After the lift had stopped, Levi grabbed a strap at the bottom of the door and pulled upward, opening an upsliding door. They were greeted by bright mid-morning sun and a view northeast. Forest spread across the ground all the way to the Mandorian mountains that sprouted up about four leagues away. They were in the highlands here and even though the mountains were less than a league in height from the forest floor, their peaks still had traces of snow. The hot season ahead would clear most and maybe all of the snow for a few months.
Brigit took in the view for a moment. She'd never seen this area from this vantage point before and paused a moment just to absorb the sight before her.
Levi gathered her up her own things and stood a moment waiting for Brigit, who eventually followed suit. They exited the lift, which from the outside looked like a tube and circled around to the other side. They were immediately greeted by a woman in black leathers, holding a bow and an elf leaning against the exit to the main gangplank that led to the tethered airship. The top of the tower was encased in glass held in with what looked to be metal bars or possibly tubing.
'Brigit,' Levi said, 'This is Eve and perhaps you remember Fir, he is part of the Phoenix Guard now.'
Brigit took in both of them and processed what she saw. The woman was part of the Black Rogues as her outfit and makeup signified. Excessive black makeup around the eyes created a mask of sorts and the black leathers she wore were of the Ashonen appearance. The Rogues were not Ashonen but a group who no longer wanted to be associated with the often questionable reputation of the Ashonens. They considered themselves mercenaries, but were prone to taking on jobs that countered anything Ashonen or, these days, anything associated with Maella or Jael. They did the bad deeds, good people could not do themselves.
Eve was tall, pale of skin and dark of hair. Perhaps in her late twenties or early thirties. She was definitely of the people of Mandoria. Her bright blue eyes shone like lightning against the dark shadowing that surrounded them.
She greeted Brigit with a crooked smile and a nod of the head simply saying, 'My lady.'
Defiant was Brigit's immediate take. Brigit would have to earn her trust and respect before being taken seriously.
Fir she did recognize. He had not quite reached maturity when she'd left, but he was rising quickly in the ranks of the common guard even then, so it was no surprise he was part of the Phoenix Guard now. He wore the reddish Phoenix Guard outfit and a small duffel sat at his feet. His stance also offered a demeanor of defiance. Brigit correctly guessed he had a thing for Eve and probably followed her lead to some degree. With seeming reluctance he stood straight and gave Brigit a shallow head bow echoing Eve's words, 'My lady.'
Brigit smiled simply and offered them back their names, 'Eve.' Turned to Fir, 'Fir.' And did not bow or offer a hand. At the moment they did not deserve her respect, nor complete condemnation either. Levi actually scowled at both of them then led Brigit outside and along the gangway.
She stopped before two human men and introduced them as Thomas and Ian. Thomas wore the hood and tunic of the Warlock's Society and the lines in his face and white beard spoke his age, though his body was muscular and stout. Ian was dressed as a warrior with twin curved swords on his back, black hair pulled back in the same fashion as Levi in the duel pony tail and a neatly trimmed black goatee and mustache surrounding his full lips.
Before Levi could say more Brigit put her hands together palm to palm, fingers together and straight up and gave a short and curt nod. 'My greetings to the Spell and Shield.'
Both men were caught off guard for a moment but returned the same greeting simultaneously while saying, 'The Spell and Shield are at your service.' Brigit was wise to many cultures and societies and in a moment had secured the fealty of these two without any conversation, but with a simple show of respect.
Thomas the warlock spoke up. 'It is a pleasure, my lady, to meet someone who respects and greets us on our terms. We serve you until you give us reason not too.' He bowed and Ian followed without hesitation.
The Warlock Society typically consisted of a warlock and a warrior paired together, called the Spell and Shield. It was the job of the warrior to protect the warlock when he or she was casting a spell and in turn for the warlock to protect the warrior with his or her magic when and if necessary. Early in training, pairs were formed, dissolved and formed again, until the right combination produced a semi symbiotic relationship. After more training and work in the field, they would know each others thoughts before speaking. The Spell and Shield were a powerful combination.
The two women moved on and walked to the airship, which was so much larger when seen up close. It consisted of a giant fabric balloon supporting, essentially, a sailing ship. A glass enclosed cabin made up most of the deck. At the rear was an outboard wind mill and a machine of some sort and Brigit could see a steering wheel on the foredeck. Large wings of some sort sprouted from the sides, but Brigit imagined they were more for guidance than for flying. As they approached, Brigit saw a small gnome on deck in shorts, sandals and a vest with a scarf atop his head and a young elven girl clinging to the balloon ropes like a vine monkey.
Levi extended her arm and hand in presentation mode saying, 'And finally our crew and pilot, Aelfwyn, daughter of Elisar and Maelgwn, head pilot of the Gnomorgon people.'
'Hello miss Brigit.' Said Aelfwynn with an unreadable face.
'Glaud tah meetya' lass.' Maelgwn declared with sincere enthusiasm. He leaped from the ship and landed lightly on the platform and hopped over to the two women and took Brigit's hand in a hearty shake. 'Dunt mind Elffy, she's always a little wary of newcommers on oour boot! But if Levi sez you okay, den dats okay wid me.' He continued shaking Brigit's hand as he spoke until she had to extract it herself slightly embarrassing the gnome. 'Och, sorry lass, I git a bit excited some times.' He gushed with a big smile.
After dealing with dour dwarves for so many years, Brigit found these small, but effervescent people quite refreshing. 'The pleasure is mine master pilot Maelgwn. The accomplishments of your people continues to impress as does your keen and exuberent personalities.' Maelgwn completely blushed.
'You honor me and our people. I wish da humans of da islands was so kind. We may have saved the whole archipelago from disaster. Och, but dat's a tale for da' tavern. Well times a wastin'! Let's finish loadin' and den we can shoove off to da nort!'
Maelgwn headed to the tower down the gangway issuing happy orders to the two men and the human female and elf. Aelfwynn began to climb the ropes, but Brigit called out to her.
'Can we speak Aelfwynn?' And Brigit nodded and gave Levi a knowing and perturbed look. Levi went on board and entered the glass cabin. Elisar, Aelfwynn's mother, had been on Brigit's last mission and was one of the people who had paid with their life. Brigit knew Levi knew this and knew Levi kept this information from her as a brutal surprise.
'There is much to do miss Brigit before we can take off.'
'I only need a few moments.'
The young elf leaped from the ropes and lightly landed on the platform. 'How may I serve?' She asked without bowing.
'I expect you to serve as you always would. I suspect you and the rest of this group have been working with Levi for sometime?' The girl nodded. 'Levi is my number one. You can take orders from her like you normally would, but you must consider those orders as mine. Personal feelings cannot interfere with what we are setting out to accomplish.' Brigit looked Aelfwynn in the eye as she spoke and saw the anger just behind those light crystal blue eyes.
'I'm well aware that personal feelings are not in your leadership, but I answer to Maelgwn, not you or Levi.' Aelfwyn retorted.
Brigit suspected the girl was mad at Levi for bringing Brigit here for this mission. Brigit stepped up and closer to Aelfwynn and rose to every bit of authority she could muster.
'Here's how it works. I'm in charge of this mission. Maelgwyn is in charge of this vessel, but Maelgwn works for the Order. I represent the order. Levi is my number one and everyone but me must listen to her. I offer my respect for your abilities based on the fact that Levi has chosen you, but I will gladly delay this mission to replace anybody that does not respect the chain of command.' As she spoke, she sensed Eve and Fir approaching and turned leveling her gaze at them as well. 'This goes for everybody.' Thomas, Ian and Maelgwn were in earshot too and Levi emerged again from the cabin. 'I am not here to dominate and make things my way. You are already a team. Let me in and teach me your methods and I will do the same in return. But in the end, when I issue an order it must be followed.'
'Even if it means suicide!?' Cried Aelfwynn.
Brigit did not turn to look at Aelfwynn but spoke out loud for all to hear. 'I do not issue orders for suicide. I ask for volunteers and lead them myself. If I get no voluteers, then I do it myself. Your mother, Aelfwynn, was always the first to volunteer. On my last mission, she volunteered, but I would not let her go with us. I had her stay with the rest of the forces because she had you at home. Unfortunately the enemy's forces were strong and the diversion we set up at our hideout was brutally attacked. My force entered enemy lines to capture the general and some of my people died while escaping. When we returned to the hideout, I was shocked at the devastation. We had underestimated the enemy's abililties, but our forces had held. If Jael's forces had known our mission, it still would not have saved your mother. Instead it would have gotten me and my forces killed and we would have lost the general and most likely everyone at the hideout too.'
'Your mother's bravery and ability helped save those protecting our hidden base and eventually drive off the enemy force.' Brigit paused and looked at the silent faces staring at her. She turned back to Aelfwynn who's eyes glistened with tears. Levi had come up along side the young girl and offered an arm around her shoulder. Brigit now seemed to speak more to Aelfwynn and Levi. 'That is why I left. I did not want to have to make a decision again where I had to decide who would live and who would die. But, as it turns out, I am not someone who can run from that. Instead I return and demand that those who live under my command trust in my wish that all may live, but be ready when we must sacrifice for the greater good. All of you are aware of the danger that is out there. If you cannot face it, then you cannot be here. If anyone does not trust me or cannot accept orders from me, then leave now.' Brigit looked around at everyone.
Levi patted Aelfwynn on the back then stepped back. Everyone stood stiff for a moment then in unison bowed to Brigit, including Levi and Aelfwynn and in unison again said, 'We are at your service to be commanded. We serve the higher purpose of the will of the order and not for our personal gain. Your will is that of the order and therefore our command.'
Brigit was suddenly very proud. She knew Levi had taught them those words of fealty and for her to bring some of these outsiders in and swear an oath to the order was a major feat.
'You all do yourselves great honor and great honor to my number one, Levi.' Brigit allowed herself a little smile. Well, you all know your routines, don't let me keep you from them any longer. The sooner we're off the better.'
Everyone dispersed except Levi, who came over to Brigit. 'Sorry about that. I should have warned you about Aelfwynn.'
'Indeed. But, perhaps it was best to come out this way. Any more surprises?' Brigit said as that one eyebrow went up.
'Not from me.' Levi sheepishly replied.
'We still need to talk and not just about this mission. We cannot go back to what we were, but I would like us to move forward with some trust and respect.' Brigit said pointedly.
'Well we'll have some time over the next few days. It should only take us week or less to get to our destination and assuming we don't meet many enemies in the air we should get there in due course.'
Brigit questioned Levi on this a little more. 'You've been up an out here before a few times? What sort of enemies have you encountered?'
'This group has done fifteen missions in the last two years. Our biggest problem is over Mandoria near the Kraggenspur Mountains. Wyverns. We have our methods and routine of dealing with them now after several encounters. I'll fill you in later.'
'Wyverns. Hmph.' Said Brigit. 'I've had my own encounters with their kind. Hopefully we wont see them on this mission.'
'Hopefully.' Levi said as her eyes rolled with a lack of confidence in that respect.
Thanks for stopping by.