• hcmills

Chapter 186: Broken wings

Turns out Akir doesn’t actually live in his bar, though it’s close.

Hidden behind an unmarked door in the back, there’s a staircase up to a luxurious apartment constructed primarily of wood and decorated in much the same nautical theme as the bar.

Akir directs me to the living room, and when I at last lay eyes on the thing we’ve come for, my mouth falls open. “Wow. You really made this?”

“Don’t sound too surprised,” Akir grumbles.

That honestly easier said than done.

There’s a lush, sunken sitting area in the middle of the room with something resembling a huge lava lamp as the centre piece. Unlike a lava lamp, its contents do not appear to be moving. That’s not the oddest thing about it, however.

The liquid which takes up most of the space inside the tube appears to block the light coming in from outside—but not inside­—the tube, creating a dark backdrop for the glowing, dioramic bubbles representing different Realms floating inside.

It’s a map. A map of Spiritual Realmspace, apparently produced by Akir during his ‘cartography phase.’

As it’s based on what he remembered of his journey up, it’s not very complete, and the dioramas furthermore give only an impression of what the Realms he visited were like.

Still, I study them with great interest.

There’s a bubble full of rough rocks, carved into floating islands, another with a permanent sandstorm raging through a dry desert, and a third that’s full of water, with tiny figures wriggling beneath the surface, and—

“Just to be clear,” Akir grunts, “while I plan to teach you all I can about these Realms, many of them probably no longer exist.”

I blink. “Wait, really?”

He makes a shrug-like motion with his tentacles. “It’s hard to say. It was a long time ago. Things aren’t as stable down there as they are up here; Realms move around, collide. Sometimes they burst, if the Apex gets too strong for it, tries to warp it too far.”

“Okay, hold up. What do you mean they warp their Realm?”

“That’s the main benefit to becoming a Realm’s Apex,” Akir explains, floating down to rest on the plush cushions of the circular, sunken couch. “They have a certain level of control over their Realm, which they use to warp and twist it to their needs. For example, an Apex might grow frustrated with things flying out of its reach, and decide to make flight impossible—or at least more difficult. Or, conversely, they might remove any sense of gravity the Realm might have had so they can make optimal use of their own flight-capability.”

“Are there really Realms out there like that?” I ask in surprise.

Akir nods. “It might be hard for you to imagine, as you’ve only ever known this Spiritual Realm, which allows enormous freedom, but I experienced some freaky stuff on my way up. Once, I came across a Realm without sound, probably because the Apex’s prey kept hearing him coming. Or perhaps they were using a kind of echolocation which he grew tired of. The stranger the law the Apex tries to implement, the harder it grows on the Realm. That’s why you won’t come across the weirder stuff until you climb a bit higher into the Realmspace; the lowest Realms can’t handle such changes.”

Well, that just founds fascinating. “What’s the weirdest Realm you came across?” I ask interestedly.

Akir is quiet for a moment as he rubs his big bald head with a tentacle. “Probably the one where beings relied on the power of friendship to fight. That was a shitshow.”

I frown. “Do you mean they cooperated?”

“No,” Akir replies. “They literally used the power of friendship.”

As he says it, I suddenly see flashes of horridly smiling creatures, clasping onto each other with claws and tentacles to form big clusters, and firing pink, laser-like beams from their creepy, non-blinking eyes.

Wow. Lots to unpack there. But I’d really prefer not to.

“Riiiight,”I drawl, suppressing a shudder. “Anyway, so, there are Realms without flight?”

Akir nods. “Plenty of them, yes, even lower down. Apexes tend to prefer large and heavy forms, so it’s a relatively common law.”

“How am I going to move around in those?” I ask, already frowning even before my next realisation hits. “Actually, how am I going to move around at all? Shit! Goddess is never going to let me bring those mushrooms, is she?”

Akir shakes his head. “Definitely not.”

“Akir, I don’t think I can even lift that piece of wood,” I groan, with growing frustration.

“Well, not with that attitude.”

“I’m serious!”

“I know, Emma, I was just teasing,” he says, smiling with his eyes. “I’ve already got an idea. We’re going to need some help, but I doubt that’ll be a problem. Most folks here love nothing more than an interesting project.”

“Well don’t keep me waiting, what are you thinking of?”

Akir’s solution is nothing if not elegant.

Hell, it’s sleek.

I take a moment to admire my brand new sailboat where it rests in the large workshop Akir managed to borrow in Hangspire.

It took quite some effort to build, even though it’s not all that big—only about twenty foot long—but we did it! Well, there are still some volunteers bustling about adding finishing touches—mostly decorative carvings—but the main parts all seem done.

Akir did have to call in some favours in the end, but mostly to procure the wood it’s made from, as cutting down living trees—even the ones who aren’t sentient—is kind of a nono in this Realm. As he predicted, there were plenty of beings willing to help, in all shapes and sizes.

Anyway, he managed to get the materials we needed, and the boat is made entirely of Extant stuff.

To me, the wood is technically digestible too, but that would of course be rather a waste. Instead, a large mass of wood pulp rests in the cargo for my consumption; the ground-up leftovers from my previous vessel.

It’s quite genius, really. Akir suggested we could ask Goddess to drop me off in an ocean-based Realm. There, I’ll be able to power my new vessel by wind, relying on its single mast—which I believe technically makes this boat a sloop—with just the one sail to get around and look for suitable prey.

There’s a hole in the deck near the rear-end of my new vessel. The idea is that from back there, I’ll be able to pilot my boat while extending my tendrils of Devouring Energy into the cargo space below deck, and feed off the wood and whatever prey I manage to catch and dump down through the hatch.

Moreover, Akir reckons I might be able to use the vessel to ease my travels through the Realmvoid, by applying the metaphors of sailing and maritime navigation to my journey from one Realm to the next. The biggest danger in the void—though not the only—is apparently losing your sense of direction, and ending up wandering until you succumb to exhaustion under the constant barrage of chaos.

Scary stuff, but the boat might just be able to help with that.

There’s really just one problem at this point. I have no idea how to sail.

It doesn’t help that this boat seems to be lacking many of the parts and mechanisms that I think they’re supposed to have.

Like, shouldn’t there be a second sail attached at the front? I seem to vaguely recall such a thing from what little memories I have of being on the water during school trips in my youth.

More importantly, shouldn’t there be all kinds of ropes attached to the sail to keep it from flailing around, and to like, put tension on it and stuff?

The steering wheel at least seems straightforward enough. Except for the three levers next to it.

Maybe they have something to do with those things?

My confusion is only exacerbated by the final addition to the rig. A pair of big, white, feathery wings, folded up on each side of the hull, looking ready to stretch out and fly.

They make my boat look pretty friggin’ awesome, but definitely not like it’s capable of flight.

Of course, that’s never stopped anything from flying in the Realm of Imagination, I consider, watching my new friend Marty—the top-hat manatee—float by, blowing bubbles out of his pipe.

Turns out he’s an excellent woodworker. Who knew!

Studying the wings, I’m hit by a disturbing thought.

I make my way over to where Akir is finishing up connecting the wings to the boat somehow and crouch down next to him.

“Say Akir,” I start.

“Little busy here,” he grunts.

“Yeah, of course. Quick question though: where’d you get the feathers?”

“They grew on a tree,” he deadpans. “Where’d you think I got ’em?”

I roll my eyes. “No, seriously. I mean, you can’t just pluck parts off another being’s spiritform and expect them to persist, right?”

Akir snorts. “I wasn’t kidding, Emma. They grew on a tree.”

It takes a moment for me to process this. Incredulous, I turn to inspect one of the feathers.

“Akir, stop bullshitting; they have hairs!”

One of Akir’s tentacles curls to gently flick me on the forehead. “I’m not always being sarcastic, Emma. A long time ago, some being convinced a bunch of trees to start growing leaves like that. The story goes they wanted to make a permanent art installation involving birds or something. Not sure if it still exists, but the trees do. People use them for material all the times, like for costumes and stuff.”

I gape at him, even though he can’t see. “That’s... wait, I’m confused. Is there a point to putting them on the boat, if they’re just leaves? Is it actually supposed to help this boat fly or—”

With a final grunt followed by a sigh, Akir finishes whatever he was doing, and comes floating out from under the folded up wing. “Of course it’s functional. I’m sending you off to battle, not a bloody parade, aren’t I?”

“Well, how is this supposed to work then?”

Akir stretches out his tentacles in a display of flexibility that would be impressive even to an actual octopus. “Look, I could explain, but it’s not really my place. I’m not the one who came up with this addition.”

I frown at him. “Then who did?”

“That would be me,” a voice like a choir answers from behind me.

A hush falls over the room as everyone looks over and supplicates themself in their own way.

I turn and follow Akir into a bow myself.

“Your highness,” Akir says, speaking respectfully and without grunting for once.

Goddess floats over, somehow managing to make it seem like this workshop is none other than her personal audience chamber. “I hear she’s as good as finished, yes?”

“My lady’s timing is impeccable,” he replies. “I just laid the last tentacle on the wings, you should be good to go.”

Goddess nods regally and turns to face the work crew as a whole. “You’ve all done a splendid job, and I thank you wholeheartedly.”

I frown minutely. Why is Goddess thanking them for helping me?

“However,” she continues. “The final touch I’m about to perform is a delicate matter, and I must request you all leave the room.”

I’m confused, but her tone brooks no argument, so I start moving towards an exit. However, one of Akir’s tentacles gently wraps around my waist, lifts me up, and puts me back down in my previous position.

I shoot him a questioning glance, but he shakes his head, conveying a simple message. ‘You’ll see.’

As Goddess patiently waits for everyone else to leave, I wave goodbye to the many friendly beings that I’ve gotten to know quite a lot better over the past period. Finally, after the last one—a giant bunny—hops through the door and closes it behind him, she continues floating over to the boat.

“I instructed Akir not to tell you, Emma,” Goddess intones with her back to me, her voice filling the workshop. “For I felt this moment called for some gravitas.”

She pauses next to the mast and turns to look sternly at me. “Observe.”

Her other hand opens, and in it lies what looks like a tiny glowing bauble, sputtering out light erratically.

Goddess gently brings it over to the mast and pushes it against the wood. She closes her eyes, and a pulse, originating from her hand, seems to travel through my boat and radiate outward.

Her face remains stoic as several more pulses follow, the intervals between growing shorter as they build in intensity, seeming to head to some kind of climax when suddenly... she stops.

Goddess removes her hand from the mast, and the bauble is nowhere to be seen. “There, it is done. You may consider this my parting gift, though it is a gift only in part. It is more so, a responsibility and an opportunity.”

I blink, confused. “Ehm... Pardon me for asking, your highness, but what exactly was that glowing bauble-thing? And what—”

“That glowing bauble-thing,” Goddess intones serenely, “was what remained of the being you almost Erased.”

Author's note:

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