After a dreamless slumber, Aria woke up. Her eyes were struggling to open one after the other and she swore everything was still dark. When she pulled her cheek off of the pillow she noticed something sticky with the source of the substance being her mouth; beautiful. When she was up all the way, she stretched and yawned feeling every bone in her body telling her to get back to bed. Once she found the nearest lantern and turned it on, it dawned on her why the world was dark even though her eyes were open. Doing her best to work through the exhaustion of just getting up, the bat fluttered toward the window to see that the home was still moving with the trees passing by one by one visible only by the grace of the moon and stars glittering in the pink bruised sky. She remembered going to sleep just as the evening was coming, meaning that either it was very early in the morning or extremely late in the night. Whatever sleep schedule she had been trying to keep before had been thoroughly destroyed. With a sigh, the orange-furred bat searched the room for her bag to check her compact. The time came up with a display that might as well have been burning like the sun. She squinted her eyes and mouthed the numbered before her ears pulled back and she shoved it into the pack. It was too late in the evening to enjoy the night and as she feared, right at the tip of the morning. Whatever she could do right now was mostly get up and wait for the day to start or lie back on the bed and try to sleep. Putting the compact back in her bag, she hopped up onto the bed for a moment and closed her eyes. She was too awake to even think about sleeping. The gears of her mind were working to put images of yesterday's terrors inside of her mind making it doubly difficult to think about rest. A dread maple dog with writhing parasitic briar patches on its back yowling at her until it was cut in half. Nearly being caught only to be saved by someone who had been originally attacking the ship. Opening her eyes, she brought a wing up to her chest to feel it rising up and down with each anxious breath. Right, it was time to get up and do something instead of focusing on yesterday. Aria hopped off the bed and headed to the door to flutter up and open it before she headed into the halls of the moving home hoping to grab a shower and something to eat.
Aria wandered through the halls of the moving house suddenly wishing she had asked for a map of the facility or at the very least waited until Cadenza bothered her again Every turn of the corner took her to another set of corners and halls that looked one hundred percent the same to her and the few doors she found either led into barracks full of sleeping gators or more halls. A soft chill brushed along her back as she continued to walk and the only sound at this hour was the occasional creaking of the home as it moved. Thinking on it, Aria wasn’t even sure if there was any sort of shower. Cadenza had navigated the home without a problem stopping and turning at the right place for walls to split and open the way to her cabin but at this point, Aria couldn’t even seem to trace her own.
The bat took a moment to stop and try and figure out if she could get back to the barracks to wake someone up. With wings crossed and brows furrowed, she looked down with a small frown wondering if that would be too rude. Just when she was building up the resolve to trace her steps and find the barracks, a familiar voice touched her ears, “Well! Good morning to you! Are you as lost as I am?”
She turned to see Pyter standing there with a big smile. He wore the same coat from the other day along with the scarf around his neck. Now that they weren’t in a stressful situation, she could see the avian features a bit more clearly on his hanged man head. When she registered that his statement was an admission of being lost as well, she sighed and turned away, “Yeah. I just wanted to grab a shower and maybe something to eat but I think I woke up too early for even the ship to be awake.”
“Oh, that’s a good way to put it!” Pyter said with a chirp, “The halls are a constant thing, turning and twisting and yet, there doesn’t seem to be any way about it. I woke up a bit too early with the desire to explore and well, here I am! What would you say to putting two heads together and trying to figure this maze out?”
Aria hummed, “Maybe. I was just thinking we could go to the barracks and ask someone to help us.”
The hanged man sighed, “What’s the fun in that? We’re in an unknown place and isn’t that exciting?”
“No.” She said immediately as she turned and fluttered up to meet him, “Especially when I’m kind of hungry and looking for a shower since I have drool on my face still from sleeping weird. Besides, when you explore new places you typically have a map so you don’t get lost.”
Pyter rubbed his beak and nodded, “Okay, that’s a good point, all of those things are, in a sense. I guess go ahead and lead the way to the barracks so we can get some help.”
Aria perched onto the hanged man’s shoulder and nodded, “Right…” Her eyes scanned one way of the hall and then the other, noting each dip, bend, and door before she sighed, “I have no idea where the barracks are.”
Without asking, Pyter began to move while he declared, “Then adventure it is!”
“It isn’t an adventure, we’re lost,” Aria muttered.
“Same thing!” Said Pyter as he kept on moving.
Aria remained perched on the other’s shoulder while looking around. Not even attempting to remember and trace her steps made any sort of difference. It felt like the building was changing configurations every moment but she had never been in a situation like this. She swore that there were a few times where they passed the same lantern hanging off of the wall or stepped through a doorway only to be walking down the same hall. It was almost maddening for someone and yet, Pyter hummed happily as he moved as if this were genuinely some sort of adventure! Come to think of it, Pyter had been captured by a pirate and seemed to just go with the fact that he was now a temporary part of this crew without complaint. She had no doubts in her mind that he probably planned on stealing something during his tenure here but he didn't seem stressed about the situation at all.
Around the third door that they had gone through, Aria turned her head and noticed that the walls were closing around the opening. She squeaked and pointed, “PYTER! LOOK!”
Pyter turned just in time to see the doorway close entirely and he whistled, “Would you look at that! Seems like the house hates us or something! You and I might be dead wandering around here, huh?”
“That isn’t helping and it doesn’t put me at ease either!” Said Aria who found herself wondering just how long the house had been messing with her.
Her traveling companion and perch hummed and rubbed the bottom of his beak before shrugging, “I guess we could try asking the house to stop trying to misdirect us?”
Aria huffed, “What good is talking to a square tree gonna do—”
Wood sprouted from the wall and Aria was just in time to move out of the way as Pyter got struck square in the chest and knocked off of his feet. While she was floating in the air, the hanged man coughed, “Ow...I still vote for talking to the house and starting by apologizing to it.”
The bat blinked and looked around before she cleared her throat and spoke, “Umm...House, whatever you are. I’m sorry that I called you a square tree. I didn’t know how sentient you were and it was rude of me. I have a request though. If you could take me to the shower or maybe the kitchen or even Cadenza’s room that would be great.”
Aria took her place back on Pyter’s shoulder as he got up and dusted himself off. They both watched as the walls around them began to shift and change, the wood creaking until it suddenly settled with a still silence that caught her off guard. There was a single hall now with several along with a flight of steps leading to what she assumed was Cadenza’s room.
Pyter beamed, “What an amazing thing! I can see why the fair captain is so fond of this thing. Not only can it move across land and keep itself still but it has a personality of its own! I’d love to know what caused this sort of curse, what made this thing possible! While you go shower, I’ll go visit Cadenza! How does that sound?”
The small bat fluttered in the air with a sigh and headed to check the doors until she found the showers, “Right. I’ll just be drowning the exhaustion from my mind.”
Before she slipped inside and shut the door, she heard Pyter call out, “See you another time for another adventure Aria!”
Another adventure? Hopefully, she wouldn’t have another adventure where she felt lost like that. She much preferred the sort of adventure that she could control or at the very least know that she wasn’t in danger. Exploration was fine and all so long as the risk was reasonable. She was an artist after all, not a thrill-seeker. At the same time, part of her buzzed in just the right ways telling her that it had been somewhat enjoyable losing herself in some sort of weird house.
Once she was out of her own thoughts, Aria could take the time to see that the shower she had stepped into looked more like a small bathhouse. There were raise pools of water with racks of towels hanging above. Steam flowed through the air from the baths. The bat was starting to understand why Cadenza valued the house so much. Aria picked one of the closer pools of water to dip herself in and she immediately felt all the weariness of the morning come off of her. The painted bat shuddered as the warmth came up all around her and her eyes shut. It didn’t take long for her to sink to the bottom since the baths were meant for larger creatures but at the moment, she wanted to be immersed in warmth. When she came back up, she swam to the edge of the bath and saw that there was a plate with some fruit on it.
Hopping out of the water, she looked around and said quietly, “Thank you?”
While she could see why Cadenza loved the house so much, she could also easily see why the house had been sold to her at a cheap price. Aria could not imagine getting on the house’s bad side and not knowing that the home could be reasoned with. With a sigh, she decided to relax a bit while taking fruit from the plate to eat. It was nice to just enjoy the heat of the bath while finally getting something in her stomach. She had only eaten yesterday by the grace of Cadenza interrupting her but even then, she probably should have eaten more. When the painted bat had enough of their meal, she found herself a bit of body wash and applied it liberally until she was a bubble bat rather than a painted bat. Once rinsed off, she found herself a towel and dried off.
Taking care of herself had given her the energy to shake off the weight of the previous day along with the exhaustion that had come with the far too early morning. Once she was dry, she sighed and said to the air with more confidence, “Thanks for that. I needed that.”
Even though there was no response, Aria figured that the home could understand her. Out of the door, she found that the hall was the same as before with the stairs leading up to Cadenza’s room still there. With a hum, she decided to head over there next wondering if Pyter had finished his conversation or if Cadenza was even awake at all. When she started up the stairs, she heard their voices faintly and started to hear them just a bit more clearly until a few words could be made out just behind the door. When she fluttered up to open the door, she saw that the two were sitting across from one another at a small table that had been set with two glasses full of an amber liquid that made her throat burn just by seeing it.
“Listen, if you want in on my business then I have to know I can trust ya. How can I know that if you haven’t even told me more about yer little operation back in Rind’s forests?” Cadenza said with a snort.
Pyter took a deep pull of the drink before setting it down, coughing out his words, “That’s perfectly understandable but my little operation is nothing more than a bunch of thieves and bandits working together to try and scare people into giving us things. Occasionally we fight with travelers but most of the time we just get away with words. We would be much better suited to smuggling.”
Cadenza chuckled, “That so? But you don’t want to be part of my crew, you want your own operation? Just sounds like you want to muscle in on my territory.”
“I do.” Said the hanged man without a pause between them, “But you see, I understand perfectly that I am in no position to do that, so...How about I get you new sources of goods in exchange for a piece of the pie.”
“How about I make you and yours part of my crew permanently and we can keep this plan of yours.” Cadenza countered.
Pyter clucked his tongue and looked off to the side, “You’re really not falling for any of this are you?” He said while turning to her. When she shook her head he sighed and leaned back, “Fine. You’re head of operations, you’re captain and we’ll fall under you doing supplying, delivery or what have you. We can even work on this ship if you’d like but know that we need to work out of specific areas for obvious reasons.”
The painted gator laughed and slapped the table, “Then it is a deal! And I’ll sweeten it by saying I’ll pay for any bodies you need myself! I keep my workforce nice, happy and well equipped. It won’t be any different with you lot.”
They both reached out to take each other’s hands just as Aria hovered into sight and introduced herself, “Huh, glad to see that you two are getting along and apparently getting in business with one another?”
Pyter sighed, “I respect her ability to see through anything I might try and there is no better person to kneel next to. Of course, I also simply don’t want to ever get in her way again.”
The captain grinned as she raised a hand in greeting, “Aria! Good to see you at this terrible hour! Hope the home didn’t give you too much trouble. From what Pyter tells me, it was playing a little prank on you two.”
Aria grimaced, “Prank, right. I’m just glad the charade didn’t last too long or else I might’ve genuinely panicked.” She then landed on Cadenza shoulder and crossed her wings, “But you know, I do have a question. What is it exactly that you are carrying? I think it was Dane that said this house is carrying cursed goods but I don’t know exactly what that means.”
Cadenza looked across to Pyter before humming, “I guess I can say it since you’re a guest and Pyter is now part of my crew official-like. Cursed goods are part of what I’m carrying that’s true. Those objects are usually artifacts like wands and whatnot that have some sort of dangerous drawback and are usually illegal to sell for a reason but there are folks who like cursed goods. My wife Adagia talked about people studying the curses or sometimes just wanting to buy them for the thrill of something dangerous.” She then leaned back and puffed, “Anyway, we’re not talkin’ about why people buy the stuff. Along with that, we’re carting around dangerous monster eggs and a variety of magical goods. We can offload them in Dewclaw or Mew York on this side of Owel but Mew York is a dangerous place to do that since they’re wary of anything magic-like. Any other questions?”
The bat looked up before saying absently, “Isn’t all of that...Bad?”
With a laugh, Cadenza stood from her seat and began heading out of the room and down the stairs, “Bad? It sure as hell is! There are dangerous things on board dear bat of mine!”
Aria blinked, “Dangerous, like, how dangerous?”
The painted gator snorted, “Worry not my little guest. Exploding wands and strange creatures hidden in jars do not bother us any. We’re good at containing our goods. Besides, Focus on the fact that we’re going to be nearly at Haunch!”
“Really?” Aria asked with a tilt of her head.
Together they traveled through the halls of the home until they reached the room full of crystals with the windows that showed them the front. Cadenza stepped toward one of the windows and pointed forward, “Take a look for yourselves!”
Aria’s eyes grew wide as she saw the buildings coming up into view layered among the trees, “We really are about to arrive! Now I’m glad I’m awake!”
Cadenza laughed, “Don’t get too excited now. We’re only here for supplies and we’ll be off again soon enough. Of course, I’d like to give the house a bit of a rest too so you’re free to do a bit of exploration of your own.”
From behind, they heard Pyter clear his throat, “May I come with Aria?”
The captain snorted, “That’s up to the bat.”
Aria frowned just a bit before she shrugged, “I don’t see why not…”
Pyter grinned, “Good! I’ll go on and get ready. You do the same and we’ll meet when Cadenza tells us the house has stopped!”
Off he went out the door leaving Cadenza and Aria alone. The captain muttered once the hanged man was out of earshot, “Y’really trust him?”
“Well…” Aria began, “I don’t think he’s out to hurt me or anyone else. He seems nice enough and he’s entirely honest about the weird scams he tries. If anything, it’ll be nice to have someone I know somewhat coming with me in a strange place. I know that you'll most likely be tending to business.”
Cadenza sighed, “All right, well...Before you go I’ll get you my compact number so you can contact me if he tries anything dumb.”
Aria snorted, “Thanks, mom.”
The captain laughed, “Not the first time someone calls me that!”
Aria blinked and looked at the painted gator, “What?”
With that statement left hanging in the air and Cadenza simply snickering as an answer, Aria was left to head back to her room to prepare to explore a new city. Hopefully, it would be fun.