Here’s another story from me. This one is about Vandis, and as such, there’s a good bit of swearing. Foul-mouthed priest. Check.
Vandis hit his forehead. He’d been having the most wonderful dream, all open air and soaring and Her. She’d kissed him, right on the—well, not right on the mouth, but right at the corner, and he touched the spot, for one moment back in that tingly space. Here he was, though, in the shitty apartment he shared with Evan and Santo, with a pain in his head and his feet two yards above the floor and—and—
“Holy fuck,” he said, looking down.
“Too early,” Santo groaned from across the room, pulling a pillow over his shock of black hair.
“It’s too early, I said.”
Vandis used his fingertips to pull himself along the ceiling. Is this Your doing? he asked Her.
What do you think?
I think I’m stuck up here until I can wake Santo. He crawled across until he hovered over Santo’s bed, legs swinging beneath him. “Hey, help me out.”
“Fuck off. Tryn’a sleep.”
“Goddammit, Santo!” The force of Vandis’s yell pushed him back a few inches. How about a little advice?
Just think yourself down, My own.
Think myself— Vandis let out an audible growl. Fine. Down, I want to go down.
He fell, bouncing his legs off Santo’s footboard, and landed yelping on his ass in a tangle of white flannel nightshirt. “What the fuck!” Santo shouted. “Didn’t I tell ya—what’re you doin’?”
“Just scratching my nuts,” Vandis said, pained. He gave up and flopped onto his back to stare at the ceiling. It really was high.
“Well, I’m up now.” Santo swung his legs out of bed and scrubbed at his face. “Thanks a lot.”
Vandis didn’t want to, but he scraped himself off the floor and limped, aching, over to the clothes press. He was pulling out a pair of breeches when his feet started to rise again.
Come on, Vandis! Don’t you want to play, then? I thought you’d be a wee bit excited about this, She said, the hurt in Her tone unmistakable.
I’ve got class, he said, but he wasn’t protesting too hard. He clutched at a drawer pull as his legs went higher and higher. The nightshirt slipped down his thighs, and when he let go of the drawer to tug it into place, he floated back up to the ceiling.
Class! What fun is that? You can fly, and you’re going to waste your morning at a lecture?
I like lectures.
She huffed. You do not.
I can’t get a Bachelor of Arts in Flying. Until then…
As if your attendance record couldn’t stand a single absence!
Vandis’s hair brushed the ceiling as he hunched over. He didn’t want to hit his head again. His back bounced gently, then came to rest against the plaster, but he felt himself being drawn upward, a pull beneath his diaphragm. “Almost perfect” doesn’t count as perfect. If I miss—
“Vandis,” Santo whispered from below. “Vandis, you—”
“Yeah, I know.” He couldn’t keep himself from grinning. Every bit of color seemed to have drained from Santo’s pleasant, dark-olive face, leaving him greenish and pasty, with wagon wheels for eyes. “I tried to tell you, but oh, no, it’s too early you said.”
“I—” Santo sagged, defeated, and Vandis chuckled.
“What’s the matter, never seen a flying man before?”
“Don’t talk stupid.”
“You sure you—” Vandis grunted when his back slammed the ceiling. A little bit of plaster fell at Santo’s feet. All right! All right!
It’s not everybody’s goddess tries to convince him to skive off, She said. You might be thankful at least.
I am. It’s just— Vandis couldn’t put his finger on it. This was bound to be trouble, somehow, some way. “Mind opening the window?” he asked Santo.
“Okay,” Santo croaked, and crossed to the tall casement on the wall next to Vandis’s bed. The glass had long since been broken out of it. He opened the shutters and morning washed into the flat.
“Beautiful day,” he said. In spite of the early chill, it was blue-glass clear outside, with only a few high clouds marking the sky, far out to sea. The spring dawn shone on the floor of the attic flat, gleamed off what roofs he could see, and cast the east side of Old Town into shadow under the City Redwood.
“Well, see you later, I guess.” Vandis shuffled himself over to the open window and grasped the head to pull himself down. His legs floated up the moment he put them outside, and when he looked down—well, his knuckles went white on the window head. Please don’t let me fall.
Why would I do a nasty thing like that? Let go, My own.
He shuddered, took a deep breath of the clear air, and opened his hand. He didn’t shoot up like he’d feared he would; instead he drifted gently higher.
“Vandis!” Santo called, leaning out. “You forgot your pants!”
“Aw, shit!” Now that Santo mentioned it, he felt a breeze on his nethers. He pulled the nightshirt down. “Toss ’em to me quick!”
“They’re hanging out of the drawer! Hurry up before I get too far.”
“Okay, okay…” Santo disappeared inside and reappeared a moment later with Vandis’s breeches wadded up in a fist. “Ready?”
Vandis held out his hands. Santo wound up and flung the breeches. They unfurled in the air. As Vandis stretched forward, his nightshirt went up around his waist. He yelped, and the breeches started to fall, ten feet short of his grasp. His mouth dropped open, and he forgot about his nightshirt for a moment, trying to swim in midair to catch the pants, but it was air—there was nothing to pull against.
His breeches flopped onto the cobbles, three stories down. He swore so foully even Santo’s shrinking face looked shocked.
“Want I should try again?”
“What’s the point?” He’d drifted even farther into the sky, and he’d just be out his other pair. Wind tossed his hair and flapped at the flannel. “Pick ’em up for me, would you?” he called. He couldn’t quite hear Santo’s answer. Higher and higher he floated, shivering a little and wishing he’d caught his pants. And then—
Well, he forgot all about it. The city spread itself beneath him, bay to Pit. The people, horses, and carriages shrank away, into dolls, into dots, and then into nothing at all. He laughed, wondering if anyone had ever been so high in the history of the world.
Yes. She laughed in his mind. But not in your lifetime.
He might have said more, but the sight of the city stilled him. It was like the scale model in the square up at the Palace, but bigger, breathing, through a furry smoke haze. He couldn’t pick out the apartment building anymore; then he couldn’t find Knights HQ, or the Cathedral of the Winds, or even the Palace Complex, high on the cliff in New Town. He couldn’t even see Last Resort all alone on the promontory.
When he drew in air, it didn’t satisfy—and his hands, he realized, were numb with cold. His feet, too, and his arms and legs prickled. He struggled for breath. I need to get down. I need—
Vandis plummeted. He left his stomach behind and dragged a girlish scream like a streamer through the frosty sky. The skin of his face flapped; his nightshirt snapped and cracked in his windy wake, plastered to his body, and Dreamport rushed up to meet him, swelling and exploding before his watery eyes, faster and faster. Help! was the only word he could push through his panic.
Just tell yourself to stop, She lilted.
He spluttered, or would have, if his lips worked. As it was, they didn’t even close enough to hold his spittle in, and wasn’t that about the dumbest thought that could come into a man’s head at a time like this?
Best hurry, My own…
He howled, “Stop!” as well as he could manage. His stomach jarred back into its proper place. His heart slammed; his head spun; he opened his eyes. His nose was six inches from the slates of a rooftop. He gasped for air, sighed out relief—at least until he felt himself rising once more, and saw the slates dropping away. “No! Nonononono! Stop, wait, I don’t want to go up again!”
He stopped. His heart pounded away in his rib cage, and his gasps sawed in and out, but he hovered stationary and relatively safe. After some minutes, though, he started to wonder how he was meant to go anywhere or do anything. Swimming with his arms and legs wouldn’t get him far. It was always so easy in his flying dreams, when She took his hand in Hers. Can I go forward? he asked.
Why not try it?
He didn’t like that innocent tone of Hers a bit, but he didn’t see what choice he had. Okay. I want to go forward. And he shot smoothly away, bounced off a chimney, and tumbled into the narrow space between two houses. This time, he managed to catch himself before he got within arm’s reach of the ground. Need to learn to maneuver. I can do that, right?
Of course. Try looking where you want to go, and moving your body a bit to match. Like—like sledding, or swimming.
I want to go slow, he told himself, or maybe Her, willing himself to drift along, skimming the rooftops of Dreamport’s New Town. When he reached the edge of the crater, he floated over that, too, and thought himself carefully into descent under the branches of the City Redwood. He spread his arms, getting the hang of it now, and tilted himself into long swoops around the trunk. His fingertips brushed the thick cracked lines of the bark, around and around, nearly to the ground, before he pressed for height again.
Up above the city, near the top of the great tree, he marked HQ, just there to the east on Temple Row. The great cathedrals pressed close to one another, but there was space around Knights Headquarters, grass, the chapel at the front, a little rectangle at this distance. Vandis thought himself out over Crater Bay.
The sea air filled his lungs. Below him, water sparkled with the dawn. Bliss.
You could go a bit faster, My own, She suggested.
I’m still getting used to it, he said defensively.
Oh, go on, stretch your legs. So to speak. I won’t let you hurt yourself.
He snorted, pushing an image at Her, the roof slates from six inches away.
You can’t begrudge Me a laugh every now and again.
It’s not funny enough I’m up here in my fucking nightshirt?
Just a bit faster. You’ll like it. I promise. And She gave him a little nudge. He zipped forward again and found himself in the middle of the bay, heart pounding, with white sails and blue water below.
How fast can I go?
Faster than I can explain to you.
Vandis thought about it without the form that words give, without the solidity of image. He wanted it. It wasn’t safe, but what about this morning was safe? He wanted it, and while he wanted, the waves began to slip away beneath him, faster and faster, and he was bolting north like lightning. The air dragged at him, but it couldn’t stop him. He blew right past, quicker than the wind. He could outrun the wind.
Vandis’s delighted whoop trailed away behind. He was freezing his eggs off, hundreds of feet high, terror pushing at the boundaries of his mind. He’d never felt so good in his life. The sky rushed around his body, through his hair, clear and blue and beautiful. He spread his arms, exulting, exalted. My Lady…!
She laughed, as delighted as he was. Turn southwest.
Can’t I go a little—holy shit, is this Rodansk? It had to be. A small harbor exploded and receded, so far down, and he flew over black basalt cliffs, greening mountains.
Yes. Turn back. If you’re not careful, you’ll get too cold.
He swung himself south again, into a broad loop. The curvature of Rothganar’s surface greeted him, blue sky touching deeper blue water. In the distance he saw Dreamport, a dark smudge in the blues. Could I fly around the world?
Not without heavy clothing. At top speed, in a few hours.
This isn’t top speed?
Maybe it was fast enough for today. Already Dreamport grew in front of him, buildings sharpening and swelling, the Redwood stretching tall. What a morning! He’d already been to Rodansk.
Slow down. You’ll overshoot.
It wasn’t until he did slow that he felt how fast he’d really been going. He had to hold the nightshirt down. As he pulled back over the harbor, a delightful thought occurred to him. Dawn service should just be finishing up. Why shouldn’t he grind it in the faces of everyone who disliked him?
Oh, he hoped Reed Westinghouse was at service this morning. He hoped it with fire in his heart. She snorted into his head as he cruised over Temple Row, between two spires of the Cathedral of the Winds.
Vandis descended gracefully on the chapel, getting his feet under him. He was sure he looked magnificent. Then his nightshirt flapped up. He gave an unmanly squawk, lunged for the hem, and planted his face in the dirt between two stone pews. Occupied pews. With his bare ass in the air like a white, hairy banner. “Fuck,” he said, indistinctly, and sat up on his heels. His cheek hurt, and when he touched it with a cold hand, his fingers came away red. That’s what I get for showing off.
His Lady giggled.
Hilarious. Now everybody’s seen my ass.
“Vandis?” Pearl said, a tiny whisper, and he turned wide eyes up to her. Right in front of Pearl. All he could think of was the night she’d tried to kiss him, and his face flamed.
“Uh—” Pearl just saw my pasty ass, he thought, and scrambled to his feet. He barged through, up the aisle, past Hieronymus laying sandalwood on the incense burner, and inside.
“Pardon me,” he heard Hieronymus say as the door swung shut.
The Head had followed him in.
(to be continued next week!)