Mid-May, a week later, on a cloudy afternoon in Rallsburg.
Hailey stood once more at the top of the radio tower, the only structure visible outside of the gentle bowl of trees that formed the town proper. Hailey had climbed the tower several times, both before and after their discovery of magic, and each time she marveled at the view from the top. To the north the forest rolled out in a blanket of green covering the bones of some massive giant, climbing into the mountain that sat alone blocking her view of the ocean that lay beyond. In every other direction were trees, endless trees, with only the train track snaking through clearings showing any sign of civilization for miles and miles.
If Hailey strained her eyes, she could just barely make out the little building she called home. Jessica was probably sitting at the bedroom window at that very moment watching her. Hailey wished she could see as far, but she'd never learned that particular spell, and Jessica was in no position to teach her anymore.
Hailey gave a little wave, and imagined Jessica waving back. She checked once more to make sure the small leather pack was strapped tight to her waist and would not move, and that her clothes were all fitted tight against her body to reduce resistance. Then, without any further preamble, Hailey climbed over the railing and dove headfirst off the side of the tower.
For a moment, she did nothing—just closed her eyes tight and let the wind blast her face. Hailey welcomed the rush and the danger, the hint of death waiting below. It was invigorating—right up until Jessica's face popped into her mind.
With an abrupt thump, Hailey unfurled the mental wings she'd been keeping tight to her back. She could feel the air slam against them as if they were truly a part of her body, and felt herself begin to slide along the air as the great wings held against the resistant atmosphere, supplied with energy sucked out of her core. Her momentum shifted abruptly, starting a much more controlled dive in a graceful arc that carried her mere centimeters above the slope of trees that lead down to the town.
Hailey let out a shout of exhilaration as she shot past the tips of the firs at breakneck speed. If she let her feet drop any lower, Hailey was certain she'd clip the top of a tree and spin away into an abrupt end to her flight.
Instead, she managed to carry the glide all the way down to the town, where she swooped in low and landed on the top of the train station at the edge of the forest, which was currently closed. The town only saw two trains per day at most, as they had to travel along a slow winding route through the forest to reach Rallsburg, which increased travel time significantly for those wanting to reach the coast. As such, most trips bypassed the town—with its distinct lack of notable landmarks—entirely in favor of an express route straight to the beach. The usual trains that came in were mostly commercial transport, mail and other such necessities.
However, since a day or so prior, not a single train had arrived. Hailey had tried to spot a track blockage from the top of the tower, but the forest was so thick that it seemed impossible. She'd considered taking a longer glide along the track route to really test out her wings, but with no reliable way to return and Jessica dependent on the meagre income and food she brought home, Hailey didn't want to risk getting trapped out in the forest.
She wasn't sure how long she could glide, or how much altitude she could really gain from actually flapping her wings, but Hailey knew it couldn't last too long no matter how many gems she might bring along. The fatigue set in fast, even on the brief glide down from the tower. When it overwhelmed her, Hailey was at risk of simply passing out in mid-air and falling to a very painful crunch.
Hailey walked to the edge of the station and perched on the side. She really did feel like a bird sitting at the ledge, and even folded the (non-existent) wings in her mind to complete the image. With her legs dangling off the side, she pulled out a couple sandwiches from the bag tied at her waist and began to eat while she watched the town moving about its business.
She didn't want to admit it, but Hailey was avoiding her home. Hailey refused to see Jessica as a burden, and she still loved her best friend to the end of the world and back—but she felt too much guilt and sorrow every time Jess opened her mouth and only incomprehensible sound came out.
Hailey hadn't given up, and wouldn't ever give up, but she was totally out of leads. She took to the skies whenever she could, hoping that the wide empty expanse could help her think. It hadn't, but it at least brought her a sense of calm and peace—up until she became too exhausted to keep flying and had to land once again, sometimes in very conspicuous places.
It was a miracle Hailey hadn't been seen yet. The closest call had come when she'd been near one of the mansions on the east side of town. She'd been shocked to see her economics teacher, Professor Laushire, wandering the garden with a pensive look. Hailey had dove for the hedges on the edge and landed rather uncomfortably atop it, laying as still as possible and only taking flight once again hours later. Jessica had been in a panic when she'd finally returned—well after dark—but Hailey was fairly certain that the fiery haired professor hadn't spotted her.
Here though, sitting on the train station above town, Hailey spotted something odd. There were a good number of people converging on town hall. Something was going on today, wasn't it? Hailey couldn't quite remember. She thought she might have seen an invitation to a special town meeting or something, passed out by a surly looking deliveryman.
Well, she had nothing better to do, and another couple hours to kill before she had to go to work. Hailey finished off her lunch and locked her bag tight against her waist again. She checked down each street carefully before diving off the roof of the train station and snapping her wings out once more. She drifted gently down to the ground a block or so away and landed with a hard thump. Hailey brushed the dirt off her pants and set off for the hall.
Maybe she'd run into some of her old friends there.