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Oh, oops, I miscounted my chapters. New characters in Chapter 6, we have to make it through Nimbys first.
THEY REACHED NIMBYS at sunrise and Orla could hardly believe her eyes. Even though she might not have travelled much across the Overworld, she was Ihran. She knew what mountains and cities looked like, she knew what to expect when thousands of people piled in on top of each to live together in a small space.
At least, she’d thought she had. Except Nimbys was like nowhere she had ever seen before, an entire Overworld away from the five mountains of Ihra. Where her homeland sprawled over its mountains, laying claim to the land, dominating every scrap of space, the mountains of Northern Imercian were not to be conquered. They were tall and grim, crag-faced and insurmountable. They loomed over the frothing Cloud Sea like an impenetrable wall, without a dwelling or scrap of green in sight.
Then the Miryhl Heart swung around to the southern side of the great range and discovered the valleys. The widest and deepest of which contained Nimbys, the greatest city on the Overworld – at least by Imercish reckoning. It sprawled across its valley, a jumbled mess of houses and streets, warehouses and mansions. Ihra likely held more people, but the cramped confines made Nimbys look bigger, busier, more alive. The city didn’t dominate its mountain, instead the mountain dominated the world, while cradling Nimbys like a beloved child, coddled, protected and able to thrive.
At the rear of the valley, illuminated first by the rising sun, a great tower rose, white and gold in the morning light. It was almost too bright to look at and Orla gladly let her eyes follow the dip of the sun as it flooded down a ragged cliff to brighten the rest of the city.
At the front of which stood a building that even Orla had heard of: the Cathedral of Maegla. A great spire rose up from the tangled streets, a bolt of lightning cemented into stone, drawing all eyes to the goddess’ magnificence.
“It’s beautiful,” Orla whispered.
“You get used to it.”
Startled, Orla’s feet slipped off the rail she’d boosted herself onto for a better view. She stumbled backwards and barely grabbed the rail in time to keep her feet.
Taryn tutted irritably at her clumsiness and walked away, finding a different vantage point from which to watch their arrival in the city.
Orla watched the other girl go and stared down at her boots. Typical. Her room mate had finally made an overture, possibly towards friendship, and Orla had made a mess of it. She should have expected nothing less.
“How do you like your first glimpse of Imercian’s fair city?” Captain Derrain asked, strolling over to join her by the rail. It was an easy thing for him to rest his arms atop the rail, settling himself in comfortably as he leant on his elbows. Orla could rest her arms on the rail too, but only if she didn’t mind blocking her view. Planting her foot back on the bottom rung, she hauled herself up so she could see more comfortably.
The captain smiled at her. “Ready for the next stage in your adventure?”
Orla barely withheld a sigh. This was not her adventure; it belonged to her parents. She might once, deep, deep down, have dreamed of becoming a Rift Rider, but she’d never expected it to actually happen. She’d never truly considered leaving Ihra and making it come true. Despite her parents’ best laid plans, she’d never planned on leaving Ihra at all. Yet here she was, standing on the deck of a skyship that had come to feel like home in the short time she’d known it, and she was getting ready to say goodbye to that too.
A jittery ache settled in her chest that felt a little like panic and a lot like uncertainty, and Orla decided that travel really wasn’t for her.
“I shall miss the Miryhl Heart,” she said, because her troubles were too small and unimportant for the captain to be bothered by. “I shall miss Zephyr.”
“She’ll miss you too,” Derrain agreed, smiling again. “She’s become very fond of you. I think she liked having company other than mine on this trip. Most people are too in awe of her.”
Orla had been in awe of Zephyr too – still was – but the miryhl had been too insistent to let such a thing stand in the way of her lessons. “She has been very kind to me.”
“You’re easy to be kind to,” the captain said, making Orla blush.
She shook her head, embarrassed. “Not everyone would agree,” she mumbled, glancing over her shoulder at where Taryn stood alone by the rail, a heavy woollen hat jammed over her blonde head, pack already on her back.
Following her gaze, Captain Derrain sighed. “Pay no heed to Taryn. She’s too busy fighting the world to pay attention to goodness and kindness. She’s so consumed with the way people treat her that she doesn’t notice how badly she treats other people. She’ll learn. It won’t be pretty or easy, but she will learn.”
Orla frowned at the girl who seemed so confident in herself – and so disdainful of Orla – and shook her head. “Then I feel sorry for her.”
“That’s because you’re a good person.”
Orla frowned at the captain instead. “Are you saying she is not?”
Derrain shrugged. “One day perhaps, but she needs to grow up first. Then we’ll see.”
Feeling it was all a bit too complicated for her, Orla stared at the view again. Nimbys glittered in the morning sun, getting bigger and bigger, the wide view narrowing to the dock front and the soaring cathedral, hiding all that lay behind.
Her chest pinched again. “Where do I go?” she asked, her anxiety rising. “When I leave, I mean. What happens next?”
The reassuring weight of the captain’s hand settled on her shoulder. “Leave that to Zephyr and me. We’ll take care of you. We’ll find you somewhere to stay and make sure you’re signed in. Your parents would expect nothing less.”
Doubtful. Orla’s parents probably expected her to scale the mountainside, with or without a rope, steal a miryhl and fly her way to Aquila with only a handkerchief of cheese to exist on. They would be delighted if Captain Derrain kicked her off his ship at the docks and left her to fend for herself, using only her wits and perhaps her father’s childhood carving tools, which had somehow made their way into the bottom of Orla’s bag.
Were they expecting her to become a street carver? Making bowls and spoons to survive?
Orla hoped not, because her carving was pedestrian at best and would never be better than barely good enough.
“We’ll look after you,” the captain repeated. “A student is as good as a Rift Rider and all Riders are family, no matter how many years have passed since I retired.”
Orla looked up at the big man, who seemed whole and hearty to her eyes, yet knew from things Zephyr had let slip that a back injury had almost stolen his ability to walk and left him much weakened with ongoing pain.
“Do you miss it?” she dared to ask, even though the captain seemed perfectly happy and utterly at home on the deck of his ship. There was no doubting that he loved the Miryhl Heart and that his crew respected and loved him, but Orla still wondered.
“Every day,” he replied softly, staring at the looming city as their navigator steered them towards a mooring dock, already bustling with wharf hands looking for a day’s work unloading stock. “I grew up on the deck of a skyship and loved it with everything I had, but being a Rider was…” The captain shook his head. “You’ll see. It defies description. Once you’re a Rider, once you have your miryhl, once you fly and train and learn with your friends and flurry-mates… You’ll see.”
Smiling, he pushed off the rail and returned to overseeing his crew and his ship, back to his life as a formidable Kilpapan captain, leaving Orla frowning.
“See what?” she grumbled, hopping down from the rail and picking up her bag. At this precise moment she could barely see Nimbys itself, let alone imagine the day when she would have a miryhl of her own. Or friends to train and learn with. She couldn’t even see where she would sleep tonight.
Panic pinched at her chest again, making her heart feel tingly and strange, but she shook it off. There was no need to panic. The captain said he would take care of her, that he would find her somewhere to stay. Zephyr would help. She could trust them. There was nothing to worry about.
Her eyes roamed the deck and landed on where Taryn had pulled herself up on the rail, arm wrapped around a rope, her face lifted to the wind. Zephyr had said the girl was going to become a Rift Rider too. She looked like she should. She looked like the perfect image of a Rift Rider student.
Orla could not imagine training or learning beside her. She couldn’t imagine flying at all.
Maegla’s bolts, she couldn’t do this. It was a terrible idea, fanciful and foolish. Orla wasn’t known for being fanciful and she tried never to be a fool, but the Miryhl Heart was creaking its way into the mooring space and everyone was bustling about ready to unload, ready to go ashore, ready to move on.
Orla had to move on too. Much as she wanted to stay put on this safe ship, there wasn’t a place for her here. They didn’t need her on the Miryhl Heart, and despite all her fears and uncertainties, Orla would only go where she was needed, where she could work and earn her keep. No matter how haphazard her upbringing had been, her parents had taught her the value of hard work. They might have wanted her to have an exciting life, but they’d always planned for her to work for it. Even when they’d tried – repeatedly – to send her off with the Cloud Circus, they’d expected her to create her own act, to entertain and earn her way. They’d never meant for her to be idle.
Nor would she be now. Patting her bag, where the carpentry tools lay heavy and familiar in the base, Orla headed for the freshly-lowered gangplank. If all else failed, she could always return to carving. She might not be an artist like her father, but she could find solid work somewhere respectable until she earned enough to sail home. She wouldn’t starve.
Panic easing, Orla made her way down the gangplank to the rickety wooden jetty and the bustling city beyond.
~ Next Chapter ~
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