Part 09: The Airship

Move! Out of the way!” the pedicab driver cried, squeezing hard on the horn mounted on the handlebars. The swarming crowd on Doryrion Avenue barely paid any attention, for his was but one of the many vehicles on the streets of Selkwyth. Moments later, a gap opened up in the mass of traffic. The driver accelerated, shooting forward into the space. A motorbus angled for the same space, forcing the driver to dodge onto the sidewalk, cutting into the path of a male Slith. Filia squeezed her eyes shut and suppressed a scream. When she looked again, they were back on the street and in a faster-moving lane.

The Slith ran alongside them, waving all four of its arms indignantly before hissing a curse in its native language and scampering away.

“Not to worry!” the driver called back over his shoulder. “I’ll take a shortcut.”

“Just get us there alive, please!” Filia shouted back, her fists clenching the fabric of her duffel bag.

She and Gomph were on their way to the airship dock. The Constant Vision wasn’t scheduled to leave until noon, but they had been told to be at the ship as early as possible to get themselves settled in before departure.

“So, looking forward to the journey, are you?” asked Gomph.

“I’m not sure,” Filia replied. “You never did tell me the reason for the expedition.”

“Didn’t I?” Gomph scratched his head and frowned. “Well, I apologize for that. It has to do with some sort of anomaly, magical in nature, that’s cropped up in southwest Yelnaria–the duchy of Telianc, to be precise.”

“And what’s that to do with us?”

“One of Proctor Quaternus’s colleagues there requested his aid in studying the matter. They think a Whind adept can provide some…insight.”

Filia scoffed. “So that’s it? All this just to bring Staun out there?”

“There’s more to the expedition than just that. But right now, it’s all you need to know.”

The young woman folded her arms, choosing not to reply. A few minutes later, the pedicab slowed, turned aside into a residential area, and wound its way through back streets and alleys until it emerged at the gates of the airfield.

“Stop here, please,” Gomph said.

As soon as the pedicab halted, Filia leaped out and dashed to the entrance of the terminal building. Gomph joined her a few moments later, then the two of them proceeded inside. They pressed their way through the crowd of travelers, finally coming to a private concourse. Gomph showed his papers to a sleepy-faced official, who allowed them out onto the landing field.

At the far side of the field sat the airship Constant Vision, tethered to its mooring mast like a metal-skinned whale on a leash. The hull was a dull gray color, with stubby fins mounted at the tapered rear of the vessel.

“Quite a sight, eh? Gomph said to Filia.

“I’ve seen airships before,” Filia replied with a shrug. She was still a little miffed at Gomph for making her go on the expedition, and didn’t want him to see that she truly did find the ship impressive.

“Ah,” said the older man with a grin. “I forgot that I’m speaking to a seasoned traveler.”

* * *

“Welcome and well met!” Proctor Quaternus said as Filia and Gomph stepped off the gangway and into the cavernous cargo hold of the Constant Vision. The airship had a semi-rigid hull, which allowed for much of the interior space to be utilized.

“Thank you, Proctor,” Gomph said. “I hope we’re not the last to arrive?”

“Not at all,” Quaternus answered. “We’re awaiting some equipment and supplies, but if all goes well, we should be off on schedule.”

A stern-faced woman strode up to the Proctor’s side. She held a sheaf of parchment in one hand and a pen in the other. Quaternus introduced the woman as Ardrana, the ship’s assistant quartermaster.

“And their names are?” she asked in a weary tone. Quaternus told her. Ardrana quickly flipped through the papers and read off their cabin assignments.

Gomph said, “I’d like to check on my lab instruments, if I may?”

“Yes, indeed,” Quaternus replied. “They’re in a special compartment. I’ll take you there myself.”

Gomph waved goodbye to Filia as he followed the Proctor away into the hold. Ardrana cast a critical eye at Filia and asked, “Are those all your things?”

Filia clutched her duffel bag closer to herself and scowled at the older woman.

“Your berth is that way,” Ardrana said, gesturing vaguely to her right. Then she spun on her heel and rapidly walked off without another word.

Ice witch, Filia thought, frowning at the woman’s retreating back. She stood uncertainly for a long moment, only moving when a crewman yelled at her to stand aside. Filia watched as he and another man wrestled a long wooden crate into the hold. She thought about asking him for help in finding her berth, but he clearly had his hands full. With a sigh, she headed off in what she hoped was the right direction.

* * *

After twenty minutes of wandering down corridors and climbing ladders, she was ready to scream. Everyone she came across was too preoccupied to do little more than say they were too busy to help. Finding herself in what appeared to be an engine room, Filia flung her duffel bag down and plopped herself beside it.

The young woman hugged her knees. Why do I have to be here? she thought for the hundredth time. Why couldn’t I have just refused? What could Gomph really have–

A strangled curse jolted her out of her thoughts. She looked up and saw a tall man in a crisply-pressed uniform glaring down at her. Filia took her time in rising to her feet and gathering up her bag.

“Sorry,” she said half-heartedly. “I’ll get out of your way.”

His expression softened. “Are you lost, miss?”

“Actually, I am.”

“And where are you trying to go?”

Filia told him her berth number.

The man nodded in understanding. “You certainly got turned around, but it’s easy to find from the main catwalk.” He gave her further directions, which Filia committed to memory.

“Think you can find it now?” the man asked.

Filia nodded. “Thanks, mister…?”

“Veerus. But you may call me Captain.”

Filia’s eyes went wide.

“And you are?”

“Uh…Filia, sir.”

“Welcome aboard, Filia.” Captain Veerus winked at her as he continued on his way.

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