“I was born on the water, with three dollars and six dimes—,” Talitha sang with her back against the comforting wood-grain of the deck and her hands folded behind her head. “Wait.”
She crossed her right foot over her knee, eyes still idly tracking the clouds that moseyed across the sky. “Is it ‘born on the water’ or ‘born underwater’?”
A growl and sigh crinkled her nose. Her eyes closed as she tried to remember the last time she had heard the song. She hummed the tune, two or three times, replacing and slotting the lyric with each attempt.
“Hey!” Talitha yowled, leaning her head up. ” Is it ‘born on the water’ or ‘born underwater’?”
Lucas stuck his head out of the wheelhouse. He had his thumb stuck into a massive book, bound in simple red leather with neat silver letters stamped into the spine. “What?”
“That song. That song that Elora sang that time.”
The boy blinked. His threadbare doublet was neatly buttoned and his dark hair carefully cropped. He looked as out of place on the deck of the airship as he had three years ago when he had first stepped aboard. Lucas was two years older than his captain.
His captain rolled up from her prone position on the deck, hands resting on her ankles. Talitha shook her hair out, it was matted with sweat and oily with infrequent washing, but it still resisted turning into proper skull-locks, much to the blonde girl’s displeasure. A captain of a pirate ship had a certain glamour, a certain aesthetic she felt — and the long strands of yellow-gold were absolutely unacceptable. She scratched her stomach and glowered at the silent scholar across the deck.
“That. Song. When we were in Pice.”
Lucas blinked again. With exaggerated care he opened his book back up and slowly slid back out of view.
Pointed silence filled the deck like a fog.
“LUCAS.” Talitha pulled her legs close to her body and pushed herself up into a leap-frog stance.
“I am the captain of this ship, and you will answer my questions about song lyrics with promptness and all due deference. That is a” her voice dropped into gravel-drama. “a direct order.”
Still nothing from the wheelhouse. Talitha stood up and stretched, her blonde hair trailing in the wind in a most un-piratical fashion. She was wearing a stained tank-top and baggy red pants held on with a a motley assortment of straps and purloined zippers. A brown cord was tied around her wrist. She was thirteen years old and captain of the Lodestar, the fastest ship in the world. And that was a fine thing.
Talitha Brown was a legend in Aufero. At the age of ten, she had helped the previous crew of the Lodestar stand against the world-obliterating terror of the Shadow Plane, learned from the greatest heroes, walked in places that most could only dream of. The armies of devils rode forth in the Thirteen Day War and she had stood in the vanguard of the forces of Light. She had sung the Song of the End and brought the lost city of Kythera to its knees.
But then the War was over. Good won. Her family, her Heroes had gone on to serve the shattered world as best they knew how. And they left her in charge of the fabulous airship, left her to wander where she will. The whole of the planet was hers to explore.
But, in the time-honored fashion of thirteen year-olds, she was vaguely dissatisfied.
The problem with Good triumphing over Evil is it really cuts down on the opportunity for Adventure. The liches and mummies scurry back into their tombs, the ghouls and gremlins retire, the gibbering insanities that hunger for blood grumble off to the hidden places of the world to wait out the term of the current administration and quietly plot to vote the Darkness ticket the next electoral cycle. The planet still teemed with wonders, but Adventure requires conflict. A Villain, a Beast, a Plague on Common Decency, at the very least. And those malevolent ingredients were very difficult to find of late.
Talitha knew. She had looked.
Compounding this issue was a further problem. When Great Heroes triumph over Evil, the word tends to spread. And when the Great Heroes have a very distinct and memorable craft, say a unique flying ship of unmistakable design, a picture of that craft also tends to be circulated in all of the most prestigious Evil Publications. The blonde adventurer could run out of fingers counting the number of times she had flown the Lodestar to investigate a rumored monstrous outbreak, only to have the monsters flee as soon as they caught sight of her ship. A small red dragon had even offered to surrender on one occasion to her undying irritation and mortification.
And the few times I actually found a fight to get into…Talitha sighed. Her family were all too quick to arrive, to protect their little girl. She would be two steps into an old crypt, or forgotten fortress of evil, and in a flurry of well-meaning axes, fists, swords, claws, fire, and ice, her Heroes would barge in and stomp on her Adventure with both feet and whisk her off for pancakes and finger-wagging.
“I was born underwater, with three dollars and six dimes.” Talitha sang again, then put a foot up on the stone rail that surrounded the deck. It glowed a faint magenta, the the strange technology that kept the ship afloat working perfectly.
“I’m so bored, Lucas. Lucas. LUCAS,” the young captain didn’t look back to see if he was listening, it had become a habit to antagonize her bookish crewmate, even if he wasn’t paying attention or even present.
“You know what I think,” his voice came from the empty window of the wheelhouse, Lucas was sitting on the floor reading, as was his habit when taking watch and steering.
“I know!” Talitha kicked the rail with her foot. “We could get into more trouble if were weren’t in this ship.”
But the Lodestar was home. And it was the fastest ship in the world. And despite her mad wanderlust, Talitha knew she couldn’t leave the ship behind.
“Exactly. It’s too distinctive, with all the Precursor technology and that huge blue flag.” Lucas clucked.
“I know, I KNOW.” Talitha tugged at her lip and stared out into the blue.
“There’s nowhere in the world we can go that we won’t be recognized. Do you remember the time that goblin tribe called Agnar to apologize when they dented our hull?” Lucas stood up and leaned on the window of the wheelhouse. “That was really embarrassing.”
Precursor technology. Nowhere in the world. Talitha grinned. A wide, dangerous grin. She turned and let Lucas drink in the site of her smile.
Lucas blenched. “Oh. No. Whatever it is. NO.”
The captain of the Lodestar winked and skipped across the deck to the stairs leading down, down into the belly of the ship, down into the secret heart of the ancient technology that powered her ship.
“Just need to have a quick talk with our engineer,” Talitha called. “Don’t fret!”
She grinned again. Fret. Fret your ass off, book boy. The Captain has a cunning plan.
[To be continued?]