Tales of the Ailendar, Volume 3: Breaking Storm – Part 2

Avin raced back up the mountain and gusted into the crumbling settlement. Of the hundreds of buildings that previously comprised the city, only a single, floating structure remained, anchored at the very edge of a new cliff face. Cracks ran through the stone near the anchor point, a mute testament to the mountain’s violent tremors. The paths through the famed mountaintop gardens had been reduced to mere strips of rubble. Shreds of dirt-smeared cloth flapped in the breeze from the remains of splintered canopies. He found more bodies strewn across the ground in varying stages of decay, though most were crushed or buried under rock. The wind howled mournfully through the silent ruins, the air itself whistling a requiem for the fallen. For a time, he lost himself in the pitiable sound but after an interminable moment, realized that part of what he heard was a voice crying through the breeze.

The sound led Avin to the southernmost edge of the village. A stubborn, scraggly tree sprouted between two jutting outcroppings. Two bodies lay under its thorny branches, a woman and a small child curled loosely in her arms.

The woman was dead, her skin already a chalky gray. The child clung weakly to the corpse, her thin voice mewling and rasping in the wind.

Avin drifted closer. “What happened here, little one?” he whispered.

The girl’s dry sobs didn’t abate. She tried to burrow herself even deeper against the dead woman’s chest, her tiny limbs shivering. She was almost as pale as the larger human and her skin was covered in dull scrapes and bruises.

Groaning with sorrow, Avin hovered like a fog and floated under the tree. His substance was warmer than the outside air. He settled over her, and while her trembling eased, her labored breathing didn’t. After a minute, her eyelids lifted heavily and her dark brown eyes stared into his.

“I’m so sorry, little one,” Avin murmured. His insubstantial palm drifted across her cheek. “I… I don’t know how to help…”

Her eyes closed again. Her cries lessened, but the breath continued to grow shallower in her chest. Avin flattened his lips as a dreadful sadness billowed inside him.

The Bisalosians… they had been neighbors, even friends to the sohntar. Never in his wildest imaginings had he thought that Dar’Thasjz’s ruin could fall upon the sheltered mountain so soon. Surely the peak should have afforded them some protection…

If Bisalos had fared this terribly, what of the rest of the world…

Beneath him, Avin felt the girl’s breathing slow. She was dying, in only marginally less discomfort than a moment ago. Was that all he could hope to do for her? Ease her passing? He didn’t know how to treat her injuries. He didn’t know much at all about caring for a human, what they needed to survive…

Air, to start.

She needed to breathe, like almost all living things, even sohntar.

Gently, Avin put his palm against her mouth and nose and felt her draw his essence within. Her lungs weren’t strong enough on their own. They needed help to keep her body alive. He channeled air, warmed as much as he was able, into her stilling chest, filling her small lungs for her. Her eyelids fluttered as she exhaled.

“Good, little one. Just like that.”

He kept going, pushing more air into her lungs as he thought about what else a human needed to survive.

Water. Food. She must have been without both for a long time for her body to be this weak.

Avin frowned with concern. Without the power of the Breath, and as untrained as he was, he couldn’t summon enough strength to carry either back to her, and even if he could, there was a high likelihood that she would perish before he returned.

He cursed himself for not paying attention to his lessons on Bisalosian alchemy. If only he could remember how they’d raised their buildings, perhaps he could use that formula on her.

Avin’s gaze grew distant as he raced through the halls of his memory. There was an ancient ritual the sohntar had employed in times past. It was a bonding that had served as the initial inspiration for the Bisalosians’ lightening oils.

The ancient ways. Avin had done his best to leave them behind, believing for most of his young life that they held no bearing on the future of the air sohntar, that such traditions only served to hold them back. Were they his only hope now…

The little girl gasped. Even with Avin half-breathing for her, she was still dying.

He closed his eyes and cast his memory to the stories his parents had told him, the lessons he’d been instructed in, hoping it wasn’t too late. First, he needed something to anchor his essence to.

The dead woman’s garments. They were long and strong enough for his purposes. Avin sent threads of essence from his body through the weave of the cloth, binding them to himself and then loosening the knots and fasteners that anchored them to her frame. Little by little, he worked them free and cast them around the child. With rapid gusts, he secured a kind of sling for the girl and carefully rolled her onto it. Her eyes were open now, her gaze hazy, but the sadness and panic were gone from them.

“You’re going to be all right, little one,” Avin promised and sent another surge of air into her lungs.

As he struggled to recall the prayer to the Lord of Wind that accompanied the ritual, another thought intruded… the Breath of the Sky was gone now. Surely that meant there was no higher power left to draw upon…

The wind and the sky still existed, however, as did his people. It was their power now, the essence that even now gave him shape and will. Success or failure, the responsibility now lay with him. He framed the words of the prayer in his mind, but it was his own will that shaped them.

Take what seems solid and bind it to myself, make it a part of me…

The sling drifted a handful of inches from the ground and Avin staggered as he felt the lightened weight flow through the rest of his body. Without the Breath to serve as a power source, his own essence had to remain bonded to the cloth to sustain the effect. If it stayed apart from him for too long… would he lose a part of himself forever?

The fabric clung to the child’s slight frame, then carried her upward with it as a faint smile spread across her lips. With a determined nod, Avin put his head through the sling’s loop and gathered the bundle up. If losing a part of himself was the cost of saving this girl, then he would pay it willingly. The currents that comprised his body eddied through and around the lightened cloth and secured the girl against his indistinct chest.

“Time to leave this place,” he told his small burden. “Up we go…”

Her eyes widened just a little as they lifted precariously off the ground. She tried to struggle, but Avin wrapped the cloth tighter around her limbs and whispered soft reassurances until she quieted. Her breathing remained too thin without his intervention, so he continued to help her, though the strain of all that he was doing was wearing at the edges of his endurance. The slow, soft pulse throbbing through her body was steady as her eyes slipped closed again, and he fixed his mind on it, using it as an anchor to focus his efforts.

“Right,” he muttered worriedly. “Now… where are we going to find you some food, little one?”


It took Avin nearly five days to return to the city of the air sohntar with the last of his strength. He’d been forced to improvise a container to carry water out of a cracked bottle he’d scrounged from the ruins of Bisalos, and the little girl now shared the sling with a handful of bruised, overripe fruit. His passenger dozed against his chest and barely stirred as he struggled not to collapse when landing on the fortress ramparts. Faela, Lonam and a few of his other friends swirled around him, their voices a gaggle of concerned questions.

“Hush,” he told them, sternly but quietly, his focus renewing as he wrapped his arms around the sleeping child. “I need a place where she can rest and not be bothered.”

“What about the northern wing?” Faela suggested. “I think there’s a small section of the hallway there that’s closed to the sky.”

Avin frowned. It wasn’t the most suitable place for an exhausted, malnourished child, but it was mostly likely the best the city could offer. “Show me, Faela.”

The air sohntar swirled and surged through him, sharing information faster than speech about what had occurred and bolstering his essence with their own. When they were finished, several of them raced away to search for items around the city that could be used as makeshift bedding to supplement the cloth sling. Word of the new arrival quickly spread across the fortress, and by the time Avin got the little girl settled into the sleeping alcove, he’d fended off at least half the population who wanted to get a glimpse of her.

There were three individuals, however, that could not be put off.

Avin accepted the elders’ invitation to merge with them, sharing his emotions and fragments of memory of the ordeal. When it was through, he hovered before them and tried to answer their questions in more detail.

“She hasn’t spoken much,” he told them. “Only a few words now and again… mostly requests for food or water. I don’t even know what her name is.”

“By my gauge, she’s likely no more than three years old,” Yilev said. “Practically a baby in human terms. She will be… difficult to care for here, Avin.”

He nodded in agreement. “I’ve already given that much consideration, Elder Yilev. I can continue to forage for food for her until she has recovered, and then see if there’s a human settlement somewhere that survived Dar’Thasjz’s awakening that can take her in. If there isn’t…” He hung his head briefly. “Well, then I’ll do whatever is necessary to care for her here. I accept all responsibility for her. She’ll not be a burden to the rest of the city.”

“Your plan is noble, young Avin,” Minyu said, “but your logic is flawed if you believe the city will be content to leave you both without aid.”

“Thank you, Elder Minyu.”

“Were there…” Hahal closed his eyes with a look of pain and swallowed. “Were there any other survivors?”

“I found no one,” Avin replied, “but I was too focused on keeping the girl alive and bringing her somewhere safe to explore further.” He hesitated before speaking again. “Forgive me my earlier attitude toward you, elders. My own youthful pride blinded me to the horrors you were trying to spare us from.”

The Three offered him bows of acceptance.

“However,” he continued, “I do still believe that our endless journey through the sky is misplaced. If we hadn’t fled the surface world, perhaps we could have saved more than just one child. Perhaps… perhaps our place is to stand with whatever remains of our world, even at the cost of ourselves.”

The elders exchanged unreadable glances with one another. “Thank you for your words, young Avin,” Yilev said at last, before offering him a warm smile. “We will consider them very carefully. For now, you and your charge can rest easy. You are home.”