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Komae shuttered her mind, closing herself off to everyone, drawing in upon shame, too afraid to be seen. It was foolish of course, no one could get in anyway…well, except Brenzel. But she was gone again, Komae had felt her leave a while ago.

Damian walked away, but the effect of his revelation lingered in the most uncomfortable way. She felt undone, knocked almost unconscious in her heart, mind numbed to the enormity of what he’d just said.

Komae remembered that tragic day – the day he spoke of. She’d only focused on the dying woman, reading her thoughts of love as she faded from life. The grieving man’s pain was too severe to let in, and she’d turned away from him in her thoughts, shielding as much of his anguish from her mind as possible.

Yet, now she knew it beyond doubt. Damian was that man.

If she were in the forest, she would run for days until exhausted. Here, confined to the airship, she couldn’t escape herself. As if a cruel foe forced her to look at the ugliness inside her, holding her face to a mirror, pulling her eyelids wide, she could not help but see what she was, feel what she’d done, realize…she was a murderer.

Cowering in a corner, behind boxes, she wept.

A voice came from behind her, “Komae?”

She did not answer, trying to shrink further into the corner.

Arcane sense

Arms cautiously came around her shaking shoulders, holding her gently from behind. She couldn’t believe the irony, yet somehow it made a type of arcane sense.

Meha said nothing, but just remained near. It was enough.

Finally, drying her tears and wiping her nose, Komae turned and embraced the small Hadite woman. “I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry for everything I’ve done to your kind,” she whispered.

Komae felt only concern in Meha’s heart. Letting go, she sat back as the weight of years lifted from her shoulders. Meha’s smaller fingers reached out and took hers, rubbing the back of her hands as she held them. The Hadite managed a little smile. “Don’t be sad, Komae,” she said, “we all love you.”

Reaching out to Meha’s cheek and stroking it gently, Komae smiled, then laughed a little, shaking her head in wonder.

***

Brenzel closed the door to the carriage, paying the driver extra coin to make sure her baby arrived home promptly. As the wheels and hoofs clattered away, she removed her mask and looked at Wichapi. “You can take your mask off now,” she said.

The Lakota did, but said, “I like this, I’m going to keep it.”

“Suit yourself,” Brenzel said as she walked off over the lawn, away from the continuing commotion at the manor house.

Wichapi caught up with her, asking her to slow down. “You’re mad at me,” she accused.

“No, that’s not it.”

“Then why are you acting angry?”

Brenzel stopped and turned to look at Wichapi. “It’s impossible! Here I am, inches from my baby girl, and I can’t even tell her who I am.”

“At least you can be with her,” Wichapi shrugged.

“All I can do is this,” Brenzel argued, moving her arms up and down, “This….this masquerade.”

Wichapi studied her face, and Brenzel saw her compassion.

“I know you feel badly, my sister,” Wichapi said, “anyone would. But you were here for her tonight, when she really needed you. What would that man have done if you hadn’t stopped him? It may not be all you want yet, but at least you did what good mothers do – you protected Iris.”

Realizing her friend’s words, Brenzel took a deep breath and steadied herself. Wichapi always had an amazing way of seeing the truth of any situation. “We did help her, didn’t we?” she asked, looking up into the night sky.

“Come,” Wichapi said, taking Brenzel’s arm in hers, “let’s discuss how we are going to always be there for Iris and at the same time keep you in the good graces of this Joshua fellow you want to please so much.”

***

A knock came loudly as Brenzel awoke with a start, sprawled on her bed in the Marauder airship. Again, it came, even louder. “Go away,” she answered.

Damian’s voice said, “Get up. We’re over Butcher Clan territory.”

Sighing and rubbing her nose, Brenzel opened one eye, then the other. She felt like she’d gotten no rest at all. “I’ll be out in a minute.”

The footsteps outside her door faded as Damian walked away.

Slowly sitting up, she propped herself and smelled her armpits. Still okay, she shrugged, remembering the luxurious bath with Wichapi.

One leg, then the other stood slowly. She wiggled into her blouse, vest, stockings, boots…each one seemed a struggle as she willed her limbs to obey.

Dressed, she sat on the mattress, thinking. This never ends. One crisis to the next. Suddenly, she felt a longing for Elysia and her five young friends. After this, she thought, I’m asking for time off. I need a ride.

***

Mounting the steps, Brenzel grabbed the beams on the wall, helping her feet up to the deck where she was greeted by an orange sky and much commotion. Every crewman manned the rigging, while everyone else looked over one side of the airship, silent, waiting.

“What’s going on?” she asked, as she walked up behind Derek and Fallon.

The big scout turned around. “Captain says theys have harpoons. Grapplin’ hooks.” He turned back around and pointed to the city below.

“That’s impossible, we’re too high,” Brenzel said as she looked over the ship’s railing, estimating their distance to the ground to be at least a thousand feet.

An explosion rang out below, then she saw it. Something was flying right at them. Everyone jumped back as the metal claw flew past the airship’s side, ripping one of the sails as it flew up and over.

Brenzel watched the rope attached to the huge grappling hook sail over her head like a long snake. Then it arced over the ship and began falling down the other side, its coil drawing sails and rigging down with it.

“Axes!” the Hadite captain yelled, as men scrambled to cut the large line.

As they hacked, the line drew down, taut, drawing the multi-prong hook back up, lodging it into the ship’s side.

“Put your backs into it men or you’ll be Butcher supper tonight!” the captain yelled.

Finally the rope snapped. The metal hook slid off the hull, whipping the rope along with it, the end barely missing one of the men.

Righting itself, the ship pitched and wobbled as everyone held on.

Why are we flying so low?

“Why are we flying so low?” Brenzel yelled out to the captain. He didn’t reply, he was looking over the rails again.

Brenzel looked around the orange sky, wishing Wichapi’s ugly winged beast were flying around them.

Two more explosions came from below. The captain spun the wheel around, throwing a lever as the ship turned hard, listing to one side. Both hooks fell wide off their mark.

Holding on to the railing, Brenzel saw Derek raise a long rifle, taking aim from the ship’s bow. He fired again and again, raining hot lead down upon those who managed the harpoon. No more explosions.

Th airship crested the hills, leaving their adversaries behind.

The crew worked to repair the torn sail and rigging, while everyone else helped clean up. Brenzel followed Derek as they put things back in order. “Why were we so low if the captain knew they’d shoot at us?”

“Butchers has airships beyond those hills. If’n we didn’t stay low and out of sight, they’d attacks us in the air,” Derek answered as he rolled a barrel back into place, “he reckons its bests to risk the hooks.”

Okay, Brenzel thought. Never a dull moment.

Broken Arrows by Second Bird

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