Viole walked through the cargo bay of the Cloudchaser. The cargo bay was designed so that it could be expanded or contracted as needed. The skin of the hull was made of canvas, treated to be proof against water and wind. Woven with wires and metal it was capable of expanding to almost 30% of the volume of the original hold.
When loading the ship had a set of rails that could be used to guide cargo into position. These rails provided two services: protection for the hull from cargo, and made loading a breeze. Now, Viole clung to these rails, her claws bare as she walked along the empty cargo hold. Occasionally riggers would be down here, taking a break from working on the cruising masts lowered from the bottom of the ship. However, though the wind creaked and howled just beneath her claws, she could still hear their shouts and laughter.
What has happened? Her mind had focused on this question for the past few weeks. Trade stop after trade stop had been visited, and now the ship was on the final approach to Southway, less then a two week journey, through the mountains and into the marsh lands of the south. During trade stops Corilia was the same as always, happy, smiling, a little more cautious, but generally, Corilia.
It was during camp that she changed. Out in the wilderness when she would stare at the sky for hours. I watched her for hours. Viole sighed to herself, thinking back to the last few nights.
They had landed in a field often used for ships on the route to Southway. A river ran at the south end of the clearing providing clean water for the engines, showers, and other civilizing facilities. The forests in the valley were full of game, fruits, and roots that could be used to fill out stores aboard ship. So they landed and tied their ship down.
Captain Leopold Copperbolt, Corilia's father and a Master of Trade for the Copperbolt family looked at the bridge crew. Corilia was fore and in the signals tower, her eyes focused through a scope, her mouth glued to the telephone. Viole stood with the navigator, resting her body against the map table and looking forward past the masts of the Cloudchaser.
After considering his thoughts, Captain Leopold addressed the crew formally. “Though commerce raiding has been known in the past,” he began, “It has always been part of a larger effort. Those were neither pirates nor bandits, but privateers. We must assume this was not an isolated instance. As a result, weapons training and combat drills will now be a regular part of this ships routine. Journeyman Kuro Kennet.” The captain turned towards the young Storvod.
“Sir.” Kuro was quiet, and reserved. Most of the crew had come to respect him for his defense of the airport in Razorfen. And as with Corilia and Viole, seemed to have more thoughts on his mind then just his duties.
“I am placing you in charge of the armory. Please work up a schedule for weapon training and a watch schedule at your convenience.” Kuro nodded and saluted. The captain handed him the key to the weapons locker.
Thus upon landing, Viole and Corilia found themselves handed rifles and bayonets and thus began the basis of their training. Shooting, thrusting, hand to hand combat with the rifle as staff. The apprentices trained with the crew, corvid and storvod drilling in the field.
However, as the training progressed over the week, Corilia became more and more interested. She had been quiet and reclusive, spending her down shift in the room or on the back of the weather deck, staring at the horizon. During the training, she was enthusiastic, constantly learning new techniques, practicing, fully involved.
When the duels started, she really changed.
The darkness of the cargo hold where she stood felt comfortable as these dark thoughts came into her mind. She saw the changes that came over Corilia, even if no one else did. She knew who Corilia was, and this was not. She swore quietly. “Where are you? What has happened?” She shook her head slightly, her mind returning to the grassy field, her hands clutching the wood and steel of the rifle, her head burdened with the steel of her helmet. She had barely deflected the blow in time.
Corilia followed through. Her foot came down, found purchase and she pivoted, the bayonet flashed in, and Viole threw herself aside. Her own rifle lashed out, whistling harmlessly through the air as Corilia flattened herself down, legs spread wide to distribute her weight. Her rifle clutched offensively.
Viole spread herself flat as well, clutching the rifle in the crux of her arm, ready to repel an attack. Her mind furious. She had seen how close that blade had come, its sharp and deadly tip would have taken her if she had been a second slower. The two stood, staring at each other, and Corilia just smiled, stood, and headed over to get water.
No one had noticed anything, other duels were going on, and the sound of wood on wood echoed across the field. But Viole had noticed the change, the glint in Corilia's eye. She had enjoyed the attack and for a moment it had become real.
However, by nightfall the old Corilia was back. She shied away from Viole, her eyes full of fear. She knows. Viole thought sadly. She knows she is changing but she doesn't understand it. What will happen to her? For her?
Viole sat on the rail and opened one of the air vents, pushing the canvas flap out to the sky. Daylight streamed into the hold and illuminated the young girl as she clutched the rail as her perch, her eyes sad. In her hand she held a scarf, the gold and red glinted in the sunlight, a single candle surrounded by the impersonal cargo and darkness of the hold.
Prologue to Chapter 2: Promoting a Pawn
“Auntie Eb! Auntie Eb!” The loud cry of corvid children caught the attention of Aunt Ebski, an affectionate and gentle lady from the northern land of the Volan Confederation. Though not old by any mean, Ebski was still seen as an auntie from many of the tiny little Copperbolt hatchlings that lived in the family compound where she worked.
Part of the problem, she mused to herself, is the fact that I am constantly handing out sweets to them. She sighed and scratched at her ear. Her cinnamon coloured fur was getting dusty as she searched through the boxes high up in the archives hall of the Copperbolt Trading Family. News had just arrived, via telegraph, about the attack at Razorfen, and she had been assigned to discover any information on raider tactics from the last war. The hope was that schedules and routes could be adjusted to avoid attack.
So with a sigh, and an adjustment of her clothing she climbed up the side of the filing cabinets and bookshelves, looking for the information. She was an excellent logistics officer and this was the reason why. Though not a corvid, she was a volan. A race of mammals similar to the small squirrels that could be found throughout the world. Though popular as pets, squirrels did not have one ability that the volans did: the ability to glide. Despite their size, they were still capable of long glides through the air, with excellent flexibility and maneuverability.
Ebski put this to use now, launching herself off the filing cabinet she was clinging too, file folded safely into her bag, and shot through the bookshelves to land gently at the front desk. There two little corvid hatchlings, covered in gray feathers, looked up at her with pleading blue eyes and open beaks.
Shaking her head, Ebski smiled. “You two again? If you keep eating these sweets you're going to grow big and fat.” She eyed them, as they both shook their heads no, and to be honest, they were right. Corvids grew so quickly when they were young, they burned through food faster then any volan child ever did.
However, before she could find the small brown bag of sweets, another child showed up to shoo the two little ones away. Smiling, Ebski sat down to examine the folder she had dug up. She began to read the contents carefully, pouring over the old and now fading documents. She took up a pen and began to write.
The information was important, she knew that. She just hoped that what she found wasn't accurate, for if it was, there could be more problems for the Copperbolt family then just the occasional raider. She required more information, and that would require a trip the Central Library. She hoped they would have what she needed.
Grabbing her hat, the flowers in it still fresh, she headed for the nearest train station. A full city away, answers awaited. With time, those answers would be hers.
This goes out to all the people who have made chapter 1 possible, including everyone who commented, and especially to Devvyn and Ebby who are providing awesome logistical support.
So what is going on?
Ok the story line for Chapter 2 is now done. And I have begun the process of writing it out. So that is good. Also I am in the works of finding webspace to actually make a website!
So not only am I thanking everyone who has contributed already, but now I need more help! Webpage help specifically! Anyone who likes this project and would like to be involved in a webpage should feel free to get in touch with me! I can't offer anything right now then a fun time, but I will guarantee FUN!
Again, thank you!
This is to everyone! I hope you all enjoy the story as much as I have enjoyed writing it!
Viole was awakened by the sound of rain and the rocking of the airship around her. She felt sore, tired, her body ached in a number of spots, but she was alive. She took a deep breath and let it out in a low whistle.
The sound attracted attention. Dr. Loney was at his desk, seemingly absorbed in reading by the light of a small candle. The large window behind him showed the true extent of the storm, dark clouds hanging like a funeral shroud over the land, rain slicing through the air, and occasionally the flash of lightning in the distance. Dr. Loney stood up when he noticed his young patient awake and came over to her bed.
Viole smiled, attempting to put up a brave front, despite the pain. He sat next to her, “And how are you feeling?” He smiled in return.
“Sore, but alive.”
He nodded and reached over to the small bedside table. He picked a bottle out of a small basket and opened it. “I shall get you some food, and I want you to put this in your tea and drink it all down. It will help with the pain.” He pulled a small packet of powder out and placed it in Viole's hand. “Also, Corilia has been in her continuously asking after your health.” He smiled gently and ruffled her feathers.
Viole smiled and as the doctor began to turn away, she caught his attention. “Where is she?”
“Weather deck aft.” He commented, stepping away and out to get her meal. She nodded, that was often where Corilia was when there was no duties to occupy her. She slowly settled back into the bed and fell back into a restful sleep.
As Viole's eyes closed, Corilia sat above, arms lying on the railing designed to keep passengers from falling to their death. Cloudchaser shot through the sky at high speed, rigging fully deployed. Razorfen fell away behind them, placing distance between herself and the battle that still haunted her dreams.
The raiders had come from the Empire, the great military power far to the north of the Dominion. Believing themselves to be the sole rulers of the world, they often attempted to exercise that authority over other nations. The Dominion, so far away from the empire, had made that costly in the last Empire War. Her father, Dr. Loney, and Officer Toril seemed to feel that this could be an indication of resurgent hostilities.
She shivered. Throughout the battle she had been dependent on Viole. Her sharp mind, good vision, and instincts had gotten them through. She had been in a terrified daze, and then she had snapped. She had felt the tension break, her mind cleared but it was not her mind. She felt isolated, pushed out of her own body as she grabbed a rifle. A mind other then her own had grabbed the rifle, loaded it, and lifted it in her arms. A cool and analytical mind, one that terrified her. Corilia clenched her hand, willing it to stop shaking as it always did after memories came to her of what had happened.
Corilia heard the thump of wood on wood and looked behind her. For the first time in many days she smiled, as she saw her Viole limp towards her. She clutched her staff in her left hand, leaning on it heavily, and Corilia was at her side in an instant. Corilia placed her arm around Viole, taking her weight and bringing her over to a bench built against the control tower of the ship. They sat together.
They didn't speak, or talk, they simply watched the sky, happy to know that they were both safe, free, with the wind at their backs. They knew they had changed, but they refused to acknowledge that change for now.
For now it would do that the sky was the brightest blue they had ever seen, the clouds pure and white, and the world below green and lush.
For now it would do that they were together, friends and bunkmates, well fed and safe.
For now it would do that they had this bench to sit on. They stayed together on that bench until Officer Toril came down to find them, informing them of the meeting they were to attend, if, of course, Viole was up to it.
She looked at the two of them, noticing their hesitations, their eyes, and she watched as Corilia's hand began to twitch before Viole unconsciously grasped it. They held on to each other to find the peace and happiness they had lost. Toril would miss their laughter, Corilia's constant stream of chatter. What should have taken multiple voyages had happened in one trade stop.
Corilia had grown up.
The airships infirmary was quiet; smells of alcohol and mint filled the air, though it wasn't enough to cover the taint of blood and vomit that had slowly become ingrained in the wood. Corilia sat there, next to her friend Viole who lay bandaged and asleep. Daylight came through the porthole, the light bright and filling the room with warmth.
The door opened, and through it stepped one of the crew, bringing a small package of supplies. He nodded politely and placed the package into the storage counters. As he left the closing of the door crashed loudly, as loudly as the cannon that had fired over the town of Razorfen.
After Viole had pulled her trigger and killed the canis that they had stumbled upon, more had begun to organize in the center of the town. The town militia had begun to respond, and rifle and pistol rapports came from doors and windows.
Viole grabbed Corilia and dragged her into a small walled garden. More shots rang out; screams and shouting filled the air. Corilia clutched her staff and peeked over the wall. The canis had formed a defensive line and were beginning to light torches, their heat almost able to be felt from where she hid.
A soft murmur came from the bed beside her, and she was back in the infirmary. She took a rag and dipped it in some cold water and gently draped the cloth over Viole's crest. Corilia focused on these actions but still noticed her hand had clenched, as if she still held her staff.
Ready to strike, her hand pressed the wood solidly into her palm as the canis moved quickly towards them. Viole nodded, "Soon, strike fast and aim for the legs." She cocked her pistol and waited, her eyes glinting in the light of fires that had begun to spread throughout the town. "Now!" She shouted, rising and firing at the nearest canis.
Corilia twisted out of the garden, a blur of darkness within shadow as her staff lashed out to crush the second raiders knee. He fell to the ground screaming, his rifle clattering and then going off as the flint released. Viole threw herself up and over the wall, a knife clutched in her hand as she fell upon the wounded raider. Corilia raised her staff again, and brought it down hard, the solid thunk echoing in her mind.
Startled out of her thoughts again Corilia found herself back in the infirmary. The confusion in her mind settled as she forced herself back under control. She turned back to Viole and took the rag away to soak it again. The fever she had developed was starting to ease, and even her breathing sounded better.
Corilia rubbed her friends hand, hoping Viole would recover and wake up soon. The doctors had done what they could, stitching and working on her after Kuro and she had dragged her into the air control building.
"Corilia! Get down!" Viole had shouted, her voice sharp against the general rumble of the battle. Corilia ducked, as Viole landed in the dirt next to her. Both girls were terrified, but where Corilia was wide eyed at the battle around them, Viole seemed to be keeping a level head. Both had thrown up after their fight near the garden, and now they sought to get back to the ship.
As they crawled to the side of the small alley they were in, a grenade sailed out of the darkness to explode in the air, iron fragments pelting the ground and houses. Corilia winced, though she escaped without hurt. Viole struggled to stand and lifted Corilia up as well. "Ok. They were throwing blind."
"Let's get back to the ship, we'll be safe there." Corilia urged, as Viole leaned against her. Both began walking again, on the lookout for danger. It was then that Corilia noticed that her friend weighed heavily on her arm, and seemed to be bleeding. She stopped and lowered Viole to the ground. "Where?"
Viole pointed to her side, the pain lacing through her she thought she could deal with but she was dizzy and sick, her blood stank in her nostrils, filling her with the feel and smell of her own mortality. Corilia could tell that Viole was fading fast. She pressed her hand against the wound and tied her scarf tight around it, the red of the Copperbolt family colours darkening as it absorbed the life of her friend. "Over there." She heard a familiar voice, looking up she saw Kuro leading a small group of crew from the ship. She almost cried in relief.
And the tears she had promised she would not shed came now. She knew that, on their own they really were running a risk getting back to the ship. From the safety of the infirmary she could see how hard it had been. Though at the time, it was an adventure. It was exciting. There was a flash of adrenaline, a burst of what could almost be described as joy. After Viole was hurt, fear turned to relief and quickly changed to a thirst for revenge.
It was that thirst which led her to pick up the rifle. To sneak out of the airport buildings which the crews and ground staff had sought to defend, and with Kuro and a few others they had launched a bold counterstrike. The raiders had retreated into their airship but continued to shell the town, seeking to destroy what they couldn't hold. Those who had left the immediate area of the airship reported that they could hear them singing the national anthem of the Empire, confirming that these were most definitely privateers, if not regular forces of that powerful nation.
However, one of the crew from the other trade ship reported that he might have a solution. A powerfully built corvid, he paled in size compared to Kuro, but was still a menacing sight. Missing or broken feathers, some scars, and a nasty gash on his bill. He had led them to a crate full of fireworks, instructed them in their use and suggested the plan.
Corilia hadn't volunteered. She hadn't told her father where she was going. She simply appeared by Kuro's side holding the rifle in her hands as if she knew what she was doing. Kuro nodded and patted her gently on the head, knowing what was on her mind. They had attacked.
And they had won. Corilia looked out the porthole of the infirmary, on the fields surrounding the airport. Here airships would come in to land, throwing ropes to secure themselves to pylons built deep into the ground as anchors. And there, a black smudge against the grassy field lay the remains of the ship, with town officials even now going over it. Light sparkled off the metal of their official uniforms, even as light had sparkled from the ship as it was torn apart in flame and explosion.
She touched Viole's hand again, an absent gesture as her eyes remained focused on the destruction on the field below. Tomorrow they would finish repairs and leave, though Corilia felt that what had happened to her would be with her for a very long time. Her hand still shook, attesting to the truth of her thoughts.
The sound of the ocean was very soothing. The waves produced a relaxing rhythm that beat gently against the beach. Above the stars shown brightly, blinking gently in the darkness of the night sky. Corilia slept soundly next to her bunkmate, Viole.
Viole, on the other hand was awake, though she didn't know why. She had been sleeping soundly enough, and shivered now in the cool ocean air. The fire had died and she pulled her blanket up around her shoulders. Her eyes examined the small village around her before settling. Her crest slowly settled as she became more comfortable and she pulled her pack over to her lap.
Unlike the corvids, such as Corilia, storvods, or starlings, had far better night time vision. Where Corilia looked to the stars and saw a black velvet canvas sparkled with silver, she saw a radiant beauty of twisting colours and ribbons of light. With just that light she could discern the writing on a letter from her family, which she opened again. Her mother had penned it, wishing her well on her upcoming journey, luck, and fortune. Viole liked to read it at quiet times like this as it let her feel connected to her family, sitting safely back in Portdown while their youngest went out to make a name for herself. Her brothers and father all served in the military, and were heroes many times over. She hoped to find her own path, her own way.
Corilia opened her eyes sleepily, able to barely make out the form of Viole sitting only a short way away. "What is that?" She murmured. Corilia's voice was very soft, obviously concerned about waking any villagers who may be nearby.
"A letter from my family, wishing me well. They had hidden it in my pack before I set out for the ship." She smiled, "I read it every night." Viole gently folded the letter and placed it back into her pack.
Corilia smiled and touched her friends arm gently. She didn't have the problem of distance that Viole did, as she traveled with her family. She couldn't imagine what leaving all family and friends behind would be like. She decided that Viole must be very brave to try such a thing, to risk it all in the name of success. Her hand lingered a moment longer before she turned to her own blanket. Viole smiled, hugged her pack for a moment and then turned to settle down as well.
Both heard the sound at the same time, it sounded like a sail being trimmed, but there was no engine noise, and as both looked for the sound, neither saw the lights of an airship. "There!" Viole pointed, her voice still soft, but urgent. A sleekly built ship sailed quickly through the sky, sails fully positioned for speed as it came in low and fast over the water towards the town proper. Corilia peered against the dark and struggled to stand.
Viole was standing quickly, staring at the fast approaching ship. It bore no flag or marking but she could see the cannon being placed into position. "Raider," she murmured and quickly grabbed her pack. Corilia had found her staff and headed to find the alarm, or to wake someone who could raise it. Viole waited until her friend was away from her, pulled a pistol from her bag, braced it on her arm and fired. The crack of the shot was loud, the same as thunder or the crack that begins a landslide.
Above the crew of the ship scrambled to respond to the shot that had just been fired. They were low to the ground, and though they had not identified who had fired or where it had come from, it was still disturbing. This was to be a lightning fast raid, not a fire fight. Commands were shouted, and the canis on board fought to change course and elevation. Tails were pressed flat against their backs and their teeth flashed as they growled against the struggle they found themselves in. A few howled, finding strength in their mutual song.
Below, Viole knew that her shot had missed. The pistol had limited range, but she began to reload anyway. The idea was to get attention and wake up the camp. Already corvids were pouring out into the night, some carrying harpoons, others with muskets. All heard the shouts and howls from above and though afraid they brought themselves into some kind of order. Turning she headed back to Corilia, hoping to get her back to the town. "Frigate. It will beat us to town."
Corilia nodded, shocked that her friend had been armed but understanding the need for haste. Already she felt her body responding to the situation, almost like an engine turning over inside of her. "This way. They'll need our help anyway." She took off at a run, low and sleek to the ground, tail feathers out for balance. Her body almost floated over the ground, Viole in hot pursuit.
Corilia's mind raced, "Who could be doing this? Why? Piracy was a thing for stories, not for the middle of the Dominion! What possible gain could this bring the raiders?" Viole, not privy to these thoughts, kept her mind focused, knowing that the combat ahead could be as brutal as anything her father had ever told her about.
Ahead the frigate twisted and banked against the wind, coming to an air halt. Sails were released and the crew threw ropes over the sides in order to drop down and raid. An alarm bell began to ring frantically, barely able to be heard as the two apprentices ran through the marsh.
The frigate fired into the town, small explosions rippling through the night. The thunder of the blasts raced to Corilia and Viole, spurring them to run faster.
Raiders began to drop down on the town, meeting limited resistance. Their powerful legs allowed them to run quickly to their objectives, looting and shooting as they went. As Viole and Corilia finally reached the town the looting, burning, and combat had grown into a full fledged battle. The frigate continued to fire on the small military station, and more rounds were fired at the airport. Corilia feared for her ship and her family, but she stayed close to Viole.
Ahead a canis dashed around a corner, surprised to see the two girls. He assessed them quickly, not noticing the pistol she had managed to conceal among her wing feathers. It barked at them in it's own language, obviously telling them to get lost. They both froze. Shrugging the creature turned, lifting his pack, he went to head back to his ship.
Viole shot him, the round crashing into his body and whipping him around nearly 180 degrees before he fell to the ground dead. Corilia's stomach lurched and she turned away as Viole began the process of reloading. Viole reached down to close the canis' eyes and turned back to Corilia. "We have to go."
Corilia nodded, her mind in turmoil but clear on one thing: the raiders must be stopped.
Corilia sipped her tea and thought carefully about what she had been offered today. She had stayed at the small open air cafe, sipping her tea from a small white cup. As she had suspected her jewelry seemed to be worth, at the very least, far more then the two bolts of cloth she had exchanged for them. She examined the list before her, mentally balancing the route they were taking to Southway, the amount of storage space she had, and the amount each should go for based on what she had seen. She nibbled on more honeyseed, a sweat concoction of honey and various types of seed, very popular among young and old corvids, though some tried to hide their attraction to it.
Finally she looked up and caught the eye of the jeweler she had come with. He was talking with the hostes and had arranged for her to have some quiet time. He clutched his cane and walked slowly back over to her, obviously in good spirits. “You have reached a decision?”
Corilia nodded, “Yes. I have. I will exchange the jewelry for the ivory powder horns.”
He nodded, “A fair exchange.” He reached forward and they shook hands. With that she had completed her first trade. She tried to maintain an appropriate composure but couldn't help but grin as they walked back to the shop to exchange merchandise and receipts. As they walked, they talked about weather, the fashions in Portdown, and what trade might shape up to be like over the coming months. She commented that though gold seemed more fashionable, that more conservative dressers were still using the traditional silver. Besides, the cost of gold was on the rise.
She collected her horns, waved good bye and headed back to the ship. The case was heavy, the dark wood gleamed in the daylight however, and she felt important for carrying such a package. Getting pack to her ship to store it was her top chore, though she still took the time to look around as she went back, marking stores, places to eat, and other important services.
Returning to the airport, she walked through the small number of people who had come to either reserver cargo space or peruse what ever cargo was available for sale. Only one other airship was in port at the moment, so the amount of cargo was low. Buyers read the manifests and contented themselves with light haggling. Corilia bypassed all of them, stepping out to the dusty airfield and her ship.
“Corilia! How went your day in town?” Kuro stood over by the main cargo hold, he seemed to be supervising the crew working on loading coal to power the powerful engines.
“Hello Kuro,” She said, nodding as she approached, “Very well! Look what I traded for?” She placed the case down on the deck of the cargo hold and opened it, letting him inspect the merchandise.
“These for those pieces of jewelry?” He seemed genuinely impressed, lifting one of the powder horns to inspect it closely. The one he examined seemed to be an impressive specimen. He pulled his own out for comparison and saw that they were indeed quality pieces. “Good trade.”
Corilia grinned and waited for him to put back the one he took. “Yup! And since Southway has a military garrison I figure I could find plenty of buyers.”
Kuro shook his head and laughed, “You'll get rid of them before Southway. Probably Southcreek. Remember, soldiers already have their own equipment. Smart soldiers have invested in better equipment, or their commanders have for them. Those that haven't, probably cannot afford too. Those that can already have. As such, it is usually a bad market for non-consumable military goods.” Corilia felt her crest fall as she realized she might have made a bad trade, or at least, not a very profitable one.
He laughed and ruffled her feathers, “Don't worry. Southcreek is a town with a few preserves nearby for hunting. Very wealthy, and also very silly, hunters will be there, many without their own equipment. Your powder horns will be perfect compliments to whatever over wrought hand cannons they have managed to bring along with them. If you want I could tag along and teach you the paths they walk. For a price.”
She considered, “I might appreciate that. We shall see Mr. Kennet!” She curtsied and ran inside the cool shade of the cargo hold interior. Checking her cargo with the Cargo Master she headed to the wardrooms to freshen up and change into more serviceable work clothes. Her room was small, a bunk shared with another apprentice. There was not much room aboard an airship for the kind of room she had at home, so she made due with the tiny chamber.
She figured that after trading she would see what she could get done of her shore based chores, one of which included a trip to the beach to restock food stores. It would be a long walk, but she was hoping to spend the night on the shore, something she had enjoyed doing at Portdown. The sea air had tickled at her senses all day so she quickly gathered her processions and her staff. Checking herself in the small mirror she brushed her crest back and darted out the door.
Where she almost ran down her bunkmate, Viole, a storvod like Kuro. Corilia smiled politely and appologized, “So sorry!” Viole smiled back, and quietly slipped back into the room. Corilia had known her now for almost a week, but still didn't know her. This is something that bothered her. The girl was nice, if not as flamboyant as Kuro. She was quiet and spent a odd amount of time polishing her glasses. She was a strong reader, and had far neater hand writing then Corilia's own. Other then her solitary preoccupations, Corilia knew nothing else.
Corilia leaned against the bulkhead and thought for a moment. Finally she headed back to her door and knocked, turning the handle she stepped in. “Hello Viole,” she started, watching as Viole placed the book she was reading down. “I don't mean to interrupt but I was wondering if you would like to head to the shore village with me. I am supposed to round out our diets but there really is to much for me to carry back myself.”
“Alright.” Viole stood and gathered her own supplies. Corilia smiled and the two left the ship, with a quick stop at the purser's office to pay for supplies.
As they walked, Corilia chatted, pointing out things she had learned about the town. As they reached the marshes she was on more solid ground, having grown up near such areas herself. She talked about the grasses, animals, and insects that they moved past, explaining things her father or cousins had told her. Viole just nodded, occasionally adding comments herself as they followed the narrow foot path through the marshes.
Coming to the village, Corilia and Viole stopped. The small huts along the beach did not seem like a typical place to find what they need. However, both had been told that this was where to go. Spotting a small group near a boat Corilia headed straight towards them, a smile already shaping her beak. “Greetings!” She called to them, and they turned and waved.
They smiled as she approached, “Greetings trader!” She curtsied and as she came out she handed over the letter from her ship. They took it as she explained the general purpose of her mission and what resources she had available to her.
"To review, what are the primary considerations of a airship captain in flight?" Journeyman Kennet was the second navigator on board, and today was teaching the five apprentices the art of airship navigation and piloting, just as he had been taught. They all were sitting around a map table in one of the cargo holds, two days into their trip. "Yes, Apprentice Benoir?"
"Weight, wind, weather." Benoir hoped to one day be a military pilot, and paid close attention to what pamphlets were publicly available, such as the Navigators Guide to Airships in Combat. Weight, wind, and weather, the three W's of navigation, referred to the three main factors that could impact a ship in flight.
Weight of cargo, crew, and structure would give you a ceiling on elevation. Weight also had a negative impact on acceleration and climb speed. Light yachts could reach their cruising elevation in thirty minutes. A fully loaded cargo ship, like the Annexoran & Morris Shipping (AMS) Model Eight, the craft they were in now, could take an hour.
The wind determined direction and speed. Though it was possible to have powered flight, it vastly reduced speed; where as flying with the wind could greatly increase it. Most navigation maps included trade winds, primary routes that could be followed and relied upon. It was nearly impossible to fly against the wind, requiring full power and vast fuel consumption. Wind also came with lessons on sails and crew: the importance of a square rigging over earlier designs, and need for aerodynamic hulls, and the rolls of the riggers.
Finally they had come to lessons on weather. How to judge clouds and storms, determining the best course of action from flying through, around, and landing to ride out the storm.
Corilia sat patiently through all these lessons, taking notes and learning the material. Though it was a lot to think about she understood the importance. At any time, anyone could be forced to take command. The perils of trade were such that you could never know when you'd have to take the ship and fly. Further, within a year or two they would be journeymen and would have to perform a duty shift as pilot.
Kuro Kennet, a Storvod, was not of the Corvid race, but still more then welcome. Often called "Starlings" they were different from the other avian species, and Kuro was a prime example. Where the corvids around him were black from beak to tail, his own colouring mixed purple and greens, white stars and a dark blue iris. He was proud of his colouring of course, wearing only minimal sashes and loose garments to fully show off his plumage. Though some in his family dyed their feathers to maximize these colours, he did not. Though he had considered during their down time in Portdown.
A bell rang three times, each slightly louder then the last. "Alright, who knows that symbol?" Kuro said while smiling. "Yes, Corilia."
"Landing in one hour, crew to stations." She said promptly.
"Exactly! Class dismissed."
Corilia scampered away with the others, her claws tapping at the wood flooring and stepped out of the cargo hold and onto the ground deck, the lowest deck on the ship. Already the bottom rigging had been stowed, and the masts were being winched back up to allow the ship to land. Above, the skydeck bristled with activity and Corilia had to duck and weave her way through to her station, second to the signal officer, copying down messages from the ground to hand to the pilot.
Officer Toril was a pretty lady in Corilia's mind. Twenty-two, with a full crest, and feathers bordering on the deep midnight blue found so attractive. She wore her uniform severely, and was extremely business like at all times. Many found her cold, but Corilia appreciated the advice and knowledge that she had in her sharp mind. The two had developed a close friendship, and Corilia was one of the few who could get a smile from the stern officer. "Ready to work Apprentice Copperbolt?"
"Yes Ma'am." Toril smiled, and both stepped out to the weather deck. Toril trained a telescope on the ground tower far away and below, and began to focus. After a short time she laughed, "I've been instructed to inform the nearest Copperbolt that they are welcome to Razorfen. Now go tell your dad to bring us into berth eight."
For the next two hours the ship maneuvered and slowly came in for a landing. With a rush of feathers and a shout for glory the riggers leaped off the ship and glided to the ground below. In their hands they carried the ropes that would be used to tie the ship down and keep Cloudchaser from drifting for the last fifty meters of descent.
Another whistle blew and Corilia grabbed the support bars near her. The ship ground to a halt, wood and rope groaning under the stress of stopping the three hundred tons of cargo and ship. Everyone seemed to be waiting and holding his or her breath. And then the ship slid back slightly, rocking on her ropes, and the crew picked up their tasks with only a mild amount of perspiration dotting their feathers.
Razorfen, before the development of airships, had been a minor farming community on the edge of a small number of salt marshes. Razorfen was known to most as the location of many horror stories, and often a flock of children would hear about mysterious disappearances in the salt marshes, or of corrupted sea creatures, crawling forth to do the will of powerful and deadly demons.
However, Razorfen was also on a primary trade wind to Southway, and was the perfect refueling point for most ships. As a result the town had gone from a backwater farming community to trading community with money to spend. Corilia had been informed that the place she should consider bringing her cargo was Starfire Jewelers, a reputable firm which the Copperbolts had done business with for many years. Collecting her pay and her cargo she quickly left the airship and headed out into the community.
Where Portdown was a huge city with tall buildings, full streets, parks and birds of all feathers together, Razorfen was almost the polar opposite, but in a pleasant way. It was almost a sea side town, and though the ocean was across the marshes, it still had a quality to it that was relaxing and inviting. The buildings were decorated to look almost like a candy village. Crystals and metal hung from rafters and corners, glittering in the light of the day. The round doorways were painted with bright blues and yellows, and most seemed to be open along the main street. Corilia felt welcomed as she walked through the streets, her beak hanging open in delight.
Starfire Jewelers read the sign and Corilia flew straight in. Stepping over the threshold she entered a new world. The sounds of the street dropped away and only the chime of a small silver bell disturbed the soft silence wrapped around the room like velvet. Jewelry cases lined the far wall and an ancient corvid leaned over a table, "How can I help you young Copperbolt?"
Corilia tugged at her case and walked up, "On behalf of myself I bring these items to trade." Her voice came out to shrill sounding more like a hatchling demanding food then a serious trader. She snapped her beak shut and simply pushed forward her case. Opening it she displayed rows of gold and silver with tiny gems glittering in the soft light of the store. The old merchant smiled.
"These are very impressive pieces, and they are the latest styles from Portdown are they not?" His gaze flicked up at her, his deep black eyes comforting. "As a merchant I am sure you understand the value of goods in trade for goods. I think I can take these in exchange for something of worth if you are willing. If not, I can buy them from you, but would have to seriously undercut their value in order to maintain my own profits."
Corilia considered the offer. Money was important, but he was right. A direct sale would have to maintain the profits of the buyer in an economy that could only absorb small increases in the cost of goods and services. Jewelry also wasn't a necessity, it was a luxury, which limited the options of a merchant to offload the merchandise. "Depends on the trade goods you have in mind." She smiled back.
"Shall we discuss it over tea?" He said reaching for a cane and hat.
Cloth. Trade in cloth was not seen as glorious or profitable, however, understanding trade in cloth was one of many approaches to increasing profit and more successful trade. "Cloth, you see, is as varied and unique as the people we trade with. People have different needs, different wants, and the cloth they use allows you to sum up a lot about them. A dandy in the Southern Marshes wearing expensive spider silk is going to be willing to spend a lot of money on shiny objects more then a local lord wearing the durable and water resistant frog silk." Corilia recited the lesson from memory, and then stacked the next frog silk bolt onto the pallet.
Her twelfth birthday had just passed and her father, with great ceremony, had presented a trade scarf to her. Most of the family had been there, and it was still causing her to smile despite being stuck loading pallets in the hot confines of the cargo hold.
She had washed and scrubbed every inch of herself and her clothing, and put on her best dress. She had brushed and brushed her beak, getting it to almost shine. Putting on her best necklaces she had also splurged a little and bought some silver dust for her crest. Twirling once in the mirror she had examined her reflection and been content. That night she would be an adult, and she had put her best claw forward.
The night had been a whirling dance of delights. Being in Portdown, the Copperbolt Trading Families home city, meant plenty of family had been in attendance. Gifts, dancing, and finally, around midnight, the crowd had quieted down and Corilia was called forward to take the vow of apprenticeship to the Copperbolt family. There with all watching, she had been given her trading scarf.
She sat down on the pallet she was loading and unwrapped the scarf to run her fingers and feathers through it one more time. Already her first trade ring sparkled brightly in the corner where she had tied it, and she let her finger rub it gently, as she had almost every hour on the hour for the past few days. She still couldn't believe she was going out not as child but as an apprentice, with her own room, and even hold space for whatever she felt like trying to trade on her own.
It was with this thought in mind that her cousin Orla came in, a little older then Corilia, she was considered be the families budding socialite, often being invited to functions by the younger members of the aristocracy who had regular dealings with the Copperbolt family. She and her immediate family lived in Portdown and didn't travel as the others did, but Orla and Corilia considered themselves close. Corilia often sent letters to her cousin about her journeys, and always looked forward to coming home to see her. "Cousin!" Orla called out, her voice cawing and echoing in the large and dusty cargo hold. "How would you like a chance at some trade and profit?" She grinned, her lower beak dropping down fully as if bubbling to speak.
Corilia grinned back, "Sure! What do I have to do?"
"Well..." Orla began, "I have this friend, and his sisters are getting ready for the first ball of the season. I know you got that fine dress silk as a gift from my mother, and I was wondering if I could set up a trade between you and myself for that silk. Say for fifty pieces of jewelry, with semi-precious gems?"
Corilia sat down, she had thought of making her own dress with that cloth, but with the right trades, that jewelry could easily buy back a fine dress. And then some! Holding out her feathered wing she shook hands, her fingers closing firmly around her cousin's. "Done."
Orla squeeled, "Wonderful! I'll have a member of their family come by to pick up the cloth. Don't worry about a fee, they are paying mine." Corilia winced having forgotten about that. Her cousin ruffled her feathers and turned to leave. "Oh, and your father says that this cargo hold should be tied down in an hour or someone is scrubbing the decks all the way to Southway." Orla winked and ducked out the hold, leaving Corilia to scramble to pick up the rest of the cargo in a hurry.
Within that time span the cargo hold was packed, personal belongings stored, and her jewelry was stored on the ship. Grinning with anticipation she ran to the deck, her claws clicking on polished wood of the steps. There the crew was lashing down open air cargo and securing the rigging. The air bladders were beginning to inflate as the roar of the pump and constant chugging of the ship's engine filled the air. Corilia dodged through the crew to find a place to watch their ship lift off.
With the huge reliance on air for trade into the inner territories of the Dominion, many major cities had invested in large flat areas of land, once farmland, to be converted over into airports. Covered in warehouses with the various trading flags flying from their roofs, the area was an exercise in controlled chaos. Ships covered most areas not covered by warehouses or buildings. Cargo inspectors and Trade Masters yelled at each other loudly. Crews worked, drank, or brawled about the public areas, and the occasional crash of ships was brought about to make everyone light on their claws.
Her family crewed the 100 meter Dominion Airship - Portdown Registry (DAPR) Cloudchaser, a 100-meter airship consisting of three air bladders, three masts, and square rigging. Cargo holds were attached to the sides of the vessel, and secured through the use of locks and rope. Heavier cargoes were loaded forward to offset the weight of the steam engines. Corilia currently stood over the fore cargo hold, starboard side. This was but one of over thirty ships in the fleet of the Copperbolt family, and Corilia often considered it to be the best. It had been home to her for 12 years. She had been born on the ship, and if she was lucky, she would inherit the ship from her mother and father.
From her vantage point she had a good view of the port, watching the other Copperbolt family ships preparing to leave, or beginning the process of unloading cargo and trading. The shrill scream of the steam whistle let out, and then again, and again. Lines were thrown loose and the ship begin to shudder into the air.
Sails unfurled and caught the wind, and Corilia watched all around her intently, determined to memorize this scene. The ship lumbered into the air, wood and rope groaning under the stress of take off as crew moved back and forth tying lines and preparing the ship. Her uncle walked the lines, shouting commands and bringing the ship to the course that Corilia's father wished. "Hey there Apprentice." He smiled and ruffled her hair feathers. "Enjoying the view?" He asked politely. Though well muscled and almost a full 1.5 meters in height, towering over her and most of the other family, he was actually very friendly. Unless you were a crewmen under his command and forgot to do something.
"Yes sir." She said, eyes still watching the port that was now dropping away beneath and behind them. "We've set course south haven't we?" She pulled out a compass and small notebook, making a note of time and heading off of the ships clock.
"Indeed we have. Our destination is Southway with stops at Razorfen, Whitefall, and Southcreek along the way." She nodded as her mind ticked off the inventory destined for each port, and what they hoped to acquire at each one as well. If successful, by the time they reached Southway, they would have seen a 23% return on investment for this leg of the trip alone. If she was lucky, she could begin her nest egg that would grow and hatch into shares of the company, letting her take over her father's ship and trading route. She had a lot to do, but there was time, the sky was bright, and the future brighter still.
"You are finished. The armies you raised to defeat me have been destroyed, your walls torn down, and your very soul trapped against your oaths. Surrender, and my justice shall be tempered by mercy." Queen Corilia stood over her vanquished foe, Count Kapyes, leader of the Southern Marshes rebellion. Her sword gleamed in the afternoon light, its simple blade had seen many battles against Count Kapyes, and those battles were finally finished.
Count Kapyes scrambled back on the rocks, approaching the dangerous cliff face with the raging river far below. He looked for a means of escape, but was obviously trapped. His own sword lay a good distance away, to far to get to it before he was finished by the Queen. Even now, she approached him. His crest feathers lay flat against his skull and his bright blue eyes seemed almost drawn to the gleaming blade in the Queen's hand.
Despite years of battle she was still regal and otherworldly, as if touched by the Gods. Her sashes and armor were worn, but had a quiet dignity which spoke to functionality and years of faithful service. How often, he thought, had his sword connected with that armor? The scratch on the top left, did his blade not leave that mark at the battle of snowy fields? He smiled grimly, knowing that only those little marks would be all that remained of his contributions to the world.
Unless he could do something, unless he could somehow turn the tide, even at this, his most desperate hour. Summoning an inner strength he reached calmly into his sash and withdrew a pistol. She backed up a step as he leveled it at her. "I find justice to be fleeting, and mercy cheap." He pulled the trigger.
"What?!" Corilia shouted. The word a mix of articulated rage and the screaming caw of an angry crow. She threw her wooden sword down on the ground in a burst of frustration and glared at her younger brother. "Count Konught DID NOT have a pistol. Pistols weren't around then." She cawed again in frustration, then throw a clod of dirt at her brother. "Why are you always ruining the stories?" The last came out in a plaintive whine, her hands on her hips, the downy feathers of youth puffed out in mild anger. Even her crest was beginning to flare, and Kapyes became angry in return.
"Who cares? Why do I always have to play the losing side? Why can't I be a Knight or one of the Gods or something?"
"Because you couldn't handle it." Corilia snorted, her beak smacking together in a wordless commentary on the maturity of younger brothers the world over. Kapyes got up to retrieve his sword, it was slightly frayed along the edge where Corilia had smacked it free from his hand, and would need to be sanded down.
He sat down by the stream and pulled his boots off, letting his feet soak. "I could to handle it. I bet I would make a dashing Knight!" He smiled at the thought, already the altercation with his sister was leaving his mind. He looked at the stream and little forest clearing and thought instead of the glorious battles that were now a thing of the past. Knights who no longer charged into a storm of arrows or pikemens row, but rather rode through the mists of story and legend.
Corilia could tell that Kapyes would only want to listen to stories for a while now, and not live them. It was probably almost time for them to head back anyway. Hopefully no one had noticed how far away they had wandered from the camp in the first place. "Come on, lets head back before we get in trouble."
"Oh it is a little late for that." Though said with a laugh, the voice was serious, and Corilia and Kapyes both looked up quickly. Their cousin Rathel, a junior apprentice was watching them from a fallen log. Perched on top he looked almost like their adult family members: his dark feathers had a slight dash of blue to them, and his eyes had turned from the white and bright blue of childhood to the dark and black depths of adulthood. In his hand he held a copper shod staff, it was not being held as if he needed it to walk.
Rathel had no more down anywhere on his body, and seemed quiet becoming in his traders uniform: grey tunic, black pants and boots, and the maroon and gold scarf of the Copperbolt Trading Company. His scarf only had one trade ring on it, however, unlike the Trade Master, Corilia's father, who had 23. Each ring stood for a year of service on a trade route, and occasionally other sparkling and beautiful decorations were given out for other service. Corilia hoped to have a large collection by the time she was old enough to retire.
The job of the junior apprentice, during camping in the wild, is to gather and watch the children as if they were his or her own flock. With duties complete, Rathel became the babysitter until the adults finished their own work. When he realized Corilia and Kapyes had wandered off, he had flown into a state. The area, though technically safe, still was not territory of the Dominion, and could have unknown perils. Grabbing his staff he had quietly slipped away to find his two strays.
"It is tough enough with the hatchlings, I do not need any difficulty from you two. You should be helping, not hindering!" He had tried for his father's tone of voice, a superior yet caring tone, but the two still looked overly mischievous in their dirty outfits. He pondered the situation, his head tilting to the side to consider the two little eggtoothed brats before him. "I could inform your father you've been breaking the rules..." He shook his head as if lost in this terrible thought. "It would mean no more honey at dinner."
"We'll be good!" The two of them shouted almost at the same time. He grinned. Where authority failed, bribery won. He'd have to remember that during trade negotiations.
"Alright, first. Get cleaned up in that stream, then we'll head back to camp." The two bolted for the stream, feathers and sashes flying about as they leaped into the water like two ducks rather then two corvids. Rathel leaned back against his log and kept a watchful eye out on the forest. It would be just his luck to have something happen now. As the two finished cleaning up he stood and stretched, his wings felt a little heavy today and tonight he had more martial training with the caravan Guard Master.
As he let himself get distracted by thoughts of the upcoming training still in store, two little black blurs shot past him as they ran ahead, arms slightly outspread to provide lift. Caught by surprise he took off after them, gliding over obstacles with an ease their young feathers could not provide. They laughed as he caught up, and redoubled their efforts. Though unable to fly due to the changes to their forms brought about by the Gods, they still dreamed of it, and had found other ways to the sky.
Bursting into camp they saw this clearly, though the two children were both too accustomed to it to pay it any mind, Rathel was still deeply impressed by the Copperbolt Airship that lay in the clearing. Being only a distant cousin to the Copperbolt family, he had grown up in the isolated mountains. He had heard about airships his whole life, but until he had joined the family as an apprentice he had never been so close to one. Corilia and Kapyes were both more interested in what food could be begged or stolen from the cooking area and had headed in almost as if they were hunting an owl.
It was an impressive sight to behold. The huge form took up most of the field, air bladders deflated, sails furled in, and camp built around it. The steam engines still boiled away, providing the camp with water pumps and other necessities of modern life. Painted maroon and gold, the colours of the Copperbolt family, blessed by the High Priests to be profitable and safe.
Rathel smiled, remembering the dreams he had when he had still barely been out of the nest: becoming a privateer for the Dominion, raiding Empire shipping on an airship that was a little faster, a little better armed, and under his banner. It always seemed the ships he had raided had priceless treasures, or beautiful ladies, their feathers dark and mysterious against the course fur of the Empire mutts.
Unfortunately now was not the time for dreams. Grinning to himself, his lower beak dropping into a half smile, he followed behind his two charges and into the camp. He nodded to a few of the other family members and the add-ons they had for the trade mission. It was a talkative group: happy, supportive, and a good place for children. And junior apprentices, he reminded himself silently.
It was a good life.