The airship, Cloud Dancer, drifted at the mercy of the winds. The battle had been successful, but the cost had been steep. The sails had been swept from the deck and the wheelhouse had been smashed. Of the three-thousand-man crew, easily two thirds of them were dead or out of commission. There were so many wounded, they were being lined up on the deck awaiting the doctor’s decision to see who would see the surgeon next.
Those who had breathed their last into the winds were being sewn into their cloud wings and given to the winds. Their little parachute would carry them into the clouds so their souls could watch over them and keep the winds in their favor. The Cloud Dancer needed all their help today.
One after another the small sails floated away with their burdens, and one after another, the line of bodies waiting their turn continued to grow. Some still breathed, but they would breathe their last into the wind long before they met with the surgeon.
Badly burned and broken, Seetoe was one such body to be consigned to the winds. There was little hope that he would survive, and even if he did he would be little more than a breeder. His was a good bloodline, but he had a brother to carry on. Baycan had a smashed leg, but broken bones could be mended. He’d be as good as new in a few months.
In his turn Seetoe was stitched into the bag attached to his parachute. It looked like a bed he was being stitched into. A thin pillow cradled what was left of his blond curls. The soft blanket was pulled up under his chin and folded down before being secured to the blanket under him. The whole thing was attached to a small parachute in several places. Great care was taken to ensure the comfort of the dead on their last journey.
Baycan saw Seetoe’s fate just as they lifted him to the rail. “No. No. Seetoe, no. He’s not dead yet. No.” And as Seetoe’s body dropped over the rail and the sail billowed, his brother’s cry echoed far beyond the rail. “Seetoe, no!!!”
Somewhere, far beneath the agony, Seetoe heard his brother’s call, but it had little meaning. All he wanted was for the fire to die. By coincidence, he got his wish.
Though designed for comfort, the wings of the dead were not designed for any kind of longevity. Bodies dropping from airships too quickly would leave a clear trail to homeport, too slowly and they could be pinpointed and traced back to the ship itself. Therefore, the bodies dropped quickly but slow enough to scatter like seeds on the wind.
Seetoe’s wings deigned to grant his wish and he was dropped into a river. The parachute snagged on a bush, holding his head above the surface. Seetoe knew none of this. All he knew was that the fire had been quenched.
“What’s that, daddy?” Kyla asked as she pointed at the rapidly descending something in the sky.
“It’s nothing, Kyla. Where’s your brother? The sun is setting and we must be getting home.”
“Can we go see? It’s going to land just over there. It’s not far. Can we, daddy, please. I wanna see.”
“You’re too curious,” said her brother, Bant as he came out of the brush with a rabbit.
“Am not. Can we, daddy?”
The chill was starting to seep into Seetoe’s bones, knocking at his awareness. He opened his eyes in a dim effort to sort out the problem. A foggy, fuzzy round face floated in front of him. Puzzled, he wondered at the dark eyes and dark hair. The nut-brown skin wasn’t so strange; everyone had brown skin. The face turned away and a hand gripped his chin. The stab of pain sent him into the dark once again.
“He opened his eyes, daddy, you saw.”
“I did. Those are some bad burns on his face. I’d be surprised if that eye isn’t destroyed. Bant, you don’t know where there’s some Kant sap, do you?”
“Not close. Catch the rope, I’m cutting this branch.”
Though they weren’t able to avoid a minor dunking, they succeeded in dragging the body out of the water. Then they set about turning the body bag into a travois and setting out for home as quickly as they could cover the distance.
Upon reaching home, they took the stranger directly to the chief, and more importantly, the shaman, his wife.
Seeing their destination, Kyla, impatient, ran ahead and scratched at the tent flap.
When Sidar opened the flap, she saw the excitement on Kyla’s face. “What is it, Kyla?”
“We found a stranger. He’s burned real bad.” She turned and pointed just as her father and brother came into sight around another tent.
Though Kyla ran back to her family dragging their burden.
Sidar waited. They had to come here before she could do anything anyway. Knowing a few moments earlier whether their stranger still lived or not would make no difference.
Seetoe - blond curly hair
Kyla - sister
Bant - brother
Sidar - shaman