Chapter 86: The Leather Hawk of the East Egg
The storm draws nearer,
growing in power, and dark.
Are we doomed to fail?
~ Miyara Miwa
The Leather Hawk of the East Egg. We stood in a valley twisting around the bases of mountains. Dead trees and shrubs surrounded a dry streambed that looked like it was no more than a trickle when full. The storm had abated somewhat, but northwest was a dark line of thunderclouds, moving towards us fast.
East Egg. So we decided to trek east.
Peitra had returned to her tranquil near-trance. Although we tried speaking with her, nothing seemed to quite reach her. Regardless, Kyosuke had Hosei translate for him, and he assured her that he was now responsible for her because he rescued her, and he would take care of her. That seemed to hit something, because although she said nothing, she looked at him for quite some time in a measuring way. I quietly told Kyosuke that was well done, for it was. He is sure he will die before we are finished, and if not, then after. In my heart, I know it's true. He has been doomed since the Crystal-dream.
We climbed slowly up the mountain to the east, taking frequent breaks to rest.
As we crested the mountain and looked down into the next valley, it was shockingly green. The mountain we just climbed up was grey and left us with a feeling of depression, gloom, and doom. Our spirits immediately improved, just looking down into the happy, green little valley, with fluffly, friendly puffs of snow. A village nestled in the valley, maybe two or three hours away.
A large contraption floated in the air on the other side of the valley. It looked like a small ship tethered to a giant leather balloon. Hovering in the air. At once we realized we had found the Leather Hawk, even if the East Egg portion was still mysterious. It descended gently towards the valley, and eventually landed quietly near the village.
We were suspicious of the unnatural greenness and tranquility of the valley. What magic kept the effects of chaos at bay? Hosei tried to find some magic, but he could not reach into the valley or the village from where we stood. We would have to go down into the village and try to bargain the use of their contraption to throw the Crystal into the hole.
I looked around at us all, and realized how utterly disreputable we looked. Peitra in her trance, four chaos warriors, a beastman and a man who appeared to be a beastman, a man who constantly dropped fish from nowhere, and the rest whose eyes glowed brightly with magic. Peter, Sun, and I were the only ones who looked like normal people, and we wore nothing but filthy rags that were entirely inadequate for the weather. We did not go into this in a position of power.
It was evening, so we all walked an hour into the valley and made camp. The next morning, I gave the Crystal into Hosei's keeping, and the three of us who could pass for normal -- Peter, Sun, and I -- walked down to the village. I told the rest before we left that if I needed them, I would call the Crystal, and it would float to me. They were to follow it.
From inside the valley, we could not see the storm.
After an hour's easy walk, we arrived in a tiny village. The buildings looked like they were built quickly, and none of them have been here for long. They were well constructed, but not intended to last forever. There were perhaps ten buildings, comprising workshops, outhouses, houses, and so forth. The Leather Hawk over-awed the village, and we could easily see it, tied up to a huge roundish rock on the other side of the village from us. The village itself was clean, well-kept, and as we spent time with the people, they seemed happy. As soon as we were noticed, they waved hello and greeted us. They are all faeries, and I reconsidered my decision to leave the White Faerie behind, even with his glowing black eyes. The small village was perhaps thirty, including mothers and children.
An older faerie came to greet us with a smile, shaking my hand in the western way. Welcome to East Egg, he said. Of course, what else could this village be named? The faerie introduced himself as Gandon Airtalker. We exchanged pleasantries, and he was very proud of his Leather Hawk. He expressed concern over our condition and called over a few women to bring us some coats while he shows us his pride and joy. We gratefully wrapped ourselves in the thick, warm coats. It had been weeks since I was anything approaching warm.
Gandon said they have been working on the Leather Hawk for 40 years. Peter asked how high it could fly, and he said so high the air becomes to thin to breathe. Another tie to Ravena's vision, not that we needed any more at this point. Their intent was to build a ship that could carry heavy loads across large distances. Eyeing the huge contraption, it looked like they had succeeded to me.
He led us right up to the Hawk, talking about it without cease. We heard more details than we could understand about its history, design flaws, cost overruns. He told us, with a slightly worried air, that any damage to it right now would be disastrous, because in a month their backer from Altdorf is coming to measure their progress, which was way over-schedule, and their contract is in the balance.
With no prompting from us, he took us up the ladder right into the thing. It's much like a boat inside, with dwarves working on it here and there. The balloon was tied to it with ropes. He said it could in theory fly without the balloon, but that's what takes it up into the air and he hasn't tried it yet. He even showed us and described the controls, and what each one does. I could not for the life of me figure out how it all worked, but Gandon certainly did. And I had seen it flying with my own eyes, so I knew he was not merely delusional.
I asked about their current problems with it. He said the balloon is necessary to get it up in the air and to land it without crashing. Once it's in the air, the machine could run without the balloon, if it flew quickly enough, which so far it can't because of the balloon, which it can't let go of because then it can't land. A puzzle indeed.
Of course, I asked for a demonstration ride, but he said there were significant risks involved and he didn't think it was a good idea. But we could watch the test flight they had planned for this evening. In the meantime, they welcomed us. They fed us lunch, and we ate with Gandon's own family, which was a raucous meal. But friendly. We learned a little more about the Leather Hawk. You can see for miles from up in the air, even over the other side of the mountain. He insisted a full safe crew was no less than ten faerie engineers, but he admitted it could probably be run with as few as one or two if you were utterly desperate.
Gandon's wife set us up in a comfortable hut for the night. Baths (lovely hot water, although weird soap), dinner, beds, a fire. Clean. This was heaven. Peter and I tried to figure out a way to convince Gandon to fly us to the hole in the sky to get rid of the Crystal. It seemed unlikely.
Later in the afternoon, we three went to see the test flight. I was tempted to climb up after him and force him to take us, or at least me, on the cruise. But I still hoped to convince him to risk his precious life's work on a fool's errand voluntarily, and antagonizing him seemed not a good idea.
The Leather Hawk lifted up gently and cruised off into the air. It moved slowly out of sight, eastward, and after about an hour it returned. They passed over the village, trying a speed run without cutting the balloon loose. Even from the ground, I could the problem. As they moved faster, the balloon shifted to the back and started to look unstable. They slowed it down and brought it back around for a gentle landing.
The storm was getting close, so he called for help to break it down. They put the whole thing into the hanger, and we helped out. Then it was dinner time with Gandon's family again.
Lunch had been a light one for me, as just about everything had meat in it. Gandon's wife had noticed, and for dinner she set down my plate and it held no meat. A gracious woman, a welcoming and friendly village. I was going to try my hardest to get their help, but I had a sinking feeling I was going to have to repay their hospitality and kindness with outright theft and destruction. Yet what choice did I have?
After dinner, we spoke to Gandon privately. With Peter's help, I told an abbreviated, but accurate, account of the Crystal's history, and I tried to impress upon him the importance of destroying it. It made little impression on him. I had to bring in the rest of the group, with the Crystal. Perhaps showing it to him would convince him. I had to try. Perhaps we can take try offering to use the power of the crystal of air to augment the Leather Hawk, and of course we would have to be in it ourselves to accomplish this.
So I called the Crystal to me, and I met them at the edge of the village, where we had entered it. With my glowing eyes. Any little touch of the Crystal's power does that now. The group arrived quickly, having moved closer in. I explained everything to them quickly. I was banking on Hosei, who can be very persuasive. Gandon's wife arrived, and welcomed the group happily, until she saw them in the lights of the village. The beastmen (Suluruku and, sadly, my own cousin) terrified her, and she ran away screaming. The village came running at her cries of "Beastmen!"
Suluruku, to my surprise, spoke, explaining that although he used to be a devotee of chaos, now he followed these great warriors, and he is now a loyal servant of law, and will give his life for law, and will devote his life to law. He kept his hand over the struggling vulture head's mouth. He fell to his knees, pleading with Gandon's wife to believe him, please, that he's not just a terrible beastman.
I was struck dumb with amazement at his performance. How much did he believe himself? By this time, the entire village was our audience, watching us warily. Hosei stepped up and announced himself as a priest of Varena. Gandon asked me if these people were with me, and I said they were. He asked me if they were all right, and I said they were. He shrugged and said that was enough for him, and told the others to relax and go about their business, which they did.
He looked at Ashe, with the flames around his head that have still not gone out, and he suggested we return to the house we had been loaned, and he would bring some food for the newcomers. He brought us a large of pot of stew. Hosei also tried to talk to him about the Crystals, but Gandon just did not seem to understand the Crystal-chaos storm connection. Hosei tried so hard. He told Gandon his name would go down in history, if he used the fabulous Leather Hawk to carry the Crystal to the center of the storm, destroy the terrible Chaos Crystal, and save the world. Everyone would know about the Leather Hawk and marvel at it.
But he shook his head. He could never risk the Leather Hawk on something like that. Hosei tried to approach his wife, who seemed more down-to-earth and more likely to understand what we were talking about. But she insisted on speaking with him tomorrow rather than tonight. So I set watches, and we slept away a quiet night, sheltered, well-fed, and warm.