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The Traveller: Sorrow Has The Swiftest Wings – Chapter 3

***Don’t say it***, begged Mariella, from the edge of The Traveller’s mind. ***Please – not with my mouth…***

***Why not?***, replied The Traveller as they both gazed in wonder at the image on the view-screen of The Endless Sunrise. ***There couldn’t be a more fitting moment for it…!***

“Well”, The Traveller said for all to hear, “all” being “her”, Mariella and Irinati, “that most definitely is something you don’t see every day.”

That phrase was The Traveller’s equivalent of Irinati’s “Convergence…”, and it was certainly true of the mighty starship on the screen. Its hull was essentially two long slender wings, like the sail and keel of some incredible sail-boat, with an engine pod like a stretched tear-drop growing out of the straight trailing edge of each “wing”, halfway along its length. Something approaching a “main body” formed where the wings met, but the only outstanding feature had to be the “greenhouse” sphere of glass facets at that central body’s tail-end, which contained a fragment of land, an “uprooted” island held in place at the sphere’s centre by arches of metal and enclosed access tubes.

“The Pride Of Kraan II“, declared The Traveller. “Mobile home and base of operations for The Adventurers’ Guild of Kraan.”

***Yeah, okay***, Mariella admitted. ***That is pretty cool…***

Irinati stepped forward, seemingly hypnotised… but The Traveller sensed that it wasn’t the ship that had her enthralled. He expected her to utter her catchphrase, but instead, she started to reach up to the screen, as though trying to touch the image of a lover, only to stop herself, and gaze instead at the floor. Interesting, thought The Traveller. Maybe we should meet…

The Traveller went to the console that included the communications interface, and opened a channel to the AGK starship. “Pride of Kraan II, this is Dominion registered vessel The Endless Sunrise – hope we’re not intruding…”

There was a gap of two, maybe three seconds, then the view-screen switched to showing the image of a young man with red-hair woven into a long plait, wearing a high-necked body-suit of dark red leather, or something similar, trimmed with gold. “Dominion starship, this is Pride Of Kraan II, Jason Derwent, AGK, commanding”, he said. “You must be The Traveller – if our records are still accurate.”

“I am he – in mind, if not currently in body”, the explorer replied. “My current circumstances are rather, ah, complicated…”

“You played a vital role in freeing Mystalorn from the clutches of The Emperor”, said Jason. “That’s all we need to know. Our roots begin on Ealvonhai, and the world it became is still dear to us. Thank you.”

“You’d probably be surprised how rarely I get thanked for anything”, said The Traveller. “I am glad to have been of service to the universe.”

“At least let us offer you the comfort of our vessel for a while”, suggested the AGK leader. “We’re all adventurers, after all, and we do have more than enough space on board.”

“Delighted”, said The Traveller. “Just point me in the direction of a suitable access port, ideally an internal door that’s not in frequent use… which I seem to be unable to detect…”

“The Pride Of Kraan II is a combination of Syari and Mystalorn technology”, explained Jason. “That may throw your sensors off a bit. Hold on – I’ll get our onboard manufacturing facility to make you something.”

“There’s no need to go to any great lengths for us”, The Traveller began, but by the time he had finished speaking, a brand new doorway had appeared on his sensor grid, in a chamber not far from the command deck of the AGK starship.

“Not such great lengths after all”, the explorer murmured under his breath, then he continued out loud: “Thank you, Commander – I have the doorway on my screen, and we’ll be joining you shortly.”

The gentle purring of the “engines” of The Endless Sunrise changed pitch, rising in frequency and volume before dropping sharply back to a barely audible, pulsing hum. “And we have contact”, said The Traveller, consulting the dimensional interface display. “Locked on nicely – now, let’s go and say hello!”

Once all the controls were safely locked in docking mode, The Traveller swept out of the control hub, and out onto the open balcony surrounding the central core of his incredible vessel. Stairways rose from each level, spiralling out to the walkways running around the inside of the stained-glass sphere, culminating near the top of the sphere, where a platform was attached to the inside surface – and there, set in the wall of the vessel, was a plain, unobtrusive door, off-white in colour, with a pearl handle in a polished brass setting.

The Traveller, long, front-slit skirt swirling, led the way to that door, with Irinati close behind. Exactly as expected, the door swung open not into the void of space, but the interior of a storage bay, or other such utility room. The walls were smooth, gently curving to the ceiling, the material of them like translucent plastic, seemingly radiating its own faint light. That glow illuminated two figures, standing by the chamber door – Jason Derwent, standing as tall as The Traveller’s chest, and a woman of around the same height, with dark brown skin, and straight black hair, in tight shiny black shorts and thigh-high boots to match, teamed with an incongruous short-sleeved shirt, dark bluish-green and with the number “37″ on the chest in large, boxy white numerals.

“Hey” said the woman. “Now, I’m totally cool with cross-dressing guys – y’ see quite a bit of that in this business, ‘specially around Lu-Khi… but I’m not so sure about the sex-change thing…”

“Please, Sleek”, sighed Jason. “If you don’t mind…?”

***I don’ get it***, Mariella intervened. ***They’re brother an’ sister, yeah…?***

***Correct***, replied The Traveller. ***The Derwents are a family unlike any other – all, well, “wished” into existence by one Lady Sable Derwent of Earth. the “Black Tyrant”. The details are… a bit too much to go into right now…***

“I hope our arrangements meet with your approval”, said Jason, extending a hand in welcome.

The Traveller looked back, and saw the doorway that had been freshly manufactured – a plain door, set in a square of wall with triangular “legs” at the end to support the whole strange structure. “It does the job”, said the adventurer, grasping the offered hand, “although something with better support would be preferable – in case we hit some turbulence…”

“We can fix that”, said Sleek, taking a data tablet from under her arm. “I’ll get cargo-haulers in here to hold it in place. That good enough?”

“That would certainly ease my mind”, said The Traveller. “It’s not a major issue – unless we’re going into combat.”

“Not so far this trip”, Jason told the explorer, as Sleek steered two remote controlled robotic cargo-handlers into the room, “and somehow I doubt we’ll see any before we hand over our patrol route. I suspect this whole Pandemonicum business has caused a lot of races to re-evaluate their strategies.”

“More’s the pity”, growled Sleek.

“Sleek’s a close quarters combat specialist”, Jason explained. “These kinds of circumstances don’t sit at all well with her, or Shadowsnake.”

“Oh, don’t I know it!“, spat the Derwent sister.

Once the wall-section was secured between the two cargo-robots, the Derwents and their guests left the storage area, and took a leisurely stroll through the ship’s main habitation decks to an observation gallery running part of the way along the side of the vessel. Along the way, Jason gave an intermittent commentary on features of the ship that he hoped were interesting, and which The Traveller absorbed eagerly, whilst Irinati just drifted along beside the adventurer, oblivious, giving Sleek the perfect target for thoughts and observation of her own.

“I may be a fighter, but that’s not all that I am”, elaborated the heroine. “I… I mean… c’mon…”

Met with no reassurances, or even sounds of vague acknowledgement from Irinati, Sleek’s argument fell on stony ground, and sounded incredibly hollow. “Oh, okay, I admit it – I’m a bloodthirsty killing machine with no life once football season is over. Guess I need a man – or a woman. Even a polysexual it at a stretch…”

“Maybe a pet.”

Irinati’s words were a ting oasis in the desert of the failed conversation, and Sleek drank her fill. “A pet? Yeah… maybe – but it’d have to be something pretty cool. Something I could ride, something that’d be good in a fight – so not some girly ‘sparkle-pony’ with a brushable an’ styleable mane, an’ flowers an’ butterflies on its ass…”

Sleek looked round, and found she was talking to thin air. Irinati had stopped at the last junction, and was staring down a dimly lit side-passage, transfixed by something in the darkness. “If it’s dark, it ain’t worth seein’, sweetie”, said Sleek, going to retrieve the girl. “Probably the only thing down there’ll be Cloudmane…”

The heroine peered into the darkness. “Hey, Cloudy – y’in there? C’mon – c’mon out an’ say hello…”

“Sleek, do not talk to your brother like he’s… a puppy“, said Jason sternly. “If he wants to meet our guests, he’ll… join us…”

The shadows shifted, almost as though getting out of the way of the figure that emerged. He was of a similar stature to the Derwents, no more than a few inches taller than Jason and Sleek, his straight white hair streaming down almost to the floor. “Hello”, murmured Cloudmane, his eyes and Irinati’s locked together. “I… I sensed you. You… came…”

Irinati blinked, and all she could say, in barely a whisper, was a single word: “Yes…”

“Oh”, remarked The Traveller, as the rest of the party joined the stragglers. “Now this is interesting…”

“Interesting?”, gasped Sleek. “Interesting? No, ‘pathetic’ is what I’d call it. How does Cloudmane get a girl before pathetic little me? Goddess, I’m depressed…”

“How indeed?”, mused Jason. “We seem to have brought a little mystery on board.”

…o O o…

***Mission One One Seven – Additional:- Ever since The Traveller and… “his” companion came aboard – and perhaps even before that – Cloudmane has been, for want of a better word, “agitated”, but not in a bad way. I can’t recall a recent time when he’s been more… himself, talkative, expressing emotion – he’s almost my brother again. All these years, he’s been half a person, if that, and from what The Traveller has told me, the same has been true for “his” companion, Irinati – again, until today. It’s almost as though they somehow reach “critical mass” together, “adding up” to being a whole person, and sharing the experience.

***I would explore the matter in greater depth, but now’s plainly not the time to intrude. i think the solution to Cloudmane’s problem is not one we can somehow telepathically reproduce – the solution, it seems, is Irinati, as I’m sure we’ll see when she has to leave.

***I just hope it doesn’t hurt my brother too much to see her go. Maybe he’ll be inspired to go and seek her out. We’ll just have to deal with that, and whatever else comes our way, as and when it happens. Entry ends.***

Moments after telepathically completing his log entry, Jason felt a familiar weight on his shoulder; two hands, fingers interlaced, a delicate chin rested upon them, and heard a familiar voice murmuring in his ear. “Penny for your thoughts?”

“They’re in the mission record”, he told Suya. “I just wish Za’Lita was here, to give me her view – this is much more her thing…”

“I don’t think there’s any deep mystery”, said Suya, resting her cheek on her husband’s shoulder as she looked at Cloudmane and Irinati, standing at the observation window, talking as they gazed out into space. “They… they found each other. My people believe in something you might call ‘love at first sight’ – although it’s far, far deeper than that.”

“You think that’s what’s going on here?”

“I… no, I don’t think so”, Suya replied. “They sensed each other long before they actually met, and Irinati is directly linked to a source of considerable mystic power. A power that links back to Mystalorn, from what I’ve heard…”

“…and there’s the connection”, observed Jason. “Or at least a connection.”

“Maybe so”, said his wife. “But for now, let’s just leave them be. It never pays to tempt fate.”

Jason and Suya strolled over to the other end of the gallery, closer to where The Traveller stood with Sleek and the Dracbrood warrior Wrathwing – but Jason couldn’t help but think about Cloudmane. The third of Lady Sable Derwent’s “children”, Cloudmane had been “born” to be the bodyguard for his older siblings as they began to explore their world, and soon after worlds beyond that, including The Nether-Realm of Kraan. He’d started as the voice of reason, but soon became “one of the gang”; a reliable source of muscle, a team-mate, a friend – a brother.

But that didn’t last. Cloudmane died defending his family from the radical terrorist organisation known as “The Kl’aan” – a group fiercely opposed to all forms of “non-natural” life – and it was a sacrifice that was particularly hard to bear when the battle was finally won, and the identity of the Kl’aan-Master was revealed…

The Adventurers Guild of Kraan had crossed paths with The Imperial Temple of Tylugarna some time before. and The Imperial Temple had recovered genetic samples from the Derwents, using them to create a “non-natural” life-form of their own, the warrior-woman Medyra Darkstrider. As a part of their research, Tylugarna’s faithful had made a duplicate of Cloudmane, only for the “clone” to escape, and in its self-loathing, form an organisation dedicated to erasing such abominations from the universe.

It was then that The Imperial Temple performed an act of what some would call charity, an act so utterly out of character it still defied belief. Destroying their stocks of Derwent genetic samples, at the family’s insistence, Tylugarna’s followers attempted to compensate the AGK for their loss by using the last of Cloudmane’s biological matter to create a second duplicate to replace the original… but that replacement had never been, could never be the same.

Until now?, thought Jason. This Cloudmane doesn’t have my real brother’s memories – but that doesn’t mean he can’t be his own person

Jason had already shared Cloudmane’s history with The Traveller, and offered the explorer Suya’s observations. “And has Cloudmane exhibited any evidence of a connection with Mystalorn?”, asked The Traveller. “My first thought is that such a link isn’t likely to survive death, and cloning.”

No-one knows how Mystalorn works”, said Suya. “Even me, and I helped bring it into existence. Maybe… I don’t know… this might sound stupid, but ‘once a child of Mystalorn, always a child of Mystalorn’…?”

“Far from stupid”, assured The Traveller. “I’ve heard more bizarre explanations for more mundane things.”

“We’re The Adventurers’ Guild of Kraan”, said Jason. “‘Mundane’ just isn’t in our vocabulary. We have first-hand experience of all kind of ‘bizarre’, and sometimes, we just see things differently.”

“The wielders of the Warpsong powers, before you, they all had the ability to… sense things above and beyond the norm”, The Traveller said to Suya. “Perhaps you’re tapping into that ability yourself…”

“I get that occasionally“, admitted Suya, “but only under stress – and no, I don’t feel that I’ve been having any ‘cosmic awareness’ moments recently, let alone today. Sorry.”

“There’s no need to apologise”, assured the adventurer. “Every piece of information helps us along the way to enlightenment, however small the step.”

Suya smiled sweetly. “Glad I could help. Now, I suspect you two will have stuff to discuss – people like us just don’t meet out in the middle of space by chance, and I don’t need to be in touch with the universe to know that!”

“She’s right, you know”, said Jason, as Suya strolled away to watch over Irinati and Cloudmane. “You’re not here just to find a friend for your companion, and if the reports we have on file are accurate, you just don’t show up on a whim, or by accident. Would you care to elaborate, or is this… special Dominion business, and none of ours…?”

“Given your experience in the hero business, it might be worth getting your view on the matter”, answered The Traveller. “It’s about this Doomstone character…”

“Then it’s even better for all concerned that we met out here”, said Jason warily. “Come, let’s find a quieter spot…”

…to be continued…