Selera smiled slightly at Tiffaniel’s sudden interest in the device, standing and leading her over to the desk. She opened the box, allowing her to look at it.
‘It is supposed to be a key to another world, or to one very similar to our own. Maybe like looking into a mirror or a parallel where everything is the same yet different in some ways.’
‘Why do you think they made it?’ asked Tiffaniel as she picked it up carefully, looking at it more closely.
‘From what I can tell, it was made once the world had become dark. There could be many reasons to make this. To escape, to leave the devastation of the great storm that covered the land. Or to warn others of their mistake. Maybe even to invade. We will never truly know, its designer and maker is well and truly dead by now.’ she closed her hand over Tiffaniel’s and shook her head as the girl tried to rotate the outer assembly.
‘And truthfully, as soon as I hand it over, I wash my hands of this business, the Enclave and everything else around here. I want to go home, I want to run the coasts and continue making my business with the Academy. And this blasted heat, day in and day out, it is relentless.’ she said, carefully placed the device back in its box.
Tiffaniel started fidgeting, looking down at her restless hands.
Selera looked to her, ‘Is all well?’
‘No, I mean yes.’ Tiffaniel looked up, but didn’t meet Selera’s eyes, ‘Lera, I wish this happened sooner.’
Selera looked at her sister, at the clear embarrassment on her face, ‘Tiff, everything has a reason. Things are meant to happen when they happen. Wishing in retrospect is good and all, but use it as measure to appreciate the here and now. I think we all wish that it happened sooner, but that won’t change anything. We are here now, finally. Everyone is safe, and no one is injured, that is what matters most.’
She laid her hands on Tiffaniel’s shoulders, ‘You know what this means? From now on we try our best to understand one another, and when we don’t, we listen. No more raging, attacking and harsh words. The three of us are all we have left, I may not be Mother, but I am your elder sister and the head of our family until Ven is of age. Until you and your brother are old enough, I will try my best to keep my arms around you. The three of us have to try our best to be more understanding, respectful and mindful of each other.’
‘I really messed up with Groyven. Before I apologised last night I screamed at him, saying that he wasn’t my brother. And when I did apologise he told me to stay away and then he burst into flame. He told me that I have been hurting him every day in some way, I don’t want to lose him, and I know he will agree to be Sialin’s apprentice, he likes her. She will take him away from me.’
Selera smiled, ‘Tiff, our home is Sialin’s home.’
‘But, how?’ asked Tiffaniel, suddenly curious.
‘I am her mentor, and when Mother and Father learned that she had no one outside of the Academy, they insisted that she would always have a home and family with them and us.’ said Selera.
‘But, yesterday. She…’ started Tiffaniel.
‘She has had enough of watching her adopted family damaging itself. She has been frustrated with me for a while now and she finally did what I couldn’t. She did what I thought was impossible. She protected your brother, she opened your eyes and she forced me to face my responsibilities. She asked nothing in return. I am grateful for her interference. She forced us back together.’ said Selera with a sigh.
‘Sialin is, our sister?’ asked Tiffaniel, surprise in her voice.
‘In a fashion, more of a cousin; if that helps you understand it better.’
Tiffaniel nodded, ‘But I don’t remember her from back then.’
‘You said you had dreams of blue flowers that came out at night.’ said Selera as she slid the yellowed, transparent papers back into their envelope.
‘They were hers?’
Selera nodded, ‘Every night, flowers.’ she looked at Tiffaniel, ‘Flowers that burned and danced and her native singing accompanied by her harp, she has another instrument, that sits on her lap or table, also with strings, but I am not sure of its name. Gods, she knows so many songs.’
‘I heard her singing yesterday, it was beautiful, her voice. I couldn’t understand it.’ said Tiffaniel.
Selera smiled, humming the tune.
‘Yes, that one.’ said Tiffaniel.
Selera nodded, ‘She has been singing that one a lot lately.’
Tiffaniel looked at her elder sister, watching her as she secured her instruments for measuring in drawer of the desk.
‘Lera, when will we reach the Enclave? Today?’
Selera looked up, ‘If all goes well, late this afternoon. Come, breakfast will not be delivered to us.’
Tiffaniel nodded as she followed Selera to the door, passing out into the sunlight of early morning as the sun washed the deck. Many of the crew were moving about, resetting the rigging and preparing for the day ahead.
The moment she saw Groyven she ran from Selera’s side. He was standing with Sialin on the deck looking at the scorch marks he had left on the wood the night before. A couple of the crew ruffled his hair as they passed, or patted his shoulder. He nodded his thanks to them as he talked quietly with Sialin. Tiffaniel stopped short, waiting for him to turn, her remembered dream still filling her with trepidation. As he caught sight of her, he smiled.
‘You can have that hug now, Tiff.’ Groyven said, his voice reaching her.
She looked at him, he seemed different, somehow changed from the day before, but still her brother. She stepped in and embraced him, burying her face in his shoulder, ‘I am so sorry, Ven. I just, I was, I.’
He smiled, ‘It is alright, Tiff.’ he looked her in the eyes, ‘Just no more attacks, please.’
She smiled awkwardly, ‘No more, I want my brother not the fire demon from last night.’
She looked at his face, ‘Are you Sialin’s apprentice?’ she whispered.
He nodded, returning her look and stepped back, closer to Sialin. Tiffaniel stood, she understood now. He was different, he had taken another step further, where she hadn’t. Instead of being with him on the journey, she had pushed him away in her rage. She had been warned many times, and she had refused to heed those warnings. She took a deep, steadying breath, trying to look happy, but realising that he was now at arms length for the moment and under the watchful eye of Sialin. She looked to the fyrelf, she was different too. Her hair up, her clothing more formal with even less skin than normal on display, her bearing proper and to be respected. Tiffaniel took another deep breath and faced Sialin, the words from the previous afternoon and evening still stinging.
‘Sialin, I am sorry, I have been terrible towards you, I have been selfish and have said things I should have not even been thinking. I am sorry.’ she glanced quickly at Groyven before looking back to Sialin.
Sialin stepped forward, ‘Tiffaniel, I accept your apology.’ she said as she leaned down, inspecting the mottled hand-print on Tiffaniel’s cheek.
‘Stay still,’ she said as she ran her hand over it, the bruise returning to unblemished skin.
‘You are now on the right path, Tiffaniel. Now you need to spend time and find yourself, who you are inside. When you are ready, I will hold out my hand to you like I did to your brother.’
‘Can I be your apprentice too?’ she asked hopefully.
‘Do not fear, Tiffaniel. I am not taking him from you. You will be still taking lessons with me and Groyven regularly. You demonstrate that you are ready, and Selera and I will consider it.’
Tiffaniel looked to her sister, to see Selera smile encouragingly.
‘I understand,’ she said while looking at Groyven.
She suddenly looked to the sound as she heard Darius’s voice call over the breeze, ‘Hoy, Selera? The Captain wants a word.’
Selera looked to the helm, her brows knitting, she looked briefly to Sialin.
‘Come, Tiffaniel. We haven’t eaten yet, either.’ Sialin said as she led the twins to the galley.
Selera quickly walked to the helm, the Captain and his First Mate discussing something heatedly.
‘Morning, Captain, Darius. What is the matter?’ she asked.
‘Selera.’ said the Captain, nodding his head to her, as Darius peered through a spyglass toward the horizon.
‘Another ship?’ she asked, shielding her eyes against the glare of the sun, ‘I can’t make them out.’
‘They are sailing with the sun at their back. Tight to the coast.’ Darius handed the spyglass to Selera, ‘Shield the lens, a hair under the horizon, just off the cliffs.’
Selera looked carefully, focusing the lens and keeping the glare of the sun out of it. Following Darius’s direction she found the sails.
‘They are riding the coast, dangerous, but fast.’ she observed.
‘What else do you see with those eyes of yours, Selera?’ asked the Captain.
She smirked, dipping into her power, her eyes glowing a ghostly blue, she scrutinised the distant vessel.
‘At the moment, they have the wind. There are no spells filling her sails.’ she concentrated harder, ‘She’s running light and is smaller than the Fiddle, she is not running colours.’
‘Is that all?’ asked Darius.
‘For the moment.’ Selera frowned, ‘I don’t like it.’
She looked carefully again, her eyes growing more intense, ‘They are catching us. At some point before mid-morning they will be alongside.’ she looked to the Captain, ‘There is something about it, she is keeping the coast behind, hiding her silhouette. To me, it is too convenient. Alone, she is no match for the Fiddle in a fight, but she’s chasing us.’
The Captain unrolled a chart of the coastline, quickly pointing out their position, ‘Alone she is no match. But, before we reach port there are a handful of coves that could conceal a vessel of that size.’
‘That’s right Captain, she weren’t behind us before dawn. She were waiting in a cove and started the chase hiding in the sunrise. We were being watched as we left port, we were tracked up the coast. She was waiting for our return journey.’ said Darius as he looked down the coastline on the map, ‘I bet she’s a distraction to have us watch our behind as she draws closer. Maybe launch one or even two more of the same or larger vessels from here and here as we come in close, heading us off as we are checking our backside.’ he said, pointing out places on the map.
The Captain looked at Selera.
She returned the look, knowing what he was thinking, ‘I agree, Captain.’
He nodded, ‘Darius, we ready for a fight. On the quiet. We don’t want anyone who is watching thinking something different is up. Near to a year and these fools still don’t understand. Gods, I will be glad once we are out of these waters.’
Selera looked at the distant vessel again, ‘How many do you think?’
The Captain and Darius shared a look, before Darius spoke, ‘At the most another three. I take that one behind us as a sloop-o-war. Another two or three of those, considering the size of those coves we have to pass. At the worst a frigate, an a corvette. Any of those combinations.’
He pointed to one cove in particular on the chart, ‘That one can berth a frigate cleanly. At the very least we have to expect something from that one.’
Selera nodded, ‘Someone has been observing us for a while, maybe a few weeks at least.’
She watched as the Captain rolled the chart back up, he looked at her from the corner of his eye, ‘I understand that Sialin messed Illias up last night, I checked in on him this morning. He won’t be of use.’ he stood straight, looking out at the horizon, ‘She only slapped him twice, but by the gods, his face! I spoke with her, before the incident with Groyven.’
Selera looked at him, ‘And?’
‘He deserved it. I am on her side. I just want you to know he won’t be of use, he can barely stand, much less see anything for that matter.’ he continued.
‘You talking about Illias? Cocky prick deserved it, the way he was slithering around deck of an evening.’ added Darius.
Selera looked at the Captain, ‘Sialin and I can handle them, are you prepared to play backup if needed?’
He looked at her and took a deep breath, ‘Only if we are about to be overwhelmed.’
She nodded in understanding, ‘Is the goal to disable or destroy?’
‘I don’t like them, but there are a lot of sharks in these waters.’
She chuckled, ‘Sometimes you can be so kind-hearted.’
‘Sometimes, my dear, you can be outright terrifying.’ he said in return.
She tilted her head at his frank admission, smiling at his choice of words, ‘Hopefully it doesn’t come to that.’