It was early in the morning on the twenty-second day of the Second Planting, the beginning of a new week. I was excited. The sun was just barely awake and hiding behind dark clouds, the clouds were hiding behind a heavy rain, the rain was hiding behind a good strong wind, and all of it was discretely wrapping itself in a veil of gloom, but I was excited anyway. I was starting on a new adventure. I was also pretty scared, because I was starting on a new adventure.
The next morning mom woke me up and did her morning routine like we had always lived here and she was getting me ready for school. I put on the leathers Ornery had gotten me. When I was ready to go, mom walked with me to my new school, following a little hand-drawn map so we didn’t get lost.
The streets were wide, with freestanding houses, mostly wood with broad porches to keep out the sun and sliding doors to let in the breezes. All the houses were bright with freshly painted walls and tiled roofs. The tiles looked like they were solar collectors, which they later turned out to be. There were plants everywhere. It was weird being in a city that was so green. But the weirdest part was the people. Not a single one of them looked at us funny. No one sneered, moved to the other side of the street, or found something in a vendor stall to distract them. No one cared who we were, though some did pause to welcome as a new residents. We were just people. It was almost creepy.
Dr. Pac sat in his office, dark except for a circle of light on the desk before him. He stared distractedly at two sets of documents, lost in thought and having long stopped looking at the details of each.
One set was recently created on paper, with notes in his own hand, and one was projected in the space above his desk from an information shard that lived as a pendant securely attached to his neck, normally hidden safely under his clothes. It was not a wyrd information shard, but something far older, and capable of holding far more information. It processed and analyzed what it held within, on its own, looking for patterns and connections and sharing what it found. Within its refracted shape lay the complete medical history of every pirate, wyrd, human, and other since the creation of the shard, or at least as complete a record as could be recorded. After all, there were only six of them, they could only do so much.
The Jewel of the Sea was a lush green island, maybe 8 kilomi in any direction, mostly ringed with high cliffs and big rocks. The repair depot was a small city on the east side of the island, with most of the repair shops built up on what used to be a sandbar that stretched out forever. All the repair shops might have ruined a nice sandbar, but it was downwind of the rest of the island and reduced the amount of damage caused by things blowing up.
Seji made her way through the ancient tunnels under the ruins behind the palace. That some Tubengu rats had moved in here was not lost on her. She knew full well the Tubengu were still around; they were impossible to not notice. She also knew she would probably have to face them and had come prepared. It had been a long time since she a good fight had come her way; it would be a nice refresher.
I was upset to discover that Ornery wasn’t coming with us. He hadn’t said a thing until he was saying his farewells shipboard. He had business to attend to and promised he would be along later. But, as it sank in that we were on a real pirate ship, I got over my sadness at being away from Ornery and my fear of being up in the air and started actively getting in everyone’s way. We were less than a day out before I was too busy being excited to miss him for more than a few minutes at a time.
Madame Flattery was not a woman to be made a fool of, but she was now quite sure she had been made a fool of. She was also not a woman to be kept waiting, and she had waited days for even a word, let alone for tonight’s visit. She was currently a fool being kept waiting, and she was less than amused. She paced her office angrily, making no attempt at poise. The richly colored brocades decorating her walls rippled as she stormed about, as if the entire room were flowing with her anger.
She had been in a state for days, which was bad for business. It was hard to be alluring and coy when there would be more satisfaction in breaking some necks. She really didn’t have that many customers who were really into pain and intimidation, no matter what they might claim in public. And she only knew of one who would enjoy some broken bones. She was not about to give him the pleasure.
It turned out that being an apprentice pirate wasn’t very exciting. There was no swashbuckling training or plunder practice, though I did get some fencing lessons. Ornery had contacted an old friend, named Rimares, about getting me an apprenticeship long before any of this had happened. Even though he wasn’t really a pirate, Rimares used to be first engineer on Ornery’s ship, the Decima. After Ornery retired his command, Rimares opened up a repair shop.
His former first engineer had been more than happy to impose me on his grandson, also named Rimares, as an apprentice. Whether the younger Rimares was happy with it was a different story.
The rat coin led to an entire afternoon of more questions and more city guards and more things being poked, prodded, moved about, and looked under, though no more furniture was broken. Or maybe it was all just sped up a little. Wyrds came by to scry and to do divinations and to take readings. I annoyed them by following them around, watching what they were doing, getting in the way, and asking questions. Cleaning people came and cleaned my room, taking some of the things away with them in little magicked paper bags marked “evidence”. Concerned friends stopped by to express their concern and were politely shooed away, though mom took the time to talk to some of them. Nosey people pretending to be concerned friends stopped by to snoop and were less politely shooed away. Important looking people came by and stood around looking important before leaving without doing much of anything at all.
I woke up in the morning curled up next to Officer Puppy. At the time, he wasn’t really willing to explain his absence the night before. I asked quietly and he just pretended to be asleep. Typical. If there isn’t something to run around barking at right then and there, dogs just aren’t very good conversationalists. And just try to get one to admit they made a mistake.
It was a clear morning with light streaming in the window. The brightness made the night before feel like a distant dream. I knew it had been real. I knew I should be curled up in the corner hugging the bed sheets, afraid to face the world in case another murderer was lurking behind the next door. But it was all a dim haze with no emotion attached to it.
The Rat King’s palace was an abandoned cistern under the human palace. It used to store water for the old palace before it was destroyed. Large enough to keep the old palace and the grounds around it provisioned with water for months in case of drought, by rats standards it was a palace indeed. It was large enough to fit a lake behemoth inside with room left for it to helplessly flop its tail about, and every inch of it was well appointed in proper ratly fashion.
Farport sat on the narrow neck of a long peninsula. The poorer districts of the city faced the mainland as a buffer against an invasion that would probably never come from that direction anyway and the wealthy side of the canal had its back to the peninsula. A huge wall stretching for nearly 20 kilomi protected the city from the mainland. A very useful thing when the enemy would most probably arrive in airships or by sea.
Everything beyond the palace, the western-most building in the city, was Imperial land and the private estate of the local duke and of the Imperial household, at least officially. But that just means it wasn’t all farmland. It was also full of parks and temples and forest preserves that provided masts for ships. There were even the ruins of an entire abandoned city on the south coast. It was a large place. It took people nearly two weeks to walk the pilgrimage route that wound around it to the temples, shrines and ancient ruins. There was a much smaller wall protecting the city from the parks and shrines on the peninsula. It might have been big enough to protect the city from a herd of sacred goats who’d been riled up about something if they weren’t too determined.