Chapter 1: The Cloud Land of Glade
Cadin sat at the edge of Glade looking down at the broad curve of Earth. The rising mist tickled his skin and he sighed as the familiar sensation engulfed him. If the cloud shifted he risked falling, not yet having wings. Of course, he would be in trouble if any adults caught him hanging out so close to the edge, but the wonderful view was worth it. The punishment wouldn’t be too bad, probably nothing more than monitoring a lazy falcon in rehab, or cleaning the pigeon poop collecting in the Town Center fountain. The risk was worth it; it helped him to think. Tomorrow would be different—tomorrow he would enter Commons High School.
Glancing at the position of the sun and not wanting to be late to meet up with his friend before dinner, Cadin took in the view one last time before hopping to his feet, wiping off the clouds clinging to his legs, and making his way back to the main path.
His best friend, whom he affectionately called Lep, was waiting for him at their usual spot. The angel boys smiled at each other with very different features, but equally mischievous grins.
Leaping in the air, the boys high-fived, Cadin failing once again to reach as high as his taller companion.
“Ready for school?” Lep asked, shielding his bright blue eyes against the setting sunlight.
“Yeah, no problem,” Cadin said, shying away from showing signs of weakness to his friend. He felt his face glow warmly with his lie, but knew that like his mother, his bronze complexion masked his emotions. Cadin’s golden eyes caught the light as he looked up.
“Yep, it should be fun. I can’t wait for my Aura to shine through and of course to get my wings. I wonder who will be the first in our class to get them,” Lep said as he kicked up a little cloud that floated up and dissipated into the crisp evening air.
“Well, we don’t know everybody in the class because kids come from all over Glade. I bet one of us gets our Aura first though,” said Cadin, imagining a warm light wrapped around him. He ran his hand through his short, dark hair—imagining his Aura energy zinging through his fingers.
“Yeah, but some of the guys at the far end of Glade looked pretty strong.”
Cadin searched his friend’s tense expression and smiled. “Don’t worry any about them; together, we will rock high school! And if anyone gets in our way,” Cadin said with wide eyes, “we will give them a little revenge.”
“What did you find?” Lep asked.
“Well, ya know the cloud-rocks up near the lake?”
Lep just nodded, his face going a little pale.
“I lifted one up the other day and I found a whole colony of cloud-worms!”
A bit of a smile on pulled at the corners of Lep’s mouth. Cadin wasn’t sure if it was because Lep was excited about the idea of cloud-worms, or if he was simply reacting to Cadin’s excitement. Cadin knew that Lep didn’t like cloud-nature as much as he did, preferring the stories of the Earth nature without the ‘crazy cloud-hybrids’ as Lep called them mixing in.
“I don’t know, Cadin. They are kinda gross with their teeth and stiff fur sticking out around their middle. I mean they wouldn’t be that bad if they didn’t leak out poisonous pus. That stuff really stinks—and it stings your eyes!”
Cadin guessed that he was remembering the time that they attempted to stick a cloud-worm on their instructor’s chair in primary school and Lep got overly excited and gripped it a little too tight before they even made it inside. It wasn’t the poor cloud-worm’s fault.
“What exactly do you have in mind?” Lep asked.
“Put them into the other guy’s food.”
“Eh! Those stinky worms must taste horrible. And what if they bite? I guess they would probably move before anyone ate them anyway.” Lep ended on a hopeful note.
“Don’t worry about that,” said Cadin, happy to have his friend in on his plan. “We can just push them towards the bottom.”
Cadin’s house came into view, a beautiful mixture of land and cloud features melding together to form a structure that melted into the hillside.
“Are your parents walking you in the first day too?” Cadin asked.
“Of course. I told them that they didn’t have to, but Mom insisted on ‘keeping the tradition alive.’” Lep just shook his head.
“Same here. Well, see ya tomorrow!”
“Yep. See ya.”
“Hi, Mom,” Cadin called as he rushed in the house. “Can we go for a swim after dinner?”
“Okay kid, we’re on. And I bet you three aros that I beat you swimming across the Mist Lake!” Sara said with a big smile that reached her golden-brown eyes.
Cadin laughed. “You’re on. There’s no way you’ll beat me today!” He had yet to win since he asked her to stop throwing the races—he hadn’t realized at the time how much she’d been holding back.
Cadin gave his mom a one-armed hug before scrambling across the room to a beautifully decorated door.
“I am going to say hi to dad.”Cadin opened the door to reveal a short tunnel. He heard a soft flutter of feathers and the faintest tread of feet behind him as he made his way to a valley tucked behind hills and clouds. She’s always the quietest, he thought as he tried to make his steps as silent as his mom’s. He gave his dad a quick hug when he noticed that Tal didn’t have anything hot or sharp in his hands.
“Hi guys,” Tal said with a smile. “This is a nice surprise. I am almost finished,” he said as he walked over to his work shelter. Cadin told his dad about the swimming bet.
“Good luck,” Tal said, patting his shoulder.
He picked up the last shield he had been working on and held it up to his family. “What do you think?”
“Wow, dad,” Cadin said, reaching up to touch the shiny, round shield. “What are the stones for again?” he asked as he circled his fingers over the smooth surfaces.
“I started using cloud-stones in my work after I went to apprentice with your mom’s dad on Air. Marvin is a fantastic blacksmith. I noticed that he had strung some stones to the handles of many of his finest pieces. At first I thought that it was just for aesthetic value. Then one day he told me about an old angel he happened upon on a flight near the edge of the cloud-land. Marvin said that she invited him in when he asked if she needed any help carrying the rocks that she had been lugging. ‘Her house was filled with the most fantastic cloud-stones that I have ever seen’ he told me. She briefly taught your grandfather about some of their properties before he returned home.
“He said that he had tried attaching some of the stones to his work afterward and they seemed to add a competitive edge to those particular weapons. He thought of them mostly as good luck charms, but I considered them as perhaps being more. I asked your grandfather for directions and went on a mission to find her. I decided to bring Mira a gift since I didn’t know her and wanted to ask for knowledge. You see, Cadin, it is always good to give something of like value in any exchange, whether it is an item, understanding, or even something like protection.
“I didn’t have much money at the time, and didn’t think that she needed protection having survived to become so old, so I made her my first dagger. I worked hard on it and tied two precious cloud-stones to the handle as your grandfather did and set out to find the cloud-stone angel. I had searched for quite a long time per your grandfather’s directions before I saw a small, shriveled lump on the horizon that appeared to be moving.”
“Was it her?” Cadin asked, getting caught up in the story. Sara had gone inside to grab dinner and brought it back out so they could eat in the valley and Tal could continue his story.
“That’s right. Not only was she one of the oldest angels I had ever seen, but she was also the smallest. Her wings looked pristine compared to the rest of her. Her skin was incredibly wrinkled and her body was hunched over; however, her eyes were bright with true power dancing behind them. As I approached her, I realized that she was trying to carry a huge bucket of water, and I rushed to help her. She seemed delighted that I had relieved her burden. I was surprised by how far she’d intended to carry it. When we finally reached her home, I was tired from carrying the water, and I was in good shape at the time.
“She thanked me and used some of the water to start a soup, which she invited me to share with her. I asked if she needed any more help, but she told me that I had done enough and to relax. I took the time to sit on a log near the cooking hearth outside, look around and take in the remote setting and the strange little house. It was set alongside a hill much like ours is now, though at the time I had never seen anything quite like it. It was a small place with a wonderfully carved door full of inlaid stones and an otherwise ordinary outward appearance. We sat outside eating and saying little until I decided to tell her why I was there. I told her that I was Talvarian of Ansford and Marvin’s apprentice and that I was interested in the cloud-stones. Presenting her with the little dagger that I had put so much work into, I asked her if she would be willing to teach me.
“Her eyes sparkled as she looked me up and down, perhaps evaluating whether I was worthy. She hadn’t said a word, but then glanced at the offered piece and gasped. ‘So, he did listen to me, that Marvin of yours,’ she said, eyeing me curiously. ‘Come, come,’ she walked to her beautiful door. I was completely overwhelmed by the craftsmanship and brilliance of the stones set in the door. A little breathless, I tried to regain my composure as I followed her inside only to be blown away. Marvin’s description of the house did nothing to prepare me for what I saw.”
“What was it?”
“The entire inside of the house was crafted from cloud-stones. The feeling was quite overwhelming which put me a bit on guard. I have never liked to not feel in control. For some reason, this cloud-stone house and little old lady were stripping away my emotional barricades without having actually done anything. I was close to fleeing before she told me to sit down and breathe. Apparently, she knew the effect that the house was having on me and the best way to deal with it. After a few deep breaths, I was doing better and turned my attention back to the old angel.
“After she had a little chuckle at my expense, she held up the dagger and asked why I had chosen to tie cloud-stones to it, and why those particular stones. I told her that Marvin tied stones to his favorite pieces for a kind of good luck charm because of his visit to her; I had simply followed his example. The cloud-stones I thought felt right—first eyeing the one on my left which was bright green, and then the one to the right which was a duller green with blue flecks through out it.
“I see.” Was all that she said. When it seemed that she had forgotten me, I got up to leave,feeling a little bit rejected. As I approached the door, she said in a clear voice ‘My name is Mira of Air and I have decided that I will teach you, Talvarian of Ansford. Come back the same day of each week for as long as you are apprenticing as a maker of metals and I enlighten you about the properties of cloud-stones and how to suitably use them to imbue their powers into your works.’ With that, she went into her back room and I flew home.
“I went to study with Mira every week that I was in Air and I learned about cloud-stones. She understood how to enhance my work with protective attributes as I had developed a green Aura on a blue land. I was only a year or two older than you at the time. She said the stones that I attached to her dagger had protective qualities and that I was drawn to them because of that. She was right—as time passed, my metal working efforts turned more towards shields and armor.
“It was there that I met your mother, you know,” Tal finished with a smile at Cadin and a wink at Sara.
Cadin’s eyes drifted back and forth from his mother to his father, trying to picture the Air cloud-land where they fell in love, where his dad learned to make beautiful shields, and where crazy old Mira lived in her house of stones.
“Can we go to Air sometime to visit Grandpa Marvin and see if Mira is still there?” Cadin asked, a gleam of adventure in his eyes.
“I think that we can give it a try some day. Maybe when you’re older. Now did I hear something earlier about a bet?” Tal asked as clouds thinned and revealed Mist Lake in the distance. It was Sara and Cadin’s favorite lake because it was far enough away from town that few people ventured there. It opened to their valley on one side while the rest was surrounded as if folded into a cloud-mountain.
“Yep,” said Cadin, breaking into a sprint.
“No fair cheating!” His mom called from behind as Cadin raced ahead. His legs pumped fast, as he neared the lake. His mom sped past him, using her wings to propel herself forward.
Just wait until I get my wings! Cadin thought as Sara launched into the lake ahead of him. Cadin ran even harder and jumped a smooth dive that he had been perfecting since he was six.
“Go, Cadin, go!” His dad cheered for him from the shore. His mom was ahead by a good two body lengths by the time that he surfaced. He would have to kick hard and fast just to catch up to her. She was only a few seconds away from the protruding rock on the mountain shore that they had always used as their end mark.
I don’t think that I can beat her like this, Cadin thought as he watched his mom’s clean strokes, comparing them to his strong but messy kicks. Only the base of her wings seemed to splash the water and create drag. I don’t have wings, so that is one advantage. Cadin flattened out his body and copied his mom’s smooth movements. He felt the water roll over his back. Without thinking, he reached up to grab the rock in front of him and pulled himself out. A second later he held out his hand to help his mom whose eyes were as wide as wrath eggs.