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No one remembers the day the world shattered.

They imagine it happened in a flash.

Too bright for anyone to see. Far too quick for anyone to believe. But one thing we all do remember.

It happened.

And since then nothing has ever been the same.

Four-hundred dogged years on this fractured float of rubble we call home. I see more cloud and less land everyday. Everyday more of us are consumed by the white wall.

At first it was wondrous, especially as a child, I remember skyhopping across the clouds with Reese and Van to welcome back the Scouts from their Skywanders. Those memories of home are a dream, but the days we live now are a nightmares.

We live in uncertainty. Fear of the other side. Wondering each day if we'll wake up and see The Spire amongst the horizon, or if our Skyyard will slip into the White Rush.

I've been perched at the top of my outpost for the three hours now – not even halfway through my shift - watching the sun set the clouds a vibrant swirl of purple and orange, while nursing a bitter bottle of Ironeye Whiskey.

The Scouts were due back an hour ago, but less and less come back each day now. It has gotten so bad, they don't even bother to sound the alarm any more. Each time a Scout goes on a Skywander, they go knowing it's likely their last. Returning is a privilege, not the embarking on a Skywander itself.

My mother begs me to leave my job, find work away from the White Rush. Away from The Rim. But even if I wanted to, how could I? I am not of Earthblood. I'll never be allowed to work alongside those at The Spire. They'll never see any of us as their equal.

I'm not even a scout! I'd shout. Then she'd get upset, call Van and claim I don't love her enough. But that's not the truth. Everything I do is to ease her troubles, her pain when the ghost of my father haunts her mind, when the struggles of this life we are forced to live, become too much.

Can you believe she was going to sell her Cloudforge, and give me the raise, just so I could quit? Crazy.

Forging is all she has. Seeking is all I'm worth.

The Rim is where we all belong.

I'm a lookout - an analyst if I'm drunk enough. I spend the bulk of my day lofted at the tip of an outpost, peering into the upside down waterfall of cloud that menaces before me, awaiting the return of Scouts. Though like I said, there has been less returning each day and the pressure on the Vault to produce new Scouts is on the rise. Almost anyone can get in now, since they are hosting express examinations every other week.

Reese is excited, he can't stop talking about it. This is it! I'll finally get to go on a Skywander. I try to convince him otherwise but the stubborn fool would walk into a fire if it had a “not hot” sign on it.

I wouldn't go on a Skywander, not even for all the money in Aer. It can keep all the relics and ruins. This outpost is as close as I'll get to the White Rush.

The Distants.

That's what I want. Somewhere safe, decent, away from The Rim, away from this damned white wall, and out of the clutches of those Earthblood who run The Spire.

“Col,” Reese calls from my right as he pops his head from the top of the ladder. “Col, you won't believe this!” He hunkers down beside me in his ghostly grey cloak. “Remember how I told you I was going to sign up for the Scout Regime?”

“And I told you not to, because you'll get yourself killed?”

“Yes,” Reese nibbles at his slither of a bottom lip and fights back a grin.

I turn to him with a raised brow. “But you went and did it anyway?”

He pulls the purple card from his cloak and holds it up to his face.

“They gave you a Provisional Wander License already?” His photo on a Scout card...I never thought I'd see the day – or rather I hoped I didn't. But here it is. His shaggy ginger hair flopped down on his unevenly tanned face - too many lookouts at Bright Point. The sun is intense there, due to The Scar.

“Thanks to Van,” Reese says as he scoops up the burnished brown bottle of whiskey from the rusted stool between us. “She wasn't joking about her pull up at The Spire.”

“Who else but Van.” I scoff as a harsh wind wobbles the outpost. The squeal of the wooden structure jars my nerves and I dig my nails into the arms of my splinter riddled chair. Every time. “You know these days, Scouts do not get paid as much as they once did.” I pluck the dying bottle from Reese's grasp. “In fact, they do get paid much more than you and I.”

Reese stands and walks across the cramped platform to the front - it takes him all but two strides its so small up here. “Col,” he says gazing out into the White Rush with a wide smile and a look of wonder in his eye. “It's not about the money,” he claims. “It's about the adventure, the wonder and mystery of it all. I don't want to Skywander because it'll make me rich, I want to Skywander because it'll make me free.” his face hardens. “Free from all this fear, free from the man at The Spire, even if it does only last a short while, at least I'll be free.”

I sigh.

He's right.

Although we have different ideas of freedom. One thing is true.

Above everything. We long to be free.

It feels like The Spire flips a coin when making decisions that affect the lives of people they've never seen. And to be free from that lingering fear is a dream.

The pressure for Vault's to produce more Scouts comes with the fact that there is a lack of relics returning from Skywanders. Without relics to pay the Tether Tax, they run the risk of their Skyyard's being released into the White Rush by command of the High Harrow. Maybe I'm being naïve, maybe we do need more Scouts to help maintain the longevity of our homes, but one thing I am sure of. It won't be me.

“Col,” Reese turns to me with his smile reshaped. “Sign up and become a Scout with me. We could be like Vicious and Shaw!” he buzzes over to me and shakes me by the shoulders, glaring gleefully through sour-green eyes.

I shrug him off and chuckle before taking a healthy swig from the diminishing bottle of cheap whiskey. “You must be crazy.”

When we were younger, we idolised Vicious and Shaw. They were the most famous Scouts to ever live. They always returned with sacks brimming with iridescent relics - some large enough to stand at the same height we were. But now, they are famously dead.

Victims of the White Rush.

Just like my father.

The day he never returned, was the day I stopped yearning to be a Scout. It broke me, but it tore my mother apart, I could never let her go through anything like that ever again. So my dream of being a Scout quickly morphed into a nightmare. One I never want to experience.

She still has one of his Slipskin's hung up in the basement. Seems more like torture than honour if you ask me. But she doesn't. She just sheds a tear whenever she catches a glimpse of his old Scout gear. I even refused to open the letter he left for me, I couldn't afford my mother any more pain with the memory of him.

“Reese,” I look him dead in his eye. “You know I'm never going to be a Scout.”

He sighs and his shoulders slump as he plonks back onto the stool beside me. “I know how you feel about the whole thing, because of you father and all, but you were the one that got me excited about being a Scout when we were just kids. It's just a shame that I can't do the same for you now.”

I glanced at him through a side eye. “But you're still going to try either way?”

“Of course!” He shots to his feet and snatches the whiskey from me. “What kind of friend would I be if I didn't?”

“Try all you like, I'm not going to change my mi-”

A frantic head pops up the from the top of the ladder. Their sun-burnt skin is flushed of its rich tone and their blonde tipped braids dishevelled, like they had rushed up the rusted bars.

“Micah?” I call. He is only a Chamber Chaser, what in the skyroots is he doing up here?

“Col.” His face grimace and drawn with dread. He pants so hard I swear I can hear his heart thump behind his little chest. “Reese.” He swallows hard and looks at us through gaped brown eyes. “It's your Skyyard.”

I rise from my seat, forgetting the crippling feeling of vertigo and step towards him. “What? What is it?”

“It's going to be released.”

A shiver slashes down my shine, causing my skin to run ripe with mountains and hills of goose bumps. It's like all the words I want to say have been stolen from me, or perhaps I have no words to say at all. I can't even turn to look at Reese, and Micah's shocked gaze is no solace.

The hum of the White Rush in the distance seems loud now, numbing, taunting...waiting.

I never thought the world would shatter again.

Mine was about to.

 

End

 

Bio: I go by K. A. Lashley. I have not been writing for very long, but the marvels of stories I have witnessed throughout my twenty and a few penny years on this smouldering rock, have ignited an inextinguishable passion for storytelling within me. I settle south of the Thames river, within the stony streets of London, currently ploughing through a Science Fantasy Novel I hope will rock the world. Contact: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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