A new journey

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"We're nearly ready to cast off," Kirya said. She'd been looking for Tarn, after he'd disappeared from the top deck, searching all over the Mountain Breaker - an effort which took some considerable time, given the ship's size. It's reinforced hull, with its iron-clad prow, held within it four decks running the length of the ship. The lower deck was primarily a one-and-half height cargo space, with crew quarters and supplies above it. The top two decks housed the mounted weaponry, armoury, mess hall and officer's chambers. Above on the main deck there was a further two-storey housing in the centre which served as the control room and tactical chamber. A skeleton of six curved beams extended from the sides of the ship, up to the rigid framework for the enormous, shielded dual envelopes.

The aerostat engineers had been filling the envelopes for the best part of a week now and had promised that they would be ready for take-off that day. Activity in the hangar appeared frenzied to Kirya's untrained eye, though she had been repeatedly assured that everything was under control, as the roof was pulled back and the walls were rolled away, leaving the Mountain Breaker naked and alone in the open air, ready for its moment.

She'd found him skulking around in the hold. He hadn't been the same since the battle of Bruckin - not that any of them had been. None of them were creatures of war: the valley had been peaceful throughout her lifetime, simmering tensions aside, and while Tranton had seen his fair share of dust-ups in bars and during trade negotiations he'd never been party to full-scale warfare. The Avii were different, having been trained from birth to be ready - though even they had never needed to put any of it into practise, and they were all showing signs of deep trauma from the loss of their home. That would be a wound that would continue to fester for years, its consequences long and hard to fathom or predict. Tarn, though, was different, as he had always been. He'd been raised in a hard place and had emerged to somewhere just as dangerous, albeit with a veneer of civility. That was a lingering gulf between them which she wished to bridge, no matter how painful it would prove.

"Last chance to get off, then," he said, smiling sadly, his humorous tone failing to disguise the thin hope that she might take his suggestion seriously.

"We've been assigned quarters next to each other," she said, ignoring him. "Tranton, too. I didn't want us to be too far apart. We've all come this far together."

"I wish Fenris was here," Tarn said, as they left the cargo hold and returned to the steps leading up. The engine room was beyond, thrumming with anticipation, poised and ready for a signal from the control room above.

Kirya took his hand and squeezed it. "We all do. I find it hard to think clearly without his guidance. And when I do, all I can think of is that he's not here."

"He always knew what to do."

She nodded. "He always had a plan."

"Do we have a plan?"

"Me and you?" She smiled and let go of his hand. "I don't know," she said. "I think it's a good plan. It should work. My father gave us a lot of information. We know that work has intensified below ground since we all left the valley. Something's been going on down there."

"In the machine rooms."

They emerged onto the next deck, where corridors extended off in both directions, multiple doors leading to both private rooms and communal spaces and bunk areas. The Mountain Breaker required a significantly larger crew than most ships, being a significantly larger vessel, and it needed somewhere to put them all.

"That's me," Kirya said, pointing to a door at the far end. "You're next to it, number fifty."

"Fifty?" He looked at her askance.

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