Rain slid down her cheeks, heavy and ceaseless. She felt its phantom on her wooden limbs.
Vivacia looked to the skies and a part of her was angry beyond words, beyond meaning, that there were only clouds up there, that she was confined to the sea. A part of her would always be angry.
A dragon queen was here, close enough to get to her by herself even if Wintrow should refuse to let her sail. But she wouldn’t do that and she wouldn’t ask him to. Was she afraid of what Tintaglia would see in her? Perhaps, she admitted to herself. It was one thing to know herself and another altogether to see it reflected back in one who was all she could have been.
She yearned for so many things and yet couldn’t bear the thought of them. With the serenity of unity came the fullness of feeling. She’d always held back so much from herself. She’d always had others’ thoughts to blanket her own.
Her head turned with the measured slowness of the predator she was. A curious figure had come to keep her company. Vivacia could hear her steps, even her heartbeat if she focused, feel the vibration of her breath. Yet she was blind to the woman’s thoughts.
The woman threw back the hood of her coat and Vivacia got a proper look at her. Her features were the color of faded sand set with lightning-white scars and her golden hair hung in tufts in parts of her scalp. Her gleaming eyes regarded her with open curiosity. So this was the one who had so discomfited Wintrow.
“I’m Amber. I have heard much about you.”
Her voice was soft and wistful in a way that put Vivacia at edge. What would this stranger know about her to make her sound this way?
“Hello,” she said, tilting her head to the side and refusing to wonder if her wariness came from Wintrow or herself. “I cannot claim the same about you.”
Amber shrugged, languid in spite of the pouring rain. “There’s not much to tell. In this life, I am a woodcarver.” Her eyes were wide and imploring as if she searched her for something. She had almost Elderling eyes, Vivacia thought suddenly - a memory from so long ago. The familiarity eased the dragon in her. “In another, I was a Prophet.”
Vivacia's eyes narrowed. She searched her dragon self for memories of beings such as this woman claimed to be. A far-away human tale was all that came to mind. She was still getting used to existing this way - to being and knowing as a dragon did. Not a proper dragon, part of her mind sneered in angry desolation.
"What brings you here, then?" She asked, turning back to stare into the woman's eyes with inhuman ceaselessness. "Woodcarving or prophecies?"
Amber carefully wrapped her gloved hands around her railing, touching it as gently as of it were lover or babe. It almost made Vivacia shudder. "I thought it was the latter," she admitted freely, a far off gleam in her golden eyes. "But now I find I don't know. The threads have gotten tangled up by themselves; each path unfolds as it will." She placed her elbows on her railing and leaned her body's weight into her side. "Perhaps I am no guide at all and simply here as another ship's wood worker, bearing witness."
"Whatever you are, you are much too late to guide anyone," Vivacia said distantly. For better or worse, she knew her mind. And yet, the woman's words sparked something she couldn't access. Buried deeply as a serpent's cycle. Glaring as the holes in her memories where a city was supposed to be.
Amber looked at her, eyes impossibly wide. Her eyelashes were pale and wet. "Too late," she muttered in a trance, "almost, but not quite. A life, stolen unknowingly. Puppets formed out of carcasses and truth held in cages." The shape of her breath is almost visible in between the rain fall. "You have tried to guide them and it was nearly the right time." Amber arched backwards as her hands fell away. "No changed one ever comes back home."
Vivacia breathed out. Thunder unrolled inside her and if she wanted, she could match the skies.
"I'm sorry," Amber told her. "These are parts of dreams I saw as a child. The connections are strong here. This meant something to you, didn't it?" Softer, she added, "please tell me, if you can find it in yourself."
Bolt, she thought, even though she shouldn't. Bolt was inside her; they were one. But to name, even if it was no dragon name, was to give power. Bolt and herself. A captive serpent that she used to be. Ones who should've been queens. Her mourning was unspeakable.
"This means no more to me than it does to you," she returned with a coolness she was unused to. The rain slowed to a drizzle.
Amber gave her a queer off-set smile. "Nor any less," she gathered softly. "I thank you, Vivacia."
The one known as Vivacia nodded at her gravely. They had each given the other something, her and this prophet. What would come of it, they'd have to see.
"You stay until sunrise, correct?" Vivacia asked, surprised at the wistfulness in her own voice.
"Yes. Then I will return to Paragon," Amber said regretfully. "I would've loved to talk more with both you and Wintrow, if I could."
"You could stay," Vivacia said. She hadn't meant to offer it. She didn't know why she sounded so needy to herself. She had Wintrow, didn't she? Even if Kennit was dead. Even if Althea hated her.
Amber considered her carefully, then shook her head. "I must witness the serpents' journey. If bear watch I must, I shall bear watch until the end."
Jealousy sang inside Vivacia. She too wanted to pave the serpents' way to that beach, to watch them spin their shells and destroy all who'd do them harm. But Tintaglia's message said otherwise and she would listen to the queen.
"She won't ever come back to me, will she," Vivacia said, sudden and quiet.
"Nothing is ever sure," Amber told her. "Even the least likely things may happen. Perhaps," she muses, "especially those least likely."
Vivacia shook her head. She'd felt the truth in the prophet's words. She'd known it ever since Althea didn't return to her even to say goodbye. After all the time they'd spent apart, how did it hurt even now?
With the light of dawn, Wintrow would come back up to command the crew. He would not talk sweetly to her nor shape her. But he would give her mind a presence, a structure and she would be herself.
With dawn, Vivacia would let the thoughts of old captains and old lives wash off her as she set course for Jamaillia.