Spoiler: Important DisclaimerShow
Marea runs a finger along the spines of her books. Yellowed pages, fraying covers, some wrapped in plastic and others decaying in the open air. She pulls out an old tome, flips it open, and breathes. She closes her eyes and lets her mind wander. She waits for the memories, for the longing, for the aching and the guilt in her heart. But nothing comes. She cradles the book to her chest, just for a moment, then carefully slips it back on the shelf.
The bookshelves stretch from floor to ceiling, and they are nearly completely full. A shame, to leave them to fend for themselves. But books are heavy, and for the most part, they must remain. A handful of gaps represent her favorites, the storybook she once read with Rajya, Rajya's own notes and essays. Only the most precious can go.
She shifts her gaze to one of her more whimsical possessions. A crystal unicorn statue, nearly three feet tall, stands proudly atop an empty crate. Beautiful, but not precious. She has built a home laden with useless attachments, and she feels a twisting in her stomach, almost disgust, as she thinks about what she has let herself become.
But was it so bad, to have things? People? A place to call home, to sleep at night and relax during the day? There was certainly nothing wrong with it. She was often content, on rare occasion peaceful. Her best friend nearby and the roaring gears of an airship above her. But that was the problem, wasn't it—the airship, a massive, steaming colossus, so close within her reach. Her life's sustenance, a reminder that she still yearned for more, more clear skies and crisp winds, yet kept herself trapped in a box.
Almost three years ago, she came back from the Wastes, defeated and weak, prepared to accept her fate as a measly, smart-ass crook in the streets of human-infested cities. It took two years to find her place amongst the masses—at first it seemed impossible. That everywhere she went, destruction would follow. A menace, a misty-eyed, spiteful girl with a few screws loose; namely, the screws which dictate reasoning, caution, and empathy. She steamrolled her acquaintances, often quite literally, until she once again found herself on the go, in the sky, aboard the Rogue with a Captain that was patient and caring, but never doting, nor spoiling. The steady hand that was necessary to steer her. A man who didn't misplace his faith in her, and who she didn't fail. The crew called her Captain, for a short time. It may not have felt quite right, but the pride in herself was undeniable. She earned it. She succeeded. She was the only option Raigar had to lead the company in his absence, and she was a good one.
Now, she scarcely looks at the Rogue. More than most of the things she leaves behind, it makes her sad. Her own small ship, with its blue balloon and white base to match the sky, hovers in waiting along the rickety walkway outside her quarters. She picks up her last couple of bags, hitching one over each shoulder, and takes heavy steps up the gangplank, onto the tiny deck, and into the low-ceilinged cabin. She's spruced up the ship as much as she can for her newfound mission. The bench seats along either side serve different purposes—on the left, a few pillows and a ratty old blanket make a bed, and on the right, the cushions come off to reveal below them her books and mementos, extra clothes, a few rations and some smoke bombs, the essentials. Through the floor hatch, a massive amount of dried meat and barrels of water lies in shadow, alongside an equally terrifying abundance of ammunition and artillery. Machine guns have been installed on the two back corners of the deck, the ship's balloon laced tightly in rope to grip and help navigate the deck in high winds. Every moving part has been freshly cleaned and inspected, the holographic interface at the helm updated to be a little less flickery and sad.
Every detail has been taken into account. The only problem is the fuel—enough for six months, and her ship is almost beyond carrying capacity. It will slow her down, make it difficult to control in adverse conditions. But she has little choice—beyond the jungle, over the Unending Sea and into the skies beyond, she has no idea what awaits her. She doesn't know if there will be more fuel, more food, fresh water or friendly faces. She doesn't know if there will even be faces, if there will be land, if she will fly far enough to return to Ascalon one day, or if the ocean will just go on and on. Perhaps the visions that she had from the Priory towers in Divinity's Reach will be reality. Mountains that fade to hazy waves, knitting and swaying and losing themselves to a distance that never ends.
She does one more inspection of the outside of the ship. Scratches a metal finger at the newly painted name on the side of the deck—the Horizon, in stark blue letters. A fleck of color comes off on her fingertip, but she dismisses it; close enough to dry.
She bids herself one more look up at the refuge. Her crewmen walk about the deck of the Rogue above her, moving crates this way and that, preparing for a trip to Amnoon. Raigar is up there somewhere, watching them, or perhaps observing the ship's interface, selecting the route and checking the vitals. Or maybe, if he's feeling sentimental, he's watching her just as she watches the Rogue.
She doesn't look for him. She doesn't want to know.
The gangplank retracts into the Horizon. Marea moves up to the wheel, flicking switches and levers with practiced ease. The hum of the little ship grows louder, a higher pitch, as it lifts off from the canyons. Like a punch in the gut, she realizes she forgot to say goodbye to her cat. Poor little Inigo. He's never seemed to love her that much, but surely he will notice her absence, at least for a couple weeks. Then, he will forget about her. As only animals can do.
Hopefully, with time, everyone will forget about her. After all, humans are little more than animals.
Plunder and conquer, murder and hate. Soon it will all be behind her. And for once, she feels as if she could truly leave it there.
Her body is light as a feather, as if she could jump, and float through the air. What little is left of her arms tingles and goes numb. For a moment, she struggles to breathe, as if her throat has shriveled and shrunken. Leave it all behind. She's getting a second chance at freedom. An untold map awaits her, and her first stop--
West of here. A place of verdant plains and roaming horses, nestled between two great mountain ranges and a wide, flowing river.
--She smirks, a bit of cynicism creeping into her voice, despite being thick with emotion. “Goodbye, cruel world. I'm going to meet a real, tangible horse. Take that, fucking jackasses.”
She forces Raigar's face from her mind's eye. Still, she seems to feel his gaze on her back.
But with a day's flight, the land will roll away from beneath her. It will fade from memory like the fever dream days of her childhood.
And the search will begin.