The Cry of the Northerlies, a festival held in Icehome at the beginning of the winter season, was still in preparation when the rumors began to spread. They grew as rumors did from a simple airship race to one with prizes far grander than any captain could hope to garner – and it was to the surprise of many when they turned out to ring of truth. A First Age airship, salvaged and repurposed by the Haslanti Wind Fleet, was being offered by the airship captain talented enough to wind their vessel through an obstacle course and prove themselves a proper representation of all the Haslanti League had to offer.
There were, of course, catches: the captain had to be an essence user to properly attune to the airship, and they had to be Haslanti proper. But these were obvious restrictions and easily met by the proud people of the North.
Volla Verne was apparently one such person, and few questions were brought up by her official papers as she was an overlooked novice for one and in the company of a very insistent grey-haired young man for another, who happily prattled on about nationalistic pride for anyone unlucky enough to be caught in his social cross hairs. Though she had no crew to speak of she did boast a decent enough airship, making up in speed for what it lacked in aesthetic quality. And she looked Haslanti enough, strangely beautiful behind her sprawling blonde hair and stern features. Probably from a greenfield somewhere.
When she began inquiring about a crew, most of the tavern-folk laughed and wished the woman and her retainer luck. And they probably laughed more so when she set her flint-sharp eyes on her first target: Darius Wintersun, victor against the Scourge of the Haslanti Skies, a man of legend and repute, undoubtedly suited to better crew than that of a nobody.
If Volla cared of Darius’ one irredeemable feature – that of the title of Anathema – she certainly didn’t show it in her pursuit. She sent an urchin with a letter for Darius to meet her at the Three Grapes, a higher class establishment than her small reputation should have allowed. When he showed up with his entire mercenary company in tow she didn’t seem as surprised as her male retainer, the Grey Whisper. They stayed in the lower echelons of the place, anyway, and if anything bolstered Volla’s confidence – for they could probably throw rigging as best as any men she pulled off the streets for her venture. And better, as they clearly worked together and probably had rapport with one another enough to provide a stable unit in a pinch. Thankfully, Darius had the sense to bring a single man upstairs with him, intimidating despite only having one full arm to speak of.
Though Volla and Grey Whisper had very little to offer in terms of coin, the notions of Haslanti vainglory and its ties to Darius’ love of airships were enough to pique his interest. Though her steward gladly spun great yarns of Volla’s valor and prowess in the skies (…despite her obvious lack of crew, resources and local renown) it was the woman’s pragmatism that caught their target’s interest in the end. For though there was no guarantee to her success, there was the promise of a story to tell in the end — and that, to the great relief of the Grey Whisper, was enough to secure Darius Wintersun as one of their crew.
After the contract was signed and discussions of seeing Volla’s ship were concluded, Grey Whisper spoke to Volla Verne in private of another individual he wished to add to their ranks. Word had reached him from his own superiors that one of his kind — a Lunar — had been sent to Icehome after her mentor was ordered away to another Exaltation. Though she was a novice, she still had great power at her disposal and the promise of great things, as all Exalts held.
Asking Darius if he wished to join them, the three headed to the Market District where they encountered the Lunar — easily identifiable among the rest of her tribe, the People of the Pines, due to her style of dress. Her cloak was less a cloak and more a glorious mantle of feathers, the woman’s features soft, her eyes incredibly striking in her pale face. Her name was Neve and instantaneously Grey Whisper knew her as another of his kind, nodding to Volla that she was indeed the person they sought.
Volla offered protection for her disenfranchised people. Neve gladly joined.
Four strong — and with Grey Whisper’s recommendation that they should seek some sort of thaumaturge to assist them in their new vessel if they were to win it, they went to the Scriptorium. Saffuran Somei was easy to find if only for the ruckus he caused — controlled chaos, really, dutifully attempting to read the entire library after renting its annals with whatever funds he had at his disposal. And seeing as the other scholars agreed to it, it must have been a great deal of coin.
To call him bookish would have been a grievous understatement. He wasn’t bad looking, a bit more than conventionally attractive really, but the spires of books he’d constructed around him added to a scholarly air and the strange mannerisms of a scholarly shut-in. His method of speech echoed it, verbose and intently interested in whatever topic he picked. Studying every bit of thaumaturgy he could get his hands on, Volla asked him if he had any knowledge in First Age items. When he said he did, she discussed the race with him, the price, its status as a relic of the era. After agreeing to join them (both out of an interest in the ship and a desire for adventure), Somei promised to wrap up his studies and focus on anything and everything that would add to the group’s success.
Neve herself, upon seeing Somei, found a strange and sudden fascination with the bookish young man which likely helped to cement her place in Volla’s crew. She didn’t quite understand the fixation but didn’t question it — and didn’t appear to want to leave Somei out of her sight.
With her crew secure, Volla took the others to her ship — the Fimbulvinter, definitely second-hand but in good enough condition to compete in the race. However, before they could reach the ship, Darius in specific was ambushed by a spritely blue-haired girl shrieking his name, two otherworldly-looking twins in tow as her apparent cheering section. Her name was Kaheila Highwind, another airship captain, a Dragonblooded who clearly believed she would win the race without question. Staring daggers at Volla, she demanded that Darius join her crew. When Darius explained to the girl (who he hadn’t met until that point) that he was unable to accompany her due to having signed a contract, she argued against it. When it proved fruitless, she told Darius that when she won he would have to go on a date with her for penance and disappeared.
Following that debacle and when everyone was settled, Grey Whisper suggested three names of who to sponsor their airship, as it was another listed requirement to compete. Volla chose an easily recognizable name, Grimhaldr Feathersteel, the head proprietor of the lightweight ore exclusive to the Haslanti League.
Saffuran Somei used his scholarly love of mathematics to convince Grimhaldr of the profit earned in playing the odds for Volla’s ship winning. This, coupled with Darius’ social artistry, convinced the boistrous man to allow the Fimbulvinter to fly his colors of red, black and silver. Volla also promised to place antlers on the figurehead of her ship as this was also something Grimhaldr adored.
With the ship situated and the night before the race, Grey Whisper explained – with Darius away on some errand – the policy of some airship teams harmlessly sabotaging other ships taking part in the venture to try and gain a leg on the competition. He didn’t condone it, of course, but it was a possibility to help them further guarantee that they gain the prize. Volla Verne’s complete lack of moral scruples ultimately lead herself, Grey Whisper, and Neve to sneak aboard Kaheila’s airship. Neve disguised herself as a mouse while Volla and Grey Whisper somehow made their way through the shadows undetected. Three sets of sailor’s foot pedals were unscrewed to the point of simply slowing the ship down and nothing that would cause permanent damage was attempted.
On returning to the ship, the three discovered that five men were trying to scale the side of the airship, obviously intent on attempting their own sort of sabotage. Undeterred, Neve clearly had a handle on the situation by sneaking back onto the Fimbulvinter, returning to human form, grabbing her bow and returning to the ground with her moonsilver bow to go on the attack. She aimed and fired, severing two of the ropes and sending their passengers plummeting to the ground. One managed to escape — the remaining three men driven off by the crew who was alerted by their screams — but Volla managed to catch the other by the shoulder.
When the man refused to say who sent him, Volla had no qualms applying express force, booting him in the head with one of her sabatons. He gave up the name of Bjorn the Facebreaker and, uninterested after obtaining what she needed, the captain allowed him to skitter off into the dusk. Saffuran, who had been drawn to the group below by the commotion caused, voiced his objections of Volla using such violence as an interrogation method. Volla quietly and patiently conjured fantastical visions of strangling Saffuran with a noose made of his parchment. This was thankfully kept to herself.
Noticing Neve’s moonsilver bow, Saffuran questioned her about it and learned she was also an Exalted. He displayed his own weapon, orichalcum bands encircling his forearms and, when Darius returned at having heard of the commotion, commented on the man’s orichalcum daiklave. Everyone quickly realized they were Exalted of some manner, though Volla Verne did not comment either way on her own state — just that she cared little if her crew were Anathema or not.
When the attack was explained to Darius, he was aghast at what had occurred in his absence. He passionately spoke of how traitorous it was for other crews to sabotage the ships of their comrades-in-arms. Grey Whisper and Volla Verne completely agreed with him. Neve commented later that evening of having seen movement at the prow of the boat, a mere whisper of movement and perhaps the glimmer of dark fabric. But as quickly as she spotted it, it was gone.
In the morning before the start of the race, Kaheila once again harassed Darius to join her crew, explaining this was the last chance for him to join the winning side. A man of honor, he once again cited his contract with Volla Verne and likely cemented Kaheila’s hatred for the other airship captain. The Fimbulvinter made its way to the starting line of the obstacle course an hour later, the air rife with enough excitement, joy, and delight to create a wonderful nervous tension. This apparently affected the captain adversely and when questioned upon her grimaces and hunching, Volla Verne cited nerves before the race and perhaps some kind of migraine headache.
The race began and the Fimbulvinter was off like a shot under a combination of Volla’s prowess and Saffuran Somei’s augmentation of the very air around them through his thaumaturgy. The other ships were left in the proverbial dust (strata?), and only movement from the periphery caused several of the crew to look back and check on the competition.
A strange thundercloud drifted many leagues behind the Fimbulvinter, moving in a strange formation towards another ship easily identifiable as Kaheila Highwinds’. Darius, upon noticing it, complained in a loud roar to Volla Verne that it was not a cloud but a masked ship, the ship of the hated Scourge of the Skies himself — Captain Gyrfalcon. He demanded that the Fimbulvinter be turned around so he may be met in combat and the honor of his crew avenged and proven for all to see. In time with his screams six agata, beautiful and terrible, descended from the blackened thunderhead like sentient glittering lightning bolts. After a quick deliberation, Volla turned the vessel to meet the fiends in combat.
The crew set to dispatching the agata who were intent on destroying the airship’s balloon, distracting the demons long enough to cause them to flutter to the deck. Darius’ loyal right hand man, Halvar One-Fist, easily rent one of the wasps in twain with his great axe and the backing of Volla Verne, whose rapier daiklave seemed to emit screams as it sailed through air and insectoid chitin. Neve turned one into shimmering clouds of dust — the single agata intending to run Saffuran through which she simply wouldn’t stand. Darius leapt to Kaheila’s vessal amid her joyous exclamations of his being her savior, handling the final three with little effort. During his heroics, his anima banner flared and, strangely, its appearance caused the thunderhead to retreat.
Though Kaheila’s vessel was damaged enough to begin to sink, it was clear she was not in dire straits and so Volla Verne turned the Fimbulvinter towards their impending victory. They crossed the finish-line amid astonished cheers and exclamations of surprise — for between the vaguely glowing Saffuran and Darius, the conquering apex of light himself, there was a great deal to be said. Jurgan Einarson, the Oligarch of the Icehome, congratulated the crew of the Fimbulvinter on their victory and explained how glad he was that the stories of Darius Wintersun were true. He also alerted everyone of the state of the other ships, all injured by Gyrfalcon’s machinations, though only one crew was totally lost.
At the banquet celebrating their victory, Volla Verne was surprisingly absent but might have simply been overlooked in the pandemonium of the evening. Kaheila happily spun yarns of Darius’ glory, the number of agata defeated growing as the night wore on. Saffuran Somei, Neve and Darius discussed the behavior of Gyrfalcon and how peculiar it was that he decided to retreat — as such behavior was nearly unheard of. They agreed to bring this up to their captain later, when they are able to locate her.
They weren’t able to get into contact with Volla Verne until the following morning, meeting her at the hangar where their new airship is located. As they headed up the hallway to the locked entrance, Somei noticed the two guards nearest to the locked door knocked out and dragged nearly out of eyesight. Alerting Neve who told the other three, Volla chose to open the door with her free hand on the hilt of her weapon.
Staring at the First Age airship was a cloaked figure, a masquerade mask obscuring what little of his face that was visible within his hood. He proclaimed the Storm Light (the name scrawled on the side of the vessel) as previously belonging to him. Volla Verne had little trouble in proclaiming the ship as now belonging to her.
The man didn’t argue that, and gave his name as Red Sky at Night. He explained a slight history of the airship and told the group that the ship was incomplete, missing some required component that sat in the middle of the vessel to make it whole. He had coordinates to where this item was and would gladly give it to them as long as they promised him this: that they swear not to harm him except in defense of themselves or that which they cared about. The same would go for the crew on their end as long as they agreed to the pact.
After some deliberation, they did agree to the man’s terms. When the deal was properly struck, a strange lurid circle appeared behind the man, green and awful and crawling, apparently sealing the pact in a supernatural matter. With that, his business was concluded and after giving Darius the same longing glance he spared the ship, explained to the man that of all the people to obtain the vessel he was glad it was in Wintersun’s hands.
Red Sky at Night vaulted to the prow of the Storm Light, staring down at it for several moments. When he was able to wrest himself from his reverie, he fled into the darkness as if he had been little more than a figment to begin with.