The clouds had decreased, and were only occasionally obscuring the moons, but it was only three days until the Night of the New Moons, so the improvement in light wasn’t much. It was mostly the starlight making what little difference there was.
As I rose higher into the sky, I asked the bird-kin girl in my arms, “Do you use the mountains for your landmarks, or something else?”
She seemed very shy and reluctant to meet my eyes now, for some reason. Of course, this was a very intimate conversation distance. Thanks to me having her in a princess-carry, our faces were quite close.
“We need to fly until Mount Alul is to our right, My Lady Fairy.”
I sighed, then told her, “It’s a little fatiguing, hearing ‘My Lady Fairy’ all the time. Just call me Tia.”
After a long pause, she echoed, “Lady Tia.”
She might be frightened rather than embarrassed, I realized. The dose of Command I had given her had been barely a tap, and it had only allayed her fear of the Berado seeing us.
This was something else, but surely it wasn’t a fear of heights. That’s just not a thing for a flyer. She could have been thinking about what might happen if she fell with her wing immobilized, though. She had just gone through a frightening fall to the ground after being injured in flight.
I inspected the territory around us and realized something. “Since I have no idea what Mount Alul looks like, I’m depending upon you. Are you able to see the mountains? Or can you see landmarks on the ground?”
She pivoted her head, straining to look toward the ground as well as she could, then admitted. “Not very well, My Lady.”
I pursed my lips. “I overheard you saying you have fifty miles to go while you were using your talking stone.”
With a slight jerk, she asked, “You overheard that?”
“I was following you since I spotted you this morning, you know?”
Looking a little chagrined, she said, “I thought my spell was better than that.”
“Your spell was excellent. It wasn’t easy to find you, even after I noticed there was somebody to find. But only a handful of the most powerful fairies can hide from my eyes. My mother and my grandmother, for example.”
I’m not sure how many fairies can actually defeat my eyes with their stealth, but I’ve seen more that can’t.
“So,” I continued, “fifty miles is about two hours at our current speed. I’ll fly that long and then see if you can spot your landmarks or not. We can always shelter somewhere until morning, if you cannot.”
“You can really see, right now?” she asked, a note of worry in her voice. “I feel like we’re flying through ink.”
The cloud cover had returned, I realized. Cut off from starlight or moonlight, it had become dark even for me. But not so dark that we weren’t safe.
“As high as we’re flying, it hardly would matter. And there’s no fog, so I’m not going to fly into a mountain. But, yes, I can see just fine.”
“And I feel like you’re flying normal speed, even though you’re carrying me. Aren’t you tiring out?”
I let out a light laugh. “Normal speed? I would normally fly this distance in a half-hour, but you would get too cold from the wind, so I’m taking it easy.”
Her eyes grew. “You can fly that fast?”
“I’ve seen other fairies fly faster. I seem to be fairly average for a fairy.”
She was quiet for a while, but finally said, “I have heard that fairies are a lot faster than my people, but I didn’t know they were that much faster.”
Thinking back, I noted, “The fastest creature I ever met was a pixie, though. I know one pixie who can literally fly circles around me while I’m flying my fastest.”
I wondered where Kiki was, at that moment. I suspected she had lost interest in me– the last time I had seen her was in the Fairy Queen’s grove– but I did hope to run into her again. I had grown used to being called ‘Big Sis’ in the short while she had been around.
Sidis was looking at me a little strangely. Not the slightly enamored look from before. I clearly had said something strange.
I asked, “What?”
“Is it actually possible to become acquainted with a specific pixie?”
I was a bit perplexed. “Why wouldn’t it be?”
“Well, I know they can speak and such, but pixies don’t associate with people long term. They’re just random encounters.”
I humphed. “Well, you’re not wrong, but pixies are interested if they’re interested, no matter who it is. That’s how they are.”
Not that I have a lot of experience with pixies. I was just repeating what Tiana had learned while growing up.
The girl was quiet again for a while, long enough that I thought she might have fallen asleep. But, she spoke again at last.
“My Lady, it’s very strange. I never imagined talking to a fairy would feel so natural.”
That jolted me for a moment.
I was used to interacting with people who treated me like a fellow human. That was of course because I generally lived as one, and didn’t show off my otherness. If people thought of me as anything, it was ‘half vampire’, forgetting or not knowing about the fairy part, or sometimes ‘succubus’. I only put on a fairy persona when I wore my armor. Even only a handful in the Royal Knights corps had ever seen me dressed as a fairy knight. Only the handful who had attended my hastily-organized accolade, actually. Those who met me as a squire had also known me as ‘half vampire’.
Even the hero’s party, who knew I was half-fairy, hadn’t treated me any special way. That was probably because of Uncle Arken, who simply treated me as a niece, and Ryuu, who was rude to everyone. The rest had fallen into the same pace as those two with me. I was just Tiana, or if they were politely remembering I was some sort of nobility, Lady Tiana.
It was rarely real to me that, to someone not well acquainted with me who was aware of my fairy side, I was a fairy. A dangerous supernatural being. Someone as scary to them as Mother could be, to me.
No wonder this girl had done such a good impression of a frightened small animal at first. I thought it had been about being carried through the air, or about being incapacitated. It was about being in the clutches of a dangerous creature.
“I’ve lived nearly my entire life among humans. I was raised by humans. My mother was too busy with other things.”
“That’s not true about the other fairy, right?”
“Lady Dilorè? No, she’s barely interacted with humans at all. This trip is her first real exposure to the mortal world.”
“No wonder,” she said. “Her eyes felt a lot more like what I expected.”
A bit of me felt a little annoyed. I humphed. “I apologize for not living up to your expectations.”
Her eyes grew wide. “Oh, no, My Lady! I didn’t mean it like that!”
The cuteness of her sudden panic overcame the irritation I felt. I chuckled slightly. “It’s fine. Since I live among mortals, it’s good to know I’m fitting in.”
She relaxed a little, and remained silent after that. She actually leaned her head against my arm and snuggled in a little. I glanced down at her and found that she was gazing at me with a slight smile on her lips.
Aftereffects of the ‘fairy charm’?
By the time the ‘GPS’ in my head was telling me I had flown fifty miles, she had fallen into a light sleep. I had to nudge her awake.
“Hm?” she asked, then she jerked and her eyes sprang open before she remembered her current situation.
“Careful!” I cautioned her, tightening my grip on her. “Maybe I should have forced you to stay awake.”
“No, I’m… I’m okay now.”
I frowned at what I saw in her face. “You’re hurting again?”
“I’ll do something about it once we’re on the ground. We’re nearing our destination, if the distance you gave was correct. Can you try to see?”
The visibility had improved a lot. Wide patches of sky had now opened to reveal the clear, starry sky beyond.
She laid her head over, trying to see to our west. Since we were flying south, that meant the opposite direction to how she was facing. I turned that direction so she could see the mountain range we had been flying along.
They were some huge mountains, by the way. I was pretty sure this was the main ridge of the Great Wall range itself, the continental divide of the Baris continent. Unlike the sea of mountains to our east, every one of these peaks to our west rose at least six thousand paces into the sky. The Royal Geological Survey claims that the highest peak of the Great Wall is more than seven thousand paces. If my guess for converting to US feet is right, at five feet per pace, that would make it thousands of feet taller than Everest.
And her landmark mountain, it turned out, was one of those titanic peaks. Sidis pointed at a silhouette backlit by the stars to our right.
“That looks like Mount Alul, My Lady. Fly toward the North Star until it is directly to our left, then we will be over a river flowing eastward away from it. The gorge will turn south eventually and open out into the home valley of the Amaga.”
I banked until we were headed back north and found her river without too much difficulty. We had overflown it by only a handful of miles. I descended some so that she had a chance of spotting her next landmarks and followed the gorge, but she kept nervously admitting she could see nothing but ink black below us. I could feel her limbs tighten, probably because she could see the sky narrowing above us.
It was fine. I could see fine. The gorge was steep and tight as it wound between two mountains, but as it turned southward following the shoulder of the one on our right, it suddenly broadened into a valley expanding southward before us.
“Can you see the ground now?” I wondered.
“… just little hints of things. According to the sky, we’re flying south now?”
“Yes. And there’s a nice-sized valley below us.”
I think she already knew. I had been feeling the tension in her body decreasing as the valley expanded.
“This should be my home valley, My Lady. But I can’t really tell precisely where we are in it.”
“Hm. I’ll find a safe spot to land, and we can wait for morning light.”
I could see farms and a few hamlets, but we would probably scare them, dropping in unannounced. But I spotted a mill-pond with a pasture or field next to it, so I touched down next to the water. Yup, definitely a cow pasture. I noticed a few tell-tale patties in the vicinity.
“Are you going to stay here until morning?” she wondered.
Had she thought I was going to drop and fly off?
“I would like to learn more about the Berado, if I could. Especially, I would like to talk to your leaders, if possible. Can you help me with that? As thanks for saving you from those ruffians?”
She was quiet for several seconds, then said, “I will bring you to our air commander.”
Synopsis: Somewhere in the universe, there was an altar. On it, laid a bloody eye as big as the sun itself. It burst with light and bathed the entire star system in red.
"The aura of an ancestral artifact!" Someone's voice rose in surprise.
The Great Galactic Era had begun.