he day had been quiet. Mother was sewing, humming to herself periodically, and Tavis was reviewing his astronomy texts, reading the words now, as well as looking at the illustrations. Afternoon was approaching when the tranquillity was broken by a heavy clump of boots up the stairs in the hallway, followed by a heavy knock at the door. Mother set her mending down to answer and was shocked to see two stern-faced imperial soldiers in the doorway, one of them holding a small roll of parchment.
"I am Lacondus, of the imperial guard," the soldier stated flatly, a thick highland accent in his voice.
"Good day," mother began hesitantly. "Is there anything the matter?"
"You are Myrna, the missus of Jovis, a tanner."
"I am," mother replied, her eyes still searching the soldier's face for answers.
"He was arrested this morning for giving aid to the 'Free Temacus Now' faction. He was smuggling in arms and supplies with his leathers, and confesses to have done so for many months now."
Mother was aghast. "What? Jovis? Good heavens… -No, he's just a tanner, sir. He's my husband and I-"
"Please, missus. We apprehended him with a cargo load full of weapons. There's nothing for it."
Mother's lips were quivering as she tried to form words. Little whimpers were all that came out.
Lacondus displayed the roll of parchment, pointing to the wax seal upon it. "I am authorized by the Enteroh to search the premises for any documents or contraband weapons. Please step aside, missus."
Mother cast her eyes about the room wonderingly, then stepped aside to allow Lacondus and his companion to pass. Mechanically, the two soldiers entered the room and began pulling open drawers and cabinets in a practiced fashion. The stern-faced Lacondus strode quickly over to Tavis and snatched the astronomy text from the boy's hand.
"What's this?" the soldier asked, giving the pamphlet a cursory glance.
Tavis looked up at the big man sheepishly. "It's one of the reads we had back when I went to school."
Lacondus thumbed through it quickly. "You going to school now?"
"There aren't any schools around here," Tavis replied brusquely.
Lacondus glared at Tavis with hard eyes. "Afraid we'll have to confiscate it, son, and any others you have."
The angry mob which first greeted them when they arrived dispersed quickly after a brief explanation from Kenja. The company breathed a collective sigh, and then relaxed for a bit, breathing in cool, mountaintop air. Brief introductions were exchanged, and everyone seemed charmed by Tavis' childhood friend. Kenja summoned up some fruits, nuts and cheeses for breakfast, and everyone sat down on some rocks, ate and relaxed. It didn't take long for Zeyn to wander off which put everyone even more at ease.
"Tredge," Brogan said, stuffing grapes into his mouth, "Doesn't anyone in this part of the world eat meat?"
"For breakfast?" Gin asked incredulously through a mouthful of cheese.
"Hey, I got a high-protein diet, awright?" Brogan snapped, ripping off a chunk of bread and popping it in his mouth. "Much more of this weasel-food and I'll shrivel up like Zeyn!" Brogan went on munching chunks of bread.
"We'll get a nice cloak for you, Brogan," Rhoden replied dryly. "One with a cowl, I think."
Brogan stopped chewing and shot him a squinty perturbed look. Gin giggled.
"Man, all the jesters we got outta work…" Brogan muttered and kept on eating.
Tavis and Kenja had walked off by themselves a little ways, chattering away the whole time, recanting dozens of stories from their youth, going on about pranks they pulled and parts of town that they discovered together.
"Stars," Kenja said at one point, through silver peals of laughter. "It's been ages since I even thought about the pits. -I can't believe you can remember so well the day went there."
"I even remember what you were wearing," Tavis replied.
"Oh really?" she countered, her hands going to her hips and a golden smile spreading across her face, "What was I wearing?"
Tavis regarded her thin, sleeveless shirt and form-fitting leather breeches which extended down to mid-thigh. He saw that a handful of small tools were hung from belt loops on her waist.
"Same thing you're wearing now, actually." Then a pause as he looked her up and down again. "Mind you, the outfit does fit you better now."
She slapped him several times on the arm, then laughed and ran her fingers into his thick, black hair and shook his head playfully. "My stars, Tavis… You have learned how to flirt! I wondered how long it would take you!" Then the two laughed together. Tavis put an arm about her waist (the other was still holding the lance) and hugged her tightly.
He released her after a moment, but she continued to draw her fingers through his black locks. "You always had the most beautiful hair... Do you know how many women would kill to have hair like this?" She clenched her fists for emphasis at the 'this', shaking his head again.
"I like what you've done with yours, by the way." Tavis noted.
"Such the gentleman," she thanked him, retracting her hands and running them over the smooth tan braids of her own hair, drawn up at the sides, and then streaming back and down, glancing over the occasional shoulder. "They're still just braids, you know." She flicked at the wooden beads at the ends, making them rattle against each other. "Just braided different is all."
"It's a good different," Tavis replied.
Standing back a ways between Rhoden and Brogan, Gin glared at Kenja with eyes of stone.
"I don't like the way she touches him," the Elf girl declared, a sharp edge in her voice.
Brogan looked down at Gin.
"She touches him way too much," she continued, the edge growing sharper.
"Sheesh, Ginny, they're just glad to see each other, that's all."
"Where I grew up, nobody touched each other that much."
Brogan harrumphed. "That's cause in Elf-land, everybody's born with nerves like raw onions. The only way they ever reproduce there is by-"
"Hssssst!" Rhoden hissed, cutting the BeHemoth off. Brogan peered over at the conjurer, then down at Gin, and then clapped his jaw shut. He cleared his throat noisily and then looked back up at the little mountain city.
"Figure a town like this would have someplace that serves decent ale," Brogan muttered, then got up off his seat and sauntered down the lane into town.
"He's always so rude!" Gin snapped, watching him walk away. "He's such a pig."
Rhoden gave a single, soft chuckle, his head rocking slightly.
"And you're no better!" Gin chided, looking Rhoden up and down. She then turned and stormed away. Stopping by the edge of the cliff and looking off through the clouds.
Tavis and Kenja went on conversing at length, their speech punctuated by bouts of laughter.
"Well, buddy," Tavis began, "you still haven't told me how you got up here all the way from Temacus?"
"I was wondering the same thing about you." Kenja replied, "You're a little ways from home yourself. Maybe you've got a story to tell me?"
Tavis chuckled and rubbed his chin. "Yeah, maybe I do… How 'bout if we trade those stories a little later?"
Kenja shrugged. "Suits me, I'll be around."
"Not going anywhere then?"
"Not for the next couple of days. How long have you got to stay?"
"Not long," Tavis replied shortly. "Fact, I'm kind of in a hurry. I was hoping to get on a ship going back to Temacus by this afternoon."
Kenja raised an eyebrow. "You're in a hurry?"
"Yeah, that's part of my story I guess."
"How about you tell it to me while I fly you back this afternoon?"
Tavis looked at her bewildered. "You fly airships?"
"Guess that's part of my story."
Tavis chuckled. "Guess we can swap those later, then… -Say, Kenja, are there any, ah… Temples of Anhur around here?"
Kenja stepped back and regarded him thoughtfully. "I didn't scare you too badly last time I took you with me, then?"
"No, not at all. In fact, I went back to one a couple of times after the last time you took me."
"Really? Well, I'm glad to hear I had some good influence on you." She paused and smiled a delicious smile. "There's one up the road a bit. Up straight, then right at the glue maker's and down that way for two blocks. If you hit the blacksmith's shop you've gone too far. I'll take you there if you'd like."
"No… no thanks, Kenja. Just need some time by myself to unwind is all."
"I hear you," she replied, still showing her golden smile. "Catch you later, then?"
"You bet -Maybe for lunch?"
"Sure. There's a Skein place here that does takeout."
He stared at her.
"Surprised?" She inquired.
"Me? Never." Tavis then turned and began trudging down the lane.
Tavis was almost to the temple when he saw a fellow sitting against a building, wearing a homespun poncho and holding a mandolin. His hat sat on the ground, open end up and a few dull coppers sat inside.
"Du fon wegen en kanche?" The fellow asked. Tavis picked up his accent immediately.
"You know anything from home, friend?" Tavis replied.
"Ah, something from home it is," the fellow replied, switching seamlessly to in-city Roke. He sat up with a moaning sigh and straightened his homespun poncho. "Not often I meet a fellow neighbor from Temacus… It's been a little while since I sang the old songs from home though... Don't know if I could remember all the words…"
Tavis took a few coppers out of his pocket and tossed them in the hat on the ground.
"Ah, that helps," homespun replied. "I think they're coming back to me now…" He then began flicking the strings on his mandolin, playing the opening to an old, familiar tune.
Oh it's hard to see down the road you're on,
When you can't help but look back.
And you can't believe what's ahead of you,
When you can't accept the fact,
That the life you lead is changing,
And all you've ever known,
Is left and gone forever,
When you're now so far from home.
Yes it's left and gone forever,
'Cause you're now so far from home…
After the soldiers left, Myrna sat for a moment, ashen faced, staring at absolutely nothing for a great length of time. Tavis did not disturb her, instead he walked back to his room to see what the soldiers had left of it. Carefully he picked through his disheveled belongings, making a small pile of his most prized remaining possessions.
Time passed, and then mother walked out the door and across the hall to Kenja's place. She exchanged a few words with Kenja's father, and then gave him a few coins. She returned to her ramshackled apartment, knelt on the floor and began packing what few possessions she had remaining into an old bag.
"What are you packing for, mom?" Tavis inquired.
She stuffed a few more things in her bag before she spoke. "I am going to go live with my mother back in Piruville."
Tavis looked at her incredulously. "Am I coming with you?"
"No son, you are going to go live with your uncle Wiljes. I just arranged with Kenja's father for him to take you there."
Tavis looked her in the eye, stunned. "…But… But what about…"
"No son. No." Her voice was cracking now. "You're going to live with Wiljes. Now go get your things together. I want you to be there before sundown."
"Go on," she coaxed, her voice broken, her breathing irregular.
Slowly, Tavis turned, walked back to his room, and picked up the corners of the sheet on his bed, tied them in a knot and slung it over his shoulder. Marching past his mother without a word, Tavis exited the door of his apartment for the last time and strode over to Kenja's place. Mother did not look up. Her hands covered her face now and the sounds of her sobbing rose and followed Tavis down the stairs as he followed Kenja's dad to his wagon.
Tavis breathed in the thin mountain air, enjoying his solo excursion into town. Reflecting on the past several days, Tavis noted that he hadn't been on his own for quite some time. The recent combination of foreign lands and strange experiences had made him pull close to his comrades, but it felt good to be alone for a change.
As he walked down the narrow street, Tavis noted that this city was rather peculiar. For starters, there was not much traffic on the roads. Part of that could be due to the early hour, or possibly this was a less-heavily traveled part of town, but he couldn't even hear horses in the distance. He passed by some people walking, carrying packs or the like, but no one seemed to have much to take about with them, and no one seemed to be in much of a hurry.
The buildings were odd too. None of them were taller than one story and they seemed to have a stumpy, beaten-upon look to them, as though many years of harsh weather had hammered away any details or fine points they might have once possessed. Tavis cast his eyes over them, eyeing them with a look of almost pity. After a while he looked up and saw his objective.
Something about the dry winds and thin air gave this temple of Anhur its appearance of age and strength. Another cliff's edge fell off shortly behind it, and it made the temple look like it was on the top of the world. Thin strands of cloud swept past behind it, giving the building a queer sense of flight. The ruddy morning light bathed the front facade until it became a part of the building's sable stone.
Tavis approached the door solemnly, the morning scene filling him with awe. Gently, he pulled on the thick iron handle and swung the door open. Orange rays of light streamed in, lighting on dark cherrywood and illuminating swirling flecks of dust which hung in the air. Guardedly, Tavis passed through the antechamber and opened the door that led to the congregation room. This was perhaps the smallest congregational area in any of the temples. The construct was the same that Tavis had seen in the past, however: struts extended from the corners of the octagonal room, peaking at the ceiling, and the chantry where the clergy would speak was positioned just off center and toward the back. The entire room had a wrapped and cozy feel about it. When seated to capacity, Tavis imagined, the room probably had a comfortable sense of closeness and security.
"Weapons at the door!" Tavis jerked his head up quickly and saw a balding priest in his middle years standing up from a desk in a far corner of the room. "This is a temple of Anhur, lad," the priest continued, gesturing back toward the anteroom.
"Oh! Right -Sorry," Tavis blundered. Quickly the youth turned about, opened the door to the anteroom and set the lance out by the doorway. He returned to see the priest looking at him hard, his hands behind his back. Tavis cast his eyes about the room, then looked down, embarrassed.
"Welcome to the temple of Anhur," the priest declared, his voice carrying clearly through the chapel. "May you find peace this day."
Tavis looked up again, still feeling a bit sheepish. "Thank you…"
"Lim Vora. Brother Lim if you prefer."
"Tavis," the youth replied, pointing to his own chest. "Yes, thank you brother Lim."
"If there's anything I can do for you…"
"Of course. I believe I'd just like to sit and think for a bit."
The priest nodded deeply, and gestured grandly to the numerous seats in the chapel. Tavis took one. The priest then sat down again at his desk, picked up a stylus, and began applying words to parchment, looking up every now and then to a thick book of scripture by his side.
Seated comfortably for the first time in days, Tavis exhaled heavily, gently closing his eyes. Slowly his thoughts mellowed and he began to take inventory of the last several days. It seemed like he had began a whole new life when Endae died. All of the places he'd gone since then, things he'd seen… It seemed almost like a dream.
The dream. That was the only thing that Tavis couldn't sort out: that odd dream he had last night before they were attacked. It hardly seemed like a dream, talking with the Enteroh like that. It was too clear and too fluid. Tavis' dreams were always more abstract, and usually made up from things already inside his head. That Tavis himself could come up with the abominable philosophies that the Enteroh was spouting was preposterous, and he utterly rejected that as a possibility. No, that dream was sent, of that he was sure.
"Brother Lim," Tavis said at length, still looking straight ahead to the chantry in the middle of the room.
"Yes, son," the priest replied, looking up from his writing.
"How did all the races get to Rone?"
"Anhur gave His creations a world to live in," the priest began in a practiced tone, "out of His love for them and His desire to see them grow and glorify Him."
Tavis gave no response.
"This isn't the first time you've heard that, is it son?"
"Were there any races that came here that weren't supposed to?" Tavis continued.
Brother Lim studied the youth for a moment. "Son, Anhur cherishes all His creations, and we must learn to look past the exterior to the soul within. All souls have beauty-"
"No," Tavis cut in, turning to look at the priest. "That's not what I mean. Some of my best friends don't look at all like me."
"Then what do you mean, son?"
Tavis swallowed. "Were there any races that Anhur didn't specifically send, or that came here… on their own?"
The priest looked at Tavis hard, his brow wrinkling. "Son, you've been listening to the teachings of Men, not of Anhur."
A moment passed where neither spoke.
"Have you ever had a Seeing done? I think it could give you some direction, help you understand who you are and where you fit in."
The first thing that came to Tavis' mind at the mention of Seeing was the Lamya, and he stammered at the memory. Then he realized who he was talking to and remembered the Seeing the priestess had given him earlier that month.
"Yes, I had one done once," Tavis replied.
"Did you receive any tokens?" Brother Lim inquired.
"Yes," Tavis answered, his hands going to his pouch.
"Get them out, then, and let's look at them together.
Tavis opened his pouch and produced the tokens the priestess had given him. Gingerly he handed them to the priest. He picked them up one at a time, examining in turn the small white cup, the miniature jade figurine, and the dark, gold-colored coin, speaking to himself as he went. "…Vessel of some sort… Figure of a man, possibly a warrior image… …Here now, what's this?" He lingered on the coin for some time, turning it about and polishing it with his sleeve.
"Do you have an interpretation? Know what they might mean?" Tavis asked.
"I'm not quite as skilled with scrying as some, my tastes tend to lie more with magic objects and the like. I would gather, however that the vial means you hold or posses something, possibly something important… I gather from the figure -and from that nasty staff you brought in the door with you that you're supposed to be strong or fight for some cause… There's something about this one though…" the priest tapped the coin for emphasis, peering at it even more closely.
Tavis glared at the baubles on the desk. "They're just trinkets, though. They're not worth much."
"But you keep them, -with you."
"Yeah," Tavis sighed.
"Most of the Gifts of Seeing are just trinkets, son, but it's not what they'll fetch at the market that maters, it's what they mean, what they mean to you, that's important."
Tavis sighed again and looked down at his hands in his lap. He paused not knowing what to say. Pausing, he noticed that the chapel had been growing steadily warmer.
"Say, what time of day is it?" the youth asked.
"Judging by the heat, I'd say it's approaching midday."
"I need to go, I've got friends waiting."
Brother Lim gestured to the jade figuring and white vial on his desk. Tavis scooped them into his pouch, then waited for the priest to relinquish the coin.
"You may want to take care of this one, at least," Brother Lim commented, handing Tavis the coin. "It's definitely worth something. That's a scrying stone you've got there."
Wiljes finished off the last of his soup and looked up at Tavis. The youth's eyes were still wet from his tirade of sobbing when he arrived. Somehow, Tavis managed to remain composed the entire time that Kenja's father drove him across town, but seeing his uncle brought all his emotions gushing out. This would be home for Tavis now, Kenja's father explained as best he could to Wiljes as Tavis' weeping incapacitated him of any speech. Wiljes had been a saint, feeding Tavis a hot bowl of stew for dinner, and listening intently to the youth through his heaving sobs.
"Are you done?" Wiljes asked over his empty soup bowl.
"Yeah, I-" Tavis paused to wipe his nose. " …I think I'm going to be okay now."
"Of course you are, son. I was talking about your stew, though. You done?"
"Oh," Tavis replied lamely. "Yeah, I'm done with that too."
"Right then, be a good lad and go rinse them in the creek out back."
"Okay," Tavis said, picking up the bowls and heading out the back door. He walked quickly to the little stream, rinsed them, and then looked up into the orange sky. Sunset was coming on, Tavis noted. This morning, I woke up thinking it would be just another day, he thought. Maybe go somewhere with Kenja, help mom with dinner, wonder when dad would be home. "Dad…" he said aloud, biting down hard to ward off the lump which grew again in his throat. "What have they done with you," he continued. "Where are you right now?" He began to pace. How could this happen to him -to his whole family. How could anyone have that much power to-
His thought unfinished, Tavis stumbled over a thick, straight branch on the ground. He stared at it resolutely, then picked it up and began to strike at imaginary guards with it. The whistling sound of the wood felt good in his ears as he pictured one imperial guard after another falling with the swift blows of his staff. He paced and turned, swinging the branch wildly about, then stopped dead as he turned and saw Wiljes standing outside, leaning on his own staff, examining the youth's moves intently.
"No… no, no, Tavis, that's not right." The old uncle said.
Tavis hung his head, his breathing heavy. "I know… It's not the right way. I'm just so frustrated! It's like everything I love or care for gets ruined or taken away -and there's nothing I can do!"
"No that's not what I mean, lad. You're holding that stick all wrong."
"What do you… What are you saying?"
"I mean look," Wiljes explained, raising his own staff. "If someone comes at you like this-" he brought his staff up and swept it down menacingly toward the youth's head. Tavis responded, raising both arms upward, tight hands clutching the branch. Wood thumped on wood as Wiljes' staff struck. Tavis grunted with the impact and retracted one of his hands which stung from the jolt, and shook it madly in the air.
"Ooww!" the youth cried. "Careful!"
"Stings, doesn't it," Wiljes responded.
"You could've told me!"
"You see how you learn?"
Tavis looked at his uncle with hurt eyes.
"Try this instead," Wiljes went on, "When I come down, just twist your hands, and hit my lance with the end of your staff, not the middle, and twist your body to the side at the same time."
Tavis raised his staff slowly, taking a defensive stance.
"Ready… now!" Wiljes brought down his staff. Tavis did as he was instructed. The wood whistled low in the air, met the oncoming blow, and deflected it soundly. Tavis twisted his body just in time to dodge the lance as it struck the ground beside him.
The youth paused and cast about slowly, taking in the event. A bright grin crossed his face as he looked up at the old man before him.
"How's that then?" Wiljes said.
"Wait," Tavis replied, "now what do I do if you thrust at me with the end?"
"Well, first you've got to learn what to do when I come from the side."
"Well… show me then!"
The two went on sparring into the night, Wiljes coaching and Tavis hanging on his every instruction.
"You've got it lad!" Wiljes burst. "Keep up the practice and I'll teach you how to breathe properly."
The two finally returned back inside the house long after the sun had gone down.
Tavis' walk back from the temple was disquieting and unpleasant, a stark contrast to the agreeable stroll he had going there. On top of his brooding over his talk with the priest which did very little to calm him and on the contrary made him feel upset, it was also much hotter now and the dry air made him feel like he was in a cooking oven. It was brighter too, up this high, without any cloud cover, making him squint and stare down at his feet.
"Tavis!" a deep voice boomed from a nearby building.
Tavis jerked his head up and saw Brogan seated just inside the door of a tavern on the street. The table before him and barstool under the BeHemoth looked like doll house furniture under his massive bulk.
"Hey, Brogan. Found something to drink ay?"
"You bet, this is great stuff! Here, come out of the sun and try some."
Brogan didn't have to offer twice. Tavis gladly stepped off the hot street and into the welcoming cool of the tavern.
"Here, have a swig!" Brogan boomed, shoving his mug into Tavis' hands. Casting his eyes briefly about the room, Tavis noticed that the few other patrons didn't seem to feel very comfortable with having this huge red creature around.
As he lifted the mug to take a drink, Tavis regarded the stein with curiosity. It seemed to be made up of a patchwork of leather strips, sealed together at the edges with globs of pitch, while the bottom and handle were made of wood. As Tavis took a sip he found that the materials from which the mug was constructed added significantly to the flavor of the drink.
"Nice," Tavis replied after a hearty gulp, handing back the mug.
"Ain't it though? And for five more coppers I got to keep the mug." Brogan seemed unusually cheerful. "Combination ale house and souvenir shop -Why didn't someone think of it earlier?"
Tavis gave a brief smile and his eyes met a surly looking bartender. "How'd you manage to order a drink in here? You don't speak Delian."
"Ah, I speak the universal language." To illustrate, Brogan thumped the table he was at several times and bellowed in a loud voice: "Hey bartend! Glug-glug! Drinky-drinky!" The latter was punctuated with comical pantomimes of guzzling down liquid from a bottle.
Reluctantly, the bartender stepped out from behind the bar with a dark bottle and sauntered over to Brogan's table. He poured a moderate amount into Brogan's mug and ambled back behind the bar, steel in his eyes the whole time.
"See? Great service they got in this place," Brogan commented, swilling around the ale in his mug and then brining it to his lips for a hearty swig. "Where ya headin' to anyway, kid?"
"Back by the docks. Kenja's going to take us back to Temacus." Tavis' voice held a tone of grudging resoluteness.
"Well then let's get a move on, why don't we? Time ain't a good thing to waste, they're not making any more of it." Loudly, the big red stood up and slapped some coins down on the table. "For your trouble!" he called back to the bartender, then headed for the door, carrying his new favorite mug
Tavis could nearly feel the sigh of relief coming off the tavern's patrons as they left.
It didn't take them long to get to the docking yard, and was nothing like Tavis was expecting. Rather than the huge, flat plateau that he imagined there might be, all the airships were floating in a huge pond that seemed to have a distinctly artificial look. The scene immediately took him back to the times he had seen the bay filled with magnificent ships, sails billowing and throwing off sunlight. These ships looked different than regular sailing ships, though. Rather than straight, tall masts, the sails were held in place with long, arcing beams that were anchored close to the front, and bent toward the back. The hulls were constructed somewhat differently as well. They were not very tall, nor deep, but wide with broad, spanning decks, the edges of which seemed to spread out almost like wings.
Tavis quickly spotted Rhoden standing by one of the smaller ships, along with the hovering Zeyn, Gin, and a little, old, bald-headed Gnome about Gin's height who was pacing alongside the ship, making grand gestures and prattling on and on.
"Oje, ani!" came a distinctly feminine voice behind them. Tavis turned to see a familiar braid-headed woman approaching, a rope slung over her shoulder. Tavis was still getting used to the idea of seeing her as a woman now, not a girl.
"Hey, Kenja," Tavis replied. "Where you been?"
"Just had to pick up something before we go," she replied, pointing to the rope on her shoulder. Her eyes went searching over Tavis' shoulder in the direction of her ship. "Oh no, is he at it again?"
"Zeyn always floats in the air like that," Brogan replied. "You get used to it after awhile."
"No," Kenja chided, "I'm talking about Gid'rakel. He loves it when he sees strangers because he can pester them with what he knows about airships. Here, let's stop him before he bores them to death."
As the group approached, they heard Gid'rakel reciting an obviously well-rehearsed lesson. Gin seemed fairly interested in what he had to say, while Rhoden made valiant attempts to walk off unnoticed.
"So you see," the Gnome began, bringing up both arms for another grand gesture, "the hull is hollow, filled on the inside with great sheets of tar-coated rubber with an intricate series of pulleys that stretch them out from time to time, periodically, -It's all run on a clockwork basis with an elaborate series of gears and cogs. -Anyway, I was saying… the ropes pull and stretch out the rubber and the whole inside inflates like a lung, drawing air in the front through the intake."
"So it's like when you breathe in, then?" Gin inquired.
"Right, lass, right you are. It comes in through the intake at the front," the Gnome gestured up to a dark metal apparatus at the front of the airship, "and it's built of a light but resilient metal -actually a compound of several metals- with a propeller and a grate inside it that super-heats the air as it comes inside. All that friction, it's like rubbing your hands together," Gid'rakel rubbed his hands fiercely at this point, "and that gives the ship buoyancy, makes it hot, light, -makes it float in the air, just like the old contraptions with the huge balloons overhead. I say old, but they're still around, you just don't see them quite as much now."
"Huh," Gin replied scratching gently at her blonde locks.
"Right, -now this is the clever bit- the sheets inside hold the air for awhile, then shoot it out the back," Gid'rakel made a 'shooting' gesture with his hands, "giving it the thrust, you see, propelling it forward." The Gnome repeated the 'shooting' gesture several times to make sure that Gin had got it.
"Allright, Grandpa," Kenja began, striding toward the old Gnome, "Enough lectures for now, I want the wish!"
"What? No! Leave me be, you daft girl!" Gid'rakel brought his hands up to his head and took some steps to get away, but Kenja was right on top of him. With little difficulty, she fought through his defensive hands and rubbed her hands all over his bald head, mussing up the white strands of hair that ringed his head and causing them to flare up like a cotton tree in a wind storm. She gave him several more seconds of this abuse and then relented.
"Yay! I got the wish!" Kenja cried triumphantly.
"Airghh!" Gid'rakel screamed, running his hands all over his head trying vainly to smooth out the damage Kenja had done. "You classless, batty wench! How many times have I told you I hate it when you do that!"
"Oh, but Grandpa," Kenja cooed, "if you go on like this, the wish will go away."
"I am not yer grandfather! And I was raised to respect my elders a bit more than that!"
"Yeah, well I was raised by wolves. Besides, you look nothing like my elders."
Gid'rakel began muttering some foreign curses under his breath and went on straightening his hair, looking hurt and uppity all the while.
"Anyway, we have a long trip ahead of us, so let these nice people board."
"Did you get the thirty-weight like I told you to?" he said, pointing to the coils of rope on Kenja's shoulder.
"Of course. I'd be absolutely lost without you, you know."
"Yeah, well, you'd better get that big fellow there to tie it up for you," he continued, pointing at Brogan. "Me liver gets chilly every time I see you up on that rigging."
"Don't want to upset your poor liver," Kenja replied in soothing tones. "Come on, let's go." She then began to herd the company up a gangplank to the ship, leading the way for Ginny to show her that it was safe.
As they boarded, the men in the group exchanged bewildered looks at the dialog that just transpired.
"That's a lot of woman you've got there," Brogan commented in Tavis' ear.
"You have no idea," Tavis replied, a warm smile crossing his lips as he spoke.
They boarded and got organized quickly. Brogan took the rope from Kenja and shimmied up the rigging with little effort. In short order he had it tied in place with a stout knot and tossed the remaining coils down to Kenja.
"You make it look so easy," Tavis commented dryly.
"Done it before, kid," Brogan replied.
Tavis blinked hard. "Kidding me."
"Nope. Worked on an airship before."
"Really?" Kenja interjected, "Doing what?"
"Rigger, rope man, rudder-boy, you name it," Brogan answered.
Tavis looked baffled. "Just who are you anyway?"
"Your friendly neighborhood rouge, pal," Brogan responded, biting down on the words. "And no one you want to know about." Then the big red turned stiffly and walked away.
Tavis held his tongue. He turned back and looked to Kenja instead, and found her standing at the helm, pulling hard at the wheel.
"What now, captain?" he asked.
"Now…" she paused to grunt as she gave a hard push at the wheel. "…Now we're going to take off. Go tell your friends to find something to hang onto."
"Don't you have to… 'start' it, or something -Like that old Gnome was saying, when he was talking about the cogs and gears in this thing."
"Nah," Kenja replied, "We're going to jump it."
"Jump it?" Tavis was incredulous.
"Did you tell your friends to hang on?"
Tavis heard a roaring in his ears just then and looked up front. A pair of men were opening the gateway of a huge dike, and just beyond it was a thundering waterfall.
"Great Anhur…" Tavis swore, stepping forward to get a better look, the roaring sound of the waterfall growing in his ears. Tavis saw that all his companions were sitting or crouching down, gripping fiercely to the nearest thing they could find.
"Hold on to something," Tavis mumbled. Then the world fell out from underneath them.
Tavis' insides lurched within him, and suddenly he felt nauseous. The floor planks he was standing on disappeared and the youth fell backwards, clutching furiously at anything he could grab onto, catching nothing but air for the most part.
Then the sails snapped into place sharply. The sound of machinery began to whir and grind underneath him and the floor came up and struck him on his back and shoulder. Tavis welcomed it, despite the pain, and grabbed tenaciously onto some loose rigging on the floor.
The dizziness cleared in fairly short order, along with the jokes and laughter from his comrades. Tavis shrugged it off and before long, found himself staring hypnotically at the clouds passing around them.
"Isn't this great!" Gin squealed, hopping and clapping her hands.
The wind came on them quickly, rushing in their ears just as it had when Rhoden took them flying in the fire-plane. It caught up robes and flipped them about furiously in the air. From the corner of his eye, Tavis caught a glint of something on Rhoden's belt. Squinting he saw that it was the vial full of the Lamya's mud that Rhoden had collected a few days earlier. Tavis thought about that for a minute, and then his hand went to the pouch on his belt, feeling the figures inside. Eventually his hand came to rest on the coin the priest had examined so closely that morning.
Tavis jerked his head up quickly. Immediately, Zeyn caught his gaze. Transfixed, Tavis peered into the wraith's fiery red orbs. You seem to know everything, don't you, friend, Tavis thought.
"Guys… Kenja, -Everybody!" Tavis called out, raising his voice to be heard over the rushing wind. "We're not going straight to Temacus."
Everyone gaped at him.
"We've got to stop at Endae's grave first."