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How are you feeling?

Seeing 3 on the upper deck, gazing across the sky, Brenzel walked up, said hi, then hugged him.

“How is your day?” he asked, smiling down at her.

“I don’t know, I feel odd. How are you feeling?”

“I’m okay, but others seem to be on edge, too,” 3 said.

“Um, there is something I want-“

“Hey 3, could you help us a moment?” Tane shouted from up by the main mast as he and his crew tried to raise the yardarm with what was left of the main sail.

“Sure. Just a moment. What did you want to say?” 3 looked at Brenzel as she averted his searching eyes.

“No – nothing. We can talk another time,” Brenzel said.

Looking at her, then at the waiting men, 3 said, “Guard yourself today, Brenzel.”

Nodding, Brenzel watched him go.

Yeah, it’s okay, I can tell you later. Ugh! Brenzel thought, folding her arms. What is wrong with me?

Making her way down to the galley, Brenzel found a loaf of bread, cut a slice off, then sat down on the bench and began eating it. I should tell him about the black feather…But he’s got other things on his mind.

Hatty, Brenzel thought, is never this unsure about anything. I wish I was like her. He needs to know, I’ll tell him this evening, Brenzel pledged to herself.

Look here, Missy

Finishing the last of the crust, her favorite part, Brenzel went back up on deck. The sky looked orange, as always. I wish it was blue, she thought. Looking up at the patchwork on the main sail she shuddered. I sure hope those ugly birds don’t show up again. Making her way to the front of the airship, she slowed when she heard Meandre arguing with one of the crew members, she thought his name was Ni, but couldn’t remember exactly.

“No, I said you need to tie it like this! If you tie it like that it could unravel!” Meandre said.

“Look here, Missy,” the big man said, irritation in his voice, “just because you’re with the captain, doesn’t mean you can order me around. I’ve been sailing just as long as you and my knot is just fine. Give a guy some space to do his job!”

Arguing over a knot? Brenzel rolled her eyes and ignored them and kept on going forward, hand slipping along the smooth railing of the ship. At first, she had been very nervous when the ship left dock, floating up into the heavens, the ground receding from view. But now, she didn’t mind it so much.

What she didn’t like was the cramped space. There was hardly any privacy. She’d had to lock herself in her quarters just to get away for some alone time.

Since the feather, it felt good to be alone. The black feather had shocked her to her core. In retrospect, she very much wished she’d placed it in her hat band. What’s the worst they could do? She felt Wichapi was close, just out at the edge of her senses. If she just stretched out a little harder…a little further…they would touch.

She reached the front of the ship, the patched triangle-shaped sail billowing in the slight breeze roped to the pole to point the way forward. The horizon appeared hazy and orange, as it always did. Down below the bleak desert rolled on forever.

Brenzel imagined what it would feel like to stand on the rail, holding on to a rope, placing one foot over the edge. A thrill shot down her spine, or was it a chill? She couldn’t decide which. If she fell, would someone catch her? Maybe 3? It felt delicious to think of forcing something to happen, anything. Falling with nothing around her, free. Maybe Micron was right, perhaps this was a suicide mission. She just felt icky in the stomach. She took a deep breath and sighed.

Captain?

She turned around again, looking down at the void. Suddenly, she sensed a blackness. Birds again? No, that didn’t feel right. She walked down midship and found Tane putting away tools in a cabinet.

“Captain?” she said.

“Yes, Brenzel?” he said, turning to look at her momentarily, then latching the cabinet securely.

“Something’s. . . wrong, something’s out there.”

Studying her face, Tane said, “Sorry, can’t go back.”

“You didn’t tell us everything did you?” she accused, feeling her face redden. “It’s even more dangerous than you said, isn’t it?”

Taking her arm gently, he pulled her aside, behind the other side of the mast. “Look, don’t drift like this.”

Angry now, she said, “What in the hell do you mean?!”

“It’s negative energy, The Null I told you about, your feeling the effects of it.”

Looking at the Kumite Captain, she remembered him warning everyone that they may begin to feel badly.

“I remember you saying that,” she said, removing his hand from her arm and calming a bit. “So that’s why I feel this way?”

“Yes,” Tane replied, “and it will get worse the longer we’re over The Null. That’s why 3’s going to attempt to pull the ship, to get us clear of The Null as soon as possible.”

“Shit,” Brenzel said with a frown.

***

Time moved at a snail’s pace as she lay in her bunk, looking over at the wall. Everything inside her felt tense, irritated. She thought about looking at her trunk again, but closed her eyes. The creaking of the ship and the muffled voices above her, on the deck, agitated her. There was no possibility of a nap.

Suddenly she felt something in her hand. Opening her eyes and sitting up on one elbow she open her left hand and stared, another black feather!

“Wichapi!”

Brenzel flopped back down on the bunk, bringing the soft blackness close to her eyes, pulling it across her cheek as she’d done before, feeling it’s vibrant warmth. What could they do to me anyway? I’m important to their plans, that much is clear, she thought, rising up, swinging her legs over the side of the bed.

Tipping her hat, she hesitated. She felt badly that she did. Wichapi wouldn’t hesitate, she was strong, not like her, always trying to please others and for what? What did it get her? Nothing…

It was a queer feeling, like accepting a fourth or fifth glass of wine when she knew she shouldn’t, but at that point, hey, she just didn’t give a damn, she just needed to feel…good. Consequences didn’t exist.

It felt like she was standing, watching herself raise her arm up, finding the hat band, inserting the black feather.

Everything moved sideways.

It wasn’t gentle

It wasn’t gentle. With a sudden, hard jolt, her body came to an abrupt stop and collapsed on the ground, like tripping and falling against a wall. There was no sense of traveling, just of being where she was, then being where she moved to. Overwhelming power.

Coughing, she wiped her watering eyes, standing up, trying to focus. She looked around at what she guessed was a mountain top. It was chilly, windy, she folded her arms across her breasts against the cold. Sensing Wichapi’s presence, Brenzel wheeled about, heart pounding, feeling weak in her knees. As she rotated, she saw Wichapi standing a few paces away, six black wings unfurling around her form, smiling that knowing smile of hers. Trembling, Brenzel walked towards Wichapi’s outstretched arms, accepting her warm embrace.

They both wept.

As they did, their souls fused once more, like the first time they’d met. All the good times revived in her heart and mind, like a dry lake suddenly filling with a spring thaw.

“I have missed you so much,” Brenzel whispered, her face buried in her friend’s long black locks. “I thought I’d never see you again.”

The Lakota maiden just cried, sobbing deeply in her arms.

Finally, after quieting herself, Wichapi said between sniffles, “I am so sorry, Brenzel. Her eyes looked with such remorse into Brenzel’s. I know I hurt you and I am am so sorry. Please forgive me. The moment I said it, I regretted it, but I was too proud to turn around and say I didn’t mean it.” She brushed Brenzel’s hair out of her face. “With each step I took away from you, I died a little more. I wish I would have just turned around and asked you to forgive me then, that’s what I really wanted, what I really needed.”

Please still be my friend

Then she stepped back a little, gazing into Brenzel eyes, pleading, “Forgive me and still be my friend… please?”

In Wichapi’s deep brown eyes, Brenzel saw the same vulnerable dark-haired maiden who walked out of the lake and touched her fingers to hers in a way that united their hearts and souls forever. What she felt towards her now was just as strong, if not greater, than she had during those summer days underneath the vast wilderness sky. Raising her hand to Wichapi’s cheek feeling her tears, Brenzel leaned forward and kissed her friend’s trembling lips, saying, “Of course I forgive you, Wichapi.”

Wichapi, smiling and giddy with relief, hugged Brenzel again, tightly, as her black wings wrapped gently around them both, shutting out a cold and windy world.

Black Hole by Giff (Hackney Church)

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