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THE BROKEN SKY CHRONICLES Book 3: Beyond Chapter 1 Hokk tangled his fingers in the horse’s mane and squeezed his thighs to press himself back into the saddle. The stallion had tucked its wings, ready for a nosedive. Together, they plunged straight down. Dense mist swirled wildly around them. As they sliced through the underbelly of the cloud cover and emerged into the open, a frigid wind slammed against their bodies, howling like an invisible beast fighting to defend the boundary between Above and Below. Pummelled by horizontal rain, Hokk was immediately soaked. His tinted glasses were useless in such a raging storm. He had needed them to protect his eyes against the blinding sun travelling across Elia’s sky, but down here, the dark lenses filtered out the feeble daylight and had become so splattered with water they now impaired his vision. Daring to free one hand, he yanked the glasses off and stuffed them into a pocket, then squinted at the land racing up, hoping he could spot Elia falling through the air ahead of him. You’re too late! She has already hit the ground! Hokk’s mind was still grappling with the disturbing scene he had witnessed just moments earlier—Elia, her clothes smeared with blood, struggling in the clutches of an Imperial Guard before somehow breaking free and dashing up to the top of the Grand Bridge, where she’d hastily climbed its low wall. She had glanced back at Hokk, ever so briefly, with a look of utter hopelessness that made his heart seize. Yet she turned away, and as Hokk screamed for her to stop, she leapt off the ledge. The next instant, Hokk had vaulted onto the back of the closest horse to fly down after her. But why had she committed such a desperate act? What could have gone so horribly wrong for her to choose almost certain death over being captured by Imperial Guards? As Hokk had been anticipating, his stallion’s rapid descent now stalled as the animal became caught in a layer of the atmosphere where gravity played by a different set of rules. Here, the wind was a mere caress. Even the raindrops seemed to hover around them. Hokk knew this band of near-weightlessness would’ve momentarily slowed Elia down too. However, would it have been enough for her to survive a second fall to Below? Dropping his gaze, Hokk could only make out solid terrain far beneath him. He wished instead that he could see the ocean, which might offer a softer landing. No matter the outcome, though, he had to find Elia––to retrieve her dead, broken body, if that’s all he would discover. Glancing overhead at the oppressive sky, Hokk saw churning clouds every shade of threatening grey, hanging heavy with the burden of the storm’s deluge still waiting to be released. The bottoms of the two floating islands pierced this thick blanket of mist, their rocky undersides poking through like inverted mountain peaks. The larger one was Kamanman, which Elia called home; the other, following close beside it, was the Isle of the Noble Sanctuary, where she had previously been a laundry girl, working many floors beneath the Mirrored Palace. Hokk finally registered the tug of gravity once more, so he urged his steed with a sharp kick in the ribs. The horse began flapping its wings and soon escaped the opposing force that had been holding them suspended. Descending swiftly again through the battling wind and rain, they sped towards the ground. Yet the closer they got, the more baffled Hokk became. What lay below looked like nothing he had ever observed. The landscape was far different from the grasslands where Hokk had lived in exile for so many years. In all directions, the entire area was covered by what appeared to be garbage, with no traces of rock or plant life. And most surprising of all, this large mass rose and fell as if a perpetual earthquake were rolling across its surface. Then Hokk realized what he was looking at. This wasn’t some vast, treeless plain spoiled by litter and debris. It really was the ocean! An ocean filled with undulating garbage! Less than a hundred feet above the water, Hokk pulled the horse’s mane, wrenching its neck to make it stop flying. The animal back-pedalled the air with its wings while Hokk leaned over in his saddle to study what he saw. As he had suspected, the majority of the tangled rubbish was plastic—plastic of all types and sizes—bobbing up and down. In some places, the trash had become piled in heaps like small mountains pushed up by the wave action; in other spots, there were gaps where he could see through to the deep, clear water. Hokk raised his eyes to the horizon, trying to comprehend the magnitude of this colossal island of snarled garbage, which had likely formed over countless decades. He fretfully wiped the wetness streaking down his face. Elia could have landed anywhere. And if he couldn’t find her on the surface, then that meant only one thing—she had slipped through a hole in the buoyant layer of trash and was now trapped beneath it. Drowning.
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