Chapter VI:1

Tick tock, tick tock,
a mouse ran up the clock,
tick tock, tick tock,
wheels did grind and knock,
tick tock, tick tock,
a clock struck none,
a mouse’s job, was done,
tick tock, click clock,
knock.

– The Mouse, the Witch, and the Window, 421 E.R.

The Turning Wheel

The world could easily forget the pitiable end of a mad god. It had larger, flashier concerns, after all. It would take years to enter wider circulation, as even a footnote. One tied to more visible, later events, recording the start of a war.

However it weighed upon the Ashtons, and companions, they had their own uneasy futures. None amongst them truly knew what to make of Estae’s willful sacrifice. Though it proved a strong incentive, to linger no longer than necessary. They had never expected to be welcomed, and what welcome they had received, was no more comforting.

The big things, are oft a distraction from the little, that tell us truths. The reverse can be true as well. What was easily missed in rural lands, from the high towers of the heart of the world, thrummed like a heartbeat. A rhythm, long then short, long then short, and again, till a falter, that warned not all was right.

It was perchance that day, after, when the Council opened for debate to the floor, to ratify a new date. One to supersede a great many others in conflict. It would take much longer than that, I’m afraid.

It had taken a month, to convene the second committee of reconciliation ever formed. Another, for these to conclude on a new calendar, starting in a short year. To leave many confounded, and conflated dates hanging. That, ‘historians might squabble over them till the end of time, if they pleased.’

That such an end was likely far too close, to be quibbling over the year, was something of refrain. The most pedantic of pragmatists, insisted it was urgent to start a new calendar. That reliable record keeping was crucial, with so very much to record. Further that it only made sense to begin the day after a staff was ripped up from the very chamber floor, where they argued all these… finer points.

Squabble indeed, till half were blue in the face, and the rest red, or pale with worry. Knuckles white on staffs, and railings, and an unsurprising amount of railing.

The remaining delay, had been spent convincing a weary old Archmage, to bring it to the floor. He had grown ever more pensive, and slow to act in the absence of a chosen second. The very woman who had been running things for years. Since long before he’d stepped aside that she hold the acting title. He refused to pick a new second, and if she returned, none knew what to expect. What way the Council might break.

Moves were made to replace him, but went nowhere. None could garner sure support for a reliable replacement, to risk bringing a vote of removal. So, it was the old man that would at last relent.

Admitting that it was that day, that the shattering of time was so easily pinned up a single act, was unpalatable for many. To lay it all like silver hair, upon the shoulders of a young woman, of Sylvan blood, and green eyes. One with two siblings, talking ghosts, and a problem Osyraen in tow. She had done what no other had managed, though each had played their own troubling part.

It would be argued from one camp, that this surely was the Storm. What more need they concern themselves on the point. An attempt to dismiss prophecy as past, and move on.

The Astronomers would argue that their troubles had only just begun, based on a model that woman had left. One filled with dire portents, in seemingly solid math. If only they could figure out what the real year was. Star-crossed, as always, astronomers.

I’ll spare you any further retelling of a tense, and tiresome debate. Though the paw licking of one very bored little Councilor, is worth at least note. If only, for it did not make those official records.

It was hardly the only fidgeting, or nervous tick on display that day, but Tock’s, by far, was the cutest. If those paws looked just a little different than they once had, few would have noticed. He oft fell below notice. An old seer, did, and called it to the attention of her newest attaché.

The woman had already seen. She shuffled her cards nervously, worried by ones that wished to be drawn. The Dog reversed, The Sun, The Wheel reversed, The Lovers, as always hard to tell up from down. Seers, knew better than most, what lay ahead, or behind. When chances had past, and courses were set.

The Moon reversed, stopped below fidgeting fingers. They traced the curves on the back of the card with sadness, and love. A woman raised to believe in no god, but the self, said a silent prayer, for her Lady, Laeune.

⁃ ◇ ❖ ◇ ⁃

Estae 29th, 1 S.R.

The main dining hall of the Citadel of the Sun was large, but plain. Unwelcome guests had found a quiet corner, that then drew many eyes, to see a High Cleric walk among them. He approached those trying to keep a low profile. It wasn’t working anyway, with all the mad rumors circulating.

“May I join you?”

Katrisha nodded, and the others gave her a strange look. Even Liora looked suspicious.

“I suppose proper introductions are in order,” Katrisha said, and set her spoon in a half-eaten dish. “Brother Syberus, and I had a long talk last evening, when the Avatar… proved less than amenable, to further conversation.”

Kiannae’s spoon scraped the bottom of her bowl with a low screech. Liora looked as confused by the other’s stricken expressions, as the man’s presence, or Katrisha’s words.

“You had not informed them, Sister?” Syberus asked.

Katrisha offered a small laugh, at his public choice of addressed. “One takes their time, broaching difficult subjects.”

The man nodded his understanding, looked across the others, and settled on Liora. “You, good Sister, it is no surprise might know little of the sins of my sons.”

Liora looked down, and back up again. “No, your Eminence, I do not.”

“One, who shared my given name, hired the Osyraen in your number to some unknown end. Another, played some uncertain part in the death of a Queen. A far more certain role in the death of others, on both sides. Forcing the woman Katrisha, to be part of his end.”

“Yet… you ask to eat with us? Call her Sister?” Liora looked bewildered. “Truly, you are above reproach.”

“None, are above reproach, Sister Liora. If anything might be learned from the tragedies, that so threaten to divide us, it is this. ‘Let one without temptation, strike the first blow, let one who has been tempted, refuse, to strike the next,’” he quoted.

“Of course,” Liora said, and looked down.

“I wished to speak more of your plans, if, that is, there is more yet known?” Syberus asked, turning back to Katrisha.

“I’m not sure what business they are of yours,” Kiannae interrupted. “Nor what foolishly, my sister has deigned to tell you.”

“Nothing to concern you, that I would not have already known. That I could not easily have known, in this city,” the man stressed. “Yet, I owe a debt to this… family, and wish in some small measure endeavor to repay it. To offer what aid I can, that my stubborn Brothers, seem far less disposed to. It is a strange day when the oldest in a number, is the one most ready to bend.”

A man who sat far to then end of the table looked up. “I’ve a lead on a ship, that might be able to take passengers,” said a sailor. He was more cleanly dressed than he had been in his cell. “It’s a cargo vessel though, no word of passenger vessels for at least a month. Doubt she’ll be able to take horses though. Easy enough to sell in the city, I’d think.”

“The Guard is always in need of fine horses,” Syberus offered, “and those from Lycia are as good as those raised here. Better, from what I’ve heard in cities, than those born to the open plains. Used to the confining specter of tall things all around.” He gestured up in a circle.

“That could work,” Kiannae offered, but did not look pleased. She saw no harm in obliging. “For a fair price. I suspect we might need them again, and so, will wind up having to buy more.”

“If you imagine having need of them in future,” Syberus began, “I do think we could, look after them. When possible arrange transport west. One might surmise that this at least, could fall under, ‘all you ask.’ So many things strangely, have not.”

Kiannae huffed. “We’ll have to consider, what might make the most sense.”

Syberus nodded. “Will you travel with them, Sister Liora, or remain till official transport is available? Word from Nohlend, is that they would gladly have every hand they can, so soon as possible.”

“I made a promise.” Liora glanced to Katrisha. “Not to hurry, nor to wait. I suppose, I shall take what transport has room for me, and arrive to my duty, so quickly as I might. I’ve… no particular love for my horse, so he may join the guard. He was a gift, so let him be the same.”

“As you will,” Syberus nodded. “Though it has been some months since you have been paid your salary.”

“It has been some months, since I have quite been at duty, to call for such.”

“The rank of Paladin is one always at duty,” Syberus answered, he took a spoon full of soup up. “One by all accounts you have stood in, every moment, or way you could. I will see to your payment, personally.” He sipped from his spoon.

“I’ll be expecting a fair price for my horse,” Etore remarked.

The old cleric smiled.

⁃ ◇ ❖ ◇ ⁃

Kiannae stopped halfway down a pier, to draw in the wafting salt breeze. It shifted to her call, and earned ear a look from the sailor ten steps ahead. She ignored this, and relished the sea air. It had struck her every time, from her first visit the docks of Wesrook as a girl. She frowned, slightly, to remember her second visit. Stepping from the gangway onto the shores of a homeland she had left behind. The melancholy of that return pressed her on, after her guide.

The ship was docked out near the very end. A large three master all rolled up tight, and moored along the starboard side.

“Permission to come aboard,” the guide called out.

A sailor whittling wood, sat on rail above the gangplank looked down. “Name, and business?”

“Wessen, Carl, crew petition.”

“We might have an opening, but not two.”

“She’s more of a passenger.”

“Yours?”

Kiannae huffed. “He’s more mine, till he’s proven useful.”

This earned her only a passing annoyed look, and laughter from atop the gangplank.

“Besides,” Kiannae added. “I’m the kind of passenger, you sometimes pay.”

“What kind’s that?” the man asked, tilting his head curiously.

“Kind that’s good with the wind.”

“Ah! A druid, that’s what’s up with the funny staff. Was wondering, strange looking thing. Not that’d I’d take your word swabby, but she any good?”

“You hear about the record for the capitol run, down in Niven?” Carl answered.

“Think so, good few years back, heard some talk though. Tall tales I’d thought.”

“That was her.”

The sailor turned his head, “Oi, Miss Ambrush, we got a swabby and a celebrity. You want to talk to ‘em?”

A woman in tricorne, with enough ruffles under her chin to almost hide she was a woman, leaned over the railing. She pursed her lips, and put what might have been a jewelers piece up to her eye. She bit her lower lip. “I suppose,” she said, and returned it to a pocket. “You may come aboard.”

Carl made swift work up the plank, and saluted. With a dismissive wave to get on with it from first-mate, he stepped onto the deck. Kiannae walked up behind him, and with a nod stepped on as well.

“Didn’t try for a salute?” the woman asked.

“I’ve been told, a Dame should be careful saluting strangers.”

“Huh. A Dame eh? Haven’t met many of those. Where you herald from?”

“Avrale’s my home, but Niven honored me first.”

“Two lands, Knight of the Empire, I am honored. Niven you say, and did I hear right, the capitol run record, that was you?”

“So I’m told. First I’m hearing of it, since I met an old acquaintance again.” She nodded to Carl. “He was on the trip.”

“That you then?” the first-mate said circling the man. She hip checked him suddenly from behind, and he barely slid a foot forward to keep his balance. “Not bad. Stayed upright.”

The man grimaced. “You worked with a Captain Barret?”

“Ah, my uncle. Came around every few months.”

“Taught you that move for testing sea legs?”

“Oh, something like that,” Ambrush laughed. “Alright, up the mast, good and fast, with a line.”

Carl made for a coil of rope at the base of the mast. He looped around a shoulder, and was underway in only seconds, though the climb took longer.

“Alright? You’re looking to trade service for passage?” the first-mate asked of Kiannae.

“I might be worth more than passage.”

“Prove it.”

Kiannae took a breath, closed her eyes, and a gentle breeze took a smooth turn from west to north. It picked up enough to make the woman check her hat. “Not bad. Last druid we brought looked like he would pop a vein to give a ten degree shift. That was, hmm, eighty, and looked more relaxing than stressful.”

“Anything else, Miss?” Carl called down.

Ambrush glanced up to the man sitting atop the mast.

“Get down quick,” she called back.

The man looped the rope through a pulley, knotted it for a good grip, and hooked his legs around a trailing end. He slipped off the mast, and let himself down quite swiftly.

“You’ll do,” Ambrush said, and turned back to Kiannae. “Yer the girl I’ve heard tales of alright. What’s got you all the way out here in the High City?”

“Long story,” Kiannae answered.

“Make for dinner conversation then. Where’re you headed, and you traveling alone?”

Kiannae glanced to the new deckhand, and back to the first-mate. “Nohlend, I suppose, though truth be told, were’re not really sure. Just west. There are five others. My sister, brother, a Paladin on assignment, and a mercenary of sorts. I’ve a feeling we’ll stick with the paladin, one way or another.”

“Strange company,” Ambrush said. “Six gold I’d say, but your service might be worth three.”

“Oh, I’d say they’re worth at least five.”

“Are they now?” The woman chuckled.

Kiannae didn’t even close her eyes, just held the woman’s gaze. The wind stopped, swept back the other way, and picked up even more.

She pulled off her hat to be sure it didn’t get away, and put it over her heart. “These others half as gifted as you?”

“Might be,” Kiannae said. She turned the wolf face of her ring up. “Let’s call the brother a healer, and the sister a Council mage. The paladin bears the shield of the Avatar himself, and the brother’s girl, well, if she stowed away, I doubt you’d ever know.”

The woman put back on her hat, and picked at her teeth thoughtfully with a thumb nail. She didn’t look like she quite believe half of it. “Alright, let’s meet them. We’ve got the bunks. It’s a lean trip north, so don’t expect to be paid, but we’ve got the space, so if I’m impressed, you’ll be fed.”

“Any room for horses, the others are off looking to selling them, but just in case.”

“It’s doable, for a price, but not good taking horses all the way round the north coast. They don’t like trips that long at sea. Built for open land, not close quarters in a swaying hold. They’ll be miserable by the time we get there.”

“Fair enough,” Kiannae said. She felt like she’d kind of miss hers.

“Aye,” Carl said. “Her wolf was bad enough coming up from Napir.”

The first-mate perked a brow.

“Our stories might be worth something, to those who haven’t had to live them,” Kiannae obliged.

“Well, then consider you’ll be singing for a nicer supper, than the rest get.”

Kiannae nodded. “When should I bring the others around?”

“We set sail on the ‘morrow, but the Captain and I are taking dinner up the wharf with the owner. Can’t stomach most of the food here, but those who like a challenge, sometimes visit the Fires of Heaven. One of the less dull establishments in the city. Hope you like a little spice.”

⁃ ◇ ❖ ◇ ⁃

It was one of the nicer looking buildings by the docks, which said a bit. The High City was at times unnervingly clean. ‘The Fires of Heaven,’ was carved and painted in an elaborate, rather hard to read script. Exaggerated loops gave an almost flame like appearance. There were a few tricorn hats hung on hooks, and it fell to looking for the overly ruffled blouse of the woman. She was still looking over the menu provided for the table.

Miss Ambrush looked up to the collection of new arrivals with curiosity. She frowned, fished out her curious eyepiece, and did a quick sweep across them. She stopped on Etore, just at the back, who narrowed her gaze at the woman, as the others approached the table.

Ambrush and a young, rather dark skinned man stood. An older white bearded gentleman only looked up. None of them had much gift to speak of. The dark skinned man perhaps the most, though Ambrush was brighter than their captain. The old man relented to stand.

“Miss Ambrush,” Kiannae obliged.

“My Captain, the Dame’s Ashton, their younger brother, and their companions. I’m told the only living woman to claim the title Paladin, Liora Ward. Lastly the easily missed, and rather mysterious Etore Laen, who may be known by other names. Good travelers, might I introduce Captain Orwell, and the owner of our ship, Mr. Sund.”

“Charmed,” the dark skinned man said, hands behind his back and bowed, by local custom.

All took their seats opposite, with Wren and Etore on the end by the ship owner. Liora found herself uncomfortably in the middle, between Etore and Katrisha.

“So, you want passage, but would rather provide services than coin,” the Captain said.

“Rather be paid,” Etore countered.

The Captain laughed. “Wouldn’t we all. The druid’s useful, but we have a healer, who doubles as a cook, or visa versa, not always so sure. I’m not at all sure, we’ve use for a mage, let alone a Paladin, or a mercenary. Even if you’ve deckhand experience, we’re full up on crew.”

“I can pay,” Liora offered, but got a decided poke in the ribs from Etore, who she gave a fiery look in turn.

“I think you’ve more use for us, than you’d like us to believe,” Etore said. “I listen. Been a few years since there was a real scourge, but there’re reports of pirates in the Crown Isles again.”

“There’s always stories of that,” Orwell said looking unimpressed, but shrewd. “Particularly tall tales of Red Sails, flying the Skullrose. I think it’s just talk. No lost ships, or crew, no damaged hulls, just lean pickings, and high prices. I think the real pirates, are our fellow merchants. Stowing away goods for later, expecting Osyrae to make trouble. Worth more both now, and later that way.”

“You assume they aren’t already making trouble?” Kiannae countered. “We were there to see the Osyraen bandits on Eastroad, led by a duke of the land.”

“I’ve heard the stories, but there are trade routes it pays for them to disrupt, and ones it does not,” Mr. Sund countered. “Prices are high on a lot of things, but Osyrae struggles to grow sugarcane. They have an excess of spices that only export well east, into lands were the faithful eat so little sweet. The cane though makes a good cash crop. They’re also paying high prices for gems out of the north, and I’m glad to take all their coin I can. Stick them for it, wherever possible. I also like to tease them with a glimpse of the odd shipment of Amberite. Council law be damned, they could offer me kings ransom, free and clear, and I’d still just laugh.”

“Forgive me if it’s impertinent, but are there a lot of those of wasteland descent, who run ships?” Kiannae asked. “I’ve only met the two owners to date, and both were men such as yourself.”

“It’s a worthwhile observation,” Sund obliged. “We’ve needed new things to do. I’ve heard, from your sailor friend, what acquaintances you keep. Never met Varmun myself, but far as I can tell, fourth cousin, by marriage. My tribe fled east when Osyrae moved in, his north into the deeper wastes. Currently, my people reside in the fabled land of the Sand Queen, Goddess some call her, or Lady of the Sands, Vashiel. I’ve seen no proof she exists, but it seems to keep the Osyraen’s out.”

“Yet you still trade with them?” Katrisha pressed.

“Sometimes,” Sund offered. “When I feel I can get the better of them. If prices will be as good in Nohlend, we turn south, or if my great grandmother feels an ill wind about the west…”

“For one so suspicious of myths, you put a lot of stock in your old ma-ma-ma,” Ambrush said.

“She’s never been wrong,” Sund said thin lipped.

“I thought for sure she would be. A year early, a year late, never did I imagine such a thing, nor am I yet sure how that even balances out. I suppose it does, in that all the world is mad, and we the last sane ones.” Ambrush added as a server arrived. “We order appetizers. Yer welcome to your fair share, if you can handle the heat.” She smirked.

The central most dish was writhing mass of reddish orange. At first mistaken for bubbling, a tendril crawled out and wrapped around the side of the dish. The woman stuck it with a fork, and took a bite of the twisting thing.

Most cringed, but Etore met the challenging smile of the woman, took one, and ate.

“Is it… alive?” Kiannae asked with an utterly mortified expression.

“No,” Etore answered, and winced a bit from the spice.

Miss Ambrush swallowed and smirked. “Well, a little. Very fresh, it takes the muscles a while to die, and they respond to the sauce. If you’re feeling squeamish, the other two dishes are breaded peppers, and root vegetables. Each sautéed in the finest Osyraen scorpion pepper. Probably the same batch we brought in last year… or whatever year that was. Nearly twice as hot, be warned.”

Mr. Sund took one of the breaded peppers, dipped it in an orange sauce, and ate.

“The Sauce is almost a cooling agent,” Ambrush added, “though still quite spicy.” She handed over the menu to Katrisha. “They don’t do anything less than three Suns here, which is a bit milder.” She winced back a tear, trying not to show any discomfort, and took another bite. Some mixed enjoyment crossed her face, if not for the spice, the other’s dubious reactions.

Etore finished her squid without a further wince, and took one of the peppers. She swirled it a bit in the sauce, and bit into it without hesitation. Wren had a very mixed expression, and took a fork to the slightly calming center plate. This earned a surprised look from Kiannae.

“What is dead, is dead, let us not waste that already lost,” he offered to his sister in druidic proverb.

She obliged the sentiment, but reached for the root vegetables. Katrisha and Liora did the same, and each politely moved their hand to a different end of the plate. Katrisha coughed on her first bite, and though Liora put up a brave face did the same a moment later. Kiannae only winced slightly as she swallowed.

Katrisha looked at the menu, and recognized a Palentian dish she had found pleasant. “Gingered turkey kari, three Suns,” she said to the server. She showed the menu to Kiannae, who seemed distracted trying not to cough, and handed it down to Liora.

The woman did not look long. “Seared fire-bull plate, peppers, four.” Liora handed the menu on as Kiannae poured herself water from a carafe.

“We still haven’t — I think — quite established a price for our services,” Etore pressed, and looked over the menu. “Yes, you talk like you’re not afraid of a little piracy, but there are things stirring. Bandits all along the roads, rebellions, and fractures in time. We are the sort who’ve faced all of this and more, dragons, and stranger things. Pirates, would best think twice, in the odd event they fly their flags. Surely, a few gold more against the price of passage, insurance as it were, and we’ll call it a wash.”

“Tell us one of these tales, I’m told you all have to tell. You say it was indeed a Duke of Osyrae on Eastroad?” Ambrush pressed.

“He’d fall under the guise of stranger things,” Katrisha obliged, and the woman smiled amiably.

⁃ ◇ ❖ ◇ ⁃

“Well, this is it,” Ambrush said. She waved away a deck hand on watch, and seemed a bit tipsy.

Katrisha watched him go. “I’m not quite sure when you found time to drink,” she said in a hushed tone, and stepped off the plank. She glanced around the large vessel. Ambrush laughed.

They hadn’t gotten on any of them at the docks back in Wesrook as children. Kiannae had been more fascinated by the boats, and disappointed. Katrisha had found the people more curious. Ambrush’s smile just then, more so.

“You do know that’s how our… sailor friend got into trouble?” Katrisha pressed.

“Ah, but it is a Day of the Sun, and while alcohol is quite hard to find in this city, other things are… easier.” She bit her lip.

“I see,” Katrisha offered, and felt overly sober indeed.

“Might I take a look at your spectacles?” Ambrush asked. “I’ve been wanting to since I first laid eyes on them.” She popped out her little eye piece from a pocket. “I picked this trinket up years ago, hard won bet. It’s handy to see the world more like you lot.”

Katrisha struggled not to frown as suspicion hit her. She offered the woman a friendly smile, nonetheless.

“Come on, show me yours, I’ll show you mine.” She gave a little pout, and held out the eyepiece.

Katrisha unclipped the chain, adjusted them a bit, and handed them over as she took the little bobble. It might have been some of Selene’s early work as she examined the style of enchantment, it was hard to say. She put it up to her eye, and looked the woman over. She had a few enchantments, some curiously place. Most of them Katrisha had already noticed, but they were clearer.

The piece was only a bit better than her first attempt with spectacles. Seemed to have a single function, though it appeared to twist in the middle. She turned it, and this proved to control how bright the highlight of filaments was. Making the control usable for the ungifted. Quite clever.

The woman was looking around in utter, awed wonder at everything. The ship had plenty of enchantments. Simple wards on boards, and bindings in the mast. Enough to insure they would almost surely never snap, in even the most violent gale. She tried poking around the periphery of the lenses to no avail. The woman could not quite touch the controls, let alone know how they worked.

Miss Ambrush turned back to Katrisha. “All that fiddling you did, what else can these see?”

“Quite a lot.” Katrisha reached up, and adjusted some of the controls.

The woman looked a bit confused. “What’s this?”

“Heat,” Katrisha answered.

“My, you’re warm,” Ambrush said with surprise. “Are your robes enchanted for heat… here?”

“Opposite,” Katrisha said. “Only way I’ve been able to stay sane in the summers, since I was rather young.”

“So you don’t like it warm?” Ambrush asked taking a step closer.

“Some warmth is… better than others. The winter makes for more delightful contrast,” Katrisha obliged. She bit her lip, not to be coy so much as cautious. “Why are you flirting with me?” she relented to be plain.

“What? A lady meets a pretty girl, with such stories to tell. A sailor needs her stories, and there are… sorts the men love to hear. Makes them think of you as more one of them. There are safer options for a wandering woman of little gift, than the attentions of men. Not that it doesn’t seem to make them want you more. Strange creatures, men.” She’d been more seductive with every word, a slight tilt of the hip, until she broke down giggling. Which for all the irony worked better on the suspicious woman before her, who laughed in turn.

Katrisha had gotten to know the effects, and it did ease her to think of it as just that. The flowers in her veins, making everything feel fresh, and new. The story piqued her interest though. She’d most often found herself the storyteller amongst her closet companions. It was rare, someone put effort into charming her. Her fault, as charming others was so oft her first instinct. She bit her lip again, as the woman’s fool smile, and curious manner chipped away at resistance. Ambrush was a lovely woman, with a strange manner, and a certain strength. She doubted very much there were many women who could claim first-mate. The world being what it was.

A swallow was unexpected, and snapped Katrisha out of it. She stepped back.

“Shyer than some stories might tell,” Ambrush said, and did a little jig across the deck, to lean on the mast and look up.

Katrisha walked over, and offered the woman back her eye piece. She relented to look down, looked at the contents of Katrisha’s hand, and pouted.

“I’ve a telescope, much more powerful. Perhaps on the trip, we can pull it out. Won’t be able to use it to its fullest potential on the rocking sea, unfortunately.”

“There are moments, in the north, usually in the heat of day, but sometimes at night, it goes so still… It makes the land feel unstable, and the air is chill all of a sudden. Feels like you could see forever.” She’d grown wistful, and drifted her eyes back up.

When this got the woman nothing, she switched back to a sterner face. Ambrush took the eye piece, and very smartly handed back the spectacles.

Katrisha looked down to clip them on, glad for an excuse to not catch her eye again. She stepped around, and leaned against another side of the mast, looking off towards the city. Stars above and below. Forty-eight, it was just stuck in her head. The chance, the probability, the desire to sabotage every implication it came with. So what if it had implications, what if it changed everything? Was that a bad thing?

She swallowed again.

Ambrush came around, and put a hand on her cheek. “The stories do proceed you, you know. I had dinner down in Palatine, not so long ago. Some merchant girl, came with her caravan master, old friend, of one of our crew.” She smiled, and chuckled. “The night got on, and the talk got randy, with a little bit of brandy. Her eyes caught mine, and my friend’s.” Ambrush laughed, and it turned into an insistent giggle.

It was oddly sweet, the silliness every time she tried to be so serious. Disarming, but that in itself lent new suspicion that felt silly.

Ambrush hummed. “She… uh, told the tale of the Court Mage of Avrale. Strange story really, that the woman wove joy from magic. I… said that everyone knew you couldn’t make living energy with magic. Never mind what a Court Mage of Avrale would be up to with such trouble. Then that crew member, she…” Ambrush laughed again. “She told me I was wrong, and so we all agreed she’d prove it.” She leaned just a little closer, and dropped her tone. “Which, between you and me, she’d proved, years before.”

Katrisha licked her lips, and it seemed taken as an invitation, not a nervous reaction. Ambrush leaned closer.

“Who you got there, Erin?”

Katrisha found her hand not quite placed to grab hold of a shoulder, or block a pair of impertinent lips. She really wasn’t sure which she would have done. As Ambrush turned her head, however little gift the first-mate had, it was clear she knew how to work her aura. That was rare, and suspicious.

“You jealous, Cookie?”

Katrisha slipped out from before her, wondering where she would have learned such a skill. Where had Maeren learned hers. It had always been a mystery, with cheap explanations. That it was just her nature. Katrisha finally turned as the woman spoke again.

“You know I don’t do jealousy, except when you don’t share.” The woman strode towards Ambrush. “You also know, no one else calls me that.” She almost could have been Sasha. In the pale light the hair was just dark, but too dark. So was the skin, a bit off, an uncommon tone.

“You want me to call you Miss Red, like half the crew?” Ambrush asked. “You know that makes you sound like a first-mate.”

“Cookie’s fine, so long as it’s just you.” The woman turned, and gave Katrisha’s gaze a dubious once over in turn. “Oh, I’ve heard about you, but no tale can do that hair justice. It really is silver, and shines, even by the moonlight.”

The woman was a little older, surely, but it was hard to say how much. The robe showed the difference between black, and red, and the hair was curly. It wasn’t quite her, just the curves, more than anything, that were distracting.

Katrisha swallowed again, her throat very dry. “I have to go, be sure everything is prepared. We leave in the morning, yes? Early if need be?”

“Yes,” Miss Ambrush said. It was clear she was disappointed, and returned to a more stiff commanding posture.

Katrisha turned and strode off the deck, and down the plank.

“You like them broken, don’t you?” the red woman asked in a whisper.

Ambrush bit her lip. “You know me, I think things a little broken, are more interesting.”

“Is that why you’re so interesting?”

“You know it’s not how something’s broken, but how it’s fixed.”

“Ah, so I made you interesting?” The woman placed herself such that Ambrush could press her up against the mast, and she did. The woman only smiled up at her in response.

Katrisha fidgeted with her earpiece, but she’d gotten too far. She closed her eyes, and tried to make sense of the chances, and the mismatched things. It couldn’t have been. It was a common enough name in the court, and it didn’t help the three had always dressed the same. She turned back up the dock to where the two were just out of sight, midship.

She put on her spectacles, turned them up to their most sensitive, and she could see it. Spell work in the air. It looked like currents but their partners were too regular. It was hard to see, but the spell itself could almost show her. She touched the air, caught the breeze not as her sister would, but as a spell. Someone had built a spell right there. Right across the deck of the ship, and she felt the wind turn.

Katrisha closed her eyes, and could see how it would carry ships into port, perfectly. How it swirled around the bay like the winds around the north sea. She’d tried her hand at modeling it all, been no more successful than anyone who’d come before.

Observation did not match prediction, for any system that worked everywhere else. It was like a wheel, turning the world through it. Oft it was speculated to be an effect like elementals, but Katrisha could see it. She for just a moment attuned to the shape of it. She pulled herself back and turned up the pier. It was easy to imagine it as new, but it was all too familiar. She’d seen it when she’d been sick, and what did she need to do back then? Just be still, for a little while, she’d only make it worse.

She swallowed again. That dinner had been far too spicy, was a thin excuse.

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