Briarrshi watched the entire time as the cradle holding the small ship freed the Picotree Drop into the air with a mechanical swing. Seren wasn’t sure if the woman was worried one of them would report her illegal threading, or if she always needed to see ships off with her own eyes. Possibly both.
Seren took her place at the tree’s base after dropping the food bag she carried into the main room; Rive disappeared into the depths to fix the engine. Their passage was smooth, and she didn’t feel a dip as they rose over buildings, bridges, and finally above the ‘shroom. When she was sure of her balance, she scrambled up onto her favorite branch to observe from there.
Viadora shrunk and continued to shrink. Individual buildings merged into blocks, blocks into districts, and districts into quarters of the city. When she could only tell places apart by color—blue sea, green land, brown rocks—she turned to Rive. At some point, they had snuck up to the top and were currently nestled at the bottom of the tree, looking and remaining quiet. Too quiet.
“You okay, Rive?”
They glanced up at her, then nodded, one hand rubbing the back of their shaved head.
“Yeah. I just... I really did it.” Their voice wasn’t as full and confident as it had been the entire time they’d taken her around Viadora. Now it was small and reserved. “I really left home.”
“Yeah.” She smiled down at them. “How does it feel to you? I know I felt free, as if I could spread my arms and go anywhere.”
“Quiet.” The two of them looked at each other and started laughing. “I suppose I’ll get used to it.”
“I don’t think you have a choice.” Seren chuckled and leaned back against the tree again. “It’s strange for me, having someone else here. And with so much we need to talk about, I’m a little unsure which topic to start with.”
Rive nodded at that.
“And I have things to bring up too, captain.” They glanced up and smiled at her. “Like, did I mention how wonderful the air is up here? It’s almost as if rain is kissing us gently.”
“You’ll hate that slightly wet feeling when it’s colder,” she warned them. “And the winds are blowing harder. I guess the first question is, do we want to talk in or out?”
“Here’s perfect.” Rive looked around, drew in a deep breath, and exhaled loudly. “This is something a person could get used to, nothing but sky and clouds for miles. And a tree, of course.”
“Okay.” Seren paused. “Should I go get my notebook for this? Will I need to be taking notes?”
“I don’t think so?” They cleared their throat. “If we need to, we can go over details later on.”
“So...” Rive shifted where they were sitting. “I think we need to get this out of the way first. Do you want to see what Darfar gave me?”
“Of course!” Seren kept a tight hold on the branch as she leaned over to look. Would it be a compass? Something to help them travel? Rive pulled the item out of their left bottom vest pocket and cradled it. Oval shaped, white with what looked to be cream-colored splotches on it. “Wait… is that an egg?”
Rive’s hands had cupped around the shell, but she could see where their palms didn’t touch on the side. Much bigger than anything she’d gathered on the island.
“Yes. And he said it was from a dragon.”
“WHAT?!” Seren’s thoughts immediately went back to the dragon she’d see on her first day in the clouds. “A dragon egg? Really? Wouldn’t it be more colorful, like the bluebirds that have blue eggs?”
They were still holding it, and now both of their thumbs were rubbing little circles on the shell.
“That’s what he said.”
“Well, the easiest way to check would be to hatch it.” Seren remembered the chickens she’d taken care of back home, but then thoughts of frog eggs popped up. “How does it hatch?”
“...what does that mean? Something inside it breaks out, right?”
Seren shrugged, even though Rive couldn’t see her from his position.
“I mean, chickens need heat and time to hatch. Turtles lay their eggs in the sand and after some time those hatch too. Frogs keep their eggs in water and tadpoles develop. Different eggs need different environments.”
They laughed and shook their head.
“No idea. And let’s be honest, this is probably not even a dragon egg. How long has Darfar had it? And where did he get it from? How does he even know what creature it’s from?“ Rive shook their head and slid the egg back into their pocket. “But, I’m not sure what we can do with that for now.”
Seren’s mind had already plotted a course toward finding out more information, but that would take either meeting another ship in the sky, and she thought hitching a ride with the Crimson Cloud had been pure luck, or landing in another town. A place where they could talk with someone who knew something about dragons.
“So we’ll keep an ear out and if we find others up here, we can ask them about dragons.” Another thought crossed her mind, mostly of what happened to the chicken eggs when she took them away from the nests. Dragons weren’t the same animal, though, so she couldn’t, shouldn’t, expect the same result.
“The next thing we need to talk about is where we’re heading.” Rive leaned back across the roots. “We have nothing that the guild gives newbies.”
“Briarrshi lied to us?” Seren wanted to go right back down to Viadora and demand whatever the woman hadn’t given them.
“Well, not really...” Rive laughed at her glare. “No, I promise, she didn’t lie. It was just more of us doing this out of order. You can register a ship at Viadora, but you actually can’t register yourself with a guild, which is what we actually should have done first.”
“We weren’t supposed to blackmail our way into getting our ship listed in the system, either.”
“No,” agreed Rive, “but we didn’t have a choice, since most people don’t successfully steal a ship in the first place. Registering a ship, though, is a third or fourth thing, after a person joins a guild and finds a group they’re happy being with for a while. We skipped the order, that’ll be the next thing we’ll have to do in town.”
“What do we need for that?” Seren was already seeing a pattern of needing money to get these “musts” done. “And how much coin will we need? Do other towns accept the same currency Bri paid me in?”
“... why don’t you know that if you know about having to join a guild?”
“In a weird sort of way, Viadora doesn’t welcome the idea that people may not want to live there their entire life.” Rive shrugged. “I don’t understand it since the city is so crowded, but it means that people can’t register with a guild, which means they can’t level up their spells and abilities, which means they don’t really have a way out either.”
Seren thought back to all her conversations with her parents. Her dad, an air master, had never mentioned the need to be registered with a guild to continue studying and practicing air spells. Same with her father; nothing about leaning and leveling up his understanding about charms had been mentioned.
“All that time trying to figure out what magic I had, and they never mentioned guild registration...” That wasn’t by accident. Deliberately omitting something like that meant they’d been keeping this a secret from her. Along with historical events and knowledge of the world.
“What did you just say?”
“Nothing,” Seren replied, waving her hand. “Just thinking. Is registration only for things like spells?”
Rive made a face.
“No idea. The only person I knew that traveled was Darfar, when he was younger, and I don’t know if boat trading is something the guilds do? Seems strange they would only involve themselves with the sky though, when most people still trade by land and sea.”
“So, we need to land in a city that has a guild so we can properly register? Won’t they find it weird that we have a ship before we have a group?”
“A bit, but it’s possible it’s just not been done before, not that it’s against the rules. Think about it. A ship costs money. One person would have to save a long time to afford it, but if they saved up money with a group of friends, then two things happen. One, is gathered much quicker, and two, they find out if they can work together.”
“It would be hard, fighting with others while not being able to leave an area.” Seren rifled through her mental notes. “And we need to figure out some way to make the ship bigger on the inside.”
“I want to figure out how the ship knows the up and down limits. The propeller can lift us higher, faster, but as far as I can tell, it’s not doing anything to keep us at this cruising level. I can steer the Picotree Drop in any direction but down... which is a problem for landing, isn’t it?”
Seren opened her mouth to say it wasn’t, and that she’d clearly landed in Viadora, but that wasn’t true. Captain Juji had tied his much bigger, and heavier, ship to hers and had taken her down with him, like a rock bringing a person to the depths of the pond if they held on.
“I’m not sure...” She tried to remember if her dad had said anything about how his air spells worked. And if people who controlled air weren’t allowed to fly, what did that mean for her ship?
“Sounds like it’s a good time for us to go do what we can,” said Rive, hugging the tree as they got to their feet. “I’ll look over the engine and make sure everything’s still working, then see if I can figure out how to move us downward.”
“If you show me the egg, I might be able to understand more about how to hatch it.” Her thoughts flickered back to the two packs they’d brought aboard. “And I can see where to store our food supplies.”
Rive was nodding.
“Do we know where we want to go?” they asked. “Since I’m heading down, I can at least point the propeller in the right direction.”
“No idea, other than a large city. And I haven’t seen any maps here either.” Seren slid down from the branches, careful to keep her grip on the tree. She might be more comfortable climbing up and down, but seeing the distance grow between her and the ground made her more cautious than when she couldn’t see what was beneath her.
Seren and Rive descended from the upper edge of the shell and dropped onto what Seren was beginning to mentally call “the landing.” It was where Captain Juji had landed, after all, when he’d jumped over from his ship, and it was the first part of the ship that most people set foot on.
Rive walked inside, heading back down to the propeller room. Seren shut the door behind her, glanced at the bags of food, and then at the tiny cupboards that held their dishes.
“How in the world...?” It would be best to empty the cupboards. Which meant she needed to figure out where the dishes could go. After studying the setup again, she moved the few dishes and cups to the drying rack over the sink. That would take care of at least one bag, including what they would eat tonight. But where would the rest of the supplies go? She snapped her fingers. “I wanted to check under the bed!”
Maybe she’d be able to put some supplies under there? Oooh, and maybe the previous captain had hidden things under there, like the ship’s registration!
She moved over to the bed, stepping over the open trapdoor, and laid herself on the floor, cheek pressed against the cool shell. It was dark under the bed, which made her want to go get the lantern from Rive, but honestly, they probably needed it more than her. She thrust an arm underneath and swept. Her fingers touched something all the way in the back, and she almost screamed.
“Seriously, Seren? You wanted something to be here,” she muttered to herself, trying to snag the item and drag it out into the light. She could feel it, but wasn’t able to hook it on the first try. Third time proved to be the charm, and she could bring out an enormous amount of dust bunnies along with an old, frayed, and many-times repaired leather pack. There was a rustling from the inside, and immediately she thought of papers and books. “If we’re lucky, there might even be a map in here.”
Did she want to wait for Rive? No. They were doing things down there, and she still didn’t actually know what she’d just found. It would probably be best for her to take everything out and let Rive know when they came back up.
“And the good news is,” she muttered to herself, “the space under the bed should fit the rest of the supplies!”
As long as she kept everything in the sack since there was no way she’d be able to clean out all the dust. The leather pack was a bit crumbly and old, but there was a shining double knot on the front of it, and it might have been her imagination, but when she touched it, she thought she’d felt a spark.
Seren waited, but nothing else happened. Unknotted, she lifted the flap and started taking things out. There were three rolled up scrolls, a large piece of paper folded at several points, and two ink pens that were curiously not staining the scrolls or the bag.
The first scroll that she rolled open made her groan. Here were the blueprints for the ship, including the downstairs with the engine and propeller. Interested to see what secrets the second and third contained, she went to spread them out, but they didn’t move. She ran a finger down the side, and could see where the paper ended, but there was no way to lift it.
“Darn it. They must be threaded shut.” Seren set those aside and turned to the large piece of folded paper. That, at least, opened up under her fingers. “And that’s the map we wanted.” She studied it and smiled when she found Viadora. “I wonder if I can find my island on here?”
She tried, but didn’t see any small pieces of land that could have been her home.
“Is it not on the map?” Or maybe she’d gone farther than she thought, flying to Viadora? “Maybe Rive will know.”
She kept everything on the table and started sorting the food away. The homemade dishes she placed into the cupboards and the persevered food she shoved under the bed. It took a bit of squishing to make sure the items could fit, but they finally did.
“Everything good?” asked Rive, poking their head up out of the trapdoor.
“I feel I should ask you that?”
“The engine is fine, she’s running beautifully.” They looked around and sniffed. “Food’s been put up?”
“I shoved most of it under the bed where I found these things.” She pointed at the scrolls lying on the table next to the open map. “I couldn’t find my home on the map, but maybe you can?”
“I can try, but I’m not sure I’ll be able to.” They turned to the rolled up scrolls. “What are these?”
“Sealed shut for now. I think they might be threaded, but that’s a guess. On the plus side, we can use the map and the blueprints of the Picotree Drop.” She put a finger on the map. “I found Viadora here, but I can’t figure out where my home is.”
“Did you ever tell me the name of your island?” asked Rive, their orange eyes flickering over the map.
“No.” She shrugged when they looked at her. “I just always knew it as home. Like father and dad.”
“... you don’t know the names of your parents?”
Seren stared at them.
“I don’t think you understand how I grew up,” she said defensively. “There was me, my dad, and my father. Anyone else that was on the island came over in the morning, did their job, and left in the afternoon.”
“Your parents kept calling each other ‘dad’ and ‘father’ even after you had grown up?”
“They didn’t mention their names?”
“No. They called each other dear, sweetie, and other terms of affection.”
“But not nicknames.”
“Then, honestly,” Rive sighed, gesturing at the map, “I have no idea how to help you with that. We would need a name, for a start.”
“Well, it was a long shot, anyway. How about figuring out where the next town with a guild is, so we can register?”
Rive nodded and smiled.
“That sounds like a good idea, captain.”
- Dust Warrior
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.)