From the Final Confession of Guy the Magnificent As Dictated to Inquisitor Amalia, Executor of Law, Manlo Province

Day the First

May I digress a little and tell you about how I once saved a princess, fair Inquisitor?

I ask as a formality of course, as this is my final confession and you’re law-bound to hear at least five days of it before I go to the Wall. I’m in no rush to wrap up my rather unusual story by omitting anything particularly juicy, and this bit has the novel value of being mostly true.

Does it surprise you that I, a freshly convicted murderer and worse, would perform such a stereotypical act of heroism as the rescue of a fair maiden? Despite the testimony you may have heard during the trial, you don’t know me all that well. That’s the reason we’re having this little chat, isn’t it, Inquisitor? To salve the conscience of your Church?

Oh don’t bother protesting, dear Inquisitor, or we’ll be here all day listening to you excuse your guilt at capital punishment. I’ve heard all the arguments either way and they bore me to tears. I’d much rather spend my last week narrating to you the memoirs I always planned to write myself in my golden years.

The tale I wish to speak today took place years and years ago, across the sea amid the Young Kingdoms. On the whole, these distant countries are mostly involved with each other, which may explain why they’re so rarely mentioned here, halfway across the globe. It was also why a young pup like myself ended up there.

The mechanics of my departure don’t really concern us at this juncture, Inquisitor fair, but suffice to say I needed to leave the Fey Nations in a relative hurry. I shipped out just after my twentieth season, in a less than ideal state of preparation. With nothing more than a rucksack with a writing slate, a change of clothes and that thin blade you were so interested in during the trial, I stowed aboard the good ship Dawnward at Plateau Point in the plains near the Great Forests.

The Dawnward was an ugly old scow of a cloud-topper, with a crew to match its blunt appearance, but she slipped over the Forest and picked her way through the Spine before setting out across the Angry Sea. I stayed hidden until halfway across the Sea by making a little nest for myself out amid the envelope’s rigging and was only found out after my overeager raids on the galley prompted a full ship search. I quite liked the nights out there, huddled in the freezing cold with nothing but a cantrip and a roll of cloth for warmth. Staring out at the tossing seas and distant Motile Islands was an experience that I always knew I’d take to the grave with me.

Regardless, the Captain, whose particulars were far less memorable than the view from his vessel, was not happy to have a stowaway who’d eaten the hunk of lamb he’d been saving for himself. It took some appealing to the general benevolence of all thinking creatures to convince them not to simply toss me over the side. To get my sword back from the Captain’s chest would take some additional work, but for the rest of the trip I was put to work in the galley I’d so rudely violated earlier. I’d known I was not suited to occupations manual from my youth, but having it be so rubbed in by the ship’s cook was a good reminder to be more disciplined in my skullduggery.

Our first port of call was the city of Aster in the Kingdom of Aster, ruled, unimaginatively enough, by one King Aster. The kingdom surrounding the city were drawn in shades of brown and tans, a depressing mixture of rural austerity with pockets of noble villas that seemed designed to rub it in the peasant’s faces. Aster would never have been my port of choice had I not heard the cook and the Captain arguing over who to sell me to once we landed, but it was beginning to look a lot more reasonable to depart the Dawnward under my own power, preferably without the knowledge of her commander.

During the trial you listened to testimony about my ‘subversive mystical prowess’ and ‘strange fey command of the dark arts.’ I don’t think it’ll cost me anything now to admit that those tales were mostly true, and if anything they were unfairly tame in comparison to what I can really do. You obviously take them seriously from the wards and such you have lining my cell. At the time I was far less skillful in the Art, with but a few subtle tools to use. One of the little tricks I had was a silver tongue, which I used to artfully suggest some errands for myself from the cook as we readied to make landfall. Part of the trick is a bit of forgetfulness on the listener’s part, which I exploited to sneak off into the ship’s upper decks while the crew were readying hawsers and such.

I took one of the cook’s chopping knives and a few of the spits he used for grilling kebab. I’d kept hidden on the Dawnward for weeks before my appetite betrayed me. Another fifteen minutes was nothing. I went to the Captain’s cabin, used the spits to pick his locks, whispered his watch spirits to sleep, and broke open his cabinets. I helped myself to a bit of what was there, favoring his personal stash of trade goods, which consisted of many small vials of what I took to be some inebriant of particular value. Then I secured his various hiding places, retrieved my blade, rucksack and the tablet of my observations from my time amid the Dawnward’s rigging and secured my escape.

When a cloud-topper like the Dawnward lands, it’s a ponderous affair. Even light winds can catch the great rigid envelope that holds the ship aloft and jerk her this way and that. A woman as well-traveled as you must have ridden one or two in your day, on some noble errand I’m sure. But you rode as a passenger, or as the crew would call you ‘cargo.’ On a day like the one the Dawnward arrived in Aster, with a ten knot breeze coming in over the city, all hands were in the rigging, secured by safety lines, ready to keep the big ship from colliding with a mooring tower or what have you.

Suffice to say, men watching out for their ship are less likely to notice someone sneaking up on them. Especially when they’re on the presumably safe bridge, fully wrapped up in the affairs of landing. A more foolish beast than I would have found a spot on the rigging and tried to sneak off the ship once it’d landed, or perhaps swung heroically down a line like something from an adventure story. But I’d already learned the value of not leaving an enemy behind you when you leave, so I made my way to the bridge.

There were three men on duty, the Captain, his second mate and the boat’s pilot. They were busy in the way that only sailors can be, shouting terse commands into message tubes or out the windows, tightening the control harnesses on the gas envelopes and generally so involved in the task of bringing the fat blimp to the ground that my quiet arrival on the bridge went unnoticed.

Take a look at my sword, fair Inquisitor. Go on, it won’t bite. It’s Fey, or course, a relic from my misspent youth among the trees. If you would, lift it for a moment and give the grip a little squeeze. Carefully, now, you wouldn’t want to hurt yourself when it-

Oh, no it’s not alive, not like that hulking pigsticker you tote around. I swear, living swords are so gauche that even the Fey gave up on them ages ago. No, my sword is merely sensitive to the grip, responding to the way you hold it. If you know what you’re doing with it, and aren’t a shivering, half-frozen wreck hanging onto the outside of a cloud-topper, it will flick like whip or chop like a cleaver. I used it to kill the Captain, his second mate and the Dawnward’s pilot. I made it quick, as we were just about ready to latch onto the mooring tower and finish getting reeled in like some giant sky-borne fish.

Then I jammed the ship’s throttles all the way open and listened to wail of the chained creatures that drove the Dawnward as they drove her towards the mooring post. Once that was accomplished, I made my way to the lifeboats, conveniently near the bridge. The lifeboats were those ridiculous little winged things, all balsa and wax and leather and each one held two seats. I made short work of all but one of them as I heard the crew start pounding along the gangways from their stations, shouting in panic. With a fond wave I mounted one and set myself aloft.

A few moments after I departed, the Dawnward rammed the mooring post and tore her envelope. Some spark or source of heat must’ve caught the vapors therein and caught fire. This actually came as something of a surprise to me; I’d learned that all but the very oldest cloud-toppers floated on something inert, but I suppose it was more expensive than filling up on whatever the cheap and foolish Captain had found. I was pleasantly surprised at the resulting flames, though they made the already dicey job of not-crashing the lifeboat more exciting.

Oh, dear Confessor, I’m already on death row. What can one more crime, well, several more crimes, cost me now?

I’d love to tell you that I gracefully guided the little glider down from the burning wreck of the Dawnward to land perfectly in the wide dirt field that served as Aster’s main port, but that would be a lie. And I’d never lie to you, Inquisitor. For one I know you could tell a lie from a mile off. And at this point, the truth, while it won’t set me free, is certainly comforting. No, I rode the balsa and dragonhide death machine with my paws wrapped tightly around the controls, just on the other side of control. Between the spinning and dropping, I lost my bearings entirely and ended up depositing myself in the thatched roof of a farmhouse just outside of the city’s walls.

Any landing you can walk, or at least hobble, away from, dear Confessor. Lying there for a moment, dazed by the path destiny took me, I paused to watch the flickering tongues of flame as they stretched skyward as if in supplication. The death of the Dawnward was shocking beautiful from a safe distance, the envelope’s skin blazing away like a wildfire across a whale, revealing the blackened spars that made up her skeleton. The gondola that stretched along the ventral length of the ship was coming loose in chunks now as the whole affair settled forlornly behind the walls and buildings of the city.

It occurred to me that I was better off somewhere else. I briefly entertained the idea of marching into the city and presenting myself as the last surviving crew member of the doomed ship, perhaps trying to collect any bonds taken out for her loss with the local shipping magnates. For once, I settled on the prudent path of simply disappearing with what wealth I had.

Of course, I had to move my illicit wares somehow and my flight from the Fey had soured me on hiking through unknown wilderness. So after distancing myself from the sight of the crash I went about finding a way into the city.

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