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My avatar didn't materialise at a designated starting area like a temple or city square. Instead, the system delayed my start by showing me his life story without the option to skip. The first scene started in a small wooden room. It was larger than Maya's family unit but furnished sparsely. A large wooden desk took up the majority of the space, and there were three chairs arranged around it. I was sure the hinges on the wall belonged to a foldout bed, and the handholds were for drawers. Emboldened letters filled my vision, drawing my attention to the two people in the office.

Aether Scarred

"Thermomancer Khan, how can I help you?" the woman behind the desk asked. Her shoulders were broader than the Mage sitting across the table from her, and her arms were thicker as well. It wasn't that he was skinny - he wasn't. She was a warrior and had the scars to prove it. "Please don't tell me one of your spells failed again. I don't like docking a crew member's pay, but I will if I have to."

"Nothing's wrong on my end, Captain Asea," Khan replied. There was a tremor in his voice, and he struggled to look his Captain in the eye. She expected perfect spells but only paid the guild enough for an Apprentice-ranked Thermomancer, she had no right to complain. However, he didn't want to highlight the point and aggravate her needlessly. "It's one of the enchantments in your freezer hold. It's malfunctioning and leaking Aether. I'm not sure whether they're connected to the ship's core in series or parallel. If it's the former, you could be looking at a mass breakdown."

"So fix it, Khan. Why are you wasting my time?"

"My contract doesn't cover fixing enchantments."

"To the Sky Leviathan's arse with your contract. Just fix it." Her fierce gaze was almost enough to break the Mage, but he remembered the guild charter and held his ground. Their fines and the risk of demotion were more terrifying than the Captain's wrath. "It's barely been half a day since we left port, could you not have spotted this during your inspect?!"

"You don't understand Captain. I neither have the expertise nor the correct tools on board. My job ends at recharging all Thermomancic Attunements, keeping the propulsion equipment cooled and maintaining the temperature in the vegetable hold. There is something behind the walls damaging the Arcanic Circuitry-"

"Spare me the jargon, Thermomancer. Tell me what needs doing."

"We'll need to dock soon and find an Artificer, or you are looking at the possibility of an enchantment shut down or reversal. May I suggest Nimbus? We won't have to deviate much off course, and you're looking at no more than a day added to the voyage, instead of two."

"Fine," Captain Asea growled. Her brows furrowing into an ugly scowl. "However, if you end up being wrong I'm removing you from the crew and cutting ties with that piece of shite guild of yours."

"If I'm right, you'd be risking not just what's in the freezer hold, but the entire cargo," Khan retorted. "If there is a complete reversal of enchantments, you might be risking the entire crew. You could lose your men to Aether poisoning or Arcanic fire."

"Khan, watch your tone." If the chill in Captain Asea's voice were literal, there'd be no need for a Thermomancer on her ship, Fat Cuckoo.

"Sorry, Captain."

Then the scene shifted, and I was following someone new. I don't know how the system was transmitting so much information into my brain, but all of a sudden, I knew his name, job and surface thoughts.

Abandoned

Portmaster Wright didn't like unscheduled stops in his sliver of the sky docks. Being the furthest from the military quarter, it had the lightest security. His colleagues demanded bribes of visiting ships for the good spots, so only the destitute ships visited his poorly-maintained neck of the woods. Unscheduled visits meant emergencies, smugglers in disguise or worse pirates.

The Fat Cuckoo was a pleasant change. Its paperwork weren't forgeries, the crew were well behaved, and there were no scorch marks or holes on the hull. William Wright reasoned it was the no-nonsense Captain. It was likely she wasn't willing to pay the exorbitant prices his fellow portmasters charged. William was content with what the city paid him. He didn't accept bribes from merchants that wanted a monopoly over the stall space either. The poor sailors and captains that visited his neck of the woods could rarely afford them. Instead, he gave the space to smaller business and guilds at the base city rate.

Before granting the ship his seal of approval, William had one last job, checking the cargo. He didn't think Captain Asea was a smuggler, but it was his duty to inspect. His inspection of the vegetable hold went fine. He tapped a couple of gourds to make sure they hadn't been hollowed out and stuffed with drugs. There wasn't any contraband at the fruit crates either. He made a note of two insects he spotted. They weren't indigenous to the sky island, and the city council was strict about keeping foreign pests from ruining the ecosystem. It was unlikely the Captain intended to unload any of her cargo in Nimbus, but he planned to let flag the issue anyway. Her Thermomancer wasn't doing a good enough job.

It was in the freezer hold that he sensed something was wrong. To start with, it wasn't as cold as he'd expected it to be, and his cloud fox, Iris, was sniffing and scratching at the walls.

"What is it, girl?" He asked, following her behind the stacked boxes. It wasn't uncommon for smugglers to hide the illegal cargo behind the walls. Often the contraband would move around during transit and damage the enchantments that kept everything safe and functioning.

Iris yipped and barked scratching at the wooden panelling. When he pressed his ears against it, he heard not only movement but a sneeze- a very human sneeze.

William ripped at the wall alarmed. Being born of Plainsmen parents he wasn't particularly strong or Arcanically gifted. However, he was the fourth son in a family of shipwrights. Even though he hadn't joined the family business, William knew his way around skyships and how to access the supposedly inaccessible. So, he had gotten into the habit of carrying a Tinker's multitool during his cargo inspections. The implement was out of fashion and dated, but he took good care of it, and it took care of him.

Calling his assistant from the deck above would have been the smarter decision. However, he didn't want to risk alerting the crew. Human traffickers tended to be ruthless. It took some effort to force the multitool into the space between the wooden planks. Fortunately, the alchemical treatments designed to help them withstand and trap the cold had made them flexible. But, once in, he had little trouble levering them apart.

Portmaster Wright found a baby. Its hands were covered in blue luminescent dust, and his eyes gave off a similar glow. There was no doubt about him being the reason behind the malfunctioning enchantments. It didn't take me long to figure out that the caramel-skinned boy with curly locks of black hair was me.

Neither he nor the Fat Cuckoo's crew could figure out where the child had come from. A thorough investigation of the ship proved they weren't equipped for such smuggling or human trafficking - they didn't carry the necessary weapons, tools or extra rations. Besides, their cargo of rare frozen meats was worth a lot more than a baby.

Then, I was older and wearing the name Krawster Wright.

Adopted

Portmaster Wright lost his wife to childbirth, and the baby had passed not long after. There was an emptiness in his heart that needed filling. Besides, having lived as a city employee for several decades, William knew where the council's infrastructure excelled and where it failed. Nimbus treasured its orphans and urchins. Without them, the workhouses would be empty. Forcing the industrialists and merchants to employ adults who knew how to stand up for a fair wage. So, he took the child in.

"I thought I taught you better than this," William said, wiping the blood off of my brow. "Not only was what you did stupid, but selfish as well."

Krawster looked eight, maybe nine years old. His clothes were dirty and ripped, his knuckles were bruised, and his lips were split and swollen. He'd been in a fight. There was no doubt about it. I wasn't sure whether the system was responding to my thoughts, or it had anticipated what I wanted to know. When I wondered what the boy had been involved in, William carried on.

"Pride and temper. You can't afford to have either of those." He pulled his trusty multitool from his pocket and moved a slider down its length. Krawster reached for the sleek metal rectangle, but William swatted his hand away. The adoptive father pressed the implement against his son's forehead, and I knew it'd be cold. "No. You don't get to play with the majiggy. You fight, you don't get the majiggy. You steal, you don't get the majiggy. When you're bad, you don't get the majiggy."

"I'm sorry," Krawster said. His voice was hoarse, probably from crying or shouting. I couldn't be sure. Looking at the boy, I guessed it was the latter. In the tower, cry babies rarely walked home with bloody knuckles.

The house was small and cramped but clean. The stove and kitchen sink sat against one wall. A bed and cupboard were pushed up against the opposite side of the room. An old wooden table with four chairs furnished the centre. The only other room I could see was the doorless washroom beside the exit. It was a small space barely enough for one person. Yet, William had made room for Krawster.

"I didn't raise you to be a thief, son. I had to call in a favour to ensure you don't end up on the constabulary's watch. You know how that reflects on me?" Portmaster Wright's eyes were bloodshot, and there were bags under them. He looked sleep deprived and unwell. "Why did you do it, Krawester? I've always tried to provide for you."

"I don't like it when they call me a crow," Krawster answered. He wiped his nose on his sleeveless forearm and but left the tears flooding his eyes alone. "They said if I got them the sweets. they'd stop."

"Son, you can't let bullies run your life," William said. He pressed the now frosted over multitool against his adopted son's lip. Krawster flinched but didn't pull away as one would expect boys his age to. "If you let them know name-calling bothers you, they'll never stop. You look different. So they'll like to treat you as if you are. Do you not realise their fun ends when you stop reacting."

"But I don't like it," Krawster whined. "Crows are thieves. I don't want to be a thief!"

"So you thought agreeing to steal for them would make you less of a crow?" William asked, and the dam holding back Krawster's tears finally broke. "Crows are scavengers son. There is nothing wrong with being a scavenger. You take something others don't want, and then you find a way to turn it into something beautiful."

William pulled a notepad and pen out of his pocket. Both were as old and humble as the little one-room house. He had to spend several moments scrawling on the squiggle covered back page before ink flowed through the nib. Portmaster Wright wrote Krawster in block letters across the page.

"This is the name I decided for you. However, I've decided it won't be the name on your adoption papers."

Next, William scribed the word crow. Then he did it again but started it with a capital K.

"You look different from the people of Nimbus. Someone will always call you a crow. We might as well take the fun out of it by making it your official name. What do you think?"

Krawster Wright didn't look convinced. At first, I thought, my soon to be avatar wasn't smart enough to understand his adoptive father's message, but then he took his father's pen and added an e to the end.

"Why?" William asked.

"It looks fancy." Krowe Wright answered.



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jpuntuned

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