Casting FormName: Wren Gaelfrost
Age (24+): 26
Personality & key traits:
Adaptable, dedicated, unorthodox, observant, altruistic // Single-minded, unpredictable, baffling, oddball, tumultuous
Best character trait: Dedicated
Worst character trait: Unpredictable
Special Skill: Chaos. Uh, I mean, Tinkerbell.
Interests: Ameer // Lou-lou // ???
Regular // Special Task
i. an awful frightLeryda was circling Wren’s cabin. Leryda was circling Wren’s cabin on non-existent air currents, and Wren was trying to figure out how her friendly bird-tomaton was doing that.
“Restless, Lery?” she asked, lying on her bed, boots thrown haphazardly to the side. The mechanical bird chirruped, its voice increasing in volume with each successive chirp, and then came to rest on the perch next to her bed, watching her with a tilted head. Wren flopped over, staring at the bird upside down. “Yeah. Me too. It’s weird.”
It pricked at her skin. The whole - thing. The air smelled wrong, the silence was wrong, and she felt like someone had taken the air and pressed the whole thing down on her. She had goosebumps, and it wasn’t the nice, tingly kind when an idea had struck her whenever she was at the workbench. Or repairing things. Or fixing things. She shivered, and sat up, bundling her blanket around her. It felt nice. This felt nice.
On cue, Leryda flew off her perch, landing on her shoulder and rubbing her feathery face against hers. Humming, Wren curled a finger under the kestrel’s… beak, probably, and gave it a gentle scritch.
“When did you develop a sentience?” she asked aloud, and only got another chirrup in response. “I know I don’t have enough magical whatsits to put that into you.”
Not that Wren minded. Leryda was her first friend - her only friend, crafted in a fit of moody pique when her uncle had gone out to business and her aunt had once again forgotten she’d existed. Her only constant, really, and for Wren now, home was wherever she could come back to a warm bed, and Leryda on a perch. There was a comfort in knowing - constructed or not - Leryda could respond. Could mirror her. And that if Wren were to one day die from something agonising, maybe there would be one thing in the world that could mourn her.
There were sounds and footsteps outside of her cabin. Heavier than she was used to, and the voices were too foreign for her. Not ones she had been accustomed to, at any rate during her stay here on the Mad Ghost. It was low, hushed, and whoever it was, seemed to be walking with uneven steps. Limping, even. Had someone been hurt? Probably someone had been hurt. Wren knew how hurt felt, sometimes if her tinkering backfired she’d be aching and favouring a side for days.
Still, this was irregular. She ought to go find Captain Rhea, ask what was going on. She’d know, and she’d explain it to her much more patiently than Anya would at any rate.
“I’m heading out,” she said aloud, shifting the blankets off her. “You coming, Lery?”
Leryda chirped, then flew over to where Wren kept her gloves, depositing a thicker one into her lap.
“Of course. C’mon.”
She put on her glove and forwent her slippers for her boots. When she was done with that, she put on her glove and let the mechanical kestrel hop onto her hand, already braced against the weight. Then she made her way upstairs, careful to keep her footsteps comfortable. Light. Quiet.
The ship was quiet - none of the laughter, the relief, or Anya yelling at someone slacking off top deck. Just - quiet. Worse, the quiet was respectful quiet, the kind where a crew was waiting for people to give orders. She hummed another song, soft and gentle, to fill the silence. It reminded her of one of the sea shanties she remembered being sung to her. From… when?
She almost walked headlong into the back of another sailor chasing that train of thought. She looked up to a tall, stern-looking man, his white hair and upturned white collar contrasting sharply against his dark brown skin. Wren had never seen this man before in her life - if she did, she’d have recognised the russet-red face paint on his face any time, any day.
“You’re new,” she observed, and got a long, slow blink for her troubles. No conversation out of this one then. “’Scuse me!”
Wren ducked past him, finding herself a mast to stand next to, nestling into the shadows of the ship. It was cozy here. Cozy, quiet, and if the ship pitched, the mast would at least stop her from being hurtled across the deck. All around her were people like the man she’d bumped into: new. Strange. Foreign. All those words that sounded so pretty on her tongue. Standing on the deck would usually have been Captain Rhea. Except last time Wren checked, Captain Rhea definitely did not have short dark hair. Or a scowl on his face. Or the equally stern-faced man standing next to him.
“That’s not my captain,” she said aloud, mostly to Leryda. “Or my first mate.”
But whether anyone around Wren heard her, they gave no indication. Instead, Wren watched in mild bewilderment as the man barked out orders, and the strangest part was: they all seemed to understand. Wren didn’t. As far as she was concerned, it sounded like a different language to her, nothing like how Captain Rhea made sure everything was okay, that she understood - or told her with a half-grin to keep away from anything that was explosive or related to the onboard arsenal unless absolutely necessary.
A chorus of “Yes Captain!” echoed from the crowd, and Wren was half-tempted to join in. That’d be a lie. Lies weren’t good. If anything, it’d get her scolded even more, and on any ship, the Captain’s word was law. Did that apply, if the strange man standing in front of her wasn’t her captain? Was there anything in a manual that said that? Laws of the pirate ships of whatever? Not that Captain Rhea or Anya made any mention of it -
Leryda had hopped up, given her a nip, and Wren thanked whichever bit of her that was at least smart enough to teach Leryda to not use the full force of her beak. After hastily checking she wasn’t bleeding, she looked up and saw the strange Captain-man staring at her, an inscrutable expression on his face. She gave him a jaunty wave, and got absolutely nothing in response. Bo-ring.
“Where are the others?” the man barked out. From this distance, Wren could make out two gold dangling loops on his left ear, and a goatee on his chin. Next to him was a clean-shaven man, black-haired and furrowed brow. He was several shades paler than the strange Captain-man, but his expression was no better: just as dour.
“Anya pushed only these on board Captain. It seems she couldn’t reach the others in time.”
So… no Captain Rhea? And no Anya? Wren thought about Anya and the blue flames as the ship pulled away from the dock, and decided she didn’t like that train of thought. It wasn’t happy. It certainly wasn’t fun. The same way coming home and finding her aunt speaking to that police officer wasn’t fun.
Beside her, Leryda chirruped, getting her attention. When she looked down, the bird flapped up and butted its head against her cheek. It was enough for Wren to get a smile back on her face.
“Well.” The strange Captain-man ran a hand over his face, gesturing to the four of them. Around them, the crew was headed back to - wherever? Did that mean they could take over the cabins in the ship? Probably not hers. She was, after all, still “here”.
“I’m Kiaan, your new captain. Next to me is Kyron, my right hand man. Your new First Mate.”
Wren blinked at him, absently stroking Leryda’s head and trying her best to focus. It was difficult, because Wren could smell smoke in the air. Smoke, gunpowder, and the remnants of smouldering wood. She knew that smell well enough, because it was often what she reduced a workbench to if she got a little too enthusiastic. Wren caught pieces: a cursed object, a magically torched ship, and that he was taking them back to Atlanta. Something about returning her home.
Home. Wren wondered if her aunt and uncle actually remembered her. Actually, she wondered if they even realised she’d left the estate if they didn’t need to show her up in front of other relatives. Mostly to reassure them she was alive and well, and hadn’t starved herself. Silly auntie. Wren knew how to take care of herself. Even when her aunt kept trying to find her hidey-holes when she wasn’t swept off her feet with social engagements.
By the time Wren dragged herself out from the memories, from her thoughts, the Captain was glaring at all of them. Wren tried to remember if she’d done something wrong, and then came up with a blank. More accurately, she had missed essentially the entire second half of whatever he’d been talking about, but it didn’t seem important. Or at least, she hoped it wasn’t important.
The Captain stalked off, leaving the four of them standing in front of Kyron. The First Mate’s gaze as he looked them over was impassive, but not as cold as the Captain’s.
“As the Captain said,” Kyron began, not quite able to meet Wren’s gaze. “I am Kyron, your First Mate. We’ll discuss your normal chores and duties tomorrow after you’ve recovered from tonight’s events.” His gaze moved past them, and Wren turned to follow his line of sight. Behind, she could see some of the strangers milling around. “Before that, I’ll need to know what you were hired for.”
Wren thought that didn’t need explaining. Right? But Kyron’s gaze fell onto her, and Wren met it with a pout.
“I make things,” she told him. Nice and simple. Because it was the truth: she built things, repaired things, polished up the weaponry, and was good at what she did. When Kyron’s expression stayed impassive, she shrugged. “Captain Rhea called me a Tinkerbell.”
He went around for the remaining three crew, and then dismissed them with a nod. For a moment, the four stood there, frozen. Then Wren beamed, cheerfully told him she’d see him tomorrow, then headed off towards the side of the ship, where the flaming port lights grew further and further away. Or just flames - Goa had been on fire, hadn’t it?
“Go on Lery, stretch your wings before we tuck in.”
Leryda let out one shrill cry, and Wren gave the mechanical kestrel a little boost. With a flap of her wings, the automaton took flight, wheeling higher and higher, until all Wren could see from her vantage point was the tiniest speck of blue and purple glinting in the moonlight above. She couldn’t fly, but she could watch. Taking a seat on one of the (hopefully) empty crates, Wren watched her friend wheel above, content and safe in the knowledge the kestrel would always find her way home back to her. After all, Leryda flew faster than the Mad Ghost could sail.
Scrap that, Wren was sure Leryda outstrip most pirate ships, so long as they weren’t tiny little nippy boats and weren’t too magically powered. She wasn’t good at magic, but she had enough confidence in her skills to achieve that much.
Above her, the stars glistened, winking, and Wren wondered what they were. If she were a little more superstitious, she might’ve looked up to see if there were signs there. Fortunately for most involved, the only superstition Wren subscribed to was she would never, ever trust a machine if it looked too good, too new, or too clean. Anya had always said you could tell directions from stars, but there was something soothing about just looking up and emptying her mind to it.
She lost count of how much time had passed till Leryda swooped back down again, perching itself on Wren’s hand and chirruping at her. It brought Wren ought of her blank, emptied mind, and a grin to her face.
Leryda chirped once more, and Wren slid off the crate, careful not to jostle the bird. “Come on, let’s head back to the cabin with all the strangers.”
As she wound her way below the deck, she filed past more and more of the odd people she’d never seen or spoken to before. Most of them seemed to be bandaging up - something, and a strong, sharpy astringent scent lingered in the air. Wren associated that with salves, medicine, and all-round unpleasantness, fighting her wince as she walked by. It was as if the entire lower decks had been transformed into a makeshift infirmary. Adding to that were the sooty footprints on the floor, as if a few of them had decided to go swab a chimney or two for the hell of it.
The expressions on their faces, however, implied they probably had no choice in aforesaid potential chimney swabbing. And by the way the new Captain was acting, if they had to swab the floors, they’d have no choice in it too. That suited Wren fine - as long as they left her in her workshop, she’d be happy.
She slipped back into her room, and Leryda fluttered off her hand, onto her perch. Wren looked over at her bedroom, her messy desk, her somewhat made-up bed, and the darkness stretching beyond out of her porthole. There were half-formed blueprints on her desk, one of the newer contraptions Wren wanted to have a crack at and was halfway through experimenting on. After all, who didn’t want a wrist-mounted stun grenade? Well, stun gas grenade, but no one was looking at the specifics.
Frowning, Wren took up the blueprint, her eye looking over the patterns, the calculations, the components needed. She glanced at the clock, frowning. Well, she wasn’t sleepy yet, and she would like to get a little more out of the way, maybe see if she couldn’t borrow or buy some components at the next port. If the new Captain let her. Or the new First Mate. Who was she going to answer to again?
None of that mattered now, Wren reasoned. Instead, she washed up, changed into something more comfortable, and sat down at her desk, one leg propped up on the chair and the other folded under her. She reached for her blue pencil, and considered the calculations. Hm. Maybe she could get away with increasing the gap here so the airflow could be a tiny bit better and not take someone’s arm off?
ii. o captain, not my captainSo, if Wren could make the gears squidge a little further east…
Then she would be able to fit in a thicker-walled glass vial, meaning the chances of a gas leakage could be reduced…
Actually, it wasn’t just the gas leakage, the chances of the thing blowing up the user’s hand would go down exponentially. Maybe if she could -
“Lery, stop nudging me, I’m working…”
Another chirrup, and Wren blearily opened her eyes. No, that was wrong. Wren was opening her eyes, and she was fairly certain she’d been pondering the intricacies of a stun-gas-grenade glove a few moments earlier. She bolted upright, then hissed as her neck muscles protested - along with her back. Stretching it out and wincing, Wren moved herself slowly, gently, until she found herself still sat at her desk, a pen in her hand, and several odd doodles left imprinted on her wooden desk.
Doing her best not to jostle any of her aching muscles, she turned to the porthole, and found herself staring at a clear blue sky, and an equally gorgeous blue ocean, unable to tell where sky ended and the sea began. It had been night time when she had sat down in her cabin. It had been night time after the new Captain’s briefing. It had been night time when the Mad Ghost pulled away from port, Anya burning in blue flames. Had she dreamed all of this?
Still trying to make sense of her apparent awakening in the morning, she gave herself a quick wash and pulled on the closest thing she could find. Outside, there was chatter - muted, but it had none of the familiarity. Nothing to do for it than to pop her head outside, maybe see if there was any remnants left in the Mess Hall, and then burrow herself into the workshop and see if she couldn’t start putting the blueprint together. Leryda hopped onto her hand, and the two of them were off.
By the time she got there, Kyron was already stood there with one other. The three remaining crewmates - Audrey, Morgan, Penelope - were talking to him, and when Wren poked her head around the corner, exasperation flitted across his face.
“We’ve finished breakfast two hours ago. See if Bricriu has anything leftover, otherwise you’ll be doing chores on an empty stomach.”
Leryda chirruped by way of greeting, and Wren smiled, bright, cheerful.
“Kitchen, right?” she said, grinning and breezed past the congregation.
Wren rather belatedly realised she was walking past the same man she’d collided into last night on deck. As if Wren could actually forget the white hair and russet-red tattoos. But Wren had never been one for manners, so she dodged past them - or would’ve, if Kyron hadn’t cleared his throat.
Obediently, Wren slunk back to the nearest wall and leant against it, Leryda still happily sat on her hand and talons digging into a very thick leather glove. Wren waited, taking in the silence, the reassuring comfort of Leryda on her hand, and the rather non-plussed expression on the white-haired man’s face.
Oh. Right. Those. Wren nodded, and waited, counting the seconds between. She got up to something like twenty-four - no exasperated sighs, and therefore all twenty-four seconds were legitimate silences - before Kyron opened his mouth again.
“The Captain wants to know what your skill baselines are, so he’s assigned each of you a special task. The other three know theirs already.”
Kyron seemed as though he were waiting for a response, so Wren nodded slowly. Words were unnecessary here. Maybe. Unless the First Mate didn’t want to talk any more, in which case Wren would have to use her vocal chords and - you know, vocalise.
“You have two. We need a container to contain a magical creature for a few minutes, and an rope that the same creature can’t destroy.”
“Do I get to see said creature?”
“One of the crew is here along with it.” Kyron cast a glance around himself, but he didn’t seem to see whoever - or whatever - he was looking for. “… Will be along with it. Start your tasks after breakfast, we’ll see you in the workshop later this afternoon.”
Who “we” were, Kyron didn’t seem inclined to elaborate on. In fact, he didn’t seem inclined to elaborate on anything, instead brushing past her other crew mates and out of the Mess Hall. Wren watched them go, then turned her head towards the kitchen. At least she could smell that whoever was inside knew how to cook, judging by the spice and savoury smells wafting from the kitchen. When she wanted to leave, however, she felt someone’s eyes on her - and she looked up to see the same white-haired man frowning at her.
“Did I forget something?” she asked. The man raised one hand to the side of his neck, and Wren mirrored the movement.
“Do I have something?”
“You have what looks like blueprint marks on the side of your neck.”
“Oh.” Part of Wren wanted to go have a look, because that honestly sounded cool. The other half wondered if her leg was being pulled. Then there was an illogical third that told her pattern or no, she was hungry and wanted some food before she actually got around to discovering exactly which bit of blueprint had made it onto her neck. So she smiled brightly. “Thanks! I’ll take care of it later!” And wandered off in the direction of the kitchen, following her nose.
Leryda made her entrance before Wren did, swooping over to her usual perch over the pot rack. Their usual chef wasn’t there - instead, it was a burly, bearded man, gold medallions hanging from his neck and one gold tooth gleaming at her when he grinned.
“You’re one of the newbies.” He glanced up at Leryda sat there preening her feathers. “First time I’ve seen one of these though. She yours?”
“She’s my baby.” She stretched out her hand, and Leryda glided off the pot rack and onto her hand, looking far, far more dignified than Wren currently looked. “The First Mate told me I missed breakfast?”
“By two hours, but give me a minute and I’ll rustle up something quick for you.” He indicated the seat near one of the long prep tables in the kitchen. “Settle in. Name’s Briciu, by the way.”
“Wren! And this is Leryda. Say hello.”
Leryda puffed up its feathers, another little marvel Wren figured out through the use of wiring, signals, and a little inflatable bladder she’d designed to go under its skin. But she stayed resolutely put on her hand other than that, and left Wren to watch Briciu walk around the kitchen, occasionally banging a few pots and pans against the stove.
“Charmed. She doesn’t look like your usual bird.”
“Mm-mm. She’s special.” Wren stroked Leryda’s head, keeping an eye on Briciu as he rummaged around for something in the pantry. “But she’s also really, really handy for picking things up for me. Have you been with your crew for long?”
“For a while now.” Briciu pulled out what looked to be a crusty loaf of bread, a wooden tray, and a serrated knife. “Luckily your ship doesn’t lack for kitchen necessities.”
Wren wondered if she ought to ask him about how he got onto the ship, when he did, whether it was chaos. But he seemed in such good spirits, and whatever spell that had taken over last night didn’t seem to touch him. The very least, he wasn’t bandaged, or nursing burn wounds, or smelling of medicinal herbs. All good things, in Wren’s book, so she thanked him as sweet as she could manage for the slice of omelette that he pushed into her hands, along with a crusty slice of bread.
The very least, Briciu was the kindest so far among the group she’d met - the kind that Wren could warm to quick enough. It smelled delicious enough, at least: the egg looked decently cooked, not burnt, and Wren spied colourful peppers and potatoes poking out under its golden surface.
“It’s from this morning,” the chef explained, and she watched with mild surprise as he pulled out a heretofore unnoticed leg of ham from… somewhere. “All of the crew know the drill, so it’s a matter of the rest of you getting things down.” He paused, then smiled. “Don’t worry, the First Mate’ll make sure you’re well taken care of, even if the Captain’s a bit funny these days.”
“Funny funny or strange funny?”
“Strange funny. The Flying Atlantis getting torched wasn’t something we expected, y’see. Not like that anyway, and it’s been our home for a while.” He shrugged. “But don’t think about that now - best not to keep the Captain waiting. If he’s set you something, you should definitely hurry up.”
Wren stared at the still warm tortilla on her lap and the bread accompanying it, shifting Leryda so the bird flew to perch elsewhere while she had her food. That got a grin out of Bricriu. “No, don’t choke on it, otherwise it’d be eggspecially bad luck on your first day with us.”
She did nearly choke on that one then. Oh. Oh. She knew this game, and she liked playing it far, far too much. If the groans and the winces were any indication, at any rate.
“I’ll try not to be an absolute yolk on my first day,” she said finally, finishing the last of her breakfast and shoving the last half of bread into her mouth. “Thanks Briciu!”
Now that got a belly laugh, and his eyes were still warm, bright when he shooed Wren out of the kitchen. Leryda sat back on her usual spot on Wren’s hand, and the girl felt a little easier - lighter. Better, at any rate. Much better. Then she remembered she’d been assigned stock-taking duties, and felt a groan coming on. Forget inventing a stun-gas grenade glove - maybe she ought to invent some sort of stock-taking automaton instead? At least she wasn’t the one assigned to swabbing the deck. Now that was something Wren didn’t look forward to doing - what, with the soot and the footprints she saw trailed in the ship earlier last night…
“Oh, one last thing!”
Briciu looked up, as Wren poked her head around the kitchen door.
“Someone said I had a blueprint on the side of my neck?”
“You do. But I reckoned it was a tattoo of sorts, so I didn’t mention it. We’ve got a fair few with tats on them, so it’s nothing new.”
“Augh, darnit.” Wren scrubbed at her neck where the white-haired man had pointed out, and when she pulled the hand away, she saw blue chalk and ink. Well, one more thing to do before she started her tasks - and maybe, just maybe, make out what was smudged on to make sure she didn’t lose any notes.
iii. creature controlThe small mercy was, Wren knew how to do calculations fast. Another of those innate things she’d been born with, though she could not decide if it was due to magic or a natural-born talent. Stock-taking, therefore, was a quick task: work out how many boxes and crates the hull could hold when filled, thank the sailors for actually stocking boxes and crates in straight lines, then remove the missing boxes by size, height to extrapolate an estimation. Following that, it was a simple matter to check what each box contained, and in the process, verify her own calculation. It was quick enough she could bolt before lunch and hunker down in the Tinkers’ Workshop for some genuine prototyping. No, not on the special task the First Mate had set for her. She’d gone back to mixing and matching materials, wondering if bonding leather to several small metal plates would serve as sufficient protection.
She was holding up a sheer, translucent piece of unknown material to examine its iridescence when the workshop door opened, admitting Kyron and - a perky, elegant brunette in an embroidered overcoat, lips painted a distressingly bloody red. She was playing with a monocle in one gloved hand, and carrying a small cage in another. Wren wheeled herself over, waving brightly.
“You brought the experiment!”
Kyron opened his mouth, and for the scantest moment Wren thought he was about to reply. About to, because he was cut off by what could only be called a “squee”, a rush of movement, and the woman taking Wren’s face in her hands, almost squishing her cheeks.
“My eyes,” she said, her brown eyes staring deeply into Wren’s blue-pink ones. “Have been blessed.”
“Lou-lou, there’s no need to -”
“Have you seen her, Kyron? Like -” The woman called Lou-lou turned Wren’s face, still squished between her hands, towards Kyron. The container that the woman was holding was on the floor, and somehow was still intact. Or maybe the woman had put it down. Wren didn’t know, and couldn’t care. All she knew at this point was her face was being squished, and Lou-lou smelled of gunpowder, flowers, and smoke.
“She’s adorable. Absolutely adorable. If you put her in one of those frilly dresses and a headband she’d look right at home.”
“Headbands get in the way,” Wren supplied, not sure what to make of this situation. “But thank you?”
“Lou, we need to give her her task -”
“Hush Kyron, let me appreciate her properly, you don’t see me interjecting when others appreciate your cute features -”
“I am -” Kyron exhaled, and from her somewhat awkward vantage point, she saw him pinch the bridge of his nose. He turned to look at her, as if Wren wasn’t currently being cooed over by an overexcitable brunette. “Introductions are in order.”
But Kyron had already introduced himself, Wren wanted to say, but then she remembered there was a stranger with her. One that was just beginning to relinquish their grip. Wren blinked once, twice, counted exactly eighteen seconds, before the woman opened her mouth.
“That’s easy enough. I’m Louise - but everyone calls me Lou-lou. You must be Wren.”
“And Lou-lou will be the one to keep an eye on you for your task.” Kyron’s voice cut in, arms crossed, and Wren, freed of the hands, turned to face the woman properly. “She’s brought you the creature you need to work on.”
“This - thing?”
Wren got out of her chair and knelt down to have a look at the cage. Inside, a tawny rabbit twitched its nose at her, one ear flopped over. Wren reached inside, careful, gentle, and got an “ah-ah”, from Lou-lou.
“You don’t want to be anywhere near this,” she explained, going over to Wren and kneeling down. “But it is adorable, isn’t it? A bit like you.”
Wren wanted to protest she certainly wasn’t fuzzy, or had tawny fur, but Kyron’s look was fixing her in place.
“You need to find a way to contain this creature,” the man continued, plucking the cage up and setting it onto the workspace. “I brought it in here so you can have a look, and explain what it entails.”
“You don’t need to explain it, Kyron,” Lou-lou said. “I’ve always thought one learns best by doing.”
“Not in the workshop. And it can be explained without actually setting it loose.”
“The training rooms? It destroys most spaces.”
By digging at things, or scratching at it? But Lou-lou had plucked the cage from Kyron’s hand and was wandering out with it. Wren followed, Leryda swooping in to perch on her hand, not quite sure what was going on. Their destination, as it turned out, was one of the empty training room for the combatants, most of its gear and supplies tucked away. As Wren stepped in, Leryda stayed perched on her hand, eyes watching the proceedings with perhaps the most imperious air she’d seen a kestrel muster. The brunette, however, was already knelt on the floor, producing a plain, formless mannequin on the floor.
Wren tilted her head, a question ready on her lips, but Lou-lou beat her to it.
“One of mine,” she said, grinning. “You have your bird automaton, I have my dolls. I haven’t started work on her yet, so I don’t mind sacrificing her - I can fix her anyway.”
Fix her? But Kyron had set the cage down, unlatched it, and -
It bolted out, aiming for the tiny space between Wren’s legs and where the blank mannequin was. For the first time in a while, she watched with an agape mouth as the rabbit pounced onto the mannequin and…
Mauling wasn’t the right word for it. No - when it emerged, it went from rabbit to mini magical tempest and made a beeline for the mannequin. For what it was worth, the mannequin put up a good fight, but even Wren could see the sparking bits of magic from its exposed circuits, a limb dangling from its side.
What no one expected, however, was for the now-thoroughly-not-harmless-creature to set its sights on something perched on Wren’s hand. Wren had seconds to react before the blur shot towards Leryda, and Wren’s body took over before her mind had caught up. She wasn’t a fighter, but she all but tucked Leryda into her chest, back to the rabbit - as the rabbit made a very determined attack on her back and her shins. Her poor, suffering shins.
“Ow, you get off, you -”
“Lou-lou, get the thing back into the -”
“Working on it, I don’t want the thing to scratch up Wren’s adorable face -”
All the while, Leryda was flapping in Wren’s chest, wings batting against her, talons digging into the wrist that was very much ungloved, the creature’s - sharp bits? What the hell were they? - trying to get ahold of Leryda tucked in Wren’s chest.
No. Not Leryda. They couldn’t take Leryda. They wouldn’t take her, because the kestrel was the only thing she could call a friend left -
Leryda screeched, and the noise nearly ruptured her eardrums, trying to wrestle free. Then finally, finally someone pulled - that creature off from Wren’s back, and there was the distinctive noise of a cage being latched. Only then did Wren dare to prise Leryda from her, and saw…
One of Leryda’s wings was hanging limply, its feathers ripped clean and revealing its metal frame. The kestrel, however, was still blinking up at her, looking about as frazzled as Wren felt. But - Leryda’s - wing -
“Your -” She tentatively brushed her finger against the exposed skeleton, heart in her chest. It was just a wing. Just feathers. But this was her handiwork, her friend, and she was attached because she built the kestrel with her own hands…
Leryda smacked her. Actually, closer to a slap, and Leryda was looking at her with exasperation - or at least, what Wren read as exasperation.
“Lery! I had a monologue prepared for you!”
If kestrels’ chirps could sound unamused, Leryda’s sounded exactly like that.
“You know, Lou-lou could just fix up your bird for you.”
Wren turned her head towards the sound, and found the white-haired man leaning against an open doorway. Kyron was stationed next to the cage, and Lou-lou was watching Wren with a tiny hint of a grin on her face.
“You don’t know the bond between bird and - uh, human!”
But Leryda managed to flap itself up onto Wren’s wrist, nudging her lightly. Wren looked at the scratches, and then at the torn open bits of her pants. The white-haired man and Kyron exchanged glances.
“Ameer, we have it under control.”
A few more moments of silent conversation, and the white-haired man - Ameer - nodded curtly.
“You should take her up to the infirmary first before anything else.”
And with that last bit of conversation, he turned heel and went down the corridor from where he came. Wren took stock of her injuries, and shrugged. It wasn’t terrible. Not as terrible as what Leryda suffered from, at any rate.
“Don’t worry, I’ll tool her up, like Ameer said.” Lou-lou was smiling at her. “First time I’ve ever seen someone try to shield an automaton with their body though…”
“That,” Kyron cut in, face impassive. “Is enough. You will start your task once Iona heals your scratches. I trust you understand the danger this thing poses - and why you need to contain it.”
“Can I have the cage then? To take apart.”
“No. We’ve only one of those. You can examine it, but under Lou-lou’s supervision.”
Wren turned towards the woman, who gave her a small, cheerful smile. “If the creature gets free, she’ll be able to put it back. You can also ask her to help fix things.”
“So it’s a group project? I love group projects, they’re so fun to have someone to -”
“Only after the two weeks for the task is up.”
Kyron’s words sank in, and Wren pouted.
“That’s just mean.”
“It’s a test, Wren.” Lou-lou patted her on the shoulder. “Don’t worry, if anything else breaks in the workshop, I’ll be around.”
Not very reassuring, Wren wanted to say, but by the looks on both of their faces, time was almost up for this destructive show-and-tell. Which was, by all accounts, fun. Not so fun was the fact the creature nearly wrecked Leryda. Also, Wren didn’t know or have the slightest inkling how to deal with this… thing. Or how to contain it. Or if anything she could do had any effect against it.
What had she been told, once upon a time? When in doubt… get to the library?
iv. ink long dryWren was losing count of the days, and the burns on her wrists and arms at this point. Studying the cage - even with the deceptively-not-harmless-creature inside, and Lou-lou keeping a close eye so Wren didn’t open the cage by accident.
That said, inside the cage, the creature looked adorable, rabbit-like, and Wren had already affixed a collar to it. She’d even spelled “FLUFFY” on the collar using spare metal tiles she had lying around in the workshop.
Still, the week brought revelations. Working with Lou-lou in the workshop was nice, actually. Nice, and lovely, and warm. Less warm was the fact Lou-lou had a veritable army of dolls puttering around, helping her with tasks as Wren sat and pored over blueprint after blueprint, diagram after diagram. She hadn’t even had time to repair Leryda’s wing properly - mostly because she had no feathers, and the ship wasn’t due to land in port for a while.
Pity. Maybe when she left, she could get her hands on some nice feathers. Blue. Always blue. Beiges and browns, and greens just for the accent.
With a sigh, Wren returned her attention to the stack of books on the side, eyes heavy with - boredom? Sleep? Wren was bored. Honestly. Libraries were okay, but only if she knew what she was looking for. No, that was a mistake: she had half the theory down, if the sheaf of messy notes were of any indication. But as Wren was rapidly learning, very little could compensate for uncontrolled magic. That was inconsiderate of magic. Inconsiderate, and annoying, and hurtful. She was the master of said magic, why wouldn’t it listen to her?
Still, there wasn’t anything she couldn’t solve without enough grease, glue, and nuts and bolts to hold the thing together. Or enough components to amplify the effects of aforesaid magic. The books here were meant to deal with amplification of magic, but had the pesky requirement of knowing how to channel said magic.
No help. Kyron had been very clear on that part. Lou-lou had been very clear on that part, and had threatened to set the creature loose again if she didn’t focus. Sweetly, of course, because Wren was so adorable. Pouting didn’t work though. And the dolls pottering around sometimes startled the crap out of her when they brushed up against her.
She should get used to it. They were darling, and they weren’t that creepy, even though Leryda watched the procession of dolls walking in and out of the workshop and retrieving materials with some degree of suspicion.
She drew another circle, marked down another equation and hummed, chewing on the end of her pen. That wouldn’t do. The amount of power she could channel under this equation was still not sufficient to help. Or at least, she could not stably properly project.
This wasn’t helping. She had food a while ago, the chores were all clear, so she needed to work on this right here, right now, now where did she put her mug… oh, right there.
Wren’s fingers closed in on a container, sloshing it and finding a satisfactory amount of liquid in it. It felt a little stubbier, a little colder, certainly a little shorter than her usual mug, but it wouldn’t be the first time Wren had accidentally taken someone else’s cup. She’d just apologise and clean it up later.
“Lery, not now,” she said absently, batting at the kestrel with her free hand. Leryda, for her part, seemed rather intent on nudging her. “No, really, I need to get this done otherwise my budget will be revoked.”
Leryda twittered, butting her head more insistently, and Wren shook her head.
“Lery, my sweetest, prettiest, fastest kestrel baby, I need to focus I promise I’ll take you up deck in half an hour, okay?”
She waved her free hand vaguely in the direction of the doorway, then took up her pen again. If she adjusted a few more numbers, added that crystal into the configuration, maybe it would amplify what she could reliably cast some -
“Don’t drink that ink -!”
A voice cut into Wren’s musings, and Wren looked up to see Ameer staring at her with something akin to alarm. She nearly dropped her container, and caught in time - and turned to see blue ink slosh out of a crystal container, staining her glove.
“Oh,” she noted, staring at the ink pot. “It was halfway to my mouth.”
Ameer ran a hand through his hair, and left his spot near the shelves to walk towards her. Wren watched his approach with interest, and tilted her head to look up at him.
“I take it this is a common occurrence.”
Something in Ameer’s voice made it a statement, not a question. Wren pondered the question, humming.
“I’ve drank worse things! Nothing poisonous, don’t worry.”
“You should -” The man paused again, then frowned at Wren. “- pay more attention to yourself. Or your work.” His eyes scanned over Wren’s exposed forearms, with its burn marks and the lingering traces of magic backfiring.
“I’ll be fine! Captain Rhea used to make sure I was okay. Anya too, if she wasn’t yelling at me to clean up the workshop.”
Even as the words slipped out of her mouth, Wren felt the fog of her studying slip away, replaced by something - sad. Familiar. Aching. Wren remembered this feeling, stood under an oak tree on a beautiful, bright day. Missing. Gone.
That voice wasn’t Wren’s. It wasn’t even a voice - it was a certainty. The magic prickling on her skin. The air smelling wrong. The whole -
Wren shook her head, and found Ameer looking at her.
“I’m here! Present. Sorry. Did you want something in the library?”
“Mm.” Ameer indicated the stack of books that was sat on her side of her table. “May I take this one?”
“Which - the one about circles? Amplification? Runes? Viking runes? I couldn’t understand the viking runes and it won’t help, you can take that one.”
“The blue one. With the alchemical formula and its effect on the potency of curses.”
“Sure! Just -” she flapped her hand at him. “Gloves. Ink. You might have to deal with it. I think, anyway, because -”
Leryda, for her part, instead swooped over - the best she could given Wren’s makeshift fix of feathers and paper and leather - picked up the book from the top of the pile, and neatly deposited into Ameer’s arms. The kestrel swooped back over, preening herself.
“Showing off, are you?” Leryda turned her head away, haughty as she pleased. “Or are you proving I built you properly?”
Leryda chirped once more, then hopped off to stand on the perch Wren had set up. She sighed, then nodded.
“I did think about giving her a proper voice box to vocalise,” Wren said, turning to Ameer. “But then I figured, a talking kestrel would be pushing it, and I wanted a friend who understood, you know?” She reached out with her free hand, wanting to scritch Leryda, but the kestrel only looked at her and made no move to move off his perch.
“But it’s okay. She flies faster than this ship, and most other ships, so I’m happy enough as is.”
“You built her as a friend?”
Ameer, despite himself, seemed curious. Enough that he was giving her his full, undivided attention, eyes boring into her. Wren considered Leryda, her feathers and currently yet-to-be-repaired wing, and smiled.
“Yes. I wanted one, and I could, so - why not? I could build her. Took me a while to figure out how, but I built her, and I took her onto the ship with me, and here we are.”
“Does she serve any other function?”
“No. Why would she? She’s a friend. Lery comes and goes as she wishes, even though someone poofed off the ship when we left from Goa and made me worried.”
Leryda only hopped off her perch, and made her new seat right on top of Wren’s books, staring at her. She met the kestrel’s gaze, then sighed.
“Okay, you’re right, we’ll go stretch a little and get a drink.”
“I believe she’s annoyed at you for not noticing the ink earlier,” Ameer said finally, adjusting the books in his arms.
“Is she?” Wren frowned at Leryda. “It wouldn’t have killed me. Don’t worry, I won’t leave you so soon. Now!”
Wren stood up, picking up her mug - yes, she’d gotten her mug this time, a silly cat-shaped thing with a cat tail as a handle. “I’m off to get a drink. I’ll leave you to whatever you need to read?”
She got a “hm” from Ameer, and she watched as the man didn’t so much walk as glide between the shelves, white coat vanishing in the library. It was a pretty fabric, and he was a very pretty man to look at. Wren looked at him a bit longer, then stretched out her hand to Leryda. The mechanical kestrel gave her one last look, then hopped on obligingly, Wren clutching her near empty mug in the other.
“Let’s go find Briciu. Maybe we can persuade him to boil us a nice hot kettle of tea…”
v. breathing roomSo. The bad news was, Wren failed half her task.
The good news was, she succeeded in half of it, and almost got herself stuck in aforesaid rope. Because where she couldn’t work with magic, she could make up for it in bits, bobs, and a good deal of practical experience. That, and her ability with knots and keeping aforesaid knots away from sharp, pointy teeth. Or beaks. Not that she’d ever used it on Leryda. She would never.
Still, Kyron did not look amused when Wren presented him with the rope that only held on more tightly the more the creature tried to struggle - and then proceeded to bail from the container within half a minute. Never mind Wren had decorated the container with little spools of ribbon and paste gems she’d procured when she attempted to make a little bejewelled hood for Leryda. Lou-lou was, of course, on hand to stop any damage from coming to the room - and Wren had enough foresight to keep Leryda outside so even if it get loose, she wouldn’t need to stock up on more materials to fix Leryda.
Yes, Lou-lou could fix Leryda, but there was something odd about - having someone else tinker with her friend.
That being said, Wren was sort of grateful Lou-lou didn’t turn tail and bail when she walked into the Tinkers’ Workshop in the dead of night, when Wren had been pulling yet another all-nighter. Specifically, when Lou-lou walked in and found Wren sat in the middle of what Wren called her “little nest”. Subjectively, Wren’s little nest was a safe place outside her cabin. Objectively, it was whenever Wren had one of her ideas and went mildly cuckoo looking for it. That meant gears, cogs, tools, blueprints spread across the floor, Wren on her fours marking on the blueprint with chalks and inks and pens and pencils thrown everywhere.
It might have also helped that Wren had very, very delicately moved Lou-lou’s dolls out of the way so it wouldn’t get caught in the maelstrom.
None of that mattered now, because Kyron had taken both of her things, given her a curt thanks, and walked out of the room. She gave Lou-lou a look, and the woman only smiled and patted her on the shoulder.
“We’re going to stop in Mozambique soon, so we’ll get some rest soon.”
So that was the rest of the voyage towards Mozambique: Wren doing her chores, popping in and out of her cabin, poking in to say hello to Bricriu and ask for snacks or - on one case, a late night snack when he was tidying up for the night. Leryda could still fly, but Wren didn’t let her glide further out than necessary because her feathers were still not in place.
Ameer was keeping an eye on her. That was the other thing she noticed, because he’d been hovering around her workshop at times as she tinkered - or on one occasion, hit something very hard with a wrench when the vice refused to give. She might have been cursing a little, and Leryda might have also been judging her quite hard.
But in the quieter moments when she wasn’t busy, when she wasn’t tinkering around, when she lay in her cabin and tried to pretend she was interested in the atlas she’d found lying around, her skin still prickled. The magic still weighed heavy on her skin. She felt…
Goosebumps, and if she stayed even quieter, Wren found herself short of breath. Waiting for the other shoe to drop. Except - she couldn’t tell if that fear was hers, or someone else’s. The ship’s? What was the ship afraid of? Being burned down?
“We’re so far away from Goa though,” she said aloud, to Leryda sat on her perch. “You feeling funny too?”
But Leryda tilted her head at Wren, and there was no point pursuing that conversation. Wren hummed, tossing the book aside. No one else felt the unease. No one from the Flying Atlantis, at any rate. Was it the cargo? What was the cargo?
No point, she reminded herself. Just sleep, and docking in Mozambique tomorrow when they arrived. That thought drifted away in the dark, when Wren turned over to sleep to the soft, gentle whirring of Leryda’s machinery. Mozambique: where there were lodgings. Parts. Gear. Feathers. Yes, new feathers for someone she loved, someone that was safe to love.
Last edited by Jadis (09/01/2022 at 15:49)