Journey Home

Nearly two years before meeting the party…

Waters lashed at her feet as Ioni stood on the quay, looking over the waters to where in the distance, the Fair Isle lurked. Over the White Sea, beyond the rippling waves lay the Fair Isle.

She could imagine the smells over her home from her spot along the water just outside of Tuskstad. It had been years since she last saw the cliffs, the sky-ship harbors and the blue slate on the rooftops. The last time she had been there, had been those brief moments on the cliff to follow a voice in her head. Three years after that icy dip, Ioni had come to her senses on the shores outside of Wallport. That’s when the dreams came as well.

The dreams were all alike. Long arching halls filled with nightmarish monsters battling eachother. She was there, moving among them in silvery blue armor, rallying combatants and pulling the wounded back. She was often surrounded by two humanoid armed guards amidst a score of spear throwers and archers.

The halls themselves were a mix of ice and stone, creating an eerie phantom quality of light. Warm blood fell from dying fighters, melting rivulets into the ice before congealing into goop along the corners of the hallways. Her dreams remained a mass of confusion. To some extent, they seemed to be a mask of colliding memories. All melted together and hidden to save sanity. Ioni forcibly shoved them back in her mind.

Focusing on the present, Ioni wondered if she would be welcome back home. Three years she had been gone. She did not even know if her family believed she was still alive. Her dreams never told her if she had written them, or even if she had been in the same time line. Assuming they were real of course, and she could be recognized.

What information she had gathered from traders told her that Hiyiri was managing the Valencia Company still. No rumors of her health declining which was good. Odder though were the rumors of Edvir and his position and power amidst the company. Ioni smiled wryly at the ocean. He was intelligent, her brother. More so than her cousins Odir and Cheskan by Lorinia. Granted, any ambition in them had been destroyed by Lorinia’s chokehold on their lives. They served her ambitions now. Completely. Ioni supposed that if she followed Lorinia close enough, she could learn much of how to effectively manipulate others. Lorinia had her own sons believing that if they did not capitulate to her whims, they were destroyed.

“Ioni, the ship is ready.” Bobby called out to her from the walkway down to the quay. Ioni turned to look up at her childhood friend. They had grown up together on the Fair Isle. Though at 8 years they had parted when Bobby’s father had found better work on the mainland. She had chanced to meet him in Snowguard, hawking a few bits of Ivory from the Northern edge of the Haslanti League lands. Small bits, most likely smuggled in and amidst other shipments.
“Wonderful! Are you still bent on joining me?” Ioni flashed a quick smile, all the while knowing she was playing on her old friends feelings.

“It’s my money you are borrowing, of course I am coming.” Bobby snorted, returning her smile with an affectionate grin of his own. Inwardly Ioni winced thinking, so this is what Lorinia used. It hurt her to know she was using a childhood crush like this. Just to get home.
Ioni turned from the water and followed Bobby up the slow sloping stair way to the airship harbor. It had cost Bobby a small fortune to secure passage on one of the faster merchant ships. though the Haslanti League used the airships for rapid transit, the costs were higher just due to the minimal numbers available. It didn’t help that a request of secrecy had been amidst the price.

Moving among the various laborers securing rigging and cargo, Ioni glanced up at the dirigible like airships, covered in merchant colors detailing company and routes. At the last count that she had heard, there were little over 200 airships available to the Haslanti Military. Though it was few in number the airship portion of the Haslanti League, they offered the distinct aerial advantages and provided a somewhat faster route of transport than the sea. Especially near Malice Bay where cliffs, roc ks and dangerous tides tested even the most experienced Captains. A few of the airships had even acquired crew and Captains who would fly into great storms just to annex powerful elementals and harvest lightning.

The merchant ship that Bobby had bartered passage on had the temporary colors painted on the hull that signaled the ship went from Tuskstad to Diamond Hearth. The cargo hold held a moderate amount of staple goods, enough that would assure crew and transport costs up to Diamond Hearth, but little profit. However, most profit that Ioni knew, came from the return trip with the precious metals and diamonds. With a skillful eye, Ioni also guessed that there were secret storage areas for nearly a third more cargo was hidden, the rarer items that would not appear on the manifest, and thus with the right Inspector bribed, would pass on and become pure profit for the ship’s crew.

Climbing across the wooden and rope bridge to the main deck, Ioni and Bobby were ushered down to the hold where one of the crew members pointed out their cabin. It was a very small cabin for the days voyage ahead. Little more than a storage cabin with two bunks bolted into the wall, one right on top of the other. In fact, as she looked closer at the walls after the crewman left, it was a storage cabin, quickly refitted to act as a temporary passenger cabin. She smiled to herself and she slipped into the far end and stowed her pack under the lowest bunk. Her pack contained what little she had in the world that was hers. A change of clothes, dagger, a few items she had picked up along the way and two items wrapped in a purple cloth. The last two pieces, a matching necklace and bracelet, were both made of finely carved white jade with orichalcum inlayed on top in the symbol of the Zenith Caste. Ioni had been wearing both when she came to her senses at Wallport, and had done her best to hide them, remembering the distrust other Haslanti had for such symbols.

“It’ll take a few days to get there. Three at the most. Until then, the Captain has asked that we remain in this room unless absolutely necessary.” Bobby put down two packs, one significantly larger than the other.

“He is probably running a side job and doesn’t want it found.” Ioni tested the bunks, and finding them both secure, climbed to the top bunk.

“Yes. I’ve got some food in the larger pack. I wouldn’t eat anything they gave us. " Bobby stowed the packs under the bunk.

The trip only took a few days. Cramped and boring days. Ioni and Bobby caught up, well mostly Ioni caught up on Bobby’s life. As soon as they reached the Fair Isle, the same crew member who had shown them to their cramped accommodations, knocked on their door and brought both them and their belongings to the top of the ship as they docked. Bobby changed a few coins with the Captain who materialized and they disembarked without fanfare.

“I have an inn recommendation unless you want to go to your families offices first.” Bobby hefted both of his packs and led the way off the docks to the main market streets. Ioni felt odd in the ways the entire place had changed and yet not changed. It was a comforting thing being back in a home she felt she had only left a few weeks ago, and yet very few of the places seemed to have changed.

“Home offices. " Ioni glanced around. It was mid morning, and her stomach rumbled. “Well, if there’s a bakery first, that would be nice.”

Ioni navigated the crowd, heading down the streets to the central area of town, passing by shop after recognizable shop. She nearly laughed out loud at seeing a small hole in the wall cafe that she remembered growing up. One of the best bakeries in the area, that, despite its somewhat run down appearances, put up a brisk trade in anything from bread to cakes and other sweets. Ioni ducked into the cramped bakery, and ordered several of the buns filled with herbs and cheese with a few of the sweet molasses cookies using money that she had won off Bobby in a few games of poker before he finally gave up trying to win.

Coming out of the shop, Ioni handed Bobby half of one of the cookies to munch on while they walked. Ioni led the rest of the way to the company offices and townhouse. It was a corner building, facing south to gather the most sunlight. The Valencia family crest rested on the front office door, ornately carved. Ioni paused on the outside, smiling at the thought of finally coming home. She pushed her way inside and felt that pang as the front offices were nothing of what she remembered. Carpets and wall colors had changed to dark woods and majestic reds covered the area where there used to be golden woods and blue carpets. Antique carved wood doors seemed to give the entire office more bearing than before. There was a clerk positioned at the front desk, someone she had never met before. As she and Bobby moved inside, the clerk stood and greeted them.

“Hello, how can I help you?” The clerk was tall, taller than most men, with a shock of dark hair, and a moustache to go with it.

“Hi, yes. I’m here to see Hiyiri or Edvir please. " Ioni smiled and stood in the entryway.

“Certainly. May I ask your name?” The clerk was polite, and Ioni responded in kind.

“Ioni. "

The clerk merely looked confused before asking them to take a seat while he disappeared into the back. There was a shriek, the sound of a dish dropping and shattering on the floor then the sound of quickening footsteps. Hiyiri came bustling through the door to the inner offices with a wide smile and engulfed Ioni in a tight hug. Tears pricked at Ioni’s eyes as she hugged her aunt tightly.

“Well, hello Auntie Dearest. It’s good to see you. I brought some goodies if you had not yet had lunch.” Ioni pulled back from the hug, grinning.

“Oh no doubt you must be hungry! And the letters you sent, never told us anything except that you had a job you had, and your adventures. Come come, Edvir has something cooking in the kitchen. But who else do we have here? " Hiyiri looked over at Bobby and gave him an evaluating eye.

“This is Bobby, you remember his mother and father, they used to work for the family on the estate.” Ioni smiled, nodding to Bobby.

• • •

In the warm kitchen, Hiyiri squared the teapot on the table next to a large plate filled with biscuits, cheese and snacks that Ioni had brought.

“I see Uncle still insists on going to the bakery himself for an arm load of bread.” Ioni smiled. She had watched her aunt pull out a woven basket filled with loaves of bread and tear off pieces to put on the table.

“If I let him, he’d buy his own baker, put it in our kitchen, and start experimenting!” Hiyiri laughed, sitting next to her niece. “So, tell me about your trip, you never said much in that one letter. Just that you were safe.”

“Well, it was definitely adventurous. A lot… happened. Do you still have it, by the way? the letter?” Ioni took a piece of cheese and nibbled on it.

“Phaw, you know me. I have every letter ever penned to me saved somewhere. I think I even have my parents old love letters.” Hiyiri poured the tea into four cups, offering a small pitcher of milk and sugar to Bobby.

“Oh don’t I know it. i’ve been sorting and cataloguing them for ages.” Edvir walked in, beaming at his sister. “Hello Sister.”

Ioni scrambled to her feet and was caught in a bear hug that threatened to smother her. They stood for a while like that, Ioni feeling happier than before just knowing that she was still welcome after a long absence.

“Since you’ve organized them, get Ioni’s letter when you remember” Hiyiri smiled sweetly. Edvir laughed, and let Ioni go enough so she could sit down. They sat next to each other, Edvir keeping one protective arm on her shoulders, almost as though making sure she didn’t disappear if he turned his head.

“You and I have both memorized it by now. Lots of flowery language. The main gist was her dreams told her to go on a trip. No clue how long it would last and that I had her voice in the business until she came back to claim it. Of course, no mention of where she was going. Though, knowing you, my dearest aunt, Ioni probably did it so you couldn’t drag her back.” Edvir took a cup of tea and stirred a little honey in before sipping. “I heard that you, Bobby, were kind enough to bring her back on her journey. I’ve already got rooms prepared in case you would also like to stay a while, and I’m sure that we can reward you for your efforts.”

I am very greatful to you and yours," Bobby spoke up. “I do not wish to be an unwelcomed guest.”

“Nonesense, any friend of Ioni’s is welcome.” Hiyiri passed a plate to Edvir after he had taken one of the cheese rolls. Edvir waved the dish away as he got back to his feet.

“Sorry Auntie, I must get back to work.” Edvir smiled. “Sister, good to have you back. I’l be free in about two hours, I think. Bobby, if you’d like, I can introduce you to several people you might like to know. I know that these ladies would enjoy an afternoon chatting.”

“Certainly, sir.” Bobby got to his feet, never tasting any of the food or tea and followed Edvir out.

Hiyiri and Ioni sat for a while after the men had left.

“So, where did you start your travels.” Hiyiri broke the quiet.

“Not really sure. It’s all a big blur at the moment.” Ioni stared at her tea, uncomfortable with being unable to fully answer the question. “How have things been here?”

“Things change, others don’t. Your aunt Lorinia remains a constant pain in my ass. There may be hope for her sons as she ages, especially for Cheskan. He recently got married. To be honest though, I don’t think he did much of the courting. I’m pretty sure Lorinia courted amber. She’s got the spine to stand up to Lorinia, but I doubt the craftiness. We shall see though. The business has been going well, Edvir is smart and has branched into a few more markets for transport. We’ve got a near monopoly on Diamond Hearth, starting this winter. And well…. Are you back permanently?” Hiyiri took a sip of her tea.

“I do not think I’ll ever be back permanently. There are a lot of things happening, things that are important. I just want to make sure that I can protect the family and the business at this point. I will do my best to set up connections abroad while I travel, but in all fairness, it sounds like Edvir has a good handle on things.” Ioni sat back and thought for a while. “Is Lorinia still making claims that the company should pay her creditors? Last I was here, she had a large sum wrapped up in a new scheme.”

“Oh she is. Edvir is doing remarkably well with the aid of Odir when he was here, to keep her in her place. Cheskan has not been much of a help. We do have that manor out in the countryside, and he has been inhabiting it with his new wife. They have finally started repairs on a few of the rooms. But, Lorinia claims that we need the finest materials and builders. As well as some high and mighty decorator from some fancy city to pull all the decorations together.” Hiyiri laughed brightly. “And get this, Lorinia has not been in the same vicinity as her husband for nigh on four years now. Of course he has been visiting all the brothels and stays in one of the seedier houses. In all effect, exiled from the family.”

For hours, Ioni and Hiyiri gossiped. Ioni learned almost every bit of the past years family happenings. Even down to the last detail that Hiyiri had not had a civil conversation with her sister Lorinia in over a year and a half. When Edvir had become Hiyiri’s right hand, she learned her other brother, Dera had taken to the ships as a captain. He was a personable man, and had a growing smuggling business, often liberating cargo from other Haslanti iceships. Ioni caught on to the unspoken information that a significant section of their trading business.

She spent a month at home, throwing her energy into learning the unknown side of her family business after a daily prayer to the Unconquered Sun. Ioni learned that even though her family flew merchant ships, nearly half were used by the Haslanti spy network for travel. All of the captains had been educated to pass on useful bits of information to the Fair Isle. The Valencia family prided themselves on a high success rate for delivery, and a very accurate time table. As such, they offered a very reliable way to pass information on and to gather information from the far ends of the League. At the end of the month, Ioni packed a bag once more, this time bid fair well to Edvir, and Hiyiri before departing on the next ship to main land to find anyone to help her discover why she had exalted.

Journey Home

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