A young crow boards the ferry to her future.
As I clutched the starboard railing of the Starwake, idly watching the hustle and bustle of the Fyresh wharf, I couldn’t help feeling a little bit silly. A crow, after all, shouldn’t need a boat to cross any body of water, but my cargo served to make this mode of transportation a necessity. Hiring enough couriers to fly all the books, instruments, and trinkets that were set to come with me would undoubtedly have cost more rings than even my well-to-do parents could spend. Then there was my tarantula, Scuttle, whose safety I wouldn’t entrust to any courier even if all the inanimate possessions weren’t an issue.
So the next few weeks for me were going to be spent traversing the bulk of the Crescent Channel and the River of Tears on a creaky hunk of wood. Fun.
I turned to examine the hunk of wood in question. The Starwake was a sizeable commercial ferry, with two full decks and room to accommodate roughly one-hundred and fifty creatures of varying sizes. Though the state-of-the-art steam engine that gave the vessel its power marked it as the work of Isle crow engineers, the ship itself was clearly designed with land beasts in mind, and its patronage showed; mostly rats, with a smattering of prairie dogs, mustelids, and island foxes. As far as I could tell, with the exception of the falcon perched in the lookout’s nest above and the magpie in the captain’s cabin, I would be the only bird on this particular trip.
As I was scanning the ferry, I noticed a young brown-furred rat break away from his group and start moving towards me. Curious, I watched as he padded across the deck, leapt up onto the railing next to me, and seemed to just stare at me for a while with his head cocked at an odd angle.
After the moment had stretched on just long enough to feel awkward, the rat spoke. “Why’re yew on this tub, eh, crow?”
“I’m heading to Brass Valley for schooling.”
It was true enough; while my native Crescent Isle sported many of the best schools in the land for those wishing to learn about art or philosophy, for those like myself, whose interests lay in the sciences, there was no better option than the prestigious Brass Valley University. I still wasn’t entirely sure what branch of the sciences I wanted to focus on, but I figured I’d sort that out once I got there.
“With a boat? Don’t yer wings work?”
I chuckled softly at that. “They do. Unfortunately, my luggage doesn’t have wings.”
“Ah.” The rat scratched casually at his ear with a forepaw. “So wot’s yer name then?”
“Mythryn, but most creatures just call me ‘Ryn’ for short. What about you?”
“Reiklin. Me an’ some o’ my brothers an’ sisters are goin’ to the Valley too, to stay with some cousins o’ mine.”
“Yeah.” Reiklin counted out the names with his claws as he spoke. “Keshki, Telsa, Salvin, an’… Err, Greshin, I think. Any’ow, they run some dusty ole tavern in the Ratway, called the Bucktooth Inn, an’ I’m off to work for ‘em.”
“Any particular reason why?”
“Rings are tight, our ‘ouse ain’t big enough for us all, the folks are sick o’ us; it’s the usual story.” The rat shot me a quizzical look. “But why’re yew so int’rested, any’ow?”
“Just curious, I suppose. I could just as easily ask why you started talking to me in the first place.”
Reiklin let loose a bout of the squeaky tittering that served as laughter for rats. “Hee-hee-hee-hee! Yew got me there, Ryn. I ‘spose I was jus’ curious too.”
Suddenly, a high-pitched whistle seemed to rend the air, drawing both of our gazes towards the Starwake’s center. It was the signal that the ferry was about to depart.
“Well…” I said, turning back to my new companion. “I guess I’d better get to my cabin now. I need to make sure Scuttle doesn’t hurt herself when we start moving.”
Reiklin gave me another quizzical look as he was preparing to jump down from the railing. “Who’s Scuttle?”
“My tarantula, of course.”
Reiklin’s face screwed up in an exaggerated grimace. “Ick! I never could figger out how yew birds could stand keepin’ those nasty things.”
I cocked my head nonchalantly. “Sort of like how most of my peers wouldn’t be able to understand my speaking to a rat?”
“Well, yer a canny featherhead, ain’t yew?” The rat called back after he’d descended from his perch. “Guess I’ll be seein’ more o’ yew since we’re bound fer the same place, eh?”
“I wouldn’t mind that at all, friend. I’m in cabin twenty-seven if you feel like visiting.” With that, I leapt from the side of the ferry and took to the winds.
As I wheeled up and above wharf and ship alike, I took that final chance to see the city of my hatching; Fyresh, the lofty capital of enlightenment. Built in and among the great beeches and evergreens that blanketed the Crescent Isle, the city’s architectural style was one that aimed to mimic the curves and bumps of the natural world. Consequently, to creatures who didn’t know any better, it might almost look as if Fyresh had not been constructed, but grown from the living trunks and branches that supported it. Some of the showier examples of architecture struck me as pellet-inducing pretentiousness, but overall, the effect was fairly impressive. I could see myself eventually starting to miss this place.
Deciding that I was done sightseeing, I banked hard towards the stern end of the ship, where most of the upper-deck passenger cabins were situated. Flying slowly until I caught sight of the door with the big black “27” emblazoned on its face, I alighted on the nearby railing, and from there, glided down to the deck just in front of the door.
After I had gone through the process of unlocking the door with the flat iron key hanging from my neck, I tugged on the woven linen door rope. The door swung easily outward on its well-oiled hinges, and I stepped lightly into my cabin, snagging the inside rope to shut the door as I went.
The cabin itself could theoretically have been described as “spacious” if it hadn’t been for the clutter of all the belongings that I just couldn’t bear to leave behind. As it stood, simply stepping across the crowded floor in search of my fool of a spider proved to be an arduous process. Eventually, I caught a flash of bright purple fuzz resting near the top of my considerable book pile. With a thoroughly annoyed groan, I fluttered my way to the top of the stack.
“What are you doing up here, you stupid bug? Get down! Get!” Carefully, I used the tip of my wing to coax Scuttle down from her perch and back into her special wood-and-glass carrying case. The whole ordeal probably took far longer than it should have.
Once she was secure, I looked through the case’s glass side panel at my pet; she was of an arboreal breed, with a thick coating of distinct purple-and-black hair. I’d received her as a tiny spiderling about three years ago, and even now I almost couldn’t believe how quickly such a tiny, helpless thing had transformed into this beautiful animal.
“Sorry, Scut. I’d let you wander more if I could, but I don’t want you getting hurt when we take off.” I tapped lightly on the glass with one talon. “Are you hungry?”
Scuttle didn’t respond, of course; she only continued to sit in the corner of her carrier, calmly bundled in fluffy limbs. Regardless, I took it as a “yes” and casually flipped open the top of the nearby polished metal case containing Scuttles’ food supply; a small colony of big tropical cockroaches. Plucking out one of the fatter specimens with my beak, I dropped it through the small feeding opening at the top of the container. Almost as soon as the roach had hit the bottom, Scuttle pounced from her relaxed position, as if she’d been launched by a metal spring. While Scuttle was busy enjoying her snack, I picked out a roach for myself to eat.
Another wailing whistle pierced the air as I was pulling the wriggling insect out of its container. I quickly closed the lid and swallowed my prey just before the boat gave a sudden lurch as it was pushed off from the pier. My belongings rattled threateningly around the cabin, but it had all been tied down securely enough that nothing seemed inclined to fall or break.
The distinct puttering of the Starwake’s steam engine started up after the ferry had been allowed to drift far enough out, turning the paddle-wheel at its stern. The craft shuddered slightly at the forward motion.
When the ferry’s movement had evened out, I made a flapping leap across the breadth of the cabin and pushed my way outside. I hopped back onto the railing as the Starwake was beginning to swing its way north, my own head eagerly craning to point along with it. I’d only ever seen glimpses of the mainland, with the vast and ancient Jade Forest appearing as a mere hazy green line along the horizon from the shores of the tiny northwestern islands. By sundown today, we’d be passing through the Jade Forest on the rather melodramatically-named River of Tears, and the prospect of finally seeing the massive jade holly trees up close excited me. I realized that it would be markedly less exciting after I’d spent a good three weeks chugging north against the current with nothing but the dark greens and browns of the forest to stare at, but I was still determined to enjoy the feeling while it lasted.
All along the upper deck, land beasts with similar ideas were exiting their cabins to line up against the railing. Some of them gave me the occasional curious or confused look, but I didn’t pay them much heed. I was too busy thinking about three weeks from now, when we would finally pass through the vastness of the Jade Forest and I could catch my first sight of the mountain range that cradled Brass Valley.
And I was thinking about my future at the University. What would I study? Natural history, forensics, engineering, psychology, medicine, archeology; I’d considered all of it, and it all interested me to some degree. But there was still plenty of time to think it over, and whatever I chose to do, there was one thing I knew for certain:
I would be better at it than any creature has ever been.