“Huh.” I put the binoculars down and sat back on the edge of the rooftop. I had been using the perch to spy on Akane and her nephews, but unfortunately I didn’t have any ability to hear what was going on down there. She apparently caught a thief, said something to the ‘sarians sent to investigate… and now they were walking off together?
Whatever. I guess I could ask her later. For now, MC had asked me to return to NHQ for help with something or other. She hadn’t given much detail, but it was probably something small. Maybe my dad had finally perfected that high-altitude lung I had been asking about.
I tucked my binoculars into my pouch even as I walked. This was a relatively short building, just a couple dozen floors or so, so there was no need for that oxygen mask Lizzy—Elizabeth—had gotten me. It was surrounded by taller ‘scrapers, which would normally make roof hopping a pain in the ass, which was part of why I had chosen it.
I stepped off the edge of the roof without hesitation, immediately and effortlessly floating up to the top of the next building forty or fifty feet straight up. It barely even made a dent in my reservoir, and once I landed, it was full again only moments later.
“Pure levitation, huh?” a friendly voice called out. “That’s cool.”
While trying to keep my heart from bursting out of my chest, I slowly turned to see the speaker. He was a shirtless ave anthro, a crow if I wasn’t mistaken, covered from head to toe in big black feathers with an equally black beak. His arms ended in sharp talons, and his feet were much the same. It was a rather impressive amount of modification, though maybe less so when your father was the one who invented the toy maker.
Except for his wings.
Massive black-feathered wings, folded up behind his back, where they rose above his head.
Adam had mentioned the aves had a few wing designs. This was far and above what they had managed previously. Everything else was just a pitiful, feeble attempt at brute-forcing the growth of a delicate and complex appendage that nature had never intended for human use.
This was not the twisted, twitching mess he had described. I hadn’t even seen the wings unfold, but I knew that they would let this ave fly. Call it intuition.
“I think they’re calling my power morphing,” he explained, answering the question I was too awestruck to actually ask. “Slow but permanent physical changes.” His wings twitched, and he grinned in that odd way that ave anthros did. “Took me a while to get these working. I haven’t slept since Greene got put on ice.”
“But that…” I shook my head. “That still shouldn’t be enough time. Growing fully functional wings out of nothing is—”
“Not out of nothing,” he corrected. “I was part of the test trials for the wings. So I had something to build on.” He shrugged, feathers rustling. “Even if it was just a flawed and broken design, I was able to fix it and improve it with my powers.”
“And… you’ve flown?” I pressed. “You’ve actually flown around?”
“Oh yeah,” he said, grinning again. He actually winked. “Just a little.”
“I…” I shook my head. “I don’t know what to say.”
“An introduction would be nice.”
I smiled now too, and bowed with mock formality. “Robyn Joan Clarke, at your service. Paladin of Domina City, serving under Paragon Huntsman.” Derek might be pretending that he still wasn’t a warlord, but I knew better.
He bowed as well. “And I am Fimmtu Væng. Formerly a Hunter of Soaring Eagle, now making my own way in the world.”
“…didn’t she flee the city when Necessarius started closing in?”
That small grin was back. “Hence the formerly.”
I crossed my arms over my chest. “While I do find your wings interesting and everything, I’m a bit curious as to what you’re doing here.” I narrowed my eyes. “I doubt it was a coincidence you just so happened to be on this rooftop.”
Fimmtu blinked. “Wait, I didn’t… ” I scratched his head, wincing. “Sorry, sorry, I had this whole… thing planned, and then I screwed it up by forgetting to do it…”
“Skip to the end,” I snapped, annoyed again.
“My kit has been tracking you, Robyn Joan,” he answered swiftly. “We wanted to meet the flier of the Paladins.”
“Your kit?” I asked with a frown. Wasn’t that a word for a baby fox or something?
“My kit,” he confirmed, sweeping his arm majestically.
The roof was flat and empty. What was he—
Then they appeared.
Aves, baselines, vampires, demons, and angels… even a couple giants. Dozens of people, of every culture and subculture you cared to name, all appeared at the crow’s call.
Every one of them flew up from below my sight range.
Some of them had wings. The aves and angels tended to have feathers, while most of the demons and vampires had leathery bat-wings. Some of them stayed firmly in place when they landed, like Fimmtu’s, but most smoked out of existence once they were no longer needed.
Most, however, had strange powers that I wouldn’t have thought to equate with flight. I saw a giant—a troll, it looked like—with flames sputtering out from her hands. A primitive and simple rocket, using some type of pyrokinesis. A baseline had steel bands wrapped tightly around his arms, and I realized with a start that he was using the same trick as Ling, levitating something he could control—metal, in his case—to levitate himself. One young demon appeared to be sitting on a flying carpet.
Others levitated with no visible propulsion, like me. Control of personal gravity. I was surprised to find myself feeling a bit of prideful arrogance, as if they were the only real fliers here.
“These are all the fliers I’ve been able to collect,” Fimmtu explained happily. “Everyone here wants what I want.” He smiled at me with that ave smile again. “To meet you, Robyn Joan Clarke.”
Despite the fact that everyone was all smiles, I was starting to get a bad feeling. They were… too friendly. Far too friendly for people I had never met. “Why? What do you want from me?”
“Nothing much,” the anthro insisted, holding up his claws in a placating gesture. “Just the opportunity to learn from your experience. You have had your power for longer than everyone here combined. We simply want you to try and teach us.”
This… was starting to feel like they were trying to induct me into a cult. A cult I would be leading, I guess, but still, it just felt… off. “Flying isn’t hard. You all seem to have figured it out well enough. What do you need me for?”
Fimmtu fumbled slightly. He didn’t seem like a very experienced public speaker. “Need? We… I…” He took a deep breath. “We don’t need anything from you. We want to form a community of fliers. A school, or college, I guess you would call it.”
“Look, I’m… flattered. But I have other things to worry about right now. I’m sorry, but I’m sure you guys will get on just fine without me.” I nodded politely at the group, and headed for the edge of the roof.
“You’re still looking for Ling Yu, right?”
I stopped dead, one foot over the edge.
I turned back around. “…yes. How did you know that?”
The ave swallowed. “It wasn’t hard to figure out. Once her roommate was outed as a Paladin, everything just sort of… slipped into place. But that’s not the point.” He steeled himself. “We can help look for her.”
“Do you know where she is?” I demanded, eyes narrow.
“No, of course not—”
“Then what use are you?”
The crow anthro was starting to get frustrated. “Skies above, we’re just trying to help! Are you really telling me that you honestly can’t see the benefit in having another dozen pairs of eyes scouring the city for her?”
“Look buddy,” I snapped back. “I don’t know you. I don’t know any of these people. I’m sorry, but I have no reason to trust you farther than I can throw you.” I stepped off the edge. “If you find Ling, or anything else you feel is important, report it to MC.”
I flew off at top speed, hoping I would prove faster than them.
They didn’t even bother following.
Behind the Scenes (scene 230)
“Kit” can mean several things. One meaning is “a group of pigeons.”