She gulped, gripping the handle-bar tightly. Her life would soon depend on her grip, so she was getting ahead of it.
Master Kwo kicked the harness shut and tugged at the cord to make sure it was well and tightly strung. He then looked up, and then back.
“Yes. Like clockwork, it is coming. Look,” his voice beckoned.
Ayina grimaced and did not look back. “I rather not see.”
Kwo nodded his heavy face, hardened by the gruesome year of fighting and hunting. He gave the cord another tug to confirm its sturdiness, gazing at it suspiciously. “I almost died the first time we tried this,” he said, grumbling. “The winds the king crane produces are like nothing I’ve ever felt.”
“Yet, they will aid me,” she said, almost as a question, and he simply nodded.
“The calculations are unmistakable,” he stated, without a doubt. “Every three days, the king Crane flies by this valley. We have instruments around the entire breadth of this beautiful formation, and we have calculated.”
“The hero Lin failed, though,” she pointed out, still unsure of herself. Her hands were sweaty, would they slip? Cause a shift in weight that would send her down to her doom?
Did it matter?
“Lin, like you, was the right weight and possessed the perfect body proportions. Lin hesitated too long and was caught by the second wing flap. The first interacts well with the walls of the valley, and this cliff itself, and will aid in your glide. But the second will hit the cavernous surroundings of DugMole Clearing. They will rage tumultuously and flip you around like a leaf in a tornado.”
Ayina gulped, trembling with fear. It was very easy for Kwo to tell that that was the fact.
“Make no mistake, Ayina. Should you fail, we have no other plan. No one else matches the necessary calculations.”
“We have kept the cranes from migrating for all of this extremely vicious year. However, the discovery of the nest on the Volcano, with a flock of cranes that are already learning to fly, has revealed that we have failed. It was inevitable, really. Having finally grown children, the cranes will migrate together. The whole world will suffer.”
“The whole world is counting on you—“
“I KNOW! Master Kwo, please.” She wanted to calm down, but just then, she heard a swooshing sound that was trying to sound like a thunderclap, and seconds later, a gust of wind hit them.
She couldn’t help but yell as the winds battered her glider. They pushed Kwo aside with monstrous force, making his feet slide off the cliff. He grabbed hold of the cable to keep that from happening.
“One more flap, and on the one after that, you will go!” Kwo raised his voice over the startled winds. “You will go, Ayina, and save the world! And your husband and child, and all of their descendants, for as long as our nation is living, shall reap benefits worthy of kings!”
She bit her lip and shed a tear, feeling the winds settling down a bit. The noise was still there, though, flying fast towards her from afar. So much so that Kwo was yelling, to make sure that he was heard.
“Remember! Approach from behind the right wing! Watch as it raises its tip, a third of the wing’s breath. Once the feathers on that tip are aiming at the sky, press the trigger. You will take flight away from it, and then we will kill it. And its young. Then our world will be free of these titan cranes.”
It wasn’t the first time Ayina had heard those instructions. It wasn’t even the tenth. By the time she had heard it ten times, she had dictated it from memory another ten. That was the importance of her mission, or the lack of confidence that they had in her.
Her hair, once as long as the middle of her back, had been cut bald. A helmet stood in substitution, and it was uncomfortably strapped around her neck. Her eyes, dark brown, were unseen behind the visor that was supposed to withstand the harshest of winds. Her body, which the officers had desperately endeavored to maintain for the past week, was constricted by the blue and white leather suit that was supposed to blend in with the sky. Just in case.
The glider was huge. It had a width and girth that would never work on a normal day’s wind, and it had the weapon attached to its top. Wires connected it to the handlebar so that she could use it as a trigger. Hopefully, she would not accidentally fire it.
Looking ahead, at the depths of the canyon before her, the great valley that stood incomparable in all the world, she was reminded of when she had visited with her family. In a long time past, where a gigantic bird wasn’t making hunting grounds of all their great cities, they had sat around a ledge not far from where she now stood, and had eaten good food, laughed and talked, creating memories that she would cherish forever.
Even if that turned out to be a very short time. Oh, Kein…oh Kein, I did not kiss you enough, she thought, having mixed feelings about remembering his embrace because she might cry so much that the tears could muddle her vision and fumble the whole thing.
A thunderclap sounded even louder, and mere two seconds later, the winds came whistling and blowing, and battered against them so strongly that the whole cliff shook. Her glider felt like it would rip open, but the cables and harnesses kept it grounded. Kwo screamed with effort, and Ayina saw that he was floating in the air.
Slowly, his body came to fall on the cliff floor. He stood up, with difficulty, and took some hard steps in her direction, fighting through the continuous gust of invisible power. Meanwhile, he yelled at her.
“There are no words for how grateful we are for your sacrifice! A statue is already being built, just like it was with Lin. You are a hero already, Ayina. And we love you!”
She could see sincere and true admiration in the old man’s eyes. It meant a lot that he was there, risking his life. The leader of their island nation drew upon a pistol and pointed it down at something she couldn’t see, but she knew it was the agglomeration of nails holding down the chains that were keeping her glider from flying off.
Ayina swallowed fear because she didn’t know what else to do with it. There was too much.
“Remember! Right wing! When the tip is pointing at the sky! And whatever you do…” she heard his voice directed away from her. At the incoming behemoth. “Do not blink!”
Her breath blew nervously rampant. The noise was so clear. A massive existence, one that could perch on mountain tops and carry entire skyscrapers away, was bearing down in her direction.
Thunder clapped with a great, echoing bellow. Nature screamed in pain and rage at the massive beating it was getting from the wings. She could only hear the battle between the wind and her glider. Air rushed up into her helmet and draped her face in cold, pushing the tears away from her cheeks.
“SAVE US, AYINA!” The voice screamed, and she saw how gigantic feathers popped up from below her. The cliff they were on looked like an arm, and it was an arm that extended for a long distance. Nobody knew how that had formed, but the same could be said about all rock formations that had been shaped by seas and rivers that hadn’t existed for thousands of years.
Metal struck and Ayina was suddenly ripped free from her chains. Her heart skipped many beats, and her respiratory system forgot how to function. The floor vanished and the cliff face, which had been right by her a moment ago, was now several feet below her. She had flown so very high so very fast.
And from that altitude, still, she could not see the whole of the titan crane. Its wing, deathly white, stood still below her, gliding the gigantic body along. She could see the short head and thin beak, near half a mile away. They were still large enough that people could live on them.
She looked aside, but her sight could not properly discern all the way to the left wing. There was the torso, big and huge beyond imagining.
How had this creature appeared, and where had it come from? Rumors were that it was the product of experimentation, and others said it had been inside the iceberg that had reached them several years now.
Ayina shook her head, awkwardly pushing away the remainder of her tears. The wind was blowing hard against her body, and the glider felt extremely flimsy in her hands. She leaned, sending the glider into a dive.
It didn’t matter where it came from, it only mattered that it was dead. Putting the world aside, Ayina did not want her son growing up in a world subjugated by those things.
In only one year, they had had to evacuate every city across the nation. They had been forced to become cave-dwelling hunters, living dreary, unhappy, terrified lives. That was why it felt like it had gone on for much longer than a simple year. A miserable life truly had a tendency to extend itself.
The beast is so large I can hardly tell I’m getting closer, Ayina complained in her mind. Still, she could tell well enough, and so she soon stabilized her gliding to use the speed to get closer to the bird. Another dive and she would be in a position to fire.
Nervously, Ayina watched the right wing. For the life of her, she could not be certain that she could discern its movements. The sunlight was reflecting off the white feathers powerfully, and while her visor enabled her to keep her eyes open, that was about all she was capable of. Her eyes were already stinging.
“Kein,” she whispered, thinking of her beloved. Finding strength in him, like she had always done. “Help me do this. Help me under–”
Just then, a shadow formed halfway to the tip. The wing was bending, and so Ayina dove again with her glider.
Her thoughts vanished beneath the tension of her perception and the terrible noise of the wind. And the wing continued to bend.
It’s just a slight flap, to maintain altitude, and yet it will blow me away and kill me.
Ayina almost cried again but held strong. She glided onwards, focusing as hard as she could on the glistening silver feathers. Awaiting the moment they would point at the sky.
They pointed at the sky, or so Ayina hoped. She hesitated for a second, but then saw by the shadows how the wing began to bend in the opposite direction. Swallowing, she leveled her glider into only a half glide, to get closer. The wing was huge now and completely filled the environment below her.
She squeezed the grip on her hand and turned it with both hands, a different direction each. When she heard a click, she pushed the hands together, and a loud thump came from above. A large canister, with the girth of a tree trunk, sped in front of her for a second, gaining distance, and then fire erupted on its bottom, blowing it away that much faster.
Ayina watched, tense, not really thinking about anything. All the while, the wing continued to bend down, winding up a storm that was gradually forming as the air was violently pushed away in abysmal volumes by the fall of the tip of that wing. Her glider rocked in increasingly rougher ways, and yet she watched the weapon go. It exploded, much like fireworks, shooting a myriad of projectiles at the wing. They looked so tiny when contrasted to that massive thing. The wind picked up and almost flipped her, but she was able to stay level to see the weapon get in contact with the bird.
Hundreds of contact points flared up with green flames, and while tiny, they provoked a shiver in the beast. Ayina watched, dumbfounded, as a wave of motion carried across the titan crane, which was easily the size of a small city. She was still not sure that it had worked because two long minutes had passed since she had first pressed the trigger. The whole thing was coming off as very anti-climatic, to say the least.
But the reaction was unspeakably violent.
The spasm that the creature produced, in reaction to pain, worsened the wing flap. An immediate and massive storm of winds blew into existence with the power of God. Ayina was blown away so brusquely that she completely lost track of all her senses.
Pain brought her back to conscience, that, and the terrible sensation of falling, which could only be compared to the imagined experiences of her nightmares. She opened her eyes to see that she was falling across the air. There was some of the glider still strapped to her back, but while she could feel it, she couldn’t see it. Most of it was gone. More importantly, her left arm wasn’t responding, likely broken.
That’s it, then…
Ayina looked up at the approaching ground and fear gripped her so strongly that it motivated her to look away and check on the bird. She found its massive body further ahead, gaining distance. Its wings were still moving slowly to her point of view, but she could tell they were moving much faster than before. They beat against the air, trying to gain control of its flight, and wind came raging after her. It blasted her body and sent her up a few feet. Or stopped her descent, it was hard to tell.
Either way, it took long seconds for her body to stop spinning, and a few seconds more for her head to stop spinning. Only then did she notice how the massive wing, growing smaller by the moment, was not moving correctly. It was undoubtedly damaged, with several patches having been set ablaze. She couldn’t see the fire, but she could see tiny trails of smoke dispersed by its movements.
The bird was going down, and her people would come upon it like ants on a sparrow.
She cried. Relief and terror were too odd of a mix, something she had never felt before. She was so very scared of the fact she was about to die, and yet, so very happy that she had saved the world. Her world.
She tried looking down again, but the sight of it near made her faint. So instead, she closed her eyes. But that was too nerve-racking, and she kept stealing glances at the ground rushing up towards her. So she turned around to face the sky.
It was a beautiful sky if she had to be honest. Ayina knew that sky very well, the sky that was a roof to her home. Her nation. Her island. Roof to all her people. Kein loved that sky. That was why he called her as he did, he called Ayina his sky.
Ayina whimpered and cried some more. It was beyond weird to feel so terrible and regretful, and at the same time, so happy. So much love.
I love you, Kein. Take care of our boy. In this world I saved for you.
Ayina chuckled, which was a crazy reaction to have. But still, she chuckled and then laughed. There was some change to the sound of the wind that let her know it was about to end. Or maybe it was instinct. Or maybe it was God.
Whatever it was, it allowed her to choose how to spend her final moment. So, in that one final instant, she stopped laughing. She smiled.
She pictured her family, remembering them not how they had been for that terrible year, but rather for how they would soon be. Happy and hopeful, and looking at her with welcoming, loving eyes.
The hero Ayina felt not a thing, and her people, too, would certainly forget.
Not a thing.