We had looked around for days now. There were no stairs, other than in people’s basements, one of which had such a lovely view outside and was just the right size that we had declared it as our base. We had been in every house at least a dozen times now, and it still didn’t look like the people that lived here ever had wanted to go down. The farm boys in particular had bugged the captain now so often that they didn’t think there was anything to find here that the captain got mad and threatened them with throwing them down the cliff if they asked one more time. Because of this, I kept my mouth shut and went out to check something out I had spotted earlier: A machine.
It, too had been covered in roof tiles, with the the house it had been in being so close to the edge, one of the walls had fallen down. And it was this pattern that I thought would let any search for stairs end unsuccessfully: This city used to be on ground level on both sides, that’s why the way was leading to nothingness, that’s why the basements had a view, that’s why this wall was missing. So really, me finding a machine that could maybe lower our world back to the rest of it was way more useful. The machine had a bunch of levers and buttons, every one of which had been helpfully but oh so unhelpfully labelled in foreign squiggles, and stretched on to the sides for no reason. It really was mostly a tube with the machine in it, and then large metal sheets on the side of it, a tiny part of was able to flap around. But like tail-wagging doesn’t propel a dog, these flaps had very little chance of propelling…
— What are you doing?, the captain asked.
— Uuh, I found this machine, and…
— Does it look like stairs to you?
— No, but…
— Then get out of it and look for stairs again.
— … Aye captain.
I cleared more of the rubble and threw it over the edge until most of the floor, and most importantly, the area around the machine was rubble-free. I now could see it’s full shape, and indeed, it had wheels, so it was supposed to move. At the front, judging by the seat’s position anyway, there was a socket something should be screwed in. After searching around some more, during which time the captain thankfully checked back in and approvingly nodded when he saw me searching for definitely the stairs, I found something that looked like it’d fit there. A tiny windmill, with 3 instead of 4 blades for some reason, made out of an material that wasn’t quite wood but not quite metal either. I screwed it in and turned it, and the machine sprang to life. And how quickly it did! It didn’t lose any time to warm up the water to make steam, it didn’t even seem to heat up. All it did was exhaust a tiny smoke trail, which did stink, but was decidedly less sooty than any machines I had ever worked with. I got into the seat, maybe some of these buttons would now do something. Alerted by the noise, the rest of the crew came by.
— What is happening?, the captain asked.
— As I said earlier, I found this machine. I think it may have something to do with how to get down there.
— If this was a mechanical bird, I’d believe it could! But it doesn’t look like it can flap its wings!
I pushed the big lever in the middle. The windmill started to rotate faster, blowing a lot of air into my face. Some of the buttons lit up, some remained dark. Strange. One button was blinking yellow, demanding my attention. I pressed it just as the captain said “that’s a wind machine you have there, come down again”, and suddenly the machine jumped forwards. Before I realized what had happened, the wind from below the edge caught the wings and lifted the machine and me up, and away I was.
The wind blew so hard and so cold in my face that I sank into my seat for cover. Now I had rescued the astronomer only to jump down myself, and no net would save me. I turned around and saw my crew for another moment before another cloud coming from below covered them up. Astonishingly, I wasn’t falling straight down like I had thought previously, instead I was gently curving back to the cliff where I started from. Just a bit lower. Which, as I now realized, was a problem, because I was quite fast on this thing and did not want to experience any crashing into walls. I turned the steering wheel that was broken on top and bottom. And hooray, it now turned the other way. But now I was definitely steeply flying downwards.
The bad news, it was a long drop downwards and I was steadily accelerating and couldn’t really see. The good news, it was a long drop downwards, so it gave me plenty of time to figure out how to fall down slower. I first tried pulling back the stick that put the windmill in motion. The machine now was quieter, but it didn’t really help my fall. Then I tried pushing the pedals in the bottom. It did help in that it steered me sideways, so now I was parallel to the cliff, but I also was sideways, which caused me to almost fall out. I pushed on the broken steering wheel to secure myself, and strangely enough, it caused the machine to pull away from the cliff, and also made it go more straight.
Over the following minutes, I learned to control the thing and even became somewhat confident, as the machine suddenly went quiet. I was still in the air, but the windmill stopped turning. I decided to head towards the fields of the big city in Greenland, if there was any hope of landing without hitting a wall or tree, it would be there, and in the meantime looked for the engine hatch to see if I could fix anything before landing. The only hatch I could find revealed a pair of goggles. Fantastic, I thought, I could’ve used those much, much earlier. My sore eyes agreed.
I flew over the fields trying to find a good spot to land as I didn’t want to ruin anyone’s harvest. People stared at me in amazement, or so I hoped anyway, as I soared just a few dozen feet over their heads, gradually reducing speed while keeping flight level. I pitched up higher and higher and just as I was about to pitch forwards again to land on a fence-free piece of road, the flying machine decided to remove the flying bit from its name and smashed onto the ground.
I was stunned, but intact. Then I climbed out of the seat to observe the damage. The wheels and legs of the machine were badly damaged, but the rest seemed somewhat fine. And the windmill bit – which really should be called propeller, as it quite apparently was the thing making the flying machine go forwards – still wasn’t working. I tried spinning it again, but alas. Couldn’t have luck with it every time.
A stampede was coming my way. Horse rider, ox rider and foot folk came running by to see me and my machine. They obviously hadn’t seen one before, but then, I hadn’t either. They looked at me, but nobody seemed to want to speak the first word.
— Moin moin, I said to the crowd.
— Moin, they said back, apparently relieved. I was thankful that we had at least some common ground to go by.
— So, uh.. Where’s the next tavern? I’d like to stay over the night.
— We have a spare bed, said a woman in the back. She was speaking strangely, stressing syllables the wrong way round, pronouncing silent letters and swallowing letters that ought to be spoken. — You can stay with us.
— Thank you. Can you help me bring my flying machine to this place?
— Yes, of course, said the crowd.
On our way to the tavern, I got bombarded by questions. I tried answering all of them to the best of my ability, but it seemed to take no end. Nobody had heard of the Kingdom of Valand before, and as I pointed out it was up the big mountain, whispers started.