Song of the Venturing Owl (Part 5)

The outfit didn’t exactly fit, but it wasn’t that bad of an overfit. The hood half ate my head, which was for the best, since after two days of ship leaving, I was starting to develop a bit of a sunburn, helping out with the repairs until my arms ached.

We didn’t have a lot of supplies, but we had just enough to cover up the holes that led below deck, though we had absolutely nothing to patch up the ragged ruin of the back of our ship. When I asked the Captain what we’d do if it started to rain, she shrugged.

“It won’t rain, don’t worry.”

I looked at Thyn. “When she says it won’t rain, it won’t rain.”

I frowned and looked at Folna, who shrugged helplessly and frowned, peering at the red stripes growing across my face.

I turned a bit redder. It was embarrassing to let myself get burned, it wasn’t that hard to avoid it.

“I guess reaper-folk don’t get out of their dark holes that often,” She shook her head. “Come on, I still have a bit of aloe balm left over, there were less burns than I thought there’d be after those serpents.”

She swept me away.

The rest of my outfit was voluminous robes, thick enough that my arms could disappear under them without trouble, and a gleaming necklace to hold the guide-stone. It was still mostly a lead weight around my neck, but it looked better as an amber ornament than being in my pocket, so I couldn’t complain. I only wore it for a bit longer before putting it to the side in my room.

My room, of course, was the navigator’s room. There was nothing left from whoever had taken everything from it, only a bed and a scant sheet, tucked into the corner, and a reading lap embossed with brass lettering and ornamentation. Whoever the navigator had been, he hadn’t had much.

The next day, the aloe had soothed the burns long enough for me to work, and the beastman let me labor alongside them until I was too tired to lift much of anything at all. The sky failed to change from the painful blue it had been since we’d left, and the sun remained the wrong color. The moon hovered too close indeed.

On the horizon, an island bloomed as the day went on, first a tiny dot that we needed a telescope to see, and then it bloomed until we could see it with our naked eye, and then it blossomed fully into a series of bridged islands, done up in gossamer and strings of burning lanterns.

“Looks like they made out well since the last time we were here,” Thyn muttered.

“What’s that?”

“That’s the Cat’s Paw archipelago,” Thyn said. “Farthest outskirts of His Majesty’s claims, and port of trade with the northern Siren houses.”

“Nothing to the south?” I asked.

“Nobody should ever willing trade with the spiders. Not anywhere the sun touches, at least,” Thyn said. He raised an eyebrow at me. “You didn’t know that?”

I shrugged. “I try not to make strange bargains in the darkness,” I paused, remembering the rock, the stone cutting into the pads of my feet, and the shiver that wound through the thin cloth of my clothes. “When I can help it.”

Thyn laughed. “Try to remember that, and you just might make it out here, Charm.”

It was another three hours before the languid wind took us into the port, and we were greeted by many many people. The island was swarmed with buildings, teetering and tottering wildly against each other, tied up with ropes and twine and ribbon. The dock took up a quarter of the island’s space, a great mess of timbers and floating structures.

The Captain vaulted off the side of the ship, flaring her wings, and landed before the walk could be thrown out for the rest. I helped shove the plank into place, and cautiously scurried over onto the wood of the dock, Thyn at my side.

“- of The Song,” The Captain introduced herself, bowing deeply. “You may have heard of us?”

“Last I heard,” the man said, his antlers poking up under the brim of his red hat. They were festooned with a lantern one either end, and ornamented with silver caps at the end of the stubs. “You were off to seek your death at the sea of souls. Turned coward?”

“My friend,” The Captain said, leaning in deep. “I have not only ventured forth into the depths of that unknown sea, but I have brought back a great many things.” She reached into her jacket and pulled forth a small bag. She shook it, and small metallic noises plinked off of each other.

“Strong claims,” The man said, clearly unimpressed. “Just the other day, we had a ship in claiming to have discovered the lost cities of Amara-wyld.”

“Oh,” The Captain said, blinking. I stood far behind her, hoping the hood would hide most of my features. I really didn’t want to be a show piece. “Well,” She shrugged. “I guess you’ve been treaty to many different parts of history of late.”

“Mm,” The antlered man said, shaking his head. “I’m afraid they were confused. May we inspect your cargo to make sure you’re not carrying contraband, or are you going to make an even bigger scene, Miss…”

“The Captain,” The Captain said. “Names are meaningless on docks.”

The man closed his eyes and rubbed at the bridge of his nose, which terminated into an unseemly point. His hands were marked and black. “Oh, good. They warned me about you, you know.”

“Excellent, I’d hate for you to go unwarned,” She laughed. “Come aboard, you’ll see all we have are otherworldly trinkets for the land of the dead, and very little food and water left.”

The inspector slid on board, passing by the lot of us. I watched him go. “She seems… infamous,” I said.

“She is,” Thyn said. “Very infamous, actually.”

“Oh,” I said. At least the rest of the world was as bothered by her as I was, even if her crew was used to it. I had that going for me, at least.

The searching process took a little more than an hour, which I spent sitting on the side of the dock, watching the surf crash against the support beams. A fisherman sat to the side, clawed hands grasping a pole that moved and wobbled on its own accord. He waved at me when he saw me watching, and I waved back.

There were five or six other large ships docked, most of which were even more ostentatious than ours. The Captain looked them over and frowned, her talons clicking against the wooden floor, and Thyn stepped in front of her, gesturing at the holes in our ship.

When had it become our ship?

Ugh.

Folna stepped past, guiding the inspector free from our ship. He glared at the lot of us, wrote something down on a clipboard, then sauntered off.

“That means we passed,” The Captain said, grinning. “Alright! Shore leave, everyone! I don’t want to see you back here for a day at least. Stop by for your coins.”

She pulled out a bag from her pocket and started dropping off little rings off, thick walled and dimly polished. She walked over to me and dropped a handful of them, counting them out. I picked one up and squinted at it.

It was actually a coin with a large hole dug out of it. The hole was centered, just large enough to fit my index through, with enough coin left over to keep it from being bent or crushed easily.

“It’s to save on silver,” she said. I slid the coins into one of the pockets of the robes. As each member of the crew got their pay, they slipped off into the town, far rowdier than anyone else on the doc, and with a saunter that only a sailor could have. “Well then,” The Captain said, looking over at Thyn. “We’re going to have to go to the mistress of the isles to get them to repair our ship.”

Thyn frowned. “Don’t tell me I have to wear the outfit.”

The Captain nodded solemnly. “You have to wear the outfit.”

“I look atrocious in the outfit,” Thyn whined. His teeth glinted in the light, as sharp as ever. “You know I do.”

“It’s not about how good you look, it’s /ceremony/,” The Captain stressed. Thyn’s eyes slid over to me.

“Well?” Thyn asked, changing the subject. “What are you doing waiting here?”

“…I can go?” I asked.

“You got paid,” Thyn stressed. “And she told the crew to go get lost. Just don’t actually get lost, I’d have to have to drag you back with us.”

“Ah,” I said, intelligently.

“Oh for the love of,” Thyn said, and snagged the great white fluffy thing as they ambled past with their pay still in their paw. The beast cree’d in surprised and turned to face him.

“Sev, make sure Charm doesn’t get into any trouble.”

Sev saluted, drawing an arm out of their own fluff. “Sir yes sir!” He said, his voice far higher than his fluff might suggested. His other arm came down on my shoulder, and he tugged me along. “Don’t annoy the Captain and the First now, they’re very busy people.”

Then we slipped off into the city.