The Afdol’s Tide eases its course at the mouth of the volcano. Flakes of ash and flecks of snow drift up from the yawning magmic precipice, catching the airship in a gentle flurry of heat and chill.
“Draven,” Elodia calls over the wind. “Lower the ladder.”
The first mate nods attentively and unfurls the rope ladder from the side of the deck and it swings heavily down in the November air. The bottom rung, heavy with bearings, clangs against the black stone slab jutting out from a cave on the mountainside.
“What’s going on?” Eliza arrives on deck. Her ornate scarves – cast in the breeze – make her seem on fire.
“You will see,” the captain says, and thumbs at her jacket. She has more gray hair than she did earlier this evening. Her hair was completely red mere days ago, a brilliant, passionate red, but Elodia seems decades older, and perhaps she is in fact. Eliza knows that her captain has been spending time in Hebion’s orb. Eliza worries. But Eliza says nothing.
“Gather the others,” Elodia continues. “You’re all going down.”
“Into a volcano?”
“Ask me no questions aboard my ship,” Elodia scolds.
Jasper. Cheg. Pamesa. Kom-Rashad. Carmine. Toppy. Elim. Eliza and Draven join them, lining neatly along the rail of the Tide deck. Even the elven pilot, Drick Fasduaseth, climbs topside.
“She’s in park,” Drick says, stroking his blonde hair. “Is it time?”
“Time…” Elodia smirks.
“The ship can’t hover above a volcano for much longer,” Drick says hurriedly. “Better say your goodbyes and hellos quickly.”
“Right,” Elodia nods. She turns to the group. “I never understood how this whole thing worked.” She thumbs her jacket again. “I wish I could go with you.”
“About what do you speak?” Elim asks.
“To those of you who I may not see again,” Elodia says. “This is the goodbye I never got to say. I don’t know if anything’s going to be different this time around, but if it isn’t… well there you have it. Everyone else, I will see you when you return from this cave. It will seem to Drick and I as if no time has passed.”
“Pamesa must stay,” Drick announces. “We need someone who knows how to break the scrolls.”
Pamesa steps forward, even her whited eyes can’t mask her confusion.
Elodia slumps her shoulders. “Very well. Just in case… Everyone else, do not dally and do not question me. All will make sense in its due moment, and when you see me again, your confusion shall be a laughable trifle. Go now, with my love, and fare thee well.”
Eliza is the first to begin her climb down the ladder. The rest follow.
“Captain, I know how to break the scrolls,” Draven offers. “Why do we need Pam? And where are you sending the others? I was never informed of this mission.”
Elodia pats him on the shoulder. “You must go with them into the volcano.”
“What? What is in there for me?”
“I spoke of this on the day we met one year ago. Remember how I seemed to know you well upon our meeting, and you thought me a sorcerer? What did I say to you then?”
“You said that our friendship would be long, and strong enough to break the petty shackles of time.”
“You thought I was being poetic, but… Perhaps I was… Go into the volcano, the old man within should know you, though you do not know him. Yet. Tell him you’ve no time for his games, and that you have played them all before. Tell him this every time you see him, it is an easy way to trick the old bastard. When he sends you through the door, take the party to Waltz. You will meet my agents there, although they will be scattered and will not know of what you speak. Trust your instincts and fate will lead you back to me. When you meet me again, be careful not to encourage me when I lash against the bonds of fate. That is my cross to bear.”
“Captain, I will do as you ask, but do we have time for this? The scroll…”
“I guarantee you, Draven, we have time for this. Now go, dear friend, and take Helix with you.”
Draven descends the ladder and meets up with his teammates at the edge of the cliff mouth. Helix the owl lands on his shoulder and brushes against his alabaster cheek.
“She sounds like she’s gone crazy,” Jasper says.
“Where did she ask you to take us?” Eliza asks.
“Waltz,” Draven answered. “Only Avalon knows why.”
“Waltz is a city?” Cheg asked.
“No,” Draven said. “It’s a ruin.”