“Always bring rope…”

After shaking Corax and Uuco awake, the Pilgrims rushed outside the Howling Saber Longhouse, pushing their way past the crowd around the wreckage of the Leather Cap Longhouse. The Inn teetered on the edge of the uprooted town’s cliff, a gust of wind short from plummeting to the ground.

“Vincol!” Corax called out. “Vincol! Shout if you’re there!”

Ira glanced at the coil spare rope hanging from a nearby caravan wagon. She glanced back at the crumbling edge of bedrock that divided the flying town from the empty sky. Her face paled. She closed her eyes and placed a hand over her trembling heart.

“Uuco,” She said quietly. “You’re the lightest. Take that rope, enter the Leather Cap Longhouse, and tie it to Vincol so we can drag him out. Dragon Face,” she continued, nodding at the wrestler, “you’re the largest and strongest; secure the rope and pull everyone back up!”

Dragon Face drumed his chest with his fist “As you command, Lady Ira!” he declared, rushing off to get the rope.

“Must I?” Uuco muttered, scraping his feet along the ground like a surly donkey.

“You must if you want Vincol to remain alive,” Ira stated flatly.

“Well shucks,” Uuco drawled. He crouched and rubbed dust on his hands “You better not drop me!” He growled at Dragon Face. “You hear that, masked man?”

Dragon Face laughed heartily, raising his hand and clenching it into a claw. “Have faith in my grip, friend Uuco! It has seized friends and foes over the years, and never let either escape!”

“Right then,” Uuco said hastily, taking one of the rope and trying it around his waist. He grinned, the tips of his mustache perking up. “This should be fun!”

%%%

Uuco stepped into the ruined, creaking Leathercap Longhouse, trailing a hemp rope behind him.

Dining tables were cracked in half, stools and benches cast on their side, the floor stained by spilled brew and the jug shards. The roof was cracked open, letting through stray beams of light that illuminated dancing clouds of dust.

Uuco tip-toed down the tilted unstable hall, stroked his mustache in thought, then scotted past the chieftain’s seat and peaked in the back room.

The back wall of the Leather Cap had broken off and fallen away, revealing blue sky and a scenic prairie landscape below. Bundles of herbs and clay tablets etched with Swayer’s Script were scattered along the floor. The floor itself ended in a jagged, splintery gap and a long drop.

Vincol dangled fromthe edge of the broken floor, clinging for dear life to an exposed wooden strut.

“Vincol?” Uuco called out. “What in tarnation are you doing hanging there! Pull yourself up!”

“It wasn’t me!” Vincol blurted out. “I didn’t do this!”

“That’s nice,” Uuco replied, creeping to the edge on hands and knee and getting a grip on Vincol’s nightshirt. “Grip me tight, kid. I’ll give my rope a yank, and Mask Man will pull us up to safety!”

Dust trickled down from the ceiling and the hall’s timbers groaned.

Uuco’s mustache twitched. “On the count of three,” he said, voice quavering. “One-“

“I didn’t do this!” Vincol insisted, gripping Uuco’s arm with one of his hands. “This wasn’t one of my Earth Magic experiments gone wrong!”

“Twothree!” Uuco blurted out. He hooked his leg around the rope and yanked three times.

%%%

“Time to pulled the fishes in!” Dragon Face bellowed. He crouched in a bow-legged stance, tensed his muscles and yanked the rope towards him. “Ha!” He declared, winding the rope’s slack around his arm as he pulled. “This is easy! A suitable warmup for my superbly fashion muscles…!”

The rope went taut. Dragon Face pulled on it a few more times, face turning purple. The rope wouldn’t budge.

“What’s wrong?” V’vendy asked Dragon Face, leaning on her longbow.

Dragon Face frowned. “…I think they caught on something!” He said.

%%%

Uuco thrashed back and forth, trying to free his skull from between the legs of a stool trapped under a collapsed roof pillar. “Stop pulling, Mask Man!” He shouted at the top of his lungs. “Yer gonna yank my head off!”

“Let me help!” Vincol said, gripping the stool and trying to rip its legs free. A small clay tablet fell out of his tunic sleeve, hit the floor and broke in half. Glowing purple vapor rose from the broken tablet, then snaked their way into the ground.

%%%

The ground beneath Dragon Face started to rumble. “What?” Dragon Face exclaimed.

“Oh no,” Corax said in a monotone, head-feathers drooping.

Lady Ira’s nostrils flared. “Everyone pull!” She shouted, running to Dragon Face’s side and taking up the slack end of his rope. “Now!”

Corax gripped the rope with his teeth and pulled with Dragon Face and Ira. V’vendy fell to one kness, raised a bundle of white-fletched arrows to the sky and began humming a soft prayer.

“V’vendy?” Ira shouted to her. “V’vendy!” She harrumphed. “To the Hidden Gods with it–everyone heave!”

Ira, Corax, and Dragon pulledon the rope. Uuco emerged from the Leather Cap Inn’s doorway with a stool of his head, cursing loudly as he dragged a battered-looking Vincol with him.

“Vincol” Uuco shouted. “What in tarnation did you do?”

The cliff the Pilgrims stood on shuddered, cracks spreading along the ground like vines. Then the cliff broke off from the town’s bedrock and fell, taking Innkeeper Vincol, Lady Ira, Uuco the Witness, Corax the Dinosaur, and the mysterious Dragon Face along with them.

V”vendy the Deathweaver rose and leapt off the side of the cliff as it started to crumble.

As she fell, she nocked four arrows to her bow and drew them back; twisting smoothly in midair, she aimed at her comrades as they tumbled and screamed their way down. She loosed.

White-fletched arrows curved through the air, barbed bone heads seeking out V’vendy’s friends like a Hawk’s Talons. They zipped past each Pilgrim, just barely missing their flesh, and pierced through the folds of their cloaks and tunics. The arrows sank into the clay and stone of the flying bedrock, pinning everyone to the cliff face by the seams of their clothes.

V’vendy shouldered her bow in midair and breathed deep. Her hair feathers stood on end, and a vortex of wind swirled around her, kicking up dust from the falling rubble and slamming her into the side of the cliff. She drew two arrows from her hand and rammed them into the bedrock, halting her fall.

The Pilgrims swayed back and forth, dangling precariously from off the side of flying chunk of rock many miles above the earth.

Ira closed her eyes and found her voice. “Well shot, V’vendy!” She declared, reaching out to grip a rock protrusion. “V’vendy Deathweaver is a crude title: they should call you V’vendy Falcon-eyed!”

“Why…” V’vendy mumbled, blushing slightly. “Thank you, thank you Lady Ira!”

“Three cheers for the aim of V’vendy Falcon-eyed!” Dragon Face called out, gripping a stone outcropping with one of his hands. ” Hurrah! Hurrah!”

“Hurah!” Corax called out in turn, digging his claws into the cliff face and lifting his avian head. “I should point out that these arrows won’t keep us secured forever. How are we going to get back up?”

Uuco spoke up from below, swaying back and forth lightly on his pinned tunic like a babe in a papoose. “There’s a window down here!” He shouted. “…not just that; there’s an entire building down here!”

“What?” Ira blurted out.

“Uuco’s right!” Vincol called out. “I can see what look like walls!”

Ira craned her neck down to look. Here head swam as she starred into the empty gap between her and the ground. She focused on the wall below her she clung to, a wall made of mortared bricks. She squinted and noticed window-like gaps, archways, an outcropping lined with jagged-tooth crenelations…

Ira reached up, and yanked the arrow free from her tunic out. She dropped landed, and crouched on a finely carved balcony, cluttered with stray chunk of rock and dirt that had fallen from above.

“Lady Ira!” Corax called out in alarm.

“I’m fine!” She shouted, waving up at everyone still pinned to the cliff. “There’s a ledge here!”

She walked to the edge of the balcony, turned and looked up at the cliff face everyone clung to. She could see more balconies to the sides, buttresses and rounded towers, murals carved into the stone with faded paint.

“Crimson Girth is resting on a buried city!” She shouted. “That’s now a flying city, I suppose!”

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