Ballad of the Venturing Owl (Part 3)

It didn’t take long for Irony to dig through the professor’s things, crate up everything she was interested in, and then haul them over her shoulders, despite her slim frame. I held the door open for her, and when I turned the corner, the Captain was already there, waiting.

She gave me a quiet wave, her eyes jerking over to Irony’s face, and took a reading off of it before she gestured her on. “You’ll be going with us then?” The Captain asked.

“Of course,” Irony said. “As long as you’re heading the way I want to go.”

The Captain’s smile shifted. “It depends on where you want to go then, doesn’t it?”

“It would,” Irony said. “But I’ll put my crates in your things until then.”

“Good,” The Captain said, bowing her head, and Irony walked off, her tail trailing behind her. The Captain waited several seconds, counting them off by clicking her talons against the stone ground, then turned to face me. “Charm.”

“Yes Captain?” I asked.

“Vali has need of you. We may have found our next location… but it’ll be dicy.”

We swept back into Jess’s office, where Vali had a massive map across the floor. All three eyes were sweeping across it, and she muttered under her breath. Jess looked up as we entered. “There you two are.”

“What’s wrong?” I asked, gently kneeling beside her.

“I can’t find it on the map,” Vali said. “I know I’ve seen it before-”

“Close your normal eye,” Jess suggested, and after a moment of glaring at the owl, Vali did, leaving her with just her two red eyes. Both on the same side of her head, they swept across the paper. Slowly, her wing brushed across the surface like an extended arm before settling on a spot to the far north.

“There,” Vali said.

Jess shook her head. “You’re not going to be able to get there.”

“Why not?” I asked. There was nothing at the spot Vali was pointing, but both of her red eyes were fixated on that spot. “And what are we looking for?”

“If we want to know the resting place of the Owl,” The Captain said, stepping around the map to sit on Jess’s desk, despite Jess’s glare. “Then we need to retrace its path. We now know that the Owl left Outpost Five four hundred years ago, and then-”

“Made a stop at the Kingdom of Heaven,” Vali said, and her real eye opened. She stared at the blank spot she was pointing, and scowled. “What the hell is this?”

“Only angels can go to the Kingdom of heaven,” Jess said. “It’s been that way for quite some time. Otherwise, if you have no trace of angels in you, it’s open sea.” She knelt next to Vali. “You can see it because of your eyes,” She gestured, and then opened her secondary set. “As can I- you should know this, the angels only grace the most stalwart of knowledge seekers-”

“I got them in a trade with a spider,” Vali interrupted.

“She’s a warrior, not a scholar,” Catastrophe said, voice level. “She served with my mother.”

“I know,” Jess said, shaking her head. “I had hoped-”

“You could go with us,” Catastrophe said. “Since you can see-”

“I can’t,” Jess said.

“Won’t, or can’t?” The Captain asked.

Jess’s eyes flicked towards the window, and I walked over to it. She gestured at the blinds, and I squinted through them. Almost a mile out, where the sea touched that edge of the island, a great ship sat. The flag rippled red and gold, bearing the image of a dragon. “Can’t. His Majesty’s set his sights on this island. We’re holding his idiots off, but if I leave, they won’t hesitate to push their luck.”

“Is that why we were inspected at the dock?”

Jess’s eyes, all four of them, flared open, and she glared at the ship. “They don’t have the right do that. They’re just hoping to find something- anything at all- No matter.” She shook her head.

“Fine,” The Captain snapped.

“You can’t help me here either,” Jess reminded her. “This isn’t a war, you can’t just barge your way in like you always do-”

“If you get captured,” The Captain said. “You know I’d save you.”

Jess’s eyes closed. “I think,” she said, her voice uncomfortably level. “That I’d prefer if you didn’t. I can protect myself, Catastrophe. I am the highest ranking Navigator left on this island, and I have a great number of tricks to keep it safe.”

“I still would,” The Captain said.

“I know,” Jess sighed. The owl looked down at the map.

Vali spoke, having given up on understanding her eyes. “So what? We’re out of luck?”

“No,” Jess said. “You just need to find an angel.”

“My mother took our family’s angel with her,” The Captain said, shifting her weight on the edge of the desk. “That has to be her way in.”

“You had a family angel?” I asked.

“Of course,” The Captain said. “She’s partially to blame for our fantastic luck.”

Both Vali and I both stared at her. “Luck?” Vali asked.

Jess snorted behind the desk.

“I’ll have you know my family has fantastic luck, thanks to our angel,” The Captain rolled her eyes. “Or perhaps we’re just that good and-”

“Please stop stroking your ego in my office,” Jess said.

“I could stroke your feathers instead,” The Captain offered, a grin tugging at her lips.

“We need an angel,” I interrupted. Vali looked over at me, relief on her face. “Where are we going to get an angel?”

Jess stepped out from behind her desk and adjusts her navigator robes. “There aren’t a lot of angels outside of Heaven, anymore. Not since they closed the door to non angels.”

“Hence why we didn’t know the Venturing Owl stopped there,” The Captain clarified. “They’ve probably known all along, we just never asked.”

“They’re very literal creatures,” Jess added. “And literary, for that matter-”

“Where?” Vali cut in. “Where would we find an angel?”

“I know many things,” Jess said. “But I can’t help you find an angel. However many are left are almost certain to be held in collections or bonded to families.”

“Can we buy one?” I asked.

“Doubtful,” Jess said. “They’re rare.”

Vali straightened up, mindful not to dirty up the map, and started to roll it back up. “Dammit all, what are we supposed to do now?” When she was finished, she handed it back to Jess, who took it and set it to the side. “Charm? Any thoughts?”

“We could take a break,” I suggested. “I, and the crew I mean, we’re tired. I think Irony’s having nightmares and-”

The Captain interrupted. “We can’t buy one,” She clicked her lips and then snapped her fingers. “But that doesn’t mean we can’t /steal/ one.”

I stared at her. Vali stared at her. Jess stared at her.

The Captain blinked.

Jess shook her head, walked over to the Captain’s back, and started to shove her bodily towards the door. “And that’s where I kick you out. Have a lovely day you three, but this is almost certainly something I don’t need to hear.”

“You used to love my ideas,” The Captain whined.

“Yes, and now I teach,” Jess said. “And I am very busy, and I do not want to be interrogated over which of your latest plans backfired!”

The Captain huffed and walked out. Jess turned to the two of us remaining, her eyes settled on Vali, and then on me.

“Has she always been like this?” I asked.

“No,” Vali said. “She’s changed in the last decade.”

“She has,” Jess agreed. “But I still wouldn’t ask for another person to have my back- as you’re already aware, she’s more than willing to throw herself into hell to drag someone back.”

I swallowed. I could still remember the smell of blood, and I could still remember the sight of the great worm.

“I have one more question,” Vali said.

“Yes?” Jess asked.

“The reapers,” Vali said. “They’ve gotten worse since I’ve been gone, right?”

“They have,” Jess said.

“Any idea why?” the siren asked.

Jess’s eyes settled down on me. “I suspect many things… but they’re mere suspicions, nothing more.”

“Give us a hint at least,” I asked.

“I think-” Jess shook her head. “I think I have more research to do. But I’d be careful, Charm. They are your kin, after all, and them dragging you here… especially now that we know more about what happened… it can’t be good.”

I grit my teeth and swallowed. “You think…”

“The Captain’s ancestor, 400 years ago, destroyed the siren homelands and decapitated the head of your empire,” Jess said. “Killing your ancestor, personally, in the last battle of that war. 400 years later, she finds you stranded on those same shores, undevoured by reapers. As a navigator, especially at my level, I cease believing in coincidence.”

I opened my mouth and worked my jaw but no words came out. Jess’s gaze softed, and she shut her additional pair of eyes. “I’ll keep researching.”

Vali put a hand on my shoulder. Her ruined hand, and it squeezed me. “We should get going. The Captain’s probably halfway to Fangfall by now.”

“Right,” I said, and tried to ignore the stab of anxiety winding its way through my chest.

This didn’t have to be particularly easy.


We caught up with the Captain in the hallway. Rather, we weren’t the only one to catch up with her. Her face was practiced and smooth, which for the Captain, who never hesitated to wear what she wanted on her face at nearly all times (minus the last week or two, when we’d been trapped in a hellish memory trying to kill us, which furthered the issue) made me even more nervous.

That is, until I saw her attacker, who was just over four and a half feet, and was a messy tangle brown and white hair, claws, and eyes that stared into the Siren’s soul. Maurice.

I was beginning to think that a trip to the Academy wasn’t complete without her.

“Charm!” She squeaked, and abandoned the Captain to rush over to my side. “I heard you fought a monster!”

My brain shut down for a moment, and my eyes flicked up towards the Captain. The relief on her face wasn’t concealed in the slightest. “Yes,” she said, peeling away from the wall. “My navigator personally fought up a great monster and stole treasure from it.”

I frantically tried to knit together a narrative, or anything at all, and before I could finish it, words were bubbling out like champagne. “Yes, she was a cruel creature, curled around a great treasure, like the dragons of old.”

“Like Irony?” Maurice asked, raising a petite eyebrow. She was a teenager, not stupid.

“Not a literal dragon,” Vali said. “A metaphorical dragon. This one was a bird.”

“So not a monster so much as a grouchy animal.”

“With golden eggs,” I said, instantly. Maurice’s eyes narrowed with interest, her pupils expanding like a tiny telescope.

“And why weren’t you helping him, Aunty?” She asked, looking at Catastrophe.

“I was busy,” The Captain said. “I was chasing after a message in a bottle, you see, and in my haste, I had left my Navigator behind.” I could see a flash of pain behind her eyes as something she said struck too close to home. Thinking quickly, I elbowed Vali. She batted me over the head with her good wing, so I elbowed her again and she cleared her throat.

“But we need to go!” Vali said, awkward and rough like a parrot. “We have to make the next port or we lose the contract.”

The Captain nodded, playing along instantly. “Yes… it would not do to be late on this one.”

“Catastrophe,” Maurice said, dropping the nicety. “Are you trying to ditch me?”

The Captain took in a deep breath and-

“Yes,” I said.

Vali and Catastrophe both glared at me.

“I knew it!” Maurice hissed, turning indignant eyes onto her aunt. “Is this about-”

“And you should ask Jess why,” I said. Catastrophe’s glare softened into something far more amused, and she gently patted Maurice on the head. “Since we really do need to be going.”

“But-”

Vali stepped in front of the Captain, and shoved her back with her hip. “Let’s go. They’ll be waiting on us.”

“This isn’t over,” Maurice spat, crossing her arms over her chest. “Just you wait, Auntie!”

“I can’t wait,” Catastrophe said, her voice sounding deader by the second.

Then we swept off, far quicker than a normal walk, and I tried to ignore the dejected noise Maurice made she thought we were gone.

Just outside the grounds, the Captain stopped and idly adjusted the feathers on her wings, tugging at a few of them.

“Someone you know?” Vali asked.

“I got her older brother killed,” The Captain said, matter of fact. “She hasn’t taken it personally, and I have. As I should.”

“It’s the Captain’s responsibility to get sailors home,” Vali said, quoting something. The Captain bobbed her head, then shook it.

“You need to deal with that,” I said. “Jess isn’t going to take the blow for you.”

“If only she would,” The Captain said, shaking her head. Her talons clicked against the stone floor, one after another, in a fit of what I could only describe as nervousness. “If only she would.”

There was silence, and she managed to look even less sure of herself by the second, and while I thought it might benefit her to handle it, I changed the subject.

“You ran off like you had a plan?”

“I do,” The Captain said, but she didn’t quite stop running her fingers through her feathers, not for another minute. “Like most of my plans, it’ll involve making Thyn angry with me.”

“He could use a break,” I said. “Especially after-”

“Yes,” The Captain shook her head. “Especially after what happened.”

Vali put her bad hand on the Captain’s shoulder. “I think that’s something you should talk with him about, rather than dreading it.”

“Did my mother use you for advice?” The Captain asked.

“Occasionally,” Vali said. “I like to believe I was a ballast to keep her from insanity.”

“A shame you didn’t stay with her.”

“She probably thinks I’m dead,” Vali confessed, and as that thought crossed her mind, she looked down at the ground and at her talons.

I swallowed. Both sirens were constantly teetering back and forth, and I was getting tired trying to manage them. “Plan,” I said, shaking my head. “What’s the plan?”

“Shore leave,” The Captain said, smoothly. “Our payment for delivering so many of the students intact will keep us in tuna and bread for the next few weeks, at least, so I can afford them the opportunity to spend their talons here. Charm, do you still have yours?”

A small bag was tied to my hip, and if I moved wrong the hollow coins would jostle against one another. “Yes.”

“Good,” The Captain said, shaking her head. “You take Vali and find the others, I have to go buy something to make this easier.”

“Really, you’re ditching us already?” Vali asked. “We’ve been with you for less than ten minutes.”

“Maybe I’d just like to be alone for a bit?” The Captain challenged, tugging her wings out in front of her. “Is that too much?”

I took a step away from her. “Vali- we should probably give her space.”

Vali grunted. “If she’s going to be like this, we should.”

“Like this?!” The Captain said, her feathers puffing up. “I ought-” She shook her head, cutting herself off. Then, ignoring Vali, she turned to look at me instead. “Try to keep out of trouble, Charm? We both know that you’ve got a lot to think about, and similar stakes to me.”

I closed my eyes for a moment to think over it, and when I opened them, she had already hurled herself into the air and flown off.

“What’s wrong with her?” Vali muttered.

“You could stand to be a bit less hostile,” I said.

“I’ve spent the last two years trapped in a cave,” Vali said, flat. “Do you really think my conversational skills would be intact?”

I opened my mouth to contest, then thought better of it, shaking my head. “Come on, I bet we can find some of them at a bar or something.”