Authors: Ben Chandler
Tags: #Juvenile Fiction/General
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|Arthur Knyght||First Officer|
|Kami Tenjin||Records Keeper|
|GekkÃ´ no Niji Shin||Helmswoman|
|YÃ»rei no GÃ´shi Yami||Swordsman|
|Misericordia âMissy' Clemens||Communications Officer|
|ChÃ´ no Jinsei Hiroshi||Cook|
|Kami no Tsunochi Namei||Cabin Girl|
|Aeris||Bestia of Air|
|Aqua||Bestia of Water|
|Atrum||Bestia of Darkness|
|Ignis||Bestia of Fire|
|Lucis||Bestia of Light|
|Terra||Bestia of Earth|
As the timbers of ItsÃ»'s new airdock rocked in their brackets, a familiar creaking reverberated through the airship's hull and lulled Lenis closer to sleep. Aeris was snuggled into his chest, purring in her sleep, her tail wrapped up around her nose. On the other side of the engine room the rest of the Bestia huddled together in their hutch, a thrumming pile of contented fur. The trip from Pure Land to ShinzÃ´ had been long, and they had all earned their rest.
Missy's hoarse whisper dragged Lenis back to wakefulness. He peeled open his eyes but little light shone through the porthole of the engine room, and he couldn't see much. âWhat is it?'
He turned to see his sister's shadowed outline in the doorway.
Lenis sat up, being careful to extricate himself from the sleeping Bestia at his side without waking her, and swung his legs over the side of his bunk. âObviously not. What is it? We've got to be up early tomorrow.'
âI want to go up on deck and have a look at the city.' The Bestia stirred in their hutch, but they knew Missy almost as well as they knew Lenis and didn't wake.
Lenis groaned and rubbed at his eyes. âCome on, Missy, you'll see the city in the morning. Go get some sleep.'
âYou're kidding.' Missy stepped into the engine room and nearly bumped her head on a low-hanging pipe. She ducked at the last moment and settled next to him on the bunk. Her weight disrupted Aeris, who mewed in protest and went to sit on Lenis's pillow. She licked one paw and then spun around twice before settling back to sleep, the very tip of her tail twitching slightly. âSince when were you the responsible one?'
Now that Missy was closer, the faint light from the porthole reached her face and Lenis could make out her features, so like his own. âThings are different now. We're a long way from home.'
âHome wasn't all that great, little brother.'
âMaybe.' Lenis pushed his unruly hair back from his face. âBut we knew the rules there. We don't know anything about this place, about how they treat ... people like us. If we got in trouble back in Pure Land â'
âI think you mean “when”.'
ââ the worst they could do was sell us to someone else.'
Missy took his hand and scanned his face in the dim light of the cabin. âThings could be different for us here.'
âThat's exactly what I'm afraid of.'
âAll right, we'll take it easy, but come on.' Missy stood and tugged on his hand. âNo one will even know, and it's not as if we're doing anything wrong. I just want to get a look at this place before we leave. I bet they've decorated it for the big launch, and besides, you'll be in the engine room when we leave so you won't get to see anything.'
Lenis let himself be dragged to his feet. âFine. What's this place called again? Itchi? Itso?'
It's the Warlord's home city. The capital of TaiyÃ´ domain.'
Aeris lifted her head and watched them leave.
Aside from the shifting lumber that made up the framework of ItsÃ» airdock, the night was still and mostly silent. The Puritan crew that had flown the airship to ShinzÃ´ had already disembarked, and the new crew weren't due to board until the morning, when they would all be presented to the Warlord of ShinzÃ´ along with the
Flying Dragon â
a gift from the Ruling Council of Pure Land. This meant there was little danger of anyone catching them moving around above decks, but as far as Lenis was concerned, the less attention they drew to themselves the better. It wouldn't take much to spot them from the airdock, and they had no way of knowing if the Warlord had left someone to guard his new airship.
Missy dragged Lenis out of his cabin and up the steps to the deck, where it was much brighter. The moon was far from full, but the stars were clear and the soft glow of torchlight floated up from beneath them. They moved to the starboard railing. The airdock was to port side, but it was of Puritan design and was like any other airdock they had seen during their lifetime aboard airships. The view to starboard was far more interesting. They were docked high above the rooftops of the ShinzÃ´n city and could see most of it spread out below them. The streets were straight and neatly paved, and although it was late there were still people milling about, moving from one light-fringed building to the next. The base of the airdock was bordered by a series of perfectly square structures with identical black slate roofs, each emblazoned with Warlord ShÃ´go Ikaru's crest, a red dragon. Lenis shivered as he stared down at the dragon symbol. It reminded him of something he had dreamt the night before.
âHappy birthday, brother.'
Lenis smiled, his half-remembered dream fading from his mind. âHappy birthday, sister.' He put his head on Missy's shoulder. âI didn't get you anything.'
âI didn't get you anything, either.'
Lenis laughed and lifted his head, crossing his arms along the railing. âThirteen years old. All that time in the slave pens, the factories, the Puritan airships, and we end up halfway across the world on some Warlord's new toy. Did you ever ... Missy?' He turned to look at his sister, who was staring off
towards the Warlord's palace on the far side of the city. Lenis nudged her between the ribs, and she jumped. âWho were you talking to?'
Missy looked a little guilty. âThere's a Bestia living in the Warlord's garden. Her name's Iki.'
Missy and Lenis were both Bestia Keepers, responsible for the care and handling of Bestia. Lenis was an engineer, someone who could
what Bestia felt and could draw out their latent energy, using it to power machinery like the engines that kept airships afloat. Missy was a communicator, someone able to send and receive message-images from Bestia.
Lenis turned to lean his back against the railing. âHow did you meet her?'
âShe flew out to get a look at us when we arrived. I think she likes airships.'
âIt's a shame we aren't going to be here long. We could introduce her to â
âI didn't â'
Lenis grabbed his sister's arm and dragged her over to the wall of the hold. Lenis pressed them both up against it. There was someone over on the port side, near the gangplank to the airdock. Lenis had sensed them.
Missy had barely whispered in his ear, but Lenis pressed his finger to her lips. He edged closer to the edge of the hold. The
's construction was relatively simple. Because
the mast-shaft ran horizontally through the airship's hull, supporting the wing balloons on either side, only the sleeping quarters and galley fitted below decks. The cargo holds were on deck â two on the starboard side, two on the port. There was a crystal-domed bridge to aft, and a crow's nest sat atop a mast in the centre of the airship. Lenis and Missy were behind the rear starboard hold. Lenis crept to the gap between the aft and fore holds and peered around the corner.
Two people had boarded the
Both were dressed in the black ShinzÃ´n robes everyone seemed to wear around here. One of them had a hood drawn up. The other was a small man with short, black hair that stuck out at odd angles. His eyebrows swept up from the bridge of his nose like a bird's wings in flight. He had his arms crossed into the heavy sleeves of his robe.
The man said something in ShinzÃ´n and Lenis silently cursed. He couldn't understand a word he had said.
He says he has some concerns about the crew,
Missy's mental voice sounded in Lenis's mind. He might not be able to understand them, but his sister could. With her translating for him, Lenis was able to follow the conversation.
âEach has been chosen carefully.' Lenis could tell from the hooded person's voice that she was a woman. There was something familiar about her, too, and with a jolt Lenis realised who she was: the Warlord's diplomat, the one who had come to Pure Land to escort the
back to ShinzÃ´. Her name was ShÃ´go no Assen Chi.
The two robed figures reached the middle of the deck and turned towards the bridge. The man responded, âBut what have they been chosen for, Lady Chi?'
Lenis and Missy shadowed the pair on the other side of the hold.
âTo pilot Lord ShÃ´go Ikaru's new airship, Captain Shishi.'
Shh, I'm trying to listen,
Lenis nodded. He hadn't meant for Missy to hear his thought.
The captain was speaking again, and Missy continued her telepathic translation. âForgive my bluntness, Lady Chi, but if I am to command the Warlord's new vessel, I should know something of those I am to command. Long Liu is to be the airship's doctor?'
âHe is a respected man of medicine, Captain Shishi.'
Missy interjected a thought of her own.
She sounds a bit defensive.
âHe is a half-crazed Tien Tese outcast, Lady Chi.'
âPerhaps. He also crossed the Wastelands between Tien Ti and ShinzÃ´ alone and on foot. No one has survived such a journey in almost three centuries.'
The captain paused for a moment before continuing. The two had reached the stairs leading up to the bridge but didn't climb them. âThere are many other foreigners in the crew, and some of them are children.'
He means us!
Lenis thought at his sister. Missy nodded.
âThe Ruling Council included them with their gift of the
They are competent Bestia Keepers,' Lady Chi said.
Just another part of the airship,
âI assure you again, Captain Shishi, all of the crew members were chosen for their expertise in piloting airships.'
âAnd not, I notice, for their loyalty to the ShÃ´go.' There was another pause, as though the captain was waiting for a reply. âAnd what of YÃ»rei no GÃ´shi Yami? The cursed swordsman's reputation has spread throughout ShinzÃ´, and his clan is a strong supporter of the Warlord.'
âHe has sworn an oath to the
Another pause. Lenis wished he could hear what they were saying for himself. It would make it so much easier to gauge the subtleties of their conversation. He could sense something of what they were both feeling, but couldn't be sure where their emotions were directed or what had prompted them.
âI see. And why was I chosen to captain the
âIt is no secret that the Warlord wishes to forge an alliance with your father. Negotiating that alliance is a part of my duties. As the heir to the Mayonaka clan, your appointment as captain will help cement relations between your clan and the ShÃ´go.'
âGiven my reputation, I would have thought my younger brother would be a more stable choice.'
Lenis tapped his sister's shoulder.
Did he just say âstable'?
She motioned him to remain still but nodded.
That's what he said.
âPerhaps, Captain Shishi, but I thought your experience would better serve the airship and its purpose.'
âWhat is that purpose, I wonder? What do you expect of me?'
âI expect you to live up to your reputation.'
âAs a reckless wanderer?'
âAnd how shall I live up to your expectations, Lady Chi?'
âSimple. I want you to steal the