Captain Varda sharpened her axe deftly with a whetstone. She sat in the wooden cabin, perched behind her desk. Along the walls and strewn across the tables were charts of every region in the known world. Charts stacked on top of charts, the most relevant sitting on top of the others. Captain Varda placed the large double-sided axe in a sheath on her back. She stood and the large axe was almost as tall as her. She was admittedly a dwarf, and dwarves were not known for their stature. She moved her braided, red hair over her shoulders so that it didn’t get knotted on the axe. She looked to the gilded instruments that were built into her desk. The spinning disks that spun to indicate the speed of the vessel were beginning to slow and Varda knew that they were approaching port.
Captain Varda stepped into the sun. The bright light shone brightly against the grey metal of their vessel. Captain Varda looked to the skies below, and to the island beyond. The island hung in the sky. Crawling upon it, like ants on a lump of sugar, were the hustling, bustling citizens of this port town. You could see them swarming at the docks, awaiting the arrival of the ships. Further along, only the faint trace of action was perceivable through the cracks of the tightly-huddled houses. The browns, reds, blues, and blacks coalesced into a canvas of the small port town, rather than standing as distinct elements.
Captain Varda turned her attention to the wheel and ascended the stairs that sat either side to the doors of her cabin. Waiting beside the wheel, starring at the incoming city was her first mate, and neurotic mess, Malron Malavalthor, Mal for short. Malron was in charge of making sure the engine ran smoothly. The engine, after all, ran on magic, and elves, like Malron, were just more naturally attuned to the magical energies than dwarves. Varda had attempted magic in her younger days but had no aptitude for it. Magic wasn’t only about control of written language, but also precise hand movements, amongst a myriad of other technical skills. Varda didn’t understand half of it. She knew charts, and navigation, and her skill with numbers was unparalleled in her home settlement. Perhaps, this is why she settled on the open skies rather than staying in her long-gone backwater.
“How’s the engine, Mal?” Varda asked.
“Alright, I’ll have to head into the city to stock up on crystals for it. Should take a few hours.” Mal explained.
“You can do that while I load the stock. I can handle it myself.” Varda told him.
They were now pulling into one of the free docks. Looking around, Varda noticed that there were a couple personal leisure ships on one side, and a giant cruise liner on the other side. She felt the final jerk of the ship that confirmed they had made landfall. Varda grabbed their hood and swung it over their head. Some settlements didn’t take too kindly to dwarves. The smaller and more isolated ones blamed the dwarves for creating the world they all lived in, but the elves were just as much to blame.
Decades prior, an experiment had begun. The mighty Dwarven empire had entered negotiations with the other great nations to resolve the magic crisis. Dwarven engineers and Elven magic specialists began work on a device. A mighty obelisk of steel and magic. The machine would drill into the core of the planet and deliver magic from the ancient core to the surface. With that power, all races would benefit. Magic would be far stronger and every could then learn magic as they wished, an ability previously restricted to elves and orcs.
The machine had worked, somewhat. The mighty diamond-tipped drill constructed by the Dwarves pierced the core and the burning, furious globe was uncovered for the world. The magic travelled along the drill and into the instruments of the elves. No one is quite sure what happened next but one of the instruments ruptured, reportedly by a Dwarven axe, and the crowning jewel that sat between the lands of the Dwarves and the land of the Elves exploded. This started a chain reaction, leading right to the core, which exploded, shattering the world. By some miracle, everyone on the fragments of land survived as debris exploded into the sky. The debris found its home amongst the sky; the world becoming a series of islands strewn across the sky. The ensuing decades were a period of re-exploration as the fragmented civilisations found each other across the skies.
This is why dwarves were not trusted in some circles. The town Varda had approached was deep in the heart of the Human empire. Varda wasn’t aware of the current emperor’s feelings towards other races but was aware that his ancestors had had rather strict immigration policies. Varda was just hoping for an unimpeded journey. Mal made his journey into the city to find somewhere that sold engine crystals. Varda greeted their supplier. Inside the cargo hold, they discussed the stock.
“Most of it is legit stock. Grains for alcohol, tobacco, spices and whatnot. I’ve got four packets of more … illicit materials. You have a smuggling compartment like my contacts said?” the skittish human detailed.
“Yes, I do. Can easily fit four packets.” Varda responded.
“Good, good. We’ll get those on first. What’s with the hood though? You look like a criminal,” the supplier mentioned.
“Wasn’t sure of the emperor’s position on dwarves. We’ve got a bad reputation, you know” Varda noted.
“Emperor Ardan is full of youthful optimism. Very relaxed about immigration. You should have no troubles,” the supplier informed her.
Varda relaxed and removed her hood. The supplier indicated to his staff to start loading the stock. Varda opened the secret compartment, ready for the stock.
“Sorry about this,” she heard, followed by a blow to the back of the head.
When she came to, she was in her own smuggling hatch, handcuffed to one of the illicit packets of stock. Varda could not tell if the supplier had planned to kill her or merely kidnap her but the result was the same. She was stuck down here. Varda listened carefully and heard the engine running. Varda guessed that once the stock had been loaded the treacherous supplier quickly escaped the island. Malron must have been left behind. She imagined that the supplier had brought his crew on board with him but whether any of them knew about how to operate the engine, she couldn’t say. As she pondered this, she heard footsteps approaching. The hatch opened, bathing her in lamplight. Shadows appeared over her, like mourners to a grave. Then a large shadow enveloped her as a body was tossed on top of her. Before the hatch closed, and darkness returned, she was able to spot the bloodied face of Malron as his limp body fell on top of her. Perhaps there was a chance after all.
Malron was conscious, but only barely. When Varda’s eyes had adjusted to the total darkness she could see the outline of her dear friend.
“I’m sorry Malron, it was never supposed to be like this. It was supposed to be adventure on the open sky. Making a living smuggling things across far-reaching borders. Avoiding the authorities with a smile and a cunning plan. Not dying in a hole that I built myself” she confessed.
Malron began muttering to himself. She hoped it was some message of forgiveness but she couldn’t make out any of the words. It sounded like he was speaking in Elvish. She had only barely studied the language during her formative years but could sense familiar noises of the language. It notably didn’t sound like Common Elvish, but rather a regional dialect of some kind. As Malron babbled, the hatch opened again.
Two figures stood over them. A lanky human man, and a hooded woman. The man spoke to them in hushed tones.
“We’re really sorry about this. We had no idea that Cedric was planning this,” he confessed quietly. “We’ll get you out of this, and help you get your ship back. We need something in exchange though.”
“It looks like I’m not in much of a strong position to barter. What do you want?” Varda asked.
“We want a place on your crew,” the man confessed.
Varda had often considered taking on more crew, but more crew meant more pockets to line. Varda’s line of work wasn’t exactly regular. It was either a drought or a monsoon in terms of funds. Hardly the line of work to be recruiting staff.
“Fine, but the pay’s not great,” Varda confessed.
An agreement was reached. The strangers threw down a loaf of bread to feed the two and tide them over until the mutiny could take place. Varda waited for nightfall, that was when they would strike. Varda heard the sounds of footprints, she hoped that her vague sense of time was not wrong and that their allies had not been captured or killed. Captain Varda prayed that now was the time to take back her ship and declare herself Captain once again.
Part 2 here.
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