The rumor that something was afoot had spread quickly, and as soon as the ship was out of immediate danger the crew congregated on deck. Aenwyn, who was clearly just as excited to share the news as her crew was to hear about it, hopped up to stand on a barrel and unrolled the scroll with a dramatic flourish.
"I see you're all hard at work," she said with a humorous glint in her eyes. "But as busy as you are, you'll want to take a moment to listen to this."
Vivi excitedly turned to listen to the captain, hoping she would disclose more details about Zérèn's "job" than she'd had time for before their abrupt departure from the harbor.
"As you may have guessed, this message is indeed from Zérèn," the captain continued. "He claims to have the 'job of a lifetime' for us. He says he can't reveal the exact nature of said job until we meet in person—apparently, he's afraid someone might have intercepted the message and claimed the bounty for themselves—but he insists the payment will be more than we could ever dream of."
"He should choose his words more wisely," said Sergius, a middle-aged swordsman who had sailed with Aenwyn for many years, "considering we have the king of dreamers himself on board." Owen, who very well knew this was referring to him, took a flamboyant bow as the rest of the crew chuckled.
"You have my word I'll fill my dreams with nothing but piles and piles of gold," he said solemnly. "I won't fail you."
"Quite so," Aenwyn chuckled. "Anyway. Zérèn has told us to rendezvous with him south of Nar Badhir on the first day of the month of Haimai, which is in"—she paused for a split second, doing the math in her head—"three days, if I'm not mistaken." She turned to Sarjeon, who was standing at the helm. "What do you think? Can we make it in time?"
"If the wind stays with us, captain," Sarjeon responded. "And if we follow the currents."
"Very good," Aenwyn said, hopping down from the barrel and clapping her hands together. "Let's get to it, boys!"
By the time the sun started to set, they had made it to the coast, where the stream ended—and the abyss began. The ship passed quietly, almost unnoticeably, over the enchanted barrier separating the two, and soon, the water below them was no longer cheerfully clear and blue—but a dark and foreboding black. As the cheerful bubbling of the stream faded to give way to the slow sloshing of the abyssal waves, the ship turned due east, following the coastline of the little island.
Vivi sat on her hammock in the small room belowdecks where they usually spent their nights on board, occasionally looking out through the little window in the stern towards the sunset as she tinkered with her hopefully soon-to-be weapon. She had gathered parts from all over during the last few months—the remains of an old flintlock pistol from Bhadh, half of an old pressure tank from the workshops of Uinas, and at the heart of it all: a magical spark stone she had stolen from a merchant in Yaaldel.
She set to work in her quest to fiddle the pieces together but found herself stopping, again and again, to glance out through the window. In the gloom and silence of the dying daylight, the memories of the day replayed themselves. The memory of their far too narrow escape. Of the bullets that had whizzed past her ear. Of the deadly look in the tincap's eyes. Finally, she sighed and put down her handiwork, glancing over at Owen who was lying in his own hammock, whistling a little tune without a care in the world.
What am I going to do with him? she thought to herself, smiling fondly—but the smile quickly dropped. Owen had always been confident in himself. Too confident, perhaps; the bullets today got too close, and if one of those tincaps had just aimed just so slightly the other way... she would be one less a friend.
"Really though," she started as if she had been continuing a sentence, glancing over at Owen, "do you have to keep pissing off people with guns?"
Owen looked up at her for a second, then smiled as he let his head fall back down onto the hammock. "I don't know Vivi... it seems to have worked out pretty well for us so far."
Vivi chuckled. "Maybe. But we might not be so lucky every time someone pulls a gun on us."
"So what do you suggest?" Owen said, rolling out of his hammock to sit on the floor. "Do we go back to begging on the streets in Brolzo?"
"No, but..." Vivi sighed. Owen did make a point—they'd both rather have a bit of danger in their lives than suffer in silence under the injustices of her homeland. "I just wish we could change things... without having to risk getting shot at."
"Eh, that might be asking too much," Owen replied with a grin. "Besides... how was it you put it that one time?" He scratched his head, trying to remember. "You said the nobility had gotten too large; with more money than they could ever need in several lifetimes. And that it was up to us 'alley-dwellers' to make things a bit more fair."
"That does sound like me," Vivi admitted. "But it's getting a bit dangerous." She sighed, bringing the pressure tank up to her face to study it. Today was too dangerous.