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The rest of the day was spent with Rive down below, saying that they wanted to look over the engine, and, in their words, become more familiar with it. Seren wasn’t sure what else they needed to know, but she also wasn’t the engineer. Maybe they were looking for ways to improve it?

She had taken the time to sleep while her friend was working. That way she’d been on the other schedule and they could star sharing the bed. Her realization that the tree had been threaded continued to worry her, nibbling away at the back of her mind and causing too much anxiety. She made the decision that, the first city they saw, no matter if it wasn’t their destination, they were going to land and pay a threader to replace the threads with their own, or at least remove the ones that were already wrapped around. She wasn’t sure if that could be done, though.

Charmers were easy to understand, thanks to her father. If one person charmed a creature, and another charmer attempted to either replace or remove the charm, then they needed to be stronger. If the “weight” was strong with both castors, then the person or animal would have muddled orders and might be able to break free... or they might be dazed by opposite commands.

The stronger one could re-charm the person completely. Her father had told her tales of a court that had a tug-of-war between two charmers and the person they kept charming. Eventually, the court ruled that no charmed people could be allowed in the building, and then one of the servants, since they were no longer charmed to not revolt, poisoned the wine jugs and wiped out the upper class in one night.

Maybe threading was like that. If someone else could replace the threads around the tree, then no one would know. And if the threader became part of the crew, then she wouldn’t have to worry about someone on the ground giving away information to her parents or the person who’d made this ship. If that couldn’t happen, though, then they would need to figure out how to get a new ship. If they sold the shellship, then people would still talk about who they were and what new ship they were on, which wouldn’t solve the tracking problem.

Seren looked around her, eyes alighting on the bookshelf, the bed, and the map.

“I could do that...” she said, letting the words trail off. It would be best to have the map out in the open, right? They didn’t need to keep folding it up and putting it away. “If I could figure out how to stick it to the wall, we can use it as a resource.”

But would it be better up here, where the two of them could have conversations sparked by looking at it, or down below where Rive was trying to get the engine pointed in a specific direction.

“They didn’t need the map earlier, so there’s shouldn’t be a problem with it staying up here. I just don’t have anything to make sure it stayed up.” Seren looked around the small area again, hoping she’d missed something that would help. The backpack, her wax colors, charcoal sticks, the ribbon the bookshelf used. She sighed and made another note in her journal about picking that up when they had money. Which brought her to the other worry she had.

“Cloudlarking was the only thing left to us since we’re this tiny, but Bri never explained how to actually do it.”

“Captain?”

Seren turned around. Rive was halfway through the trapdoor, poking their head into the room.

“You okay?”

“Trying to figure out how to do cloudlarking.”

Rive shrugged.

“No idea myself. That’s something we’ll need to learn from the guild. Might even need to have skills we don’t have yet to do it.”

“Then how are we going to make money?”

They at least flashed a smile as they shrugged again.

“There are things in life we can’t control, and not knowing how to do something is one of them.” They frowned. “Well, when it’s paired with the problem of not being able to gain the knowledge needed. And we can do small errands or something, make money that way.”

Seren shook her head.

“I don’t think that’ll work. You saw all those people at the ‘Shroom, right? The kids pouring over the book and trying to find ships that needed them?”

“Yeah? So?” Rive pulled themselves out and replaced the trapdoor hatch, then covered it with the carpet.

“Do you think those kids would be happy with someone else doing their job? Taking away money they normally get?”

The smile on their face dropped away.

“No.”

“Right. And if there were easy to get jobs, then I assume that someone has already snapped them up.” Seren stood up, taking the map from the table with her. “I was just thinking that we should put this on the wall. Easy to see, easy to discuss.”

Rive nodded.

“I also think we need to set down in the first place we see a city. Get the threads removed from the tree at least.”

Rive made a non-committal noise.

“That’s going to take money too. Or a promise to be returned later, like with my siblings.” They looked around the room. “What about selling off some of the books? That’ll make room for new ones at the same time.”

Seren wasn’t sure about that. The books she’d brought from home, maybe, but she still hadn’t finished reading them yet. And she didn’t want to keep getting rid of the original owner’s books... she already had to track down the romance trilogy she’d traded with Anks.

“It’s a thought to keep open. I won’t say yes or no right now though. I’d like to keep watch outside though, and see if we pass a place we can land.” She groaned at that. “Where we think we can land.”

“I had an idea about that,” said Rive. “And I think we’ll be able to go down when the time comes.”

She blinked.

“Then I’m certainly going to keep watch. We’ll need to be below the clouds, though. Is that going to be a problem?” She laughed as Rive heaved a sigh and pulled back the carpet again to open the trapdoor. “Maybe we should just roll that up and put it somewhere out of the way.”

“With all the time I’m going back and forth, I agree.” They were already heading down the hole. “Give me a few minutes, and we should start dropping under cloud cover.”

“I’ll go outside and check.” Seren called out, moving to the front door. Outside was wonderful to feel again. The winds had warmed up, there were gentle rays of sunlight scattered across the clouds. Bit by bit, though, the area looked less like a place to walk on. Wisps brushed past her, leaving small patches of dampness if they touched.

Bit by bit the white faded away, replaced by the browns, greens, and glittering of water.

“Did it work?”

“Like a charm.” She turned to Rive, who was standing in the doorway. They almost had to duck to make sure their head would not hit the top. “Can we keep at this height?”

They nodded.

“I’ll go back and set the engine to stay at this height.”

Seren was already climbing over the lip of the seashell and hauling herself up the branches. This was a better vantage point for seeing distances ahead of them, and not just from the landing and downwards. Lots of green though...

“I’m not sure I’m going to be able to see a city from up there though, unless it’s a place as big as the ‘Shroom.” She leaned forward and moved a branch out of her way. Off in the very far distance, with enough clouds between them, was a range of chilly looking mountains. From where they were flying and toward it was a lush carpet of greenery, most of the colors darker than any individual leaf she remembered. There was a section off to the right that looked odd. It was brown and grey, not green at all. But there was another section off to the left, a flat blue and white area was surrounded by sparkling.

“It’s a little hard to judge, but I think those two places are pretty much the same distance from each other. The grey place has got to be a city. The blue... maybe? Or maybe it’s a current?”

“See anything? The map says there’s at a town nearby, but it doesn’t mention how big the place is.”

Seren looked below and motioned for Rive to join her in the tree. It took them a little while; she got the feeling that she had more experience climbing things like nature while they had much more experience climbing buildings or homes. The one time she’d climbed onto the rooftop to see the view, her dad had swept her off with a little current of air, then tickled her until she promised never to do it again.

Rive, slightly out of breath, sat on a branch to the left of her, one that was much thicker.

“What am I looking at?”

She stayed silent and waited. Their head turned toward the blue and white, then turned to where the brown and grey was.

“Okay... so, we have two places we can maybe land at, one on land and the other over water.”

“Any thoughts as to which one?”

“Neither of these is the bigger city we saw on the map, though.” Rive turned up one palm, but keep their grip on the tree. “Do you want to go through all the trouble of setting down just on the off chance they might have a Threader in the town? Or that we might be able to pick up a few odd jobs for money?”

“Better than having the knowledge that someone can follow us hanging over our heads like a sword.”

They looked at her, really, really looked at her, and held her gaze. Their eyes, under the shade of the tree, weren’t as fiercely orange as she’d seen them in Viadora.

“I know you’re running from the person who originally had this ship. I also know your running away from home. But sometimes... I look at you and think you’re running away from something else. Some great big responsibility, or truth, and I want to warn you that you can’t get away from it like you think you can.”

Now it was her turn to stare at them.

“I’m just trying not to be caught by the owner or my parents.” She thought about it. “The only responsibilities I had on my island were milking the cows in winter and making sure I helped my parents keep house.”

“Nothing huge and looming in your future you’re trying to get away from?” teased Rive.

“Maybe you’re worried about yourself,” she said, snickering as they flinched. “Ha! I was right!”

“Maybe,” admitted Rive, shaking his head. “I think I’m more running away from traps that caught all my friends. Like I said before, I don’t want a family right now. I also don’t want to inherit a business, have to take care of my family’s property, all that.”

Seren could understand. She looked out to the open skies before them, the gentle pattern of people, their lives, and business playing out invisibly. All the problems seem so far away... but those were the same ones that would sneak up on them and send them reeling.

“What are you thinking about?” asked Rive. She shook her head and looked at them.

“Nothing really.” A wide smile split her face. “Cloud gathering, actually.” The two of them laughed at her statement.

“Seriously though. If we’re going to be doing this together, we should communicate as much as possible. What are you thinking about?”

“Trying to decide which place to head to. I’m thinking the grey/brown city. It’ll be easier, right?”

Their nose wrinkled in contemplation.

“Maybe. I can’t even say it’s something we’re more used to since you didn’t land this shellship in Viadora, and I haven’t landed it at all yet. I will say that our propeller will churn up the water something fierce when it hits.”

“The non-water city it is then.” She leaned forward a little, trying to judge how long it might take to get there. “We really need a way to measure how quickly we cross distances.”

Rive let out a little noise.

“Might be something to check in the town for too, I’m sure there’s some way of skyship navigation.”

Seren felt a little wriggle of worry. These were basic things that she should have already thought of, right? Or things that a person on a ship should have already had. What else was she forgetting? What else was she missing that she didn’t even realize she was missing?

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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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