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Seren walked forward, ducking slightly as she made progress to the flickering light ahead of her. Even though the dark space hadn’t been as spider filled as she’d worried, after sailing the open sky and looking over the world from a spot in the branches, this feeling of walls was too tight. The fact that she was shorter than Rive made her wonder how tall the original owner had been... or had they just walked on, uncomfortable in their hunching as they tried not to hit their head?

She popped out at the end, straightening, since there was finally enough room for her to stand. Rive was leaning over the engine, poking at bits and pieces of it, and at their feet was a combined piece of metal that was probably supposed to be elsewhere.

“Thanks,” she said, stepping to stand beside them. “I needed that.”

“Needed what?” Rive turned, a surprised look on their face. “I could actually use some help, I only have two hands.”

“Getting me away from Bri.” Seren kept her voice down and glanced over her shoulder. “I want us to be out of here as quickly as possible.”

“Because you think blackmailing her won’t work? Or is it because she’s suspicious of you?” Rive handed her a tool and she took it, glancing at the pointy end. “I mean, of course she’s keeping a close eye on you. I’d be doing the same if I hadn’t gotten to know you a bit better.”

That hurt.

“I thought you wanted to be my friend?” she asked, her voice echoing around the space and sounding small. “And my engineer.”

Rive looked over at her and let out a sigh. They placed their tool down on the ground with a small thunk.

“I did, and I still do.” They took a step toward her and smiled, nudging her with an elbow. “My point was that you’re not acting like anyone I know who lives here, and that’s going to make you someone to keep track of, even if it’s just to make sure you’re not doing something against the law. Think about your lack of world-changing event knowledge, a ship made from a shell, and coming in with a pirate crew you’re not factioned with. Add that to not having any other crewmates, even though your ship is pretty small. All of that combined means anyone would want to know more about you.”

Seren opened her mouth to argue, but realized that she really couldn’t. Everything Rive had said was true. And if someone similar had come to the island, then it would have been her watching them, muttering “interesting” while flipping through sketchbooks or inspecting what books they were reading.

“Fine. What am I supposed to do now?” she grumbled. Rive gave her a quick hug, which made her squeak in surprise, then turned back to the engine parts before them.

“Fix the engine?” they suggested. “Or, actually, since you’re the captain, you’re supposed to tell me how to fix the engine.”

She half heard what they said, the effects from the previous conversation with Bri lingering in their mind.

“Rive, I have another question.”

“I have an answer.” There was a pause. “Maybe. I guess that’ll depend on the question?”

“I... “ She took a deep breath and rubbed her face. There was no one else she could talk about this with, there was nowhere else she could go to be by herself, and if she didn’t say anything, she thought the pressure would just break her from the inside. “I think... I think my parents lied to me.”

They opened their mouth, then pressed their lips together. Seren took that as a motion for her to continue.

“When I was growing up, they told me they didn’t know who my parents were. Talking with Bri, I realized that since they’re so insistent that I have magic, they must know something about at least one of the people I’m related to by blood.”

“I’m not sure you’re asking a question, actually,” Rive said, rubbing the back of their head. “Which means I don’t have an answer to give you.”

“Should I try to find my parents?” She took a deep breath. “They might be out there, somewhere, and—”

“Where are your dad and father?”

“Back on the island.” At least, she hoped they were back on the island. She was fairly certain they knew she was missing at this point, but maybe they were talking with the person whose ship she’d stolen, or were spending time looking in all of her hiding spots... though, with dad controlling wind, that wouldn’t take too long either. And the shellship was so unique, it would be easy for them to figure out she’d been in Viadora.

Rive shrugged.

“Then you don’t need to find anyone. The people that brought you up and raised you, they’re your parents.”

“But—”

Rive snorted.

“No buts about it. I mean, look at my family.”

“You’re all related to your father, though, right?” The mix of orange and blue had certainly suggested it.

“So?” Rive laughed. “It doesn’t matter to us.”

“Easy to say when it’s something you already have.”

Orange eyes rolled.

“Look, you saw how everyone reacted when I brought you home. My parents care about the other kids in the neighborhood. Hell, my tutor became a part of the family since he was over at the house all the time. Family has nothing to do with blood, and the same goes for parents.”

“That’s one way that families can happen,” Seren said, clutching her thoughts to her chest. This was a mistake. Trying to explain herself, her feelings to Rive was a mistake. She was going to lose everything because she hadn’t been able to keep her mouth shut. And yet, as much as her brain was yelling at her, she didn’t stop talking. “But, when two people have a baby—”

“That’s how new people are born, but that’s not how parents come about.” Rive held up their hands. “This might be a better topic for a later time? I know I have my own opinions and you have your opinions, and both of them can be right even if we can’t see it. I’m going to add one more thing, and then we should really figure out the engine.”

They continued with their explanation.

“Mostly what I think is that family and parents are people you can be yourself around. Where they are, that’s home. It’s a sanctuary, a safe spot, or at least it should be. A place isn’t really home if you don’t want to be there. It’s just a house then.”

Seren froze. Just a house.

“And I doubt you think a person should stay in an unsafe situation, with a family made of jerks. You don’t have to answer this now—”

“I don’t know. Some people might not realize their family are jerks...”

“Really?”

Seren glared at Rive.

“Yes, really, I don’t know, okay?! You’re my first actual friend that I’ve been able to talk to face to face, everyone else on the island went home at night and I never saw their families and all I know is being with my dad and father and now I feel betrayed because they’ve been keeping secrets from me and then you’re telling me that family has more than one definition—” She cut off suddenly as Rive stepped forward and wrapped them in a hug.

“Okay, we’re dropping this topic for now,” they whispered. She mumbled something into their chest and they laughed. “You and I are going to have some real talks when we get this ship back into the air, and I hope you like hugs, since I think I’m going to be giving you plenty. I don’t know your parents, the people that raised you, but the more I find out, the more I’m really starting to not like them.”

Seren squirmed at that, but Rive tightened their hug.

“Something else we’re going to discuss is found family. Family doesn’t have to be bound by blood. If they are, that’s great. It’s a bonus. If they aren’t, that doesn’t mean you’ll never have a family. It just means that you need to find them and make your own.”

“But where—” she asked, but Rive’s hands rubbed her back.

“And I’m going to say this as much as it’s needed. You’ve already found a sibling.” Rive let out a small huff, but Seren suspected it to be more of a laugh. “I may have just met you, but I’d be happy to be a part of your family.” The hug became tighter, and Seren started crying into Rive’s shoulder. “We’ll adventure together and I’ll be by your side the whole way through. And if you do something stupid, I’ll tell you to correct it since I’m sure you’ll do the same for me.”

“Thank you, Rive,” whispered Seren, wiping her face on their shirt’s fabric. “I just… I don’t know what to think right now. My parents, I trusted them, and now I don’t know world events that I should have learned, and, maybe there’s part of me they just kept hidden—”

“It’s okay.” Rive moved backwards a bit and looked her in the eyes. “I’ll be honest. Right now is not the time to have the breakdown I think you need. We need to get this fixed and fly out of here as fast as possible. Once we’re in the air we can talk about what you’re feeling.”

“Oh... okay.” Seren wiped the last remains of her tears away from her eyes. Rive had a really good point, she—they, actually—didn’t have time for anything but leaving. “What can I do to help?”

Rive clapped her on the shoulder.

“That’s the attitude! We can do this!” They gestured back at the engine. “The propeller is in working order, which is why I needed to check that beast out. It looks like the compressor’s not living up to its name. That’s either going to involve us finding the part I think is missing and putting it back into place with the tools here, or the rest of the day to go buy one. There was already a tool set down here, and the lantern, so I’d like to think the part’s around her somewhere, but I can’t find it since it’s so small.”

Excitement flashed through Seren.

“That little amount of time? And then we can be back up in the clouds?”

“This engine isn’t really that complicated, it’s just big. Either that or I’m just such an awesome engineer!”

She laughed at that, half hiccuping because of her tears.

“Okay, I can help search. What does it look like?”

“It’s about the size of your finger, but not as thick, and there’s a small piece of looped string on the end. For this type of engine, it allows the engineer to check the combustion chamber, but with it missing it means there’s not enough pressure for the air.”

“Right… I understand those words, but not them all together. I can at least look for a missing part, though.” Seren moved to take the lantern with her, but Rive stilled her hand.

“I know I’m asking a bit much, but I’m going to need the light so you’ll have to search by touch.”

In the dark? Thrusting her hand into the darkness and hoping that something didn’t bite her, or skitter across her skin? Well… it wasn’t as if she’d found insects on the shellship, but growing up with scorpions, bees, and fire ants, that fear was a little hard to break. Seren took a deep breath. This was just like the bat cave she’d found when she was little, and if she could go through with that, then she could continue onward with this. Besides, Rive was depending on her, and they were family now.

A small smile grew on her face. She stood up straighter, wiped the tear tracks from her eyes. Looked around the room with its walls made of wood and shell, the darkness that existed beyond their little circle of light. She then nodded at Rive.

“Keep the lantern, I’ll be fine.”

Rive nodded back at her.

“I know you’ll be fine, captain.” They saluted. “You see if that item is in here, and I’ll continue checking the engine. It looks as if the propeller was originally built to work best in water, but I think I’ll be able to jury-rig something that’ll allow us to get better use in the air, since it doesn’t look like we’ll be using sails on this ship.”

Seren got on her hands and knees and started with the area still in the light—the part she was looking for could have fallen out and rolled under the engine after all. It took about five minutes to check, and sweeping her hand under the light opening at the bottom only resulted in a long scratch on her hand going from left to right.

“Just making sure,” she said to Rive as they watched. “The amount of times I’ve found something after it rolled under my bed…” Oh! Had she checked under the bed here? Those registered papers might be there, or even the papers for fixing the propeller and engine, if the previous hadn’t been an engineer. She made a mental note to check, then went back to searching.

She stepped over to the side nearest the opening she’d come through and, with only a slight hesitation, began reaching into the darkness. Rive turned back to their work, muttering something under their breath that was too low for her to make out, but they didn’t sound unhappy. They didn’t sound happy either.

In this almost-silence the two of them worked, Seren moving around the room like the hand of a clock and Rive anchoring her in the center. When she came upon the opposite of where she’d started from, she let out a sigh.

“No luck?”

“None.” She shook her head. “I think this is proof that I don’t have luck-based magic, isn’t it?”

“Nah. Not finding the part is small luck. Like I said, I’ll be able to get the part out in town. And we need to stay a bit longer, too.”

She looked over at him.

“My parents are going to want to say goodbye.” Rive smiled. “Knowing them, they’ll make sure we’re well supplied with food and water.”

“There’s a water spell in the kitchen, so we won’t have to worry about that at least.” She thought about the fruit water she’d had aboard the Crimson Cloud with Captain Juji.

“It would be great to have some berries with other water bottles though. And food is always good; I didn’t know how to stock up again when I was flying here.”

“Sky fishing. We’ll need some nets as well, maybe a pole or two.”

“And you need your key.”

Rive paused, then nodded at that.

“Exactly. So, by tomorrow’s dawn, it looks like we’ll be able to fly out.”

Seren cheered, then clapped her hands over her mouth.

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About the author

CoffeeQuills

  • Tokyo
  • Dust Warrior

Bio: CoffeeQuills is a transplanted Floridian, living in the Land Rising Sun. They write for 4thewords (an RPG for writers) and in the twists of space and time created by caffeine, they enjoy coming up with stories all along the spec-fic range. Anything goes for this Hufflepunk, so hold tight and pretend it's a plan!

“This is who I am, right here, right now, all right? All that counts is here and now, and this is me!”

(Currently back after a long hiatus - apologies to those I owe chapters and mail too. The plan is to update fictions and continue with a once a week schedule.)

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