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A note from Faenon

Party for this chapter:

Ryn, Nuthea, Sagar

The airship Wanderlust sailed on a sea of clouds.

Ryn and Nuthea sat in the small viewing bubble built into the underside of the ship, watching the clouds and, further below, the landscape passing underneath as it was veiled and revealed by them. The viewing bubble was made of reinforced glass, on which they rested their feet as they sat on a wooden bench built across it. A speaking-tube came out of the ceiling that a lookout could talk into for their voice to be carried to another speaking-tube on the ship’s raised reardeck.

Really designed just for one person to sit in, the viewing bubble was not quite big enough for two. Ryn was sure that Captain Sagar had only sent them down here to do the job of one person in order to keep them out of the way and prevent the crew from asking them any more awkward questions.

He sat rigid and tried not to brush Nuthea with his elbow. It was difficult.

This time, she was giving him a geography lesson.

“So we are currently flying over the Isle of Efstan,” she said. “You see those rolling green fields down there? They’re what Efstan’s famous for.”

“Well, I know that much,” said Ryn, not wanting to seem completely ignorant. “My hometown is…was in Efstan, after all.” He blinked away the images of burning buildings that flared up in his mind’s eye, then looked for the next question to distract him. “Where are we heading now, then? Where is your homeland?”

“Well, as I was saying, Manolia is situated on the much larger neighbouring land mass of Zokan. That’s where we’re heading. Soon enough, you’ll see, after we cross the Leviathan’s Channel the landscape will become much more varied and interesting, even mountainous in some places. And after we cross the Ifryan mountains, Manolia is a peninsula the juts into the Sundering Sea.”

“If that’s where you’re from, how did you end up all the way out here again?” Ryn actually knew the answer to this question, but he wanted to keep Nuthea talking to distract himself from the intrusive memories that kept popping into his head.

“Don’t you ever listen?” She looked up from the clouds and fields below them for a moment and frowned at Ryn, creasing her pretty forhead. “I was on an undercover diplomatic mission in nearby Imfis, on the Northern coast of Zokan, when the Imperials discovered and captured me.”

“But what were you doing on the mission?”

Nuthea’s eyes narrowed. She paused for moment. Then: “I suppose I can tell you because you’re jewel-touched.” She adjusted the circlet she wore underneath her golden hair. “I was trying to engineer an alliance with them because Imfis have the Wind Crystal.”

“Why does that mean you need to ally with them?”

“It doesn’t. But…” Nuthea dropped her voice, even though between the background thrum of the ship’s engines and the whistle of air beneath the hull nobody else would have the faintest hope of hearing her. “As you’ve seen, the Emperor of Morekemia has learned of the Jewels. He has begun to search for them, and his power and dominion are growing even now. He cannot be allowed to gather them all together. So we nations who have knowledge of the locations of our Jewels must band together to stop him.”

“What would happen if the Empeor gathered together all of the Jewels?”

Nuthea’s voice went even lower. “Didn’t I tell you that before? If someone, anyone, gathers all of the Jewels together, legend says they will be granted unbelievable, unfathomable power. Command over every basic element of which Mid is composed. The power to destroy and create...life itself… They would be practically omnipotent--all powerful.”

Nuthea gazed back out of the glass of the viewing bubble, her voice trailing off. Ryn followed her gaze down through the whisps of white and over the passing patchwork.

Life itself… Maybe they could grant the power to bring my parents back. My friends. My town. To find out if that General is still alive…

Just then something inside Ryn’s heart shifted. Where it had been numb and cold with grief, a small spark now lit within it. The numbness and the cold were still there, to be sure, but now there was a fragile flickering flame warming them too. A flame of desire. A flame of hope. A flame of purpose. He knew what he had to do.

He had to find and get revenge on the Imperial General who killed his mother.

At that same moment, the landscape shifted too. Without warning, the distant green fields below them gave way to a vast expanse of blue that stretched out below them further than they could see.

“Hey, look!” cried Nuthea. “The Leviathan’s Channel!”

It was mainly a deep blue, the colour of blueberries, but here and there it was lighter where the sunshine fell on it, or darker where the clouds obscured it, patches of shadow gliding over its surface. The surface itself shifted and glittered, fragments of white foam rising and falling over it, which Ryn realised must be waves.

“It’s beautiful…” he muttered.

“Well, you use that word very freely,” Nuthea said, glancing sidelong at him. “You act like you’ve never seen it before.”

Ryn looked at her.

“Oh.”

“How long will it take us to get to Manolia?” he asked.

“With a full tank of fuel and a good wind...it should be about two days’ flying. We should make Zokan by nightfall of today, and Manolia by the end of tomorrow...”

They spent most of the rest of the day like that, sat together in the viewing bubble, watching the sea pass by, with Ryn asking Nuthea questions about the world below to keep his mind away from his memories and Nuthea being only too happy to enlighten him. They didn’t even go abovedeck to eat; instead a grumpy looking sailor came down and shoved a couple of plates of salt beef into their hands, then came back half an hour later to collect them. As they watched the sea gradually it, and the sky around them, grew darker, and the blue got deeper.

The shadow of a coastline appeared. And, right at its edge, a cluster of fireflies arrayed in a circle.

“At last,” said Nuthea, rubbing her back. “We’ve reached Zokan. Those are the lights of a port.”

A low buzzing noise joined the thrum of the engine, and Ryn’s stomach lurched as he felt the ship begin to descend.

“What?” said Nuthea. “We shouldn’t be landing already! We’ve got at least a day until we reach Manolia!”

She stood and dashed up the wooden steps that led out of the viewing-bubble chamber.

Ryn watched her go. Before they had sighted the coastline, she had been in the middle of educating him about the Twelve Peoples of Mid. For once, she had forgotten her lesson completely.

He stood too, then rubbed his thighs when they ached. Sitting in one place for the whole day had not been kind to his legs and backside.

He followed Nuthea up the steps to the underdeck and then up another set of steps to the maindeck, passing the little cupboard where they had first been thrown by the pirates during their battle with the Imperials.

Abovedeck, Ryn immediately noticed that the crew were a lot less busy than before. Many of them were standing at the rail, looking out at the firefly-lights and pointing.

Sagar was up on the reardeck, behind the big ship’s wheel.

Why are we going down?” Nuthea demanded of him from the maindeck over the sound of the air rushing past. “We haven’t reached Manolia yet. We won’t for at least another day.”

Sagar didn’t even look at her. “Simple! We salvaged a lot of bounty from that Imperial ship we took down”--his eyes flicked to Nuthea just for a moment--“a lot of bounty, but sadly fuel was not one of them. In fact, we blew up her fuel tank, which is what brought her down in the end. Now we need to refuel.”

“Can’t you keep going any longer on your current tank of fuel? We need to reach Manolia as soon as possible.”

“No.”

“I will give you more money.”

“Not going to work, miss. Or ‘princess’. Or whatever you are. We need fuel. And that’s that.”

Nuthea marched up the steps to join Sagar on the reardeck. Ryn went after her.

“I can’t believe that you already need to refuel,” she said as the Captain continued to take the ship down. “I need to get back to Manolia as quickly as possible. You should have had enough for a return voyage. Where did you set out from anyway?”

She was quite stubborn, Ryn noted.

Rrrr,” Sagar said quietly, still looking straight ahead. “Will you shut up? I’m not just refueling--Wanderlust needs some repairs too.”

Ryn’s heart missed a beat.

“You mean there’s something wrong with the ship?” Nuthea voiced his concern for him.

A couple of the sailors looked round at them from where they stood by the rail.

Sagar’s jaw stiffened. “Not so loud, princess,” he said through gritted teeth. “No, the ship’s absolutely fine!” he said more loudly. “We just need fuel, that’s all!”

The sailors turned back round.

“What’s wrong with the ship?” Ryn asked, keeping his voice low.

“Look; pup, princess,” said Sagar, “When you’re in a major battle with an Imperial vessel, you don’t come out of it unscathed. We had the jump on them and we made quick work of them in the end, but the hull sustained some heavy cannonfire in the process. It wouldn’t be so bad, except our fuel line got hit. We’re not just low on fuel, we’re leaking it.”

“Oh,” said Nuthea.

A pause.

“Why don’t you tell your men?” asked Ryn.

Sagar squinted at him with his one exposed eye. “You wouldn’t understand, pup. When you’re a fearsome skypirate captain like me, you have a certain reputation to preserve….”

“What you mean is,” said Nuthea, “that your crew barely follow your orders at the best of times, so you don’t want them to know that you’re only just holding your ship aloft.”

Sagar didn’t say anything back. But even in the darkness he seemed to turn a shade redder.

“Can’t your engineer fix the fuel line?” Nuthe pressed.

“Well, normally he would, princess, but there’s just one small obstacle getting in his way at the moment.”

“What’s that?”

“He’s dead.”

What?”

“I told you to keep your voice down. We lost a few men in the battle with the Imperials. My engineer was one of them. He was near the fuel line after it got hit, trying to repair it. Another cannonball hit him direct. We lost two others as well. The crew are a bit cut up about it, so that’s another reason I don’t want them to know about the damage we’ve taken. Their morale needs looking after. So now you know. I’m landing, princess, because not only do we need to fix the fuel line, but we need to find somebody to do it too...”

Nuthea seemed to have no response to that. Instead, she bit her bottom lip and looked away from Sagar, out at the growing lights of the port town, the same way as the crew.

“Do you always pilot your own ship?” Ryn asked.

“Of course not, pup. I have my crew to do that. But it’s good for the captain to take the helm from time to time. It reminds them that I still know how. It reminds them that I’m the best airship pilot this side of the Sundering Sea. Now shut up; I need to concentrate. We’re coming in to land.”

As they had been speaking the firefly-lights of the port-town had been growing steadily brighter. Now Ryn could see that one cluster of them was arranged in a large circle, which he guessed must be an airship dock.

Sure enough, Sagar guided Wanderlust down towards this circle. As they approached, some of the other fireflies became lights in the windows of buildings. The structures of the town were many, and packed in closely together.

In fact, Ryn realised, the port wasn’t a town at all, but a city.

All of a sudden he felt very small.

Eventually, the circle of fireflies they were flying towards became a collection of huge naptha beacons, giant flames burning in glass containers, like a ring of enormous lanterns. In the space they encircled, parked on the grey earth, were about a dozen other airships.

Sagar’s piloted his blimp-bourne ship over a large space on the airflied, slowing her as he went. Then he flicked a switch on the control panel of the console that protruded out of the floor next to the ship’s wheel.

The whole ship dropped slowly to the ground. They landed with a gentle crunch of earth, the purr of the engines wound down, and the ship was still.

Little dots had been starting to move towards them in the naptha light as they were coming in to land. Now Ryn saw that the dots were people, who were now rushing up to the side of the ship.

“Fresh dates!” called out the first man who made it to Wanderlust’s side, carrying a box slung round his neck by a cord. “Refresh yourself after a long voyage!”

“Draught ale!” cried another, carrying a tankard in each of his hands, sloshing liquid around. “Free sample! Only the best ale at the Traveller’s Rest!

“Get your cheese, right here! Recently made, prime quality, cheese on a stick! I’ve got soft cheese, hard cheese, stinky cheese, blue cheese! Get it all here!”

Some of Sagar’s crew called out their orders and threw down pennies for them, or jumped down to the ground and started to haggle.

“Out of the way, vermin!” A gruff voice called out over the haggling. “I told you to wait until they’ve paid their landing fee before you approach! You’re lucky I even let you on this airfield!”

These words had been spoken by an extremely fat man dressed in black leather, the folds of his belly leaking out from under his jacket and over the top of his trousers. He wore huge, thick goggles under his dirty grey hair and messy beard. The naptha light glinted off his left leg oddly. It was made of metal, and he moved awkwardly on it.

The airfield vendors completely ignored him, and went on selling and haggling over their goods with newly arrived sailors, but he didn’t address them further. “Sagar!” he called out. “Get your sorry arse down here and pay me your landing fee!”

“Wait here,” Sagar said to Ryn and Nuthea with a pointed look from his un-covered eye. He walked to the side of the ship’s deck and climbed over, down some hand-holds built into the side of the ship, to the ground.

Nuthea went after him.

Why does she need to go too? Ryn thought.

Her gold-crowned head popped up above the side of the ship for a moment.

“Aren’t you coming?”

He shrugged, and followed her.

On the ground, Sagar and the man were already arguing.

“Fifty gold pieces?” said Sagar. “It was twenty five last time, Roldo!”

The man spat on the ground. “Yeah, well I heard you took down an Imperial Skyship yesterday. News travels fast, pretty boy. And these are uncertain times. Rumour is tensions are building with Morekemia as it is,”--Nuthea’s back stiffened a little at that--“and I need to look out for myself. Fifty gold pieces. It’s not like you’ve got any other choices. And you’ve already landed the damn thing.”

Rrr, fine,” said Sagar quietly, and fished in his own leather jacket for the coins before handing them over.

“Pleasure doing business with you,” said Roldo, stashing the money away in an inside pocket with a brown-toothed smile. “Why’re you back so soon, anyway, Sagar?” He leant his head back to look at the hull of Wanderlust. “And what exactly have you been up to, anyhow? Your ship looks pretty beaten up.”

“None of your damn buisness,” said Sagar, batting the airfield owner’s question away with a wave of his hand. He still spoke quietly. “Listen to me, Roldo, I need to ask you something. I’m down an engineer and I need to recruit one, fast. Where’s the best place I can find myself an engineer in Ast these days?”

Roldo’s magnified eyes narrowed inside his goggles.

“Why should I tell you?”

Nuthea spoke up. “Because we have something that needs fixing, why else?”

Sagar turned his head, as if noticing her for the first time. “Hey, butt out, princess, I’m busy here. Go and wait on the ship.”

“That’s extremely rude of you,” Nuthea replied. She didn’t move.

Sagar sighed, then grabbed Roldo’s scraggly beard and yanked him closer, looking him right in the face.

“You tell me, lard-tub, because I’m asking, and because I just gave you fifty gold pieces to park my ship on your little scrap of dirt.” He let go.

“Alright, alright!” said Roldo, rubbing his chin. He spat again. “Gods, there’s no need to get all whiny about it.” He tapped his lips in thought. “There’s a brilliant young engineer currently working as a freelancer, name of ‘Elrann Luccavich’. In fact, Elrann’s been down here lately servicing some of the ships of the other miserable bastards who’ve landed in Ast.”

“Where can I find him?”

Roldo grinned. “Now?”

“Now.”

“Usually in the Traveler’s Rest. Ask for Elrann, like I said. Not easy to miss.”

“Why?”

“Elrann has purple hair. Zerlanese.”

“That’s all I needed to know.” As he turned, Sagar flicked another single gold piece spinning into the air. Roldo’s hand shot out and snatched it, before he pocketed it with a lick of his hairy lips.

Sagar climbed back up on board the ship without another word. Ryn waited for Nuthea to go next, then furrowed his brow at her when she didn’t.

“You really can be quite slow-witted, can’t you?” she said. “You go first, for once. I’m not having you looking up my skirt”

“Oh!” Ryn said, feeling a hot blush rise in his cheeks. “Sorry!” The thought hadn’t even crossed his mind, but now it did and he blushed even hotter.

Up on the maindeck Sagar addressed his crew as they stood round him.

“Listen men,” he bellowed. “I’m worn out from all our plundering so I’m going to go ashore and refresh myself for the evening at an inn.”

“Waheyyyy!” said one of the pirates, and others joined in.

“We all know what that means!”

Some of them made obscene gestures. Ryn grinned, then looked at Nuthea. Her expression could have curdled milk. He dropped his grin and tried to frown disapprovingly.

Sagar held up his hands. “Yes, yes. I’ll also be sure to register our takedown of the Imperial Ship at the local guild tomorrow. Then it’s off to Manolia to collect still more bounty! Arrr!”

“Arrrr!” cheered the crew in unison, jubilant.

“Look after Wanderlust while I’m gone. You can go ashore too, but I want a skeleton crew of at least ten on board at all times, and everyone back by noon tomorrow. Carrick is in charge until I return. Is that clear?”

“Aye, Captain!” the men chanted.

“Good. Now get lost!”

The crew dispersed, and Sagar watched them go with a satisfied smile on his face.

“Where is this ‘Traveller’s Rest’ then?” said Nuthea.

Sagar blinked, like he’d been yanked out of a daydream. “Why the hell do you need to know?”

“We’re coming with you.”

The pirate shook his head. “No you bleeding well are not!”

“Yes we are.”

“Why in the seven hells do you need to come?”

“I’m coming to make sure that you hire an engineer as quickly and efficiently as you can without getting...distracted. I told you, I need to make sure that we can make it to Manolia as quickly as possible.”

Sagar closed his eyes for a moment and rubbed his forehead. “Rrrr.” He had the look of a defeated man. “Fine.” He looked up again, now at Ryn. “But why do you need to come, pup? Why are you even still sticking around at all? You’re not trying to get back to Manolia, are you? You can get off here. You can go anywhere you want. Why are you still here?”

Ryn opened his mouth and said…

...nothing. He didn’t have a reply to that. In fact, he realised, he hadn’t really thought about why he was still here at all. He had been acting automatically, still too traumatised by and dealing with the destruction of his hometown and the death of his mother and father to think much for himself. All the knew was that he wanted to find the Imperial General who had killed his parents and take revenge on him. But he had no idea where to start looking.

If anyone was going to be able to help him find him, though, it was Nuthea, he realised. She seemed to know a lot about the world, and the Empire. Plus, she had elemental projection powers, like he did. Maybe she would be able to help him in developing his newfound skill so that he could kill General Vorr.

And she was beautiful, even if he did over-use that word...

In the time it took for him to think these things, Sagar and Nuthea had walked off to go and look for an engineer.

“Hey, wait for me!” Ryn called as he ran after them.

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About the author

Faenon

Bio: Hi, I’m Faenon, from Oxford, UK.

I’ve been writing for a long time and I’ve even been lucky enough to complete a paid creative writing course and get some short stories published (PM me if you are interested in reading them as it involves telling you my real name).

I’ve written four novels so far but haven’t been able to get any of them house-published--though I came close to getting an agent with one.

So although I’m going to keep trying, I’m also getting fed up with the traditional publishing industry.

That’s where the internet comes in!

I’m going to be posting my novels online one by one, anonymously, in the order I wrote them. And then I'll start posting my latest project as I write it.

If you enjoy my novels, please support me on patreon to get chapters ahead of time and access to early drafts, and then I can devote more time to writing!

(I have a wife, a kid, and a non-writing job.)

One more note. I've studied Theology and Philosophy to postgraduate level, and you may see these things turning up in my stories sometimes. You have been warned.

To support my writing and get access to early chapters go to https://www.patreon.com/faenon

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