“To horse!” cried the Sky King, in a voice that boomed across the meadow like thunder. “The dawning hour is nigh!” With swiftness and precision, the Ethereal Legion leapt to their mounts and tightened their ranks into two lines as straight as an arrow’s course.

Kevin mounted a Sky-horse in the middle of the company, and Lt. Nimbus rode in front of him, controlling the reins of Kevin’s steed. The only turbulence in the neat line of horsemen was Galwynn, who was struggling slightly to soothe his mount. The mare was named “Zephyr,” and was the most gentle of vaporous equines. But even a cloud-horse gets skittish when it senses its rider is ill at ease.

Lt. Nimbus looked back at his charge, and an expression of impatience curled his mouth. But at length, Kevin managed to fall in line. With that done, the Sky King called out, “Away!” and the twin line of riders trotted towards the edge of the mountain plateau. For a moment, Kevin froze in his saddle with alarm—there was a precipitous fall before them, but the ethereal host did not pause—in fact, they spurred their mounts to a gallop and gained speed.

Kevin thought the Sky Folk’s charge towards the oblivion was madness, but he was caught in their rush as helplessly as a leaf caught in a gale. He called out for the Legion to halt, but his shouts were drowned by the thunderous roar of hoofbeats. He tried to pull up his reins, but they were firmly in control of Lt. Nimbus. All Kevin could do was hang on to the pommel of his saddle with his mouth agape and his eyes wide with terror, as the Ethereal Legion galloped like an onrushing storm towards the edge of the cliff.

The twin line of horsemen galloped away from the Land King’s encampment and everyone Kevin loved, across the mountain meadow, to the edge of the precipice, and—onto thin air, as if the atmosphere beneath their horses’ hooves was as solid as the mountainside they had just left behind.

There was a wild rush of wind in Kevin’s ears as he rode, and his riding cloak billowed madly behind him. But instead of the bumpy, bone-jarring ride given by earthly steeds, these Sky-horses moved in a strangely smooth and gentle undulation. Kevin felt as if was dreaming that he was riding, and might have believed it was so if his terror did not remind him that he was fully and fearfully awake.

Kevin finally looked around and noticed that his companions were riding at ease, in that alert but poised manner that skilled horsemen assume when they settle in for a long ride. The horse beneath Kevin seemed solid enough. His companions seemed calm. No one, besides him, seemed panicked. All this reassured Kevin. The only aspect of his situation that remained somewhat disquieting was the way the rippling hills, silvery lakes, patchwork farms, and the occasional bird flying at a lower altitude, seemed to slide effortlessly beneath the soles of his boots in their stirrups. 

“How fare you?” asked Lt. Nimbus. There was suppressed irritation in his voice as he turned in his saddle to check his charge.

“Me? Oh, just fine,” Kevin lied. In his youth, he and the other apprentices at the College of Enlightenment were required to climb to the peak of a lofty mountain, look down from the brink, and consider the size of their egos in comparison to the size of the world beneath them. But although Galwynn climbed to the summit (earning his certificate of Lofty Endeavors), when he peered down from those horrifying heights his knees weakened and his entrails melted into water. That vantage point was a pitiful approximation of the view Kevin had now.

Kevin realized that Nimbus disapproved of his presence for some reason, and so he was determined to not make matters worse by showing the skyrider any sign of weakness. “Fine…,” he repeated, carefully controlling the utterance of each word. “Just fine…”

I hate adventures

From the mountain meadow, the King of Land, his retinue, and Kevin’s loved ones watched as riders gray as ghosts receded into the clouds and melded with the roiling overcast. At first, the riders were a pallid phalanx charging across the sky, then they dwindled to a modest chevron, and then they finally diminished to a mere arrowhead. 

And in the midst of the gray riders was a discomforted scholar, riding on an unruly cloud-horse, swaying and bouncing along, toward adventures unknown.

— End of Part 1 —

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