Chapter 1 – The Invitation
As a little boy, my family would always come together for supper. This was a time to laugh and share about our day. But my favorite part was always dessert. After we cleared the dishes, Papa would gather us around the fire and tell us tales of the “Makers”. We really aren’t sure what the Makers look like, but we have seen their creations, marvelous creations, that moved and seemed to think on their own.
Once in a great while, the Makers would send over gifts. We would all gather at Sandhaid beach, the closest to Ishka Island, and watch as this monstrous balloon ship would sail from Ishka to Nua, my home Island. When the weather was right, you could see it in the distance leaving the island. It would take almost a day to get here, so when it came, everyone showed up.
But this day was different.
This time there would be no gifts or wondrous technology. Today they brought tickets. Tickets to the city! Their announcement was both riddled with excitement and truthfully a little fear.
“Good citizens of Nua,” the bott announced. No one had ever heard one speak. I didn’t know they could speak!
“Please choose 300 of your brightest minds to join us in Ishka. For your people to survive, we must unite. We will depart in 8 hours; there will be no need to take anything with you.”
And then they went to sleep. No response. Nothing.
That’s all it said. What the heck? “Our people to survive”? What’s going on? Can we trust them? We’ve never even heard these things talk before! So many questions and so little time…
As per usual the Elders convened while the rest of us awaited their decision. This time, they were actually pretty fast; I was impressed.
“We have come to a decision,” the Elder said rather quietly. A hush fell over the crowd.
“We have no idea what we are dealing with; we may be sending you to certain death. But, in our history with the botts, we have come to trust them. All they have ever shown us was good will. Therefore, we are opening this up to volunteers. The first 300 will go.”
I felt my hand slip up. What was I thinking? “I’ll go,” I heard myself say.
“I’ll go,” said another.
“I’ll go!” said someone else rather loudly.
Soon it was loud and raucous. The place filled with lifted hands and shouts of “I’m going!”
“Ahem!” said the Elder. “We thank you for your service. Please form a line in front of the ship. The first 300 will get a ticket.”
And with that it was a mad dash to the ship. Why do I want to go so badly? Maybe it was all those tales by the fire. I’m not sure, but what I am sure of is this…
I’M GETTING ON THAT SHIP!
Chapter 2 – The Ticket
Turns out I’m a pretty fast runner. Even though I was in front of the crowd, I still managed to make up some distance once I found my stride. Looks like about 20 people in line ahead of me; I made good time. We were all huffing and puffing when I noticed my friend Henry was a few people behind me. I didn’t care what place I was in, as long as I got to go, so I offered my place in line to the man standing behind me so I could chat with Henry.
“You coming?” I said, still a little out of breath.
Henry looked up at me. He was still panting pretty hard when he said, “Hey, Toby. I saw you take off and I said, ‘Dang if he’s going and I’m not.’” He chuckled.
I guess I should introduce myself. My name is Toby. Well, Tobin, but everyone just calls me Toby. Me and Henry grew up together. I think he’s about three summers older than me. Henry’s a good guy, and even better with an axe. I noticed he still had his small hatchet with him.
“You bringing that with you?” I asked as I motioned to it.
“Why aren’t you, is the better question. Who knows what we’re about to get ourselves into.”
“True” I said. “I guess I didn’t really think about that.”
With that, Henry and I talked through the night about what we might see once we got to the city. All the wonders we might encounter. I think we slept a little, but before I knew it, the sun was creeping up making it too warm to sleep.
“Hey, wake up!” I nudged Henry. “It’s morning, I think we might be leaving soon.”
The villagers had been thoughtful enough to set up a makeshift chow line. Bringing us each a portion of food and filling our water sacks, a small knapsack was also given to us with enough food for our journey. It tasted good and I was really thirsty; all that talking and running had made my mouth dry.
“Countrymen!” I heard the second in command say. He was a large Elder with a brusk voice.
“You are about to embark on an unknown journey. We thank you for your service.”
The older Elder stepped up and held up his hand.
“May the blessing of Nua be upon you. May you walk in peace and only take up the axe if you must. But if you must, fight with Honor and fight to Win.”
He cleared his throat. “We will be awaiting your return. May the Makers help us.” And with that he turned and walked back to the other Elders. A younger woman stepped up. She was a scholar…probably the most well versed on the Makers.
“Today you make history. No others that we know of have ever seen the home of the Makers. Please take notes of all you see. There may be clues that can help us in our future. We have provided you writing materials. They are in your knapsack. Please journal so others may learn.”
I think there were others that were going to talk, but everyone stopped when we heard the whirring of the Botts. Their leader spoke once more.
“Please approach the Airship and take your ticket. Only 300 can board. We cannot carry any more.”
With that we started filing in single file. Henry poked me in the ribs. “This is going to be fun.” he said. Fun? I thought. That’s one word for it.
I approached the Bott and handed it my knapsack. The Bott checked my knapsack and handed me my ticket.
“Please board,” it said with a whirr.
I thought, Am I dreaming?
AM I REALLY DOING THIS? WOAH. I GUESS I AM...
Meanwhile, on a nearby Island…
The old buzzard hag cast the bones.
“Betrayal…” she croaked out what she saw. “The gods are troubled. Bring me my bowl!” she said without looking at anyone. A mirrored bowl was placed in front of her, and she peered into her reflection. After some time she spoke once more.
“The botts are not our friends. They are an abomination and must be cleansed from our land,” she said as she spat on the mirror. “And you will lead us.” She turned and pointed at me.
“For the nesst,” I said wondering why she would pick me. I was not that high on the chain of command. My commander leered at me and scowled.
The only one that outranked the General was the Seer. She had been leading our people since the Fall.
“Make your plans…summon the pack…take down that Airship,” she said as she turned to go.
My commander walked towards me; this was going to be uncomfortable.
“I don’t know why she picked you. My guess is this is a suicide mission and she can’t afford to lose someone of value,” he said and laughed a little…a little too hard at the end. “You can have your pick of the men. If you have any sense you’ll take Braun. He’s a good strategist.” He summoned a Keeper, “Make sure he gets what he needs: weapons, ammunition, food. I’ll be in my quarters. Keep me posted,” and he walked off.
“Send for Braun. We will meet in the Sanctuary,” I heard myself say. “We must prepare for war.”
The Sanctuary had not been used since the Island Raids when the last Seer pronounced war. We had built great ships to cross the treacherous waters to bring back our spoils. Riches and treasures were plentiful in those days, and men had purpose. These days most of the fighting was between Clans and spread us thin; this would unite our people once more.
I myself had always enjoyed the times the botts would drop off their gifts and technologies. But, if the Seer says they are our enemies, I will wipe them into oblivion and bring honor to my Nest.
In the middle of the room there was a great Fellwood table. At its head a chair that had been grown and woven together from its saplings, forming an intricate throne. I heard footsteps and turned to see Braun enter the room, his tail high showing he thought himself above me.
“Greetings, Grim,” he said and gave a short bow.
“Braun,” I nodded, not knowing if I should remind him of his tail. Technically he was above me, but this was MY mission. I decided to let it go for now; no use getting on his bad side.
“By my estimates, the Airship should be coming in the next few days. If we don’t show up to greet them, they will think something is up.”
“Agreed,” said Braun. “Best to make everything look normal and take them by surprise. Who knows what kind of technology they have to defend themselves.”
“Their Airships have cannons on the side, if memory serves me. I’m not sure if they have any type of personal weapons,” I said as I pulled out the drawings of their ship from the archive.
“The General suggested we not damage the ship. We can use it to fly to their Island and wipe the rest out.”
That was a great idea, and I’m sure the General wants that ship. But, if I have it under my control, there might be ways to use it to my advantage.
“I will take that under advisement,” I said, although I knew it was the best course of action.
Over the next several hours, we formulated a plan that I thought had a good chance of working. The General was right, Braun was smart… too smart. I could tell he had something else working in the back of his mind. I’m not sure what, but I plan on watching my tail.
“Let’s call it a night,” I said with a yawn. “We have a good plan. I think the rest will work itself out. Let me know as soon as that ship is spotted.”
“For the Nest,” Braun said as he turned to go.
“For the Nest.”
When I made it home, the light of the fire was low and my mate made a hushing motion.
“Don’t wake the pups,” she whispered.
Our pups were still young and pink, not yet forming any hair. Their small eyes had only opened a few weeks prior. Six strong, healthy pups. Our life had not consisted of much sleep lately, so I made sure to speak as quietly as I could.
“The Seer chose me to lead a mission against the botts,” I said trying to keep my excitement down.
“What!” she said, a little too loudly as one of the pups started to fuss.
I waited a little bit before going on, making sure they went back to sleep. “I know” I continued, “it’s quite the honor, I will bring honor to our Nest.”
“Honor? I don’t give a rats tail about honor, you better bring You home to our Nest,” she said and I could see her eyes welling up with tears.
The Clochenraith were once feared among the Islands, we took what we wanted and took our spoils. But since the Great Fall, our land had been cursed, and now our soil could not produce the great trees needed to build our massive ships. These new flying ships would bring riches and glory back to our people, able to cross the waters with ease and bring back the missing artifacts.
The tale is that when the Fall had taken place it mutated things, us, to be exact. It’s said that Thim, the leader of a great tribe of warriors never went anywhere without his pet rat. One day, after coming back from the conquest of a nearby Island, Thim had noticed a strange Artifact that was oddly like the one on our own Island. When he placed the two Artifacts together, a shockwave went out across the land that mutated us into the creatures we are today. They tried to reverse it but nothing ever worked. It is believed that the other Islands hold the other Artifacts, and once they are all brought back together, they will restore our people. Our world now looks nothing like the tales of old. Everything that was alive before the Fall has turned into something… else.
“It’s okay, Martha,” I said. “I’ll come home, and with more riches than you and I can imagine. Now, I need to rest.” I put aside my uniform and snuggled into our nest. I was hoping sleep would find me easily tonight, but my mind was still racing from the day.
I woke up with a start. I must have slept through the night. The littles started to squirm and fuss.
“The ship is coming,” the messenger said.
“I’m coming,” I said, still in a hushed voice nodding at my sleeping pups. He turned to go and I quickly put on my clothes.
“I’ll see you soon, my love,” I whispered and kissed my sweet Martha goodbye.
“For the Nest” she said with a sigh. “I’ll see you at the Gathering.”
“For the Nest,” I replied.
As I got to the beach I could see the small ship in the distant horizon. It wouldn’t be long.
“Commander,” said a short tail. “We have set up a command post close to the beach. This way…” he snorted. I could hear his chainwhip as it drug on the ground behind him.
I could feel my blood boil with excitement. I hadn’t seen real action in years. The Pig corporal stopped and opened the tent door. I walked in to find the General and Braun looking over a makeshift table.
“Nice of you to make it,” the General said with disdain.
“I thought this was my mission, General. There was no notice otherwise” I said without thinking.
“These are my men…” He started to say more, but the Seer walked in.
“Calm down, General. Please, leave us,” as she motioned the door to him. Reluctantly, he left, but not without a parting scowl.
“You better not blow this, Grim,” he said walking away. A harsh reminder of the weight that was on my shoulders.
“Grim, come, sit down,” she said. Her rickety bones looked like they would fall off her body as she sat into the gnarly chair. “Tell us your plan.”
From there, I explained where our men would best be hidden and make use of natural cover and how many botts we should expect, but honestly I had no idea if this would work. These things might blast us from their cannons or rain lightning from the sky. I’d instructed the first wave to use grappling hooks to secure the ship. After that, who knows what will happen.
As the day progressed, you could tell the men were getting agitated. All this waiting could play on your nerves, but it wouldn’t be long now.
The next moments were a blur. We had instructed women and children to cheer as the ship pulled up to dock, hoping all would look normal. But one of the men got anxious and released his grappling hook before the order was given. The hooks were anchored onto huge trees so the ship couldn’t get away. The first hook had taken hold and started to swing the ship about. Not knowing what to do, the officer gave the command to fire, but most did not reach the ship. It was a blur of tails, swarming up the ropes, making way to the ship.
The botts were definitely surprised, but they managed to get a few of the hooks off the bow sending my men to their death. That’s when the cannons began to fire. The ship was now sideways to the dock and in perfect position to fire upon us.
Sand and rock flew everywhere as the ship sent blasts from its cannons. Women and children were screaming all around me, my thoughts turned to my family and all I felt was rage. I sprinted toward the nearest rope and made my way up to the ship. I didn’t have time to think as one of the botts came towards the rope to try and cut it off. I leaped over him and landed on the bow. My ascent must have spurred my men as the pack came over after me. I tried swinging my blade against the machine, but it did no good. I gave it a solid kick, and it crashed over the side. I needed to find my way to the steering mechanism and get this ship pointed away from that beach!
As I made my way to the back of the ship, I saw a bott in front of a large wheel, much like the wheel that turned a rudder on our old wooden ships. That has to be it, I thought to myself.
Two botts came around the corner, but they were no match for my pack. They swarmed the botts and threw them over the side. The bott at the wheel turned to retreat, but my men were too fast, trapping him and sending him over to meet his friends.
I grabbed the wheel and spun it about. I heard the cannons retaliate once more. Two blasts hit the beach: one laid waste where the civilians had been arranged. My wife! My Pack!! I couldn’t think about that now.
The massive ship swung into the dock, crashing into it, but now close enough for the remaining pack to board. Two botts made their way toward me. My anger swelled inside. I released a growl from the depths of my soul and flung myself into the air. As I landed, I spun and caught the first bott with my tail as I turned and ripped the arms off from the other.
“You killed my family! Murderer!” I screamed as I bared my teeth ready to finish him. A net was thrown over the bott from behind.
“Sir, the General wants us to immobilize them for further questioning.”
“Not this one,” I said and flung him over the side.
The rest of the pack was now aboard the ship. They made quick work of the botts, who put up little defense. We found a section of the ship with hundreds of deactivated botts and kept watch to make sure they did not awaken.
“Commander,” I heard a voice say. “We found your family…”
My worst nightmare had just begun. I will not rest until every bott is destroyed.
Many died that day, women, children, good men.
I’M NOT SURE IF IT WAS WORTH IT,
BUT WE GOT OUR SHIP.
Chapter 3 – The Nest
Chapter 4 – The Airship
To tell you the truth, I don’t really remember much of the ride. I mean, I remember it, but it was more like a dream. First of all, the ship was spotless. I mean spotless. I guess with all these little worker botts whirring around, they can get a lot done. I’d only ever seen the airships when they came to deliver gifts. But now, to actually be on one, its…it’s…magical!
I looked over at Henry. His mouth was practically touching the floor, and his eyes looked as big as saucers.
“Pretty impressive,” he said. You could tell he was in awe…he practically fell over one of the botts that was cleaning.
“It’s incredible,” I muttered to myself. Never before could I have imagined anything like it.
“Please move along,” said the bott. I realized everyone that boarded was just standing and staring in awe as much as we were. I nudged Henry and nodded at him to make our way to the front of the ship.
“Might as well get a better look,” I said as I started to head through the crowd. It’s funny…as crazy as this ship was, I was more amazed by the people who were on it.
Walking through the crowd I saw the Don Jevarts; he was commonly know as “The Don”. He and his wife owned the local Seed Vault and were known for being very generous. Why would they leave everything, all the wealth and respect they had? Seed is Life, and on Nua, Life is everything. If you didn’t have enough Seed, you couldn’t harvest and make it through the winter. The Don had all the Seed he could want, and the biggest Vault of Seed on Nua; he controlled the market. The best thing about The Don was his charity. There were winters he would open his vault and give seed to all those in need.
He tipped his hat to me as we walked by.
“Good day,” he said.
I almost stopped him, to ask why he would leave it all, when he brusquely turned around. His wife turned to look over the railing. We would be taking off soon.
“Do you mind?” he said.
I looked at him a little dumbfounded. “Excuse me?”
“Do you mind if I ask you a question?” he said very seriously.
“Umm…no, sire?” I said. I wasn’t exactly sure what his title was…just that he was rich.
“Please, call me Don. My question is why. Why were you the first, the first to raise your hand? Why would you do such a thing?” His big, bushy red beard kind of waggled when he talked.
“I’m not really sure,” I said, and that was true. “I guess…it was like a calling inside me. My hand just went up on its own.” I kinda chuckled.
“Well I’ll be if I didn’t feel my own go up too!” he said, laughing heartily. He patted me on the shoulder and said, “Well done, boy, well done.” He turned to be with his wife.
“Thank you, Don,” I called out. “My family has known your generosity several winters.”
“It’s not mine to give, son,” he replied and gave his wife a hug.
A loud, rhythmic sound filled the air, the gears around us starting to spin. It was actually kinda nice. It was mechanical, but musical at the same time. Then I felt the airship move and I thought I might soil myself. Seriously.
Henry grabbed me and I heard Mrs. Evarts give a little shriek. And we were off…
Floating. Not floating. Flying!
Up we went…up…up…UP! My heart fell into my stomach. Just when I was pretty sure I really had soiled myself, it magically felt like we were gliding on air…the airship purring its little song as we moved to its rhythm.
It seemed we were going to be using the air to move this massive structure along to the city. I could hear a few of the people retching over the side. Luckily I had kept my fast.
After a few hours everyone seemed to settle in. Some forming groups and talking loudly, sometimes even arguing, some quiet and introspective. I myself was glad to have Henry. Henry was good company, a pleasant person to be around and generally in a good mood. He was one of the Gray Wolves, and he had a vicious growl when he was mad. You didn’t want to see Henry in a bad mood. If he could chop down a man as fast as he could chop down a tree, well, that’s enough for me. In the forest, I’d seen him wield two axes at the same time! Just mowing down smaller trees. Everyone said he had the sharpest axe in town. Sharpening…UGH…I don’t even want to think about sharpening. I’m not going to miss that at all. Besides not being very good at it, I didn’t really want to be a Timberpunk. I didn’t have the skill or the size. But I was good in the garden. The plants, I guess you could say, they always liked me. I admit, I also enjoyed it. It was peaceful, calm, made me feel close to something. My parents were both Gardeners, cultivating the land and providing Seed and food to our people.
An argument invaded my thoughts, as one of the men almost crashed into me. Henry pulled me out of the way, just in time to see a man pushed across the floor like a wet towel. He was about to take a step forward, with fist raised at the man, when three botts whirred in front of him and cut him off, forming a wall. I’m not really sure I’d call these guys our best or brightest, I chuckled to myself.
“Ben!” one of the men yelled. “Calm down.”
The man they called Ben put his huge stone fists down.
“All right…all right,” he said. You could tell he was still fuming mad.
I didn’t know Ben, but I could tell he was a Stonemelder. A hulking giant made of stone. If he got ahold of your head, he’d crack it like a walnut. I’m not sure what they were arguing about, or what the botts would have done if it kept going, but they quickly dispersed as soon as it seemed the threat was over. The Stonemelders kept to themselves mostly. They had built most of our cities, forming the hard rock like clay.
Such a mix of people on this AirShip. I guess adventurers come in all shapes and sizes.
And then I saw her.
Pennywise, well, everyone called her Penny. I think she was a summer older than me, but she was always in the advanced classes. I would see her out sometimes just looking at a plant and journaling or drawing its picture. She was never without that journal. In fact, she had it out now. Scribbling like mad, she backed into me, almost stepping on my tail.
“Sorry…so sorry…excuse me,” she said quickly. “Have you ever seen…oh my look at that thing over there!” She moved past me toward one of the massive gears. I followed her.
“This…this…this is so incredible. What do you think it does?” she said as she started to sketch it, making the paper almost come to life.
“I honestly have no idea,” I said, not really even sure if she was talking to me.
“Well, I think it’s hooked up to that thing over there. See?” she pointed at another gear across from us that seemed to be moving a little faster. “When this turns, that turns, but it’s sped up and it’s smaller. I think the two are connected. In fact I’m sure of it.” she said a little more seriously, her big owl eyes staring into mine.
“I’m Pennywise,” she said. “But everyone calls me Penny, or just P for short.”
“I know,” I said, and looked down at my feet. “I’ve seen you drawing those plants.”
“Oh, yes, I do like to draw. One day I’ll be a scholar, like my mother”
“Your mom’s a scholar?!” I asked.
“Yes, she was the one who talked this morning before we left. So, how much longer do you think we have before we get to the city? By my calculations, I think we are well over half way there.”
I guess I hadn’t really thought about that, but I think she was probably pretty close in her estimation. We had been traveling for quite a while now. Penny, on the other hand, was one of our brightest.
“Do you want to go up to the bow and get a better look?” I asked. “We can probably see the City by now.”
“That’s a very good idea, a very good idea indeed!” she said delighted. I don’t know what it was about her, but everything she said sounded magical.
“Henry, do you want to go with us?” I said, secretly hoping he would say no.
“You guys go ahead. I’m going to close my eyes and rest for a while,” he said as he gave me a little wink.
Trying to keep up with Penny was like trying to keep up with a butterfly. She flitted from this gear to that, going on and on about the complexity and the technology and the…
Then over the bow I saw it…the Maker’s City.
It was breathtaking. Centered in the crater of an old volcano, the city perched over the massive lake of water below it. I’m not sure how to describe it. It was bone white, with spires coming out of its center. It was still a long way off, but it was definitely closer than I had ever been. The Island was coming into view better as well, it was a fine clear day for our journey. Penny had stopped talking and stood scribing what she saw. Wordlessly her eyes went from the Island to the paper.
“We must preserve this, so others may see,” she finally said. She was right, I hadn’t gotten out my journal at all yet.
“I can’t draw as well as you can,” I said, a little ashamed at my first attempt to put down what I saw.
“It’s ok. Let me see,” she said. I felt like I could share anything with her, so I showed her my sketch.
“That’s not so bad. A little shading here and there for depth, and I think you’ll have it”.
“Can you show me?” I said, wondering how she got so good. Then she took my little drawing, and, I swear, only added a few lines, and it was like she brought it to life.
“There you go,” she said, as if it was nothing. Her feathers ruffled a little in the wind. She went back to her own paper. I could see her drawing the spires of the city. “We should be docking shortly,” I said. “Are you excited?”
“Oh yes! We are the first to ever get this close to the Makers’ City. My mother said we will come back with more knowledge than we have had since the Great Raids.”
I felt the ship begin to slow.
I could see the botts prepping the dock for our landing.
IT WOULDN’T BE LONG NOW.
The airship came to a halt, docking in its bay. I could see all manner of botts coming and going. Large botts, small botts, botts that looked like they were hauling cargo. We made our way to the exit and heard the bott say, “Please…follow me to your destination. The Makers await you.”
As we made our way down the ramp, I could see the passengers ahead of us starting to board some sort of machine. Penny clenched my hand and I startled.
“This is so exciting!”
“Yes it is,” I said, but I wasn’t sure if I was more excited she was holding my hand or being at the Makers’ City.
We were soon in line to board the machines. I could see several compartments ahead that they were loading us on. I wasn’t sure if we should be worried, but if they wanted to harm us, I was pretty sure they would have by now. This seemed more of a desperate cry for help.
The compartments were a little cramped, and that was fine by me. Penny seemed to have attached herself to my arm. As the last passenger boarded, we began to move: slow at first, but…but then we began to pick up speed. Faster and faster we went into this dark tunnel. It was smooth and exhilarating. I’m glad I came, I thought to myself.
The tunnel opened up and we could see the inside of the city; it was bright white. Huge spires that seemed to go on forever. It seemed we were headed toward the very center of the city!
After some time, the vehicle began to slow. I could see several botts awaiting our arrival. We stopped, and the doors opened once more. Ramps descended to the ground below.
Botts approached each of the containers and said in unison, “Please…follow us to The Makers.”
Penny clutched my hand rather tightly.
“This is it,” she said and ruffled her feathers a bit.
This was it. It wouldn’t be long until we would have some answers. The botts took us to the largest building. It was like they cut the moon in half. It was incredible! Even our best Stonemelders could never make anything this massive and smooth. We entered a great hall with a pool in its center and what looked like 24 pillars around the outside in a circle. We followed the botts to the center where several older beings sat. They looked fully human. Only a few very old drawings were left of what we looked like before the fall, and these resembled them.
As we approached the beings, the one in the center stood up.
“Welcome to Ishka,” he said. The sound came from all around us. “We understand that you may have a lot of questions. All will be revealed, but we must get to the point of why we brought you here.” He paused and looked at the others seated around him, and they all nodded.
“I am Zedron, the Last Maker. We have lived here many of your lifetimes. But alas, we are too old and cannot have children and may soon perish.” He paused, then continued to speak. “In the past, we have sent botts to the surrounding islands to check in on your development and offer small advancements in technology.”
“Recently, the Island of Carnage has attacked one of our ships and deactivated our botts. We fear they may be using that ship to attack our island and destroy us and our beautiful city. In the past, they raided nearby islands and believe they will continue to do so. If they take our city, they will have more technology than any before, and none of the Islands will stand a chance against them. In short, we need your help.”
Carnage! I thought. They raided our lands long ago with their great ships. This wasn’t good.
“Will you help us in our fight?” he went on. “In return, we will provide botts that will help with building ships to fight the Clochenraith. Please confer amongst yourselves. We await your decision.”
He sat down.
We hadn’t formed any council, so I’m not sure how we would make a decision. Everyone was talking, and it was a bit hectic. It was then that Penny let go of my hand and yelled.
“Quiet everyone, please!” she went on. “It was clear when the botts arrived that they needed our help. It was our only recourse. If we do not, we will surely be next. I propose we take a vote. All in favor of helping The Makers and in turn saving our people, please raise your hand.”
I looked around; there wasn’t a single hand not raised. She made a compelling argument.
“Then it is settled. Mister Zedron, sir, we accept your offer,” she said. I didn’t know Penny had it in her. She was a born leader.
“Very well. It is settled. Let me introduce Alpha. She will guide you through the next steps. There is no time to wait. We fear they will attack any day. You must get home and start gearing for war and start building up a defense,” he said and sat down.
A beautiful older woman stood up and began to speak.
“I am Alpha. I will be your guide. We must get you back to Nua soon. If they attack our city with you here, there will be no way for your people to survive.”
She was right; this is very bad. How are we going to create Airships? This is all out war.
Alpha continued to speak, but I was caught up in my own thoughts. My family, my life, all is changing in the blink of an eye. How can I do anything? Why am I even here? Everything seemed hopeless. Maybe the Makers can help.
“…and with a little training, we believe you will be up to speed quickly.” Oh no! I thought, I missed something.
“Now, please, follow the botts back to the Airship. It’s time to learn the ropes,” she said and sat down.
“Penny,” I said, “I don’t understand. What’s going on?”
“It’s okay, Toby. They want us to learn to fly those ships. Come on! Let’s get going!”
We got back on the transports, but this time they separated, and we went in three different directions. I watched as the others headed towards other tunnels.
“They are breaking us into 3 different groups so we may learn faster. Each of us taking a ship,” Penny said. How did I miss all that! I thought, reminding myself to pay closer attention.
The botts took us back aboard the Airship, and each of us had our own personal bott that escorted us to a position on the deck, instructing us on how it worked. We moved from station to station, and it didn’t seem very hard. Then they said it was time for us to give it a go. We gave the order to cast off, and we were on our way, floating through the air. That’s when we saw them: the Piratts were not far in the distance and were closing in fast.
Their ship was covered in dark looking nets and had war paint down the side. They had a flag that was black with the outline of a rat off its bow. Everyone on the ship began to panic, and the botts seemed overwhelmed.
“Please, stay at your stations,” the botts said over and over again.
I heard a Stonemelder cry out, “Prepare the cannons!”
That was my station! I thought to myself. I looked around to find the control panel the bott had shown me moments earlier.
Green. Green loads the cannon. I pushed the button and heard the machine begin to move into action. The panel turned Yellow.
Yellow meant ready to fire. Firing now would be stupid. We didn’t have a target. I yelled back, “Cannon one ready!”
From across the ship I heard, “Cannon six ready!”
I felt the ship begin to turn. I could hear the massive beams crack as it turned hard to port. Over the side, I could see the PiRatt ship get closer, turning as well to match our course.
I screamed over to the wolf next to me, “Load your cannon!”
He was confused but nodded, and I saw him push his button. Within moments, they were upon us…cannons blasting and the vicious sound of the pigs screaming in the distance. Next to me, I could hear the cannon fire but knew he had fired too soon. The cannon ball did not connect, and he frantically tried to load another, but it was too late. I waited and prayed as I hit my red button.
My round had found its path true as it hit the deck of the great ship. But I realized it might be too late as the grappling hooks began to take hold of our ship, and I saw the Piratts begin to board.
I thought of Penny. Where was she? I had to find her.
I ran to the back of the ship and saw a Rat jump over the side. He turned and looked at me. That’s when I saw Henry jump over a bott and strike down the Rat with a single blow of his hatchet. He looked at me and smiled his big, wolfish grin.
“Penny!” I yelled, “We have to find Penny!”
“This way!” Henry seemed to howl.
Penny was between two botts and a very large Pig. The Pig squealed and hit the first bott with his chain. The bott exploded in little pieces. I heard Henry growl. He sprang at the Pig who didn’t see him coming. Henry swung his axe across his back, and I heard the Pig squeal once more. He turned and pulled on his chain tripping Henry onto his back. The Pig pulled his chain back to whip as Henry rolled out of the way, narrowly missing his head.
Henry stood and said “Run!” Penny saw her opportunity to make her way towards me.
The Pig glanced at Penny but knew who the greater threat was. He pulled his chain back and began to whip it around his head, first slowly but then picking up speed. In seconds it was a blur around his head.
Henry jumped to his feet, just in time to miss another slash of his chain whip. Henry growled and rushed the Pig. Leaping with his axe he brought down a crushing blow. The Pig turned his head and the axe bounced off his iron collar.
The Pig grabbed Henry and brought his chain around his neck.
“No!” I yelled as I watched the pig lift Henry off the ground. I could see Henry struggling against the chain. I felt hopeless, but I couldn’t turn away.
Suddenly, I felt the ship drop to one side, and I started to slide towards the bow.
The Pig, large and clumsy, began to slip and fall towards the edge. He crashed through the railing as I grabbed Penny and pulled us to the rail. I watched as Henry, the chain still wrapped around his neck, was getting pulled over the ship. He scratched at the ship’s deck to no avail. And then he was gone, tumbling over the side of the ship.
“Henry!” I screamed and tried to make my way closer to the edge.
The Airship was going down…quickly. We had to figure out how to get it to slow down.
I could see The Don trying to approach the wheel of the ship. Slowly he made his way to the back. He cranked the wheel in the opposite direction and I felt the ship begin to correct itself. Soon he had us leveled out. The Piratt ship was nowhere to be found, and Henry wasn’t either. They may have retreated, but the hole I put in their ship might have slowed them down. I made my way back to The Don.