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Chapter 3 - Isha

It seemed cynical—more cynical than Isha usually was—to think disparagingly of such a marvel of modern invention, but facts are facts. This airship is shit. Sure, it was an incredible feat of engineering, but the thing was a junker. Not to diminish the sheer awe flying through the air inspired, but it was glaringly obvious the old girl had seen better days. As did it’s passengers.

The ship was filled with refugees being escorted to Rotwater. Like the ship, the people aboard it were beaten and broken, but still they pushed on, held together by nothing more than determination and spit. They were school teachers and students, master craftsmen and apprentices, nervous parents and oblivious, playful children. Families. Young and old, rich and poor, they were all survivors. Yet for all the bravery and ambition, there were still equal measures of worry and heartache. They had all lost something or someone and weren’t willing to give up any more.

Isha was surprised to hear Rotwater had offered aid to refugees from Everspring seeking shelter within its borders. Good on them, but wasn’t that the responsibility of Rah’qet and The Howl now? Wasn’t that the whole point of forming the Conclave? In the months since Everspring’s destruction, what had either of the remaining two nations offered to their brothers and sisters across the desert? Silence, and nothing more.

When it was established, the Conclave’s directive was simple: support from the whole makes the individual stronger. Representatives from Everspring, Rah’qet and The Howl—the greatest minds they had to offer—formed a secretive, nomadic committee to oversee the inner workings of the post-rebellion empire. After centuries of tyranny and oppression, their singular goal was ensuring an era of peace and prosperity. They offered guidance: pooling resources, establishing lines of support, and balancing the desire for autonomy and the necessity of cooperation.

With the Conclave gone, however, it seemed that goal was lost to the wind.

Isha surveyed the crowd while the crisp, cool breeze flowed through her hair. She kept it pulled up and pinned at the top, letting it spill out into a coarse, textured cloud. It was a welcome change of pace not to have the hot desert wind whipping sand into it, though she was sure there must be some still hiding amongst her tight, natural curls. She lingered a while, taking in the fresh air and exhaling relief, before returning to the cabin where Roegan, Erathos, Merrick and several refugees had gathered.

Roegan stood vigilant with his back against the far wall of the cabin. This job may be the most bullshit guard duty they’ve ever done, but he was at least keeping up the pretense for their employer. Erathos... If Isha were asked what she thought of him, she’d try to say he was ‘interesting’ as politely as she possibly could. What she was really thinking, though? The guy’s a fuckin’ weirdo.

She’d known men like him, those that thought so highly of themselves with no discernible explanation why. Men who wore rags and thought themselves kings. At first glance, Erathos was plain, practical. And yet he held himself with this air of superiority, like he was constantly talking down to everyone, but struggling not to talk down to everyone too much. He projected his voice, made hand gestures like he was lecturing to an auditorium, and never once stood from his seat atop the gaudiest ornamented chest Isha had ever seen. It was topped with a decorative pillow and had little wheels on the bottom, allowing him to spin as he addressed the crowd around him. So godsdamn annoying. One couldn’t help but surmise that whatever was in that chest was what he really wanted to be guarded. It wasn’t exactly subtle.

He wasn’t all bad, though. As a down payment for the job, he gave Isha a new, expertly-crafted spear. Where he got it, she had no clue, but a man with his finger on a working airship must have had his ways. The spear was gorgeous: a dark, polished hilt, wrapped-leather grips, and a blade at the end like that of a double-edged shortsword. As exquisite as it may be, it still wasn’t the same thing as her old Everguard spear. Craftsmanship can’t make up for sentiment.

Isha seemed to be the only one not captivated by the man’s antics. He held the entire room’s attention. At one point, a wealthy man was lauding his business achievements and praising his enterprising fortune cookie business. Yeah, fortune cookies. Apparently crates of the stuff were locked up tight in the cargo hold of the ship. His self-aggrandizement was deftly cut off by Erathos, wielding words like they were daggers. So maybe he wasn’t all that bad.

“Oh, I’ve known for quite some time, my dear. One look at your hair was enough for me to reach a conclusion, but your name is so much more interesting.”

Erathos was enchanting the crowd with carnival tricks, guessing people’s ages and where they were from. Isha kept to the edges of the crowd, having no desire to be a part of the spectacle. She already had mixed emotions about returning to Rah’qet; she didn’t need some asshole proving how smart he was by figuring out that’s where she was born.

“You see, naming conventions are specific to location. Cultures tend to perpetuate their own norms. Now, many people today have multiple names, that’s true. But your second name was inherited from your mother. That’s unique, a norm that just so happens to be one found primarily in a single location.”

Isha had a feeling his charismatic showmanship was a facade, concealing something, but she couldn’t figure out what.

“So while you may have been born in Everspring, that, my dear, is how I can safely assume your lineage actually originates in Rah’qet.”

Her eyes began to wander as she tuned out the show taking place around her. Looking out of the wide doorway towards the deck, she noticed a man walking by holding a small piece of paper, smirking. It should’ve been nothing, innocuous, but with that pompous fortune cookie guy talking up his wares, Isha knew exactly where that little slip of paper came from.

She made her way towards the doorway, her free hand instinctively grabbing the hilt of her dagger. Under normal circumstances, it would be an overreaction to reach for one’s weapon at the sight of a smiling man whom the evidence would only suggest might be guilty of having eaten a cookie. But Isha has learned to trust her instincts. She stepped out of the room and turned to follow, catching a glimpse of the man as he rounded the corner of the cabin, heading towards the stern of the ship.

The crowd inside the cabin burst into cheers and applause just as someone came rushing towards her. She pulled her dagger and spun at the oncoming threat, but quickly tucked it away as a little girl rushed past. She slammed into the railings and threw her head over the side as the forest below was crop dusted with her sick.

“Bloody hell, my nerves are shot.”

Perhaps it was the lingering unease from the encounter in the cave the day before, but Isha realized she might be a little on edge. Giant lizard-monster-things would do that. Or maybe it was just being on this airship. The helplessness she felt being at the mercy of gravity while so very high up in the air coupled with her doubts in the ship’s ability to not completely fall the fuck apart made for a worrisome combination.

Isha patted the little girl on the back and gave her a quick “there, there.” It wasn’t much, but she also had a job to do. Having technically fulfilled the obligations of comforting the sick child she almost stabbed to death, she continued after her target.

The cabin was almost as wide as the ship’s deck, making room for two narrow walkways on either side. Carefully, she made her way down the starboard side. As she peered around the corner, her instincts were proven right. The man she had been following was bending down and lifting the hatch that led down into the cargo hold as a woman climbed out, both wearing hooded wool cloaks over sleeveless, reinforced leather vests. The mangled lock on the hatch was curved and bent outwards. Stowaways, then.

Ok, not that bad, she thought. She had assumed much worse. It could have been more bizarre monster-things. Monster-things that could fly. Monster-things that could fly and fed on the wings of airships. Instead, it was just a couple along for the ride. For all she cared, they didn’t even need to be punished. They were no different than any of the other refugees seeking a new start. In fact, the only thing they were really guilty of as far as she was concerned was breaking a lock. Big deal. As long as they didn’t start any trouble, it could be their little secret.

Before she could barely finish the thought, the cabin erupted into a cacophony once again, the enthusiastic cheers from before replaced with screams of terror. From where she stood, Isha couldn’t see much of the deck, but enough to recognize the panic and concern on the faces of people she could see. Fuck. Roegan. She hesitated and turned back around to both stowaways, having also been alerted by the outburst, looking directly at her. They each reached behind their backs, revealing scimitars from underneath their cloaks.

So much for not starting any trouble.

Only the man was on his feet. Isha sent the metal-tipped butt end of her spear into his gut, hitting with a heavy thud. He buckled over as the wind was knocked out of him. It may lack sentimentality, but the weapon was starting to grow on her. She rushed the woman, knocking her sword to the side and sending the sole of her boot square into her chest. She turned back to the man, grabbed the back of his head and brought his face down into her knee.

“Roegan! Everything alright in there?” she yelled, knowing the attempt was futile. She could hardly hear herself over the noise on deck. “Okay, you two. Listen. Something is going on back there that requires my attention. Lay down your weapons and I promise I won’t have to do any permanent damage.”

“Bitch, you broke my nose!”

She thought fondly—only for a moment—of what transpired after the last time she broke a man’s nose. She brought the point of her spear to point directly at him.

“Call me that one more time, the deal’s off and I send you over the railings. Now drop your fucking weapons!”

They both smiled at her, unmoving. Behind her, she heard the sound of a door slamming shut. No, the cargo hold hatch. Shit. She turned to see another man: green hood, brown vest, very punchable face. His sword was already drawn. More?!

“What was that you sayin’ ‘bout permanent damage?” he laughed.

She thrust her spear’s butt towards him, but he batted it away. Like a windmill, she brought the blade over and down, the man striking it away once again, but leaving himself open and vulnerable. Isha threw her momentum into him, her shoulder sending him tumbling backwards against the railing. She brought the shaft of her spear against his chest and pushed, lifting him off his feet.

Over the railing he went, his howl drowned out by the raucous sounds of the deck.

No time for even a clever quip in return, she quickly whirled her spear back towards the other two bandits still behind her, but it was already too late. Both of them came rushing toward her, trying to do the same to her as she just did to their friend.

She caught herself against the railing, pinned, squirming to break free. She spun, delivering a blow from her elbow into the side of the woman’s head. It wasn’t enough. Three against one wasn’t terrible odds for Isha, but she didn’t have room to maneuver in the cramped ship’s stern. With her back against the railing, she had a clear view of the now fourth bandit leaping towards her, with a fifth climbing out of the hatch behind him. Okay, this is just unfair. She felt pain shoot up her arm as it was bashed against the railing, causing her to lose her grip on the spear. She tried to break their holds, but was only able to turn enough to watch the spear fall, tumbling to the forest below.

She was surrounded. It was over.

They didn’t rough her up as much as she thought they would, though she was pretty sure her nose was broken again. Isha’s hands were bound, the dagger at her side seized, and the point of a sword poking into her lower back. The sounds of confusion and fear still rumbled like thunder from the ship’s deck. She counted eight in total—well, seven now. Three of them headed to the port side while the remaining four, which apparently included their leader, marched Isha towards the deck. The scene they entered into was as confusing to Isha as it was to her captors.

An entirely separate group of thugs were also in the process of hijacking the ship.

“Shut up! Just stay calm, people!” one of the thugs barked at the crowd. “Nobody moves and nobody gets hurt! All we want is the boat!”

“The hell?” the leader of Isha’s captors mumbled to himself as he shoved his way past the others. “You!” he yelled towards the man ordering the crowd. “Ain’t you one of Merrick’s boys?”

Merrick? That weaselly, little shit.

“Shit. Redge? Yeah, we’re with Merrick. Where the hell is he? What you done with ‘im?”

“Don’t know what you’re talking about son,” he replied, calmly. While the other man was getting more and more agitated, this Redge was keeping a cool head. Gotta respect that, at least. “Why don’t you step down and let us take over now?”

“Like hell I will! What’re you even doing here? Merrick said our crews was supposed to have an agreement. Everspring is our territory!”

“If you haven’t noticed, we ain’t anywhere near Everspring, dipshit,” Redge chided, his coolness quickly starting to melt away.

“Yeah, but... You ain’t taking this ship! It’s ours!”

“Over my dead body it is!”

Sometimes, when making plans that involve waiting for the right moment, the stars align and you are met with an opportunity more perfect than you could have ever imagined, almost immediately. As both sides raised their weapons and rushed each other, Isha turned to the man holding the sword at her back, hiding her smile with a worried, questioning glance. In the moment of confusion it took him to decide whether to join the fray or guard the prisoner, she pulled the concealed blade from her sleeve—Thanks, Jackal—and jammed it into the man’s neck, ripping it sideways. She leapt over his corpse to the back of the ship once again, cutting the rope tied around her wrists.

Two of the bandits followed her, each of which looked about as angry as you’d expect someone to be towards a person who just killed two of your friends. With only a small dagger at her disposal, Isha decided the smart thing would be to run. She turned the corner to head down the port side walkway, but found it dead ended by the horde of people spilling over each other, trying desperately to keep away from the violence on the deck.

Isha’s pursuers appeared from around the cabin, slowing to a casual stride as their prey lay helpless and cornered. Isha levied her dagger, not one to go out without a fight. The walkway was tight enough, she could use it to her advantage, force them to fight her one at a time. A skillfully-wielded dagger could win in a sword fight.

The two approached her slowly, maliciously, with the kind of relaxed ease that came from repeated practice. They’d done this before.

But so had she. This wasn’t just an airship walkway. Isha found herself back in Everspring, before the destruction, in the darkened labyrinth of The Knot. A tight alleyway and a knife in her hand. This was familiar. The only real difference, she realized, was that the ground of this alleyway was capable of shifting under her feet, a fact made abundantly clear as the boat violently changed course. The deck tipped at a severe angle as the ship dramatically banked around the turn, sending all three of them tumbling into the railings. Behind her, she could hear the wails of several people as they went careening over the side.


From inside the cabin, Erathos’ horribly gaudy chest came bursting through the cabin wall in a hail of splinters, smashing into the bandits and through the railing, sending both of them off the side of the ship as well.

Isha would have been grateful for her problem being solved so easily had the chest not also damaged the strange-looking engine on the side of the ship, sending them plummeting to the ground.


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Posted by Anonymous on 04.14.20
really enjoying the story so far! how many different pov characters do you plan on having?
Posted by Matt on 04.14.20
Thanks, glad you're enjoying it! 👍

At the beginning, there will be only be four characters with their own POV chapters. Eventually, that'll expand to six. Ana doesn't count as one of them.
Posted by Anonymous on 04.14.20
1. Isha is the shit
2. I want a dagger
3. You need to put up more chapters IMMEDIATELY
Posted by Matt on 04.15.20
Aww thanks! New chapters up every Wed 😊
the empire
The Howl
The Mazewilds
The Shelf
Shaded Seed
Wayfarer's Ridge
A Gentle Scar
Tiller's Hamlet