Ninombir had never been in an airship before. It was way more luxurious on the inside, at least for Ninombir’s mechanical tastes. He almost mentioned this to Yewna, but he knew what she’d say, “Wait until you see my father’s airship!”
He’d heard the horror stories as a boy on daddy’s lap, airships from the floating island of Ronalee attacking the Grounders, but that was over a hundred years ago. Noir City was built soon after the treaty. It became a sign between the ground and air, a way station, a funnel for grounders to get their chance at the sky. All the engineers talked about it, leaving Snowcrest for the City. There were actually two cities between Snowcrest and Noir. All knew what was meant when someone said they were going to the City.
The brutish guard made a point to stand between Nin and the Princess. The engineer gave the guard a smirk. The guard returned it.
“So now,” The guard said to Nin. “What will you be asking from the King?” Nin had not even thought about it.
“A gearhead like you could get a lot of gold for saving the Princess. Not enough to relieve you of work for a lifetime, but well, I’m sure there are some projects in that metal can of yours that you’ve been dying to set your greasy hands upon.”
Ninombir faced the guardsman curiously. The guard took off his glove and offered his hand. Nin gave him a hard shake. “Name’s Talbi.”
“Is that Nynombir with a y or an I?”
“I of course.”
“An I?” Yewna exclaimed.
“Yes!” Nin said. And then he began to grin.
Yewna knew what was coming, though she didn’t know why. He’s still a stranger.
“All good fellows spell Ninombir with an I. I just don’t know ‘Y’ you would spell it any other way!”
Talbi frowned at the joke. Yewna held back a grin. I mustn’t encourage such horrid humor! She thought. Then Nin gave her that silly grin of his and she couldn’t stop laughing. This surprised the mechanic who had never imagined such a lady to laugh so hard.
Talbi rolled his eyes, “My father was a gearhead, heralding from the Downs. Got his Air Card via the City, landed a job at the Golden Crown itself. Never looked back.”
“How did he make it?” Ninombir asked.
“Showed Princess Yewna’s grandfather a new type of engine for airships. One that doesn’t use steam.”
Ninombir whistled in admiration. “You’re telling me that your father was the great John Oliver?” Everyone knew of the famous inventor.
Talbi took off his cap, “The one and only! Ronalee’s been changed by good men like my father. Noir was his start. It could be yours.”
Yewna stepped between them, “You could be one of Father’s master craftsmen!”
“Oh, I don’t know about that.”
“Sure! Why last night you told me all about that invention for a box that’s pulled to the top of a building.”
Talbi was bemused, “What else did you two talk about… in the late hours of the evening?”
“Well,” Nin began, “There was this place Yewna wanted to go to.”
Yewna grabbed Nin by the arm and began to pull him away, “Thank you very much for the escort Mr. Talbi. I think I’d like to, to prepare Nin for his meeting with my father.”
Talbi touched his nose and winked, “Fine by me. Just don’t wander off too far.”
They were alone in the foyer overlooking a giant window. Nin took in the view of green forests beneath the rolling clouds. They had left the Snowcrest region.
Yewna had a far off look and yet she was so close her purple dress brushed against his belt. “I don’t know why I told you about X I S. I haven’t told anyone. I don’t even know how it is pronounced.”
Nin let out a sigh, “I promise to keep it close. My people pronounce the X like a Z.”
“Zis? That doesn’t feel right.”
“It is an ancient place. Only a few have taken a trip there. The great Thanius Puren um… what was his last name?”
“Flodnag, Thanius Puren Flodnag.”
“Yes! Flodnag took a fleet of airships over the Endless Jungle. They never returned.”
“I know the story well. Airships used Hydrogen back then, so, any small spark could have destroyed them.”
“Yewna, I’ve been meaning to ask you. Were you being followed by something in the dirigible?”
“No, I was alone. Something? What do you mean?”
“The fireball. I saw a shape in the wind. It looked like a giant monster.”
Yewna began to pace back and forth. “Did it have a long snout?”
Yewna’s pace grew more frantic. “Was the snout fury like a wolf?”
Nin frowned, “No. It was scally. Like, like a lizard’s.”
Yewna stopped pacing. She looked up at Nin directly in the eyes, trying her hardest to ignore his golden brown hues. “This is important Nin. Tell me now. What color was the dragon?”
“The creature you saw. Did it have a color?”
Nin leaned against the railing. He closed his eyes and tried to picture it. Yewna’s dirigible coming out from around the cloud. And then out of nowhere a shapeless form… with a long snout.
“Was it black or white?”
Nin opened his eyes. “It was sort of white but, sort of like your hair.”
“Yes, it was many different colors, all at once. And then it was only white.” Nin closed his eyes again.
“And then what else?”
“And then, it was gone.”
“This is fantastic!” Yewna said, “I’m on the right track then! X I S and all of it. Just like my dreams!”
“You’ve been dreaming of giant flying lizards?”
“And a strange moon wolf.”
Ninombir was about to say something when Talbi came up to them. “Navigator says we are near the Grandon!”
Nin saw dark shapes in the clouds ahead. He’d heard stories of monsters in the deep waters. The stories reminded him of this. The cloud lifted like a curtain and he saw airships by the hundreds.
Yewna squealed. Talbi walked towards the bridge. Yewna made to leave but held back.
“What were you about to say?”
Nin smiled thinly, “Oh, nothing.”
I’ve been having the same dreams. He told himself as Yewna skipped ahead up the stairs. The mesmer dress transformed into a tranquil blue before his eyes.