“Duty to Extremes” Part 1 by Dylan Birtolo

Morann watched in silence as the two Duine–humans both–attempted to cross the bridge. He sat on a small pile of rocks next to the edge of the chasm spanned by the rope and wooden catwalk. The couple was making their way towards him very slowly. The wind howled through the ravine, making the bridge sway and the lij clutch the ropes in tight fists. They walked along an inch at a time, tucking their faces against their chests to hide from the wind.

The wind eased briefly, encouraging the lij to use only one hand for balance on the ropes. They picked up their pace, attempting to finish the crossing while it was less precarious. However, the lull in the gusts was brief, and it soon picked up with renewed intensity. The bridge swayed far to the side, and the two people fell over the edge, clutching the rope in desperation.

Morann stood up from his rocky seat and walked onto the wooden planks. Even though they swayed just as much as before, he walked as if he were on solid ground. He stood over the two women and looked down at them. One looked up at him with wide eyes.

“Please, help us!”

Morann reached out and clasped the speaker’s wrist. With a smooth motion he lifted her up onto the bridge. As soon as he let go of her wrist, she dropped to her knees and clutched the wooden boards with both hands. Morann turned to the other woman. She reached out with her hand, the same pleading look on her face. He grabbed her wrist and lifted her up as easily as the first. Without uttering a single word, he released his hold. The woman screamed as she fell into the chasm. Morann turned to walk back where he came from.

“Why did you let her go?” the survivor shrieked as he passed her.

Morann twisted, looking down at the human still on her hands and knees and holding onto the rocking bridge. “There must be balance,” he said.

“You killed her!”

“One life saved, one life taken.” Morann continued his journey as if that explanation was enough.

***

Several days later, Morann sat on the edge of a floating island, trees towering overhead behind him. He looked at the other islands, feeling the large civilization that was hidden in the trees. He could sense thousands of people going about their lives and the airships circling, awaiting their chance to dock and complete their journeys. These Duine were a curious folk–they were as busy as some of the most fastidious Fae, but they accomplished so little over their short lives.

Yet there was something captivating about them. Morann opened his eyes and watched for several minutes, barely moving as he did so. It was hypnotic in a way–watching the marii and eashue carry on as if their tasks were of critical importance. He might not ever agree with the Sidhe’Lien, but he had to admit that the Duine at least served well as a source of entertainment.

As he watched, one of the airships circling over the islands began to lose altitude. It dropped suddenly from its regular pattern, clearly an indication that something was wrong. The world seemed to slow down as the large machine plummeted towards one of the central islands, headed on a collision course with a densely populated part of the city. Morann continued to watch, intrigued and curious to see how things would play out. Smoke trailed from one side of the airship, leaving a streak of grey against the otherwise clear sky.

Slowly, the angle of the ship changed. The trail of smoke curved; it was no longer a straight line pointed directly at the densely packed civilization. The ship’s decent slowed as well, leveling out so that it looked as if it might manage to clear the tops of the trees and safely soar past the islands. The crew banked the ship hard to miss the last of the floating woods and level out for a rough landing on the ground far below.

Morann’s eyes narrowed. The disaster was inevitable. And while heroic deeds might have saved thousands of lives, those must be balanced. Those lives saved by noble actions needed to be weighed against the lives of others lost through malice. Morann knew what had to be done. The balance needed to be restored.

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