The Iron Maelstrom
The massive floating ship slowed as it dumped pressure into the atmosphere. Steam swirled, encapsulating the ship in a boiling cloud.
“It’s incredible…” said Rowling from his Cloud Skimmer.
“It’s terrifying,” said Sersk, pulling on his goggles. “Let’s get back to the fortress quickly.”
The Cloud Skimmers hummed quietly as the scouts turned and surfed down the bubbly cumulonimbus that had concealed them. Vapor trails clung to their boards as they hopped from one cloud to the next.
“Did you see the size of it?! Who knew the Sidorians had such tech!” exclaimed Rowling.
“That wasn’t Sidorian,” Sersk responded.
“What? Of course it was. Who else?” asked Rowling.
“I’m not sure yet… Not Sidorian. It’s… It’s something else,” muttered Sersk.
Sersk felt confused and scared like a child who had just realized that monsters are real. A single image was burned into his mind. A dusty scroll eaten with age. The ship. That ship. That ship doesn’t exist. It isn’t supposed to. It was never more than an old man’s tale. A 7,000-year-old tale.
“Hello, where is Sersk?” shouted Rowling.
Sersk snapped out of his contemplation and looked over at the junior scout.
“Listen, this thing… Yah!”
Sersk rolled his board away as a twelve-foot-long iron harpoon appeared from the cloud mass and struck between the two scouts. It drug a heavy chain behind it, each link as wide as a man.
“Evasive maneuvers!” shouted Sersk.
Rowling whipped his board around, cutting a serpentine trail in the cloud. Electricity flooded through the young scout’s skin as another harpoon buzzed by, inches from his board. He leaned forward and cranked up the speed on his Cloud Skimmer until his face rippled.
“What’s the plan, Sersk?! I’m about to lose my hide!”
Sersk felt a paralyzing panic reach in and grab hold of his mind. He stared at Rowling. His tongue felt dry, his gums stuck to his cheeks, his teeth loosened. In his mind’s eye was the ancient picture. Blackened harpoons scrolling out across the parchment.
“Snap out of it, Sersk! We are about to be skewered!” Rowling shouted as he glided up alongside the senior scout.
A harpoon struck through the cloud in front of them. They swerved, barely avoiding a collision.
“The engine!” shouted Sersk. “They’re tracking the engine!”
“What?!” exclaimed Rowling.
“We have to jump!” responded Sersk.
“Are you insane?! We can’t just glide back to the fortress!” shouted Rowling.
“We’ll have to find another way, but we have to jump now, Rowling!”
Sersk looked around and pointed to a raised bank of cloud.
“Remember what I told you never to do again when you were in training?” asked Sersk.
Rowling smiled, “Let’s do it!”
They leaned in and sped toward the hill of cloud. The Skimmers ripped a wave of vapor straight into the sky as they ramped off of the cloud bank. Simultaneously, they unlatched their feet and fell to opposite sides of their boards. As they dropped, an iron harpoon pierced the sky and skewered the two boards with a spectacular explosion.
Sersk pulled a cord on his vest and canvas wings sprang from either side of a pack on his back. They caught the wind with a rushing jerk and leveled off.
The thick nimbus fog clung to Sersk’s goggles and blinded him. After a few minutes, he dropped below the cloud and wiped away the moisture. Sersk checked nervously over his shoulder. A moment later, Rowling slowly melted through the cloud mass. The senior scout pointed to a mountain in the distance. Rowling nodded.
Events weighed heavily on Sersk’s mind as they slowly fell toward the mountain. There was no doubt. A myth had come to life; The Iron Maelstrom was real, and now, nothing was certain.
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