I thought she was a statue when the merchant first pointed her out.
Standing on a steep cliff, with a river screaming liquid suicide, her name was Jaina and she was the fastest and most gifted guide this side of Tyrant Ridge.
A hearty slap on the shoulder sent me staggering in Jaina’s direction.
I shuffled up to the cliff, inching the last few feet until my shadow touched her boots.
She was humming an odd tune, one hand absently waving about as if directing, the other hanging loosely.
Silence reigned the minute my shadow reached her and she turned slightly to see over her shoulder.
A spray of water splashed her face from the side and I realized that the river had suddenly swelled to enormous proportions.
Turning fully to face me, she smoothed wet curls away from a pixie face and eyes the warmest shade of autumn brown I’d ever seen.
I blinked. “Jaina?”
Her head dipped lightly, swiveling to face the rising wetness.
“The, uh, gentleman over ther-” Icy droplets spattered my face and clothes. “I need a guide to take me to the archaeologist ruins at Coral Wall!” I yelled the last bit out as the water suddenly rose, forming a huge blue wall that towered several feet over me.
She turned fully to face me, eyes closed, lips moving and snapped her fingers.
The water dropped.
All the way down to the ‘normal’ size of a river. All moisture retreated with it, leaving me with a dry suit.
Her eyes opened and she cocked her head. “The ruins are off limits. What business, have you there?”
I stood tall, drawing my badge and holding it out. “Detective Francis Marvo. I’m investigating the matter.”
“Investigating?” She took the badge, holding it to the light. “Not treasure hunting?”
“I’m here on official business, ma’am and the sooner we get started-”
“Have you ever been to the coral wall?” She handed the badge back. “I like my credits up front, if you please. I’ll give you a list of require supplies to purchase. They are not included in my fee except for my share of rations.” She yawned. “It may be too late to start today.”
“We can’t wait!” I stared at her in disbelief. “There isn’t any time-!”
“Here’s the list.” She interrupted. “It’s a full day of flight and then a bit of darkness before we reach camp. Some sand castle time and a run through the jungle. Takes about a week.” She straightened. “Usually.”
I opened my mouth to argue and shut it when she tucked the list into my jacket pocket.
“Find me when you’re done.” She trotted down the hill, leaving me in her wake.
I hate shopping.
“We’re going to fly there?” I handed over the humongous load of supplies.
“We’ll sprout wings.” She said, matter-of-factly. “Why didn’t you buy the small packs?”
“I didn’t know small packs existed. Seriously, how are we-”
“Turn around so I can see if this fits you.” She held up a square bundle, fitted into a metal carrier.
Another minute of tugging and pulling and she’d shouldered her pack as well.
Licking a finger, she held it up. Her eyes narrowed. “Yes…we will need to fly…” She shook her head.
I sighed. Loudly.
She looked at me, brows arched. I held up my hands. “Nothing. Absolutely nothing.”
Her lips quirked. She bent and slapped her legs.
A pair of miniature white wings sprouted out the sides, through her boots. They fluttered eagerly and she smiled down at them, turning to me.
Before I could protest, she repeated the same motions on me.
A burning sensation ripped from my toes to my ankles, enveloping my feet until the sound of tearing fabric freed my new wings.
“Breathe sideways through your nose, keep an eye on me. Look at the sky, not the ground.” She tilted her head upwards and shot into the air.
“Wait!” I leaped forward, rising a few feet off the ground. And looked down.
Promptly landing in a heap in the dirt.
Jaina lowered enough to reach down and grab my hand. “I said up, not down.” She pulled me up alongside her, aiming high into the clouds.
Her grip loosened and mine tightened. “Don’t let go!”
She chuckled. “It’s the beginning of an amazing adventure, detective. Time to find your own wings.”
She let go.
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