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This time, sitting with Rive’s family over a table laden with food and drink, Seren knew what to expect. She ducked the food tossed to and from the people sitting beside her, she made sure her voice was loud enough to be heard when she talked, and it didn’t feel as overwhelming as it had the first time being there.

Then again, after sobbing into her engineer’s shoulder down in the depths of the shellship, Seren had already lowered the level of the stress she’d been shouldering. Rive hadn’t mentioned her crying fit, and had been acting like she’d done nothing but help earlier. Well, almost. There had been a few moments on their way back to the house that they’d kept close to her, bumping her hip every so often as if the action was a reminder she had a friend in them. A sibling. Found family.

Seren thought about that as she scooped up some of the colored on her plate. She’d never had a sibling... or maybe, to think about how Rive had talked about family, she hadn’t grown up with any siblings. Which, if that looped back to being able to find a blood relation, might change as well. If she eventually found the people who gave birth to her, it was entirely possible that they’d had other kids since she’d been born.

“... what do you think, Captain Serri?”

The tail end of a question jerked her out of her thoughts. She saw Lissa staring at her, head cocked to one side and long hair dangling just above a cream sauce dish.

“Sorry,” Seren apologized. “I was thinking about something else, and didn’t hear what you asked.”

“She asked,” said Owri, “what did they register your ship for? I mean, from what Rive was telling us, it’s not built for trade or passengers, so there has to be something you’re doing up in the sky. Otherwise they wouldn’t have let you join the guild.”

She tried to remember what the papers had said, but her mind recalled that morning as if it had happened two weeks ago.

“We’re going to be larkers.” Rive saved her, their hand inching past to snitch a piece of white cheese with holes in it. They draped the piece over their dark bread and chomped into it. Crumbs sprayed when they started speaking again. “Cloudlarkers.”

“Is there enough up there to do that?”

Rive shrugged at his dad’s question.

“It was on the sheet, so...” the trailed off and bit off some more. “That’s what we chose. And trust me, it’s going to be hard enough to find places to store the items we will find.”

“Mudlarking, I can understand,” said Flase, crunching into their salad. “Ships lose things over the sides all the time, and then the currents float it to the mud flats. Stick around the flats long enough and you’ll find something valuable and worth the time. The sky, though… If something falls, it’ll fall down to the ground, won’t it? Can’t scoop up things if they don’t float.”

“There are things that fly, though,” said Rive. “And in the sky, a person can also lark for anything that’s in the element. Lightning is a perfect example.”

Lightning? Seren tried not to stare at them. Could people actually catch and store lightning?

“Hmm...” Lissa folded her arms over her chest and leaned back against the wall. “Rive, I’m not sure this is the wisest decision you’ve ever made.”

Everyone else at the table, besides Seren, laughed at that remark. Even Lissa had a rueful smile on her lips.

“Okay, I probably could have phrased that better,” she said at the end, rolling her eyes. “But... I just want to make sure before you leave. Are you ready for this, Rive? Leaving us for the clouds?”

They nodded, a slightly more serious look chasing away the laughter from their face.

“I know it’s going to be hard, me not being here. But I’ve always been serious about this. I know you thought it was a pipedream, but it’s all I’ve wanted for years.”

“I know.” Lissa was crying now, and even though she was wiping the tears away, they were coming fast and thick. “I just had to ask… I knew this day was going to come, but, not knowing if you’re getting enough to eat, if you have a good bed to sleep in, if your Captain is taking care of you... I’m going to worry, Rive.”

Flase scooted Trili away and sat on the left side of his wife, Owri motioning for Ghaste to move so she could sit on Lissa’s right. The two of them leaned against her, Owri stroking Lissa’s hand and Flase putting a hand on her thigh.

“You’ll always worry,” said Rive, smiling. “It’s me, and it’s you.”

They stood up and walked over to Lissa, hugging her as she wrapped her own arms around him. It worked like a signal, Seren decided, as the entire family got up to join the group hug. After Rive had comforted her earlier, she’d been watching how they interacted with their family, and everything they’d done for her she saw repeated by the older members. Affirming that feelings were valid, even if the actions from those feelings were being punished—like how Trili has been sent upstairs when mentioning inappropriate topics during lunch. They were a very huggy bunch, Seren thought. And they always tried to see the other person’s point of view.

“You could be in on,” said Darfar. She turned to see the grandfather still sitting next to her on the bench.

“Why aren’t you up there?”

“What, and have them crush my bones while they smoother Rive?” He snorted. “Nah, I’ll stay here. Have my pick of the food for once.” He put action to words, taking one of the purple vegetables from Minnis’ plate and biting the tip off with a large crunch.

“Aren’t you going to miss Rive, too, though?”

He snorted.

“Of course I’ll miss my grandchild. Won’t miss the sass they give me daily, but that’s a whole different story; they all give me trouble.” Darfar lowered his voice. “Truth be told, they get their wanderlust from me, not their dad.”

“You?” She looked at him and couldn’t see it. He seemed like a stay-at-home person, happy amidst books, pens, and papers. He smiled at her and nodded.

“Truth. I spent my days away from my home as well, but for me, my bones preferred the water over the air. We sailed here with some supplies, I found Encie, and that was the start of a new chapter.”

Seren thought back to how crowded the city was, with all the people and buildings. And there was a river nearby?

“That must have been quite the switch!”

“It was. An’ since it looks like Rive is the only one with that itch to scratch, let them know I want to talk to them before they leave, all right? I’ve got a gift to give them.”

“Why don’t you tell Rive yourself?”

“Because his dad wouldn’t want me to give it. Flase always thought it’d be his, but I’d rather not wait another generation. I’ll be up late, waiting for you both to come by.” He crunched into the vegetable, finishing the conversation. Seren stabbed some noodles on her plate. What would Darfar give Rive over Flase’s objections?

The group hug broke up and everyone went back to their seat, the conversation returning to Rive and Seren going up in the air, but moving into the nitty gritty of them sharing a space.

“We’re going to be on different shifts for the first few days,” said Rive, looking at Seren. “After that though...”

“The ship is tiny,” explained Seren to their eager audience. “And it only has one bed.”

Minnis was the first to start with the younger ones.

“Rive an’ Serri an’ L-O-V. Gonna hafta kiss to find the ‘E’! When they kiss what shall we see? Rive an’ Serri—”

“I’m going to murder you, you little brat!” Rive left the table to chase after their laughing little sibling. When they caught them, tickling turned the laughter turned to shrieks.

“I don’t know though,” said Krins to Disan, not doing anything to hide the smirk. “It could happen. Rive, Serri, and an enclosed space. There have been stranger ways for relationships to start. And other… things… could be shared, if you know what I’m saying.”

“Why, no Krins!” Disan answered, eyes wide and a grin on her face. “What ‘things’ are you talking about?”

Rive let Minnis go, the little one wiping away tears of laughter, and shook their head.

“Serri, don’t feed the trolls,” they said, rolling their eyes. Then they pointed their pinky at Krins. “And I’m not interested in having sex with my captain—”

Seren’s eyes widened, and she hunched, trying not to draw attention to the redness crawling up her neck.

“—so you, Krins, can take my spanner from the lab, lather it in Darfar’s spicy sauce, and sit on it because that’s as close as you’ll ever come to sex. Disan, you can share it.”

“Rive!” thundered Owri, Lissa, and Flase at the same time; Darfar was currently howling with laughter, having started when their sauce had been added to the mix, and was thumping a fist on the table.

Rive looked at Seren, then stood up, clapping their hands together.

“Okay family. Jokes aside, I love you all, and I know you love me, but the two of us need to be up earlier than the sun if we want to be out at first light. We’re heading to bed, we’re sleeping in my room—don’t even say anything Krins, Disan, I’m warning you—and we’ll be gone before most of you wake up.”

They motioned for Seren to stand up with them, and she did, stepping away from the bench and moving to where they were.

“Enjoy the celebration and don’t worry too much. I’m sure we’ll be back this way before too long, so I’ll certainly see you in the future.”

It was easier said than done, though, and as they tried to make their way to the stairs, there were more hugs, kisses, and happiness heaped upon them than had ever happened at home. Her parents had always been welcoming, but if that had been warmth, then this was a bonfire of love. It wasn’t all for Rive either.

“Take good care of them!” Ghaste had commanded her. She’d said that she would, but in her heart she was already wondering if she could. Rive seemed so much more… put together than she was.

Minnis bouncing up and down in front of her had pushed that notion away though, and they’d given Seren a kiss when the older girl had picked them up.

“Send us presents, please?” Seren laughed, and before she could reply, Minnis had slipped away to make the same request of Rive.

Krins hadn’t really said much; they had nodded and given Seren a wrapped piece of paper, a note on the outside saying to unfold it when they were up in the air.

Habir and Trili had come up together, the brother-sister duo giving hugs while Mekin had placed a kiss on each cheek.

“Be careful, find friends, and come home to say hello,” Disan had said, her eyes a little teary. “And don’t let Rive get a big head, they need to be taken down a bit sometimes.”

Darfar had just waved at the two of them, popping something else into his mouth, and then the parents were in front of them, blocking the pathway to the stairs.

“We know you're not going to change your mind, so just keep our rules in line,” said Lissa, rubbing Rive’s shaved head. “And when did you decide you hated your hair?”

“Keep in contact with us,” said Owri. “There are others up in the sky, and if they’re heading this way, we’ll pay them in food and company for letters.”

“And be good,” followed up Flase. “Right now, it’s the two of you, and you have to be able to depend on each other. But with new people, new locations, and even extra crew members, it’ll be up to you to listen to your hearts. Be kind. Be smart. And be understanding.”

Rive promised, and Seren nodded, acknowledging Flase’s advice. Those were last words as Rive and Seren started up the stairs, claps, cheers, and good wishes following them. Seren paused as Rive stopped at the top, then turned to the right.

“Do you have everything you need from your lab?”

Rive shook their head.

“I actually can’t bring all that much with me. Not after seeing the size of the Picotree Drop. There’s already the tool set there, so I’ll continue using that, and I’ll bring one or two of my own pieces, but there’s nothing here we’d really need besides food, and my parents have that packed to go in the kitchen.”

“Darfar said that he has something to give you,” said Seren, passing along the message. “He wanted you to go and get it from him though.”

Rive arched an eyebrow at her.

“Did he say what it was, or when he wanted me to go get it?”

“He mostly talked about you inheriting your itch to travel from him, and that he used to roam the waterways.”

“We’ll see him before we leave, then. He’s usually awake at the same time as the bakers are.”

Rive opened the door to their room and lit the lantern that was at the doorway, the fire chasing away the shadows.

“I hope you can get to sleep quickly, we’ve got only five hours before we’ll need to leave.” They pulled out two thick mats from a shelf and arranged them so that window would let the sunlight hit their faces. “You’ve got the red one, it’s for guests and ghosts.”

Seren looked at the rich fabric, yawning as she tried to keep her eyes open. Rive placed a pillow at one end, then threw a blanket over it.

“I’ll go ask Krins for something to sleep in. And if they have any extra clothing you can take with you, I can’t believe I didn’t think of that earlier.” Rive hit themselves lightly in the head. “If I had thought about it, we could have even gotten a mat like the ones here for the other person to sleep on.”

“We could have,” agreed Seren, “but I think you’re right. If we’re going to need someone outside on lookout, then the other person can sleep. Sure, some hours will overlap, but not enough that the bed would need to fit both of us at the same time.”

She yawned.

“You’re not much for late nights, are you?”

“Not really,” she said. “The sun’s set and I’m usually only up for a few hours after that. I think I’m just going to drop and sleep right now.”

“Sounds like a good idea. I’m going to gather the few things I did want to bring along, and then I’ll join you in sleeping.”

“I can stay awake—”

Rive was already waving her off, turning to the doorway.

“Don’t worry about me, I won’t be too long.” He took a step away, then looked back at her. “I promise, there’s no need for you to keep yourself up.”

“Okay, okay.” Seren covered her mouth with a hand as she yawned again. Off her shoes went, neatly placed at the edge of the mat. Normally she didn’t sleep in socks, but it was a little cooler here than at home, so she decided to keep her socks on. Lying on her side, she pulled the blanket over herself and turned so that she was facing the window. Sleeping in her clothes would be fine for a night, and if Rive got some more from Disan, then Seren would have something to wear when the others were drying after a wash.

Rive took the lantern with them, the harsher light dimming. Seren looked out at the moon and wondered how she would fall asleep since she was so excited. Ideas and mental notes swirled around her head; soap for washing clothes, dried berries for water bottles, jars that could hold lightning, instruments that could hold thunder. And there was something she tried to remember about the guild, something about how people could increase their skills, but between one breath and another, she exchanged those thoughts for dreams.

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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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