The ship trembled violently. Qabal sat calmly, watching Howl through small, patient eyes.
"What have you done?" Gillian said. "I thought you wanted to negotiate with them, Howl!"
He shrugged. "Changed my mind. I'm feeling young bull, today."
She ran after him. "So you fired on them? You're risking hundreds of lives, just because you feel like it!"
"Trusting my instincts is what got me where I am," he said. "Let me by, woman, I-"
"The walls!" someone said. "The walls are flickering!"
The control room filled with skittering leaves, with sunlight and mist. The white walls had become rows of tall, swaying trees. There was birdsong. An enormous, blade-like shadow rolled across the room, sending everything into darkness. "EEEEeeeahhh!"
The lights came back. The room resolved once more into the space it had been.
"What..." the Knife said, "was that?"
Howl stood pressed to the wall, his hand on his gun. The Knife moved behind him, silently drawing his blades, while Gillian and Peregrin crouched at the ready. Tsssss. Tsssss. Tsssss.
Something was coming. Its gait was strange, like nothing he'd ever heard. Four footfalls and an almost liquid drag of something being pulled behind it. A tail too heavy to carry. Or a body.
It had to be a trick; maybe a Phodiine priest gone bad: how could anything board their ship without his knowing? He felt the hairs on his skin attune to the approaching footsteps. The shadow slowed. It pooled just beyond the door. With a gesture, Howl readied his team to fire.
"Oh!" The voice was sweet and shy.
Howl leapt forward. "Arrest y'selves, it's my-"
The Evoken came into the room. "Yes?" she said.
"-my love," he finished, embarrassed. "Get aft with ye, Demma, we're under fire."
"But Howl," she said. She stepped to one side, revealing a small girl standing behind her.
The girl had red hair and frightened eyes. Her mouth was drawn straight across her solemn face like a thin red thread. Her eyes were raw with crying.
"Well, well, well now. The bad penny," Howl said. "And what brings you to pernicious Phayara... little Cat, called Starless... and across all these bloody sands... and all by your sorrowful self?" The girl's eyes darkened into pools. "Put her in the low brig," Howl snapped. "Watch her close, now Demma. She's a bad penny. And she always finds her breaks."
"You don't know what you're saying," Starless said. Her voice cracked, and so did a cut on her lip. It bled. "I don't know what's happened. I don't understand," she said.
Howl dismissed them with a look. "Keep her close, Demma," he said.
"You don't understand," the evoken said. "She appeared in the ship. Out of nowhere. What does it mean?"
"Bear away with me, little girrl," he said, grabbing the child and escorting her from the room. "You're witching me? You witch my ship and I'll mischief ye, savvy that?"
She wiped her eyes. "Have peace, sir," she said. "I don't understand why I've come back. I remember leaving here. And now I have come back again, with no memory of where I have been!"
"Ye are very woman, for such a child." He rubbed his beard. "Children are not gen'rally scheming things."
"What is wrong with me?"