A Word of Caution

Welcome to the realm of the Unseelie Court. Feel free to wander and browse, but know that the content you will find here is not for the faint of heart. The visions portrayed are often darkly erotic, even disturbing, and should be traversed only by those with the appropriate character and mental age.

You have been warned.


Chapter 5 – A Bump in the Wind

A violent orange setting sun was at her back as Molly slowly made her way through the still wet jungle, but a light nearly as bright lay just ahead of her. She squinted against the harsh shadows that played tricks with her eyes. The stark brilliance made it appear as though everything was moving. Unfortunately, everything was. Every step she made was hindered by one thing or another; mud, darkness, even the foliage itself seemed to be reaching out for her. Many times already, she had to stop for a moment to untangle some root or vine from around her ankle or arm. The whole jungle appeared utterly set against her progress.

With increasing frustration, she struggled to break through the last few meters to the bright illumination before her, but the harder she pressed, the more the jungle resisted her. Just a little further and she would finally be able to see the source in the clearing – but something pulled on her collar, snapping her back. Cursing, she reached to untangle whatever branch had caught her, but found her wrist looped. Before she could protest further, she saw that her ankles were trapped in similar snake-like wraps.

“No…” she whimpered, feeling her body being pulled down to the ground, her limbs slowly secured. It wasn’t fair… she was so close.

The living tendrils were playing with her shirt, loosing the ties at the top while others pulled it up her body. More were at work on her pants, and she started to cry out, finally realizing that the jungle was stripping her clothes off in some mad perverted frenzy. Before more than a squeak could leave her lips in protest, a thick vine reached across her mouth, cutting her off. Gagged and helpless, it was only a matter of time before she was both naked and hopelessly bound to the ground. Unable to even call for help, she could do little more than wait. And then she felt them…

From all around her, as though reaching right from the moist earth, thousands of miniature golden fingers grew up around her nude body, sliding over her flesh with sensual ease. Everywhere they touched seemed to burn with pleasure. Higher and higher the thin fingers caressed her flesh, every centimeter increasing her arousal as they gradually covered her from view. By the time they curled over her chest and she could see them clearly, Molly was already on the verge of orgasm. She felt her hips start to rock in the uncontrollable rhythm of lust, just as she recognized the devilish fingers that were about to get her off. They were the arms of her Nanaris.

Bucking wildly to escape, Molly felt the smooth metal digits finally slip within her flower to caress her in ways that she could no longer resist. Even as her body erupted in ecstasy, she saw John standing over her. He just looked down on her with an expressionless face as she came over and over. He shook his head.

“It’s a part of you now,” he said. “Can you feel it, Molly? Molly?”

“Molly?” His voice was changing.


“Molly! Hey, wake up, girl.”

Star was standing next to her hammock, her face twisted with both mirth and concern. “That must’ve been some dream. A real toe-curler by the look on your face.”

“Wha…” she croaked, her mind coming slowly out of a sleepy erotic fog. “What time is it?”

“It’s after four.” Replied the girl, grinning. “Morning watch. Up ya go!”

“Really? Oh hell… I feel like I just fell asleep.”

“I tried to warn you. We’re up on the Quarterdeck, swabbin’ and scratchin’ I’m afraid.”

Molly rolled out of the bunk and pulled on a clean shirt and pants for the day. The Nanaris released itself from the ring in her locker the moment she touched it, and for a second she thought she might have forgotten to latch it closed. She paused as it hummed and warmed in her hands, remembering her dream. It really was almost like a living creature, and shivering for a moment, she shook off the remnants of her erotic nightmare and looped it around her waist like a belt. She was considering how to cover it with her shirt when she saw it change color, conforming to the same shade and texture of her pants.

“That’s new…” she mumbled to herself as she stepped into her boots. The odd behavior wasn’t completely without precedent, or so she had heard, but she’d never actually seen a Nanari change it’s appearance, certainly not without specific instructions. They readily changed their shape, sure, but color and texture? Of more concern was the fact that it had changed exactly as she had been thinking. Predicting what tool you need before you need it was one thing, but knowing how to camouflage itself?

As she tucked in her shirt, Star stepped up to her and gave her a once-over look, then sighed. Reaching into a cabinet, she brought out two light blue long-coats with wide collars, and a pair of scarf-like ties. She set the clothing on her hammock and then made Molly stand up straight while she fastened the strings on her shirt all the way to the top. The girl then whipped a tie around her neck and quickly ran it into a loose knot.

“The Quarterdeck is special,” Star explained, as she showed her how to pull on the long blue coat. “All crew needs to be in uniform there, such as it is. And be on your best behavior, as the deck is usually manned by officers, including the Captain or Quartermaster.”

Molly nodded without saying anything as Star adjusted her clothing, flattening out the lapels.

“I know it seems a little stuffy, but this early in the morning you’ll be glad for the coat. Later, when we’re further south and things warm up, the coats will be optional. Now,” she explained, taking Molly by the shoulders, “the officer of the watch will give us specific duty once we’re up top, which, as I mentioned will almost certainly be cleaning and primping… Light duty work. You’ll be paired with me as a guide, so stay close and don’t touch anything unless ordered, especially the rigging, understand?”

Molly nodded again.

“I assume the Guild had basic formalities?”

“Yes, though most were only observed during school session.”

“You know bows?” asked the other.

Molly nodded.

“Good. Bow to the Officer of the Watch when you enter or leave the deck, and to any officer that gives you a command, grok?”


The girl smiled. “Relax. The formal routine will be comforting eventually, though it seems a little pointless at first. Okay, let’s go.”

There was a dim glow in the east as they made their way up to the deck just aft of the main mast. She followed Star’s example and bowed to Brill as they stepped into the busy area. As Quartermaster, Brill served to guide the ship when the Captain was off duty. The tall woman met Molly’s eye with a wry smile, but said nothing. Star took them to Danny Taylor, the Port Watch Sailing Mate.

“Haven and Amberly reporting, sir,” she explained, bowing again.

“Ah, good. I was beginning to think I was going to have to summon you both.”

“Sorry sir,” Star replied, smiling slightly. “I had to drill Miss Amberly a bit in the formals.”

The man nodded. “Your first time on deck duty, Molly?”

“Yes sir!”

“Excellent. Just light duty today, to get you used to things. Star is a good teacher. Follow her lead and you’ll be fine.”

“Yes sir.”

Star waggled her eyebrows and waved her over out of the way.

“We’ll be scrubbing the rails, starting port side and working our way around. The brushes have cords to clip on your belt. Don’t forget, or you’ll get an earful from the Boatswain if you lose it overboard.” She clipped her own brush to her belt and then picked up the bucket. She tied a thin line to the handle, and then lowered it down over the side of the Mistress until it was just in the water. Hoisting it back up again, she set the full pail on the deck and dipped her brush to wet it.

“Start at the top and work your way down, about a half meter at a time. Scrub, but not too hard. You’re not taking off the finish, just removing grime and caked salts. Like this.” Star demonstrated the cleaning procedure. “Stay clear of the cleats and pins,” she said pointing to rope-wrapped metal and wood fixtures that Molly assumed were part of the main rigging. “And if someone needs to get to a rope, you move out of the way quick, understand?”

She nodded.

“Okay. I’ll start here, and you start just to my port. When we’re each done a section, then we’ll shift down.”

Molly clipped her own brush to her belt and then followed Star’s example. The work was easy enough, if a little tough on her back, and she soon settled into a steady rhythm with her partner. It wasn’t even dawn yet, but already she could feel the various parts of the ship ‘waking’ as the coming morning light slowly illuminated the vessel. The sounds changed, both off and within the ship. She smelled food cooking and realized that Manny must be starting morning mess. Everything was according to a rigorous schedule. Even the occasional calls from Mr. Taylor to the rigging crew or the pilot who manned the large captain’s wheel, all seemed to her as part of a larger machine. She smiled, realizing that she too was now a component of that machine.

They were just finishing the port rail when Star tapped her on the shoulder and pointed out to sea. There, a bright orange slice of light was just cresting over the long horizon. Molly had seen sunrises before, of course, but there was something about this one that made her catch her breath. Perhaps it was the total lack of any and all references; no land, not even another ship, as though the warm brilliance was made just to light the Queen’s Mistress and her crew.

“I remember my first sunrise at sea,” said a male voice behind her. She turned and saw a brown-haired young man with a boyish face and a lopsided smile. “You never forget that moment. It’s like waking up after a long dream.”

“Johnny Henseed, right?”

“Port Watch Pilot, at your service,” he replied.

“You steer the ship. Impressive, sir.”

He laughed softly. “Not as much as you might think. Still, it’s a bit special being in control of something so big.”

“Mind the wheel, Mr. Henseed,” Brill’s stern tone interrupted them. “The Mother’s Breath is nearly upon us.”

“Aye, sir!”

“Mother’s Breath,” she mouthed, confused.

“A bump in the wind just after first light. Any moment now…”

As if it were some kind of creature come to swallow the ship, Molly looked to the east. At first, she saw nothing out of the ordinary, but then, as the seconds ticked by, she noticed a faint line on the sea, or rather, a separation. Beyond the line, the surface of the ocean was slightly fuzzy, almost as though it were out of focus. Whatever it was, it was moving very fast in their direction.

“Sound the call, Master Taylor,” instructed Brill.

Walking to the forward deck rail, the man called out, “Gust ho! Stand at the ready! Put us two degrees to port, Mr. Henseed.”

“Two to port, aye,” repeated the young man as he made adjustments to the ship’s course.

As she watched the approaching anomaly, Molly found her heart racing. It was entirely different from the times she had watched approaching storms from the towers back at the Guild. While sometimes violent, those weather patterns were slow and obvious. This was like an invisible monster rushing up to meet them. She was already crouching, but she couldn’t help but duck slightly behind what little protection the starboard rail might offer.

“Steady, Molly,” offered Star as she stood looking out over the water, her hands on the rail. The morning sun painted her face in sharp yellows and oranges, harshly contrasting against the blue of her coat.

It was at that moment that the gust hit. She saw the girl smile and close her eyes just as her hair was blown back, her coat whipping in the sudden wind as easily as the tiny bells that floated at the ends of her flying braids. There was an audible whack against the side of the ship, and an immediate creaking as a hundred lines fought to hold the sails in place against the rush of air. The entire vessel listed for several seconds, and with a squeak, Molly was knocked back onto her rear.

And then it was over. The angry breeze slowly faded down to a more consistent and manageable intensity, and the ship returned to nearly level once again as it cut across the sea.

Blinking to clear her watering eyes, she saw Star’s outstretched hand to help her up, and standing again, she smiled and took another moment to appreciate the sunrise thinking that she’d have no trouble remembering the moment either.

A crewmate stepped up to the quarterdeck and bowed to Brill.

“The Captain would like a word when you’re able, Sir.” The runner turned to Molly. “You as well, Miss Amberly.”

Star just shrugged her shoulders when Molly looked to her in question.

“Very good, Miss Grimmel. Mr. Taylor, you have the deck. Molly, you’re with me, please,” replied the tall woman.

Fighting a growing sense of nervousness, Molly handed her brush to her friend and was about to walk away when Star grabbed her shoulder.


“The clip,” she said, pointing to the safety line that was still attached to her belt.

“Crap. That would have been awkward…”

“Relax,” said the girl, encouragingly. “It’s probably nothing. Be good, and hold your tongue unless required.”

“Right.” Unhooking the tool, she turned to the Quartermaster and nodded.


Now that Molly had seen the rest of the ship, the cluttered nature of the Captain’s cabin didn’t seem so strange. As the woman had mentioned, a merchant ship was all about her cargo and protecting it. As such, every square centimeter of space on the ship was utilized in some way in order to free up room in the main hold below. She had only a passing look at the cargo the Queen’s Mistress carried, but it certainly didn’t look like chests of gold and diamonds.

The Captain chose to keep her own tools of the trade close at hand in her cabin, which could double as a navigation room, dining area, and boudoir. Her bed, like most of the officers, wasn’t a hammock like the rest of the crew, but rather a swinging square mattress setup that could be folded up out of the way when not in use. The Captain’s was undoubtedly the largest on the ship, and looked big enough to hold two or even three people if they didn’t mind being cozy.

The cabin also sported the two rear cannons, which were smaller caliber, long-range versions of the main guns. Their presence was a constant reminder that the Mistress herself doubled as a warship.

No longer fearful for her life, Molly could relax enough to look around and once again catalog the many devices and trinkets that lined the walls in a semi-haphazard way. She was certain there was a pattern to the seemingly chaotic placement, but it was one obviously specific to the Captain herself. There were weapons, both ancient and new, muskets, maps, and nautical navigation equipment. There were more curious objects, whose nature and use were completely perplexing. There was even a scale model version of the Queen’s Mistress itself, proudly displayed above the Captain’s desk.

“Reporting, Captain,” said Brill as she nodded to the woman standing behind the desk. “Brought along the girl, as requested.”

“Have a seat, Bee. You as well, Miss Amberly,” said the Captain as she studied a map in front of her.

Brill pulled out one of the chairs, and Molly was about to do the same when she noticed a man seated in the shadows. When he leaned forward into the light from the rear windows, she made a little yip of surprise. It was the man from the shower, the man who had introduced himself simply as, ‘John’ after their impromptu late night tryst.

Hearing her exclamation, the Captain looked up and followed the surprised look on the redhead’s face over to the man, who was equally startled, and then back to the girl.

“You,” said Molly, turning bright red.

“Molly? You’re the Tech,” he replied, which only caused her to blush more deeply.

The Captain looked puzzled. “You two know each other?”

“Only recently,” answered John, standing. As he did so, Molly’s eyes widened. He wore a Royal Academy uniform, complete with the sash identifying him as a full professor. “We’ve had a bit of a relationship…”

Sighing, Abigail Pennylust rubbed her forehead in frustration. “Miss Amberly, I thought I gave you specific instructions to stay clear of our patron.”

She blinked in surprise. “Patron?! Oh hell… I mean, yes… Yes SIR! You did, sir. Only, I didn’t know he was your patron, really I didn’t!”

“Are you blind, girl?! Did you not see his uniform?”

“Uh…” started the man, raising his hand to explain. Molly spoke first.

“He wasn’t wearing it at the time we met.”

“What was he wearing?!”

“Um… A towel? Well, at first anyway…” She smiled briefly, remembering.

Brill snorted back a laugh, but the Captain was incredulous. “You’ve been on board my ship for less than seventy-two hours! How…?”

“Captain Pennylust, I can assure you it was purely coincidental.” Began the man. “In fact, I take full responsibility. Miss… Amberly was it?… Made no attempt to initiate, in fact, she seemed somewhat terrified that I was in the showers at all.”

“The showers,” repeated the Captain, obviously struggling to understand the situation. The Quartermaster stifled another guffaw.

“Yes, Captain,” agreed, Molly. “And I wasn’t… terrified,” she added, more quietly, “just a bit… surprised is all.”

Suddenly, Brill could no longer keep in her mirth and burst into wild laughter.

Pennylust stared at her First Mate in frustration as the woman fought to control the outburst. “Oh, for the love of the Goddess…”

“I… I’m sorry, Captain,” squeaked the Quartermaster, tears running down her cheeks. “It’s just the… the irony!” She started laughing again.

“I need a drink,” said Pennylust, turning to a small anchored shelf holding several bottles. She picked one and quickly poured herself a few fingers of dark liquid, which she unceremoniously tilted back in a single swallow. She then refilled the glass and put back the bottle. By this time, her First Mate had calmed her hysterics down to random snickers.

“Right. Moving on then…” she exclaimed with finality. “Molly, I called you to my quarters at Professor Doherty’s request. He was most surprised when I mentioned we had a Tech on board.”

Molly’s brows raised slightly and she swallowed. Her gaze turned to the man she had been so intimate with just hours ago. He seemed remarkably young for a Professor, but she knew it wasn’t unheard of.

“Sir, I think you should know that I’m not officially a Tech. I left the guild before receiving my cred.”

He nodded. “So the Captain explained to me. However, she also mentioned that you took and passed all your exams, is that correct?”

“Yes, sir. My scores were top of my class.”

“If your academics were solid, was there some other reason they refused you? I assume you’re of age?” Now it was his turn to swallow nervously.

“I am, Professor.” She saw him visibly relax. “They refused me because I’m female.”

He considered this for a moment. “That’s quite an accusation, Miss Amberly.”

She shrugged her shoulders. “If there was some other reason, I can’t find it. I know at least three other males who passed cred, all my age, which was the official reason for their refusal. They wouldn’t discuss the matter and simply told me that I needed to serve another two years before they would consider me. Two more years, with full dues.”

“And you… left? I wasn’t aware that was an option.”

“It’s not.”

“But, you just said…”

“I said I left. I didn’t say they gave me permission.”

John sat up a bit.

“I’m sure that caused a bit of a stir.”

“I… I didn’t wait around to find out, though I’m sure they were a lot more upset about what I took with me.”

“Which was?”

Molly looked to the Captain, who nodded slowly. Standing, she reached for her belt, which caused a slight reaction from the Professor. She smiled knowingly and unwrapped the Nanaris from around her waist. It sensed what she wanted and shaped itself back into a ball, which she then held out to the man. When he realized what he was seeing, he paled.

“Oh my word… Is that?”

“Yes, sir. I’d say that I stole it, but I don’t think that’s quite accurate.”

“May I?” he asked softly, his hands extended.

She nodded once, and the Professor very carefully took the metal ball. Turning it in his hands, he shook his head.

“I’ve seen Nanari used before, but never had the chance to examine one up close. The Guild is… restrictive in its control of such technology. This is exquisite.” After turning it over several times, he gently handed the ball back to Molly. The second it touched her fingers, it seemed to come alive. John gasped and actually took a step back as it swirled up the girl’s arm in sinewy bundles of snake-like cords. It even made a slight hissing sound as it moved. It wound up her body until it had settled around her neck in the standard ‘necklace’ configuration, then was completely still once again.

“Amazing,” whispered the Professor. “And you… took this when you left the Guild?”

“I know it sounds like stealing… and technically, I suppose it was. It’s just… It’s a little crazy, but it asked to leave.”

“Asked? Asked how? Can it speak?”

Molly sighed. “It’s hard to explain. There was a music or sorts, coming from the Nararis. I didn’t hear words, but… I just… knew.”

“Could you get it to make this music, Molly? Right now, I mean.”

She blinked. “I don’t know. I’m not even sure what it was I heard, so I don’t know if I can make that query. I can try.”

Molly took a breath and brought up the blue forward display, moving her hands so as to control what she was seeing and search for the command she wanted. But she already knew that she wasn’t going to find what she was looking for. She was familiar with those controls forwards and backwards. Unless this specific Nanaris had additional branches within the command structure, which it didn’t appear to, the screens only got you so far.

“It’s not here,” she explained, shaking her head.

John rubbed his chin in thought. “Is there anything else you can try? Please, Molly, it could be important.”

“I just assumed that this Nanaris was different somehow. But there doesn’t seem to be a way to initiate direct communication. Unless…”

“You have another idea?”

“Well, most Nanari become… acclimated to their users’ specific style over time. So much so, that long-term Techs don’t really need the control screens at all after a while. This one adjusted to me almost immediately, and has been able to sense what I need in a very uncanny way. I just assumed that it was a fast learner because it was base-gen.”

“You mean, its generation. You think this is a base level Nanaris?”

“Are they still speaking the same language?” asked Brill, looking at the Captain.

“Please continue, Miss Amberly,” replied Pennylust.

“Sorry. Yes, I think this one is old, perhaps even second or third generation. I’m just guessing of course, since I’ve never even seen another base-level Nanari other than the one the Pontifex uses. Captain, Nanari are each made by another Nanaris. The greater the generation, the weaker and less capable they tend to be. It’s for that reason that the base level Nanari are so valuable and carefully protected. Whatever the case, this particular Nanari seems to have adapted to me almost at once. It pretty much knows what I need it to do as soon as I do.”

“And you think you can tell it to play the music that way?” asked Doherty.

“It’s worth a try. But understand, controlling a manipulation arm is like controlling my own arm. I just do it. You’re asking me to ‘talk’ to it. I don’t know how it will react, if at all. It could have… unforeseen consequences.”

The Captain, sighed and nodded. “Understood. Proceed.”

Molly returned to her seat and took a moment to clear her head. Then, she closed her eyes and tried to frame what she wanted in her mind. For half a minute or so, nothing happened. She was about to give up and try something else when her Nanaris suddenly made a noise and moved on her neck. It wasn’t the music she had heard earlier, rather more of a single bleat or chord.

“Did you catch that?” she asked.

John looked at her and frowned. “You mean that tone? Is that what you heard?”

“No no… But I think I might be getting through. That sounded like a question.”

“It did,” commented Brill, looking confused.

Molly tried again, this time picturing the Rectory in her mind. She tried to remember what the music sounded like.

Quite suddenly she jumped as the melody, or something very close to it, started pouring from somewhere within the device around her neck. She listened, enraptured, as it played for nearly a minute, then was silent again. She looked up at John, her eyes bright.

“Did you hear? Did you hear what it just said?!”

His brows rose in surprise. “I heard the music, and while lovely, I must admit I detected no meaning or voices, Miss Amberly.”

“But… It was so obvious! You didn’t hear it explain about needing to go home; about needing my help?”

“I’m sorry, Molly. I heard only music.” The man looked genuinely sad.

“Oh poo,” she exclaimed. “How can I prove that I didn’t steal it, if I’m the only one that can understand the damn thing?”

“That may be, but the exercise was not wasted effort. Not at all.”

“How so, Professor,” queried the Captain, leaning forward at her desk.

“With your permission, I’d like to share with Molly my reason for commissioning your ship, Captain.”

“This is your show, Professor Doherty. By all means…”

John moved his chair a bit closer to Molly’s, and met her eyes.

“I don’t know why it is that you seem to be the only one able to understand what your Nanaris is saying, but for what it’s worth, if you say that it needs your help, then I believe you.”

“But the Guild won’t,” she moaned.

“Not yet, but I don’t think they have all the pertinent information. How much do you know about Academy history, Molly?”

“Perhaps a bit more than the public, at least as it relates to the Guild. I know the usual stories, the ones told in the primary schools… The Settlement, The Fall, The Second Settlement… About how the original inhabitants of our world had all kinds of high-tech; that they traveled the stars in great flying ships. And then The Fall; a horrible war that laid waste to all but a tiny fraction of the population, and almost all of the major tech…”

The Professor picked it up. “… And that we came very very close to complete extinction, and probably would have reverted back to simple hunting and gathering, if at all, were it not for the work of the Royal Academy, gathering up any bits of tech that were still working, and carefully guarding them, fixing them… slowly relearning what we had lost and saving the rest for a day when we might be able to once again understand how they were operated and made.”

“And then the Miracle,” said Molly.

“Yes. The Nanari. We knew they had come from the southern hemisphere, but those lands were deemed sacred and forbidden, even by the first settlers. The Six arrived, and allowed us to rebuild some of the tech that had been lost. So great and precious was their gift, that a special clan was formed just to see to their safety.”

“The Guild.”

He nodded. “And so it has been for over five hundred years. But now, the Guild has all but separated itself from the Academy, using its power to control the people rather than help them. In fact, Molly, I suspect that denying you a cert had more to do with control than misogyny.”

“How do you mean?”

“Your age… You finished early didn’t you?”

“Well, yes, but it’s not that uncommon. I know a number of males who took their exams after four years instead of the usual six.”

He held up his hand. “I’ve no doubt. But if I may… Did you pay your dues ahead of time?”

She stared at him, her mouth open. “How did you know that?”

He nodded. “And I bet that was quite a bit, yes?”

Molly suddenly found her throat closing up. “Some of it was a gift from my uncle. The bulk I saved myself.”

“You had just enough for four years, didn’t you? That’s why you worked so hard to complete your training early, so you wouldn’t have to go into servitude.”

Her eyes clouded over with tears and anger. “There was no reason for them to hold me back.”

“Oh, but there was. You see, that’s how they control the Techs. They make sure that they are held in servitude for decades. The Academy has made inquiries. Nearly all Techs are bound to the Guild through financial liens, liens that are rarely able to be paid off for many many years. Only the most affluent families are able to buy their way out of such bonds, Molly. That’s why they added another two years to your training, to make sure that you, such a gifted and promising student, would be theirs to control for as long as possible.”

She was stunned. “Those bastards…”

“I’m sorry. It’s probably easier to see them as bigots, rather than something much more devious.”

“This is very revealing, Professor,” interrupted the Captain, “but what does it have to do with your requisitioning the Queen’s Mistress?”

He held up a finger. “What is not generally known, is that while the Guild may have control over the tech that the Academy originally gave to them to help the people, the Academy did not give them everything. As soon as they suspected that the Guild might be using their power for their own ends, the Academy held certain things back. One such tech was a device that was only discovered a few decades ago. It took us years to even discern its function, let alone repair it.”

Molly shook herself out of the emotional haze. “Wait… why so long? Was it really that complicated?” she asked, confused.

John pointed at her chest. “We no longer had the Nanari. They were all controlled through the Guild, and we couldn’t, under any circumstances, let them get their hands on what we had squirreled away, especially the newest find. It was a receiver.”

“A receiver,” repeated Brill, her brows coming together in confusion. “What did it receive?”

The Professor smiled. “Well, nothing at first. Whistles and hissing mostly. We knew it was down at the bottom of the electromagnetic spectrum…”

“Whoop! You just went over my head,” exclaimed the Quartermaster.

“Just think of it as colors of light that our eyes can’t detect, but are there nonetheless. The device converted that light into sound. But even knowing what it was, it did us little good by itself. We could receive, but could not cast our own electromagnetic signal. Worse, there didn’t seem to be any others out there, so all we received was random background noises… until just this harvest. Suddenly, we heard something clear and utterly unnatural.”

“Voices?” asked Brill.

John smiled at the woman. “Oh no. That, we might have expected. What we heard, was something almost exactly like Molly’s song.”

Her eyes growing wide, Molly blurted out, “The Nanari!”

He nodded. “So it would seem. Though we had no idea at the time, nor right up until just a few minutes ago when you convinced your Nanaris to ‘speak’ to you. We suspected, of course, since we were able to triangulate that the source of the signals were from deep in the southern Hemisphere. Even without knowing what the music meant specifically, the Academy agreed that we should investigate. If the creators of the Nanari were attempting to make contact with humans once again, then it was critical that they be met by… the right people. There was much debate, but it was decided that an expedition would be quietly sent south of the Barrier Islands as soon as possible.”

“South? But, aren’t they forbidden? No one goes there, do they?” She looked to Captain Pennylust.

“There are three rings of islands that form concentric circles around the southern continent. Though forbidden, certain brave sailors have risked venturing to the first ring for repairs, provisions, or sometimes just the siren’s song of possible treasure. I myself have seen them twice, and walked the shore of one personally. I saw no Nanari, nor anything else that looked like a civilization, but I will say this…” She leaned forward on her desk. “There is no place else in this world like those islands. They are… dangerous. Things are not what they appear. Even many of the plants seemed to have a mind of their own. I would not willingly return were it not for the very generous support of the Royal Academy… and the fact that we were desperate for a charter.”

Molly saw the woman glance over at John.

“The crew knows we’re headed south. They don’t know that our final destination is the southern continent, though I believe some suspect as much.”

“They do,” agreed Brill.

“And?” asked Pennylust.

The Quartermaster chose her words carefully. “Most couldn’t care less. They trust you, Captain, and will follow you without question. There are a few fear-mongers as always, but I’m watching them.”

“You understand, Miss Amberly,” continued the Captain, returning her steely gaze back to her, “why this conversation needs to be kept in the strictest of confidence?”

“Yes, sir. I believe I do.”

“I certainly hope so. There are few situations more dangerous than a frightened, paranoid crew on a ship at sea. I will personally see you flogged bloody if I find you have leaked one word to anyone outside this room, am I clear?”

She swallowed. “Yes, sir.”

“The rest of the crew will be told when the time is right. Until then, you are to say nothing. Refer anyone who asks directly to Brill.”

“Molly, is there anything more specific you can tell me about the message you heard in that song?” asked John.

She shook her head. “Not really.” Seeing the look of confusion on the man’s face, she quickly continued. “Understand, while the meaning is clear to me, there are no actual words.”

“But, how can that be? Surely, if you’re certain of the meaning…”

Molly chewed her lip, thinking, then asked the Captain for a pen and paper, which the woman provided. She ripped the paper into three pieces, then took a few moments to draw on each. When she was done, she held the first up to the Professor.

“Do you recognize this symbol?” she asked, simply.

He looked at the paper and blinked. “Yes of course, it’s a mountain.”

She held up the second piece. “And this?”

“That’s the symbol for cold, or possibly snow… Maybe winter.”

Finally, she held up the last scrap of paper, on which she had drawn a circle with a line through it. The man took a moment before answering. “Ah, yes. That’s how we denote a restriction.”

“So, you clearly understand what each of those symbols means, even though there are no words associated with them; no direct translation.”

“I think I see what you’re getting at.”

She picked up the pen again and drew on the back of the last piece of paper. “Here are the same three symbols, but now grouped together. What does this mean?”

The Professor looked at the new drawing and said at once, “Stay out of the mountains in winter.”

“Exactly. You know the precise meaning without any words. That’s how it is with the song. I recognise the symbols in the music, and together they create a very specific and clear message. How I know the symbols and you don’t, is anyone’s guess. But, this Nanaris needs to go somewhere; ‘home’, wherever that is, and it can’t do it on its own. It needs my help.”

“Is home on the southern continent?”

She shook her head. “Honestly, I don’t know. I think it knows we’re headed south. Beyond that… In the Rectory, when it first sang to me, I got the impression that it simply wanted to get away from the Guild. It was desperate. Does that make sense?”

“Perhaps,” answered John, thinking. “But I’ll keep my conjectures to myself for now. Captain, I assume that conditions are still favorable for a direct southerly course?”

“The wind is starting to shift slightly, but that’s to be expected. It will continue to move west as we travel south. There’s almost no information on the weather patterns south of the Barrier Islands. I know a few who have traveled there. They talk of strange winds and demons. I know more who traveled there and were never heard from again.”

“All the more reason to keep our destination under wraps until we’re closer,” said Brill. “However, I wouldn’t push it, Captain. The crew will fill in their own reasons for this trip if you don’t give them one. As soon as it becomes obvious that we’re headed to the circle…”

“Understood. I believe for the sake of prudence, Miss Amberly, you should refrain from further… relations with the Professor.”

Molly was about to agree, when John spoke up.


“I beg your pardon?”

“I said, no. This vessel is being chartered by the Academy. As their representative, I get to decide who I can have a relationship with.”

The woman behind the desk obviously wasn’t used to having people buck her authority. Molly saw the sparkle in her eyes as she took a slow breath.

“Professor Doherty, the Academy has chartered my vessel. The crew remains under my command. That includes Miss Amberly.”

There was a distinct moment of tension in the room as the two stared each other down.

“Molly is a bondservant, yes?”

“I don’t see how that…”

“I’ll buy her bond.”

Brill actually gasped. The Captain just gave the man a deathly gaze.

“Miss Amberly’s bond belongs to me,” she said, slowly. “And I alone  get to decide whether to sell it or not.”

“You need this charter,” said the man simply.

Abigail Pennylust sat back in her chair, considering the man’s words while Molly and Brill held their breath, both thinking that either a deal would be made in the next few seconds, or somebody was likely to end up dead.

“If you pay her bond, then she becomes your responsibility. She will stay in your quarters as there are no others available.”

“Fine,” agreed the man.

“NO,” Molly yelled, angrily. “I will NOT be sold like a common whore!”

The room was silent again for several seconds.

“Miss Amberly, Professor Doherty has agreed to pay your bond.” Said the Captain, confused. “Surely that’s a better deal than staying a slave, yes?”

“He’s not ‘paying’ my bond, he’s ‘buying’ my bond! Captain, I swear to you, if you let this man do this, you had better make sure he locks me up in shackles, because the first chance I get, I will throw myself overboard!”

“Molly,” exclaimed John, surprised.

“I will! I swear it! When I first came before you, Captain, it was due to my own actions. I put myself in bond, to you. It was my choice.”

“Your other options weren’t very pleasant, child…” said the woman, showing a moment of compassion.

“Perhaps, but the option was mine. You, and you alone hold my bond, and while you are free to sell it, I beg you to reconsider.”

“You understand that Professor Doherty has offered to set you free?”

“No. He has offered to buymy bond. Only I can pay it.”

“That’s true, Captain,” interrupted Brill. “The law is clear. The only one who can pay the bond is Molly. She can be given monies to do so, but she alone has responsibility to make payment.”

“I’ll give her the money then…” started the Professor.

She replied at once. “I refuse!”

“Are you sure you know what you’re doing, Molly?” asked the Captain again.

“Debt comes in many forms, not all of them with a contract.” She looked at John. “And I won’t be anyone’s whore.”

The woman sighed and pushed her blonde hair from her eyes. “Well, this certainly complicates things. I must say, Miss Amberly, you have impressed me yet again. I’m not sure how to proceed.”

“If I may, Captain…” inquired Brill. “Give the Professor what he first asked for.”

“Which was?”

“Permission to court Miss Amberly.”

“Why should I do that?”

“Frankly, sir, it solves several problems at once. You’ve been trying to isolate the female crew from him to avoid possible conflicts, but Molly is new enough that bias doesn’t really enter into it. If they were a pair…”

“The others would stop trying… I see.”

“More so, it will give her a chance to pay off her bond by her own hand. Even as a bondservant, she gets a share of the ship’s haul. While I doubt a single trip would make the current bond rate, she might pay herself out in one or two more. And of course, she’s still free to find the money on her own.”

“True,” agreed the woman.

“But more than anything else, I think Miss Amberly might want to stay on as crew for her own safety.”

“Hmm? How so, Bee?”

John groaned. “Oh, of course. Yes. She’s right. I‘m an idiot…”

“Let us hope not, Professor, since we are using your knowledge and guidance to keep us safe on this journey. But, please explain.”

The man looked up and spoke to Molly with visible sadness. “The Queen’s Mistress is considered sovereign territory. The Guild has no direct authority over the ship or her crew. But the second you go ashore, they can arrest you… And they will, Molly. They will find you guilty of treason and theft, and they will have you killed.”

“Treason? But I didn’t…”

“It doesn’t matter,” he continued. “They’ll drum up a fake charge. Theft of Guild property would be enough to make you disappear. Once they have you, they won’t risk you communicating with anyone outside the Guild ever again. Death would be a mercy, I’m sure.”

“So what will it be, Miss Amberly?” asked the Captain. “Will you stay under bond as a member of this crew?”

“My old life is gone. For what it’s worth, I’m yours, Captain, literally and figuratively.”

“And what about Professor Doherty here? Do you still want him? I suspect you might be a trifle miffed with him at present.”

“Can I get back to you on that,” she replied, eying the man grimly.

The Captain scratched her chin. “No. I need a decision now since it affects other aspects of this… problem.”

She took a long moment. “Very well. But I want to be treated as any other member of the crew. No special privileges.”

“As you wish. Is this acceptable, Professor?”

He sighed, obviously relieved. “Absolutely.”

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