The Ruins

The following is the first chapter from The Apotheosis Break.

“I don’t know,” Vasili said. “I think it could be a good omen. I mean, the Traveler tells his lies, but he is called, you know… the Traveler. Seems like he would know a thing or two about it.”

“So you’re saying you’d rather walk with the Traveler than me?” Ivete said in an accusatory tone.

“What? No—” Vasili said. “I’m just saying that for a fellow who, for all we know, all he does is travel from place to place, he should be familiar with getting around. The treachery and trickster stuff aside, I imagine he could— I don’t know— pack a bindle, or something. Maybe he’d know a good inn in Ostwald. And, hey, even if not, think of it this way. Anybody who thinks it’s bad luck to travel under the Traveler’s comet—”

“It is bad luck to depart under the Traveler’s comet,” Ivete said. She struggled to cinch down a strap on an overloaded canvas pack.

“Well, maybe all the superstitious crazies will stay home, then. More road for us. And more sky.”

Vasili peered up into the night’s sky at the Traveler’s comet. The red streak against a backdrop of stars had appeared early this year according to some in their frontier farming village. But it’s not like Holtswood has a whole lot of astronomers or even physikers to tell us for sure, Vasili thought. His friend Ivete joined the rest of the townsfolk in thinking it was a bad omen, the foretelling of a hard winter, a plague, or bad luck for those setting out on the trail. Then again, they say the same thing when someone digs up a potato that looks like it has a face.

The two teenagers often spent their late evenings in the shadows of a long-forgotten ruin outside their small town. The ancient fortification had toppled and been reclaimed by nature. Moss covered stone blocks beneath trees that loomed over broken walls and fractured towers. Within the overgrown maze was the lip of a deep well where Vasili Mikhailovich would meet Ivete Koghut to discuss their future adventures.

As Ivete fussed over items in her pack, her light brown hair cascaded down the side of her face. Vasili could not help but notice her slight frame, slender neck, and bright green eyes as they plotted their departure by oderic lamp-light. He shifted uncomfortably at the edge of the well and clumsily bumped the lamp. He made a desperate grab as it teetered on the brink, but only served to push it over the edge and into the darkened maw.

“Come on,” Ivete complained. “If you can’t hold the light up—”

“Uh, Ivete?” Vasili watched the pulsing green light plummet farther and farther below him.


The boy winced as a distant splash echoed up from the depths of the well. He could feel Ivete’s angry gaze upon his back. “I think I owe you a lamp,” Vasili murmured.

They both looked over the edge at the dull green of the lamp bobbing in the water a hundred spans below. Ivete’s shoulders sunk and she let out a familiar, exasperated sigh. “If we’re departing under the Traveler you must be more careful.”

“I know. I will! I’m just—” Vasili gave a nervous laugh. “I’m just getting all of the bad luck out of the way. On the small stuff. This way we won’t be attacked by pirates, or abducted by a sinister criminal mastermind, or, uh… I’m sorry, I’ll buy you a new one. The latest model, straight from the foundries of Caildonia.”

“That one was expensive enough,” Ivete said. “Next time, kick your own lamp down there.” She returned to rummage through her pack. “Would you mind? Where’s your light?”

“Oh!” Vasili’s oderic device was older and not as bright as Ivete’s. He unclipped it from his pack and gave it a vigorous shake. The dim green light powered by luminescent odeum cast pulsating shadows dancing through the overgrown ruins. He almost set it on the well’s edge before hanging the device from creeping vines nearby. “You know, I bet if I had a hook, and enough rope, I could fish it out of there…” Vasili peered down the well again and tried to size up the distance.

“Shouldn’t you be packing your bag?”

“I packed it a week ago! I could have packed it last year if I didn’t need my clothes.”

Ivete grabbed Vasili’s haversack and weighed hers against his. “And you don’t need your clothes this week?”

Vasili straightened his back. “Nope. Sal lets me work naked. Just so long as I keep the apron on. Bacon grease and all.” He put his finger on his chin. “But now that you bring it up, I did end up serving quite a few more tables this week than usual. There’s something about dinner and a show that brings people out.”

“And I thought you said you weren’t performing in any Tellings for us this year.” Ivete dropped Vasili’s pack and started unclasping its various buckles.

“I said I wasn’t going to do my father’s Tellings at the faire this year but—” Vasili stretched a hand out as Ivete upended his bag. “Hey, if you need something for the trip, um—”

“What the hells do you have in here? Rocks?” She held a book up to the dim green light. “How many of these do you have in here?”

“Just a couple. Maybe all of them. It’s a long ways to anywhere! I— Well, both of us might need something to read.”

Ivete tossed the book to the side and reached for another. “They weigh too much. You don’t need them.”

“Oh yes, I do—” Vasili spotted Herwin’s Guide to Modern Air Travel being removed. “Herwin’s! We definitely need that one. It tells us everything we need to know about being on an airship.”

Ivete narrowed her eyes. “This is ancient, Vasili. Herwin wrote it— I don’t even know when he wrote it. A century ago? It’s fiction, besides.”

“Yes, but—” Vasili blinked. “I didn’t know you’d read it.”

“You lent it to me, didn’t you? Years ago.”

“Right. But when you handed it back, you didn’t say anything.”

“I said, ‘thank you.’”

“I thought you didn’t… It’s still got some good stuff in there.”

Ivete tossed Herwin’s aside and continued rummaging. Vasili’s shoulders sunk. “What’s this?” Ivete squinted at a cover. “Voyage of the Skies?

“Oh, that’s my favorite. There’s pirates, and skywhales, and the captain is even a girl! This eleven year old convinces the—”

Ivete put it on the growing stack of discarded books. “This isn’t going to tell you a damn thing about being on an airship, or what the world out there is like—”

“You’ll see,” Vasili said. “When we’re on the long haul across the Sea of Vaan, you’re going to miss all of these.”

“Any maps? Herb lore? Something on oderics?” Ivete pulled another book out of Vasili’s pack, a combination of surprise and baffled confusion painted on her face. “How many books did you fit in here?”

“There’s a tree that eats airships in Voyage of the Skies. I bet you won’t find that in some stuffy herb book.”

Ivete sighed and looked to the stack of books she had taken from his bag. “I want you to promise me you’re not taking these with us.”

“Vaan teaches that there’s power in stories,” Vasili said. “I’d be a fool to leave them—” Ivete picked up the stack of books and walked toward the well. Vasili scrambled to his feet. “W-Wait a minute, Ivete—”

Ivete teetered Vasili’s books on the lip of the dark pit. “Vasili, I want you to answer something for me. And truthfully.”

Vasili halted three paces from Ivete, his hands ready to save his treasures from impending doom. “Please don’t drop my books. I won’t take them with me. Just don’t—”

“Answer my question, and I won’t.”

“I’d rather you put them down, and I promise I’ll answer whatever you wa—” Ivete tilted the books at a precarious angle. “Okay! Okay! Yes. What?”

“Why are you doing this?” A touch of sadness tinged her voice.

Vasili looked around himself in the clearing, confused. “Doing what?”

“Why are you leaving with me?”

“That’s an odd question. You already know the answer.”

“And I’m asking it again. Why, Vasili?”

“What? Why wouldn’t I?” he said. “This is what I’ve been dreaming of for— for as long as I can remember. To get out of here and smell the clouds!”

“And there’s plenty of deckhands and cabin boys younger than you and me. You could have run away in the last couple of years, easy. The southern trader was looking for hands last harvest, and you chose not to climb on board then. Why now?”

“Yes, well—” Vasili eyed Ivete, but decided he did not want to risk his books with a joke. “It was that night I gave my name over for the Inductions. I told you that. That was… That was the night we met. Like, truly met, not just arguing during lectures. We met here. I mean, over there, next to the wall, but, Ivete, I understand if you’re nervous about leaving, that’s okay—”

“I’m not nervous.” Ivete had never looked more confident about anything in her life.

“Then why are you asking me questions you already know the answers to?”

“Because I’ll also be declining at the Inductions. And when I leave with you, I’m leaving my home behind, with my mother, my father, my nann. And all you’re planning on bringing is a bag full of books.” She counted on the hand that wasn’t holding Vasili’s books to the well. “No food, no tools, and only a few stitches of clothing more suited to tilling fields. If you’ve been waiting this long to go on your adventure, you sure don’t seem very serious about it. So either you’re just being an idiot, or you aren’t telling me the whole story.”

Vasili frowned and shuffled his feet against the flagstone. “I’ve never lied to you, Ivete. I wouldn’t.”

“So, you’re an idiot.”

“Hey! No.”

“Then answer me. I want to hear you say it. Why are we leaving?”

Vasili threw up his arms in defeat. “The reason I want to go is because, like I’ve said, all I’ve ever wanted since I was little is to be on an airship. But my mother doesn’t want me anywhere near them. She is worried—” Vasili took on the scolding tone of his mother. “Worried I’ll become like my father and disappear. To die in the skies and never return.” He took a breath and recovered his composure. “So, because I was a good son, I didn’t sneak off in the night to be a deckhand when I had the chance. You know, a lot of deckhands can’t even read, much less keep a library.”

“But then what?”

Vasili peeled his eyes from the stack of his cherished books at the edge of the well. “But then, my mother… I’m fourteen and she still won’t tell me how my father died. It’s embarrassing. All I have left of him is that silly child’s Telling for the Battle of Grenlee and everyone knows that it’s just a made up bedtime story. And when she wouldn’t tell me the truth I got angry. And when I got angry— well, I made a mistake. When they told me my father’s service would give me preference for being Inducted as an officer in the Emperor’s fleet, it seemed like a good idea. And more importantly, my mother couldn’t do anything about it. So, I submitted my name for Inductions. To get away. From her. And from Holtswood. I could see the world, even if it meant joining the Air Corps and serving for years and years. But then we became friends and I regretted everything.” Vasili stood proud at his answer but flinched as Ivete rolled her eyes and scoffed. “For putting my name in for the Inductions! Of course I don’t regret meeting you. I’m glad we’re friends.” He gave a weak laugh. “And so here I am, a year later, awaiting my call to the Fleet. The Empire is going to offer me a position in the Air Corp because of my father, not because of my own merits, and I’m ready to stand and tell them to sail into the sun. After that we can do whatever we want. We can leave Holtswood and start on our own adventure! Maybe collect a few stories for our own Telling.” He smiled at Ivete with hopeful eyes. “Tellings,” he corrected.

Ivete returned the smile. “And there’s no other reason you want to leave?”

You. Vasili made a show of thoughtfully scratching his chin, but his mind raced. If we abandon the plan, and we both accept tomorrow, there’s no way I’ll see Ivete again for long, long time. I’ll be an officer, and she’ll be… gone. There were countless reasons Vasili had for wanting to leave Holtswood, but none more important than being with Ivete. I want to run away with you and write our story in the annals of the All-Father. To hold your hand on the decks of an airship and feel the wind in our intertwined hair. With you we’ll sail closer to Isasal than any other. We’ll discover unexplored lands and put our name on the map. Vasili and Ivete. Forever. He wanted to say all that and more. Instead he shook his head, and replied, “Nope. That’s it. The end.”

Ivete sighed, and let go of the books.

“No!” Vasili lunged toward the well, but only arrived in time to see the splash next to Ivete’s lamp at the bottom. “Aw, come on! What’d you go and do that for?”

Ivete dusted off her hands in victory. “It’s a long walk before we’ll find an airship. I don’t want to hear you complain about how heavy your bag is on the way.”

“I wouldn’t—” Vasili said. “I could have just left them at home! Those were expensive!”

“So was my lamp. Now we’re even.” Ivete hefted her backpack and threw it on top of the pillar in Vasili’s hiding spot. “Let’s go. I’ve got to get home before my father suspects I’m up to no good with ‘that Mikhailovich boy.’”

Vasili looked down the well in mourning, but perked up at Ivete’s words. He turned to catch her flashing a mischievous smile over her shoulder. Up to no good.

“You’re going to regret this,” Vasili said playfully. He stabbed a finger at the well, the last resting place of his small library. The agony had left his voice as Ivete’s own teasing words echoed in his ears, hinting at what was to come on their journey.

“I’m already feeling better about it,” Ivete said. She slipped off a tumbled over wall of the fortress and onto a hard packed dirt road that led back to the village.

“You’re going to regret it because I’ve got all those books memorized,” Vasili said. “Now you have to listen to me recite them. O, and you will long to return to the sky—” He unsheathed an imaginary sword to thrust at an invisible foe in their path. “I’ll act them all out, too. Oh, and I bet you can’t wait— I do voices for all of the characters!”

Ivete grabbed Vasili’s arm and laughed.