The first time Avery flew was in the dead dark of a winter night, while his mother and a good portion of the city were fast asleep in their warm beds. Trembling with the fear that his mother might awaken to discover him preparing to leave — or worse, that she would be awake when he returned, having figured out he was gone — Avery bundled himself against the cold.
He floated through the house, using his Talent to raise himself a few inches above the floor so his mother would be certain not to hear his footsteps. He’d known that he could fly for as long as he could walk, but he’d never been allowed to before. It was like knowing he could walk while being trapped in the back seat of a car, unable to stretch his legs.
Only one week after his birth, laws had been passed in Cormanthyr, by popular vote, that required every newborn to be tested at birth to determine whether they were Powered. A short month later, a second, more devastating law had been passed, despite harsh resistance from prominent Powered individuals. Though it was more nuanced than its opponents portrayed, it basically forced Powered individuals to intervene when non-Powered people were in danger.
So it was that Avery’s mother was determined to hide the fact that he was Powered from the world. She said it was safer that way. She didn’t want him to get hurt. He was not invincible, she said, even though he felt it. He knew he was very strong, strong far beyond what was natural, and durable, too. He could move things with his mind, and — most importantly, at least right now — he could fly.
He donned his heaviest socks before he left his bedroom. He used his Talent to reach out to his sock drawer and lift it with care, rather than using his hands, which were clumsy by comparison. He didn’t have snow pants, so he put a pair of sweatpants on over a pair of jeans, hoping that would be warm enough. He didn’t know how fast he could fly, but he knew the wind of his movement would make the frigid air seem even colder.
Avery put on a thick hat, a pair of gloves, and a pair of mittens. He didn’t need his hands to be free, after all, but he did need to keep his fingers warm. He wrapped a scarf around his face and tucked it tightly into his coat. Last of all, he put on his swim goggles. He had joined the swim team last year in preparation for this night, so that he’d have a reason to ask his mom to buy him the goggles, which his research told him would really improve his experience and help protect his eyes.
His breath, trapped by the scarf, pushed upward and layered a light fog over his goggles. Avery breathed deeply, in and out. With his Talent, he pushed a part of himself into the sliding door that lead out to the balcony. He floated outward, only an inch above the ground. He mimed walking in case someone was observing him, but at this hour, it seemed unlikely.
When he closed the door behind him, his heart stopped for a moment. Not because it had made a loud sound. It had not. He had no fear, now, of awakening his mother by his actions, though he still worried she might wake on her own. No, the thunk as the door sealed had a sound of finality. He felt committed to the endeavor more fully than he ever had before, even though he’d been planning this for over two years.
“Planning” may have been too strong of a word. He’d certainly dreamed about it for that long, and longer. His fears about being found out had forestalled him from acting, though. He’d had to work up his courage to even ask his mother to join the swim team, and he knew she had no idea why, exactly, he wanted to join.
She’d probably thought he was nervous because she hadn’t let him join other teams in the past. She was too worried that he would use his full strength on accident, and either reveal himself or serious hurt someone. Or both. But with swimming, that was unlikely. She had gladly allowed him to sign up for the team.
Wind cut across Avery’s only exposed skin, his cheeks, and he shivered, though under his layers he was still warm. Too warm, in fact, but he’d rather that than risk injury from the cold. His apartment building was dark. Too many people here lived on too little income to spend money leaving lights on unnecessarily at night. He’d been counting on that, and the layer of clouds covering the light of even the stars, to cover his escape.
Avery swallowed. He looked over the edge of the balcony. He’d never flown more than a few feet off of the ground, and now that the thought of holding himself unsupported four stories above the ground seemed intimidating rather than exciting.
He lifted himself upward by his Talent, bending his legs so that he fit easily between the railing that surrounded the balcony and the bottom of the balcony that belonged to the apartment above. He placed one hand on the railing, ready to support himself should he find out, disastrously, that there was a height limit to his power.
People with Talents limited as such existed. There were Talents that allowed for true flight, and Talents that only allowed what Avery thought of as hovering, where they could repulse themselves from the ground by some limited amount but not soar into the sky. He felt like he could truly fly, but he’d never had the chance to prove it.
Now he did. With one hand resting on the railing, he looked downward. His feet dangled above nothingness. In the dark, he could barely make out the ground. He wondered, briefly, if he would take harm from the fall. Like his flight, he’d never had a true chance to test his durability, though for that he felt at least somewhat grateful.
The city was never quiet, but now all Avery could hear was the sound of his blood rushing through his veins. He let go of the railing. He did not fall. His Talent held him suspended in the air. Beneath his scarf, he smiled. The scratchy weave made his cheeks itch, but he barely felt it.
Avery resisted the urge to let out a whoop of excitement. He looked up and, casting his reservations into the cold winter wind, he rose. He kept himself close to the building at first, hugging the brick between the rows of windows to lessen the chance of someone who happened to be looking out catching a glimpse as his shadow passed by.
Avery’s excitement rose alongside him. He pushed himself upward faster and faster. He burst past the roof of his apartment building and into the open sky, where he continued to rise. He breathed in deeply through his scarf. He felt fast, and so incredibly free. It was like stretching and building muscles he’d never even realized he’d neglected.
The city stretched out below him, lights twinkling in a better imitation of a starry sky than the cloudy ceiling above. He slowed, then stopped, not wishing to go too high. He knew that the air would grow colder as he rose, and that breathing would become more difficult, but he didn’t know exactly how high he could push himself. Avery’s heart thumped. In the distance, some of the tallest skyscrapers reached almost as high as Avery’s heals.
He hesitated to say Anaselise looked small from here, but it did look smaller. He’d never been outside the city in this way. He wished he could see this view in the daylight. City lights gave him only a hint of the outline of the city: a series of rocky islands perched at the edge of the High Inland Sea, which pushed through breaks in the archipelago to fall hundreds of feet into the Low Inland Sea.
Avery had seen photos and film of the city from above, but to experience it himself made it feel so much more real and alive than a flat image could ever portray.
Then Avery looked down, and realized just how high above the ground he was. Without warning he felt the cold of the night seeping in through his clothes, closer and more present than it had been only moments before. He realized that he couldn’t see his apartment building, or rather, that he didn’t know which one it was, both because of the dark and the unfamiliar angle.
Avery began to drop, a new fear of being unable to find his way back to his balcony welling up alongside all of the old fears that had stopped him from trying to fly in the first place: that his mother would discover him; that his Talent would suddenly fail him mid-flight; that he would run into a plane; that a surveillance drone or even another Powered would catch sight of him and pursue him.
Anxiety made swallowing difficult. What he could see of the buildings below him didn’t look at all familiar. Avery began to sweat despite the fact that the cold had fully infused his pants, making the fabric itself cold enough that it brought him a further chill ever time it bent to touch his skin.
He didn’t want to draw within range of the street lamps, but it wasn’t until he was floating just above them that he came to recognize his surroundings. Either he hadn’t flown straight up, or he hadn’t descended straight down, or perhaps both, because he had somehow wound up almost a full two blocks to the east.
He followed the streets home, not trusting himself to hold his orientation by attempting to fly their straight over the buildings. He still flew, though he knew it was a risk, this close to the ground and the city lights. He wanted to hold onto that feeling of freedom, of doing something that reached out toward his potential, for as long as he could.
Because he was accustomed to approaching his building from the front, that’s where the streets led him. As when he had left, he flew close to the brick wall of the apartment building, staying between the windows. He flew low of the rooftop, close enough that he could have walked, then descended down the other side until he recognized the plants in their pots that identified his balcony.
He opened the door with his Talent, unlatching it carefully and pulling back just the right amount so that even the lock and the latch would make no sound. He glided inside, still hovering so that his feet would make no sound.
There was no sign of his mother. He sighed in relief. He returned his coat and gloves to their place in the closet, and set his shoes by the door. Though he felt exhaustion creeping into his very bones, he made sure to put his goggles back into his swimming bag before collapsing into bed.