It was dusk, and already pitch black save for the stars above. The corruption, this taint of her mind, covered over her thoughts. But, Gwenhime didn’t mind; she could fly after all, and the teeth, though they got in the way at times and initially cut her tongue before she got used to them, were long and sharp, and perfect for meat.
They were at the edge of a large hole in the ground, hidden behind a cliff face. One might imagine a village on top of the cliff never knowing about the hole due to its position among crags and stones jutting up from the ground, casting shadows here and there. Gwenhime didn’t see it at first anyway, until Palor pointed it out with a stiff arm. A strong arm, she thought, and then…are the hormones of my youth overcoming me and filling my head thusly? Or is it the taint of the wings? She cleared her mind as much as possible—for that low hum that often accompanied a rage tended to stay with her at all times due to the taint, apparently peaking in intensity after the first weak.
“Come, fly up over it and then drop down,” Palor said.
It seemed like she would go first, and Gwenhime wondered if all this about the queen reading the stars, and monitoring the new Sollussa settlement for a century in wait for a time when they forget the threat of the Condor; was all this a lie, and instead they intended to have her fall down this pit to her death?
But her fears were pacified when one of the others in the group dropped down.
“They took this, it is a hole that goes all the way to the other side of the planet. They hoped that we would never find out, but I saw them, and told the king.”
Another jumped. Palor said, “Come now! I will follow you down.”
And Gwenhime did, flying up into the sky and then dropping down and falling naturally into the hole.
The fall took thirty-eight minutes. Halfway into the planet, they splashed through a puddle that was hovering in space. This was where the gravity changed. Afterward, they weren’t falling anymore, they were rising, as if launched. The other end of the tunnel, the end they were rising towards, started to become bright. She could see Palor behind her, and then she breached the surface, spreading her wings instinctively and catching air. She glided back down to earth.
The flora around her was alien, but it was still flora. She landed with the others who had gone ahead, stepping into long grass with her bare feet. Then she realized that the sun was rising here, not setting.
“We left at dusk, but here it is morning…”
Palor landed near her. “Yes, fascinating, isn’t it? It is surprising, and yet makes perfect sense.”
Two more Condor shot out of the earth behind him, but he paid them no mind, instead placing a thick sheet of iron with a small pit in the centre on the ground, and then taking out a large spike and resting it on top. The spike looked like a thin hammerhead, with a small hole that had a large needle stuck in it. He lined up the needle with the pit and balanced the object until it began to move on its own. This was a clever machination of the Condor, though very delicate and difficult to construct. I myself have only seen two up close in my time.
“A…compass?” Gwenhime asked.
“Yes. Ah look, so that woodland is north of us. To our right, east, is this ridge that runs south and seems to get higher the further it goes. Or does this plain get lower? And left, this is more than a forest. Perhaps a jungle?”
One of the women in the party joined them. She said, “I doubt they would have entered a jungle. Most likely they either climbed the ridge here now, before it got too tall and turned to a cliff, or they took this plain south.”
“How can we know?” Gwenhime said.
The woman did not acknowledge her. Palor stood from the compass and moved to the rest of the group, instructing them to look for signs, broken branches, footprints, paths in the grass. The woman followed him, leaving Gwenhime alone, as if she, like the compass, was some object.
This sort of thing had occurred before, and so Gwenhime knew how to take it without feeling at all hurt. But this time she was. It wasn’t the woman, but Palor—who had just been speaking with her almost like a peer—going along with unacknowledging, that cut deep into her heart. He was no doubt defending his reputation, and yet Gwenhime kneeled over the compass alone in emotional contemplation, eyes wide. Her daydreams of spending time with Palor, or perhaps someday redeeming herself and marrying, it all shattered, leaving behind cold reality.
“Here, they went up the ridge.” This was a tall Condor who Gwenhime had never met before. For some reason, a part of her wanted to look for signs about him, that maybe he could be a mate for her once she redeemed herself on this quest. But her rational part stopped such seeds of hope short, before they could take root.
And yet, in her mind, she allowed her soul to take up these seeds, this hope, and store them away. Maybe. Maybe one day.
See? I told you this would be a series.