• hcmills

Chapter 187: Boats and birds

“Specifically,” Goddess says, her voice swelling as if to fill the whole room, “that was what was left of the poor creature’s Core, incapable of maintaining its own spiritform, its own existence.”

I stare at her wide-eyed, my heart racing a mile a minute.

“Yes, I was surprised too,” Goddess continues, “when I realised the damage to its Core was minor enough that I could actually contain the spillage of Essence. Occasions where someone’s Core gets damaged are rare enough in this Realm, when it does happen it is usually not accidental, so this was truly a unique occurrence.”

“So... I didn’t Erase it?” I ask cautiously, hope colouring my voice.

“You would have, if not for my intervention,” Goddess replies. “Initially, I’d hoped to incubate it, see if it could be reborn, but my efforts proved fruitless. Though I managed to forcibly halt the leaking of its Essence by putting the poor spirit in stasis, the crack in the outer shell of its Core was simply too large to heal. I was considering alternatives when I got wind of Akir’s project.”

Goddess gently, almost morosely strokes the surface of the mast with a clawed hand. “Being stuck in an Extant construction, incapable of true change, is not the most pleasant existence, but it will prevent further leakage of Essence. More importantly, accompanying you, dangerous as it will be, will offer it an opportunity I could never willingly afford it.”

You could hear a dust mite sneeze in the silence as she pauses for a moment.

“As you slaughter your way through the lower realms,” Goddess intones mercilessly, “Essence will seep out of your kills into the wood. Absorbing and converting this Essence will help this poor being to truly merge with the ship by slowly permeating it entirely with its Essence, turning it from a vessel into a true extension of its self. What remains of the outer shell of its Core will slowly crumble, and eventually, the ship will truly replace its Core. Of course, this is all theory, as to my knowledge, there has never existed such a being in Spiritual Realmspace before. I don’t know if it will ever have a true spiritform of its own again, but I suspect that provided enough Essence, it will someday gain sapience, and become the master of its own fate once more.”

Goddess turns her full attention on me, it weighs on me like a ton of bricks. “It is by no means an undoing of the damage you did, but it is something. Of course, I’m sure I don’t have to explain how you stand to gain from this arrangement as well.”

I nod hurriedly, thankful that the pressure of Goddess’s attention does not prevent me from moving this time. “Of course, your highness. Thank you very much for this opportunity to... atone.”

Goddess stares at me for a moment longer, then nods slowly, seemingly to herself.

“She is in your care now, your responsibility,” she adds with a meaningful look. The kind of look that says I better bring my new charge back in one piece, or else. “I suggest you name her, get acquainted, and come see me when you’re ready to depart.”

And with that, Goddess spreads her wings and takes off.

She smoothly swoops out a small window, and I turn my gaze to my now-apparently-sentient ship. I guess I understand the need for feathered wings now... Though it’ll never be the same as having an actual spiritbody.

Suddenly, the sail moves. I jump, startled, and immediately feel dumb after.

“Looks like she’s exploring her new body,” Akir observes, hovering next to me. “What are you going to call her?”

I watch bemusedly as the steering begins to spin and one of the wings gingerly starts to spread. “Well, I was considering Boaty McBoatface, but now that seems a little... irreverent.”

Akir snorts. “Oh, now that seems irreverent. Glad to hear you appreciate my hard work so much.”

I glance over at him, considering. “You’re right. You’ve really gone above and beyond for me, once more. You know what? I think I know the perfect name.”

Akir squints his eye-slits at me, flat pupils following me in suspicion as I square my shoulders and move towards the prow.

I carefully place a hand on the smooth wood, and the ship stills, seemingly reacting to the foreign sensation. “Hi there!” I begin, feeling a little awkward. “You probably don’t recognise or understand me, but just in case... I wanted to say I’m really sorry for what I did to you.”

The wood creaks a little as the wooden beam attached to the mast—the boom, I believe?—swings to the side a little.

Does it remember me? It doesn’t seem like it... That’s probably for the best though.

I take a deep breath, put on my sunniest smile, and continue. “Anyway, let’s, ehm, let’s try to focus on the positive, yeah? Guess what? We’re going on an adventure together! And I bet we’re going to be fast friends.”

The ship—perhaps infected by my enthusiasm—stretches out its wings, and gives them a single beat, without lifting off.

“But first, you’re going to need a name. And a pretty ship like you deserves a pretty name, so I was thinking of...” I glance back slyly at Akir, who squints harder at my expression. “Kirri. After the being you have to thank for your new body.”

Kirri’s sail lifts up fully into her mast and flaps in a non-existent wind.

I grin at Akir. “I think she likes it.”

“It’s okay, I guess,” he grunts, but the way his skin turns a deeper shade of purple gives him away.

I turn back to him fully. “I’ve never steered a ship before though, let alone a sentient, flying one, so... how does it work?”

Akir shrugs. “I haven’t the foggiest.”

“What? You designed it! I mean—her.”

It’s a little weird when your ship suddenly gains a gender.

“I’ve never even seen a sentient ship before, Emma,” Akir grunts. “Why would I know how to steer one?”

I stare at him, lost for words.

Akir rolls his eyes. “Look, you’re overthinking this. Kirri is sentient. Steering her isn’t like sailing a boat, it’s like riding a mount. That’s why I intentionally left out any means to control her manually.”

“But... she has a steering wheel!” I protest. “And levers!”

“None of those are connected to anything. They’re just props, meant to help you communicate your wishes with her.”

Well, this certainly explains the lack of ropes and stuff that I expected...

“Also, she just didn’t quite look finished without a steering wheel,” Akir concludes, like that’s somehow—in the grand scheme of things—an important consideration.

“Right. So basically, Kirri is the equivalent of an untrained, flying horse,” I mumble, watching her swing her boom. “That has no idea how her body works. And it’s up to us to train her.”

“It’s up to you,” Akir corrects. “Because I’m not the one she needs to learn to listen to.”

I blink at him. “Huh? And what will you be doing.”

He turns and waves a tentacle at me. “I’m going for a drink. Good luck!”

“B-but,” I sputter, “I have no idea how to do this!”

“I believe in you, Emma.”

“Faith isn’t the issue!”

“Oh relax,” he says with a snort, one tentacle on the exit door’s handle. “You’ll figure something out. I’ll come check up on your progress in a while; you’ve got enough space in here to practice some basic manoeuvring, and when you feel you’re ready, we’ll take her for a proper flight. See ya later!”

“Akir, you can’t just leave me with—Akir!”

The door closes behind him with a resounding click, and after a moment, I turn to Kirri, who’s now making little hops by enthusiastically beating her wings in an alternating pattern.

“Ehm... Nice... bird-boatie?”

Training a boat-bird is not as easy as it sounds. Especially one that’s just been built, and is still getting used to her new body, and the new, still developing senses she’s using to perceive the world around her.

The first time Akir visits me, Kirri is still mired in a stage of endless curiosity and exploration, and I’m close to throwing in the towel.

By the second time he visits me, I’ve finally managed to get her attention. Motivating her to follow my orders is actually surprisingly easy after that because that’s what Charm is for.

No, the real difficulty is that Kirri has the memory and attention span of a drunk goldfish.

Still, by the fifth time Akir visits me, I’ve managed to teach her some basic things.

“Steady now, steady,” I murmur, half to myself as I slowly turn the steering wheel. Kirri keeps her wings perfectly still as she turns in the opposite direction whilst floating in mid-air, just like we’ve practised.

“Perfect.” Next, I push over the right-most lever and she begins to rise.

“Good giiiirl,” I croon at her as I gently scratch the centre of Kirri’s steering wheel. A slight shiver passes through her planks, but she controls her excitement and continues her gentle rise until I pull back on the lever.

“Not bad,” Akir says as he comes floating over.

“Thanks,” I drawl, shooting him a tired glance. “No no, keep steady Kirri, steady!”

Kirri, who started turning at the sound of his voice, obediently stops, though the droop in her sail tells me she’s pouting about it.

You big baby, I think fondly.

While Kirri was an immense pain in my ass for quite some time, I’ve come to grow quite fond of her. It’s kinda like having a puppy the size of a small shed. Also the weight of one. And the building material.

“Reckon you’re ready to take her for a real test ride?” Akir asks, seeming impressed by my display of control.

My eyes widen. “Oh, yes please! Get me out of here.”

Grateful as I am for the use of this workshop, I’m so sick of staring at these four walls.

Akir nods. “All right then. You get her facing the right way, and I’ll go open the doors.”

“You hear that, girl? We’re going outside!” I coo at my pretty boat-bird.

“Now, I hope I don’t need to remind you,” Akir grunts as he lifts the beam barring the huge double doors, “but Kirri’s body is entirely Extant, so we’ll need to be a bit careful manoeuvring inside Hangspire, or we could do some real damage.”

“I’m sure we’ll be fine, she’s being a very good girl. Aren’t you Kirri? Yes you are, yes you are!”

Kirri happily but calmly flaps her sail in response.

This is going to be great!

“Shit shit shit, left Kirri, left! OTHER LEFT!”

Kirri narrowly swerves around another spire, tilting to a near ninety degrees as she does so. The only things keeping me standing on her deck are the g-forces and my thick tendril of Devouring Energy that’s even now munching on wooded pulp below deck.

I really should’ve seen this coming. The second the doors opened up and Kirri got wind of the busy city outside, she was off, flying like she was a little bird again instead of a two-ton wooden vessel.

The only reason we haven’t caused any serious accidents yet is that Akir keeps intervening at the last second, redirecting her like a toy boat with his powerful tentacles.

“If you’re not paying attention to the steering wheel, you have to at least listen to my calls, Kirri!” I plead. “Sharp right here, sharp right! Triple caution, TRIPLE CAUTION!”

Kirri doesn’t listen. She heads for a gap between two spires that is way too small, and is connected with a bridge at a height about halfway up Kirri’s mast to boot.

For a split-second, I think Akir’s going to have to interfere again, but then, to my surprise, Kirri folds up her wings, bends her mast down to just over my head, and shoots straight through.

Huh. Did not know she could do that. At least she’s learning fast.

Finally, after a few more heart-stopping turns, we fly out of Hangspire.

Kirri stills, and her huge feathery wings carry us onward effortlessly into a breathtaking, open purple sky.

“Okay, okay, that’s it, nice and calm,” I say with a sigh, my heart still pounding in my throat. “I guess that was a bit much at once for you, but we’re out of the city now, and it’s fine, I’m not mad. Now we can really take our time and—”

Unfortunately, before I manage to even finish that sentence, a flock of birds comes diving past us. And of course, Kirri immediately folds her wings and plunges her bow almost straight down to chase after them.


Author's note:

Have I mentioned here yet that my third book is out in paperback? ^^

Either way, if you want one, there are two online stores where you can order it. Either at Attitude Holland, or directly from Amazon.

Attitude Holland gives me a better deal, so if it's an option, buy it there please ^^ (For some countries the shipping fees may be prohibitive though!)

Attitude Holland: https://www.attitudeholland.nl/homeware/hobby/boeken/h-c-mills-boek-unimagined-adventures-the-whispering-crystals-b/

Amazon: https://books2read.com/u/47QNLN?store=amazon-paperback&format=PAPERBACK

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