Song of the Venturing Owl (Part 32)

The Captain’s quarters were lavish. A bed sat in the corner. It had silk sheets and strange woven fabrics I hardly recognized but rustled with a noise like a harp. What I did recognize was the massive lump hiding under the sheets, and the two eyes that poked out from under the covers when we slid in.

“Captain!” Sev cheered, muffled under the blankets.

The Captain raised an eyebrow at him, clearly unimpressed by him. Irony walked over and scratched Sev on the head. “Told you I’d be back.”

“I was under the impression you were being moved for crimes against decency,” The Captain noted.

“Well!” Irony said, shaking her head, and refusing to make eye contact. “I’ll admit, maybe attempting to flirt with our captors wasn’t my greatest idea, but can you blame me? We’re on a beautiful island of bird women!”

“There are a few guys among their ranks,” The Captain said, dryly. “If it makes you feel any better, it’s because you’re a dragon, not because you’re a girl.”

“Right,” Irony said, running her claws against her scales. “I suppose… I haven’t seen any dragons around this island.”

“You wouldn’t,” The Captain said. “Afterall, your great great grand uncle hasn’t taken over yet. If my timeline is right-”

The professor slipped inside. “Yes, the draconic wars are still ongoing in this memory. They’d be brutal affairs; but oh, to be a witness.”

The wolf paused, and eyed me. “Charm’s here,” Irony said.

“I can see that. How’d you get free? I was under the impression that you’d- You know what, it doesn’t really matter, does it?” The professor’s guilty look said it all.

Sev’s massive arms shot out from under the blankets and tugged me against him. He was warm and toasty from the sheets, and a rumble emerged from just under his throat. “Never end up like that again!” He grunted.

I whined, because he managed to find just about all of my bruises, and he gasped, his beak clucking like a particularly worried chicken.

“Careful,” The Captain said, and when the babble from the others started up, she slammed one taloned foot against the ground and let it screech across the marble. Silence in the room.

“Charm,” She said. “How many people do you think the humans have?”

“They have Thyn,” I said, slowly tugging myself out of Sev’s arms. The great big monster had gone limp under the screen; he had very good hearing. “I didn’t see much more than that, but they had full stores of prisoners. Worse yet, they’re on a campaign of extermination.”

The Captain’s eyes closed, but she turned, eyeless, to look over at the professor. “If I’m right, we’re in the island’s memories. We have until the end of the month to save your students, or else they’ll be consumed in the reset of this moment.”

“What is this moment?” The professor asked. “What’s so important about this outpost?”

“This was the last island that the imperial sirens held before their government collapsed,” The Captain said. “This island witnessed the death of an empire, and the birth of the houses. If only we knew why…”

“The Sirens have something called The Eye,” I offered.

The Captain’s eyes flicked over to mine, then back at the students. She took in, for a moment, the blank look across their academic faces, then made herself go blank. I only witnessed it because I was looking at the right place at the right time. “Do they now?”

“That’s what the humans claimed,” I said. “For why they’re killing them all.”

“Professor, have you ever heard of an eye?” Irony asked.

“I’ve heard it referenced…” The professor said, clearly going through his memories. “Oh, it was a decade ago, in another life… I and my commander were going through a captured ship.”

The Captain’s nostril’s flared, and she snatched a pillow off of the bed and squeezed it, her talons refusing to penetrate the strange secondary material that the sheets were lined with.

“You came across the Talons of the Stalwart Raven,” The Captain muttered. “An academic ship.”

“They killed three of my friends,” The professor said. “I’d hardly call them academics.”

“Every person on board that ship was trained,” The Captain said. “It is hard to find a siren who isn’t. Especially with the way His Majesty is treating them.”

“There was mention of an eye that was on board the Venturing Owl,” The professor said. “It… was what put me on the path to studying the old sirens. I’d forgotten about it for everything else that was in that manifest. Golden things of twinkling beauty, a shipment of fully fleshed legalinen, pottery from the lords of hell…” He trailed off, clearly running through all of it through his head.

“You are very lucky that I need you alive,” The Captain said. “Because if I did not, I would have you killed and trapped here like all the other unfortunate wretches.”

“It was a decade ago,” The professor said. “And I seem to remember that you-”

“Do not compare us,” The Captain hissed.

I stood up and cleared my throat. Angry eyes fell on me from either side. I swallowed. “We need a plan. There are fi-six of us.”

“Six?” The Captain asked.

“The siren who helped me escape. She’s one of us.”

The Captain’s eyes lost their anger for a banquet of confusion. “There’s- How?”

“I don’t know,” I said. “But she tore off half of one of her wings to get us both out.”

The Captain looked down at her right wing and ran her fingers across it, minding her talons. “I don’t think I could-”

“There are six of us?” The professor asked. “That… well, that improves our odds. How do we get out of here?”

“We hitch a ride on the Venturing Owl,” I said. “It’s the way off and out of the memory.”

The Captain laughed. “We just hitch a ride on the very ship we’re chasing after, is that it?”

“I thought you said this ship was the moon,” I said.

‘It’s a myth,” she shook her head. “And 400 years of drift is a lot of time to get it wrong. We’re looking to board that ship, and it’ll take us out of here, and that’s what matters.”

‘You’re right,” I said. “So what’s the plan?”

“We’re in the middle of a historical genocide,” The Captain said. “Our friends and family are lodged in the enemy camp, and the leader of these birds is an utter coward who thinks this fortress will save her.”

“Right,” I said. “That doesn’t sound promising.”

“So we’ll get creative,” Irony said, hopefully.

“We’ll get very creative,” The Captain said. “Pinion’s going to be putting together a run on the enemy fleet. It wouldn’t do for the song to arrive and have it blown to pieces by the blockade they’re trying to run.”

“That… that doesn’t sound safe,” Irony said.

“This is the last hold out point,” The professor said. “There are hundreds of civilians here, and it needs evacuated.”

“The professor, despite his war crimes, is right,” The Captain said.

“And who’s going to go on that?” Sev asked, finally pulling himself out from under the blanket. He looked worried, and even his fluff was starting to mat under the stress. “Not me, I hope.”

“You’re going to stay here and protect Charm,” The Captain said. “Irony, on the other hand…” Her eyes fell on the dragon.

Irony paled. “You want me to do what?”

“Breath fire,” The Captain said.

“That’ll kill people.”

“They’re memories,” The Captain said. “They aren’t real people. You know that, don’t you? Whatever happens to them will be undone the next time the island sleeps, but- that’ll be our opportunity to take advantage of them, and figure out how we’re going to free them. I’m volunteering.”

“I-I-” Irony stammered, her tail tucking between her thighs. “I’m an archeologist, Captain. I don’t know if I can-”

The Captain lunged forward and pressed her talons into Irony’s scales. No matter how much pressure she put on them, they didn’t dent. Irony squealed like a pig.

“Look at yourself,” The Captain hissed. “You’re a dragon. You’re partially bulletproof. Only Harley’s arrows can kill you on this island. You are an Ironclad! You are a royal. You are a scion of His Majesty, an instrument of the Leviathan himself laughing in the great void as he chases the god who failed to obey his laws. You are being a worm damned coward now, and your cowardice is going to get your professor’s student’s killed, let alone one of my dearest friends. Now,” She said, taking a deep breath.

Irony’s eyes flicked over to me, then back to the Captain, a desperate plea.

I wasn’t getting involved. Hell no.

“Are you going to help us, or are you going to sit back here and cower?!”

Behind the confrontation, Sev managed to look guiltier and guiltier, tugging the sheets back over his head to avoid looking at anything. I swallowed, shaking my head. “Captain-”

“Tell me,” The Captain hissed at Irony.

“I’ll-” She swallowed. “Professor?”

The professor wouldn’t look at the dragon. “They trusted me to take them home to safety,” he said. “And I’ve failed them so completely and utterly,” He shook his head again and again, looking off into the distance.

“F-fine,” Irony said. “I’ll do it-”

‘Good,” The Captain said, releasing her grip.

“- but you need to keep me safe, alright?!” Irony squealed.

“Done,” The Captain said.

“W-what?!” Irony stammered. “You’re just going to keep me safe?”

“Congratulations,” The Captain clicked her talons on the floor. “You’re a part of the crew now.”

Irony went so pale that I could see the blood vessels in her skin retract. “I’m what?!” She said, reeling back.

“I protect what’s mine,” The Captain clarified. “And you asked for protection.”

“From what I’ve heard, there’s few places safer,” The professor said, dryly. “After all, she hurled herself into here to keep her first mate safe.”

“That’s a good way of thinking about it,” The Captain said. “Not used to being owned?”

“I don’t think our definitions of those things are the same,” Irony said.

“Too bad,” The Captain said. “Charm, you’re staying here with Sev. No offence, but you two aren’t exactly what I need for this business.”

“And I?” The professor asked.

“Staying here,” The Captain said. “I need someone I can trust, explicitly, and while you might be a war criminal, it’s in your own self interest to keep those two alive.”

The wolf blinked. “How so?”

‘I’ll tear out your throat if I get back and they’re dead,” She said, matter of factly.

The professor and her stared at each other for a long moment before the Captain interrupted it by presenting her talons. The professor swallowed. “You might catch more luck with less threats,” He advised, but his voice was smaller.

“We’re on the ocean,” The Captain said. “Threats and violence are a better language than whatever niceties your commanding officers used.”

The professor sighed, closing his eyes. “It’s… more direct,” he admitted. “And more meritocratic, I suppose.”

“Good,” The Captain ground out. “Charm-” She turned to look at me. “I’m sorry that I’m leaving you behind again.”

“It’s fine,” I said. “I think I have a broken rib.”

“No,” The Captain said. “I got you hurt this time. I really mean it. I didn’t want that to happen to you. If I’d been thinking… I’d have left you behind with the crew. Taken someone else.”

“I rescued someone,” I said, straightening up. “She’d still be captured if I hadn’t rescued her, you know. She’d’ve died, again, probably barely even knowing someone else was in the loop with her. We’d’ve left without knowing she was here,”

The Captain closed her eyes. “When did you start growing a spine?”

“I guess you’re rubbing off on me, Captain,” I said. A large part of me, perhaps too large of a part, was screaming at me to find a hiding place. The other part knew that hiding would only get people killed.

A much smaller part was just curious. What could the island possibly witness that would be so traumatizing that even centuries past, it would still remember everything in perfect detail? It was an island, a large island, after all, and we were petty mortals. What would it remember?

I had a thought we were still missing something. I didn’t like it.