“Calmer heads prevail, that’s what you said yesterday,” Sara spoke harshly, her voice raising. “Well, you got your way didn’t you First Mate Hanbal? You convinced Captain Quinvera not to fly us into Ishtaduk – where questions might be asked why you, a member of the Yhakkoth Royal Navy, and a King’s Templar no less, were so happy to serve among fugitives on a stolen ship!”
Ali paced nervously behind Sara, pulling at the fur on his stomach like he always did when he was anxious. He glanced up at First Mate Hanbal who stood at the head of the kitchen island glaring at Sara, his cloven goat’s hooves stomped upon the wooden floor and his face was flushed a deeper purple than usual.
“You wouldn’t know anything about it, I find piracy much less duplicitous and a damn sight more honest than His Majesty’s Royal Navy!”
“I demand it.” Sara said again, ignoring him. "We’ll disguise the ship as best we can, but I demand that you land this ship at Lillanna. This would have been much easier if you had listened to me yesterday, when we could have unloaded at Muan Oasis. Arishka would have taken us in. But if you will not return us to Muan Oasis, then you will set us down in Lillanna, and you will unload my cargo. The pirates knew it’s worth, that’s why they took it and I’ll be damned if I am going to return to my father with nothing. "
“Sara, ah know the grief’s eatin’ y’up, yer lost a lot of yer folk ter those pirates, an’ yer suffered terrible. But look at us. We’re like sumthin’ the cat dragged in. We’re in nae shape tae ruck wi’ the Navy an’ that’s what we’d be doin’ if we set about to unload yer cargo on the dockside like we were’nt flyin’ the most infamous airship in all of history." The First Mate’s antennae waggled like a teacher’s scolding finger.
Sara had been arguing her case since the First Mate sat down to break his fast, and she showed no sign of letting up.
“Sara," Alriak said with a calm voice. “May I speak with you a moment?”
Sara turned her furious gaze upon the young witch, “What!” She barked, following him out of the Ship’s Kitchen and onto the aft deck. Behind them, First Mate Hanbal sighed heavily and beat a hasty retreat below decks, intent on business as far away from the spoiled young merchant girl as he could take himself.
“I understand your frustration and the concern for your cargo, but I hope to persuade you to consider what is at stake here." Alriak said. “Should we make port anywhere right now we stand the risk of being arrested and having everything, including your cargo, confiscated. There is no telling what lies First Mate Hanbal may tell, should he be approached by the authorities. We must make our decisions carefully. We must not be guided by pride or by profit, we must allow the Goddess to guide us.”
The fire burning in Sara’s pretty, kohl-rimmed eyes quelled. She leaned back against the ship’s rail, and hung her veiled head as she listened.
“I have been in the presence of Mother Anwen herself. She gives me glimpses of what is to come in my dreams. I am not sure what it all means, but it is bigger than anything our meager lives have ever been a part. We mustn’t turn from this calling now.” Alriak stepped closer, smelling the young woman’s expensive perfumes. “Our Mother has summoned us to meet with her upon the World Mountain. There we are to receive her blessing. I am not sure exactly what this means but I think we must make haste there.”
“You shame me, Master Alriak.” Sara said. “Those pirates – those bastard pirates. I know that you, too, suffered at their hands. And Ali, and poor Jamila. But they have taken everything from me; my hopes, my dreams, my honor. I just want it back! What is mine, and what is owed. But you are right, of course, you are a thousand times right. The Goddess is merciful and all-knowing and I am but her humble child. Shukrun, Master Alriak.”
After they had finished talking, Sara returned to her room in the Officer’s Quarters, removing herself from the company of the others. The airship continued its voyage west. Faint and faraway dots upon the horizon, revealed themselves to be distant airships circling, descending and ascending among the spires of the City of Lilanna. Foot traffic increased below the Royal Ship as caravans, pulled by mighty desert turtles, made their own way to and from the bustling marketplaces of Lilanna. First Mate Hanbal maintained a healthy altitude and a dizzying speed, in the hope that they might pass without being recognized.
It all feels so foolish Alriak thought to himself, as he watched the towers of the city dwindle and fade into the distance behind them. The speed the airship was capable of, when the fire elemental was pushed, was staggering; and it made Alriak more than a little dizzy to be stood on the open deck. He returned below deck, to his quarters and closed his door for privacy, although only Jamila (who preferred to bunk in the humble crew quarters nearby) ever came this far below decks.
“I wonder if I am doing this right?” He said to himself, other people made prayer seem so effortless, Alriak always ended up feeling uncomfortable. The air in his cabin was stale (the former tenant had been the fearsome Court Magister and apparently she preferred few windows) but it provided a comforting escape from the relentless sun. Alriak closed his eyes. Thoughts of Meloria raced through his mind; his sleep had been disturbed recently by nightmares. In his dreams Alriak was lost in total darkness and Meloria was calling out to him for help; he would helplessly search for her, but in the utter blackness his sense of terror would rise to an intolerable peak and awaken him, sweating and screaming.
Now, when his thoughts turned to his missing friend, a comforting vision of Meloria, embraced within Anwen’s arms came to mind. The Goddess and Meloria turned and nodded toward him, as if everything were okay. Alriak felt the anxiety that had plagued him since their unfortunate separation lifted from his shoulders. His prayers had delivered a new sense of hope that perhaps Sara would also be able to find.The young witch drifted off into the first comfortable sleep he’d managed to have in some time.
Outside, the fierce desert sun passed it’s noon day zenith and the Royal airship crossed the mighty Muqhail River far, far below. They had escaped the Sand King’s nation of Ishtaduk and crossed into Banu-Sippar, ahead lay the City of Arbail and beyond that the Western Lowlands and the faraway Khulet Sea.
by Ian Hewitt
Game Master (Ian Hewitt)