I soar over the streets of Gearford, just high enough to seem like a bird from below, but just low enough to have a nice view of the city. People mill about; the town changes as I get to the outskirts. I'm in Mayberry District now.
I avoid gazing at the ground now; I fly higher, until I'm enveloped in clouds and the land below me is simply a vague map of brown and blue, hot, dusty desert and ocean. I cross the shore and start diving down at the water. Whatever Alan did to these wings, I don't know, but they have a waterproofing feature on them. I use the key necklace I always wear, turn the key in the slot near the stem of the wings a few feet from the water, and feel them get heavier. The thin, rusty steel encasing folds around them, sealing them at the stem and on the seams of the boxy case.
A good two or three pounds heavier, I drop like a rock. I go into diving position, slicing through the water for a good several feet before my ears start to hurt and I kick my way back up. I have to be especially careful; my wings are compromised and any loose things I usually wear--my weapons belt, for example--is back on land, hidden in a place I am sure no one will find, at least not while I'm gone.
The shipwreck isn't far down, but it's closer to shore--a lot closer. I misjudged the distance; it'll be a while before I reach the wreck. I start swimming; long, powerful strokes. It becomes rhythmic, mechanical. My thoughts drift, returning to reality only to correct my course and judge my distance.
"You're swimming!" Eleanor holds my torso, keeping me above water, while I kick and splash her in the face. My arms move in slow windmills, paddling to nowhere, the edge of the pool staying two feet from me the whole time.
She lets me down; I turn to her, in her sleek black bathing suit with a pattern of gears on it, and splash her with my hands. A huge grin breaks across her face.
"You really want to play that game?" A torrent of water slaps my face; I duck underwater and come back up, where another wave rushes at me. I block it with my hands and look at Eleanor, who is still grinning and waiting for me to splash her back. My splashes, with my small hands, are weak compared to hers.
"I'm going to get you!" She lunges at me playfully in the water, sending water everywhere. I dive underwater and spin around, kicking backwards, teasing her with my hands as she swims underwater after me. She surges forward and I pop my head above water, taking a breath. Her arms wrap around my legs; I scream and laugh, taking a breath at the last second before I turn upside down in the water. Eleanor, still holding my legs, dips her face in and grins at me, blowing bubbles as she does.
She flips me back above water. I revel in the memory, twisting above and underwater as I swim to shore, at the same time smiling and letting silent tears run down my face.
She picks me up. "I'm going to throw you! You ready?"
"Ba-boosh!" I take a breath just as I hit the water, and see the surface from underwater. Bubbles make the water fizzy after my splash, and Eleanor comes diving in after me, smiling as she swoops me up from underwater. I laugh and take in air at the same time as I pop back above water, which causes me to start to cough.
"You okay?" Eleanor asks, trying to look concerned, though she can't stop herself from smiling as she looks at me. She sets me back down on the ground in the shallow end of the pool, and I nod, my coughing fit over and a happy grin spreading across my face.
"You ready to get out?" she asks, already making her way towards the ladder. My fingers are prunes; my hair is thoroughly soaked, and the water, once cold, is now warm. I'm not ready, but Eleanor is getting out, and where she goes, I go.
I return to regular strokes. The shore gets closer with every stroke I make.
I walk, my small legs pushing against the water. The ladder gets closer with every step I take.
I'll find her someday. I'll find her.
The man watches the distant form, diving down at the water. It starts dropping faster, and finally hits. From his vantage point on the rocks of the Mayberry District shore, he can't see her clearly, but his binoculars can.
She swims powerfully, one stroke after another. Then she starts twisting above and beneath the waves, a sad smile on her face. He doesn't question it; she's a mystery to all who've met her. No one really knows her weakness; they all know she's dangerous, a force to be reckoned with. Nobody's captured her; no one has figured out how to beat her, much less contain her. Those wings give her an advantage no one else has; planes aren't quite so agile, or fast.
He knows he can't get too overconfident. He's heard too many stories of the men before him failing because of overconfidence. One tried to bargain with her, confident that he had what she wanted; he was found unconscious in the alley he met her in no more than twenty minutes later, stripped of his wallet and the small dagger he had been carrying, and she was gone. His strike team, his protection, was also found unconscious on various rooftops nearby. No reports of a commotion had been heard; the man refused to report his account of the incident.
He can't get too much protection. Another man hired several mercenaries, including himself, to hunt her down and capture her. She knew where they were waiting; she avoided all six of them and looted the man before the mercenaries even knew what had happened. He was found unconscious in the alley he had been waiting in and a map of where all six mercenaries were was drawn in the dirt beside him.
He couldn't let his guard down. One man had actually managed to get her down; stories said that she was actually tied up in an alleyway in Mayberry District, guarded by one of the gangs there, which the man had hired. The man had left to bring his steambike there and take her to his place, leaving her with a bunch of teenagers who had thought they had taken all her weapons. The man came back to all seven gang members looted and unconscious in the alley, her ropes--cut neatly--in a pile on the ground, and the girl gone.
Maia was indeed slippery; but those were the men who wanted her wings for the money. He wanted the wings for a very different reason.
I dive underwater, ignoring the aching in my arms and legs. The shipwreck is not far below; I pop back up and tread water for a few minutes, preparing, then take a breath and sink.
My feet touch the wreck; I hold on to a mast to make sure I don't float back up. I swim along the deck, which is turned sideways, and slip into the below-deck hatch.
Crates greet me; wooden crates of gears, springs, all kinds of parts. If I wanted all of it, I'd be rich, but I'm only interested in one crate.
I search for the black-painted mark, faded after saltwater corrosion, and, now running out of breath, I grab onto the marked crate, pulling it back to the hatch from the corner I found it in.
My lungs are burning; I slip out of the hatch and kick desperately up to surface. Finally breathing in fresh air, I swim considerably slower to shore, finally touching upon the deserted sand. It's hot from the desert sun; my feet, dripping wet, cool it beneath me.
I drop the crate just a few feet from the water. I feel the sun drying me as I reach back and turn the key in the slot on the stem of my wings. The steel encasing starts to fold back into itself, and I feel it drop off of the back of my wings. I turn around, pick up the heavy, rusty pile of folded-up steel, with the key slot on top, and set it on top of the crate, then bend down to pick the crate up.
The man watches her from the rocks. Her wings are free; this is the dangerous part. She isn't entirely weaponless; she can fight with her hands as well, and he knows this.
No matter. That's been taken care of; the time is soon. Very, very soon.
I notice the figure on the rocks too late. He's already leaping down at me, arms outstretched.
I dart to the side and spread my wings, ready to jump, but I feel his fingers seize my ankle and yank me down. My knees buckle; I squat, saving myself from a complete fall, and spring back up, whirling around and facing him. I narrowly miss a punch by ducking, and use the opportunity to spin myself around him as he recovers from the swing of the missed punch. I grab his shoulders and shove him forwards.
He has good balance; he only stumbles, but by that time I'm already halfway down the Mayberry shore and ready to jump in the air. I do so, rising up. It's harder to rise now that I'm almost grown into my wings, but I can do it.
Already several feet in the air, I turn, intending to look at him and inform him of my victory, but something dark flies at my face. It's wide, and my instinct is to bolt to the side.
I do so at the same time my brain is saying to go up as it realizes what the thing is, but it's too late. The net, heavy--probably made of metal--hits me, several barbs cutting my cheeks, and I start going down. I try to rise back up, but the net is too heavy.
I hit the sand hard. He's already beside me, his hands flying over the net, as I try to get it off of me at the same time as I'm trying not to struggle and tangle myself even more. My wings are folded now, and his hands move even faster. He's not looking at me.
I wake up in an unfamiliar place, in an unfamiliar bed. No lilac sheets, no flowered covers. Eleanor isn't in the kitchen; no sounds of sizzling come from the hallway, as they always do on a Saturday morning--
I shake off the memory. No time for that now.
I finally get a solid punch in to his face, but he simply holds the net tighter over me and flips me over. Desperate, I try to move into squatting position, but his weight and the net's weight both come down on my legs and I flop back down on the sand. He pulls my arms behind me; metal wraps around them, and I wince as they tighten around my wrists. The barbs on the heavy, messy metal net cut into my stomach, my legs, my face.
He flips me over again. I ignore the pain of the sand in the cuts on my cheek and glare at him, struggling vainly against the chains and net. He pulls out a small glass bottle and holds it in front of my nose. Realizing what it is, I twist away, but he sits on my chest and all my breath leaves me.
He uncorks the bottle and I curse myself as I breathe in the gas, right before the world goes dark.