Cutscene: A Reckless Disregard for Gravity

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(This scene and cutscene brought to you by Ronald Jenkees' Guitar Sound.)

The Tanabata River: The River of Stars.

One of the more beautiful names for any geographical feature, Sebastien Ardennais had thought, when his education about Sumaru and grasp of the language had expanded sufficiently to encompass that fragment of information.

At night, viewed from the banks, it lives up to its name: cutting its sinuous arc through the metropolitan center, it seems to reflect on its rippling, watery spine every gleaming light in every soaring skyscraper for miles around.

Viewed directly from above at a height of a few hundred feet, however, it is a black void, pitch and cold -- a ribbon of sibilant whispers, empty and fathomless. It is a crack in the world.

High above its sleek form, a shadowy figure hangs from the side of one of the many trestle bridges built to allow trains to move between the wards, feet braced against one set of I-beams. Metal and rope hiss and click in the dark, his hand groping blindly for the carabiners attached to the backpack slung behind him, the tiny firefly of his headlamp creating white clouds of his every exhale -- virtually lost in the darkness, in the snowfall. These last few clamps are redundant safety measures, which is good: his gloves are excellent, but his hands are almost frozen. It took him longer to set the gear than he expected, and his watch face sparks in the dim as he glances down to check the time.

Thirty minutes left in the maintenance window. Plenty of time.

Hauling himself back up onto the tracks, the last few days come rolling back in.

"You aren't even trying." His father's voice, furious French.

The handset of his suite phone had creaked in his hand. His stomach was a brazier of angry coals, but he'd never give pere the satisfaction: his voice was cool, dismissive. "Why bother? You sent me to public university. If you'd wanted to challenge me, Fra Mauro would have been--"

"Challenge you! You challenge /yourself/! Why should I piss more good money down the drain, when you couldn't finish at Westminst--"

His mother's voice in the background, trying to calm his father -- the last thing he'd heard before hanging up, and unplugging the phone after four solid minutes of listening to it ring.

The wealthy redhead, storming upstairs, demanding that he open the door. He'd left her waiting for forty-five minutes in the lobby, distracted with other things, uninterested in -- whatever it was that she wanted. Once he'd let her in, he'd taken her measure, he believed, correctly...but though she'd relented, though he'd parted from her company with not just her acceptance but her phone number and something shy of a flat 'no' in answer to his invite to dinner some evening...she'd still left him with a warning.

"I will be keeping my eye on you Ardennais-san. And I would continue to be careful if I were you. I know you do not need me to remind you that those with our special... abilities can be easily persecuted."

Today, when the snow began to fall, he'd known it was time. After a few last-minute checks to ensure that the train schedule tonight was running as usual, he'd returned to the Peninsula Sumaru to retrieve his gear from his room...and a teal-haired girl in the lobby had tickled the bells of his memory. He'd invited her to come with him, and she'd wanted -- in some way, he thought -- to say yes; he could find no other explanation for how troubled she seemed by her own refusal. Why anyone ought to look so unhappy about making the choice they truly wanted to make, he could not fathom.

"Have you ever...driven a car when it was snowing? Seen the way the snowflakes look as they fly toward the glass of your windshield?" Dipping his chin and cocking his head, he sought out green eyes with his fair, slightly narrowed, his voice pitched down to a softer, lower tone. "Jumping at night with the snow -- is a lot like that. But different. The cold, and the dark, and the snow. You fling yourself out into the emptiness, and as you fall, it's like falling through stars."

A pretty summary, he thinks, shrugging the backpack off and lowering it carefully down to his feet, and pulling on the straps that tighten the harness over his shoulders, around his chest, looped around either leg.

Looking out over the gulf of blackness that stretches away from the crossbeam in front of him, feeling the yawning emptiness below the soles of his sneakers...

He thinks -- as he backs up, adjusting the sit of the knitted beanie on his head -- Nowhere near pretty enough.

Sand, dust, and ice crystals grit and boards rumble beneath his feet as he vaults forward, three measured steps to the edge, and flings himself out into the abyss.

(A thousand times he's done this, and if he wanted to, all of his aerial expertise would let him somersault, twist and jackknife with all of the accuracy of a high-diver...but that's never what he wants, never how it happens, even when he plans to: the rush of cold air, the infinite nothingness suck the breath out of his lungs and he giddily pitches himself into the wild abandon of an unguided free fall, the messy, unplanned flight of a body subject to all of the powerful chaos of gravity and wind, liberated from structure, from expectation, from weight, from control, from up and down, left or right, from the authority of order, from the mandates of anyone, anything at all.)

Adrenaline bursts into his bloodstream, scoring his veins, searing every last inch of his half-frozen body, and white flecks made prismatic by the LED of the headlamp sparkle in a maelstrom of patterns that exist just beyond fathoming as he plummets down and down and down until the blood rushes to his head, until gravity sorts him out, arm overhead, fingers extended, reaching, stretching, down to the surface of the River of Stars... dip into its icy line, in one strangely quiet moment of absolute tension and stillness...

...before the cord retracts, whipping him upward again, toward the mirroring river of stars in the sky, and a silvery fantail of water chases ever-so-briefly after his fleeting touch.

"...Are you crazy?! That's--that's, you could get killed, Baz-san! Even normally, this is something dangerous, right? You'd... you'd just be throwing your life away!"

That's what Miwa had said, and he'd laughed, and she'd probably misunderstood why.

He is never more alive than in these moments.

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