04: The Chimera
Kate and Maverick moved through the lightly forested trees, no well-traveled path to follow as the couple made their way to the valley’s southern peaks. Kate’s short green dress and leather boots blended into the foliage well enough. Maverick’s outfit, not so much. They both continued to talk and chat away.
“I know the way to the tower you want to go to. I can guide you there if you let me take a ride on your flying ship.” Kate knew he would not say no; she was excited about seeing the ship.
“I am sure that can be arranged; as I said, the magic that protects this valley is highly annoying to navigate. You can’t see much more than a few feet above the trees, and the trees themselves constantly shift around while you are on the ground. I got lost; I am glad that the river does not shift around.” Maverick said as he extended his hand to help her climb up on a boulder. The two found themselves climbing higher along the sides of the valley edge.
Kate giggled, “Well, I think the trees just did not know you. They stopped moving around, well, at least with me hanging around with you.”
Maverick did notice that the trees had stopped shifting positions, but he just did not say anything.
The closer the two got to the peaks, the sparser the vegetation got. Soon no trees could even be seen for about a half-mile or so around the mountain. Sitting off to the side, in a roughly circular outcropping, was the Chimera.
Maverick explained to Kate, “The Chimera’s hull was a converted sailing ship. The hull was based on a trimaran design, with two smaller outer hulls and a bigger thicker one in the middle. Each hull had a different head; an eagle and a snake lined the smaller outer hulls. The center hull had the face of a lion. She’s made overall of wood with large iron plates for reinforcement. The Chimera had once been a ship that served in Canadance Providence until the end of the war, where we ‘repurposed’ for mercenary work after the war.”
Kate snickered, “In other words, you stole it, so you are pirates.”
Maverick shook his head, “No, we were soldiers on the losing end of the war. At the very end of the last battle, all hope was lost. We hightailed it and took the ship with us. No more leadership was around to give us orders. We lost and barely made it out alive. I did not want to become a serpent kin slave of Voloth.”
Kate thought for a moment, “Serpentskin, humans who have been healed by the healing powers of a Volothian priest. The wounds that heal turn into scales permanently. The Ritual of Conversion these priests use is to cut and heal the body repeatedly until the scales are fully formed. Sounds painful.”
Maverick nodded his head, “They have a special tool for skinning you alive as well, to make the process quicker. It looks much like a device used to peel potatoes with, but much sharper and wider. That’s one reason we are here. We are hoping this all-powerful hero can save us. He is supposed to have the power of the Eight.”
Open the Hatch
As the two closed on the ship, from the top railing on the lion hull. A human wearing a blue overcoat looked down on the approaching people with a long brass tube with several adjustable lenses. “You gotta be kidding me; how does he have the ability to find a woman out in the middle of nowhere.” He hands the spyglass over to his companion and points in a direction.
A raven black-haired woman in a long blue dress takes the spyglass holding it up to her eye and looks through. Chuckling, “Yup, he can find a woman anywhere and have them eating out of his hands. He’s a magnet, remember the redhead that nearly killed him a few weeks back. I wonder just how long it is going to take this one to try an attempt on his life.”
As the two approached the ship, a large door on the underside of the lion hull lowered, acting as both a ramp and a door. A medium-sized stocking man with a thick graying beard stood with a hammer the size of himself waited.
Kate pointed at the stocky man, excitedly. “A dwarf, I have never once seen before!”
“It’s not nice to point at people.” the dwarf called the stranger out.
“This humble servant is Nolland, don’t let his gruff demeanor fool you; he has the heart of a kitten.” Maverick continued up the ramp.
Nolland puffed, “I hate cats. They are all furry murder machines that purr in the delight of their kills.” He waved back into the ship’s hold. “We were worried about you, and we figured you got caught by a guardian of this cursed valley. But it seems you caught something of your own.”
Maverick grinned, “Nolland, Kate. Kate Nolland.”
Kate studied his short, stocky form, and he was a classic dwarf from the descriptions she had read; he was shorter and broader than a human, blunt nose with a braided beard. “Nice to meet you.” She nodded. “Come in, and we have been waiting all night. Glad you are all right.”
Maverick nodded in agreement. “Could have had a worse night had I not ran into this lovely little thing.” He pointed towards Kate.
Nolland is shaking his head, “I swear, your tendencies will land you in trouble one of these days.” Extending his hand towards Kate, “It is nice to meet you.”
Kate reached out and took his hand, and Kate did a quick search of his mind for his name; it was bubbling on his surface thoughts. “Nice to meet you, Nolland Grumsworth.”
Nolland paused, “How, I did not.”
Kate is smiling, “I can read minds.”
Maverick tapped her arm, “That’s not a polite thing to do. Many considered it an invasion of their privacy. Refrain from that action, please.”
Kate frowned, “Why? Don’t most people have the ability to resist a simple reading?”
Maverick and Nolland both responded at the same time, “No.”
Nolland is a bit upset now, knowing that his secret stash of sweet candies hiding place may have been discovered unwittingly by this woman. “Stay out of my head.”
Kate bowed apologetically, “I am sorry. I don’t know much about other people or races other than what I studied. Thank you for teaching me this valuable etiquette!”
Nolland turned and headed towards the stairs that lead up to the main deck. “This way. Shaitar is waiting.”
Kate followed behind Maverick taking in the sights of the ship. Ropes, hooking tools, nets lined the cargo hold’s sides. Storage boxes and crates had a small path between the small unorganized maze. The scent was a bit musty, and the containers had a distinct smell of wood and something else. At the end of the bay, a set of stairs climbed up to the upper deck.
The main deck was expansive with railing all along the sides. A large covered hole allowed access to the cargo hold below. A wench and pole could be used to move larger items from the lower hold to the main deck. The ship had two raised decks, one in the bow and one at the aft. The two secondary hulls were both equipped with a pair of heavy ballistas. Several large bolts tied up along the railing for quick access. A large ballista was held on the aft deck designed with a black-colored dragon’s body, and the arms were shaped as the dragon’s wings. Several multicolored bolts sat nearby attached to the railing as well.
Kate walked up behind Maverick and Nolland as they climbed the stairs to the main deck. Kate noted about the crew as they all had the same broad leather brown tricon swashbuckler hat. Kate was grinning, she projected to Maverick, “I knew it, pirates!”
Maverick turned back to her, “No, we are not pirates, err. Not most of the time.”
A man in a large cobalt blue overcoat with raised shoulder pads came down from the forward deck. The suit was an old uniform that had the Canandance Providence insignia removed and replaced with a shield and a set of silver cross blades.” A large sword lay strapped to his back, and the sword was called the hand and a half sword, a bastard sword. The sword had golden runes running down the length of the blade. He wore his tricon slightly to the side, and his blue eyes held a piercing glare.
Kate once again beamed into Maverick’s head, “Pirates!”
Maverick turned around and gave her a look that may kill, “No, we are not pirates! Please hush it.” He turned again to face the imposing man in front of him, “This is the captain, Shaitar. Boss, meet Kate; she’s a local.”
Shaitar reached his hand out to take her’s in greeting. “Maverick, no, don’t do that. She can get into your head and read your thoughts. Oh, and don’t tell me any secrets or anything important that I don’t need to know. She’s stuck in my head.” Maverick was trying hard to explain.
Shaitar looked puzzled, “Excuse me?”
Kate grinned, “Yes, That’s true. He kissed me last night, and now I can’t cut my link with him.”
A raven-haired woman behind him moved to his side. She looked at the new girl up and down. Immediately noticing the small white horns jutting out of her forehead, “Sabuci?”
Kate nodded, “Yes.”
The woman started laughing. She was almost in tears.
Maverick and Kate had a puzzled look on their faces. “Opal, what’s so funny?”
She leaned on her staff, catching her breath. “I take it your mother did not decide to tell you about bonding or did you want a husband.”
Kate looked at her, “Bonding? Nothing in my books on that subject. Uncle never told me.”
Opal, now sobering her laughter up, “What generation of Sabuci are you?”
Kate knew the answer, “First from what my uncle told me.”
She moved over and placed her hand on Maverick’s shoulder, “Congratulations on your marriage.”
Maverick thought, what? “Wait, I don’t ever recall proposing. I just wanted a kiss.”
Kate’s emotional state was spinning a bit, and this was the first man she had seen. She was attracted and curious about him.
You did what?
Shaitar glanced back at Opal, “Say what now? I think you had better explain. I don’t understand myself.”
Opal had a bit of a wicked grin on her face, “It’s not as horrible as you might think. The bond is only created by true love. This is each not just lust, but something deeper between the two. The souls are attracted to each other, and you might want to say you two are soul mates. You two complete each other in ways you don’t fully understand yet. This bond goes both ways, communications feeling, sharing of powers. I got the feeling Maverick you will have strange side effects coming up.”
Shaitar was amused and a bit upset at the same time; Maverick finally had gotten himself into a bind with another woman, this time looks like he won’t be able to run. “Looks like you are now part of my crew. Maverick is my pilot.” He turned toward Maverick, “I don’t know her yet. She’s now your responsibility. If she’s getting out of line, I will have to find another pilot.”
Kate’s eyes lit up with excitement, putting her hands together. “I can come?! Wow, I have never left this valley. My uncle said when I turned eighteen, I could do whatever I wanted, that was last night.”
Maverick trying to soak this in, he felt Kate’s excitement running through him. The sensation was strange; he felt her mind racing through his. So much for her not shutting herself off from him.
Opal giggled, “Maverick, this has to be your worst nightmare. A woman who can read your intentions.”
Shaitar motioned, “We still have to get to the tower; we have our job to do. I would like to get that out of the way. This damned fog prevents us from flying there, and the forest constantly keeps shifting.”
Kate raised her hand, “I can help with that. I know how to navigate the forest and the fog.”
Shaitar spoke, “Well, that’s convenient.”
Kate looked into the fog-filled area outside the ship, “You want to go to the place you call the Tower of the Keeper?”
Shaitar spoke, “Yes. I did not tell you where we were going.”
She grabbed hold of Maverick, then poked his head. “I’ve been in here. He’s an open book. If you want to walk, the trip will take a better part of the day. Flying, we can be there in less than an hour or so.”
Shaitar did not like the idea of leaving the Chimera here, “Flying it is.”