A soft scratch could be heard as a few rhythmic notes played out from the small player in the cabin, though before the main rhythm could pick up, the record skipped again back to the opening of the track.

 

K’aldur sat quietly in the mounting madness of the confined room, wafts of cigarette smoke floated with the candle and lamp light as the Lucy shifted side to side in the shifting breeze outside, the very thing leading to his music turning into a loop of useless noise and grating nerves. Finally, he snapped as he stood, setting down the navigation tools on the rolled out map before him and lifted the diamond needle from the spinning plate, and slowly set it back down on the next track as soft horns began to play and a slow drum beat started up.

 

“Much better…” He said, tapping his foot to the beat as the music picked up in speed and tempo. Boot heels clicked on the wooden floor as he returned to his planning table in the middle of the sequestered room, at least half a dozen line drawn across it’s surface, marking out planned routes and inoperable ones due to either the wildlife in the area, or outright hostile patrols from the regional lords and city states. He splayed his hand out over the recently edited cartography map, showing elevations and plots of route to follow across. “But still no good way t’ go without gettin’ spotted… buggar.”

 

As he mulled over the map with his good eye, he stirred a short crystal glass with one finger, it’s caramel colored contents turning and rolling before him. The very thing that could either make him rich, or get him hanged. “If we can’t sell here, should be an equally excited buyer in the south. Just hate t’ loose a commission, y’know?” He asked toward the only other permanent occupant of the ship, looking toward the open door and the moonlight shining through.

“And if we can’t sell there, then we go south as you said. We’re just out the cost of travel in the end.” Avette shrugged as she invited herself into his quarters and ducked to miss the door catching her ears. “Still a loss though.” She continued as the Viera crossed the room and threw herself into his empty hammock. K’aldur offered a light huff, granted while he had not been using it at the time, he had noticed she’d taken it as an open invitation to use. Considering she was the only other one, that was fine enough.

 

“If all else fails, we got the back ups t’ fall onto if we need t’ fly.” He said, leaning back into his chair as he took another drag from his cigarette and blew free a fresh puff of smoke. “Just got t’ have a li’l faith. We’ll be rollin’ soon once we have a good set of contacts to drop off with any contact later. Maybe get more runs goin’.” K’al’s eye was still focused on the map, noting down how many fewer safe harbors there really was left to go to in these trying times, his hand lightly touching on a deck of tarot cards by the corner of the desk, just a focus to keep his mind stead rather than fidget with his hands.

“We oughta start takin’ the shite from the end and beginning of the batch and movin’ it too.” Avette said, shifting to kick her feet over the side of the hammock and swung it back and forth… as if the ship wasn’t rocking it already. “Get some cheap linen from the city, cut it off into strips, and roll them up.” This caused a curious brow raising as the relaxing jazz music played out behind the man. “Suddenly we have a rolling supply drop for the wounded in places that have a real hard time getting supply. If we do that, we’ll get friends out in these far places that might be able to do us a favor should we need it.”

It wasn’t a bad idea, he’d have to admit that for certain as he turned his head toward Avette and away from his tool and maps. “Fer now,” he said with contemplation, “Best way we can come out in the green is t’ play nice with them merchants. Hells, we might even set up a booth an’ sell our wares too. Y’know, open up some inventory for another run like the one we had before.” With that, he kicked up a glass of his more aged reserve and sipped happily from it.

“Make like honest folk?” She asked, face hardly shifting in expression,  “That doesn’t seem very in line with our character, does it?” Avette smirked and forced the hammock to a stop with one foot. “Don’t get me wrong, now, I’m not exactly some kinda hardened criminal. If I were to be anything, I’d say I’m a petty thug but that might even be a stretch. But honest folk? I don’t even give my chosen name most of the time.” Given her current list of monikers, all based on looks or bad puns, K’al would’ve had to admit he was lucky to even know her name at all. She inched the hammock back until she could face K’aldur with partial line of sight.

“It’s more that if we get caught with a batch of shine, we got a leg of deniability to stand on.” He replied, his hand leaving the tarot deck as he settled in for the conversation to follow.

Though her face remained passive, he assumed there was a hint of acknowledgement in her eye or in the way she moved. “Suppose it’s not a bad idea for us though, and with a good solid network of trustworthy faces. At least more trustworthy and upstanding than our own. Or you just makin’ friends for the sake of it?” Avette lifted an inquiring bow, but there was no sign of discontent on her face. “Just so you’re not dealing with me all the damn time.”

“What I’m proposin’ is we put on the mask that we are decent folk… well, maybe more respectable folk, making a livin’ in a tough world.” K’aldur said with a shrug and downed the rest of his whiskey with a light hiss. “But, we can also be moving openly with permits given by those artisans. Y’know, just goin’ gig to gig, ferrying wears.”

Slowly, he stood as his cigarette burnt close to his fingers and dropped the useless butt into an empty bottle. The ship turned against a heavier wind, making the lines holding the balloons down creak and strain, and some of the wood facade to settle. “I think we got a bad storm comin’ with this much head wind.” He sighed, “Nothin’ to do now ‘cept sleep through it, eh?” Quickly he went to close the open door and lock it in place.

“Can’t see it bein’ a good night if we’re bein’ flung all over the place.” Avette mused, “Course we’d have to pull anchor and find a place and that could be a hell of a ride on its own.”

By the time K’al had gotten to the main door and latched it, another wind from the back of the ship blew open one of the windows, and set most of the papers scattering across the floor, along with the tarot deck.  when another gust blew and scattered the papers on his charting table across the room. Avette was quick to bolt off the hammock and snap the window closed, though a light howl still sounded through a crack in the frame. “Think we oughta set her down?” She asked while throwing the latch closed and locked down.

K’aldur frowned heavily himself, making sure the locks for everything were latched into place for the time being. Only after that he allowed himself back into the room as the last of his charts and cards settled to the floor. Hours of work now scattered to the wind, and all he could do was sigh, “Not a bad idea… let’s get this picked up. See if we can get t’ a cubby hole before that storm hits.”

With that, he walked toward the far side of the table, roughly picking up the roll of maps and charting equipment first. As it laid against his chest, something… peculiar caught his eye.

 

For a dozen beats of the heart, he didn’t move, staring down at the formation before calling out, “Avette… you read the tarot?”

“Once upon a time for a little extra gil.” She spoke and crossed the deck planks to meet where he was knelt. “You’d be surprised how much people will pay to get a vague reading on the rest of their life. Most of the interpretation can be bent to fit what they want to hear, and its usually about love lives.” Avette rolled her eyes, but froze halfway through stooping down to meet him.

It was the tarot. Most of the cards were haphazardly thrown to the ground; except three. All face up. All in perfect order. As if the wind itself had offered a forceful prediction:

Ten of Swords. Five of Pentacles. The Tower.

“Well. There’s nothing vague about that.” Her lips pressed into a frown and she let a long breath out. Superstition was never a major factor in his life. But something felt… wrong, looking up on the order that they had fallen in.

Something looked like an ill omen. Enough to make his tail hairs stand on end and ears slowly pin back. “It ain’ good… is it?” He said, picking up the other cards scattered around those three and setting them in order as best he could.

“Well, if you want to know what it says, I’ll tell you, but all you’re gonna do is worry everything is a bad omen.” She threw a peripheral glance toward him and clapped a hand on his shoulder. “Besides, it doesn’t say you’re gonna die in a horrific way.”

 

K’aldur simply looked down at the cards, trying to figure out the way in which they had fallen. How they had landed so evenly. The very odds of that happening were astronomical in his mind.

But here it was. As clear to see as anything else. There was pain in the cards. Despair, loneliness, poverty, disgrace, and a meeting with rock bottom. Avette squeezed his shoulder and gave him a gentle shake.

“Usually this pattern is past, present, and future.” Unless he had some question pulling at him, the Viera commented silently. Then the answer would certainly have him turning for ground immediately.

Before he could speak, the ship was rocked again with another gust of wind, and the promise of an uneasy night to come. He stood and sighed, leaving the cards where they lay and sat everything down on the table once more. Perhaps with some added weight.

“We ought get the ship secured. Not gonna navigate well in this weather. Not without the torches.” K’al said in reference to the magitech engines that originally drove the craft. Ones that lay dormant for obvious reasons in these lands. Ones that saw him through some off the worst that could be thrown at someone.

Only now, he trusted his gut, and it was screaming for them to be ready for an unsteady night.

Author Gerald
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