art by Wi Waffles
The Flight Stone
by KJ Kabza
***Editor's Note: Disturbing. For adult readers.***
"Never forget, ladies, how lucky you are," says Miss Reeper all the time. "You could have died in an alley from plague or starvation, or grown up to become disgusting harlots. But The Harkish Crown, in its wisdom and mercy, has lifted you out of the gutters and has given you a great destiny instead. The least you can do is repay its kindness. So pay attention."
Miss Reeper is the Headmistress. Her school, outside of Hark's city walls, is where you go to become an Air Knight.
You can only be an Air Knight if you're a street orphan first. A landhorse can carry a big man and all his gear, but an airhorse can only take off with a really light load.
I heard they tried regular kids at first, but they always grew too big and got too heavy.
They have to use starving ones.
Sairee is my friend. She is shorter than me, even though she's much older. Her upper arms are skinnier than her forearms, and her thighs don't touch together. She'll be an Air Knight forever.
"I heard they're going to start using dwarves," she whispers to me one day, over breakfast. "Isn't that stupid?"
We always eat outside, in the assembly yard, so Miss Reeper can make sure we don't cheat. We have to eat exactly what they give us: no more, no less. "Light and strong, light and strong," Miss Reeper says, "like little butterflies."
"Why would they use dwarves?"
Sairee wrinkles her nose. "They think we can't decide for ourselves. Like we're too young."
Kaiya leans forward. "But they let us decide about whether to go back. They took Linn back to Hark last fall when she said she wanted to leave, remember?"
"Exactly," says Sairee.
"Remember, ladies," Miss Reeper says, pointing to the Flight Stone in the center of the yard. "Little butterflies. Not big, clumsy rocks."
Sairee will graduate and be a full Air Knight when the next Accounting comes. We all know she's ready--she's old enough and she's stopped getting taller. But I haven't. I worry about it all the time. I'm not like Linn. I don't want to go back to Hark and sleep in a doorway under crawling rats.
I want to keep riding airhorses.