Nightwarder runs fast; Nightwarder runs deep
Silent and cold through the void's endless sleep
With a ghost for a master and a crew full of wraiths
It searches the stars with beauty and grace
Dawn was still hours away when Tianna was gently shaken awake by a small, furry hand.
"Is time," she was told. "We go." It was one of the kobold-like creatures, although this one was dressed differently, and so she assumed it was not the same one who had guided her through the hallways before, although she could not be certain.
Hurriedly she roused herself and gathered her things. There wasn't much to gather, really, and she had slept in her clothes.
The creature thrust forward a cloak. "You take. Is cold."
Tianna took the cloak. It was finely made, but looked warm enough. She slipped it on.
"Follow please," said the little creature, leading the way.
Again she was led through the winding and empty corridors. She was surprised to note that they were traveling upwards, higher into the mountain. This was strange because she was certain that the gigantic cavern filled with ships was downwards, not upwards. She asked the kobold, but the little creature simply shook his head and shrugged, not comprehending. Apparently it had less understanding of her language than the other one.
She resolved to keep her silence until the mystery explained itself.
After a few minutes of travel (during which time she did not see any other goblinkin) they emerged into a large cylindrical chamber which was bustling with activity. And the most unique spelljamming ship she had ever seen.
Tianna stared. Except for the few goblinkin she had seen in Reanyn's audience chamber, and the kobold who guided her, she had seen no other goblinkin. She had even begun to wonder how sparsely populated this place might be.
But the chamber before her was filled with goblinkin, of every size and variety, busily loading equipment, securing supplies, and checking the ship over. There were easily seventy of them, scurrying about, each with its own job to do. For Tianna, who had before yesterday never even seen a goblinkin in the flesh, it was a little shocking.
And then there was the ship. It was small, probably not more than seven or eight tons, and was of a design unlike any ship she had seen before. It reminded her of a shrikeship, but was much smaller than that vessel. It was shaped like a bird, with a slender deck and three lightweight sails, two of which extended laterally from the port and starboard sides of the body and the third of which fanned out from the stern. They looked like nothing so much as the wings and tail of a bird. Two rounded crystal windows, set on either side of the prow added to the effect, and an elongated device extended out of the prow. What this 'snout' could be Tianna could not fathom. It was certainly too spindly and delicate-looking to be a ram.
The sails were constructed of some material Tianna was not familiar with. They were gauzy nearly to the point of transparency, and certainly appeared too flimsy to be of any real use in manuevering. In the turbulent atmosphere of Armistice, the delicate wings would be ripped apart like so much paper.
She spotted Reanyn, who was giving orders to a couple of orcs in that unfamiliar language. As they nodded and moved off to obey, his eyes locked with hers. He approached.
"Good morning," he said, drawing up to her. "You are ready to board? We have a long journey ahead of us."
"In that thing? You can't be serious."
He stared at her.
"It's useless," said Tianna. "You can't expect it to fly you anywhere. It's pretty, sure, but it would be torn to bits by the first gust of wind that hits it."
Reanyn smiled. "Appearances can be deceiving. It's stronger than you might think. But its main qualities are speed and manueverability. It's not much of a warship, but it can outfly anything else that's out there."
"Where did you find it?"
"It was a gift from the royal family of Thesalys, the empire of Greatspace. A hummingbird-class. There are only three such ships in existance."
A hobgoblin approached, bowed, and said something in that peculiar language Tianna did not understand.
Reanyn nodded and bowed. "The ground crew has finished it's last minute inspection, and are satisfied the ship has not been sabotaged," he explained as the creature hurried off. "A mere formality in Safehaven, of course. Everything is prepared. I have a few final instructions for Natach, after which we will lift."
He turned to a kobold who had approached while they were talking, and spoke to it. Tianna realized it was Natach, the first kobold she had met. She listened to them converse in that strange language for a few moments, but it was quickly apparent that Reanyn had already dismissed her presence.
After a moment, Tianna left them and wandered up to the ship. There was a boarding ladder, as finely wrought as the rest of the ship, and she quickly made her way up onto the main deck.
A little goblin, decked out in a smart ruby-colored uniform, approached her. It made a small bow, barely an inclination of the head, and adressed her. "Jalhadi may tour ship after lift-off. I will guide to quarters."
There was a heavy, grating sound from above, followed by the howling of the wind. Tianna looked up, and was amazed to see that a gigantic crack was widening in the ceiling, beyond which lay the gray of pre-dawn and the perpetual storm. Apparently the ceiling was actually made up of two thick stone halves which slid apart to give access to the outside. As she watched, a flurry of snow shrieked in, and a wave of bitter cold passed into the room. Tianna found herself shivering, and she was suddenly grateful for the cloak.
The little goblin bowed again. "Come, jalhadi."
Tianna saw Reanyn approaching the ship. Behind him, well away from the ship, stood a group of goblinkin, at the front of which stood the kobold Natach-redic, Keeper of the Stone. She wondered if they would watch the ship liftoff. "Not yet," she said to the goblin. "I want to see the liftoff."
"Jalhadi freeze; get blown off ship." The goblin shrugged as if that would be fine with him.
"I have cloak," said Tianna, unconsciously slipping into the goblin's speech pattern, then catching herself angrily. "I will not freeze," she snapped. "And I won't fall off either."
"Will fall," maintained the goblin. "Winds very strong on Armistice."
"Then how do the rest of the crew manage to stay on?" she asked. "Surely you don't all go below?"
"They lash themselves to their stations," said Reanyn, swinging over the rail and landing on the deck. "Those that have to stay above, anyway. I myself ususally go below. I see that you have met Garn. He isn't a normal member of the crew. I've assigned him to you, since he's the only other person aboard that speaks common." The goblin was bowing deeply, and beaming with pride; evidently it was a great honor to serve in any capacity on the Kitchva-lanrac's personal ship, even if it was only to translate for a jalhadi. "He will act as your translator, and if you're smart you'll get him to teach you some Wravvish too."
A towering ogre, bundled in heavy furs, made his way to the spelljamming throne, which was located on the slightly raised quarterdeck, and began strapping himself in. Tianna was amazed. An ogre helmsman? That didn't make any sense. Helmsman had to be spellcasters. Could ogres cast spells?
The ogre bellowed a question out, and Reanyn barked an answer. Then a vibration began to thrum through the deck which ran beneath their feet.
"What is it?" asked Tianna, suddenly afraid. "What's happening?"
"Watch and see," responded Reanyn.
The wings and tail began to beat. Slowly at first, then faster and faster until they were a blur of motion.
Tianna was awestruck. No spelljamming ship she had ever heard of had such capabilities, and no spelljamming engine could have generated such power. The ship lifted effortlessly off the ground.
Surprisingly, despite the rapid beating of the wings and tail there was very little agitation apparent on deck. Aside from the slight tremble, there was no noticable effect at all.
So that's why they call it a hummingbird! she thought.
The ship lifted smoothly up the chimney, passing up out of the mountain. There was suddenly much more force to the wings, the cold was much more fearsome than before.
"We should get below now," said Reanyn. "it's not so bad at this altitude, but things get really violent about ten miles up."
* * *
The liftoff was, surprisingly, much more gentle than the planetfall had been, perhaps because of the superior handling of the ship. Certainly it was bumpy, but not unbearable.
The ship itself had been christened Shazail-Tamach, which, Garn informed Tianna, translated to Nightwarder.
In the first few hours after lifting planet, Tianna learned her way around the small ship, Garn in tow, familiarizing herself with the crew and their functions. None of the crew members were particularily friendly, most ignoring her completely and almost all of them wincing as she tried to pronounce their names, but Tianna was not deterred. She knew how long the voyage might be, and had resigned to keep herself busy doing something; learning the names and stations of the crew members was at least something.
Apart from Garn the ship was manned by about nine other goblinkin. Reanyn served as the captain, of course, and the chief navigator. The first officer was a large and serious-minded gnoll called Keryth. (The name was elven, curiously.)
The chief helmsman was the ogre Tianna had seen earlier. He was small for one of his kind, standing only about nine and a half feet tall (he was still cramped when he went belowdecks). His name was Gryth. He was assisted and relieved in his duties by two junior helmsmen: Macha and Chowat, both of whom were orcs. (They were also both priests, though exactly what deity they worshipped, if indeed they both worshipped the same deity, was unclear.)
There was an assistant navigator as well, a bespectacled little kobold by the name of Gotam. He kept himself busy double and triple-checking all of Reanyn's calculations, but was really only onboard in case something should befall Reanyn.
The quartermaster's position was filled by an exceptionally tidy and soft-spoken hobgoblin called Vimal, who also doubled as the ship's cook. He was assisted in his work by a skinny orc called Tarlach.
And that was about all Tianna learned.
For the first two days after lifting they ran 'dark', with every light aboard extinguished, making for Armistice's second moon, Vesta. It didn't take long for Tianna to puzzle out why; this was Armistice they had lifted from, after all. There would be an elven man-o-war monitoring planet activity, and although the odds were long that they might be spotted by another craft it was best not to take chances. Tianna thought about lighting a signal lantern to attract attention (after all she had only given her word to remain silent about anything she might see; not signalling other elves wasn't part of the bargain), but she quickly abandoned the idea. She had no such lantern, and there was a good chance the signal would go unseen in any case.
When they reached Vesta (Reanyn's home, incidentally, although he was almost never there) the Nightwarder was put into orbit. For the next hour Reanyn and the assistant navigator closeted themselves in the captain's cabin, poring over star-charts and sphere-configurations.
When they finally came out, Reanyn barked curt orders to the chief helmsman (coordinates, Tianna assumed, though she didn't understand) and the Nightwarder pulled out of orbit, headed for deep wildspace.
* * *
The journey to the inner edge of the crystal sphere was long, but uneventful. They saw no sign of any other spelljamming vessels, or any of the varied creatures of the void, which was not really surprising. Wildspace was vast; the odds were long against encountering anything other than the blank and featureless void. That didn't mean it never happend, though, and crew kept a careful watch.
By the sixth day, Tianna was well and truly frustrated. She had learned little more of the strange goblinkin language than the crewmembers' names despite her best efforts, and the crew, from helmsman to ship's cook, were ignoring her as if she didn't exist. Her best attempts at communication with them were met with an irritated sniff and a narrowing of the eyes. Reanyn himself, when he was out of his quarters at all, was as uncommunicative as ever, refusing even to tell her what their destination might be.
Garn, the only creature aboard who seemed to notice that she was even alive, was the most irritating factor of all. He was always at her elbow, night or day (ship's time; in the void there was no difference), ostensibly to help her find her way. In reality, although he was polite enough, and willing to listen to her questions, he told her practically nothing of worth. He would smile and shake his head, saying "Not understand, jalhadi." whenever she would ask anything that touched on a sensitive subject. He always referred to her as 'jalhadi' too, even though she told him her name several times and asked him not to use the derogatory expression. Again he would smile and shake his head. "Not understand, jalhadi." She was beginning to think he felt it was his personal mission in life to annoy her.
Finally she had put a stop to it. "Look," she had said, "the Kitchva-lanrac instructed you to help me, right? To show me everything and make me understand, right?"
"Yes, jalhadi." He had smiled brightly, as if privately amused.
"Because, other than him, you were the best aboard at speaking common, right?"
Again. "Yes, jalhadi."
"Have you know honor, no shame?" she had asked venomously.
Puzzlement. "What, jalhadi?"
"I am learning nothing of your language. I am learning nothing of your ways. This is your responsibility, yes?"
A frown. "Yes, jalhadi."
"And you were given this responsibility so that the Kitchva-lanrac would not have to be burdened with this, yes?"
The brow was creasing in thought. "Yes, jalhadi."
"You are failing in your responsibility. Shall I have to burden the Kitchva-lanrac with my ignorance? Should he have to do what you were assigned to do? Where then is your place on this vessel? What then is your purpose? Do you wish to be so shamed?"
The frown was very deep now. "No, jalhadi," he had answered reluctantly, "I would not have this happen. I shall try harder to educate you."
"See that you do," she had snapped. "There is no room for disobediance to the Kitchva-lanrac. And the first step to helping educate me in your ways is for you to learn a little of mine. From now on you will refer to me as Tianna, not jalhadi. Jalhadi means one who bends honor, yes? I should call you jalhadi, for your laziness in performing your chosen task."
From that time on he had called her Tianna, and become markedly more helpful. Tianna wasn't certain, but she thought the crew paid her more respect as well, nodding at her and grunting when they passed her on deck. There were still places on ship that were barred to her, but she began to learn a little more about how those on board.worked with each other. She even began to pick up snatches of their strange language.
Two days later, they reached the edge of Winterspace. The inner wall was a black, featureless wall that stretched for as far as the eye could see in every direction.
So dark was it that they couldn't initially see it; it was only when the Nightwarder dropped out of spelljamming speed that they knew for certain they had reached it. Quickly one of the orc priests was summoned above deck to cast the spell which would open a portal through the shell (the ogre-mage was manning the helm).
The order went down to kill all fire sources, and the ship held position about a mile from the portal as the crew went through it from top to bottom, making certain that every flame aboard was extinguished. Once the ship entered the rainbow ocean, it would lose its own atmosphere. The phlogiston, while quite as breathable as normal air, was highly volatile, and if exposed to flames of any kind would violently explode. Lanterns were not necessary for travel through the Flow anyway; the phlogiston itself was brightly luminescent.
After a thorough search, which took about ten minutes or so, the order was given to proceed through the shell. Quickly the helmsman took the ship through and into the phlogiston.
Tianna had come up on deck, and was watching the proceedures with interest. These goblinkin - no, Wravvish, she mentally corrected herself - were unlike any spacefaring race she had ever seen. As varied as they were, they each knew their jobs aboard ship, and worked together like a well-oiled machine. They certainly were better disciplined then she would have thought.
And then the portal through the wall opened, and a riot of color spilled out.
As the ship passed through the shell into the Flow, Tianna shivered. What spacefarer could deny the alien beauty of the rainbow ocean? The phlogiston didn't feel any different then normal air did when it played against the skin, but the effect of the colors and lights was awe-inspiring.
Ripples of hazy red and blue streamed over the ship; yellow and green bubles played over the deck. Purple, pink, orange, crimson, emerald, violet. Every color was in every direction, and each cast its own fleeting shade and personality onto Tianna's face for a few moments. She always had thought the Flow was strangely quiet for such a riot of motion and color.
Behind the ship the gigantic sphere stretched out of sight in every direction, ebony and unforgiving. The curvature was so slight that it appeared to be perfectly straight, like a wall. Already the portal the orc priest had opened was beginning to close. There was no danger of phlogiston seeping into the sphere; for some unknown reason phlogiston simply could not enter crystal spheres, not even when magically bottled. It turned into air.
When Tianna turned back, she was surprised to find Reanyn standing beside her. He said nothing, just leaned out over the rail, looking into the Flow. There was something in his eyes she had not seen before, and she wondered what it was.
Then it was gone, hidden again, and she was left to wonder whether she had really seen it at all.
He was giving orders again, heading for the nearest 'river'. The phlogiston flowed more quickly in some areas than others, forming rivers. In the rivers, it was possible to ride the phlogiston, which moved at greater speed the more densely it was packed. The deeper a ship dove into a river, the faster its journey would be. However, since the phlogiston was more and more dense the deeper into a river a ship went, it also became more and more difficult to see through it. Ships that traveled 'deep' were virtually blind to everything more distant than a few feet in front or behind. This wasn't generally a problem, because the Flow was generally empty, especially deep within the rivers, but spelljamming ships had to 'surface' every so often to make certain they hadn't passed their destinations. Because the rivers' courses were more or less stable, they served as permanent roads between the crystal spheres.
The Nightwarder plunged into the river. There was no sensation of greater speed, since the phlogiston around the ship was still traveling faster, and sped by the ship. But suddenly the black wall which they had left behind was gone; obscured by the dense haze of the colorful phlogiston, and Tianna knew they were traveling at incalculable speeds.
After a few moments Reanyn went below again. Tianna decided to stay on deck for a few minutes more, admiring the play of the Flow.