The woven basket touched down lightly onto the ground. Duardh felt the tension start to drain out of his toes and onto the grass. He never imagined that his invention would work so well as it did but, after two days of experimentation, he was confident that he had proven his theory correct- heating air made it somehow “lighter” than other air and that difference could be harnessed in order to provide lift.
Granted, he thought, sustaining this effect would be almost impossible without Xirr’s everburning coals. The magic stones had been burning since before the Magocracy had fallen and in addition to their utility for balloon travel they were dead useful when thrown into the camp stove or buried under the ground to warm a campsite for sleeping.
Xirr tumbled out of the basket that dangled from the bottom of the large patchwork balloon. “That was absolutely incredible- this contraption of yours will do wonders for my research- few have had occasion to study the birds from such a vantage point. One question though… how do you steer the thing? It seems to be beholden to the winds.”
Duardh hated this about his friend- the gnome was just so simply genuine and without guile that he didn’t recognize the dampening effect that his statement had on the inventor’s moment of success. He makes a good point, the orc thought, the wind is going to be a big problem, especially given how unpredictable it can be at this… then he saw it- a spring-loaded stake attached to a sturdy cord- a small metal box full of gears- using the descent to wind for the ascent- he had to get to his study and send word to a certain elvish spring winder…
* * * * * * * *
His arm almost jerked from its socket as the contraption sprang to life. Xirr’s feet flew from the ground as the whirring metal box shot back towards the basket, over 40 gnomes high. With a squeak of excitement he realized that this was the fastest he had ever been made airborne (although the time he let Duardh shoot him out of a trebuchet was a close second) and he suppressed an urge to clap his hands with glee. Instead he held on desperately as terror tempered his joy, thinking only now that he might suggest a harness to Duardh for future ascents. The orc looked on with anxiety plain on his face, they had agreed that it was probably best to test the “lift box” with the much lighter gnome first but Duardh was equal parts grateful and apprehensive for the decision. While it was the logical choice, dropping his best friend from that far up wasn’t his idea of a good time- Hm, maybe I should attach a harness, he thought as he watched his tiny friend rocket skyward. At the top of the sturdy rope the box began to slow, ending within reach of the rope ladder that hung off the side of the floating basket. High pitched peals of excited/nervous laughter fell from the balloon, signaling his friend had enjoyed/survived the trip. After a moment to catch his breath the gnome climbed back down the ladder, flipped the catch on the “lift box” and hung from it as it eased him back to the ground- the collection of gears and springs inside winding and slowing the descent to a comfortable level. As his friend touched down, small feet balancing him on the heavy terrium stake Duardh finally let his tension break and let loose a barking laugh.
“It works! I honestly can’t believe it!” He laughed, picking up his friend and spinning him around in the air.
Xirr’s face whitened slightly “Pardon, how unsure were you when you sent me up there?”
“We might have considered adding a harness… especially for the test run.” Was the orc’s only reply. “Or at least a cushion or something… nevermind. But you know what this means, we can start our trip to Broadleef, as promised. With this we can avoid the pirates, the frigid mountains, the sea monsters, all of it, just waft lightly to Renser, enjoying one another’s company, fishing on the open seas, basking in the sun.”
“Yeah,” replied the gnome, “what could possibly go wrong?”