“So how high up is the sky? Can we measure it?”
“What, get a rope and just —?”
“It’s about as big as my umbrella.” Chapton unfolded a large parasol. “See! It covers the whole sky.”
Paladin scribbled something on a bit of paper and passed it to a member of his entourage.
Meth crouched down and peered under the umbrella. “That’s actually quite interesting. Now if we cut a hole in the umbrella, and measured the angle, we could — “
“Not with my umbrella! That’d ruin it.”
“As you say, High Magistrate.” Meth retracted his head. “Metaphagos! Someone go and fetch an umbrella.”
While the engineers were arguing, Paladin’s “security” team returned with his order: several coils of silk rope.
“Hope this is enough, Vinnie. We got all the silk they had. Eight hundred feet.” The partygoer touched their hat. “But, um, they did ask how you’ll be paying for it.”
Paladin counted the few coins in his pocket. Not nearly enough.
He glanced meaningfully at Wildflower.
The other hero sighed. “Tell them to send the bill to me.”
“Thanks.” Bill sorted, Paladin flew up to the top of the nearest pillar, and spread his glowing, immaterial wings. “Let’s measure that there sky!”
He grabbed the end of the long rope, took a swig from his new drinking horn for luck, and flew straight up.
“Do you think dragonfire would melt copper?”
Deadlily raised an eyebrow. “Dragonfire?”
“It’s a new power I’ve been practicing.” Wildflower gestured at Meth’s lightning rod climbing the side of the pillar. “We’re going to need a lot of copper to make the bathyscape, so it might be time to melt that down.”
The giant looked up from a plan he and Naneirr were adjusting. “Sure. I’m done with it now anyway.”
Wildflower drew in a breath, and felt the fire rise in their throat…
“Hang on!” Jethan looked up from the group of technicians. “What are you about to melt?”
“Mhm” Holding the fire down, Wildflower pointed at the base of the copper framework: four wrist-thick pillars that held up the tons of metal suspended above the suburb.
Wait a minute…
The breath of a dragon blossomed down the street away from the pillar, making passers-by duck. A quick conference with Jethan later, Wildflower and a few engineers climbed the tower with saws.
Once the pieces of copper were safely piled in three casting floors, Wildflower drew in another breath.
The fire didn’t melt all the metal, but the bits it did were beautifully clean.
When the last load of copper went down the pillar, Chapton stayed at the top, watching Paladin’s rope slowly uncoil into the sky.
Ten coils left. Five. One.
Chapton leaped into the air and flew straight up, after Paladin.
The rope flew faster. Did Paladin really think he could out-fly a Strix?
The end of the rope whipped past Chapton’s nose. He put on one final burst of speed, grabbed it, and started climbing.
The engineers might think they’d invented measurement, but Jethan knew where to find the real experts.
The hidden disk rolled aside, and they dropped through into the Temple of Bracaden. “Does anyone know how to measure the height of the sky?”
A few people threw ideas around — an Undine even started a string of equations that ran half-way up the wall — but the first good idea was triangulation:
“We use it all the time to measure the pillars. Take two elevation sightings a few miles apart, measure the distance between them, and it’s basic geometry.”
“Doesn’t work. They tried it a few decades ago, with the sun. Measured a good way apart, corrected for the curve of the world, and got nothing. Zilch.” The Strix scraped a diagram on the wall. “Parallel lines. Meed at infinity.”
“So the sky goes on forever?”
“That’s what I said.”
“Not necessarily.” The Undine was now standing horizontally, sketching on the ceiling. “Not everything in the sky is the same height. Sun, moon, the wandering stars are all too far away. But there’s one thing that isn’t.”
She paused, waiting for someone to ask. No-one did.
“It’s meteors. Those rocks fall from the sky, so they can’t be at infinity. Measure one of them when it first shows up.”
“How are you going to find one of those?” the Strix growled. “Not like they happen every day.”
“One ought to happen soon enough. The astronomers on the Peak say they expect more like we had six months ago.”
Silence filled the room.
The Undine pouted. “What? All I’m saying is, it’s a great scientific opportunity.”
Jethan sighed. “Don’t stir up a panic. We all know the astronomers’ll predict anything if it gets them attention.”
Sixteen hundred seconds. Sixteen hundred long seconds of burning arms, straining shoulders, with his wings spread wide just to cool down. That was how long it took Chapton to climb up the suspended rope.
“Paladin, you need to come down.”
“But look at the view from up here.” Paladin swept his arm in a wide arc. “Mountains, rivers, the sea — it’s pretty great, don’t you think?”
Chapton looked down. “Why is Kathrakopolis all the way over there?”
“What?” Paladin twisted around. “I didn’t fly this far!”
Now Chapton understood why the elders had told him about jet streams.
By the time Kasita returned to the forge, Vinnie and Chapton were nowhere to be seen.
Naneirr, the mirror giant, jabbed a thumb upwards. “Both of ’em flew off.”
“Where?” Kasita scanned the sky.
Beside them, Wildflower looked up as well. “What’s that below the sun?”
Kasita followed the other hero’s gaze. “That dot? That can’t be them. It’s the wrong shape.” Wildflower looked away, but the sun couldn’t blind a tiefling; Kasita kept tracking the dot, trying to make out the winged shape.
“They’re not flying, they’re falling.”
Charon was there in a moment, and Kasita leaped onto the raven’s back. With practiced movements, the giant bird shot up, arced over the dot, and dived straight towards the ground. As they overtook the plummeting, winged figure, Kasita pulled her on board. Charon flared wings, and levelled out.
The newcomer’s wings snapped off and fell past them. Towards the busy Forge streets.
Kasita moved their heels, and Charon dived again, even more steeply. The raven dodged a building, circled a giant gawking in the street, and scooped up the two wax-slick wings just above the heads of the crowd.
Much more slowly, Charon glided back to Meth’s forge and deposited the two passengers on the ground.
“Merci beaucoup. Truly, I am most grateful.” The rescuee held out a hand. “I am Carreia, la grand Fee. Would you be Kasita?”
“That’s me.” Kasita shook the elf’s wax-coated hand.
The elf reached for Kasita’s shoulder. Anti-pickpocket reflexes jerked away, just in time; a second longer, and Kasita’s purse would have fallen out of hammerspace and into Carriera’s hand.
The elf beamed as though she hadn’t touched a thing. “I am so sorry I could not bring you a piece of ze sun. Such a waste!” She looked around the forge. “But first, is zis where you ‘ave ze project, ze bathysphere?” She peered over Deadlily’s head “And over zere! Such a glow!”
The elf darted past Meth, Deadlily and the giants, and poked at a furnace of molten copper. The wax still sticking to her burst into flame.
Carriera dropped, rolled, and had the fire out in moments. But when she looked up, Wildflower was standing above her.
“Are you here to help us, or to steal from us?” A wave of truth rolled out from Wildflower.
It broke and flowed uselessly around the elf, but she sighed and stood up anyway. A clatter of trinkets and coins fell on the ground around her. “I will help.”
Metaphagos loomed over her.”Why should we let you?”
Carriera scrambled around him, and behind his legs, and began sketching on the furthest corner of the wall. Metaphagos gathered up his things and returned to the group. “Now, Naneirr, you were speaking of valve seals.”
“You could —”
Metaphagos hissed through his teeth, drowning out the elf’s voice. She began another sketch.
Eventually, Deadlily looked at one of the drawings Carriera had left on the front door, and laughed. “Actually, that might work. If we adjust this — Carriera, are you with us?”
Wildflower left the five of them to their engineering.
Narsifiette frowned, and shook her head. “I don’t know what’s go into us. First my glaive gets stolen, then he poisons the candidates, and now haring off like this. I mean, there’s always an explanation, but still…” She sighed. “Sorry Jethan, I don’t mean to unload all my problems on you. How’s your day been?”
Jethan looked over at Carriera, who seemed to have got bored of the design meeting again. “Well … actually, have you got the glaive with you?”
Narsifiette produced the polearm from hammerspace.
“Carriera, would you have a look at this? This is one of the odd weapons I told you about.”
The elf dashed over, and held out a hand for the glaive. “May I?”
Narsifiette’s hands tightened on it. “A look, but only that.”
“Fine.” The elf reached into her hair, and flicked out a complex brass instrument, then ran the device over the blade. “Let us see. It is certainly ze powerful weapon, ze thing of significance.”
Wildflower joined the three of them. “We heard voices inside it, arguing.”
“Strange.” The elf frowned, then turned to Narsifiette. “When did you get this?
“It was a gift, for my sixteenth birthday.”
Quick as a flash, the elf’s hand shot behind Narsifiette’s ear. A red checkers piece appeared between her fingers. “Did you get this then, too?” She turned it over in her hand. Zis is a worry.”
Wildflower swallowed. “Is it dangerous, then?”
“Naturalement. Most dangerous.”
Narsifiette dropped the glaive. Wildflower caught it, and held it gingerly. “Can we break it?”
“Of course!” Carriera smiled, briefly. “But, what might be inside zat you let out?”
Only one way to find out. Wildflower held the weapon high above their head.
In their mind’s eye, red and black checkers tumbled. Jethan held up a finger. “Narsifiette, who gave you this?”
“It was a gift. Just a random thing.”
Jethan rolled their eyes. “Your arrival wasn’t an accident. Did this hitch a ride with you? Or was it meant to come?”
The glaive quivered in Wildflower’s hands.
In one great blow, a great power will be broken. Pythia, the fortune-teller, had said that. But what power?
“Carriera, what exactly is wrong with the glaive? Is there a way to fix it?”
The elf twirled the brass thing in her fingers. “Zer is, but not ze easy way. It is — half — missing a part. Like me, it is from anuzzer place; maybe part of it was left behind. Maybe you can find ze other part ‘ere, and put zem together. Maybe.” She drew in a breath. “But what you do, now — it ‘as woken up. It will be always seeking, always causing you trouble, until you do.”
Time stood still. Carriera’s words were muffled by Wildflower’s mask — or was that another voice?
The glaive twisted more sharply, and sprang out of Wildflower’s hands. When they picked it up the voices under the surface were timid. Panicked.
This wasn’t the moment to destroy it.
“Carriera, what about my bow and Wildflower’s mask? They haven’t talked to us, but could they?”
Carriera ran her device over the objects. “Zey are not what ze glaive is. But zere is a pattern. Someone I ‘ave known.”
“The Red King? I’ve dreamed of that name.”
“I have heard it, too. Zey come, and zings change. I do not stay to find out what zey become.”
Wildflower sighed. “And Silvanus?”
The wolpertinga sniffed at Carriera’s foot. She smiled. “Zis creature is a free agent.”
Dusty and exhausted, Chapton, Vinnie, and d’Ouvres the horse stumbled back into the city.
“We’ve found a new mine in the mountains!”
“And Toe-Foe!” Chapton held up a wheel of white, rubbery substance. “You can actually eat it!”