs, and took fifteen custom orders and one magical one.
For that, he took one of the floating liquids out of the special-made containers across the huge back of his bar, glowing with rare and exotic drinks, and poured it carefully into a cup. Then he swished in a dense, practically sap-thick drink like toffee and a shot of Firebreath whiskey.
The end result was a gravity-neutral orb he prodded into place over a bowl. He handed the bemused Human a spoon.
“Enjoy, sir. Take it slow and don’t stir it about or you’ll get some of the stuff on the ceiling.”
“Er—thank you, Master Bartender. Quite a delight.”
The man bowed, then hurried over in delight to show his companions.
“Dame Ushar, look at this! Have you seen the like? Even the bars back in our capital…”
“Ser Sest, you will be the death of me. Her H—Miss Lyonette gives us time off and a stipend and you’ve spent half on a drink.”
“I shall use it as an anecdote for decades, Dame Ushar. Ser Lormel, would you care to try it? I shall not offer it to Dame Ushar, who seems not to believe in my cause.”
“Now, hold on. I never said I wouldn’t try a sip—”
Three [Knights]—though they’d taken off their armor—were occupying a corner of his bar. Rufelt shook his head but he decided they were funny, and if Lasica didn’t object, they’d be allowed to come back. He understood they were on break, which meant the inn was probably under guard by the infamous Shriekblade and the last member of their order.
The Wandering Inn was just crazy. But then again…he returned to Felkhr, who did indeed have a plate of complimentary fries.
“Where were we? The dream? Why do you lie to your [Healer]?”
“…I think they’re still trying to find a reason to have me stopped. And the dream…it’s been coming back again. Ever since the Wind Runner started flying. I’ve had it every night since the Archmage lifted Fissival.”
Rufelt saw Felkhr staring at something, far past the colorful flasks of alcohol. He bit his lip as he looked at the Flying Gnoll.
Felkhr was a famous…failure in Pallass. Unlike Saliss, who was a nuisance but a Named-rank Adventurer, Felkhr could not fly. He had failed for over a decade, since he was a young lad. Which was fine.
He had a dream, and Rufelt happened to know that Felkhr was actually as smart as a [Mage]. Why, he’d repaired Rufelt’s taps for a song back when the Gnoll was dirt-poor and didn’t want to pay for decent brass. He kept inventing things, and he made enough in his job—and he was respected enough to be a lift operator—to keep himself afloat.
But it had to be hard for not one, but two famous individuals to appear in Izril who were capable of flight. Valeterisa was the better of the two, even. She was an Archmage; she had magic.
Ryoka Griffin, though? She—was flying. She had a wind suit and her glider, and children were copying her. Rufelt had even asked Erin to bring her friend into the bar so he could meet her properly.
The problem was that she had done what Felkhr had dreamed of for over a decade—and she was flying around Izril.
The problem was actually Felkhr’s greatest ally. Everyone saw Ryoka flying and turned to him. But he hadn’t managed her flight yet. On one paw, Ryoka proved the dream was possible.
On the other—she had done it first. The Gnoll didn’t talk about her bitterly, though. But his thousand-mile stare was another story.
“Tell me about your dream.”
The two Gnolls were at one end of the bar, and though Rufelt had to step away to deal with customers as the night wore on, he took a seat next to Felkhr. The dream came out in anecdotes, and only afterwards, as he cleaned up, took a shower with the plumbing of Pallass, then lay in bed, did Rufelt put it together and stare at the ceiling as he did on those nights.
This is what Felkhr said:
“I have a dream. It isn’t every month that I have it. I can’t remember when it began. When I was eighteen? After the first dozen attempts, I think. In my dream, it’s a nice fall day. The sun’s out, but it’s so cold I can feel the wind blowing on my fur behind me. I’m staring out across Pallass, and the High Passes are frosted with snow. Today’s the day, I think.
So I jump. I jump, and I spread my arms—but then I realize I’m not carrying anything. I don’t have any wings. No flying invention. And no scrolls or potions or wand. And I’m falling. Then it’s no longer day, but night, and the wind is rushing around me.
The Walls of Pallass are three hundred feet high. Three hundred feet. It takes a while to get to the ground, even if you jump, you know. And in that moment, everything feels so slow. But this time, I know there’s no surviving the fall.”
The Flying Gnoll lifted his cup as Rufelt sat there, as Lasica peeked out the kitchen and the last regulars looked up. He spoke with the faintest of smiles on his face.
“And I think—this is it. At last. I’m afraid, at first. Terrified. Then I’m relieved.”
Rufelt broke in, the only voice in the quiet bar. A trio of [Knights], listening from their table. A [Chef], no longer cleaning dishes.
One glowing eye as the Grand Strategist sat in his booth, smoking a cigar that sparked in the late night. Felkhr looked at Rufelt, then stared into the distance.
“—Because I’ll know. I’ve always wondered whether, in that last moment before I hit the ground, I’ll find the secret. Whatever was holding me back. Maybe I’ll pass out and gain the right class. Maybe I’ll find a secret. Magic. I don’t know. But I’m relieved in that dream because I’ll know by the time I land whether I can fly.”
He looked around, then drained the last of his mug.
“…I don’t think the [Thought Healers] would see it that way, though. Thank you for the drinks. I’ve got to be going. I’m going to try again tomorrow.”
Then he got up and walked out that bar and into Pallass, the snow that had fallen melting under the streetlamps, the great lifts shut off for the night, the clank of the city silent. One Gnoll out of millions of people.
That was the Flying Gnoll as Rufelt understood him.
Felkhr of Pallass had grown up in the City of Inventions all his life. He wasn’t a Gnoll. He wasn’t a City Gnoll. He was a citizen of Pallass before anything else.
They did love their city. Pallassians took pride in the fact that they did things the other Walled Cities would never dream of. The clank of gears turning, the feeling of your stomach dropping through your feet when you rode an elevator, everything that visitors swore they’d never get used to—that was home to Felkhr.
It wasn’t enough. It wasn’t perfect. Did he enjoy Pallass the same after hearing about the stolen magic of Gnolls? Did he always agree with everything the city did?
No—but he was still a Pallassian. Yet even here, in his City of Inventions, sometimes, Felkhr despaired.
City of Inventions. It wasn’t just the name of his city, it was their motto. It was what kept the Walled City fed. Alchemy, engineering, steel—new ideas flowing in and out.
And yet, in his experience, he could divide everyone he met into two camps—those that supported him and those that did not. He knew it was childish, but he couldn’t help but notice how many proud Pallassians would brag about the great lifts or some new potion or point to Maughin—then tell him he was an idiot.
Couldn’t they see he was doing what every [Engineer] did—only in his way? But no, they only saw the feathered wings and laughed at the broken flying vehicles as if they thought it all had to work. The [Engineers] made silly gears, tried out projects that failed—with supervision, safety, budgets, and planning, of course—all the time.
But he did count the people who believed in him as the few friends in his city.
Rufelt and Lasica were the good ones. Felkhr had known them when they were a dueling Gnoll and Drake who would try to steal each other’s business every night. They gave him that extra snack or drink.
Some of the ones who believed in him. Most did not. And Felkhr knew that was true because he felt like he’d talked with at least a third of Pallass directly.
The thing about being infamous—for better or worse—was that people came up and talked to you. Whether it was before he took that leap of faith or they’d come up to him and buy him a drink at a bar.
They had predictable questions. The first was just—‘why?’ Then they’d ask if he was scared, or crazy, or whether you got a good class out of jumping and breaking your bones, or how far he’d gotten.
Mundane questions, but he’d learned to be polite when answering. The other benefit of being so infamous was that Felkhr knew everyone.
For instance, he had met Saliss of Lights. He’d talked to General Thrissiam, General Duln—every General except the new ones. He had exchanged comments with Grimalkin about healing—actually, the Drake had come in to study his recovery. Felkhr had even talked with Chaldion.
Most of them…got it. Even if they thought he was crazy for wanting to fly. Felkhr remembered the first thing Saliss had said to him.
The [Alchemist] had transformed the ground into something soft. Softer than mud, which had caught a screaming Felkhr who had been tumbling as his safety line—his emergency line—snapped. The Gnoll had pulled himself out of the slime. The Drake had kicked him as he lay panting on the ground.
“Hey. I’m the insane one here. You want to fight for top crazy? I’m afraid you’d win. Who wants to fly?”
But he’d grinned at Felkhr, and told him never to try to jump without a [Featherfall] scroll again. He…got it.
So did Pelt. Maughin was too polite to do more than tell Felkhr he was overbooked for most of the Gnoll’s requests. And the Dwarf was too greedy or drunk. But he never laughed at Felkhr.
…Okay, he laughed at the Gnoll a lot, especially when he came by with a broken leg or arm. But never at the idea. He’d just spit.
“I never wanted to climb a damn staircase. You want to fly? Good luck building those shitmetal wings. Feh. Only a dreamer runs down a road no one’s even sure exists.”
Saliss, Pelt, Grimalkin, Rufelt…they understood. Whether or not they thought his goal or methods were mad, it felt, to Felkhr, that the high-level members of Pallass got the attempt. The citizens—did not.
Some of them tried to talk him out of his jumps. Others were more drastic, hounding him, telling him he was mad.
Six years ago, a petition had been formed by the ‘concerned members of Pallass’. They had demanded the Assembly of Welfare—a subdivision of the overall Assembly of Crafts—personally forbid Felkhr from trying his flying experiments and, if he refused, exile him from Pallass.
Their reasoning had been that his attempts were disruptive to the peace, distressing to people who observed him falling, and a bad example to the children of the city.
That had been the maddest Felkhr had ever gotten. A public forum had been convened, and the entire argument had been the topic of discussion for all of Pallass for a month. He had said, publicly, that it was possible.
Of course it was! If Oldblood Drakes and Garuda, both subsections of Pallass’ population, could fly, why not a Gnoll or regular Drake? Why shouldn’t he be allowed to try? It wasn’t like they had to look.
But the same damned citizens who would complain about an ‘offensive aesthetic’ to a home, or the Dullahans who would object to another Dullahan’s armor decorations, had pushed the issue until the Assembly of Welfare heard the topic.
Felkhr had been afraid he’d be forced to stop, and he’d wondered if he’d have to move to another city or…do something else. But that was when he’d met Chaldion.
The Grand Strategist had summoned Felkhr to his office. The nervous Gnoll had waited nearly an hour until Chaldion walked in and told him to explain his idea.
He had listened to the entire thing without blinking more than once or twice, then told Felkhr that he thought the concept was ridiculous, impossible, and that there wasn’t much strategic merit in it anyways, since they had Garuda. Felkhr had replied that it wasn’t Chaldion’s job to tell him what to do.
Then that old Drake had smiled and told Felkhr to go home and not worry about the drama. The next day, the Assembly of Welfare had ruled that Felkhr would attend the [Thought Healers], but unless they deemed it an actual matter of insanity, he could not be stopped from his flying experiments so long as he endangered no one else and didn’t block the activities of regular citizenry.
Felkhr often thought about that encounter when he saw Chaldion at the bar. The [Strategist] didn’t say much to him other than greetings now and then. Same as Saliss.
The Named-rank adventurer wasn’t his friend. Rufelt and Lasica were…good acquaintances or friends he hung out with at their business at best. But he was glad to know them. Some days, especially of late, Felkhr thought he’d have given up and packed his dreams away but for people like them.
Especially of late. Which was odd, wasn’t it? Why was he at his lowest now when a Human was flying across Izril’s skies with a contraption? Why now when people were taking notice and there was a Human in the Engineer’s Guild talking about air travel like a real thing, and he was being offered money?
Well—perhaps because Earthers ruined everything. Including dreams.
Troydel didn’t understand why he was so unpopular. Not in general. But specifically in the Engineer’s Guild.
He was an Apprentice Journeyman, a technical rank in the guild’s hierarchy that meant he was allowed to submit proposals and do basic work like installing devices—but only with supervision. He had skipped the entire apprentice section mainly because the Guildmaster of the Engineering Guild, Chaldion, and a number of Pallassian officials wanted him to explain and implement Earther concepts.
The problem was…Troydel could only give them ideas, not facts. How did you make a combustion engine? Combust…gasoline.
How did you make gasoline? Oil? Refine it? How?
What did an axel cylinder look like? Okay, a car was understandable. How did the steering wheel, mechanically, turn the wheels? And why did Drakes hate him so much?
Even with memory spells and help, Troydel just didn’t know the answers. But having the end result was still a net boon and a direction for Drakes to rush down, right? Troy just didn’t get the hate.
…That was, until he heard an [Engineer] grousing as they lined up near the great lifts.
The Great Lifts of Pallass were not the private ones that let citizens ride up and down. These were the massive transport lifts that went up from the ground floor. It made Pallass’ insanely odd design of an inverted pyramid work; you didn’t have to physically haul items up each floor or via stairs. They just were pushed onto the lifts, and the lifts would slowly ascend to the 9th with ore, to the 5th Floor with parts, head down to the 1st Floor with outgoing goods or to pick up more supplies…
There were eight, two per cardinal direction, and they ran until dusk, when noise ordinances had them cease working except for great need. Instead of electricity or gas fueling the ‘engines’ that turned the gears, it was all magic.
Magical gems or raw mana powered the elevators, and they were expensive. Rather like Erin’s door, it was a huge loss in mana to provide a great net boon in transport.
But the amount of organization and effort required to run the Great Lifts was intense. The huge gears that Troydel could see turning in the exposed shaft were under heavy strain. They were steel, checked repeatedly, and [Repaired], but they could snag or get jammed.
Also, the elevators had a manual braking system, so if someone operating them didn’t hit the brakes at exactly the right moment, you were either too high or too low. And the elevators had a ‘warmup’ time, so adjusting could foul you up precious minutes.
Therefore—the Lift Operators had an important job. There were only a few, but they were well-respected and good at their tasks.
The technical job name was ‘Floor Lift Operator’, and Troydel had been told it was an actual ranking that could outrank several members of the Engineering Guild, especially in a crisis. Drake command was such that you could pin the level of an [Engineer]’s rank in a guild against a [Captain] in the Pallassian army and know who outranked who.
He had a cheat-sheet in his room. And he did have nice rooms and a huge allowance granted to him by the city. But sometimes, Troy missed having Leon around and staying at the inn. He still had rooms there…if a Goblin or Antinium hadn’t gotten them. But he just didn’t fit with Erin.
The Drakes, though, disliked Troy, and one was saying it loudly as they lined up with a bunch of parts to head to the new hydroponics attempt on Floor 3. The Guildmaster had Troydel working practical assignments as well as blueprinting, because he wanted Troy to understand the guild—and level up.
“It’s that Human. I hate him.”
“He’s not an ass. I’d rather work with him than 4th Army any day. They treat us like [Sappers] and hate being told ‘no’. And there’s bad Masters too. Troy just tells you to come up with an idea for how something works, and it’s usually wrong.”
“That’s not it. I hate…his inventions. Or wherever they come from. Every time you think you have some brilliant idea and you take it to the Guildmaster, he tells you, ‘talk to Troydel’. And wouldn’t you know it, but he’s already thought of that. Or he says, ‘oh, I know how that works, and here’s how it’s supposed to be done’! It makes me want to quit. What’s the point of being an [Engineer] if there’s nothing left to invent? I—oh, hi, Troy.”
Troy hunched his shoulders as the Drake stopped grousing and gave him a fake smile. The other [Engineers] stopped nodding along and coughed and pretended they hadn’t heard what was going on.
So that was why. Troy finally got it, and his heart sank. So that was why the [Engineers] waving their weird gear-designs, like a triangle or just different circles, all had that disappointed look when he told them what he’d remembered.
Oh. You already did it. That’s…great. But what about my achieving it from scratch?
The problem was actually something he felt a strong kinship towards. Because—it was the problem of Earth, honestly.
Oh, there were tons of inventions and exciting new technologies coming out every year. Robots, advanced designs, home-inventors were probably better than they had ever been. But what Troy liked about this world was that it wasn’t explored.
On Earth, they knew every body of land. The only parts they didn’t know fully and weren’t settled were the deep Amazon or…underwater or space. Or the Arctic, he supposed, what little of it wasn’t melted. This world was new—yet somehow, he was bringing more of Earth over.
“H-how’s the blueprinting going, Troy? I heard that the Guildmaster’s approved some designs.”
“Oh…I’m not sure I’m allowed to talk about it.”
The other Journeymen and women and apprentices nodded, sighing. So, instantly, Troy told them everything because he wanted them to like him.
“—I can tell you we’re going to work on steam engines. For the gears since Pallass is so good at it. Steam-powered elevator. Oh—and we might do hot air balloons.”
“Ooh! That’d be great!”
Instantly, the Drakes warmed up and got excited. One of them glanced knowingly at Troydel.
“How about the flying gliders like the Wind Runner has?”
“Honestly—I think someone else is working on that. They’re literally copying it. I just gave them notes.”
There were a lot of projects going on in the Engineering Guild, and a few of the [Journeymen] murmured.
“I’d love to work on that. Hey, we might get a chance to fly them! Imagine being the first non-Garuda or Oldblood Drake to fly. The Flying Gnoll will literally eat his fur if…”
Troydel saw another Drake nudge the talkative one—the same one who’d insulted him—and point. And there he saw a Gnoll glance up, and his cap with the brass badge of Pallass flashed.
“Floor 5! Lift ready?”
A tired [Worker] who’d helped wrestle the last bin of parts onto Great Lift #4 shouted. He got a response.
“Floor 5 confirms! Lift ready!”
A speaking stone barked.
“Floor 3, lift ready!”
Then the Gnoll pulled the first lever, disengaged the brake, and Troy felt the elevator lurch slightly, and gravity did the rest. They descended, and the Drakes from the guild muttered quietly.
“I forgot he works here.”
“I heard he was a Journeyman too, before he quit. Floor Lift Operator pays better than what we make.”
“Him? But his flying contraptions are stupid. Seriously, why doesn’t he just copy the Wind Runner’s Glider or her Wind Suit? She’s flying, and he was trying feathered wings last week. Maybe he’s just an idiot?”
Troydel was glancing at Felkhr, but if the Gnoll heard, he was busy pulling the first brake as they slowed to 3rd Floor. He had multiple levers—the entire Great Lift was more like a train, and as they stopped, it was within three feet of the ground of the 3rd Floor.
Which was obviously unacceptable for Earth’s elevators. But given that Felkhr was slowing the elevator just by using markings and his understanding of how the brake-system worked, it was good enough, and the Drakes, in classic Pallassian fashion, had improvised a workaround to the issue.
“Lift stop confirmed! Brakes engaged!”
“Clearance—three feet, two inches!”
“Three feet, two inches!”
Instantly, a bunch of workers came out with wooden blocks to create a mini-ramp that let the bins of parts roll off the lift. They shoved them into place, and the passengers waited for the lift to unload. The gossipy-Drake might have badmouthed Felkhr further, but someone slapped him on the back of the head with a clipboard.
“That Gnoll can operate the Great Lift without a single Skill. He doesn’t even have [Operator] as a class. Step to your job and let him do his.”
An older, visibly annoyed Master Engineer stepped past the Drake as the Journeyman ducked. Everyone went silent, then the engineers flooded out to get to work. Most were heading towards the hydroponics project.
The idea was simple. Giant irrigation systems of water would pump water up via reserve water-wheels to feed gardens of produce. That way, Pallass would be able to grow plants in the city like Oteslia and not be at the mercy of local farms. It could draw straight from the river…once they managed to make everything work properly.
“Who in Rhir’s hells is that?”
The Journeyman Drake hissed until one of the other Drakes, a female apprentice, poked him and hissed.
“Mind your tail, idiot! He’s the inventor of the Rascale Mk. 4 Safety Harness!”
“The Mk. 4? Oh, come on, that’s just a stupid bit of rope.”
At this, the rest of the Drakes began to kick the talkative one, and some of the actual workers gave the Drake an annoyed look. One of the ones who worked on the Great Lifts tapped the Journeyman on the shoulder. He indicated his safety-harness, and Troy glanced at an actually approximate version of a harness that people would use in his world.
With it, you could hook yourself into scaffolding or, in this case, hooks such that if the Great Lift fell suddenly, you wouldn’t go with it. Even now, there were Drakes, hanging high up, performing maintenance on one of the parts of the Great Lift.
“Listen, idiot. Go back to the Engineering Guild and review the reason why this ‘bit of rope’ exists. Because if you’re so smart, we’ll give you a Mk. 3 and let you suffer the consequences. See this?”
He yanked out a piece of yellow rope from a side of the harness. It would extend down, and it was just a support. The Drake stood on it as he raised his voice to the other workers.
“The reason this exists is that if you take a fall and you’re dangling up there, the harness keeps you from dropping to your death! But guess what? You hang there for an hour and your legs die. No blood down there. This bit of rope is what you stand on, and it saves your legs and your body from needing a [Healer]! It’s so impressive that the City of Ropes paid us for the design. They use it in their city, and they climb for a living. Got it?”
He kept shouting as Troy moved on, berating the Journeyman Drake who was probably never going to badmouth the Mk. 4 harness ever again.
That was the good thing about Pallass’ systems. Even Troydel’s plans in the Engineering Guild would run through dozens and dozens of tests before they were rolled out for public use. But the Drakes were running with countless different ideas. Troy looked back once at the Gnoll who was waiting for the goods to be unloaded and staring ahead.
As if he were dreaming—but he was paying careful attention to his controls and the lift too. But Troy wondered what Felkhr was thinking of.
He was avoiding The Wandering Inn.
Yet he had to go. After his six-hour shift—Floor Lift Operators were not allowed to report to work tired or work more than six hours due to the dangers of a slip up—Felkhr returned to his home.
He had an apartment, one of the copper-ones cheap as anything, but he slept here more than anywhere. And ‘here’ was a workshop he’d rented next to one of the foundries.
It was cheap because it was loud as hell and often too warm—but the giant, blazing foundries that produced Pallass’ steel, which was sold the continent, the world over, were warm in the winter.
He had a one-room studio cluttered with projects and inventions, but little of it was worth anything to anyone but him. Twice, a [Thief] had broken in and left without taking anything besides supplies.
Felkhr had a blanket, pillow, and other objects piled up on one table; he slept under it if he needed to. He tossed his cap and jacket down on a bench and sighed.
He was getting sensitive of late if some young [Journeyman] could get under his fur. But he’d spotted Troydel in line, and—maybe it had compounded his worries.
Absently, Felkhr began to sort through his designs as he tried to get in the mood to create something new. He had sheafs and sheafs of parchment, blueprints for things he’d made, budgets for how to make them with his limited salary, and notes.
How far he’d flown, what seemed to work—and yes, weights of materials, cost of enchanting items, and a neat notation of his own bodyweight and details few people ever bothered counting.
Like…the speed of the wind. Felkhr hadn’t measured it for a while, but he had this spinning contraption with spoon-like bowls that he’d tied to a moving piece of red chalk. It was on a slider, so if it spun fast enough, it created a circle.
The more wind, the bigger the circle. On windy days, it would create variable circles—he took the aggregate and tried to assign it a numerical value so he could calculate wind-speed. Felkhr couldn’t remember why. Oh, right, he’d wanted to test on a day when it was windy enough that he had enough backwind to catch some of his inventions.
The notes for that were pinned to one wall. Absently, he cleaned them off and shuffled them into a pile. He didn’t need that right now. Felkhr stared gloomily at the principle design in front of him.
It was…a glider.
It wasn’t hard to see how Ryoka Griffin’s hang glider worked. Felkhr had distilled it down into parts and even done measurements. How? Well, he knew that the Driver’s Guild had standardized wheel sizes. So he’d found an image of Ryoka Griffin next to a wagon and then calculated her rough height from that. Then he’d copied it all onto a piece of paper and done some guesses about the right canvas for the wings and which wood to use.
That was easy. The world was filled with things you could measure, and bending your head around that was just a matter of knowing where to start. The hard part…would be copying the Wind Runner.
Just like the Journeyman had said. Felkhr was not copying Ryoka Griffin. He didn’t want to.
It felt like cheating. More than that, it felt like he had been reaching for his goal, reaching with all his heart and soul—and someone had just handed it to him.
“There has to be something else. Why not wings? Damn it—and she has wind magic, so it’s not as if this thing works. It’s just a way to slow yourself while falling!”
Frustrated, the Gnoll tore the parchment off his drawing board, tossed it aside, and went back to his designs.
He knew it could work. It should work! The problem was…it didn’t.
What had he gotten wrong? Last attempt—Felkhr reviewed the notes and winced as he remembered hitting the ground too hard. Even with [Featherfall].
Concept: Garuda-feather wings. Maybe the issue with his flying was…feathers. He had bought chicken feathers, used goose, but Garuda were one of the few species who could fly yet were of humanoid size.
They were the biggest flying species in the world that flew under their own weight. By that, he meant that they didn’t have some lift that defied his understanding.
Wyverns, for example, were heavy, thousands of pounds, yet flew. Magic was the reason. The Garuda he’d interviewed had told him they had hollow bones.
He had bought enough bones of chickens and other flying birds to know it was true; birds were incredibly light compared to other ground-based species. In that sense, he was woefully too heavy.
However, Garuda claimed they could produce enough lift with their wings to fly without needing magic. They were an incredibly lightweight species, and he had begged and bought enough feathers off them to make two huge wings.
Bigger wingspan, bigger birds. He’d combined that with a new wing-shape and tried to glide like Ryoka Griffin. He thought it had worked…for about five seconds, his fall hadn’t been that fast.
Then the wings had snapped.
“I need stronger materials. Damn it!”
Half his inventions snapped due to the sheer force of the wind. Or…resistance. In the air. Felkhr threw down his pencil, unhappy, and looked at the wreckage he’d salvaged.
Half the feathers were gone, and the sturdy wooden struts…he’d made it like a basket, with little struts and wood thin as sticks to hold the weight.
He’d even copied a Garuda’s wing. It was incredibly, incredibly hard to get a mold of a wing. He’d had to pay a Garuda to let him encase their wing-arm in a proper mold to get a pattern, and then he’d had to pay for cleaning the gunk off their feathers.
But the end result was a mold of a wing—and he had one of a seagull, a chicken—chickens could fly—and an Oldblood Drake, all made out of a plaster. It was probably the most valuable thing in the studio as they looked like pieces of art.
Certainly—the person who knocked on the door and came in seemed impressed. Felkhr spun, but the Drake raised her claws.
“Peace. Mister Felkhr, you’re not answering our notes.”
“Who are you? Get out. You’re—wait a second. Aren’t you Chaldion’s people?”
The Drake paused as she adjusted some plain, nondescript clothing. She looked like a common citizen bundled up in a jacket, but he recognized her from his meetings with them. And she came to the Engineer’s Guild.
“I’m a representative of the city, Mister Felkhr. And the city—and High Command and the Engineer’s Guild—would like very much to work with you.”
The Gnoll folded his arms.
“Are you the people who’ve been moving my notes around? Help yourself. Like everyone’s saying—the Wind Runner has her flying glider. I’m being left behind.”
The Drake made a show of looking innocent.
“It wasn’t me. Mister Felkhr—have you seen our notes?”
“Maybe. Was it the one you stuck in my sandwich? I ate half of it before I wondered why it tasted funny.”
The Eye of Pallass rubbed at her forehead.
“Some of my colleagues have a taste for the dramatic. I apologize. They should have left it on your drawing board. If you were not aware, let me repeat: we want you to head up a project in the Engineering Guild. We—that is, the Guild—are prepared to reinstate you as a Senior Journeyman and have you head our Flying Initiatives. We have a handsome salary and budget. You’ll be working with Pallass’ best. Here’s what you could make as an income. Not the budget.”
She scribbled a number down, and Felkhr blinked at it.
I could pay for a lot of Garuda feathers with that. But then he looked up and shook his head.
The Drake seemed to be expecting this. She found a seat on a table as she carefully put one of his first attempts at a flying vehicle aside. He’d seen the spinner-toys you could whirl up into the air, based on actual seeds that fell from trees, and tried to make one that carried him up—but it had seemed stupid and dangerous, so he quit.
“May I ask why? If it’s a matter of not wanting to take orders, I could…find you a project where you are in full control.”
The Gnoll kept his arms folded. The Drake felt her way out tentatively.
“If you need more coins—”
“I don’t want to be told what to work on. Do you have any blueprints for what the Engineer’s Guild is making? You have to have them. That kid, Troydel, probably submitted them.”
“Mister Felkhr, I have no idea what you’re talking about. We’re just beginning the projects.”
This time, the Eye of Pallass gave him a completely blank look, and he almost fell for it.
What am I saying? That’s stupid. I—
Felkhr jabbed himself in the paw with a quill, and the Skill failed. She blinked, and the Flying Gnoll laughed at her.
“What Skill was that?”
“…[Misdirect Thoughts]. Why did it fail? You don’t have any notes on your file about being able to beat mental Skills.”
Felkhr waved a paw nervously. They were scarier than he’d thought, Pallass’ agents. But she seemed curious, and in the interest of everything staying friendly, he explained.
“That only works if I don’t know the facts. Which is that the Engineer’s Guild never approves a project without a plan.”
“Oh. Damn. Well, I—”
“Show me the blueprints or I’m not interested at all. I bet you I know what they look like, anyways. Hot air balloon. Hang glider. Aeroplane. Wingsuit. Uh…zippy lines?”
The Eye of Pallass stiffened.
“How do you know that? How do you—are those blueprints of them? Let me see that!”
She snatched some experimental sketches and yanked out a binder from her jacket. Then she shuffled over and compared the two. Felkhr called out.
“No one told me. I just—overheard things. Engineers talk.”
“Damn them. We’ll have to work on that. As for this—this is why we want you. I am sharing this with you to get you to come aboard. Understand that we’re improving and figuring out how to implement each. You won’t be able to do this yourself, Felkhr, and it’s already been done. Got it?”
She handed him her binder, and Felkhr’s eyes widened. What he saw were mostly sketches.
Ideas. Based on Troydel’s descriptions of what should be. [Engineers] had gotten into the job of figuring out how each worked. But he…
“Incredible. Wait. Is this a ‘plane’? Why does the wing look so odd?”
He had never seen this before. Then—Felkhr remembered where they had come from and jerked his eyes away as if burned. The agent folded her arms.
“Search me. Something about wind direction or…lift. That boy has no clue. He knows what it should be, but not all of why, and the explanations make my head hurt…”
She coughed, and Felkhr glanced up. Did she speak with Troy? He, on the other hand, was caught. He was staring at the oddest wing design ever—and something was going ping in his brain, while at the same time he was telling himself he didn’t want to know.
He forced himself to slap the binder shut and thrust it back at the agent.
“I—am not going to work on that for Pallass.”
“Why not? You can tell we’re ahead of you.”
The Flying Gnoll gave the agent a weary look.
“What’s your name, Miss?”
She was slightly offended by the question.
“I don’t know if that’s helpful.”
“Can’t you give me a fake one? I don’t like speaking to people I don’t know.”
“Fine. Call me Zemize. Pallass is offering you all the support you never had, Felkhr of Pallass. Your city wants you.”
He folded his arms again.
“It’s got a funny way of showing it after a decade.”
The Drake winced as she glanced around his workshop.
“The times change. Your ideas were never practical, but—we can see that it’s a viable path forwards, Felkhr. Consider your salary an apology. How large would you like it to be?”
Felkhr bared his teeth.
“Still not interested. I don’t want to be told to…copy someone else’s idea. Which is what that kid has. I don’t know where it comes from. Some ancient nation? Chieftain Seru’nial’s tribe? Another world?”
He was just throwing things out there, and the agent’s tail twitched back and forth as she laughed at the ideas. But Felkhr shook his head.
“Regardless. I believe it’d work—but it’s not my way. And my way will be the only way I do it. I’m not interested in making a hundred of those flying machines for the army, either. I want…to fly.”
He had never wanted anything more in his life. If he looked out the window, he could see the snow falling, and he imagined soaring up into those grey skies.
He was at his least motivated ever. He was at his most motivated ever. Because he knew it could be done. Because he wasn’t sure if he was barking up the wrong tree—
But he still believed in his plans. And he would not be a copycat to Ryoka Griffin or Troydel. He would rather just line up and buy one of the Wind Runner’s gliders when Pallass manufactured them and admit defeat rather than stop experimenting.
“You could do all this so much better with money. We’ll be spying on your designs, you know. You can’t defeat Troydel when it comes to ideas. Believe me. I’ll tell you this—I’m one of his assigned handlers, and he has plenty of people keeping him happy because he knows enough to turn Izril on its head. But all the things we need to make—we need you, Felkhr.”
He smiled politely at Zemize.
“But I don’t need the city. Not yet. And between you and me, Zemize, there’s another reason I don’t want to work with the Engineering Guild.”
She leaned over, and he whispered to her.
“They’re slow. They have safety protocols and review boards, and they won’t test anything without trialing it a hundred times first. Which is great for the city and their people. I’m faster.”
Then he got up and showed her to the door. Felkhr kept smiling for nearly an hour until she was gone. Then he curled up and howled under his pillow for a while.
They’d figured it out! They had the whole of it! It made him so—so—angry. He wanted to punch a hole in a wall.
Lacking that, the first thing Felkhr did when he got to Liscor after paying for a day’s travel was punch the snowman outside.
“Stupid designs! Why do wings look like that? Stupid—know-it-all—Wind Runner!”
He hadn’t slept all last night. He’d been translating as many things he’d seen from his scan of the blueprints Troydel had made as he could onto parchment, then figuring them out. But he had stopped himself from begging to see the rest and was glad he hadn’t seen more than hints.
He didn’t. Want. To. Know.
There was more than pride at stake. More than the joy of accomplishing it himself. Felkhr had not gotten to where he was by taking the easy path.
He was more than the Flying Gnoll of Pallass. True, he might look like a crazy Gnoll punching a snowman to death as people edged around him outside the inn—but he had a secret.
Felkhr was a [Dreamer].
He was also an [Inventor].
And guess what? Neither class wanted Troydel’s certain knowledge. The Gnoll felt in his bones that he’d ruin himself if he saw the blueprints, and he had every reason to be proud.
Because he was a Level 33 [Dreamer of Flight].
And a Level 31 [Crazed Inventor].
Some people got to the famous ‘thirty before thirty’ hallmark of talent. Which was reaching Level 30 before reaching the age of 30.
Well, Felkhr had done it twice. And if you thought you didn’t get good Skills—there was some irony in what Felkhr got, actually.
He had gained, in his approximation, about the same amount of Skills as a regular Level 30 person between two classes. Mostly because the [Dreamer] class was, by and large, a famous dud.
Felkhr wasn’t even someone who daydreamed, so some of the Skills some sleep-enthusiasts got he had straight-out refused. The Skills he did get were odd.
The thing about wanting to fly is that when he was younger, he had assumed it would be given to him by levels.
You see—levels provided. Everyone knew that a class could shape you, but you also tended to get Skills that affected your life’s path by levelling.
So why would a Level 33 [Dreamer of Flight] not get the ability to fly?
[Realization of Your Deepest Dream] or something pithy like that? He’d fly for five minutes each day, and that’d probably satisfy him.
…But he didn’t get that Skill.
His [Inventor] class was simple. He had a lot of abilities like [Phantom Tool], which allowed him to adjust something from the inside rather than having to take it apart. [Incredible Adhesive] was one of his capstones that allowed him to make a glue twice as strong as regular.
He had [Detect Fault], which was invaluable for dealing with wood or metal, [Accident Prevention]—which had saved his life a few times and gave him a dodge from the first accident in a workplace each day. A literal dodge—or he’d catch himself from pouring solvent next to a candle or the like.
[A Scroll A Day: Parchment] meant he drowned in writing material. Even used it as toilet paper. He could adjust something he made, measure it down to exacting specifications, and make his simple tools work like magic.
His [Dreamer] class? That…gave him so few Skills he suspected something was laughing at him.
Here was an example of what the [Dreamer] class gave him. At first, he’d gotten [Lucid Dreaming], [Perfect Memory: Imagination], and so on, but then the class had seemed to…change.
Level 30 [Dreamer of Flight]. Capstone Skill?
[My Dream of Flight: 30% Discount]! Which meant he could walk into any shop, go to any [Merchant] in the world—and if he needed something for his dream, he only had to pay 70% of the price. The remaining bit would magically appear—or he’d find the coins in his pocket after paying.
Why. That? Why not ‘let me fly, you stupid class?’ Why not…[Super Jump]?
Another ‘[Dreamer]’ Skill he’d gotten?
[Mending Recovery]! For breaking your bones! [Increased Income: Job]! For more pay when you got your income from working as a Lift Operator! [Powerful Persuasion: Enchanters], for when you needed them to enchant your latest creation!
[Locate Item: Scroll of Featherfall] so he could go bargain-hunting for the scrolls.
Literally. He could detect [Featherfall] scrolls anywhere in Pallass. You want to find a [Featherfall] scroll? You talk to Felkhr. He could tell you that Grimalkin of Pallass had eighteen in his mansion.
Classes were stupid. And that was why Felkhr was in a crisis. He had not come this far on his own just to cheat his way to the end.
…Assuming he could find the end and it wasn’t by following Ryoka Griffin, Troydel, or the Archmage of Izril.
The Gnoll was understandably vexed by recent events. Stressed. Sleep-deprived, which was a terrible thing to be, and great sympathy should have been given to anyone lacking even an hour of sleep. Especially [Writers]. And [Engineers] and [Inventors] and [Dreamers].
So it was understandable that he beat the poor snowman to death. But, uh…when Felkhr finally caught himself and stopped mashing in the Yellat-nose and the remains of two eyes, he looked up and saw he had an audience.
Besides the visitors coming in and out to The Wandering Inn via the door, he also had two little Gnolls and two Drakes who were staring at him in horror.
They had a wheelbarrow of snow, and their beloved snowman was dead. Mrsha, Kenva, Visma, and Ekirra gave Felkhr a long look as he straightened up and looked at their snowman.
“Oh. I, uh…he was just standing there and…”
“He killed Mister Snowy! He was an Antinium! He’s racist!”
Visma began shouting. Felkhr raised his paws.
“No, no, I was just mad—”
It occurred to him it was the wrong thing to say. Mrsha was whistling, and a man in armor was striding towards him.
“Excuse me, sir. Back away from the children—”
“No, no, I was just—”
Felkhr was worried. He tried to back up—then felt the hairs on his neck rise. He looked up—and a glinting arrow was trained on him.
“Should I shoot him in the legs, Mrsha?”
Bird the Hunter called out from the tower. The Gnoll froze and held his paws straight up. His bad morning was getting worse.
Someone else having a bad day was Kevin.
Also Watch Captain Zevara.
They sat across from each other as he put his head on the table. Erin was mediating. The Watch Captain’s arms were crossed, and she had a bandage on her tail.
Two, actually. One was fresher than the other.
“I don’t understand it. Am I cursed? Or do you have a grudge against me? Are you trying to get bicycles banned from the city?”
“Yeah, Kevin. What’s wrong with you?”
“I was swerving. This time it wasn’t my fault! Some idiot wasn’t looking and stepped into me, and it was either run him over or go left.”
“And the Watch Captain’s tail got run over.”
Erin turned to Zevara, and the Watch Captain nodded.
“How do you not see it?”
Kevin threw up his hands.
“I’m sorry. Tails are hard to see! I’m not used to having to navigate around Drakes, and yours is sort of long!”
“Don’t be lewd, Kevin.”
Erin slapped him on the shoulder as Zevara twitched her tail under the table defensively. The [Innkeeper] was not helping, but she was highly amused.
“If you do it again, I’ll arrest you. Your fine you can pay off now.”
He nodded, red-faced.
“I am so sorry, Watch Captain. Seriously. It’s like—I don’t know how it’s happened three times this month.”
To be fair, the first time in Esthelm and the second time had been close together, but she’d dodged him all month until now. Zevara shook her head. But Erin was offering something.
“What’s that? Did someone say…peppermint, magical candy cane for the Watch Captain and Kevin the tail-killer?”
Kevin perked up a bit. Zevara’s face didn’t move. She refused to look as the [Innkeeper] danced over—then got tired and sat in her wheelchair.
“I’m tired. Standing is too much work. Ishkr, let’s get some candy canes out! Do I hear applause?”
“You do not.”
Erin eyed Zevara.
“…Just a little bit of applause?”
“No. What is ‘peppermint’? What is this candy cane?”
Before Erin could answer, there was a commotion outside. Zevara’s panic finally set in.
This is it. I knew a month of nothing more than an inedible scone would be too much for her.
She turned, claw on her sword, ready to face whatever came in—
“Another criminal for you, Watch Captain. Although perhaps this falls under Miss Solstice’s purview. This fellow just killed Mister Snowy.”
Zevara and Erin both sat up in alarm.
“He killed who?”
Ser Lormel pushed a rather wet and nervous Gnoll forwards. He shuffled into the inn as Mrsha trained her wand on his back and the other three furious children walked forwards. Nanette looked smug as they marched him over to the others.
“Oh. Lead with that, please.”
Zevara sat back, claw on her chest. Nanette gave Mrsha an arch look.
“I told you making snow-birds and mini snow-people was cuter.”
Mrsha wrote back. The two had had their first fight this morning—over making cute little snow creations on the outside of windowsills and lining Bird’s tower, versus Mister Snowy, an exercise in creating the largest snowman possible.
Nanette instantly and pettily side-stepped Mrsha, so the Gnoll girl’s written comment was in sight of her mother.
“Mrsha du Marquin, mind your manners! Did you write that at Nanette?”
Lyonette scolded, and Mrsha stared at Nanette in horror.
The witch stuck her tongue out, and the first war of The Wandering Inn began. Lyonette was duped into striking a blow against Mrsha—but she would inevitably turncoat for her daughter’s side.
Erin Solstice, the independent nation, looked on in a mild dawning realization as Numbtongue laughed at Mrsha, once again placing himself on the wrong side of history as he opposed cute, white-furred Doombearers.
But that was another tale. The one in front of Zevara looked miserable, and frankly, the Watch Captain didn’t care if he killed a snowman. Snow Golems were a hazard, but destroying a children’s playtime?
She was about to dress him down and suggest a fine without going through on it when Erin peered at the Gnoll’s face and blinked at the striped fur along his ears, a lighter brown, and some colorful white splashes of color across his paws and arms.
“Felkhr? Is that you? Hey, long time no see! What are you doing beating up snow people? Guys, this is Felkhr! He saved my life in Pallass!”
“Hello, Erin. I, uh—I’m sorry about the trouble.”
The Gnoll smiled weakly, and Kevin blinked. He looked at Erin, and Felkhr looked at him.
The two knew each other. And instantly—both wanted to talk.
Erin Solstice was very forgiving of snow-people murder. Which went to show she had flaws, despite her championing of Antinium and Goblin rights. In fact, when she saw Felkhr was shivering, she had him pull up a chair in front of the fire.
“Someone get this Gnoll a coffee! Felkhr, anything you want to eat? On the house. He saved my life so no buts, Lyonette!”
“You get to comp five meals each week, Erin. That’s one.”
The [Princess] called back, and Erin’s face fell.
Ishkr brought over a cup instantly, and Felkhr blinked, hesitating. But he wasn’t one to turn down free food.
“Could I get…the Continental Allstar breakfast please?”
“Ooh, good choice. See, someone likes the classics. Ishkr, can you run the order to Calescent?”
The Gnoll flicked his paw as he wrote down the order on a piece of paper. He tore the note off, and it vanished.
“Look at that guy. He can [Memo], now. This is Ishkr, Felkhr. My super-waiter. And this is…”
“The Flying Gnoll of Pallass.”
Felkhr actually played into his reputation a bit, because he felt like it was a way of repaying Erin. Ishkr smiled.
“I have heard of you. Haven’t you come in a few times?”
“I think during a party or two. But the inn looks…nice. I’m sorry about the snowman. I was just—mad, and it was staring at me.”
“Huh. I guess it happens.”
“No, punish him!”
Visma stuck her head up from the table, and Felkhr began apologizing. But, unexpectedly for once, Erin played peacekeeper.
“Visma, it was an accident. Felkhr looks pretty rough. What if…I give you all a snack on the house and you let it slide? Please?”
Ekirra, Visma, and Kenva whispered together and came back with a counter.
“We want one of Miss Imani’s newest things!”
Erin recoiled in her seat. Ekirra bounced up and down, smiling as the [Innkeeper] stared ahead, face waxy.
“Yeah, she’s made super good food.”
“But I have…cake…”
Felkhr eyed Erin as Ekirra delivered the finishing blow.
“But her cake is better! She made viennetta cake. We’ll forgive this guy for that! Just say we can, and she’ll let us have a slice!”
Erin’s nod was that of a corpse. She sat there as Calescent poked his head out of the kitchen in a kind of outraged horror too. Ishkr frowned.
“We should compete with them. Calescent isn’t a dessert expert.”
“Nope. Goblins don’t use sugar much. We beat them? Like Nanette beat Mrsha at making cute snow things?”
Lyonette’s head snapped around, and Mrsha’s jaw dropped as Calescent pointed proudly to his mini snow-Goblin on the windowsill outside. It was shaped like Pebblesnatch, and it had a poofy hat.
“I don’t know. I think she might be getting overambitious.”
Ishkr replied calmly. Lyonette and Mrsha’s first ally walked over as Nanette’s smug smile faded, and she gulped. Ishkr was not someone you wanted as an enemy.
“H-hold on, guys. Felkhr, I, uh, think I’ve gotta go. You stay and enjoy the food! Guys? This is silly. I mean, even for me, what are we mad about? Come on…”
Erin rolled after Nanette and Mrsha, who were running to secure allies already committed by treaty to either side.
Felkhr had no idea what was going on. He was just blearily glad for food and coffee. The children had rushed out to redeem their dessert, and only after he’d chowed down on the big plate a Goblin brought him did he realize someone was watching him.
“Hey. I’m Kevin. Mind if I sit?”
“Go right ahead. Table’s empty. You’re…the owner of Solar Cycles, right? Half the Engineer’s Guild in Pallass would love to shake your hand and steal your designs.”
Kevin blushed faintly and waved it off.
“Nah. Dude. That’s way too much. I just—knew how to make bicycles, and I had Master Pelt and Hedault helping me. I didn’t invent them.”
Instantly, he put himself ahead of Troy in Felkhr’s eyes. The young man was modest in how he led-in with the conversation, and within moments, Felkhr and he were talking.
“I hear Pallass makes all the steel stuff, all the time. I know Master Pelt leaving was a blow…”
Felkhr coughed into one paw.
“With respect to him, and even Master Maughin, they’re artisans. They churn out the finest works—mastercrafted armor, enchantable items, and so on. Gears for new projects in the Engineering Guild…but we have massive foundries for bulk steel. One Master Pelt work comes out at the rate it takes to make a thousand spears.”
“Right. Industry. Dude, I didn’t think of that. I guess they have nothing to worry about in Esthelm.”
“In Esthelm, perhaps. But Dwarfhalls Rest has got my city worried. They have Dwarfsteel, which Pallass can’t match. If it depresses prices…well, the New Lands rush has the foundries working overtime. Competition can be good.”
Kevin’s eyes lit up as he nodded.
“It would be! Master Pelt’s the guy doing my bicycles—but he’s been complaining he’s bored of doing anything but the best bikes. Er, the ones that need his touch. And his apprentices have more orders than just my stuff. Do you think Pallass could do my bikes?”
“Why not? Although you might as well ask Dwarfhalls Rest if you’re doing that. Between you and me, I’m exceptionally curious how they’re made.”
Kevin stood up.
“I’ve gotta go to Esthelm anyways to get money for a fine. Want to see them?”
This time, Felkhr hesitated. He looked at Kevin, but it wasn’t gliders the young man made. He got up.
“Magnificent. I can see how it all works together. But it’s so…elegant compared to Pallass’ clunky gears. And these brakes!”
A bicycle was a wondrous thing to Felkhr. Kevin stood back proudly as the Gnoll inspected it—but with some degree of wonder himself.
Because of all the people that Kevin had ever met, including Pelt, Felkhr was one of the few people to look at a bicycle and wonder how it worked.
Mechanically, that was. Pelt understood metal. But Felkhr understood function. As proof of that, he had already deduced how the bicycle could be taken apart for repairs, but he stopped when he noticed Kevin looking.
“I’m sorry, I was just—”
“No, go ahead! Pull it apart; anything can go back together.”
Nothing would do but for the Gnoll [Inventor] to pull apart the gear system, inspecting the chains and murmuring in awe.
“It’s so smooth how it rotates. I see it now…the gears are layered up on one another. Incredibly economical, and it can change from one to another. Why? Because the smaller ones in diameter require more torque. So you can change how much energy it takes to move this!”
He spun the pedals, and Kevin nearly spat out his coffee. He’d known grown-ass adults who didn’t understand how the gears on their bikes worked.
“I hear you’re sort of an engineer yourself. You, uh, try to fly, right?”
Kevin was reminded of the earliest pioneers of flight when he looked at Felkhr. The combination between mad and genius, and the more the Gnoll talked, the more Kevin suspected where he lay. Felkhr paused.
“That’s right. I’m behind the famous Wind Runner. She’s not here, is she?”
He looked around Solar Cycles, and Kevin clarified.
“No, but she comes to The Wandering Inn a lot. The Haven’s heading south…it’ll actually be close to Pallass within a few days, and then they’ll be out-of-range of Erin’s door, which’ll be something. Uh—do you want to meet her?”
The answer surprised Kevin. The [Engineer] scratched his head as Felkhr avoided his gaze. He was inspecting the gears.
“The turning mechanism on this is so useful. Not that I have that much call for it myself. But the frame…pure steel and enchanted. Damn. That’s probably as tough as anything I need. If only I could afford it.”
He sighed. Kevin was moved at this point to ask a pointed question.
“So you’re making flying devices yourself, huh? I’ve…studied a bit into that. Are you having troubles?”
Another pause. Felkhr glanced up, but he was open enough.
“I’ve never gotten them working. I’ve tried wings, different things like spinning blades, even parasols. I can slow my fall, but the Wind Runner’s got more than I can do. Even Pallass is chasing her way of flying. For as good as it’ll do them.”
He went back to inspecting Kevin’s tools, some of which were custom-made for the purpose of working on the bicycles. Kevin hesitated.
Ryoka and Erin had opinions on how much to share with people. He?
He had told Rags about B2 bombers and speculated on how to make everything he could with her. But by the same token, Kevin was also more careful with Felkhr.
“Would you—want a hint? Doing things Ryoka’s way, I mean. Or with ideas on how to fly other ways?”
The Gnoll’s head snapped up. He looked at Kevin—and then shook his head.
“No. Thank you. You must be like Troydel.”
Kevin jumped, then scowled.
“That motherf—he’s in Pallass, isn’t he? I forgot!”
“He’s giving the Engineering Guild a runaround. But I don’t want help, thank you. Like I said, Ryoka Griffin’s way of flying isn’t what I want.”
Now, that made Kevin curious. He squatted down and passed Felkhr a wrench so he could remove a bolt. The Gnoll eyed the washer and grunted.
“What’s this for?”
“Friction, my dude. Without damaging the thing it’s holding.”
“Oh. That’s so…foundationally changing.”
This alone was something the Engineer’s Guild would adopt. A washer—a protective layer to avoid repeated damage from something being tightened against it. Felkhr looked at Kevin somberly.
He knew what Kevin and Troydel were. Faster than Grimalkin and more sincerely. How could you not? They came in with such groundshaking ideas in the most minute of things.
After a moment, Felkhr went back to work. After a longer moment, Kevin spoke up.
“Why don’t you like Ryoka’s flying, Felkhr?”
“I do like it. I just…don’t want to copy her. Plus, once I figured out what she was doing, I realized that’s not flying. That’s another form of magical flight. Maybe I have to steal her designs—but even if I copied everything she’s got on her, I can’t fly like her.”
Felkhr sat, playing with one of the gears, then asked if he could make a sketch. Kevin offered to lend him some spare parts, but the Gnoll insisted he only needed the sketches.
“Ah, you mean because of the wind.”
“Yes. I’ve thought about flying. And what I noticed is that she’s got a lot of wind behind her. I’ve spoken to Garuda. I know how it works…I think. You know they use hot air to fly? Birds?”
There it was again. Felkhr’s face fell, and Kevin felt guilty, but the Gnoll rallied at once.
“That’s what they call it? It’s the hot air under clouds. According to Garuda, birds and all kinds of fliers use it under their wings. It…pushes them up. And the Archmage of Izril. I saw her using flame. I was standing in my apartment last night, all last night, working on another plan. Have you heard of hot air balloons?”
Kevin hunted around for his biggest hammer.
“Yep. Where’s Troy now? I’ve got a present for him.”
He only half-meant it. Felkhr wasn’t paying attention as he went on.
“I just saw a glimpse of the plan, but the name, hah, made a lot of sense when I heard it. Hot air rises. Thermals. It’s another way to fly.”
“It’s a way to fly.”
His voice was so longing Kevin felt for the Gnoll, but Felkhr shook his head.
“The problem—the problem is that the Wind Runner has her own wind. And without it, you’d never get off the ground, right?”
“Or you’d need a running start, a high place, or a lot of natural wind or all three.”
Kevin thought about hang-gliders, and Felkhr nodded.
“That’s not flying. You need something else. That’s why I’ve tried artificial wings. I knew I needed something to flap with. I’ve tried [Antigravity], [Featherfall] wings, [Forceful] enchantments on the feathers…”
“Whoa. Whoa. Dude. How has none of that made you fly?”
Kevin thought the first one would work! But Felkhr just smiled sadly. He showed Kevin an object, a stone with a bit of quartz in it that Kevin used as a paperweight.
“The same reason why I’m not begging the Archmage of Izril for lessons. It’s magic. I want a way for anyone, even a magic-less Gnoll like me, to fly. You see? I’ve known a [Mage] could cast [Levitate] for ages. If I’d known magic was stolen from us and Gnolls could become [Mages]…but that’s not the point. [Antigravity] just orients an object’s weight in the opposite direction. So if you had a stone that weighed two hundred pounds, it’d yank me up.”
He was certainly thinner from a stingy diet than most Gnolls. Felkhr gestured at the stone.
“…But the cost in mana is so high literally only an Archmage can afford to sustain it. I paid a fortune to have feathers enchanted with the stuff, and the mana it burnt through wasted the enchantment in a week, and it was a good [Enchanter].”
“Damn. Hedault does say there’s a limit to the amount of power ‘ambient mana’ can provide. So no-go? [Featherfall]?”
“You just fall slow. It makes it hard to flap the wings…I was onto something with [Forceful], but each feather didn’t generate enough…lifting power. But—gaah, I wish I hadn’t seen those designs!”
Felkhr covered his eyes, annoyed. He couldn’t get it out of his head. Why did wings look like that? Kevin hesitated, and all the answers lay behind his eyes, probably better than Troydel could articulate.
But he didn’t say them. Felkhr sensed that gaze and turned to Kevin. In that moment, his nerve almost broke.
“I…Kevin, right? I don’t know if I can ask you this, but I’ve been trying half my life to fly. Can I ask you something?”
“Sure, man. Shoot.”
The young man sat there and saw the Gnoll rub at his oil-stained fur, his face tired. He believed in his dream. He had pride—but also that longing in his eyes. Kevin had rarely seen that desire, and it scared him slightly.
“Th—wh—where you come from, your lot flies, don’t they? They fly in those balloons, in those planes, and glide and sail.”
“Fall in style. Yeah.”
Kevin was honest. Felkhr squeezed his eyes shut.
“—I could do that. But tell me one thing. Do people really fly, or is it just a—dream? Do you get what I’m asking?”
Kevin did. He thought for a long time, and he did like following the latest trends in outdoor adventure, even if he personally didn’t skydive or do any of the most extreme things. He knew what Felkhr meant, and he answered slowly.
“Felkhr, my dude. Honestly? Most of ‘flying’ is like someone sitting in a wagon while the wagon does all the work. It’s wild, but you only get to see out the window, if that makes sense. Now, there’s skydiving and parasailing and…ways to fall in style. But if you’re talking about legit flying, wind in your face?”
The Gnoll nodded, eyes wide and attentive. Kevin counted.
“…Windsurfing. Which is insane and gets you killed. It’s all down, no up with one exception. Hang gliding’s the same. You need a high place, good conditions…parasailing. All are down. Except that we’re working on something. There are jet…well, a way for someone to fly with a backpack, essentially. And we’ve strapped on a literal turbine to wingsuit divers and onto hang gliders.”
“It’s…nevermind. They can fly with that stuff. Fly straight up, fly into the clouds.”
There was a but. And Kevin looked at Felkhr and smiled ruefully.
“…But they’ve got these turbines, these engines strapped to their backs and onto their devices, and they’re loud. They’re noisy as hell and heavy. And they run out of power. So if you’re asking me if someone can just fly around forever—no. You can buy a flying bike—well, a flying wagon. But not fly. Not even where I come from.”
He had seen someone strap a turbine, a literal fan, to their back and attach it to a parasail. That was the most open, immediate thing you could get—and he imagined it was still closer to a car. Humans could jet-fly. Humans could engine-fly.
But Ryoka was closer to Felkhr’s dream than Earth, or so Kevin felt.
Was there some kind of flying that Earth could not dream of? He didn’t know, but the Gnoll’s gaze brightened, and he sat back and exhaled.
“…Then I’m still in competition.”
“Do you want a hint, dude? I’m telling you, there are things you don’t know that, uh—you might need hints on.”
Kevin now wanted to help Felkhr, and the Gnoll was incredibly stubborn.
“No. No help. If I don’t figure it out myself, I won’t level. Thank you, Kevin. This has been very helpful.”
He moved to stand. But Kevin stopped him. The young man gave Felkhr a serious look.
“Dude. I just want you to know something. I respect the effort and the hustle. I really do. And I won’t give you hints if you don’t want—but there’s a world of effort that went into the stuff Troy and I are throwing around and where you are. Hundreds of years.”
He looked the Gnoll in the eye.
“People died who were like you. Worked their entire lives to move us forwards an inch, fly us for just a minute. I can’t tell you how many thousands of geniuses worked so we could fly around and take it for granted. You could work for the rest of your life without getting anywhere if you don’t understand the basics.”
The greatest achievement of humanity was arguably flying. More than the internet. More than any weapon—they had defied gravity, and Felkhr was going it alone. The Gnoll’s face was unhappy.
“I know that. Believe me, I’ve heard it from every person I’ve ever talked to, including my parents. I know how hard it is.”
“I’m not trying to talk you out of it. I just—want to help.”
Felkhr’s defensive look altered. Now, he seemed as wary of accepting help as of being told what he was doing was impossible.
“I’m good at figuring things out, Kevin. With respect, even the glimpses I got are huge hints. Thank you. I’ll come back for more, alright?”
He turned to go, and Kevin raised a hand…then slowly lowered it. He was about to agree when he saw something he had never quite been able to forget.
So, uncharacteristically, he blocked the way out of his office.
“Dude. Dude. I—listen—that’s not—let me tell you a story.”
Felkhr halted as Kevin ushered him back to his seat. The young man took a deep breath and tried to tell Felkhr in a way he’d get it. So he told him the story he always thought of.
“—There were the bravest guys—and girls—that the world’s ever seen. The smartest, and they didn’t just get into the air. They wanted to fly higher. In my world, there was a country. Russia. And they wanted to fly…to the moon.”
To the moon? Felkhr’s eyes opened wide at Kevin in disbelief. Even his dreams didn’t go that far. But he just wanted to get off the ground. He looked out the window, as if he could see the moons shining overhead.
What ambition. But Kevin’s face was somber.
“They were racing my nation. This was way before I was born. Well…a few decades ago. And they had the best minds in their part of the world working on their dream. But they were being rushed. Pushed by the generals and…they wanted to be first, so they sent a man into space. But their ship wasn’t ready. He knew they would send him up, but they’d never be able to get him down in one piece.”
Felkhr’s fidgeting went still. He looked at Kevin, and the young man kept talking. Then—Felkhr thought he could almost see it.
“His name was…Vladimir Komarov. And he knew his ship was filled with mistakes. Rushed designs. He could have refused, but if he did, they would have sent the backup pilot instead. So he went right up there. And when he did—he told the state to bury him without a casket. So they could see what happened to someone who burst into flames on the way down.”
Kevin shuddered. He had seen an image of that very story and had to find the reason why that picture existed. Felkhr looked at Kevin bleakly.
“It sounds like a problem with their High Command, not the people who tried to get him up there.”
“Yes. It was. But we’ve done the same thing. The first people in my world to fly—also saw a lot of their friends die. If I could have gone back and given them a hint—I would. Dude. Let me at least help.”
Kevin could have probably told Felkhr another dozen stories in the same vein. Each one about people rushing towards their dream and putting their lives on the line.
But what changed Felkhr’s mind as he sat there wasn’t just the cautionary tale. He was the cautionary tale, and every scar he had from breaking his legs or an arm was proof. It was…the way Kevin pleaded with him. The quiet horror of knowing those names that history had not forgotten.
They had not been forgotten. So, the Gnoll’s look of defiance slowly changed to one of humility. He took a huge breath and—in that moment—wished so dearly he could have met them.
He thought they would have understood him, and he them, despite their difference in species, like no other beings in the entire world.
Even so. His pride warred against his mind for a moment. Then, Felkhr closed his eyes for a second, then looked around.
“…Can I borrow a piece of parchment?”
Kevin handed him some paper. Felkhr sketched with a paw and spoke.
“[From Mind, Accurate Sketch]. Is…this a good blueprint of a working plane? Your hang-glider, parasail, hot air balloon?”
He showed four different sketches rendered in simple pencil work, and Kevin swore. It was a monoplane, not a jet, one of the old designs reminiscent of a WW1 fighter, but it had the same aerofoil design that had been the start for everything.
“Fuck. It is.”
What a curious wing. Felkhr couldn’t take his eyes off the cross-section of the plane’s wing that had made him so confused. He looked at Kevin.
“Is this accurate to the best flying machines?”
“…Yes. One exception, but those ones work.”
Felkhr nodded. He rolled up the piece of paper.
“In that case—I’ll start from that. It’s a hint. But let me figure out why, first. If I have questions, can I come back to you?”
Kevin smiled, and the Gnoll left the room. Head raised, on a hunt. A spark reinvigorated.
…He came back after four minutes and pointed at something on Kevin’s desk just as the first Dwarf [Emissary] strolled into the waiting room and booked an appointment with Kevin. The Dwarf’s ears perked up at the conversation.
“Can I ask—what’re the little steel orbs for?”
And Kevin laughed.
“Those? Ball bearings. If you think Troy’s changed Pallass…you haven’t seen anything yet.”
The only problem was…Pelt hated making them, and Kevin needed thousands. Felkhr stared at the object as Kevin picked it up and gave it a spin for demonstration. And he got it. His eyes lit up.
“Now that’s amazing.”
The concept of ball bearings was not immediately impressive until you realized how useful it was.
In that—it allowed for a far more frictionless way to rotate something around. Instead of two pieces of metal grinding on each other, you had only a few perfectly round spheres. Mind you—you needed a lot of them, and they were an efficiency measure. You didn’t employ them until you had something to rotate. Until you had the industry to manufacture them.
However—it was a sign. And there was a vision that was coming from Pallass, from Liscor, from places around the world.
The times, they were changing. And as proof of that—the Dwarves were coming.
The first of them knocked on Kevin’s door after having been chased out by Master Pelt. Negotiations were hard work. In fact, another one was not contacting Erin Solstice this very moment as Felkhr returned to the inn.
They had seen how well that worked. Rather, a Dwarf was sitting and enjoying lunch. Which she would do for at least another day before figuring out the smart way to get the [Innkeeper]’s attention without the wrath.
But that was another another tale. Felkhr was already muttering to himself.
“I don’t understand it. I don’t understand those damn wings. But I don’t have to. If I don’t understand it—I just need a mold. Or I can cut it out of wood and build a prototype.”
There was something about that plane which made him incredulous that it could fly. The Wind Runner’s glider made sense. It was like a giant wing. But the plane had far less surface. Why did it work? Perhaps that thing on the front…but the wings were still like that for a reason.
By the time he was back in The Wandering Inn, though, Felkhr was already doubting his commitment to going it solo.
What Kevin had said about a thousand geniuses had rattled the Flying Gnoll. He sat at the table where Erin’s promise of free food was apparently still ongoing, sipping greedily from a cup of ‘eggnog’.
It tasted like sweet soup, but he bet he could save a bundle on his meals if he ate now. Yet the Gnoll was bouncing to morose.
“Maybe I should go back and beg for knowledge. I…just want to fly.”
Felkhr muttered. The desire to do things his way and the desire to leap into the air like the Wind Runner were warring in his heart.
Much like the war going on between Nanette and Mrsha. It was drawing in all the foreign powers, and right now, the cold war was becoming a battle for the most powerful allies.
In fact, it had even drawn down one of the inn’s most formidable neutral parties.
He sat across from the muttering Felkhr with Nanette on one side, Mrsha on the other. Bird rocked back and forth in his chair as he eyed the boiled eggs one was tempting him with, ready to become egg salad with a dollop of mayo, and the spicy chicken wings from the other, breaded.
“I cannot commit to one side or the other without a firm stance on your position on birds. Nanette, do you support the acquisitions of ballistae for the inn?”
The witch replied instantly, and Numbtongue nodded with a huge grin. Mrsha scowled, and Bird turned to the Gnoll and her mother.
“I see. You have echoed Mrsha in this regard. We are at an impasse. However, would you, Nanette, also commit to backing any bird-related movies during movie night over any snuggle fests of Numbtongue’s disgusting romantic movies?”
He wanted to watch Birds. Numbtongue did not, and because they practiced a democratic system for Erin’s theatre…
The [Bard]’s smile turned into a scowl of alarm. He looked at Nanette, and the witch, also partial to romance, unlike Mrsha, hesitated.
A second was too long. Bird looked at her and nodded slowly. He glanced at Felkhr, then walked over and sat with Mrsha.
“We were meant to be enemies, Nanette. You fight me at your peril.”
“You might regret your choice, Bird.”
Nanette folded her arms, smiling too-innocently. It looked sinister to Mrsha and Lyonette. The little witch was showing her fangs. But Bird was the first member of the inn not to lose to Nanette.
He spread his mandibles and raised them.
“I am Bird, Nanette. You don’t know who you face. I’m unpredictable. Even I don’t know what I might do. I have the power of Queens on my side. And lying. At any moment, I might do something genius or stupid. Or both.”
He put all four hands to his head, pressing his fingers against his brain.
“Hm. Hmmmmmm. Aha!”
The first salvo of the war was a dirty blow. Bird turned to Lyonette and whispered loudly.
“Miss Lyonette, you should send a [Knight] to Riverfarm.”
“I don’t know if Laken wants to be part of this altercation, Bird…”
That was going too far. But Bird shook his head happily.
“No. Not to him. Ask…the [Witches] of Riverfarm what should be done if a little witch is getting a big head and ego. Heh. Heheheheheh.”
Nanette’s confident smile turned pale. Lyonette clapped her hands together in delight.
Escalation. Why were Mrsha and Nanette fighting again? Possibly at least one of them had forgotten.
While a [Knight] was heading to the door and being sabotaged by other members of the inn, including Liska, Felkhr’s muttering to himself and figuring out the odd wings was largely overlooked.
He sat at his table as more guests drifted in and out. The Flying Gnoll noticed them, of course. Some like Klbkch made his fur crawl, but the Antinium was only here to unfold a map on the table and read it with a bowl of acid flies on the side.
In fact, even Saliss of Lights wandered into the inn, and Erin Solstice broke off from trying to de-escalate and disarm the conflict in her inn.
“Saliss! My favorite naked Drake! Why are you sooty? You look tired—pull up a chair! What can I get you?”
The Drake had his privacy box on, and he flopped into the chair.
“Sugar. And I’ll take it from Ishkr, thanks. Watching you roll around for fifteen minutes to get me a drink is funny—but I’m hungry and thirsty. Also, you clearly haven’t met many Drakes if I’m your favorite naked one.”
“Ooh. That one stung. Are you okay?”
The Drake was not. He was not his usually annoying self. He was tired, sooty, and, most unusually of all, injured. He had a burn on his arm. Just a faint discoloration of scales, but Erin blinked at it.
“I’ve never seen you get hurt before. Wait, you blew a hole through the roof of your lab.”
“Yeah. There’s two holes, now.”
“Whoa. You making some kind of super-vial of explosions?”
“I know you’re being cute, but that’s the opposite of what I’m trying to do. I’m looking through the Albez stuff, and I just hit gold. Unfortunately, it’s so potent that Xif took one look at it and decided he didn’t want to try figuring out what it did. Xif said that.”
“Whoaaaaa. Wait, what’s making it go boom?”
Saliss flopped upright and seized the first milkshake that came his way.
“It’s not ‘what’, it’s ‘how much’. I’ve never seen anything like it. It makes Sage’s Grass look mundane. I used half of a pebble yay big the first time in a non-reactive solution.”
He indicated a pebble half the size of one of Erin’s nails.
“The second time? Powder. And yes, those are [Alchemist] terms. ‘A chunk of this shit’, ‘a sprinkling of powder’. Some recipes are incredibly stupid. I used 3 milligrams the first time, which might have been stupid, but again—non-reactive formula. Then I used 64 fraerling-grams.”
“A thousand less than a milligram. Fraerlings are the only ones who use that measurement, generally. Anyways, look at my arm!”
“Does it hurt?”
“No, it’s embarrassing. I—hey, is that an ordinary cake? I heard someone was making new stuff called viennetta. I thought we were friends. Bring it out! Bring it out!”
Saliss began banging on the table. He glanced over, saw Felkhr, and blinked.
“Well, well. Look who it is. Hey. This is my inn. Back off!”
He shook his fist at Felkhr, and the Flying Gnoll broke off from his ruminations long enough to grin. Erin twisted her head to look and realized that for all her guest was isolated—he still got people calling out to him.
A feathered woman walking in with the two members of her team and six rookies halted. Bevussa, Captain of the Wings of Pallass and rising star among her city, called out.
“Is that Felkhr? I haven’t seen you at the inn. Hello.”
“Oh. Captain Bevussa. Hello.”
The Garuda was busy, but she waved before marching over to Erin to introduce her team. Erin distinctly heard one of the Drakes, Issa, whispering. The Oldbloods looked askance at Felkhr. But the two Garuda out of the new recruits waved.
“Captain, you know that guy? He’s the crazy Flying Gnoll.”
“I like him. His father was a Garuda too, you know. Straighten up, you lot. Erin, these are my new teammates. We’re expanding and eying the New Lands…could I borrow that special garden that Jewel was talking about? I want to see how well they do without me in a fight.”
Bevussa was politely ignoring Felkhr staring at her wings and the Oldbloods’. He was comparing them to his plane sketch.
“It makes no sense. It doesn’t work like that, does it?”
The wings versus the plane? He frowned…then slowly rotated the drawing and began to sketch out a bird’s wing.
“They’re not the same. Are they?”
He stared at the wing of a bird—then the cross-section of the plane wing and tried to make the two make sense. It was only when someone oohed loudly in his ear that he jumped and nearly knocked over the cinnamon roll he’d been given.
“Ooh. A hawk wing. And a boring plane wing.”
The Gnoll’s scream made Erin look up from leading the Wings of Pallass to the Pomle garden.
“Bird! Are you harassing Felkhr? Felkhr, you remember Bird, right?”
The same Antinium who’d killed dozens of Wyverns? Felkhr leaned back in his seat, and Bird protested.
“I was merely staring at beautiful bird wings while plotting how to harm Nanette in a non-lethal manner, Erin.”
“—Don’t do the second thing! And don’t do the first thing unless Felkhr lets you, alright?”
Bird sulked as he perched in a chair. Felkhr slowly reached for his drawing, and Bird handed it to him.
“Hello. I am Bird. What are you doing? These wings are alike, by the way.”
He pointed at the sketch, and Felkhr’s brows crossed with both the instinctive alarm of a Pallassian meeting the feared Antinium and confusion.
“What? No, they’re not. They’re completely different.”
“They are very much the same. May I show you why?”
Felkhr handed the parchment to Bird. Bird instantly tore it in half.
Before the Gnoll could get mad, Bird rotated the hawk wing that Felkhr had sketched in quite good detail until it was positioned sideways—like a hawk in motion. Gently, he traced the curve of the wing where it would meet the body—and it was raised.
Similar to the design of the plane’s wing. Then Felkhr saw it and felt like a fool. Bird happily pointed to the plane’s wing.
“They have the same bumpy top bit and flat underside. So do Wyverns. Dragonflies and bees and insects do not have that exact type of wing, but they fly silly. Like her.”
A bee flew overhead, lazily shooting green fire behind her. The jet-powered bee nearly flew into Felkhr’s open mouth before she winged into the garden after Erin. The Gnoll’s eyes followed it.
What a sight! Wait, how is she—
He was sketching the bee without saying a word, trying to capture the method the Ashfire Bee was using to fly. Bird oohed silently as Mrsha tugged on his arm. They had to plot dire vengeance against Nanette!
“Who are you, please? I think we have met, but I do not remember it.”
Bird tilted his head left and right, and Felkhr jumped again.
“I’m—Felkhr. The, uh, Flying Gnoll of Pallass.”
“Oh! Can you fly?”
“No. But I want to.”
Bird’s visible excitement turned to disappointment instantly. Mrsha, distracted, wrote on a card and slipped it onto the table.
Excuse me, sir. Why do you want to fly so badly? I have heard that you break more bones than I break plates each month. It seems foolhardy in my opinion.
At this point, Felkhr didn’t even bother to act surprised that a young girl wrote like a [Scholar]. As for the answer? It poured out of him without a second’s thought. He was staring at the plane’s wing, understanding now it was modeled after a bird’s wing. He still did not understand why it worked…
And now he thought he could see how he might have missed the simple issue of design for years. If this wing worked—it was not about feathers, but structure.
“Maybe I should take the easy way out. Why do I want to fly? Because…I think it would be the most fun thing in the world.”
Mrsha had been expecting a stupid answer about aspirations or perhaps the natural ambitions of the grounded beings to conquer the stratosphere. But she sat up as Bird clapped his hands together and smiled hugely. Felkhr stared out a window. It was snowing. But up there…he craned his neck, as if to stare into those clouds.
“Have you ever wanted to touch a cloud? I think of it all the time. I think flying would be the most amazing thing in the world. I dream of it. Soaring into the sky—I don’t think there would be an experience more magical and amazing than that. I want to fly, because if I could fly, there is nowhere and nothing I couldn’t reach. Fly above the clouds. Whenever I wanted. Just spread a pair of wings and take off.”
He blinked and looked at the two children, one big, one small. Then he felt embarrassed and annoyed that he felt embarrassed. But his mouth kept working.
“Pallass is a huge city. A Walled City, one of the biggest cities in the entire world. Home to millions. Climbing from foot to the top of the walls is tiring, even for an adult. But you know who flies over our city as if it’s as tiny as a foothill? Birds. I see eagles and hawks up in the air, and I wonder how the world looks. I think—it would be so fun I could die for it. That’s why. Ahem. Nice to meet you. You’re…Mrsha, right?”
Then he was embarrassed all over again and looked at the white Gnoll cub. But she gave him a look of rare respect, and her eyes shone from the blaze his dream had produced. Mrsha had never had the dream of flying, not really. She saw people fly and thought it was cool—Ryoka had taken her soaring across the ground.
But now she wanted to know what the sky looked like way up high. And she got what Felkhr meant. It was one thing to be a passenger.
Another to be able to fly.
Someone else understood far more than she did, though. The instant Felkhr finished speaking, Bird raised all four hands. The Gnoll recoiled slightly, but Bird was smiling. He grabbed one of Felkhr’s paws with two hands.
“You are right! Planes are noisy and make loud sounds and smell, according to Kevin. Flying is natural and beautiful. Everyone should dream of flying. I like you, Felkhr. We must now become best friends. I have deep respect for your dream.”
Bird logic moved faster than even Felkhr’s mind could catch up with. But he had a supporter in Bird, and the Antinium instantly began slapping the table.
“Ishkr, Ishkr! We must have food for Felkhr! I will give him my five meals a week to fund his projects.”
Ishkr reappeared, looking slightly annoyed.
“You don’t have five meals to comp, Bird. And Felkhr can order what he wants.”
“Oh. Then may we all have some of that fried chicken wing, please? You should eat. Why are you staring at wings?”
“I’m trying to figure out why it works. Do you know if I can buy some wood or twine around here?”
Felkhr could go to his workshop, but the idea of working in this warm inn rather than his unheated workshop—the forge’s ambient heat was less pleasant than a fireplace—appealed to him greatly. Plus, free food. Bird instantly ran upstairs.
“I have tons of wood from when I was going to try and murder an entire city! You may have it—and glue and string.”
Something about how he spoke was greatly concerning to Felkhr, but the Gnoll was suddenly drawn to the hot wings. He realized it had been a long time since he’d had anything fancy to eat.
An entire basket arrived for him—then another for Bird as the Antinium ran down and dumped an armful of scrap on the table. Ishkr let him do it, and he delivered Mrsha’s lunch too and pulled the covering lid off with a flourish.
The lunch was…a piece of burnt breading on a plate. A big plate. Mrsha stared down at it, then up at Ishkr.
The Gnoll was just as surprised. He frowned towards the kitchen, and Calescent gave them an evil smile.
A chef was a bad foe to have.
Felkhr and Bird didn’t even see Mrsha and Ishkr go off or pay attention to the hijinks and shenanigans and perhaps even silliness going on around the inn.
It was strange. One second they were strangers—and Bird was a stranger, even if he was friendly. But then Bird mentioned his dream of flying and it was like an electric bond was running between them.
Like a [Lightning Bolt] of understanding. You get it. Only, Bird’s dreams had never been more than the desire to fly and pestering Valeterisa and other people to make it happen.
Felkhr was the embodiment of trying to make it happen, and Bird’s mind was blown away by the reality of Felkhr’s dream.
He was also an expert when it came to birds…which was one of the reasons why he thought it was impossible to fly.
“Birds are very light, Felkhr. I know this. I am heavy. I do not think it is possible to fly unless I was a Wyvern. They are fat. But magic. I have always thought magic was the only way.”
“I know, but Kevin’s planes are silly and smoky and stupid and dangerous. Much like Kevin himself.”
“I’ll—take you at your word. But Ryoka Griffin flies.”
“She has magic. You see? Magic is the answer.”
“This isn’t magic, though. This is clever! When I saw these blueprints, I thought—they’re too polished. Most of the designs I’ve seen from the Engineer’s Guild have a lot of excess detailing. Ambition. This is stripped-down. Economical. Why do these wings work?”
He and Bird were making a model plane. It wasn’t hard with Felkhr’s [Inventor] class to bend twigs to create a chassis that more-or-less mimicked the plane’s wings. Bird had enough wood scraps to make it work, and they agreed to cover the entire thing with Felkhr’s free parchment, which he had mountains of.
“While you finish your copy-plane, I shall show you a great flying device that Miss Erin helped me make.”
Bird ran upstairs—then came back with a paper airplane. Felkhr nearly dropped the plane he was working on and stared at it.
Bird sailed the plane around happily. Then he accidentally threw it into the fireplace.
“My plane! Oh well. You see, that one flies.”
“But it doesn’t have the wing structure as this one. That’s just made of paper; it flies because it’s light as a feather. If I could cast [Featherweight] on myself…it’s too much mana. I’ve asked, and a [Featherweight] necklace strong enough to make me gravity-neutral would sell for hundreds of thousands of gold pieces. But this plane…the raised ridge here, the flat underbelly of the wing—there’s a reason for it. Let’s see if this one flies.”
And as luck had it, they didn’t need to go to Liscor or Pallass’ walls and bother the Watch. Bird had his tower, and the next hour saw him and Felkhr tossing the plane off it and shouting.
Because it flew.
Not well. It flew like a drunk cat due to the rushed design, and it was subject to gravity. But Felkhr realized that if he threw it hard enough—and didn’t smash the entire thing to bits with acceleration or a bad throw—he could see it getting an improbable amount of lift.
“Why is that?”
Bird didn’t know how the plane worked, but he knew the basic components.
“It is missing the spinning thing. It should be going fast. What if…we put a string on it and pulled it around?”
Then he was holding it over his head as Felkhr pulled it in the snow outside the inn.
They never quite got it to fly like a kite, but Felkhr was convinced. The airplane was aerodynamic, and the wings had something to do with how it caught the air.
After an hour, he and Bird were sitting by the fireplace, inspecting the plane and arguing about it. Bird wanted to make a big one out of lighter materials and see if he could have a plane-kite fly. Felkhr didn’t see the need. He wasn’t here to have fun.
“I just don’t see why the air works like that.”
They were slowly murdering Kevin. The [Engineer] was sitting at a table, trying not to walk over there and describe the flow of air to Felkhr and Bird. But the two enthusiasts were engaged—and they were also annoying the heck out of other members of the inn not embroiled in Nanette and Mrsha’s feud.
“No, I will not [Repair] it again. Please stop breaking—whatever this is!”
Montressa snapped as Bird brought over their prototype plane, which had suffered another collision that had snapped the weak twig frame. The Antinium cajoled her into it—and Felkhr gloomily reflected on the issue.
“It’s steel. Or something lighter. But it has to be tough. Did you see how that plane broke because the wind pushed too hard on it? Whatever’s making it has to be sturdy and light.”
“Oh. Is that expensive?”
Felkhr pushed the issue aside. He placed the repaired plane on the table and stared at it.
“Something about how the wings act. A bird’s wings let them fly. You’re right, Bird. Most creatures with wings have this shape, now that I think of it. Garuda, hawks, and this. Why?”
Bird scratched at his head.
“Because it is best? You are a confusing person, Felkhr. If the shape is like that, it is because it’s best.”
“But why is it best?”
Bird was not exactly [Engineer] material. His mind sometimes worked perpendicular or opposite of Felkhr’s. All the Antinium knew was that the design was optimal, so he didn’t care why. But Felkhr had to know.
In this case, though, Bird became the catalyst to understanding it all. He stared at Felkhr glaring at the wings and running his mind in a circle. Then—Bird opened his mandibles, put his head in front of the plane, and began…
“Fuuh. Faaaauh. Heeeh.”
Felkhr got Antinium spit on his arm. He didn’t know Antinium could spit. He leaned back. Bird was breathing hard.
“What are you doing, Bird?”
“I am producing air. See? If you want to know why the wing works, you should see how it works. This is too hard. I am getting a fan.”
He walked upstairs, and Felkhr sat back. And again—his mind felt like it had exploded. When Bird came down and began to fan the plane, Felkhr stared at the air moving the plane slightly. Obviously, he couldn’t see what was so special about the wing structure. Just like he couldn’t see why a bird flew.
But like the hot air that Garuda claimed let them fly…Felkhr stared at the waving fan. Then he sat up.
“Chalk. Does anyone have chalk? Or—paint? Dye?”
Bird looked up, and Kevin blinked. This time, it was the young man’s turn to have his jaw drop as Felkhr proposed something Kevin hadn’t thought of. But of course, he understood what Felkhr was thinking of. Bird sat up.
“I know where to get some!”
Eight minutes later, the two were kicked out of Octavia’s shop and then the common room of The Wandering Inn in quick succession for stealing and then causing a mess. They ended up doing their experiment in Bird’s room but had to throw open a window very quickly.
“Watch Sergeant. Inn alert.”
One of the [Guards] on the wall called it out. Beilmark strode over and snatched a spyglass from a nervous Human.
“What is it?”
“That window’s smoking blue.”
Blue smoke was billowing from one of the windows of the inn. Beilmark stared at it.
“…Hm. It’s just one window. Keep an eye on it.”
Felkhr was blue. The dye was all over him and Bird—and it was hard to breathe. However, the crude wind tunnel with the dye still illuminated what he wanted to see.
The wind. The passage of air across the plane was illuminated by the particulates, and as Bird, coughing, fanned the wind and Felkhr got on his hands and knees, he thought he saw it.
The simplest of stuff, really. It was just there when the wind blew, depending on the angle of the wind. The smoke ran past the plane—passed under the wing, around the solid object—
And over the rounded edge of the wing. It formed a trail behind it, a cloud as it caught the edge of the wing, and Bird’s furious fanning showed Felkhr a truth.
The air was bending over the top of the wing. It passed smoothly underneath the flat bottom. But over the top—he ran his paws through his fur.
“That’s it! There’s something here.”
He saw it. And his head hurt because he realized there was a world of context he was missing.
Felkhr could not understand yet how the difference in air pressure created the aerofoil effect. He was barely seeing the effects of the wing’s structure in a practical setting. But he saw something, and it was amazing.
It was daunting. But now his mind was expanding. Instead of his feathered wings, he was imagining the act of flying less as a matter of flapping the ‘right’ pair of wings and more like…cutting through the air.
As if the air were an ocean, and only the most effective blade—not the sharpest, the most effective—would derive the motion you wanted. It was exactly like water, he realized, only faster! Consider—a sword would sink fast if you angled it point-down and dropped it into the water while something flatter sank slower.
Yet what he wanted was lift. Hence wingspan. Hence a design to capture as much air as possible. Hence parachutes like the Wind Runner used.
Eventually, the threat of suffocation drove Felkhr and Bird out of the room and downstairs. Saliss laughed his tail off at the sight of the two blue figures leaving a trail throughout the inn. Erin shouted as she rolled over a streak of dye and it got into her wheelchair.
“Bird! You’re cleaning that up!”
“I’m sorry. Can we wash ourselves…?”
After they’d dunked themselves with freezing water from the well, Saliss leaned over.
“How’s the flying going, Felkhr?”
“I’m o-onto something.”
The Gnoll chattered between his teeth. Bird was trying to remove the dye and finding it was already embedded into the floorboards, much to Lyonette’s horror. Another regular of Erin’s inn sat up and took stock of the situation.
“Oho. What a terrible thing. If only there was a cleaner here to deal with it. But I dunno about that, pardner. I’m just a humble guest of this here establishment. Reckon I could make a call to a fellow I know. Handy with a brush. Just say the word.”
Silverstache twirled his silvery mustache as Lyonette stared at him.
Everyone was a character. Saliss rolled his eyes at the Antinium.
“Look at that. Everyone’s crazy. It used to be just us. Now there’s a thousand posers around here. Like Tessa. Hey, kid. Do you even take breaks?”
He spoke to a wall, and a chameleon-like Drake was standing there. Felkhr nearly leapt out of his seat again, and Tessa glowered.
“Leave me alone. I’m happy.”
“Alright, alright. You’re not taking up the Engineering Guild’s handsome offer, Felkhr?”
How did he know about that? Well, he was a Named-rank adventurer. Felkhr had a bunch of notes from the day and a lot to think about.
“No. I want to do it myself. And there’s something—”
He paused, shook his head.
“—I don’t want to take them up on the idea.”
“Sure. Well, if you want someone to make you a [Featherweight] potion—I’m not your guy.”
Saliss winked at him.
“You can’t afford it, and it’s not your answer. But sometimes you’ve gotta accept a shortcut.”
He was getting on Felkhr’s nerves. The Gnoll snapped back, refusing to look at Kevin.
“I know that. But there’s a difference between a shortcut and—copying or cheating.”
“Hey, did I say the other two things? Look who’s touchy. But just so you know—the Engineer’s Guild is racing you. And they play dirty.”
The [Alchemist] grinned. Felkhr knew he was probably only being annoying, but it got under his fur. He stalked towards the door, only pausing to thank Erin for her hospitality.
On the whole, he felt good. He was doing things his way, he had made a series of breakthroughs that felt more impactful than his entire year of studies—and Bird was a surprisingly good person. Felkhr’s good mood lasted right until he got to Pallass.
Then he saw Drakes flying.
A Drake flew across Pallass as people watched, calling out. He had a huge grin on his face, and the same [Journeyman] who had insulted Felkhr and been reprimanded was on television.
“Journeyman Yoiss Emscale of Pallass is pioneering the newest way to travel! I’m Noass, your reporter on-the-ground for Channel 1. He says it’s called a ‘zip-line’. And it’s just one of the new ideas coming out of the Engineering Guild.”
Felkhr was just one of the people in the crowd watching as a zipline crossing from the 9th floor all the way to the 5th floor sent the Drake down at incredible speed. He had a simple device that let him do it. He wore the Rascale Mk. 4 Safety Harness and had attached a sturdy rope to it. Then—he’d added an existing Drake invention to the rope.
The metal carabiner wasn’t quite like the ones Troydel knew, but Drakes had their own clip-in mechanism, and it was attached to the zipline. The concept of just using gravity to slide down the line wasn’t the most novel thing in the world.
“This has been in place before—but I am proposing a faster, more engaging system of travel across Pallass!”
Journeyman Yoiss was flushed with pride—and the Engineering Guild’s Guildmaster was flushed with fury. But he gave a restrained interview to Noass when the microphone was pushed in front of his face.
“I regret to say this is a public demonstration of a new project, Reporter Noass. A very new project, and Journeyman Yoiss is proposing something new when we have not conducted an extensive series of safety tests. I already have an objection from our Garuda and Oldblood Drakes that the ropes will interfere with flying in the city.”
“Ah, but isn’t this system better for the non-winged residents of Pallass, Guildmaster? It’s a minority versus a majority, and where would we get if we had to accede to every particularity? Can you confirm that you’ll be offering a public test? There’s already a queue.”
There was indeed, but the angry Guildmaster shook his head.
“No public testing! I will congratulate Journeyman Yoiss on his discovery later.”
His glower probably echoed Chaldion’s and a number of the Eyes of Pallass. But the problem was that once one of the [Engineers] set up the test, it was hard to stop gossip running. And the other problem was that Troydel had a big mouth.
Felkhr knew exactly where this idea had come from. He saw Yoiss high-fiving a nervous Troydel until he was whisked away for his ‘congratulatory chat’. It wasn’t unique to the Drake, and it wasn’t the most world-breaking idea ever. But he did hear one of the younger apprentices chatting.
“First this—next, we’ll be doing gliders. It’s all moving so fast! We’ll be [Engineers] within the month! And we’ll be flying to Liscor in two!”
Flying to Liscor. They sounded so confident. They sounded so—smug.
He had been trying this for over a decade, and now they had walked on into his great dream and project because they knew it would work. With most of the ideas done, and they were going to steal his dream. Felkhr stared at the zipline. He clenched his paws around his designs.
No. Absolutely not.
The Engineer’s Guild could move fast if they had to. With their hand forced, they restricted the zipline from usage—but they had to let Journeyman Yoiss continue his public tests. He became a project head, and even if he had probably had a very uncomfortable closed-door meeting—publicly, he was Pallass’ darling.
Whereas the number of people laughing at Felkhr increased. He didn’t go to Tails and Scales that night, though, or the night thereafter.
He didn’t have time. Felkhr was designing a new flying machine—and this time, he was keenly aware he was on a time crunch. But he had a plan.
He took the wing-design from the blueprints and married it to the most basic frame he could come up with. A bar he could cling to—and because he realized he’d be dangling, a foot-loop so he could lie prone.
It was a hang-glider. More aerodynamically shaped than the Wind Runner’s, and he had attached feathers to the tail with the idea that it would add something like stabilization or whatever birds had feathers for, but—
It was just a hang-glider. The entire project screamed at him that it was wrong. Felkhr knew it. But he had also seen apprentices from the guild going to the exact same stores he went to for his materials and buying them up. In fact…he sorely suspected they were just following him around and using his suppliers.
The Eye of Pallass, Zemize, had warned him they’d do it. But it was so blatant that Felkhr saw red.
Two days and two nights, stopping only to grab as much food as he could carry from Erin Solstice’s inn and eating it while working. He was dragging cloth over the wicker frame he’d built and cursing.
“Silk. I’d buy silk if I could or something lighter-weight. And the wood could be lighter. Can I use hollow wood? No—wait. There’s that Drathian stuff that’s hollow on the inside. If only I had a damn budget—”
He was hurling tools around in a rage, not because he was frustrated.
He was done.
A Level 30 [Inventor] with his Level 30 [Dreamer]’s Skills could afford and produce a copy of Ryoka Griffin’s glider in two days if he didn’t sleep. But Felkhr stared at his final work, and he had never been less proud of an attempt.
It’ll probably work. But I didn’t come up with any of it. I don’t understand the wings fully. It’s just the Wind Runner’s glider with alterations.
His glider had a longer wingspan and thicker frame. He’d attached feathers, but there was no innovation to it.
He hadn’t levelled up either. Felkhr rubbed his paws across his face, and someone spoke behind him. He didn’t jump. He’d almost expected Zemize to be there.
“When I told the Engineer’s Guild you’d be done first, they didn’t believe me. Mind you, they’ve got steel in theirs. Something about the inner struts.”
“Steel’s too heavy.”
“Mm. Well, they’re getting theirs enchanted. And they are using silk. You sure you don’t want to join the project?”
Felkhr turned slowly, and his glare didn’t make the ordinary-looking Drake woman flinch, but she raised her claws.
“I’m not trying to offend you. But it seems like you’ve come around.”
Felkhr glanced at his creation. He took a deep breath and felt the urge to heave a hammer at the Drake and knew exactly how stupid that would be.
“I don’t want your help. Leave me alone, and if you try following me—well, don’t. I can’t do a thing, but I bet some of the people I’m going to meet will be unpleasant.”
He stalked out of his workshop, head bowed, and went to finalize his creation. Felkhr had to run back eight minutes later, swearing in annoyance. He was so mad that he had forgotten to yank the cloth canvas he’d fitted and hand-stitched together off his glider.
He had an appointment to keep.
“You are late, Mister Felkhr, by eight minutes. And I have a highly important client I am due to meet. Please state your proposal.”
The [Enchanter] that Felkhr had booked an appointment with was a notoriously touchy man. And he’d been busy all month it seemed, so getting a spot with him was a stroke of luck.
Then again, Felkhr had heard his business had fallen through, so he had less work to do. But Felkhr didn’t have that much coin, and the balding man with orange, frizzy hair was already noticeably upset.
However—Felkhr had a Skill.
[Powerful Persuasion: Enchanters]. One of the nonsensical [Dreamer] Skills that enabled him to get what he wanted. He already had a Scroll of Feather Falling…but getting this man to help him out was going to be hard with little coin, a delayed appointment, and a rush job.
And yet…Felkhr’s knot in his stomach didn’t alleviate, but it didn’t get worse for dealing with Hedault’s displeasure.
Mainly because his Skill was reassuring. It had nothing to do with his personal charisma. In fact, sleep-deprived, smelling of glue, and furious as hell, even a powerful charisma Skill would have done little to sway Hedault, who dealt with Magnolia Reinhart.
Rather—[Powerful Persuasion] did something else entirely. Felkhr stared at something just above Hedault’s head and slowly read from the glowing lines above the [Enchanter]’s pate.
“…I’m terribly sorry to delay you, Enchanter. Let me be precise. I have a rush order for an enchantment on this cloth canvas here I would like fulfilled overnight. I can’t offer you appropriate compensation, but it is for an engineering project. A flying machine. I could offer you some of my [Incredible Adhesive] in partial exchange. Oh, and I think Kevin would vouch for my good intentions.”
It was not what he’d have said if he took a wild swing at how to impress Hedault. But the direct language and the mention of his project and Kevin and the [Incredible Solvent] were all written above Hedault’s head.
The [Enchanter] blinked—then glanced up suspiciously as if looking around for a fly. He tapped one finger against the other rapidly.
“Intriguing. Another project? This is not Kevin’s skateboarding attempt, is it?”
Felkhr didn’t get more than the initial statement, so he focused on Hedault and tried to smile.
“No. Er—I saw him working on ball bearings, if it helps, but this is flight. I have this canvas here, and I was hoping to get it enchanted. You’re the only [Enchanter] I could find who can work on something as flexible and mundane as cloth. The ones in Pallass have all banned me or they’re working for the Engineering Guild.”
“Hm. What is the enchantment? Lay the cloth down—it’s in pieces.”
Hedault was instantly offended by the material, but Felkhr assured him it wasn’t a problem.
“I only need a day’s enchantment on it. If it works—I’d have each piece enchanted and then sew them all together.”
“Ah. Go on. This is not a cheap endeavor, but name me your funds. I may…be interested in the result.”
Hedault was a man who appreciated vehicles in their forms, and when he heard of the glider attempt, his eyes gleamed.
“It would be useful to compare against my own project for the Wind Runner. What enchantment do you want, exactly?”
Felkhr sagged in relief. He had thought hard about what spell to use for this flying attempt, and despite his misgivings—he leaned over.
“[Wind Resistance], please.”
It was dawn when Hedault woke Felkhr up in his waiting room and presented the canvas to him.
“I have not done any runecrafting upon it. The enchantment is highly unstable and will dissolve in two days.”
“Plenty of time, thank you. I’ll test it right away.”
“Are you quite sure you have the optimal conditions?”
Hedault gave Felkhr a dubious look. Even after napping, the Gnoll looked—distraught. Guilty. Harried.
But the Flying Gnoll was racing, racing—and he had seen the glider for Ryoka Grifin sitting in one of Hedault’s rooms, ready for enchantment. He felt like he was dreaming still, only it wasn’t his quasi-nightmare about falling.
He had a glider. He had the knowledge. Perhaps the great adventure, the struggle had been taken from him.
—But he could still fly. Felkhr grinned at Hedault as he took the still-warm cloth.
“There’s never an optimal moment. If I fly—I should be able to fly in a storm or in broad daylight. Thank you, Enchanter Hedault.”
He bowed several times and began to head to the door. The [Enchanter] frowned mildly, and he made an observation that struck Felkhr through the back.
“Birds do not fly when it rains.”
The Gnoll slowed, looked back—and then strode out the door without a word. It didn’t matter. The sky was clear, cold, and he was ready.
Today was going to be a red-letter day.
Three great changes by innovation struck the world, all very close geographically to each other, on the day that Felkhr hauled his glider up to the 10th floor.
He was greeted by laughter, shouts, and even a few cheers by some of the people who saw him.
“It’s the Flying Gnoll!”
“Break another leg!”
“Copying the Wind Runner at last? Took you long enough!”
His head turned at that last one, and he saw a little Garuda child, practically a chick, waving at him as her parents nodded. Felkhr paused and tried to smile.
Then he was on the 10th floor.
“Civilian Felkhr. Are you making another flying attempt?”
The tired Watch Captain on duty was Venim today, and it made Felkhr glad because they weren’t going to hassle him about ‘positioning’.
“I won’t be long, Watch Captain.”
There was even a decent breeze flowing across the battlements. Drakes shivered in their fur-lined armor, and Gnolls glanced over but were too disciplined to howl a greeting. A Dullahan manning one of the catapults gave him the side-eye as Venim eyed the glider.
“That’s a big contraption.”
The entire thing was seven feet across in wingspan. Honestly, Felkhr felt it might be too small? It looked like the wings of a plane attached together in a ‘v’ over the simple handlebar and strap for his legs.
“No safety harness?”
“I’ve got a scroll in case I fall. I could…clip into one. No. It doesn’t matter. This is going to work.”
He had said the same thing to Venim before, but never so cynically. The Watch Captain frowned at him and stepped back.
“If you want to try, I can’t stop you. But have your scroll ready.”
Felkhr growled at the Drake—but he reluctantly pulled the scroll out of his bag of holding and put it in a loop in his belt, secure and ready to activate. He could use a scroll in a second from experience.
He wondered if the Engineering Guild or Eyes of Pallass were watching him. Below, as Felkhr turned his head to see, he could see Journeyman Yoiss zipping down his zipline, shouting in the fun of it.
Another way to travel. Felkhr’s red-rimmed eyes glared down—then he put the glider down.
Damn. He’d have to do a running jump with it, and it was sort of heavy. But Hedault’s enchantment was keeping the wind from picking up the glider and carrying him off the walls. He hadn’t even considered that danger. Okay, do a jump, then loop your legs into the straps.
It occurred to Felkhr that he might well not be strong enough to hold onto the glider, and he groaned. He needed that harness and to clip into the frame, or one slip and he’d go tumbling.
“Can—can someone watch this for me? I need to grab—”
More laughter from people watching as Felkhr ran down to get his Rascale Mk. 2 Safety Harness. It was mostly as good as the Mk. 4, and he wasn’t worried about dangling. He couldn’t remember the crowd ever being that large or it annoying him this much.
He couldn’t remember caring, many times. Sometimes it bothered him, but now?
He clipped into the frame and felt the reassuring lock from the metal carabiner before he gripped the handlebars. The glider still wasn’t being buffeted as the winds blew at him, and he took a few breaths.
“Any speech before you fly, Felkhr? You could wait—maybe Wistram News Network will send a camera!”
One of the civilians watching by the ranks was hoping to get on camera. Felkhr didn’t turn his head.
“If I have anything to say, it’ll be after I succeed. What’re you all gathered around here for? You know it’ll work.”
He felt angry, now. Angry and tired, and yet his heart still leapt as he saw that drop—and the blue, cold skies beyond. Felkhr stared ahead until someone brought him down to earth.
“We might. But I have never seen anyone but Ryoka Griffin fly. What enchantment is that?”
He turned—and the biggest Drake in the world was there. Grimalkin of Pallass had his arms folded as he watched Felkhr. The Sinew Magus gave the Flying Gnoll a nod.
“Hm. Intriguing. That’s a novel take on it.”
Grimalkin wrote that down, and Felkhr almost snarled at him—but he knew Grimalkin wrote everything down. And the Drake was here and not laughing. He just watched as the Gnoll took a few breaths.
Don’t do it. Throw this thing away and make something else. Or ask Kevin for everything. But this?
The [Dreamer] felt his class wavering. The [Inventor] was not proud. Yet the Gnoll…
Just like a boy, he stared up at that sky and thought of the stories of Chieftain Seru’nial. How did it go?
Chieftain Seru’nial took her tribe beyond the sky…
He had imagined a Gnoll with wings, flying amongst birds. If she could do it, why not anyone else?
He had his pride. But he also wanted to know the dream was real. He wanted to fly. So Felkhr took a running start. He pounded towards the battlement’s edge. There was normally a wall between you and falling to your death, but there were also ramps where Pegasi could land, and so he dashed towards the edge—and then leapt. He swung his legs up, and one was caught in the strap at once.
Damn. Felkhr kicked as he went over the edge to laughter, applause, cheers, and gasps. The glider dipped, and he was more focused on his right foot, trying to fit it in the loop so he could remain prone. Hanging from the glider by his harness was going to be stupid if they did put a camera on him.
How do I turn? It only occurred to him now as the glider soared downwards that he had never wondered how to turn. With wings, he assume you flapped, but—
The glider was shooting downwards fast, the wind blowing across the wings. Excellent acceleration. Felkhr waited for the wind to do what he knew it should and seize the wings, pull them up or something. His paws were clinging to the wood, but he wasn’t straining to keep himself level—he was heading down.
Down fast. Felkhr blinked. Where was his lift? Where was—
A force pressed him against the canvas of his glider as he headed down, faster than he could ever remember going. The Gnoll stared down at the ground coming at him fast, and time slowed.
[Quicktime Reactions]. A [Dreamer] Skill that had saved his life. His eyes found the canvas, and Felkhr felt the magic in it. Still warm…he remembered how the wind hadn’t buffeted his glider, despite the breeze and large wingspan. It would have blown most objects off the walls when he left it there.
[Wind Resistance], he’d said to Hedault. Because that would increase the effect of the wing’s ability to cut through the air.
But that was—suddenly Felkhr’s tired mind snapped to a conclusion. Wait a second. He was assuming that the spell would accelerate what he didn’t understand. Improve the ability of wings to lift. But that was magic.
What if the spell meant the wings weren’t moving through the air at all? In that case—he remembered his sword analogy and how it plunged through water.
He was in an aerodynamic sword cutting through the air. Plunging straight towards the ground with no lift at all.
The Gnoll’s kicking foot stopped going for the holding strap. He kicked loose of the strap—then his paws were grabbing at the harness.
Dead gods. He was attached to this glider. And the harness—was locking him into place. He clicked at the carabiner, then reached for a knife—and remembered he’d never saw through the harness in time. He pulled at the locked piece of metal desperately, and the ground was coming up. So the Gnoll did the only thing he could, which he’d done probably a thousand times before.
The scroll glowed as he unfurled it, and he felt it drag him up, buoying his fall. For a second, Felkhr felt relief—
Then the glider tore him down, and he was thrown against it. Down, down—the [Featherfall] was only working on him! The Gnoll tore at the carabiner, and his face was pressed against the canvas, and he couldn’t see the ground, only knew it was there. And th—
This was a tale of hubris. It was written in red. All the achievements of Earth had come flooding into a world, and countless groups and people were chasing dreams.
Grasping at things they had not earned. Forgetting, or never being told, that each victory Earth had made was often built upon failure.
Humans of Earth had made it to the moon. But not all their rockets had cleared the atmosphere. The first explorers to chart the wilds of the world were not always the first who had gone. Only the first ones who’d made it back.
If you looked up and saw an elevator moving or a plane flying in the dream of Earth, you might forget what it could do. Someone who had never seen one of the Great Lifts fall had never considered how many tons of force could come crashing down.
Chaldion saw that vision and reached for it. A devil in smoke, one eye glittering like a gem reaching for a blade made out of innovation.
Others were more innocent. They just wanted to fly or realize miracles of technology. But they forgot.
There was a hubbub around the 10th floor when Troydel heard the Flying Gnoll had launched his glider first—and crashed.
“Someone call the [Healer]! It’s bad! The Sinew Magus is heading down there now!”
Grimalkin was bounding down the floors in a hurry. As he did, Troydel watched as Yoiss took his third ride of the zipline that morning.
“Hah! That’s why you need a team and a budget! Hey, look how fast I can hit the third floor! We might need a [Slow] spell at the end of the line!”
He had taken his own precautions in heading down the zipline. At the end of his destination, there were nets, pillows, a literal safety-zone that kept him from smashing into the ground, and the Drake had learned he could use a glove to ‘slow’ his descent if he wanted.
He’d already gone down too fast twice, and when he stopped, the impact had flipped him straight in a circle in his harness. Twice. But he was drunk on speed.
Yoiss headed down for the third time faster than before, but he was ready to slow himself by the end. He shot down the zipline, laughing as he blasted down from the 9th Floor to the 5th at such a speed even a passing Garuda looked slow.
Only then did he smell something odd. The Drake looked around, and the last two days, at least one person passing under his zipline had complained about dust or something. Irritants in their eyes or something that made them sneeze.
They hadn’t thought much of it. Nor had Yoiss noticed at first the slight indentation and rough edge at the top of his carabiner where it slid down the rope.
He had never heard ziplining instructions, and Troydel had never actually gone on one. The Drake had no idea why speed was regulated.
Now—he saw the top of the rope smoking where it met the metal. The speed and repeated stress of going down the zipline was…sawing straight through the sturdy Pallassian steel.
He put his gloved claw up to slow himself. Instinctively, as a sudden terror filled the Drake and understanding of the mortal danger hit him—he put his gloved hand in the wrong place.
Ahead of the carabiner screaming down the metal wire.
It was so fast he didn’t even feel his fingers vanish. Just saw the claws tear off his hand. Then—he raised his other claw and seized the rope behind the carabiner.
The friction tore the scales of his palm off in the first second. But he kept holding it, shouting now. Despite the pain, despite the skin being torn off his palms—because if he didn’t—
The second person dropped out of the sky as Troydel heard the scream. This time, all of Pallass saw it.
A falling Drake. Blood and two fingers fell—and so did Yoiss. He dropped as the carabiner snapped and plunged down like a falling comet. Only, this was not Valeterisa.
Grimalkin saw him falling. The Drake, leaping down floor after floor, drew a wand and pointed.
“[Featherfall]! [Featherfall]! [Featherf—”
Three spells. Three flashes of green light—missed. Yoiss was falling too fast. Grimalkin shouted the third spell—and then stopped speaking.
Then he heard the sound, too quiet for what it meant in the dead silence of the dawn. The Sinew Magus squeezed his eyes shut—then opened them as he heard the screaming begin. He took one look at the Journeyman—then ran for the 1st Floor. Hoping there was at least one of the two he could save.
When Kevin Hall saw Troydel stagger into The Wandering Inn, his face was white and he could not speak. The [Engineer]’s own grudge against Troydel turned to horror as he heard about the two disasters within minutes of one another.
Felkhr was his fault. Yoiss was written all over Troydel’s face. But what Kevin did not know was that this was one of three innovations that touched Earth’s technology this day.
And the third’s consequences—
Also belonged to him. He had given secrets and ideas to this world. They were going to use them in ways he had never dreamed.
It wasn’t just the ball bearings, but the smooth rotation of the little orbs did go into the piece of technology that was simultaneously simple and complex.
Skateboards. The wheels of the board could be a simple wheel on a spoke—or a ball-bearing assisted rotary action enchanted with magic and high-quality steel.
Hedault had one such board, which was capable of halting itself, lightweight, and practically indestructible even in high-speed collisions.
Goblins had no such expensive boards. In fact, most didn’t even have a skateboard Kevin had made themselves.
Poisonbite had brought the idea back to Goblinhome after being taken with skateboards, and Goblin [Tinkerers], Rags’ specialist tribe, had—in their classic way—stolen the concept. Most of the Goblins who had a skateboard weren’t even Hobs. Hobs had a wary respect for the problems of balancing, but younger, shorter Goblins without Carn Wolves loved the board.
And the High Passes were all verticality. Of course, this was something Goblins were allowed to do in their spare time, and Rags regarded the [Boarder] class as a kind of weird pastime by her Goblins. But she didn’t stop them from acquiring it.
So long as Goblins did their jobs, they could do whatever they wanted in their free time. And it was their jobs they were doing at this moment.
Iron Group 14 was a rotation of eighteen Goblins, none of them Hobs, who had found a tiny vein of iron. Rags had bought as much as she could, but they had to climb for nearly an hour and reach a tiny cave some of the old Goldstone Goblins had discovered and chip away at the ore before bringing it down in baskets.
One big basket per each was a day’s work. It was dangerous. This was far from Goblinhome, and they were alert for all kinds of hazards.
Gargoyles, Eater Goats, those damn ant colonies that kept spreading, super-monsters from higher up, camouflaged killing monsters, food—they had guards from Goblinhome, some on Wyvern-back, but their main safety was stealth.
The High Passes were unsettled as Balancestep, one of the younger Goblins at one and a half, picked up a fallen piece of ore on their way out of the mines. He had a skateboard strapped to his back and was looking forwards to going back to Goblinhome.
The mountains were restless. Everyone knew some order in the system of predation had been upset; it happened a lot. A big monster died or moved somewhere else, and it forced all the others to squabble and fight.
In this case, he was worried about Wyverns. The Wyvern Lord kept coming back and attacking the captured Wyverns and Goblins—and all the Goblins were peering up at the skies.
The Wyvern Lord hated Goblins and would blast any it saw with its icy breath. But it kept away from Goblinhome, by and large.
The problem was that if you stared up too much, you forgot to look around. And the thing that came after the Goblins was not the Wyvern Lord.
…Though he was perched right over the mouth of the mining site, maw open, ready to blast all eighteen Goblins. He was just waiting for them to see him when he—and the Goblins—heard a loud voice and a familiar sound.
“I can’t—baaah—sleep—you—baaaah. Baaaah—it hurts! Stop biting me!”
The Wyvern Lord turned—and a female ‘Wyvern’, scales bright yellow like lightning, raised her head as she shouted, and he heard the familiar sound.
Eater Goats. Nearly a thousand poured over the ridge, following Rafaema. They had jumped her in her sleep! She had bite marks on her scales, and two dozen were hanging on, trying to chew her to death.
She spotted the Goblins as Balancestep looked up, saw the Wyvern Lord hanging above them, and froze. The Wyvern Lord snorted—saw the Goblins diving for the cave, and exhaled.
The Eater Goats and Rafaema both got a full blast of frost to the face, and the Dragon screamed—the goats broke off, half running for it, the other half spotting easier prey.
The Goblins. They dashed for the cave entrance—and the first Eater Goat was crushed as the entire cave entrance collapsed, nearly knocking the Wyvern Lord off his perch. Outraged, he screeched and flew up.
What the hell? He wasn’t that heavy! How did—?
The Goblins had collapsed the cave on themselves rather than get eaten. They were flooding towards an emergency exit they’d dug, a safety precaution for just this event.
—All but one.
Balancestep had been knocked flat by the icy Wyvern Lord’s breath. His friends had tried to pull him to safety, but it had been him or everyone. When the rocks fell, he had been lucky not to be crushed. Now—he got up with the iron ore spilled around him, the basket half-frozen and lying on the ground, and saw the Eater Goats eying him.
As well as the Wyvern Lord. A huge serpentine head turned, and the Wyvern snorted icy flumes as the Eater Goats opened their mouths. The little Goblin was dead. He looked around, and Wyvern riders were screaming alarms as Goblinhome heard about the attack.
But they’d never reach him in time. The first Eater Goat was already detaching its jaw, running at him with a mouth that looked large enough to take half of him away in one bite. So the little Goblin cried out. He knew he’d never outrun a Wyvern. Not here. But then he remembered what was on his back and looked down.
The path up to the iron mines was rocky, a hellish climb upwards and almost as bad down. There was a lot of crusted dirt and stone. It was the most vertical slope you could imagine short of an actual cliff, and an army would lose hundreds on the ascent if a better channel wasn’t cut.
But it was a slope. There were a billion jagged edges—but the little Goblin didn’t think. He yanked the skateboard off his back—and looked back once. The Eater Goat leapt.
Do or die. Balancestep put his foot forwards and went over the ledge. The Eater Goat snapped its jaw shut, but didn’t feel any welcome contact. It looked around—and then saw a Goblin going down the slope on a skateboard.
“What the—? You bastard, we had a truce!”
Rafaema screamed at the Wyvern Lord. He snorted as he eyed this foreign Wyvern Lord. She was yellow and sounded similar to that cute Dragon. Yet her scales were the wrong color. He didn’t suffer competition, especially from other Wyvern weyrs. Yet the speeding Goblin distracted him.
Those weyr-stealing bastards. He took off, ignoring the challenger to his turf. The Wyvern dove after Balancestep, scattering Eater Goats behind him. The Goblin wasn’t enough for a mouthful—this was just petty vengeance.
Balancestep couldn’t believe he was alive. The first second he went down the slopes, he knew why no Goblin had tried this.
It was like a skateboarder from Earth going down a mountainside. The wheels of the board were meant for hard surfaces, not dirt and gravel. But—Balancestep was a [Boarder], just like Kevin.
[Wheels: Uneven Rolling]. Even if the class was new and the entire concept of skateboarding was wild and new and exciting—the system that governed levels and classes knew how the Skills worked. The skateboard bounced as it went over stones and gravel, and the Goblin swerved left around a pillar of stone.
One hit and he would be dead. But one look over his shoulder and Balancestep saw an azure Wyvern diving, mouth trailing frost vapors even in the cold. So he bent his knees and sped up.
He hit a rock too big to be nullified by his Skill a second later. The impact should have either snapped the wheel of the board or tossed him. Instead—the Goblin felt a Skill activating.
[Ignore Bump (Twice)].
He tried to avoid the next rock he came across. The third would be his doom. In doing so—he forgot he was being chased.
The Wyvern Lord screamed, and a claw smacked the ground next to Balancestep. He swerved right—and struck one of the rocky inclines. His arm went numb, but he just went flying.
Flying like a comet to go splatting on the rocks as his skateboard flew past him. The Goblin looked down. He never thought he’d die of falling-death.
—And he wasn’t going to if he could help it. The Level 11 [Boarder] activated his final Skill. His capstone.
[Skateboard: Get Back On Board]!
To the disbelieving Wyvern Lord, head poised to snap the Goblin up—it looked like the Goblin twisted in midair and the skateboard slowed. Then—he landed and kept going, shooting down the cliff side.
What the heck? The Wyvern Lord blinked. Then ducked an arrow screaming past its head. It looked around, snarling, and saw the archer.
Badarrow had emerged from one of Goblinhome’s secret entrances. The swearing Hob was completely naked, but he had his bow. He loaded the special arrow as the Wyvern Lord kept going after Balancestep.
The Goblin was headed straight for Goblinhome. In a literal sense. He wasn’t going down to the stiff climb where the rocky terrain became impossible to roll over. He was stuck, the Wyvern Lord diving after him. And so he headed straight ahead.
Towards the edge of a cliff. There was a ramp of stone, and the Goblin shot up it. He went up, up into the air, and passed by the Wyvern Lord’s head.
Whoa. The Goblin and Wyvern locked eyes, and even the Wyvern looked impressed. Then—Balancestep was falling and laughing. His feet were still locked to the board, and he looked down.
There was no way he’d survive landing. Right?
The valley that Goblinhome lay against descended around him, and the Goblin looked at one of the canyon walls. Like a second floor. He reached down as Badarrow fired his second arrow—and wondered if it would work.
His skateboard touched the canyon wall and shot down the side of it. The Goblin laughed in disbelief—and the Wyvern Lord screamed. He would have hit the Goblin with all the frost breath in his body—but Badarrow’s second arrow hit him straight in the chest.
It shouldn’t have gone through the Wyvern Lord’s scales even if it was enchanted—and it didn’t. But the [Sniper] hadn’t meant to hurt him with the arrow. Rather, it was the object tethered to the arrow that jangled.
The Bell of Pain rang, and the Wyvern Lord recoiled, trying to get the tip of the arrow just lodged in the outermost layer of his scales free. But every time he moved, the bell dinged.
Badarrow shouted. The bell worked! But his ebullience as the Wyvern Lord flew away, screaming in agony as it tore the arrow free, turned to grief instantly.
He’d seen the Goblin kid falling. He looked across the distance—and Redfangs on Carn Wolves were racing out of Goblinhome.
They stopped around a little figure lying on the ground at the end of his journey. One of the Goblins, Redscar himself, swung out of the saddle and looked down.
A skateboard was smashed to bits. It had travelled almost the entire length of the canyon wall, riding diagonally across the wall until it met the ground. And the rider? Redscar bent down slowly. Then he poked the little figure on the ground and heard a muffled shout.
“Broken leg? What about rest of him?”
One of the other Redfangs demanded incredulously. The others were staring at the cliff. Redscar’s grin was the largest thing in the world.
“Lucky. Big levels tonight.”
He raised a claw and made a fist—and Badarrow and the other Goblins began cheering. The tale of Balancestep—or Balanceboard as he was re-nicknamed, would take a longer time to reach Kevin.
Nor was this use of a skateboard a sane idea. But if it was that or get eaten by a monster—more than one Goblin began seriously taking an emergency skateboard with them. And the class continued evolving.
[Death-defying Skateboarder Level 17!]
[Bound Spell – Featherfall obtained!]
[Skill – Launch Step obtained!]
[Skill – Board: Tough as Steel obtained!]
[Skill – Defer Damage: Skateboard obtained!]
…When Felkhr woke up, he knew it was bad. He’d been hurt worse before.
And those times, he’d had healing potions. This time, to be fair, they’d had to use a healing potion or he would be dead.
He’d shattered most of his ribs, and his legs had been thoroughly broken in multiple, multiple places. That was what had hit the ground first; the glider had brought him down like a weight and slammed him down.
The only thing that had saved him was the fact that his [Featherfall] spell arrested his personal fall and thus the entire descent. And the fact that the glider, heavy as it was, had still not gotten to a truly terminal velocity.
He felt like a fool. The [Healer] finished rattling off his injuries and then told him to get some sleep. But Felkhr dwelled on it in the week it took him to exit the clinic on crutches.
Which, incidentally, the [Healers] hadn’t believed possible. But he had [Mending Recovery], and they were not used to patients who healed that fast without healing potions.
Some bitter irony that his habit of getting hurt meant he was one of the luckier ones in this world without healing potions.
It didn’t change the fact that he had nearly killed himself without even testing Hedault’s enchantment. In the [Enchanter]’s defense this time, Hedault would have probably assumed any sane being would have run a test flight with a bag of stones instead of trying to just fly with that spell.
And that did not change the fact that Yoiss was dead. When Felkhr emerged from his recovery, the first thing he ran into was a petition.
“No more dangerous experiments. No more flying, no more dead citizens of Pallass! It’s time to regulate this madness.”
Just like six years ago, a group of citizens were petitioning the Assembly of Welfare to take a role in restricting Felkhr’s experiments.
It was too late for Yoiss—but the sight of him falling off the zipline had pulled public sentiment one way. Felkhr’s near-death wasn’t as bad, but in the wake of the scrutiny over the Engineer’s Guild, he was an easy, logical target.
Since he couldn’t attend a hearing on his feet, the Assembly ruled that they’d heard his arguments before and he could rest at home. So the Gnoll dragged himself to his apartment, which was cold and hadn’t been occupied for two weeks, and lay there.
They’re definitely going to stop me this time. Last time, he had argued tooth-and-nail against his detractors. This time—they had just seen the consequences of idiocy like his, and they would have the chance to make every argument without him even defending himself.
He wished he could say it was unfair. But the longer the Gnoll stared at the ceiling, the more he felt ashamed.
What had he been doing? He’d been caught up in a competitive spirit with his ‘enemies’ at the Guild. As if they’d stolen from him. As if he had a monopoly on flying.
As if…the Wind Runner had taken his thunder.
When the truth was that an honest Felkhr, a better Felkhr would have rejoiced at anyone flying at all.
But a part of him was still proud of what he had done. It hated Troydel and Kevin and…anyone making it easy.
“Ten years. Twelve. Twelve and I wasted it.”
His bones had been crushed. Even if he could use crutches—it would be a month or more before he could even think about working. He had no finances, his dream was broken, and he…
He was weeping. Snotty. And yet still—he stared up at a window. He still wanted to go up there.
“It wasn’t right. Not that way. I did it all wrong. But I can’t—beg Kevin or Ryoka Griffin for help. It’s not that. And it’s not the way I did it. It’s something else. I’m such a fool.”
Felkhr snuffled, snotty, and hunted around.
He feared he didn’t have any and it was going to be a nasty time with nothing to wipe his face but his fur. But in the dark, cold apartment, someone blew their nose, or rather, nostrils noisily.
“It’s so sad. Here’s a tissue. Don’t worry, it’s used.”
Saliss of Lights handed Felkhr a wet tissue, and the Gnoll, lying in his bed, nearly broke every one of his mending ribs in terror. Someone slapped the claw down, and a huge arm handed Felkhr a box.
“Wh—how did you get in here?”
“How. He asks us how. How do you pass gas? It’s easy, Felkhr. How couldn’t we get in here? Window, pick locks, phase through stone, Grimalkin punches through a wall, we shadow you inside, shadowstep, copy your key…[Unlocking] spells, hello?”
A yellow-scaled Drake stepped out of a shadow in Felkhr’s rooms where he had been standing so still that he had been invisible. As for the huge Drake with forest-green scales, well, he had been actually [Invisible], because there was no way for Grimalkin of Pallass to hide even with the powers of standing still and shadows.
“We apologize for surprising you, Felkhr. But it’s hard to have a private word. Actually…I didn’t realize Saliss was here.”
“He was standing there, and I tickled his tail. Ever hear Grimalkin scream? It’s…less funny than you think. He just sounds loud.”
Saliss grinned, and Grimalkin turned red under his scales. Saliss paused a second as Felkhr lay there, eyes darting from one to the other.
“Wait a second. One, two…hey. If the third person’s hiding here, come on out. Make your cool entrance already.”
He turned around slowly and glared around the room. Grimalkin paused…and he and Felkhr looked around. Everyone waited.
“Alright, it was just us. Sometimes it happens.”
Saliss muttered, looking embarrassed. He and Grimalkin looked at Felkhr, and the Gnoll croaked.
“Why are you two breaking into my home? To recruit me into the Engineer’s Guild? They don’t need me. An idiot who can’t even test an enchantment?”
Saliss and Grimalkin both shook their heads. The [Alchemist] raised a claw.
“I don’t do dirty work for Pallass. Or to be precise, that’s all I do, but I don’t do dirty work that I can delegate.”
“I did not come here for that reason either. I am…here as a neutral party. Despite my position in the military and Pallass’ projects, I am here as an individual. A concerned one.”
Grimalkin looked more uncomfortable between the two. He kept glancing over his shoulder. Saliss patted him on the shoulder and pretended to wipe away a tear.
“He’s actually serious. He’s going behind the Eyes’ backs. I never thought I’d see the day.”
“To do what?”
Felkhr thought he knew, but it was stupid. He tried to sit up, coughing. It was Grimalkin who offered him a cup of what turned out to be water.
“Hydration is important during recovery. The [Healers] prescribed you a healthy diet, but I can get you on your feet, at least. You must have a healing Skill, though.”
Grimalkin’s brows rose. Then he looked around.
“This apartment is freezing. Let me at least put down a rune of warmth regardless of what happens before we go.”
“He doesn’t need this. He can sleep in his workshop. I took a look inside, and it’s decent. Rune that place and put a few explosive locks on the door for the snoops. If you throw five off the edge of the floors, the sixth one gets the message. I haven’t done that for ages.”
Saliss rubbed his claws together, and Grimalkin sighed. He looked at Felkhr.
“If it is not obvious, Felkhr, we would like to offer you our support. Saliss and I. We came to the conclusion separately, but as you can see…”
He indicated Saliss, and the Drake nodded. Felkhr just lay there, looking at them.
“You want to help me? Not the Engineering Guild’s flying project?”
Saliss pretended to spit to one side.
“Nuts to them. They can request anyone they want—except me. They’ve got all of Pallass backing their cute projects, and after that kid died, they’re double-checking everything. But you’re poor. I took a look at that glider you copied, and you made Ryoka’s glider out of cheap wood and cotton cloth. Aside from the idiotic enchantment, you need funds. I’m rich. And Grimalkin might not be an expert, but he can enchant decently well.”
The Sinew Magus nodded, arms crossed.
“I can indeed. It won’t be nearly as good as Master Hedault, but I can volunteer my magic, and I think it’s for the best. After all—a flying solution accessible to all should not be gated by levels.”
“I don’t—why now? Do you feel sorry for me? Is Chaldion telling you to do this? You know that kid, Troydel, and Kevin and probably Ryoka Griffin know how to make flying machines. I can’t. I’ve failed. I’m going to be exiled or banned from even trying. Why help me?”
Felkhr‘s voice was weak. But he wanted their help. Yet he couldn’t believe it. In reply—Saliss looked to one side, grinning, but it seemed like a grimace, and Grimalkin studied his feet. Saliss nudged Grimalkin, and, surprisingly, Grimalkin nudged him back. Saliss was the one who replied.
“—You never asked for help. Which, fine, we never offered. We should have. But I thought it really was impossible, and I’m a selfish, conceited, annoying monster of a Named-rank Adventurer. I don’t know what Grimalkin’s excuse is.”
The Sinew Magus’ head bowed.
“…Perspective, perhaps. Believing something can be done is easier with a proof of concept. I’m not proud to say that my desire to approach you came after hearing about the flying initiatives Pallass launched. I couldn’t put a voice to it until I saw you, Felkhr. I would like…to support your project. Neither Saliss nor I want to take any role in doing more than being consultants or partners in this affair at best. No management.”
They were both going behind Pallass’ tail or, at the very least, setting him up as a rival when they could have offered their services to the guild. Yet…the answer came to Felkhr as the chins of the two Drakes rose and they looked almost indignantly at Felkhr. Saliss’ eyes gleamed as he replied.
“Why didn’t you join the Engineer’s Guild, Felkhr? Why didn’t you just run over to the Wind Runner when she first appeared? You know, all these ‘special projects’ come from us copying another world’s technology. The kids, the Earthers, know how to do it.”
Grimalkin nudged Saliss again, hard, but the Drake went on.
“It’s fine if we copy some things and do it safe. Like the damn ziplines or a cake. But flying?”
He ground his teeth together audibly and jabbed a thumb-claw into his chest.
“We are the City of Inventions. And here we are copying all these cute tricks without a thought to making them special, making them ours. Earth has no conception of magic, but we’re chasing after them as if they’re the only minds between two worlds. If we just copied their stupid flying planes without a hint of innovation? I’d rather back an idiot like you over a copycat any day.”
He articulated what was in Felkhr’s chest. The Gnoll looked up—and that was it.
It wasn’t that he hated flying. It wasn’t that he hated taking notes from those geniuses who had gone before.
He hated the idea that he had nothing to offer. Nothing but the ability to realize what had already been done. Magic, technology, science, levels—all of what had been done?
He wanted to make something new out of it. More than a noisy plane like Bird described. More than a glider that required someone else’s connection with the wind. A bridge between it all.
Maybe it would be one small, infinitesimally tiny step forwards based on all these things—but that idea burned in Felkhr anew.
So the [Dreamer] looked at Saliss and Grimalkin and saw them. People with high levels who knew the impossible could be done. Sons of Pallass, prideful, both experts in their fields. Slowly, Felkhr nodded.
“I…I can try again. But I need to ask for theories this time. I need to know more, and more about magic too.”
“I have both, and I can explain them.”
Grimalkin, the note taker of legend, had all the facts. Saliss grinned.
“And you’ll make it practical, won’t you? No nonsense about Ryoka’s unique magic. Anyone can drink a potion of [Featherweight] and ‘fly’. This has to be—workable.”
“Yes. Yes. Maybe it is the glider, but it has to fly under its own power.”
Grimalkin flipped a page open in his notepad to show everyone a sketch. Or rather, a magical picture that might have been taken from one of the movie-nights.
“There are ways to do it. Propulsion based on turning propellers—”
Saliss nudged Grimalkin.
“Let him propose and we fulfill. First, we need this guy on his feet. Maybe I can pull out a potion. I’ll deliver some gold, you deliver the notes.”
Felkhr looked between his first two serious backers, and his heart was filled with more hope than he had in ages. But then—his face fell.
“I’ll never be able to practice in Pallass, though. Is there a room in Liscor or Invrisil? They’ll ban me from trying in the Assembly of Welfare.”
Grimalkin and Saliss had been discussing first steps, which mainly seemed to be getting Felkhr a room, burning this one to the ground, and hazing the Eyes of Pallass. But both looked over at this statement, and to Felkhr’s astonishment—they laughed.
Both were amused. Even Grimalkin chuckled, and Saliss rolled his eyes at Felkhr’s blank expression.
“Oh, that’s sweet. You think the Assembly will kick a poor Gnoll puppy boy like you when he’s down? Well, they would in a heartbeat. But you think I care? Not that we have to defy them anyways. I think the resolution isn’t going to pass. Your supporters showed up, and they’re having it out with the ones who want you to quit. Not that it matters. The old man decides, and he’s watching you.”
“What? I have supporters? Rufelt and Lasica?”
Felkhr was bewildered. Grimalkin looked surprised at his blank expression, but Saliss just shook his head.
“Come on. You’ve always known they were there, Felkhr. They’ve given you the most help. Maybe you should have asked for more help, but they turned up before Grimalkin or I. Actually—that’s what got me moving. And I really didn’t want Erin to suggest I help you. Some things I can do on my own.”
Once again, those eyes flashed—and Felkhr tried to think. Supporters? He had people who thought he was doing a good thing, like…
Like the Wind Runner?
“Do you mean children?”
Saliss slapped a palm to his forehead. And only when he helped drag Felkhr out of his apartments did the Gnoll remember. It was them.
It was always them.
Two kinds of people were in Pallass. Those that supported Felkhr, the few, the high level, and those who did not.
But one entire group had never derided him nor made fun of his attempts.
Oh, well, that wasn’t entirely true. There were always exceptions who poked fun at him or laughed along. But one entire body of people in Pallass had never sneered. And that group was—
They never did. When they saw him pacing along the walls testing his flying devices, they’d ask him how it was going. They’d humor him and give him feathers or talk to him about what flying was like.
They never mocked him, only watched and sometimes gave him a few words of encouragement, bought him an ale. Most clearly thought he was mad, but there was also something behind their gazes.
Expectation, perhaps. As if they were wondering and hoping he’d do it. Spread his wings and fly and join them.
Perhaps they remembered the tale of the Gnoll who had gone to their people’s greatest kingdom and learned to fly. Perhaps they simply respected anyone who wanted to do what they did.
Perhaps they were lonely, the last species able to fly in the skies of the world without prejudice or war at their wings.
Over a hundred Garuda showed up when the Assembly of Welfare decided to hear Felkhr’s case. The issue of the Flying Gnoll of Pallass and public safety had been opened to the public—which was a move to let the detractors have their say.
It backfired splendidly on the [Senators] who heard person after person demand Felkhr be given his chance to fly. When they did rule—they allowed him his right to continue experimentation providing he did not injure himself that badly again. If he did, they would immediately halt his self-endangering activities.
They did not have to worry in that regard. For the rest of the month, Felkhr didn’t so much as jump high. And not because he was grounded in his apartment, either.
He was actually only laid up for eight days.
He had broken almost every rib and shattered several bones in his legs. Even if he could hobble back to his apartment, he should have been practically immobile.
But as Saliss had observed, these things often came in threes. Only in this case, the ‘third’ member of the Felkhr alliance was banned from Pallass by name. So Bird waited until Felkhr had hobbled into the inn to talk with Kevin before he sprang on the Gnoll.
“Felkhr! How badly are you hurt?”
“I’ve…broken a lot of bones, Bird. Please don’t hug me.”
“Are you terribly, mundanely wounded by your encounter with the ground?”
Bird rubbed all four hands together, and Felkhr almost got mad—until Bird pointed to an Antinium he had brought over.
“This is Zimrah. She is going to heal you, Felkhr.”
“I don’t need a potion, Bird. And there’s a limit unless you know [Restoration].”
Bird just laughed at Felkhr.
“Ha. Hahaha. You are so funny, Felkhr. I do not need that silly spell. Healing is a funny rule. I like breaking rules. Like truth, it is easy to fool, and Zimrah cheats.”
Then she put her hands on him—and Felkhr thought the Antinium were scarier and more powerful than the Walled Cities could ever dream of.
Then again, Saliss and Grimalkin knew quite a lot. For one thing, both were actually quite knowledgeable about flying…if not in the way Felkhr wanted. Saliss was trying to show them how other people ‘flew’.
“Ever heard of the combo attack the Haven’s crew does? I’ve seen it. They can toss Eldertuin like a twig, literally catapult him into foes. Skills cheat. What we’re doing here is limited, because any big spell or Skill can’t be replicated. So let’s call it a cap at Tier 4 magic at most.”
Grimalkin raised a quill.
“No Dwarfsteel. I took a look at whatever that metal Rufelt has is—and it’s one of their secret alloys. Plain wood will do if I enchant it lighter.”
Felkhr was nodding as he wrote down a plan.
“Then—the first thing I want you two to do is for Saliss to pay for a bunch of wooden rods I’ll fabricate. We’ll use those as the structure, and Grimalkin will put his best protective spell on them. Then I break them.”
“Ah. I knew he was crazy. Go on.”
Saliss laughed, but he understood instantly what Felkhr was describing. He showed Grimalkin a little contraption he’d worked out, and the Drake looked outraged.
“Those are my weights! I gifted you that weights-set to work out with!”
“Yes…but they’re perfectly calibrated for this. See? I can test the strength of each object.”
Felkhr innocently pulled on a string and added fifty pounds to a device he could test the tensile strength of an object with. Of course, ‘tensile’ was not the word he used, but he had heard how easy it was to break a flying vehicle in the air.
Having a baseline for the force put upon the entire flying machine would be important. But even Felkhr confessed that it was guesswork.
“Unless I know how powerful the wind will be, I don’t know how strong this entire device should be…or how each rod interacts with one another. I assume it adds to how much force it can support, but it’s more complicated than that.”
“Hmm. Hmmmmm. You know, it’s more than I want to deal with too. But I know a Gnoll who could render that kind of issue into numbers. If anyone can do it. Hey, Grimalkin, introduce Felkhr to the Math Gnoll himself. And ask those annoying know-it-alls if there’s an equation to measure force from the wind on a surface.”
“The Math Gnoll?”
Felkhr raised his brows in disbelief. But he learned to soon respect the flashing of sunglasses. Someone else believed in his vision—and Yelroan believed you could calculate the force a mace hit armor with. And if you could do that—the strength of any vehicle was just an equation. All they had to do was know the formula.
During Ryoka Griffin’s month of dinner dates and Erin’s month of dancing, a bitter cold war between Nanette and Mrsha blew across the inn.
At the same time, Felkhr studied flying. He watched Ryoka Griffin skimming across the snow and saw it was good, but impractical.
He re-watched Valeterisa lifting Fissival and noted the antigravity spells on the rocks as impractical—but also noted the air spell and flames with great interest. But he didn’t miss the fact that she’d had Djinni support.
Apista, ironically, was the best case example of how to fly on multiple levels. The bee flew far differently than the birds that Bird caught, living and dead, as examples. She also had her jetflame spell.
The act of paring down the materials into the lightest, sturdiest compromise between strength and weight was simple for Grimalkin and Saliss. One knew every material there was to work with in alchemy, the other could do the enchanting and actually break most of the pieces with his bare biceps and compare which was stronger on a personal, if merely qualitative, level.
And Yelroan would read Felkhr’s blueprints and try to calculate lift and drag and the structural integrity as Felkhr made tiny prototypes and launched them.
Then the four of them, two Gnolls, two Drakes, and sometimes one Bird, would gather in The Wandering Inn to talk, or Tails and Scales, although Bird couldn’t go to Pallass.
For the first time he could remember, Felkhr was sitting with more than work colleagues at a table in the pub instead of at the bar, eating while arguing fiercely and drawing on the table until Lasica shouted at them. Felkhr was gnashing his teeth over the issue.
“It’s impossible to fly without some form of propulsion. The most we can do is glide. Wingsuits, hang gliders, parasailing—are all dependent on incredible velocity and height. Or at the very least, a strong backwind and a hot day.”
Saliss grinned, stuffing half of the fries into his bag of holding for later.
“So what’s our propulsion? We’ve got jet fuel, propellers, hot air…”
Everyone but Saliss chorused instantly. Saliss spread his claws.
Felkhr shook his head.
“It’s loud, dangerous, we don’t have an ‘engine’, and those helicopters and gyrocopters sound like death-machines.”
Kevin had described in detail the dangers of literal beheading when you so much as walked around a helicopter’s spinning blades. Besides, as Felkhr indicated—
“The problem is size. A plane is so big because of the need to power everything. The magical solution has to be superior to the stuff Earth has. Look at my design. It’s only possible with a rune enchantment. Well, maybe Earth could do the same, but I think they’d have another technique.”
Everyone leaned over, and Yelroan agreed.
“…That’s definitely not safe if they had to produce that from a live flame and combustion. But—hmm. I like that a lot.”
He grinned, and Grimalkin raised his brows.
“Interesting conception. Up and down.”
Felkhr was onto something. He kept scratching his head and hoped he didn’t have any dandruff as he spoke, slowly, working the entire thought out.
“Propulsion only goes one way. The other should be ambient heat. Can you do it?”
The Sinew Magus grimaced as he made some notes on his notepad then pulled out his spellbook.
“—I can do the spells. But there is no way I can power them off ambient mana, Felkhr. I’m sorry. You’ll get a gentle breeze at most, and that’s not practical.”
The Gnoll heaved a huge sigh.
“Then we’re using a magical fuel. We can still beat Earth. More compact, lighter—and it has to be within budget.”
Saliss was tapping his claws on the table, frowning hard. He stared at the runes as he listened to the discussion of magicore versus gemstones versus mana supply. Then he coughed into one fist.
“We might be able to make this thing slim and compact after all. It won’t be accessible to everyone. Not right away. But if you want that proof-of-concept, Felkhr…I’ve got a power source.”
Everyone stopped and stared at him. Grimalkin flipped the pages of his spellbook.
“Enough to power two Tier 1 spells at a Tier 4 consumption rate?”
The [Alchemist] gave him a surprisingly somber look.
“All day and all night, Grimalkin. Or at least for a few hours. But it’s on me to figure out how to make a controlled output, not an actual explosion. But I have to do it anyways, and if I do—keep away from the 9th Floor for a bit.”
Everyone looked at him incredulously, but Felkhr was willing to take a lot of what Saliss said on credit. He lifted a mug as Rufelt sent over a pitcher for the table.
“Here’s to new ideas.”
“Here’s to working together!”
Yelroan smiled. Saliss raised a cup.
“Here’s to being alone and having no one who loves us because we’re all insanely married to our jobs!”
The other three stopped as he took a huge gulp of his drink. And then Saliss looked sideways.
“Whoops, sorry. I forgot Grimalkin was here.”
The Sinew Magus looked hurt as Saliss bounced an onion ring off his chest. He seemed to be having as much fun with peers as…well, Felkhr and Yelroan.
“What are you talking about, Saliss? I am married to my work. I haven’t cultivated a personal relationship like that.”
Saliss paused with his toothy mouth open, and his eyes slid sideways to Felkhr and Yelroan. The [Mathematician] slowly sipped from his mug.
Saliss shook his head with a grimace.
“Wow. That’s just painful to hear. I feel so bad for someone I’m not going to name right now. Alright, here’s to that!”
Felkhr would never quite forget the completely blank look on Grimalkin’s face.
He thought he had never had a finer month. He had never laughed more, enjoyed dinners more.
Gotten angrier more. Angry enough to have a shouting match over designs with Yelroan, or so sad he shed tears over a prototype smashed to bits carrying all his plans. Or more excited.
And it seemed to him as if the world itself were waiting for him to finish his work. As if Pallass had suddenly caught a new scent on the breeze.
Less people mocked him than before. Zemize didn’t show up at his workplace, and Saliss reported not having to trounce half as many spies as he thought.
“Sometimes the Eyes of Pallass are smart. Smart enough not to interfere with things.”
That was his only comment, but Felkhr thought he could see Drakes and Gnolls, Garuda and Dullahans, watching him. He’d quit his job and was working full-time on his first prototype. Obviously, they’d thrown things off the walls already and gone to Liscor to test things out.
But the flight day…that would be the first day Felkhr got into his Rascale Safety Harness Mk. 5 and marched out of his worksite. He couldn’t believe that day came when it did.
Or the fact that the Mk. 5 was a creation of Troy, who had seen the disastrous events surrounding Felkhr’s and Yoiss’ falls and invented a way to disengage out of the harness. It wasn’t fast because that was not something you wanted to do by accident, but if you removed three clips, you could yank the harness into two pieces by disengaging a central lynchpin strap.
But that was all a different story and going on as the Flying Gnoll pursued one dream. When his day came, it was, perhaps, a small story.
At first. But Pallass had been waiting a long time, laughing, mocking, and now, silently expecting. Felkhr could have waited more years, but it felt like it was all coming together fast.
But then—if this day had been a long time coming—
His true class had come first. It did not carry him to his goal. It just helped him get there sooner.
On the day of Saelsmorn, the second day of the week, in the the month of Mouring, the fourteenth month of the year, twenty-three years after the King of Destruction’s first slumber, Felkhr of Pallass checked his safety harness and accepted the helmet that Yelroan handed him.
The [Mathematician] was the only person in his workshop. He let Felkhr inspect the padded helmet.
“Not enchanted. Grimalkin doesn’t want any magical interference.”
Safety goggles went under the helmet, and Felkhr felt a bit warm in the jacket and pants—but it was cold up there even for a Gnoll. It was getting into the middle of winter.
10/14/23. Not a fancy day by any means. Saliss had almost begged Felkhr to lie on the records and claim he’d done it on 13/13/23 or lie entirely and say it was 2/2/22 just to annoy the [Historians]. But they’d agreed that this was a good day, weather conditions notwithstanding. Yelroan was updating Felkhr on the conditions as the Gnoll checked his gear.
“There’s a slight breeze up there. You can call it off. Grimalkin wants to kill the weather magic.”
“No altering the weather. We’re proving it works. Can you help me strap in?”
Yelroan did, and he was nervous and excited. He’d switched his sunglasses for non-shiny ones so he didn’t blind Felkhr by accident.
“There’s a crowd up there. And speaking of weather—Grimalkin says you’ve got a few important guests. He said not to tell you if you’re nervous.”
“I’m not nervous.”
Felkhr was about to pee. He’d done it eighteen times so far, and now he was in his harness, he regretted not trying one more time to squeeze something out. He was terrified—and exhilarated.
This was it. The object moving with his arms was bulky—but they’d folded it up, and he could walk around with it.
It looked like a bunch of moth wings secured by wood to his back. Silk indeed, and it fanned out somewhat like the Wind Runner’s suit if Felkhr spread his arms—but it was detachable instead.
And it had a few other tricks that the Wind Runner didn’t need. Felkhr barely noticed the weight; it was light as could be.
Of course, as he knew, ‘light’ still meant his entire body’s weight needed to get off the ground, and that was going to be a challenge.
“Where’s the canister? Careful, careful—”
Saliss had told them there was no chance of it going ‘boom’. But he said that with five holes in his laboratory, and Felkhr knew how much power that had to go into anything to damage Saliss’ lab. Yelroan very carefully attached it, and Felkhr felt his back heating up.
“Alright. Runes working.”
“The connection to the mana stones good?”
He had one in each glove of his suit. Felkhr nodded and tested both. Yelroan confirmed both spells were working.
Aside from the passive enchantments, there were only two active spells that required the power source Saliss had provided. Steering was not one of them.
After much consultation with flying experts like Apista, Bevussa, and so on, it was clear to Felkhr that fliers were very sensitive to the slightest movement in the air. A wheel or rudder was too powerful; he’d shift his body weight left or right to yaw.
There were a lot of dangers, though, and he was armed with a Scroll of Featherfall but determined not to use it unless he had to. Besides…as he had learned, the acceleration of other objects could still mean his end.
But he had his class. It burned in him, and Yelroan stepped back.
“Alright. This is it. They’re waiting for you on the 10th floor. Want to take an elevator?”
“I’m not walking.”
The two Gnolls grinned at each other, and then they began to walk outside. And this time—
They were lining up as they had always done. Idle passers by, citizens. People hoping for an accident or, sometimes, those who thought this time he’d do it.
Only this time, they knew what was coming. So Felkhr was surprised to see people lining the street by his workshop on the 8th Floor. He looked around—and saw familiar faces.
The Engineering Guild. Garuda. And Drakes, Gnolls, slowing as they saw the commotion. Felkhr heard whispers as he and Yelroan marched forward. He looked different this time, with his helmet and goggles and an actual suit.
“What’s happening now?”
“That’s the Flying Gnoll of Pallass. Is he doing something again? I thought they banned him?”
“Why’s there a crowd this time? His contraption doesn’t look better than last time.”
“I saw the Wind Runner on the walls. And the [Innkeeper] of Liscor. Maybe…”
Felkhr stumbled a bit—and Yelroan grinned.
Ryoka Griffin was fidgeting on the cold battlements as a young woman in a wheelchair sat, warm under a blanket. The Barefoot Runner was paying for her arrogance, but she was also nervous.
“I feel like he hates my guts. Am I paranoid, Erin?”
“Ryoka, you think everyone hates you. In this case, he might. Grimalkin, does Felkhr hate Ryoka?”
The Sinew Magus turned from checking the air currents. He frowned at Ryoka.
“No. Felkhr quite admires you, Miss Griffin. That would be paranoia.”
“But he’s never asked to talk to me. I only heard about this project yesterday!”
Ryoka protested. She was eying the sky, checking the wind. There was more powerful wind above. Grimalkin folded his arms.
“Felkhr wanted to do this without relying too much on outsiders. This is a Pallassian project. He felt that too much copying would undermine his conclusions.”
“Maybe I should talk to him. Or—do you want me to help with the wind?”
“No. Any attempts and I will dispel your wind magic.”
Grimalkin snapped. Ryoka lifted her hands.
“Oh, come on, Grimalkin! This isn’t a game!”
“We know. But Felkhr will prove he can do this without help. No magic except for his gear. No Skills save his own. And none of that will help him fly.”
“Pardon me for trying to help.”
Ryoka went off to sulk with someone else not always beloved. She walked over and cleared her throat.
“Hey. We haven’t talked. I’m Ryoka.”
“You’re blocking my view.”
Chaldion of Pallass had a huge fur coat on and his own seat. Ryoka threw up her hands, and he grinned.
The Grand Strategist of Pallass just happened to be here. Despite Grimalkin and Saliss doing their best to keep the day secret—here he was. And there were a number of Pallassian officials in the crowd.
“Old man, I will throw you off the walls first. This isn’t your moment.”
Saliss beamed as he kicked one of the soldiers trying to block him from Chaldion in the shins. The old Drake raised one brow innocently.
“It’s a custom to watch the Flying Gnoll make his attempts. There’s no law against me being up here.”
The [Alchemist] had an annoyed look on his face.
“Right. And the crowds just turned up. General Duln, [Senators] on your good list—all because they’re interested.”
Chaldion sipped from a cup of steaming tea without a word.
“I’m sure Noass and his camera crew are just here because they can sense a good moment. Miss Drassi as well.”
Channel 1 and Channel 2 were fighting in the background for the best spot. Saliss’ teeth ground together, but even he was too excited to stand still. But he had to point to the forty assorted Drakes and Gnolls and Dullahans and Garuda standing on a set of bleachers to the side.
“And the damn choir?”
Chaldion made a show of looking sideways, and his good eye widened.
“My, is that our city choir? I had no idea they were there. One good eye, you see. Bad peripheral vision.”
By the time Felkhr got up to the 10th Floor, there were thousands of Pallassians waiting and thousands more coming up. Saliss trying to heave his grandfather over the edge of the walls wasn’t even noticeable to the Gnoll.
He walked forwards and looked around.
“This is it.”
Unlike last time, there was no certainty in his bones. He was terrified, nervous, and he had been as thorough as could be. Prepped for this. Even done underwater tests to prove the ideas worked. He’d thrown more sandbags with his face attached to them onto the ground than he could count.
But there was something in his chest. It was burning—and he didn’t pay attention to Noass and Drassi wanting a word. The choir was warming up around him—and he just looked at Yelroan, Saliss, Grimalkin.
“Is Bird here?”
He couldn’t make it, Felkhr supposed. But then he heard an excited voice.
“I am here, Felkhr! Hello! I can see everything through the theatre! Zimrah and many of us are here, watching! The Flying Queen is shouting through Pivr. Pivr, shut up.”
An excited Bird was peering out of a scrying orb. He meant the Antinium. Felkhr smiled at them and Rufelt and Lasica. Behind him, Noass was throwing elbows.
“Felkhr, a word before you set out on your latest attempt? Do you have a word for the crowds?”
The couple holding the scrying orb waved to Felkhr. Rufelt grinned as he looked at Felkhr, shaking with nerves himself.
“Is this it, Felkhr? You’re not dreaming.”
The Gnoll pinched himself. He knew there were probably countless people watching. Not just Antinium or Pallass.
Goblins were watching from Goblinhome. Gnolls in the Great Plains had stopped and gathered around scrying orbs, murmuring a name and asking who he was. Garuda flitted down in Chandrar, alerted by their cousins from Pallass that something was going on.
The Titan and leaders of war were tuning in—and all Felkhr saw were the people who had supported him. And the sky.
It was blue as could be with great clouds threatening more snow in the distance. But the spots he saw were so vividly, painfully clear—he stared up and up, and he knew how high the sky was.
Higher than the depths of the sea. Many times the size of the High Passes. A cloud was inconceivably high…he felt the two mana stones in his gloves tingle as he pressed his paws down on them. Then he turned to Rufelt and Lasica.
“No. I’m not. Dreaming, that is. But then again, I am. Because this is the day I find out.”
It was a statement only Rufelt and Lasica and his friends would understand. A Human woman with raven hair was elbowing Noass, and the [Innkeeper] was waving at him as Mrsha and Nanette peered at him expectantly.
And it was all too much. Felkhr’s heart was pounding out of his chest. He had never had a ceremony. He had always done this alone, with mockery and no great expectations on him.
All except for the Garuda. He looked at them now—and raised a paw. But Felkhr’s last words in this moment were just…
“I’m not dreaming.”
Then he was running across the 10th floor.
No one was ready for that. The [Senators] were getting ready for a speech. Erin blinked as Felkhr dashed past her. She saw him slip on some melted snow, and his arms windmilled. But then he was at the edge of the battlements, and his stride lengthened. She saw him arc his back, spread his arms, and those wings snapped into place. Wider than his wingspan, a wingsuit perhaps. But what was that strange thing suddenly rising over his helmeted head?
Then he leapt, ahead of the gasps and cries, and the Choir of Pallass began to sing.
The Choir of Pallass, the recognized entity with the best singers—amateur and professional—was a hotly contested spot that had the honor of singing at formal events. In this case, it was an ‘honor’ because they were cold and Chaldion had summoned them and made them stand here an hour and a half.
They had one job, which was also nerve-wracking: sing the anthem of Pallass. Something they knew by heart—but they didn’t know when to sing. He’d just said that at some point the Flying Gnoll of Pallass would fly, and crash or succeed, they had better be singing on time for the cameras.
His sudden run meant they began singing in a panic as he cleared the ledge. They were quite drowned out by all the screaming and cries. And in all honesty, the singers were all watching Felkhr go over the edge.
It was not the best launch. The wing on the right side took two tries to click into place, and he was angled badly after that slip. All the while, he was going down, and they wondered if they would be singing his funeral dirge.
But then they saw the wings of his suit inflate—the wings lengthened, the cloth stretching to follow the sliding wood extending outwards and snapping into place.
Not a wingsuit! More like a flying suit with the wingspan of a smaller glider. Felkhr had insisted on it. Ryoka Griffin could fly with her Windsuit and her glider, but both were reliant on the wind, and the Windsuit was not meant for gliding. It was a fast way to travel, across great distance and down—but not up or even to maintain your altitude.
His flying wings had nine feet of clearance from either side. And they extended behind him like the wings of a great butterfly.
Yet they were rigid, enforced by magic, and the silk fabric was a bright sunshine yellow, the color of Pallass. As the choir’s voices faltered and they stared—the wings caught the wind, and their aerofoil design arrested Felkhr’s fall.
He was gliding now! He had achieved the ability to glide downwards. But the Garuda were murmuring. Bevussa peered down.
“He’s got the wingspan. But there aren’t any thermals. He’s in trouble.”
Without the ability to flap his wings or go up—he was just headed down. And those wings didn’t seem like he had the ability—or the strength—to flap them. One of the things that made flying so hard for his weight was the force that it would take to flap wings that large! Even the strongest Gnoll would be in trouble.
But then she saw the glow of magic, and something rose over Felkhr’s back. The Flying Gnoll had deployed the secret part of the Pallassian Flying Suit Mk. 1.
It was…well, it looked like a parachute. Or perhaps a parasail was more like it. Kevin grabbed Troydel’s arm as the two stood on the battlements. He was holding a scrying mirror steady for the Goblins, but he began shouting.
“It’s a parasail. Is he parasailing, Troy, you bastard? Tell me!”
“I don’t know! I thought he was working with you, asshole!”
A parasail and a glider? Why both? Then Kevin’s eyes narrowed.
It really was strange. There was no point to having two types of materials which moved at different speeds. One would just outperform the other, and then the other was dead weight or would get in the way.
…So why did that parasail open so fast? And why—did it look like Felkhr was suddenly rising?
“What the fuck?”
Felkhr’s back was warm. Yet it wasn’t burning, and it was welcome in this cold temperature. It was working.
The first rune on his suit was active—powered by Saliss’ fuel source, it was directed up. It was currently heating the air around it—and shooting it straight up.
Straight into the parasail. The concept was simple—hot air balloons, parasailers, all obeyed the same laws that Garuda and birds used.
Hot air rose. They rose on thermals, but unlike them, Felkhr would generate his own. It was a concept Earth might have dabbled with, but they had no way of miniaturizing an entire generator on that level. Nor were most people keen on having a dangerous, combustible object on their backs.
But Felkhr was using magic. He could not attain the lift he needed via a Tier 2 spell. So in order to counterbalance his weight—the parasail was inflating with hot air.
And at the same time, he felt the [Wind Jet] spell on his back. It was blasting out behind him, and a little Ashfire Bee saluted him from the top of Lyonette’s head.
Two forces, one lifting, the other pushing him forwards. The jetstream of air wasn’t a propeller. They had moved straight past that because wind magic was free and simple. And now he was stopping his dive, levelling out.
For the first time in his life, Felkhr stopped falling. And then he was going straight ahead, adjusting the heat from the parasail that could pull him up, adding more speed to the [Wind Jet] spell moving him forwards. He was flying.
“He’s doing it! Rufelt! Do you see it? He’s flying! How is he doing it?”
Lasica was grabbing Rufelt’s arm and pointing. Pallass was shouting with noise, and Chaldion was clearing his throat and staring at the silent Choir of Pallass.
“The Flying Gnoll is flying. He is flying—”
They had completely forgotten to sing. Everyone was trying to figure out how Felkhr was keeping aloft. Even the [Mages] watching weren’t sure how Felkhr was doing it. Everyone knew you could cast [Levitate].
This was arguably harder. But that Gnoll had no magic in his body. He was flying—and flying better than someone with [Levitate]. He was slowly curving now, getting a feel for how to turn the wings and angle them so that he slowly turned left.
A thousand commentators, each with the wrong idea how he was doing it, were chattering away to their superiors and anyone who would listen.
But the Garuda were cheering.
“He’s flying! The Gnolls fly once more!”
They were leaping into the air, but they didn’t want to get in his way. And frankly—he was faster than most. Now, Felkhr was pumping as much magic as could be outputted from the canister at his side, and he shot over Pallass’ skyline.
They were staring up. [Engineers], citizens, Troy, and all of them saw Felkhr flying. Suddenly, the dream wasn’t a dream—but a reality.
This was just the start. Suddenly, in the heads of many popped ideas. If you could put a Gnoll up there—what about a ship? What about a ship in the skies? What about a house?
It was like they could feel the world changing as the impossible became possible. But these were the people who were too late. They had latched onto something—but Felkhr had seen it before they could even imagine this reality.
That was the difference. Only Chaldion looked up and murmured.
“We have fliers already. Long-distance scouts, perhaps. Novel transit. It’ll kill more idiots, I suppose.”
Someone slapped his arm.
“Old man, you’re the worst.”
Chaldion looked sideways at Saliss. The Drake was smiling genuinely for once. He stared up as Felkhr flew overhead, laughing incredulously, and he was smiling.
“I let it happen. I always believed he had a chance. Look up there. That Gnoll is the very definition of Pallass. He did it with a world against him. That is why he flew. He, like every member of the Walled Cities, did it alone. These are the people who drag us forwards, step by step, against every odd. Who level.”
The old [Grand Strategist] gave Felkhr a look of respect. A rare look, and a nod for the few in this world he ever acknowledged. He saw something of himself in Felkhr.
So did Saliss. But where the two differed—the Drake seized his grandfather by the jacket and hauled him out of his chair. Cheerfully, he stared into Chaldion’s eyes and hissed back.
“Imagine what he would have done if Pallass had supported him. We would all be flying by now.”
The two locked gazes, mystified, as if wondering how the other had come to their similar and yet completely opposite conclusions. Then Saliss pointed up. His voice was quiet in the chaos around them.
“Old man. I’m calling in my rank. Put out an all-call across every Walled City. Top-priority, on the desk of every leader and High Command.”
Shaken, Chaldion sat. Saliss pointed at Felkhr, then pulled something out of his pocket. It was in a solution of gel, but Chaldion’s good eye locked on it. There was a written note on the bottle. Saliss whispered as he looked up at Felkhr.
“If you want to copy Earth’s tech, go ahead. But this will make Gnolls fly. I need as much of it as you can find, and I need to know where it can be found. It’s called…seith. And it will power more than just flight.”
He didn’t mind Chaldion taking a sample, and he knew how to handle the stuff now. He’d already told Erin. Saliss let Chaldion fumble the bottle away and went back to watching. That was for later. For now—
This was Felkhr’s moment. And higher the Gnoll flew. Higher…like the stories of flying people from Earth.
Ryoka Griffin could think of a good tale like that.
Icarus came to mind.
He was doing it! But the joy Felkhr felt quickly turned to worry.
“…Wait a second. How am I going to land?”
They’d worked so hard on flying and staying safe that they’d sort of assumed he might just disengage and use the [Featherfall] spell. But there was no way that he was going to ruin this beautiful thing now.
He’d probably hit the heating rune and float down using it while disengaging the thrust. There was an entire set of…terms that Felkhr realized he needed to describe this.
Three-dimensional movement like this meant that it was the realm of Garuda and Earth’s fliers. Yaw, for instance, the way he was angled, was influencing how he flew.
Every slight movement made his direction change. Scratching his nose, holding an arm out—and the wind would catch it and turn him. He was afraid to tilt sideways and glad the parasail was stabilizing him. It only occurred to Felkhr now how crazy Ryoka Griffin was.
Wingsuit diving in general; there was no stabilizing force like the ground. Whereas this design incorporated a steadying force above him. That was allowing him a far more natural time steering.
As he increased the heat lifting him higher and decreased his thrust, Felkhr nearly began to dangle, so he hurriedly increased speed.
There was a ‘minimum speed’ to keep going in the air; any slower and he’d just stall out. But as he rose higher, he thought he heard a voice.
“Careful, careful—stop, Grimalkin!”
Huh? Who was that? Was someone—talking to him?
No, it sounded like the wind carrying someone’s voice. Felkhr blinked. Then the Wind Runner’s warning hit home.
As Felkhr rose, he ran into something his ground-based observations of the wind had never quite captured, even with the highest kites.
…Which was that the wind was not all one thing. There were currents in the sky. Just like there were currents in the ocean—exactly like those—there were cross-currents and powerful jets high, high above where most people could tread.
He ran into one now, and a fell breeze slammed into his wings so hard he was dragged a thousand feet sideways in a second.
That was what Ryoka had been so afraid of. The wind was her friend; it enabled her to perform incredible stunts and kept her safe.
But it was not Felkhr’s friend. Helplessly, he was caught in a slipstream in the skies. Then he was going faster than he had ever thought possible.
“Felkhr? Felkhr? He’s out of speaking stone range. He wasn’t supposed to go that far up. What’s going on?”
Yelroan was paging the Gnoll desperately. Ryoka pushed forwards.
“He’s gotten caught. It’s a gale up there! I told you—let me go up there!”
Grimalkin still refused to budge, and he was looking straight up now, whispering a vision spell.
“No, he can still handle it.”
“Handle it? He just lost his parasail!”
Everyone was craning their heads up to see. But Ryoka could feel the wind moving.
“Aye. Torn right off. The strings weren’t tough enough for the wind up there. Ye need a way to reel it back in or you’ll lose it. Like a net afore a whale.”
Shaestrel commented darkly. She and Ryoka were peering up—and now, the Flying Gnoll was encountering another thing only fliers knew about.
The little figure up in the air began to fall as he tried to break free of the wind threatening to blow him miles off-course. But as a result—the wind seized his wings and sent him down.
Into something that Ryoka knew only too well. A stall spin as he went down like a corkscrew. And he did not know how to arrest his fall.
The force of the spin halted, which was good—because the centrifugal force alone could kill him. He had, in fact, passed out. When he opened his eyes as the wind blasted his face, he was staring down at the fields outside of Pallass.
Then Felkhr was in a familiar position. Face-down. Falling. And his wings refused to budge. He was caught in a nosedive. And he was locked into his flying wings. Without the parasail, the hot air spell was useless.
I have no way to arrest my fall! His physical strength wasn’t enough to shift the wings! Felkhr stared down and imagined how it would be if this was his end. Crashing on his first flight, a cautionary tale.
He could bail out, though. His paws were on the clamps—but then Felkhr gritted his teeth. He was so high up he had time before he crashed.
Not like this. He had already flown—now, he was going to wrest triumph from defeat.
He couldn’t do it before. But now—the Gnoll’s eye snapped wide under his goggles. The [Dreamer] was awake, living the dream he had chased all his life. The [Inventor] had finished his creation, and now—the next step awaited.
Felkhr dropped over Pallass with millions of eyes looking up at him. He would surely level again—but the world had already recognized his achievement the first day he had trialed a glider with the hot air spell and soared four hundred yards on the Floodplains.
He was a [Visionary of Flight]. And every silly [Dreamer]’s Skill had finally turned into something different. His class had always believed in him. Now—he shouted.
“[Innovation Never Ceases]!”
He was both falling and there was another part of him on the ground. Standing at his workshop bench with every tool and material he had ever used hanging around him.
Like…the most perfect waking dream. He could seize a brush and half feel it, move as fast as thought. And he would have to be fast as thought because he was staring at his flying suit in front of him.
The Pallassian Flying Suit Mk. 2. In his mind, Felkhr worked like a storm. He needed—so that was why the wings had those parts that moved.
Flaps. Trim. Tabs. Ways of adjusting in midair! Of course! But it was more than just needing to lift a part of the wings up and down. He needed a way to do that while strapped in.
A lever? No, nothing so clunky. How would it move? He saw something in his mind’s eye and grabbed it. A vision of Kevin’s bicycle gears. But he had to lock it into place—
“Bail out, Felkhr! Get out!”
Yelroan was howling at him. Felkhr was working on the completed contraption in his mind’s eye. He had any tool he wanted. Any material.
[Innovation Never Ceases (50 Gold)]. Any change he wanted, he could bring to life. Within his budget. Felkhr felt his gold allotment burning away—but then he seized the image in his head—and dragged it into the physical world.
He pulled a hand-crank, and a flap opened. And slowly—then all at once, he levelled out of the killing dive. Felkhr was panting, but his Skills were burning.
“[My Creation Never Dies — Full Recreation]!”
He looked up—and the parasail inflated once more. Felkhr was still heading down, but levelling out now—he thought he could hear people screaming and cheering and calling out.
…Was that singing?
The Choir of Pallass had watched Felkhr plummeting to his end. And—for some reason, that was when they had remembered their jobs and begun singing.
“So long as our heads rise to the sky
Ne’er shall our city silent lie.”
The screaming of people watching the Flying Gnoll plummet was growing louder. Desperately, the choir sang as the scrying orbs played Felkhr across every screen. The [Senators] were screaming for the [Mages] to cut the feed, and Wistram was screaming right back not to.
“Dragon marvel from behind
At the glorious mortal design!”
Then he had levelled out! The Gnoll flew overhead, and the Choir of Pallass sang on.
“Dawn beholds a day it never dreamed,
onwards our armies scream!
Pallass may you never be the same!
Let the world hear thy eternal name
City to put all others to shame!
Issrysil marvels! Issrysil marvels!”
Some of the non-Pallassians with their mouths open were gaping for entirely different reasons than Felkhr’s flight. Erin Solstice, Ryoka, and Lyonette all stared sideways at the Choir of Pallass, who had gone into the next verse.
That was their national anthem?
A purple-scaled Drake sighed as he watched from a lower floor of Pallass.
“We have got to have a national anthem half as good as that.”
Krshia looked at Elirr as Jeiss nodded along to Lism. The two Gnolls shook their heads. Krshia pointed straight up.
“We have to have a flying Gnoll.”
“Good point. Let’s steal both.”
Then Felkhr was landing. In a field outside of Pallass, knees too shaky to stand. He staggered out of his harness, fell to his knees, and said the dumbest thing he could think of.
“Flying…flying is sort of scary. Walking isn’t that bad.”
He flopped onto his back—then stared up at the sky. And instantly—he wondered if he could go back up there.
He had flown. It wasn’t something that required a machine. It took magic, but he had controlled everything.
It was just like he’d flown in his dreams. The [Visionary] lay there for a moment—until he heard the sound of all of Pallass running out of the city towards him. Then he sat up in alarm. Looking so stupid because he had never thought about the popularity or attention he’d get after becoming the first non-mage to fly.
He had forgotten in his long quest what it would be like to change the world. The Gnoll stood up slowly and looked around.
Was this all a dream? He blinked—and then realized he had always been dreaming. He had just finally pulled that dream out of the sky and into reality. So the Flying Gnoll of Pallass, Felkhr, looked up and whispered.
“Dad. I did it. I finally figured it out.”
Then he spread his wings and took off into the sky.
[Visionary of Flight Level 38!]
[Skill – My Dream Never Ran Out of Fuel obtained!]
Author’s Note: You voted on the poll, I delivered.
I’m tired. I try to work hard on any chapter, of course, but in this case I knew Felkhr was waiting for his chapter, and I was glad that choice won.
I was sort of sad the other two chapters lost because I know what both of them are too—and despite 11 million words, The Wandering Inn feels like me running around and trying to give each perspective its due time.
Because when I do, I hope you agree that the story is original, fun, and adds to a character. But it takes work. And so I sometimes ask for Patrons to vote on the next side story, or just choose one path to run down, and I can’t do the rest or if I do, they wait.
Hopefully you thought this was a good chapter for this update. I’ll catch you next time, and until then…I don’t much like plane-flying. Helicopters scare me. But flying like that? I could do that.
No wingsuits, though. That’s suicide. I had an idea for a helium-filled suit that made you practically gravity-neutral so you could jump really high or fly with a simple fan, but it turns out helium can’t lift crap.
Someone invent me a super-helium. Alright, you have your assignment, I have mine. Thanks for reading!
Sneaks by jawjee!
Ksmvr Danger Dance by Qthebird!
Numbtongue by pkay!
Smile by Andrea’s Husband!