The pieces of the broken board fell down, ricocheting off of the buildings below. Those small bits of debris tumbled through the air until a gust of wind caught them and blew them out towards the clouds. Drake did his best not to dwell on the fact that the wind had carried them out past the point where they would have been caught by the nets hanging under the city. The fall would be a long one.
Standing very still, Drake waited for the last of the splinters drifted downwards. A portion of the board had fallen away, but most of it was still intact. The moment stretched as the wind brushed his hair with malicious intentions. Still, nothing happened.
But just as Drake felt a sense of relief, the high winds of this place caused the whole structure to sway. Immediately, a sense of nausea filled Drake.
‘I am going to die here.’ Drake thought very seriously to himself. He considered his life so far and wondered whether he was truly satisfied with what he had done.
Some part of him answered that if he had to ask, the answer was clearly no.
Beautiful golden birds with metallic feathers were crossing the skyline, heading towards the city. They looked like a flowing wave across the sky. There must have been hundreds of the things, and they were a brilliant, shiny thing that Drake could focus on while he let his blood pressure drop back to normal levels.
“Bah, don’t be such a baby. Would the gem of our Zone truly be so fragile?” Kairon scoffed, slapping Drake’s back. As the blow approached, some part of Drake was screaming. Leaning into it, Drake desperately tried to disperse the force without losing his balance.
The hand hit him with a soft pat.
…of course, Kairon was just a trader. His Strength stat was negligible. Drake overbalanced and began to lean out over the edge of the wooden dock. His hands reached for the rope of the balloon’s basket, but in his panic, he couldn’t get his body to work right. Instead, habits he had gained from long hours of training kicked into gear.
His bone gauntlet condensed and stretched outwards, latching onto the basket. The already wounded board gave out, and several of its nearby companions splintered under Drake’s abrupt weight.
Of course, Drake tightened his grip and cut through the rope. The next thing he knew, he was falling, looking up at the sky.
For several seconds, Drake engaged in a vicious battle within himself. One part of him wanted to call in more bones to grab onto something so he wouldn’t fall. There was another part of him that pointed out this was exactly what had gotten him into this problem in the first place. So he was frozen.
‘Goddamnit, why did Sydney send me out here.’ Drake thought gloomily. ‘Doesn’t she know, I…’
Drake crashed into a building and smashed right through it, ceiling and floor. He heard a brief screech, but he was already smashing into the next floor. And then the next floor. And then the following floor.
Only after breaking down seven floors did Drake stop. The ground underneath him was solid but was still swaying slightly in the wind. Above him, a hole sketched up into the wooden hodgepodge, revealing a brilliant blue sky.
“Are you… alright?”
At least it wasn’t the rope, Drake reflected as he sat up. If he was dangling over the Earth by simply a rope… Cutting off that intimidating image, Drake looked around for the owner of a voice. Immediately, he blinked.
The room he had crashed into was of a much higher quality than the places above. Whereas flimsy wood seemed to be the norm here, this wood of this room was dark and solid. It seemed to be some sort of spacious apartment, with wooden floors and simple rugs. What was most striking about the place was there was no barrier between it and the outside world. This apartment was on the edge of the spire, and just… opened up.
The golden birds continued their sinuous path in front of the setting sun, warm red light on brilliant gold feathers. They looked like a weapon that had been dipped in blood.
Drake spun around, somewhat embarrassed. His eyes took in the hanging canvas paintings briefly, and then settled on the woman was speaking. Like most everyone he had met in this Zone, she looked vaguely Southeast Asian, with a petite frame and expressive eyes. Her hair was pulled up in a ponytail and she was standing in front of a half-finished easel. On the canvas, the flock of golden birds seemed to coil like a serpent. In fact, their details seemed to almost merge until they were one, larger creature…
Drake shook his head to focus. Then he scratched his cheek. “…sorry to drop in unannounced like this, miss. I-”
“Ha!” The woman snorted, slapping her knee. Then she looked at him and then blushed. “Ah, my apologies. It was just… it is very bold to brazenly use a pickup line at a time like this. You look as green as a fish.”
“It wasn’t-” Drake began, but he quickly realized that there was little he could do when she was so obviously hiding a smile behind her hand. Her face was pretty when her eyes crinkled at the edges. Instead, Drake said. “Well, perhaps I am a little rattled. My name is Drake, miss. And you-”
“Don’t usually give out my name to… unknown elements,” the woman said. But then she glanced at the ceiling, and her eyes crinkled once more. “But I suppose it is a thing the man who will fix my roof should know. I am Mieu. May your skies be ever clear.”
Drake secretly hoped what his skies were would never again matter in his life, but he nodded at the familiar greeting. It was something he had commonly witnessed in the village below.
Silence stretched between them until Drake cleared his throat. “…ah, I apologize. Yes, I’ll do whatever I can to fix this. I have some goods I can trade-”
“Well, I suspected as much,” Mieu said simply, eyeing him. She began storing away her paints and cleaning her brushes in a bucket of water. “You… are not from around here. Much too tall. Much too heavy for Ifrenne. Whoever brought you here perhaps held a grudge against you.”
Drake pictured Kairon’s wizened face and remembered how much he had needed to beg before the older man had agreed to bring him here. “Well… perhaps. But my mission is an important one. I come from outside the Zone.”
Pausing in her work, Mieu turned and looked at Drake. Then she pursed her lips and studied him. Immediately, Drake felt very awkward.
“Really? You are the second that I have heard of, coming here. What does a man from another Zone want with me?” Mieu asked quietly.
“No, I don’t want you at all,” Drake said immediately. Then he grimaced. “Err, excuse me, ma’am, I definitely want- ah. I want your help. With meeting the governing body of Ifrenne.”
Drake stopped, watching as Mieu flushed red. But her eyes were to the ground and it was difficult to tell whether it was anger or embarrassment that colored her face. Inwardly, Drake sighed. It had been quite some time since he had dealt with any individuals who were even slightly shy. And Mieu seemed relatively well adjusted, all things considered.
She just wanted as demanding and intense as Sydney. But she…
“Perhaps… perhaps it is better we talk about these things another time,” Mieu said, still blushing furiously. But she was also holding a small notepad and was scribbling furiously. She cast him furtive glances.
Feeling extremely awkward, Drake looked around. “Of course. Ah… if you could just show me out of your home…”
He glanced upwards. He supposed he could just hop up and pull himself up, but he didn’t like the thought of experiencing this strange awkward helplessness with 6 other people as he clambered up through their homes. It didn’t help that his blood was still pounding in his head.
A body dropped down through the holes and looked around. “Are you alive? Falling like that was a foolish move, why did you-”
Then Kairon froze, his eyes on Mieu. “L-lady Mieu. No offense was meant. Please, allow this humble servant to remove his unworthy visage from your presence. This is all a tragic accident. I am… I am willing to suffer any punishment you see fit-”
“Ah, do not worry.” Mieu blushed again and ceased her scribbling. She ripped off the paper and folded it neatly a few times until it was a paper crane. She waved her hand and the whole spire swayed. A wind blew through the apartment and carried the crane to Drake. “The door is there. But… it is perhaps best that you leave quickly. This… we should not speak of this.”