The Importance of the Impossible
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Chapter 2 of Gravity’s Revenge

Posted by A.E. Marling in Uncategorized

Chapter 2

The Skyway

The Skyway

The girl let loose a hissing gasp. The fox squeaked. Hiresha felt her own insides shift forward and down as the magic reoriented her to the side of the cliff. To her, the moment of disorientation felt like coming home.

More concerning to her was the cold. She felt it at once, more of a tingling numbness than she would expect at this elevation. Brutal, snow-cooled gusts would hit them closer to the clifftop. Beside her, the desert fox chirped in conversational tones, less distressed from the chill. Why, I can scarcely see the mist of my breath. It cannot be so very cold. Regardless, she shivered.

To the side came the shouts of Maid Janny. Minna’s mother waved at them, tipping the boat and causing the men inside to gesture at her with anger. She ignored them to call out suggestions. “Don’t look down. Or to the sides. Or above you.” And, “Stay at the center of the Skyway.” And, “It’s walking down that’s the hard part.” As she bobbed ahead of them on the Waterfly River, she called back once more. “Don’t let Hiresha fall asleep on her feet and wander off the road.”

The girl glanced at the enchantress with a brow lifted in silent question. She no doubt wondered if her mother had jested about Hiresha falling unconscious on the side of a cliff. The enchantress tried to give an encouraging smile, but her efforts were sabotaged by a yawn.

In truth, Hiresha never worried about falling asleep while walking, certainly not in this piercing chill. Her peculiar condition was not one to bludgeon her unconscious. Rather, the rare disease poisoned her with a lingering death of fatigue. Lethargy dragged on her legs, but she forced herself to keep up speed, kicking her skirts ahead of her with each stride. She hoped to collapse into her bed as soon as convenient after reaching the summit.

“Your first lesson,” Hiresha said, to keep herself alert and to distract the girl from their increasing distance from the ground. “Two enchantments are actively affecting us. The first is one of Lightening, reducing your weight to the negligible by severing the ties of gravity.”

The girl did not walk so much as slide one foot forward after another across the blocks of the Skyway. She hunched over the fennec, blinking rapidly. “Then, if I don’t weigh much, will I blow away? Like a baby spider caught in the wind?”

Minna’s eyes strayed from the blue of the path to the surrounding wrinkles of rock. Layers of yellow gave way to tracts of grey, to dark outcrops, to tan creases, to roughs of brown, to orange lines, to white bumps. When walking up cliffs had still scared Hiresha, she had tried to convince herself she was not moving upward but on a flatland with a hard soil of a variety of colors.

The girl began to look over her shoulder toward the plummet. Hiresha knew what she would see. The point of the gatehouse tower, the square tops of the town roofs as small as patches below.

“Eyes forward, Minna,” Hiresha said, “We don’t float away because of the second enchantment. Magic in the stone Attracts us to the Skyway. We perceive that our weight is reestablished in a new—”

Hiresha gasped as coldness flowed over her skin like a slurry of ice water. She faltered, stepped on an airiness—it had to be her skirts—and felt herself falling. Not to the side, no, worse. She began to tip backward, downward, to the true ground now distant behind them. Her insides churned, angling down, straight down, down to death.

Then her fright passed. The next moment found her standing safely on the side of the cliff, as magic intended.

Minna stared at her, flecks of tears twitching at the ends of the girl’s lashes. “W-what’s wrong?”

Irritation and embarrassment were all that heated Hiresha. She could only guess that she had begun to fall asleep and jerked back awake with a moment of nightmarish disorientation. That has never happened before, not while walking and talking. Hiresha doubted the explanation would reassure the girl, and even the enchantress found it less than satisfying.

The girl felt nothing of the sort, Hiresha thought, or she would’ve screamed. I must be more tired than I thought.

“Nothing is wrong.” Hiresha forced the words from lips that had lost all sensation. “I—I merely was observing those two spellswords sparring. There, in the College of Active Enchantment. Your fellow novices may call the building the Blade.”

At the halfway point of the Skyway, a side road split off in a path leading to a structure that seemed to jut upward from the rocky ground in a triangular tower of glass. From Hiresha’s perspective, two men appeared to be dodging forward and back over a wall within the Blade, striking at each other with bamboo weapons.

“It looks like a sword. A giant glass sword.” Minna’s eyes shifted from the building to the side, toward the ground. “Magic must keep it from falling—Ahhh! We’re so high.”

“No need to look, if it upsets you.”

“The town, they all look like toy houses.”

“Everyone says that,” Hiresha said.

“And the lake is a blue cloud, almost. Oh, no! What if I fall? What if I—”

“Mind the fennec. Minna!”

The girl had lifted her hands, clutching beneath her veil. Her upraised arms pressed against the fox’s head, flattening his ears against her chest. He snuffled a growl.

“You’re squeezing him.” Hiresha reached to take the fennec.

He wriggled from the girl’s grasp and sprang away from the enchantress’s gloves. The fox landed on the blue marble with a chatter of squeaks. He bolted across the Skyway.

“Don’t let him leave the path.” Hiresha tumbled after him, floundering in her ceremonial gowns. The fox’s collar held multiple enchantments, but once he left the Skyway he would fall. “Catch him, Minna.”

Neither woman stood a chance. By the time the girl began to move, the tail and pair of upright ears bounded off the path’s border of black stone and onto what would appear to the fox like a craggy rockland with a horizon of sky.

The fennec flew to the side and downward, and his scream was high and trilling like a songbird with a broken wing.

“I didn’t mean….” The girl’s voice splintered into shrill notes. “Didn’t know he’d….”

Anxiety gouged Hiresha and boiled up in her stomach. She had to watch the fennec tumble between the jags of rock, fearing every moment his tiny head would strike the side of the cliff.

She lifted her arm with the amethyst bracelet in time to see purple light flash from its jewels. The same hue sparkled from the fennec’s collar. He shifted direction mid air and was hurled toward Hiresha, upward, and back into her arms. He shivered as she cupped him between her hands, ears turned down, whiskers twitching, squeaking out short mews.

The girl reached halfway to touch him but stopped. “You saved him.”

“With a contingency enchantment.” Hiresha stroked the frightened creature. “If his collar moves too far from my bracelet, an Attraction spell pulls him to me. Come, Minna, and consider this a lesson of the advantages of Applied Enchantment.”

The girl shuffled after the enchantress. “Can I hold him again? I won’t let go this time.”

“I believe I’ll carry him the rest of the way. Here, take my hand. Soon the gusts will come.”

The girl’s brows angled down in savage anger, or so the enchantress thought. In the next blink, the girl’s eyes had returned to their open fright, and she shrank against Hiresha as they walked on. I must have mistaken the look, Hiresha thought, interpreted it wrong under her veil. All the same, Hiresha grew more aware that the girl was not much shorter than herself. The enchantress had the unaccountable thought that Minna might try to steal the fox and shove her toward the edge of the Skyway.

They passed a layer of red rock, a bright band that stretched across the pale cliff and blue Skyway. Hiresha held her breath while walking over it. The girl cringed at the slash of red and tiptoed past. “What is that?”

“A band of travertine. The Academy also powers an enchantment in that stone to Repulse anyone without an amulet.”

Minna clutched hers. “But no one could get so high without one. I thought you said—”

“A climber of skill might try.”

An intake of breath. “You mean a Feaster might? To get the enchantresses?”

In Hiresha’s experience, the man-hunting illusionists—The Feasters—would not have the physical strength. Their magic wastes them away.

“Thieves might,” Hiresha said. “Many covet the Academy jewels. Every few years the spellswords find a man splattered on the valley floor. Oh! Forgive me for saying that. Not to worry, though. You’ll be safe momentarily.”

The horizon above them grew closer. The painful blue of winter sky seemed to eat at the land, and they looked to reach the end of the world, the cliff summit, as it were. The wind picked up, lashing the enchantress’s gowns, cutting into her face, filling her sleeves with coldness.

The girl clung to her. Between the blasts of wind, Hiresha thought she heard Minna whimper. The girl had clamped her eyes shut. Hiresha could not blame her.

The enchantress grimaced with each buffeting, feeling as if every push of frigid air might loft her and fling her thousands of feet to her bone-splintering end. What am I, reminiscing over my fears as a novice? I’ve trod the Skyway hundreds of times. Hiresha had not felt so afraid on the cliff path for years, so vulnerable, so unbalanced. So cold.

Minna’s own worries are making me afraid, Hiresha thought. Or I’ve contracted an illness. She resolved to examine herself in her laboratory and use her specialized magic to cure her budding sickness.

Hiresha squinted into the afternoon sun, hoping to see the end of the Skyway close. A blot spun into view, a whirling shape that she at first thought had to be a bird caught in a gust. But instead of wings it had arms and a fan of brown hair tangled with wind. Instead of feathers it had skirts of green and a fluff of white undergarments.

A pink and yellow trail of ribbons streamed after the figure in her descent. A lost slipper tumbled behind through the air. An enchantress was falling.

Next chapter…

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