This novel is limited to 100 free copies due to its part in Inkitt’s Novel Contest.
Life had become pretty hectic for the citizens of Tharsis. The arrival of new explorers searching for fame and fortune coincided with the still on-going evacuation of Cloudy Stronghold. The city itself was growing quickly, too quickly for some as they were finding it difficult to house and cater for all the newcomers.
Even Tharsis' famous and most beloved guild, Phaedron, was finding it hard to keep up. They had four lands and five labyrinths that needed to be mapped, and potentially hundreds of new items to examine and catalogue.
The Yggdrasil Titan was no more and the curse seemed to have vanished along with it. The toxicity of decaying lands seemed to be confined to the Cloudy Stronghold. The two rare races of Vessels and Sentinels were safe and sound. There was no longer a threat to anyone.
Even so…none of that would explain why rookie guilds were suddenly complaining about their airships malfunctioning.
"What yeh talking about?" Ciaran asked, cutting off the rambling and underdressed female explorer in front of him. "That airship was in top shape last night."
The short, female adventurer twitched. "Well, something went wrong today!" she seethed at him as she flailed an arm in the direction of an airship with a gaping hole in the side. "Fix it!"
Ciaran felt his own eye twitch. "I'm the master of this wharf, not the overseer of all airships. I can't help yeh in the air. That's your responsibility."
As the rookie guild of youngsters stalked away, utterly pissed that Ciaran was calling them out for their own actions, Ciaran folded his arms over his chest and frowned as he looked at the ground. "What is going on here?" he mumbled to himself.
He had never seen so many damaged airships before. They were fine when he would call it a night and got some sleep, but when he returned in the morning, there was always a complaint waiting on his desk for him by the guilds who took a flight at night. A broken propeller, a damaged keel, ripped ballooning. Hell, gaping holes in the side was getting so common that it was ridiculous. They were things he would have picked up on.
It was starting to get dangerous.
For him, too. He wasn't talking about how some of the local politicians were questioning his status as the wharf-master. He couldn't care less about them. Count was on his side, as were the famous guild Phaedron. No official was going to say a single thing wrong against them.
No, he was talking about his own well-being. He can't remember the last time he got a decent amount of sleep. If he wasn't careful, Isiah might come after him. He did once before, and holy hell was that scary!
Still…there was one question that lingered in his mind.
Why only his airships? Those belonging to the empire or the imperials themselves were never damaged.
"Your airships are inferior."
Ciaran automatically twitched. "It's him..." he muttered as he turned to face the owner of the voice.
An imperial with brown skin and long black hair pulled into thick dreadlocks stood impassively in front of an airship, looking at it with a sense of distain in his eyes. He wore the typical imperial armour and carried his driveblade with him everywhere.
Ugh, that bastard.
He was called Xander and he was actually the one who had snatched Nitish during that imperial raid before the Titan's resurrection. He was also the one that was booted off the airship to act as the distraction for a frantic Varuna. Not to mention he was also the victim of the curse itself. Not the best track record.
Ciaran didn't trust him as far as he could kick him. And with Xander being six-feet tall of pure muscle and harden steel, that wasn't very far…
"No surprise, really," the arrogant imperial continued, glancing at him from the corner of his eye. "Taking into consideration the materials used to construct them."
"At least my airships have character," Ciaran seethed at him, absolutely loathing anyone who dared to say a bad word about his airships. "Better than those abysmal shadows of death yeh call airships."
Though Xander's expression remained passively stoic, his eyes narrowed angrily. "They are the height of imperial power."
"That got yeh a long way, huh?" Ciaran retorted before turning his back on the dark-armoured imperial and snatched a docking chart from its place on the wall.
Looking at the chart did little to ease his frustrations. There were more reports of damage. Some of them minor and could be fixed in a few hours. Others would take a day at the least.
He didn't want to start causing trouble, but a voice in his head was telling him that it was no coincidence that these damaged reports started around the same time Imperials started flocking Tharsis.
Speaking of Imperials, Ciaran had to admit that he was developing a bit of a…distaste for the heavily armoured soldiers. And since he was the wharf-master, he had to deal with them on day to day bases. He was getting sick of imperials, honestly. He won't ever say that out loud as it would cause further tensions amongst the masses.
Glancing up when he heard a noise that sounded suspiciously like a shriek of embarrassment, Ciaran found his gaze falling upon another Imperial. A female one this time, though.
Her light pink hair was a stark contrast to her dark armour. He wasn't sure of the woman's name, nor did he care to learn at this point. The only Imperials he had any time for was Logre and Achyuta. And maybe Baldur. Only so he could drag the brat back to Isiah when he got too feisty and tried to leave.
Wiglaf, however, seemed to like this imperial. Teasing her, at least, if leaving her flustered and spluttering was anything to go by. She was probably responsible for the shriek of embarrassment he heard.
Glancing back down at the chart in his hands, Ciaran quickly did a mental calculation and realised that he was running out of supplies to fix the damaged airships. He needed to get to work to keep things running smoothly.
"What's up, chief?" Wiglaf asked in response, turning to look at him with a slightly upturned eyebrow.
"Hold the fort for me?" Ciaran requested as he continued on his way to the exit. "I need to see our famous researchers for a bit."
Wiglaf gave him an ok sign with her hand. "Sure, no problem."
"Looking to borrow some of their competence?" Xander was heard questioning.
"Oh, blow it out yeh ass!" Ciaran yelled back at him in return as he continued on his way.
The walk through Tharsis was uneventful, even while dodging young explorers to be who were looking around dazed. Reaching the famous Researchers' Clinic was easy as most of the locals learnt to keep a wide berth of the place so not to get entangled with the chaos of their, ah, exploits.
The front door was slightly ajar and he could hear voices inside. Knowing that the residents inside won't mind him letting himself in, he simply walked up the steps and pushed the door open. Inside were, unsurprisingly, a few members of the Phaedron guild loitering about, looking relatively refreshed despite having returned to town late last night on an errand.
"Hey, sorry for the intrusion," Ciaran announced his presence, letting the door swing shut behind him.
"Welcome, Ciaran," Nitish was the one to welcome him in, the talented runemaster looking rather pale and tired as he placed books that he was carrying on an overloaded bookshelf close to where Isiah's office was. "You look exhausted."
"Yeh not much better," Ciaran said in response, prompting a light flush to appear on Nitish's cheeks.
"Yes, I guess that's true," Nitish said in a dismissive manner before indicating to the kitchen. "Would you like some tea?"
Ciaran didn't see the harm. Could help calm him down a bit. "Sure. How's everyone going anyway?"
"Isiah is in his office, speaking with a government official about…" Nitish trailed off as he searched for the right words. "Certain matters."
About Baldur, no doubt.
"And Varuna is fresh off a couple of tedious all-nighters," Nitish continued as he waved his hand in the direction of the seating area. "And is somewhat…dazed."
Ciaran automatically glanced in the direction Nitish indicated to and saw that Varuna had sat himself crossed-legged on the couch next to Bryce, a cup of some kind of tea resting in the two of his hands and on his lap. He had dark rings under his eyes as he stared off into space, barely registering anything around him. He certainly looked dazed and frazzled.
"I can see," Ciaran murmured as he turned his attention back to Nitish, again immediately noticing the slight darkness under his eyes. "And yeh?"
"Well, I, too, have spent the majority of the night with several essays," Nitish answered with a weary smile as he set about preparing some tea. "What about you?"
Ciaran sighed and folded his arms on top of the kitchen bench, leaning against it. "Having some trouble at the wharf," he admitted.
"Hm? What kind?"
"Careless explorers abusing their airships," Ciaran replied with a slight grumble as he looked through the kitchen window in to the back garden. "They're always limping back with missing parts, blaming me for their carelessness. I always make sure that the airships docked at my wharf are in top shape. I can't be on guard all the time, though."
They lapsed into silence as Nitish set about boiling some water for the tea with his fire magic. Ciaran found his attention drawn to the occupants outside in the backyard. Biast was resting against the base of a tree in the corner of the garden, seemingly enjoying the warm sun by having a nap. Miach was flitting about amongst the plants, inspecting the flowers and herbs. No doubt Isiah sent him out there as a part of his training. In another corner were Roxbury and Achyuta, the two seemingly sparing against each other, but not all that serious as neither of the two were wearing armour.
Ciaran couldn't help but muse about how much the guild had grown. And how tall most of the new members were. Ciaran was a head shorter than Roxbury, and Roxbury used to be the tallest of the guild. But now he had Achyuta who was a few inches taller, while Logre was a few inches taller than Achyuta. Biast towered over everyone, much to the gentle bushi's dismay as he kept bumping his head on doorways and ceilings. He preferred being outside, which is understandable.
Speaking of height, that damn Xander was about Achyuta's height, so that arrogant imperial also towered over him. He could be pretty intimidating. Which he probably knew, too.
Even the two shortest and youngest of the guild, Blayden and Fletcher, were starting to sprout. If they grew to be taller than Ciaran…argh, that would piss him off. At least Zoran won't get any taller.
"Here," Nitish's voice pulled him from his musings. "Your tea's ready."
"Ah, thanks," Ciaran murmured as he took the cup of tea Nitish held toward him and turned his attention back to the window, into the back garden. "Are Roxbury and Achyuta sparing?"
"Training," Nitish answered as he, too, turned his attention to what was happening outside. A small smile appeared on his lips as he took a slow sip of his own cup of tea. "Roxbury is teaching Achyuta what it takes to be a fortress; while in return Achyuta is teaching Roxbury how to wield a driveblade."
Ciaran watched as Achyuta suddenly offered Roxbury his driveblade, prompting the fortress to put down his shield and mace. As Roxbury gripped the driveblade with two hands, Achyuta placed a hand on Roxbury's back, helping him into the ideal stance to hold such a large and heavy weapon while his other hand rested on the handle, close to where Roxbury was holding. He then guided him through a couple of slow swinging motions, speaking the entire time. He would then pull back slightly, allowing Roxbury to carry the full weight of the weapon while indicating to his own elbows and wrists, pivoting them as some sort of visual aide.
He obviously couldn't hear what Achyuta was saying, but he assumed it was about the fundamental mechanics of the weapon and how one could wield it effectively. Roxbury seemed interested in what Achyuta was telling him, nodding his head on occasion.
"They get along well, don't they?" Ciaran couldn't help but comment.
"Their personalities are rather similar," Nitish was quick to agree with a warm smile on his lips. "It's good to see."
Ciaran sighed before muttering, "If only all imperials were as nice as him…"
Nitish turned toward him, his brow slightly furrowed in concern. "You are receiving trouble from an imperial?"
"Not trouble so much as his mere presence annoys the shit out of me," Ciaran admitted before his eye gave a telling twitch as he thought of the Imperial himself. "Stupid Xander."
The frown on Nitish's face smoothed out and he even chuckled. "I see."
"He says my airships are inferior," Ciaran muttered as a bubble of indignation appeared in his chest. "Bastard, how would he know?!"
"There there," Nitish said soothingly, even going as far as to pat him on the back.
There was suddenly a lull in background noise as a tense chill filled the air. Before anyone could say anything, there was a familiar sound of a mace being used, followed by a startled cry. Seconds later, the door to Isiah's office flew open and a bearded man he must have been speaking with stumbled out, clutching his head, blood seeping through his fingers. He frantically fumbled his way to the front door, threw that open and lurched outside.
A mere second after that, Isiah stormed out of his office, mace in hand and stalked over to the front door. Holding onto the door handle, he yelled outside. "I've been awake for three days straight; I need sleep, not a fucking cookie!"
No one dared to say a thing as Isiah slammed the door shut, his face creased into a fearsome scowl as he stalked back to his office. However, Falkner, seemingly the only person within Tharsis not deathly afraid of Isiah, stopped him with a question.
"You're letting that one get away?" he asked with a grin.
Isiah stopped next to him and got up in his face. "Does Mr Cwanky-Pants need a cookie?"
With one hand in his pocket, the other grasping at the handle of his coffee, Falkner threw his head back on a laugh. "Them fighting words!" he said.
"I'll give him Cwanky-Pants..." Isiah muttered under his breath as he stalked into his office, slamming the door shut behind him.
Falkner still found the whole thing funny, chuckling to himself. Others of their guild (except Varuna who was still staring off into space), however, were a little more tense and nervous. No surprise, really. An angry Isiah was far more fearsome than any FOE.
…Hm, maybe that was why they were so fearless out in the field?
The silence was softly broken by the faint sound of coughing. Immediately, Nitish turned his attention to the back garden, a frown of concern on his lips when he noticed that Achyuta was slightly hunched over, his hand covering his mouth.
"Excuse me," Nitish said as he placed down his tea and reached for a large blue glass bottle that was sitting amongst the bottles of medica and nectar. "Achyuta need his medication."
"Sure," Ciaran simply said. He had some idea of Achyuta's health, but he didn't know all the details. He didn't really need to. Living with three researchers will ensure that he got the best medical treatment possible.
Nitish spent a moment filling up a glass with a sweet smelling tonic before hurrying outside.
Downing the rest of his tea, Ciaran spent a moment gazing out the window again, simply watching as Roxbury and Achyuta interacted. Roxbury had his hand on Achyuta's back in an attempt to comfort Achyuta, who was coughing harshly into his hand. Achyuta grimaced as he pulled his hand away from his mouth and uttered something to Roxbury, an apology no doubt. Roxbury simply smiled and nodded his head, glancing up with relief in his gaze when Nitish appeared with Achyuta's medicine.
Compared to the other imperials he had met, Achyuta seemed rather out of place. He wasn't arrogant or hostile in anyway. He immediately settled in with the guild and with the way of life in Tharsis. He even got along well with the Count. He thrived on his freedom. He was grateful to experience life in Tharsis.
Imperials were welcomed to Tharsis. They were, however, still refugees and some didn't like the thought of that. They needed to get used to the living standards of Tharsis
…Argh, he needed to get back to work.
"Hey Bryce, is Varuna conscious?" Ciaran asked as placed his empty cup on the bench and ventured closer.
"Depends on your definition of conscious," Bryce retorted with a light snort. He sound annoyed, but it was easy to tell that he was concerned as well.
Standing by the couch where Varuna was, Ciaran leaned forward and gave Varuna a slight poke, hoping to get his attention. "Hey, Varuna? Any spare Thujopsis roots?"
However, Varuna didn't immediately reply. He continued to stare at the empty space in front of him, his eyes half-lidded and unfocused. Next to him, Bryce nudged him with his elbow, an expression a mixture of exasperation and concern on his face.
Lethargically, Varuna turned to look at him blankly. He, however, seemed to wake up a bit more when he realised that everyone was looking at him. "What?" he asked, stunned and surprised.
"I'm looking for some Thujopsis roots," Ciaran explained.
"Oh, ah, sure," Varuna said as he placed his teacup down on the coffee table and stood up. "Right."
"Up and at 'em, tiger," Falkner said to him, earning a soft laugh that was sheepish and somewhat filled with relief.
"Sorry," Varuna said as he headed toward the storage room. "Been busy lately."
Ciaran simply waved him off. He knew all too well. With the restoration of Yggdrasil, he had been busy manning the wharf, rebuilding airships and teaching rookie explorers how to fly. He was also dealing with the demands of transportation of Imperial soldiers and natives of the Cloudy Stronghold into Tharsis. He couldn't remember the last time he got some decent sleep.
It was a slight relief to know that he wasn't the only one, to be honest.
After a few moments spent digging around in the make-shift storage room, Varuna returned with an armful of the requested materials.
"Appreciate it," Ciaran said as he gathered up the materials into his arms, silently hoping that they were enough to fix the damaged airships. Hopefully there hadn't been anymore in his absence. "But I think yeh probably should get some sleep."
Varuna sighed as he ran his hand through his hair. "I think you're right."
"I, on the other hand, need to get back to work," Ciaran said as he readjusted his hold on the Thujopsis roots and shifted them to under his arm. "Thanks again. I'll pay yeh back later."
"Forget it," Varuna said around a yawn and headed toward the stairs. "Take whatever you want. They were only taking up space."
"Right. Well, catch yeh guys later."
"It was nice having you around, Ciaran." Nitish's sudden voice Ciaran to pause at the front door. He glanced over his shoulder to see Nitish, along with Roxbury and Achyuta behind him, the three of them looking friendly and relaxed. "You're as much of a researcher as we are, so do come around again. Even if it's just for a whinge."
Ciaran couldn't help but smile. "I'll do that," he promised before leaving.
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