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Isla opens her eyes. White ceiling, white room. She’s in the palace still. Despite everything, that’s a little comforting. At least she knows where she is. She just has to–
“This is fucking sweet!” Solanus screams in the other room. “We should see the whole palace! I want to see everything! Can we, Lucy? Can we?”
“No,” Lucian says.
“But Lucy, you can’t do that to me! I’m your best friend, I’ve never asked you for anything ever! Why can’t you help me this one time?”
“Because if you stay in that thing much longer you’ll die and burn your soul out again,” Lucian replies.
Isla gets out of bed and opens the door. Lucian’s out by the balcony, with a small silver bird flapping around her face.
“That’s not true! My soul will be perfectly fine, and even if it wasn’t, I don’t care! I want to see the palace! I’ll never get the chance to see it again!”
Lucian scowls. “You literally spent four days straight moaning about how much you wanted to die after spending too long in one of those things, and that’s not counting the two days you were passed out. We’re not staying in this fucking palace any longer than we have to, and you’re getting out of that thing before it actually kills you.”
“What’s going on?” Isla asks. “What is that?”
“What do you mean, ‘what is that’? It’s me! The great and magnificent me! How could you forget? I’m the best thing that’s ever happened to you!” Solanus shouts. “I can’t believe you’d disrespect me like this, Isla. I’m not mad, just disappointed.”
“She wanted to see the palace and wouldn’t stop screaming, so I looked around to see if the automaton left some toys around that Solanus could use.” Lucian says. “I thought it would shut her up, but I should have known better, honestly.” She jabs her finger at Solanus. “I’m serious, Sol. Get out of that thing or you’ll burn out.”
Solanus sighs and flaps down onto the table. Her body is a small, rather rudimentary-looking bird with a silver body and wings. It really is just a toy.
“You’re such a spoilsport, Lucy.”
“You’ll thank me later,” Lucian says.
“Great. Thanks, Dad.” Solanus hops her way over to the lantern, and after a short flash of light, the bird becomes still. “There,” the lantern says. “Are you happy now?”
“Yes,” Lucian says, picking Solanus up with her one hand and clipping her onto a belt loop. “Anyways Isla, now that you’re up, we should leave. I convinced some of the palace staff to pack us some food, so you can eat something and we’ll get out of here. I can’t wait to see the last of this place.”
Isla nods as Lucian brings around some food. She’s not very hungry, but with whatever is coming up, she’ll need to have energy. It’s not as fancy as the things she’d eaten in the palace before and it tastes strange and bitter. She’s not sure if it’s the food or her that’s different now.
Isla doesn’t finish, and Lucian doesn’t push her. She gets it.
“So, uh. How do we get out of here?” Isla asks. “We’re pretty high up.”
“When we got grabbed, they took us in some flying boat to get up here. It’s probably the same thing to get down,” Lucian says. “I…I think I remember a loading dock near the edges of the grounds, past the gardens and stuff.”
Isla hadn’t seen anything like that, but then again, Aurel hadn’t taken very far from the palace. She wonders if that was intentional.
“Okay. I know the way out of the palace,” she says. “So I guess if we’re ready to go, we can go now.”
“What, we’re leaving already?” Solanus asks. “But I didn’t get to see anything!”
“And I guess you’ll just have to live with the disappointment,” Lucian replies. “Believe me, it’s not all it’s cracked up to be.”
“Go get your stuff,” Lucian tells Isla. “I’m already packed.”
Isla goes to get her things together while Solanus and Lucian bicker at each other in the living room. There’s not a lot for her to pack–she’d barely taken anything out of her pack since arriving here.
She grabs her jar off of her nightstand. There’s three smooth stones rattling around the bottom and there’s still so much space left in it. Slowly, she presses it against her chest. She can’t feel her heartbeat behind it–the metal heart in her doesn’t beat, not the way a human heart does, and she wonders about what will happen when she and Lucian leave the palace, now that Aurel is gone. What will happen to the servants? Or the palace? Will anyone ever find it again?
There’s no way to know, she supposes.
She puts the jar away and leaves. They have places to go.
The loading dock is a long way out, near the edges of the palace grounds where the wind is stronger. It’s a wide circle of stone and metal with dark blue artifice marks trailing all around the border. There’s a few vessels docked around the outside, made of lacquered white wood with stained blue sails. They’re large enough to hold at least ten people at once, and it takes both Isla and Lucian pushing together to get one into the center of the circle.
“Great,” Isla says. “So how do we use it?”
“I don’t know,” Lucian says, vaulting up into the craft. “I’m sure we’ll figure it out on the way down.”
Isla climbs in with Lucian’s help and starts poking around. There’s a steering column and a mast with sails, just like a normal boat, but some other ropes and levers that are both unlabeled and very important-looking.
Lucian does a bit of her own poking around, except that she starts pulling levers at random, too.
“Lucian, maybe we shouldn’t touch things if we don’t know what they are,” Isla says.
“Well, one of these things will do what we want it to do, and I don’t see an instructions manual anywhere,” Lucian replies, not stopping in her quest to wiggle all the levers that can be wiggled.
“A lot of those levers probably do things we don’t want them to do, too!” Isla says. “You have to be careful, okay? I–” She sets her hands on the mast, and the entire vessel starts shaking.
“Yeah?” Lucian asks. “You were saying something?”
“Uh–I meant to do that!” Isla says, taking a step back.
A wave of blue marks light up all across the mast and the rest of the white planks, then a giant gust of wind catches them from behind, launching them into the air, and they plummet down through the clouds. Isla grabs the mast for dear life.
The vessel plunges down, down, down, and just as Isla starts praying to every deity she knows of, the sails of the vessel billow outwards, abruptly bringing their descent to a gentle glide. Blue artifice marks pulse gently from the prow to the stern and across the underside of the sail. They sail swiftly through the sky, enough to make the wind whistle around Isla’s ears, and she would probably enjoy it more if she didn’t just almost fall to her death.
“So,” Lucian says a few minutes later, after the vessel seems to hold no more unpleasant surprises. “Where are we headed?”
Isla looks out over the green ground down below them and the cascading gray mountains far, far in the distance. The vessel is too high up and too far away to see villages, if there are any.
“I don’t know,” she says.