A/N: Thank you so very much for taking the time to read my story! I hope you enjoy it! I am always open to constructive criticism so feel free to submit your ideas view reviews or messaging. The first few chapters are quite slow, as all of my stories tend to be, but I'm sure you'll find that in the end it was well worth it. Thank you and once again, enjoy the story!
Early BirdsClaus could feel the sheer strength of the wind as his beloved vanship plunged down from the sea of sky and clouds. He watched as the seemingly endless fields of grain, stained a dark brown from his tinted goggles, seemed to rush towards him in an ever-expanding surface of bristly meadows.
"Whoa! Claus!" Called Lavie from behind. "The angle's too sharp. We're losing altitude too fast! We'll spin out of control! Pull up on the throttle some!"
Claus obeyed without the slightest hesitation and changed the angle slightly. He almost always descended with too much force, but it was only because the quick plunge was his favorite aspect about landing.
In addition, the fact that he could soar downwards without having to be mindful of towering buildings or other incoming vanships, gave Claus a sense of stability when flying their new homeland's foreign skies. Only softly rustling wheat covered the earth now.
Lavie stretched out her arms and inhaled the rushing wind. "Ah!" She sighed in sweet rapture. "That wind smells great up here! A little cold for spring, but good enough for me!" She called up front. "It's nice to be somewhere new, right Claus?"
"Yeah." Claus replied warmly, a smile tugging at his lips.
Claus and Lavie had been gone so long in all the dilemma of the Silvana that the sudden peace of an entirely new planet was quite a pleasant surprise.
"Wind speed 21 knots." Cried Lavie in the back seat. "Altitude 800 feet and closing!"
"Roger!" Replied Claus.
"700 feet…600…it's going to be a great day!" She grinned. "Altitude 200 feet and closing, wind speed 12 knots…150 feet, 10 knots…100 feet…50 feet. Here we go!" Said Lavie.
"Lavie lower the output! I'm pulling in!" Claus shouted.
"Copy!" Lavie shouted, her excitement growing with the diminishing height of the vanship. Her enthusiasm was fierce. She had been a mechanic on the Silvana long enough and was ready and eager to fly the peaceful skies with Claus. "If you could only see us now, Fat Chicken! You can never fly these skies!" Lavie cried out with a playful laugh as she thought of her teasing rivalry with their former racing opponent.
Claus chuckled to himself as he thought of the chubby vanship pilot that frustrated Lavie to such an extent. Although Lavie's temper was as bold and fiery as her red ginger hair, Fat Chicken's antics were obnoxious enough to irritate almost anyone.
Lavie lied back comfortably and stared down below at the passing wheat fields; her work was nearly done. It wasn't very professional but no matter how wild Claus was in the skies, he always managed to pull of a beautifully smooth landing with little or even no help from her. She soon lost her focus with the passing grain as she became distracted with the thick blue awning of the skies speckled with tufts of cloud here and there.
The belly of the silver vanship gently grazed the tips of the coarse wheat as Claus began to break and pull in towards the small house forged of meager pine and oak that sat modestly within the tall golden stalks.
With the small flick of his hand, Claus released the landing gear as he slowly dipped out of the dense fields and towards the small clearing they had made for an even landing. He pulled in smoothly and hovered slightly above the ground. With faultless grace the vanship touched down onto the dusty earth that served as their makeshift-landing pad.
"Hey Lavie! How much did you get down?" Asked Claus as he turned around from the pilot's seat to face her.
Lavie fumbled as she unrolled a small scroll and eyed it carefully, twisting and turning it to her need. "Not a lot." She replied as she bit her lip.
"Sorry, I tried to fly as slow and high as I could." Claus said as he pulled his goggles off his eyes and left them to rest around his neck.
"No. You did fine. It's just hard to keep everything on the same scale." Answered Lavie as she kept eyeing the paper. "Hey! Wait a second!" She exclaimed with a grin. "I did get down that river on the north side and the meadow next to it. And that big oak tree too!"
"The oak tree? That's a lot of detail. I guess you got more down than you thought." Claus replied, a friendly smile spread across his lips.
"I guess so!" Lavie boasted with pride.
She then rolled up the thin paper and hopped out of the back seat, sighing softly as she did so. "It's really sloppy, though. I'll have to get started on cleaning it up right away before I forget what each marking means." She said as she pulled off her goggles and tugged at her flying cap. "Map making is more difficult than I remembered."
"Can I see?" Asked Claus as he reached out for the delicate paper in Lavie's heavily gloved fingertips.
"No way!" Lavie declined, shaking her head and dangling the small scroll high above them both. "My father would be ashamed!" She lamented with her lighthearted yet intense dramatics as she held the frail cylinder to her breast and sighed.
"Come on Lavie!" Said Claus with a laugh as he undid his cap and scratched his wispy blonde hair beneath. "It can't be that bad!"
"Can't be that bad? Oh please!" Lavie moped. "Only you can find something positive about all this. I haven't made a map in so long that it looks like a bunch of smudges and chicken scratch!" She then tucked the paper in her jumpsuit pocket and crossed her arms in sheer defiance. "There's no way I'm letting anybody see this sucker until it's good and ready to be looked at!"
"Okay, okay!" Claus replied in defeat as he removed his own beaten gloves from his calloused hands. He didn't dare challenge Lavie in her somewhat stubborn rebellion. He knew better than that.
"Now c'mon, Claus!" Lavie said as she ran her hands along the deep grooves in the thin sheet metal that encased their beautiful flying machine. "Let's get her in the barn so she's safe and sound."
"Right." Agreed Claus with a simple nod. He shook his fair hair free of the matted form the leather flying cap had molded, allowing the familiar windswept blonde peaks to form.
Together they rolled the vanship from the bald landing spot towards the rickety barn. It was built to hold not only Claus and Lavie's precious ship, but Tatiana and Alistia's as well. So it was a surprise to the two young pilots to find the other vanship compartment empty when they had pushed their own ship back into place.
"Hey look Lavie!" Claus said as he pointed to the hollow bay. "It looks like Tatiana and Alis went out early today too."
"Yeah." Replied Lavie, quickly dismissing Claus's discovery. She soon went about undressing as she slipped off her heavy flight suit and hung it up on one of the small wooden pegs on the barn walls along with her cap, gloves, and goggles.
Lavie didn't know Tatiana and Alistia as well as Claus would like her to, nor did she like them as much either. But nonetheless Claus still wished for a friendship between all of them, even if it was seemingly hopeless.
Alistia was such a quiet gentle soul that Lavie's extravagantly aggressive personality would be almost too much for her to handle. As for Tatiana, Claus found that she and Lavie were so much alike in their strong personalities that the chemistry between them would nearly explode if either one of them so much as spoke a word to one another.
"We must've spent hours up there." Lavie said as she looked back outside through the great square doorway while Claus hung up his own suit and equipment.
"Yeah." He replied, joining her as he wiped the small beads of sweat that formed on his brow. "It must be noon by now."
Lavie sighed, taking out the map as she did so and didn't reply. Her red hair, still cut in the familiar low maintenance bob, hung forward and seemed to hide her face from Claus as she inspected her work.
"I'm gonna need more charcoal." She said. "I feel like I'm drawing with my fingernails with the pebbles I've got to work with."
"You can ask Dunya for more. I'm sure she's got some extra that she'll lend you." Claus replied.
"Yeah. That's a good idea." Lavie replied and took a swig of water from her canteen strapped close at her side. Her stomach then gave a loud growl sending the blood rushing into Lavie's pale face. An embarrassed smirk then spread across her face.
Claus chuckled at his friend's nearly insatiable appetite.
"C'mon Claus!" She said as she tossed her canteen to Claus and made her way towards the small cabin. "I'm starving! Let's eat!"
Claus, first taking a swig of the cold water for himself, soon followed in her footsteps. "Maybe if we didn't leave so early in the morning we could have a bigger breakfast."
Lavie laughed. "You're just looking for a reason to sleep in! Come on Claus! Who's ever heard of a vanship pilot that can't get up in the morning?"
Claus sighed and replaced the stopper in the old canteen. "I'm trying to get better." He added softly.
"Aw come on Claus!" Lavie replied. "Quit being such a softie! Seriously, you make me wish that I had brought that hammer and dented scrap metal with me just so I could get you to open your eyes!"
Claus smiled with satisfaction, seeing as though he was out of Lavie's sight. He was secretly glad that her obnoxious method for waking him up was left behind in the bottled world of Prester.
"Then again," Lavie went on, resting a grimy finger on her rounded chin, "we've got such an abundant water supply here that maybe I'll give you a complementary cold shower with my canteen instead!"
"What?" Claus exclaimed, his voice cracking to a higher pitch. "No! Don't do that!"
Lavie cackled and walked on. "Don't worry, sleepyhead, I'm not that mean." She replied shaking her head in amusement.
As they neared the cottage a pleasant aroma filled their nostrils.
"Mm. It smells good." Said Claus as his mouth watered at the enticing scent. He hadn't realized just how hungry he really was until the alluring smell overwhelmed all his other senses.
"Yeah." Lavie agreed, intoxicated by the inviting scent.
Together they marched up the wooden steps and through the door.
"Welcome back, you two!" Said a soft honey-sweet voice that greeted them as soon as they set foot inside the small house.
Both Claus and Lavie were surprised to find that Alistia had greeted them inside. She apparently had been setting the plates and silverware for their upcoming meal but had stopped to properly welcome Claus and Lavie.
"Alis?" Claus asked. "I thought you were with Tatiana."
"Not today." Alistia replied as she went back to setting the table.
"But your vanship is gone did Tatiana go up by herself?" Claus questioned her further.
"No, not alone." She then smiled slightly. "Today she took Alvis up with her."
"Al!" Exclaimed both Claus and Lavie.
"Yeah." Alistia laughed. "Normally we let the students sit with Tatiana or me, depending on which job they like better, but Al's getting so good that she doesn't need me to tell her what to do anymore. So I suggested that Al fly solo with Tatiana today. She really has come a long way since we came here." Alistia then looked up at them and smiled sweetly. "She's going to be a really great navigator one day."
"Yeah." Lavie replied with a content smile. She was quite proud of her little friend for coming along so far in such a short time.
"Ah! You're back. The early birds have returned!" Said Dunya, stirring away at a large stone pot set above a small stove. "And just in time too. I've made you both some hot soup."
"That sounds nice. It was a little cooler today, so that will really do us some good." Said Claus as he made his way to the small wooden table and took a seat.
"Yeah." Added Lavie. "I'm so hungry that I could probably drain the whole pot myself!" She laughed.
"Well it's a good thing that skinny frame of yours never seems to gain a pound or else you and Claus will never get off the ground again!" Said Dunya as she ladled the soup into each porcelain bowl Alistia had set.
"I need to wash my hands first." Said Lavie as she went to the small soapy water basin near the back corner of the humble kitchen. "All this charcoal I'm using is staining my hands black. I can't seem to get them clean again." She said as she wrung her hands in the foamy lather.
"Easy, Lavie." Said Dunya she said as she watched Lavie's rigorous washing. "You still want to have hands when you're done, right?"
Lavie groaned and dried her hands. "I just feel dirty all the time. Look at them!" Lavie whined as she held up her hands for inspection.
It seemed a black dusty film had covered Lavie's fingertips and settled into thick black bars beneath her fingernails.
"They're clean! I promise!" Said Lavie as she attempted to reassure their somewhat dismayed face.
"That's ok, Lavie." Said Claus. "It'll go away when you're finished working with it."
"Oh that reminds me!" Exclaimed Dunya. "How is the map coming along?"
"Okay, I guess." Lavie sighed as she took a seat next to Claus and began slurping up the soup.
"Lavie's not used to making maps." Claus elaborated for her.
"Yeah," Lavie went on, "I used to make them all the time with my dad when I was really little. Together we made this big map of Norkia and all the shortcuts in it that vanships could use." Lavie smiled with the memories of her late father. "Now that I think of it, Claus and I used that map when we began taking jobs as couriers. And when I got really good my dad and I made an entire map of Anatore."
"An entire map of Anatore?" Said Dunya. "That's pretty impressive."
"Yeah" Lavie said and took another slurp. "After he died I made a map of all the canals in Norkia, but that was the last one. So I'm pretty rusty and not too experienced to begin with."
"That's okay." Said Alistia. "Mapmaking is really difficult. I never excelled at it when I was with the Academy." She then gave a cheerful smile. "I actually dropped the course halfway into my first year."
The four of them all shared a chuckle and then went about eating their lunch.
"I didn't know you went to the Academy!" Said Claus with astonishment.
"No one ever asked." Alistia replied; a slight blush graced her pale cheeks. "That's where Tatiana and I met and we became vanship pilots from there."
"Well there's a bit of history." Said Dunya. "Honestly Alis, you're so quiet all the time that you're starting to become a walking mystery."
Alistia laughed quietly and took another spoonful of soup. "I like to listen." She stated upon swallowing. "You learn a great deal about people when you listen more than you speak, sometimes a little more than you'd like, but nonetheless you see the true essence of that person."
"That's a thought." Said Lavie, somewhat impressed with Alistia's revelation. She soon after poured herself a second helping.
"Further promoting my mystery theory!" Said Dunya with a playful grin.
Alistia simply smiled and finished her bowl.
"I should've married a man who listens more than he talks. But instead I've got Moran." Dunya went on. She grumbled and put her elbows on the table, letting her chin rest in her hands.
"But he does love you." Said Lavie with a warm grin as she helped herself to another bowl. "Just like you love him."
"How many bowls are you going to eat?" Said Claus as he was still progressing on his first helping.
"As many as I want!" Lavie declared proudly. "Hey just where is Moran anyway?" She asked.
"Out harvesting more grain again. I swear that man wants me to drown in wheat. He picks so much of it!" Said Dunya.
"Well there's a whole lot to pick." Claus replied.
"Yeah I know." Dunya replied and swirled her spoon in her soup. "I just don't think he realizes that we've got other things to gather too."
"Well it's still early in spring and not everything is quite ready to be collected yet." Said Lavie. "Summer's when all the really great stuff starts getting ripe. Summer and fall."
"I guess you're right. But anyways, back to the map." Said Dunya as she set her eyes back on Lavie. "Don't get discouraged. With all the new people settling here, they're all going to need an idea of what the countryside looks like; where the water is, where the fields end and the grasses start, where the mountains are, the trees, everything."
"People?" Lavie asked. "I never thought of it like that."
"Well just what were you thinking of?" Asked Dunya.
"We just wanted to know the lands better." Said Claus. "Everything here's so different, we thought we'd get acquainted to it the best way we know how to."
Dunya laughed richly and slapped her knees. "You two are crazy! You mean you never planned on selling it?"
Claus and Lavie looked at one another in confusion. "No." They answered meekly.
"Do you two realize just how much money you can make off this hobby of yours?" Dunya cried. "The people here are screaming for direction and you two are just the ones to give it to them!"
"Well I guess we could sell it." Said Lavie slowly.
"If you think it would really help the people then that's just what we'll do." Said Claus with a determined smile.
Lavie gave him a playful shove. "Easy for you to say! I'm the one that has to do all the work!" She put her hands into fists and looked up towards the vaulted ceiling. "Just think of all the copies I'll have to make." She grumbled between grit teeth.
"Lavie," Alistia began, "I know I said I wasn't very skilled at mapmaking, but I'm not horrible. Maybe I can help you out. I'd be very happy to. At least with the copies, if not the original."
"Uh." Lavie stuttered. "Sure."
"Great!" Alistia smiled and tilted her head in a friendly manner.
Lavie smiled in return but it was an awkward smile, forced and unnatural. She didn't know Alistia well at all and wasn't used to being kind to strangers. It just wasn't in her nature.
The creaking of the front door ended the brief silence and the four diners turned to find Tatiana and Alvis.
"Hi everyone!" Cried Alvis in her beautifully childish voice.
They greeted the two newcomers with pleasant enthusiasm and invited them to have a seat.
"Hey Al!" Said Lavie as Alvis took a seat beside her. "Alis has been telling me what a great navigator you are."
"Really?" Said Alvis as Dunya handed her a bowl full of steaming hot soup.
"She sure has." Said Claus. "You should be very proud of yourself."
Alvis gave a big grin and began eating her own meal. "Mm." She smiled with delight. "It's good!"
"Thanks." Dunya replied.
"She made a few mistakes on the takeoff and landing, but after all she's still a beginner." Said Tatiana as she ran her fingers through her short blonde hair and helped herself to a bowl of her own.
"I misread the Claudia Pressure." Said Alvis with an embarrassed grin.
"You also were too hard on the output switch. You've got to be gentle with it." Said Tatiana, her cool blue eyes flashing. She rubbed her neck and groaned a bit. "You'll give your pilot whiplash if you're careless with it."
Tatiana would have gone to tell what other mistakes Alvis had made but she held her tongue. Her criticism was unnecessary; Claus had taught her that in his own oblivious way. She was trying to break the cold icy shell that encased her and made her seem so discourteous to everyone. Slowly but surely Tatiana was trying to break this shell and expose the soft and thoughtful girl on the inside. But still even with effort, Tatiana still let her old sour self shine through on rare occasions.
"It smells very good." Said Tatiana with a polite smile; trying to quickly end her bitter slip up.
"Yeah well I made a huge pot of it so eat as much as you like." Dunya replied as she began clearing finished plates.
"So how's the map coming you two?" Asked Tatiana as she eyed both Claus and Lavie.
"Good!" Replied Claus, answering for Lavie as she drank her fourth bowl dry. "We've decided to sell it to anyone who wants it."
Tatiana looked at him in a confused manner. "You mean you weren't going to sell it in the first place?" She dictated.
Lavie rolled her eyes. "It's a long story, you probably wouldn't want to hear it." She said as she rose to her feet. "And now that it's been brought up again, I should probably get started on it." Said Lavie as the corners of her lips sagged in a dreadful frown. "Oh! Back to the candlelight, back to the charcoal and the drawing board!" She groaned as she made her way down the back hallway to her room, which she shared with both Claus and Alvis.
"She seems so irritated." Said Tatiana, she sighed. "I don't blame her. She's got a lot of work on her shoulders."
Lavie sat down at the small angled drawing table positioned against the wall beside the door. On her left were Claus and Alvis's bunk beds and to her right was her own single bed.
When they had arranged the room, Alvis was so ardent to insist the top bunk that neither Lavie nor Claus could refuse her pleas. So they were left to pick from the remaining two beds. It was a quaint room, enough for the three of them to sleep comfortably. After all, there was such limited space with their rather large company that there wasn't a single room to spare. A tiny square window was carved in the wall opposite Lavie's desk and gave a faint light; dyed rich bullion from the wheat fields that seemed to wrap the earth in endless gold.
Lavie lit a slender candle with a single match and took out the map from her pocket. Unrolling it gingerly, she spread it across the desk and placed a paperweight on each side. Lavie then slid open her small paneled box and took out a few dwindling splinters of charcoal.
Slowly and carefully, Lavie turned meaningless scribbles into beautifully detailed rivers, trees, and meadows. She didn't realize the diminishing sunlight, for the candle gave all the light she needed. She didn't notice the noise from outside the cottage nor the bustle in the kitchen. She only saw dark chalky black marks upon stained yellow parchment paper.
A knock at the door sent her out of her consuming focus. "Come in!" Said Lavie as she rubbed her eyes of their tight concentrative gaze.
She looked over and saw Alvis peeking around the doorframe.
"Hey Al!" Lavie welcomed her with a smile.
"I brought you some dinner." She said as she stepped inside bearing a plateful of Dunya's newest concoction.
"Dinner?" Lavie exclaimed. "Has it been that long?" She looked out the window and noticed that night had fallen in her conscious absence not to mention her candle was nearly burnt to its base.
Alvis just simply smiled politely.
"Thanks Al." Lavie said, taking the plate from her.
"What are you doing in here Lavie?" Asked Alvis as she crept over to Lavie's side and peeped over her shoulder.
"It's a map." Lavie replied, her mouth full of food. "Here," she said as she pulled Alvis close and pointed to a spot on the paper. "This is where Claus and I flew today." She said as she pointed to a long river slicing the earth in half. "See that? There's a meadow on the other side. It's where the fields end."
"Oh." Alvis said in surprise. "I thought the fields went on forever."
"So did I." Lavie replied. "But I'm kind of glad they don't."
"Well then because no matter where you went, you'd always be in the same place." Lavie replied. "You should ask Tatiana to take you there the next time you're her navi. It's really beautiful."
"Ok!" Alvis grinned.
"And I heard what she said to you today at the table. Don't let her get you down. She's such a dictator all the time; you can't really expect a complement from her." Lavie went on as she fingered the charcoal in her stained fingertips.
"Lavie." Alvis murmured.
"What." Said Lavie, going back to munch on her dinner.
"I like Tatiana." Said Alvis. "She's nice."
Lavie looked over at Alvis in surprise. "Oh." She blurted out, not quite expecting such words from the little girl.
A silence passed between the two, a quiet unnerving silence that bothered Lavie to infinite heights.
"I thought she was mean too, but she's different now. In a good way." Said Alvis, abruptly ending the stillness.
"Ok Al." Lavie said. "I'll try."
"Ok!" Alvis replied as a carefree smile crossed her face.
The door squeaked open, startling the two girls, and Claus entered. The two girls' stares unnerved him a bit.
"What?" He asked nervously as he shut the door behind him. "Did I interrupt something?"
"Hi Claus!" Alvis greeted him.
"Hey Al." Said Claus with a chuckle. He loved the fact that she always greeted him like they had been apart for ages.
"Lavie was showing me her map." Said Alvis as she pulled Claus over to Lavie's desk.
"I don't think Lavie wants me to see." Said Claus as he resisted Alvis's tug.
"Aw I don't care anymore." Lavie rolled her eyes and took another bite of her dinner. "Go ahead and look if you like."
Claus accepted her offer and stood over Lavie's desk as he looked at the large paper. "Hey Lavie this is really good!" He said with enthusiasm.
"Do you think so?" She asked as she stuffed more food in her mouth.
"Yeah!" Claus said as he ran his fingers over it.
"Hey watch it!" Said Lavie. "You better not smear that charcoal or I'll have you make this map yourself!"
"Sorry." He said, snatching his hand back. "Do you need any help?"
"No." Lavie sighed. "Besides if you're up all night helping me, then you'll never get up in the morning."
"Are you sure?" He asked.
"Positive! Now get to bed." Lavie scolded.
"It's getting late. You should sleep too." Claus replied.
"Aren't you going to bed, Lavie?" Asked Alvis. She stared up at Lavie with her pale blue eyes.
"No, I've still got some more work to finish." Lavie replied as scraped her plate clean and set it on the floor beside the desk. "Go ahead I'll be okay. Is the candle too bright?"
"No, it's fine." Claus replied. He then looked down at Alvis. "Ok Al, I guess it's just you and me then."
Alvis nodded and climbed up to her bed where her little stuffed yak was tangled in the covers. "Good night Claus." Alvis said as she snuggled in close beneath the covers.
"Goodnight Al." Said Claus as he climbed into his own bed.
"Goodnight Lavie." Alvis yawned sleepily.
"Night Al." Said Lavie, as she took up her charcoal again and began scribbling away at the small scroll.
"Goodnight Lavie." Said Claus.
"Yeah right. It's not like I'll be sleeping anytime soon." Lavie rolled her eyes and looked over at Claus to find him smiling absentmindedly at her while tucked comfortably beneath the thin coverlets.
She sighed and somehow found the contentment to smile back.