I stood in front of the oaken door frame, my knuckles raised and hovering before the door. And yet, I couldn’t bring myself to knock — what would I even say? That I changed my mind and abandoned the war?
Shaking my head, I steeled myself and finally knocked. Davos had helped me through my darkest moments, and I would have been remiss not to talk to him before I left on my voyage.
The sound of trampling echoed from beyond the door, and I heard a grunt as the door was unlatched. Soon after, the door squeaked open, revealing the sullen face of Davos’s teenage son.
“Oh! Hello, Mister Julian,” Evan said, eying me strangely from head to toe. “Did you want to see Dad?”
“I do. Is he at home?”
“’Fraid not,” he said, tightening his lips in a sympathetic smile. “He left earlier to talk with the carpenters about rebuilding the shop. He should still be there.”
“I see,” I said as I searched through my pockets. Finding a gold coin, I grabbed it and tossed it to the boy. “Thank you for the help, and… for that day as well. Buy yourself something nice.”
His eyes went wide — that would have been a significant amount of money for a kid his age. “There was nothing to it,” he said. “You’re a friend of Dad’s, so you’re a friend of the whole family — well, the family’s just me and Dad, but you get the idea.”
I puffed out a laugh. “I understand. In any case, take care,” I said, waving Evan goodbye.
He returned the wave and scurried back inside, while I turned around and made for the Trade District.
As I walked, I admired the hardiness of the townfolk. Many had lost their homes and livelihood in the attack, yet the town was as animated as ever, with masses of people milling about, carrying construction materials and assorted equipment and tools.
It was a shame how much the town itself had suffered. Once the initial chaos was over, and the extent of the damage could be mapped out, it had turned out that nearly a quarter of the buildings had been irrecoverably damaged — though, perhaps luckily, the worst of the damage had been in the Trade District, sparing most of the residential areas. Still, nearly a thousand had been left without a home, but the civic spirit of Ravenrock’s citizens had shined brightly, with many offering to house the victims in their own homes at no cost.
Now, almost a month later, new buildings were already beginning to crop up, with the town’s carpenters and stonemasons having mobilized en masse to bring Ravenrock back to its previous glory.
The streets were largely clean as I made my way to the Trade District, but piles of soot still hung about the corners, a memory of how the town had nearly been turned to cinders. At least they hadn’t had to clean up the corpses, I thought grimly.
I approached the place where Davos’s bookstore used to be, and it didn’t take long for me to spot the man as he talked animatedly to a burly pair of worksmen. Gathering myself, I approached the three, putting on my best friendly smile.
“Good day, Davos, gentlemen,” I said, giving each a nod. “I hear that you decided to rebuild?”
The two carpenters nodded numbly in return, and I barely heard them as they mumbled ‘Lord Julian.’ I grimaced inwardly — it would take some time before I lost my scary reputation.
“Julian!” Davos said with his usual boisterousness, “I didn’t expect to see you back so soon!”
“I had a small change of plans,” I said, looking downward, “but it looks like you did as well? If I remember correctly, you were going to write off the bookstore.”
Davos dismissed the carpenters with a nod and a wave, and they set off to begin working on the now empty lot. “I couldn’t abandon it,’ he said, watching the men as they moved. “I wanted to let it go, or to start something new, or to just pick a job as a scribe, but… the more I thought about it, the more I realized how much I loved working around books. I didn’t want to give up on that feeling.”
An idea sparked in my mind. “What about a library?” I asked, excitement taking over my body.
“What if instead of a bookstore, you opened a library? Free books for everyone, you don’t have to worry about making sales, more people get to learn, and read…” I trailed off, thinking of the possibilities. Why hadn’t I thought of this sooner? I could help my friend, benefit the entire town, and possibly even help my reputation, all in one stroke!
“That’s definitely an idea,” he said hesitantly. “But a much larger undertaking than a bookstore, and significantly more expensive. You’d be the one to fund such a thing, right?”
“Of course,” I said, furrowing my brow, “did you think I’d suggest it only to let you fund it out of your own pocket?”
“No, no,” he said with a shake of his head, “just making sure. It’s best to be on the same page with things like these.”
“So what do you think?”
“I definitely like the idea,” he said, bringing his hands to his chin, “though I’m not sure what you’d stand to gain from this.”
I shrugged. “Do I need to gain anything from it? I’d be happy just to share my love for books with other people.”
“That’s it?” he asked, raising an eyebrow expectantly.
“…it would also serve as an apology for bringing ruin to Ravenrock,” I said with a grimace.
Davos’s gaze softened. “That wasn’t your fault. And you’ve apologized enough — don’t think people haven’t noticed your minions bringing in money and materials. They’re many things, but subtle is not one of them.”
“It wouldn’t have happened if I didn’t live nearby, so that makes it my responsibility.”
“Agree to disagree.” He sighed. “Since you’re here, does that mean you’ve abandoned the war?”
“Well, kind of. I realized my folly and was about to return home, but then the Rhinians decided an invasion would be in order. They made mincemeat of most of the Legion.”
“You remained to face the Rhinians? That’s… brave. Not smart at all, but definitely brave,” he said, lips curling up in amusement.
I sighed, shaking my head. “I did go on a streak of bad decisions. Though, thanks to—” I paused, remembering that mentioning the System was perhaps unwise, “—some recent events, I’m should be able to keep myself out of further trouble.”
“Fine, keep your secrets,” Davos said with a wry smile. Damn that man! He was too perceptive by half.
“Anyway,” I said, gracelessly changing the subject, “let’s talk about the library. I already have some ideas, but I’d like to hear your opinion…”
I spent the rest of the afternoon with Davos, catching up and making plans about the library. He’d been skeptical at first, but it didn’t take much to convince him — he was as much a lover of books as I was and only needed a slight push in the right direction.
Construction would take months, however, and I wanted to set sail for the Archipelago as soon as constraints allowed. But the Archipelago was far to the South-East, and getting there — as well as hauling the six Heroes with me — was still an unsolved issue.
We needed a ship.
I could, of course, have flown the whole way there, even while carrying the kids, but as far as I was concerned, that was too slow and exhausting to even take into consideration. Not when alternatives were abound.
Despite its coastal position, Ravenrock was neither a port town, nor did it have a shipyard. At most, it had a small dock that was used solely by the resident fishermen. What the town did have, however, was a veritable graveyard of ships dotting the coast.
Much like my tower, their construction seemed impervious to time — despite having laid broken and stuck in the rocks for centuries, their hulls did not show the typical decomposition one would expect from wooden boats.
When I’d first studied the tower, I had assumed its lack of degradation despite the absence of magic was a quirk of its construction, some technology that has been lost to time. But now, knowing what I did about the System, I wondered if perhaps it had had a hand in creating all these wonders.
The rest of the evening saw me flying along the coast in search for the least damaged ship large enough to carry the whole group. I passed by what must have been hundreds of ships with a variety of designs — some I could name, but many looked as if they’d been spun out of a tale. Disturbingly, the vast majority were clearly warships — I wasn’t familiar with the long dark cylinders decorating the decks or peeking from windows below deck, but there was little doubt they were weaponry of some sort. Harpoon throwers, perhaps? I’d long believed my tower had been some kind of watchtower in the past, given its wide view over the ocean, and cataloging the ships.
Sunset was almost upon me when I finally spotted the one. The ship was much smaller than most of its brethren — a corvette if I recalled the name correctly — but looked to be mostly intact. It was stuck hard between rocks, and its hull had been breached in a couple of places, but the holes were no bigger than a couple of feet, and the main structure had remained solid. Repairing it and bringing it back to its top shape was merely a matter of days, if not hours. Having nothing better to do, I got to work.
Jagged rocks had pierced the hull in a handful of places, but most of the lost material had been blown inward or remained attached. I began by removing the unwanted debris — getting the rocks out of the way was tricky, but well within the domain of Matter magic, and transforming the large chunks into rocky dust was a simple application of said magic.
I still wanted the ship to remain suspended, however. Dropping it into the ocean with gaps in the hull was only asking for it to be flooded, so I removed just enough of the rocks that I could access the holes. With the breaches cleared of debris, I could finally work on fixing them.
I reattached whatever planks I could find, weaving Matter to bind them together. Since they were a part of the greater whole to begin with, the hull accepted them readily, mending the spots as if they had never been broken. But some of the material had been washed away, and some of the breaches, especially a particularly large one right at the bottom of the hull, required some improvisation.
Given the material’s odd property to resist the decay of time, I was hesitant to patch them up with something else. I didn’t want to risk dispelling or weakening the effect. Instead, I opted to stretch the edges of the breach until they touched, spreading the wood thin but remaining free of foreign parts. I adjusted the density of the entire nearby area, ensuring the patch job could stand up to the rigors of sailing — but still, I would have to figure out a way to reinforce the spots, lest they broke unexpectedly.
What remained was the ship’s sails — which were, as far as I was concerned, a total loss. The fabric was unusual; I had expected something like cotton, or perhaps flax, but whatever remained of them was more akin to velvet. Unlike the rest of the ship, the mark of time was clearly visible on them, with a few frail tatters remaining.
A glance at the horizon showed the sun had already set. I would have to purchase new sails, or at the very least enough cloth to craft them, but that would be a job for another day. For now, I flew up to the top of the cliff, and seated myself on the edge as I waited for the right moment to free the corvette from its prison.
Time passed as the waves crashed against the cliffs, and it wasn’t long before Ostira, the larger of the two moons, rose above the horizon. Its smaller sister, Mara, followed in its wake, quickly overtaking Ostira as it danced circles around the elder sibling. Finally, when Ostira was close to the zenith, I dropped down back to the ship, channeling threads of Matter and disintegrating the rocks that had trapped it for at least half a millennium.
Free from its cage, the ship splashed into the ocean, finally floating by her own power again, free to sail the seas. Weaving Force, I pushed her gently further into the ocean, away from the treacherous cliffs, and lowered the anchor to keep her in place.
What she needed now, most of all, was a name — so I went up to the ship’s bow and floated down to the hull. With a gentle invocation of Matter, I carved the words into her wood, marking her for posterity as The Reborn Sparrow.