In the Ocean of Clouds
The clock towers of Verace dinged at the twelfth hour. Wilma sat and read a letter. She gasped at the end of it.
Light splashed against her lone window, and rivers ran like black veins below.
The room she owned was a small, yet organised study. Her decade old gas lamp made a valiant effort to brighten it, and two cabinets stuffed with thick medical books hugged the side of the room opposite to her window. A neat stack of papers coveted the corner of her maple desk, while the lamp took up the other. The crisp print she held centered it.
“Martin!” she cried, lowering the paper.
“What?” echoed her brother from the other room.
“It’s Tig, A letter from ’im.”
Floorboards creaked and steps patted to her study. His patchwork face bounced by the half open door, “A letter? After all this time?”
She flipped the paper over, “Says he’s decided. And get this, he wants to be doctor!”
“Tig? A Doctor?” he said as he made to the table, squinting hard at the paper. “Well, that is his terrible hand writing.” He flipped to her. “When did he decide this?”
“Keep reading, will you? He’s abandoned that plan of ’is.”
Martin grabbed piece and puffed grumpily, “Never thought he’d stick to it honestly.”
“I did.” Revealed Wilma, smiling all the wider. A small portrait sat close to the flickering lamp. It was of Martin, herself and Tig, years before when Martin was still a half turn and Tig had barely turned. While her brother stood with immaculate posture, she had been too busy ruffling the head of Tig whilst half crouching to his height.
He was the younger brother she never had. Lonely little Tig, their Tig. But Tig was alone no longer. He had loosely described how he planned on saving his friends. That made her smile.
“Talk about them more, you naff.” She muttered.
“Shall we write him back, Wil? I know what I want to write that runaway half turn, but you…?”
She caught her own mechanized eye in the glare of the portrait and she leaned back, feeling at the rim of her hat with brass fingers, “He’ll know what I want ’im to know and if he’s decided to be a doctor I know he’ll do it right.”
Tig sat cross legged on the prow of the ship. Winds rush through his black hairs and a motley gang of clouds skated to his sides.
“I think I know why all our ships crashed.” He decided. “None had names.” He tapped the wood planks below him. “She needs a name.”
Chococogs crunched loudly behind him and he shook his head. Her back was against his, steel fur and all. He had found the spot shortly after waking and deciding he’d explore that day. The spot in question was of a flat boarding that rested at the tip of the ship. On it he could he see the entirety of the sky they now flew through.
And it was beautiful. Paint strokes of blue and white and grey ran across all he could see. A misty vastness flirted with the brief blotches of blue whenever the clouds parted and above it remained nothing but endless ether.
Choco shrapnel fired his way, “How about ‘The Gem’.”
He rolled his eyes, “How awfully humble.”
More chococogs crunched, “I pride myself on my creativity.”
He leaned against her, “Funny I thought it was your laziness.”
“The lazy tend to be creative.” she countered.
Tig straightened his back, his eyes a quick drift to the planks behind him and her puffy tail covering most of it. He frowned at it, “Does it hurt? The poison I mean.”
She swallowed, “A bit of pain here and there but nothing I can’t handle. Why should I worry anyways? We got a flying ship.”
“For forty minutes a day.”
“Better than none. My point, dear chitik, is that the poison myself and that coward shares is just about dealt with, we ought to consider what happens after we acquire it. I suggest--”
She half smiled at him and leaned back forcing him into an awkward bend, “Not just any sleep. The finest. Al’Tof has the world’s best resort. And where are we headed? Al’Tof. I say we sell the ship and stay there, enjoy the rest of our days in comfort.”
He pressed against her lean until their backs were straightened, “I can’t, Anu still needs my help.”
“Ok then we sell the ship, spend your cut on a smaller ship and send you back to Kura with the flower.”
“Somehow that seems far less reasonable.”
“Better than returning to a contingent of angry soldiers with an apology letter.”
The boy let his head fall. She had a point. He hated it when she had a point. The press of her back vanished and thumps played against the deck.
“You’re going?” he asked.
Gemjo waved an empty sack and Tig grinned as he saw the chocolatey smears by her mouth.
“I’ll need more.” She said. “Besides there’s a certain rich witch I plan to visit.”
“Please do try not to bring that up.”
“I won’t.” agreed Gemjo. “But I can’t say the same about the mirror.”
She tossed him the empty bag and he caught it by instinct. The bag he thought empty had one more chococog left. Tig reached in and held the round brown ball to his eye. It was a sweet made famous in Verace and one he fondly remembered being gifted to him by a girl just slightly older than him years ago. Wilma. Of course Gemjo could not have known that. Could she? He glanced as he thought that and realised she had left.
He shrugged, threw the sweet up and snapped it with his iron jaw. Even though his tongue had gone mechanized he could still savor the milky flavour, still delight in the crunch of the hidden cashews. It tasted smooth and sweet, the hazelnut inside, a striking surprise.
Instantly, he recalled the night when he got lost in Verace during the festival eight years old. The smokes, the banter, the colossal forest of moving full turns and only the glimpses of light escaping their figures.
Then Wilma was there, crouching to him, smiling and her gentle hand held out and upon it a snack he could never forget.
The flavor lingered even after he swallowed. The memory more so. Verace was many things, alien, unforgiving, the crunchy exterior, but Wilma and Marici were his hazel filling.
Wobbly steps directed him to the stairs opposite to where Gemjo had exited.
He saw the man’s pointed hair first.
“Stairs on a ship, Tij. Can’t stand them.”
“You’ve done well to come this far.”
“About that.” Said Franco finishing the last of the steps. “I suppose this is a better time than any to apologise for what I did.”
“No Tij, listen. I let my fear drive me the wrong way even if I opened that door. So I’m sorry, truly.” He slammed his arm against his chest. “In the good name of Cantinio, I swear I will see you repaid.” He made his way to the railing beside Tig and leaned into it, his arms crossed on the top. “Back when we first met you said you wanted revenge. Was that against your family?”
Tig nodded, staring high into the passing ether, “I thought it was my duty to kill them, but now…”
“You want to save them?”
“I want them to stop, Franco. Stop killing, stop hurting, stop being monsters.”
“We’re all monsters to someone, Tij.”
“But they kill for money.” Argued the boy.
“As does a soldier, but we still celebrate them as heroes.”
“It’s different, they murder innocents.”
“Innocents? Do you mean Viceroy Mikaera, the man who let slavery go unopposed for decades and even cultivated the largest slave hub on the twelve seas? I’m no expert but I’d think those targeted are not as innocent as you may think.”
“I’m fairly certain she called me a coward on my way here.”
He cracked a smile to that, “And what of you?”
“You know I’m not innocent.” Said Franco as he pushed himself from the railing and made to the stairs, his hands in his pockets, “And before you say it, there is of course the matter of Niss Remy Le Ricci.”
“The girl we unceremoniously captured.”
“If you’d call being knocked out by a drunk captured.”
“No.” said Tig, joining his descent. “I’d call tying her up after the fact ‘captured’.”
Franco chuckled and pushed open the door, “Well there is that.”
The masts creaked as they tapped the metal walkway. Muffled grunts echoed from the end of it. Tig let his hand slide across his face and sighed into it, “Hours Gemjo what did you do?”
The answer came the moment Franco spun open the door where the muffles came and Tig peaked in.
Remy had a red scarf tied around her mouth while Gemjo stood above her, conspicuously lacking said scarf.
“You gagged her?” said Tig.
“She called me a dog.”
“That…” Tig shook his head. “I don’t think she meant it the way you thought she meant it.”
“Either way, I say we keep her quiet the rest of the trip,” said the seawolf.
Remy’s muffles grew more frantic. She tossed her still goggled head towards the front repeatedly.
Franco crouched to her height and tapped his chin, “I think she’s trying to tell us something.”
“I’d guess an insult about his eyes, my tail and your hair.”
Franco blinked, “What’s wrong with my hair?”
“We can’t keep her gagged.” said Tig.
A cruel smile formed on Gemjo’s face. Her lids lowered halfway, “You just want those plump black li--”
“No, stop there.” Interjected the boy. “It’s wrong is all. This is cruel. Unfair. We’re no better than slavers if treat her this way. And- and Franco might be right here. What if she is trying to tell us something?”
A thud sounded as the girl who had been flicking her head fell from her momentum. Her muffle became a whimper and Tig scarcely caught the hint of bronze in the reflection of her goggles. He squinted at it, tried to discern it. A bronze head leaning off the chair? Sleeping? Asleep?
Tig turned to the front while the other two argued.
“Look.” Complained Franco. “You made her fall.”
Gemjo grumbled, teetering up to face him, “That was her fault.”
Franco leaned close, “My dear seawolf we mustn’t blame the helpless. Nor should we tie her up I should think.”
“She’s a soldier.” Pressed Gemjo
“She’s a girl!”
“A rich girl!”
“A young rich--”
Tig silenced them with a raised wooden hand. It had taken him too long to realise what Remy was saying, for among the bickering and ticking hid the blissful snores of a pilot fast asleep. Tig swallowed. Far too long.
A bottle cluttered against the ground, and the ship pivoted haphazardly. Everything shook. Their bodies snapped to the wall like fleshy magnets and a mad cacophony of ticking, rattling and screaming filled the cabin.
Tig spotted what grew in the cabin window in horror. It was a silver isle, and they were seconds away.