(IP) The Hidden City

(IP) The Hidden City

               She stood on the steps, staring up at a city that, until very recently, only existed in her imagination.

               It was all so surreal, that she was actually here. All of those years being laughed out of court and everywhere else, and to know that the widowed Queen had chosen her to put together a team and set out to find it.

               Truth be told, she did not want to return. Always on the fringes, whispers, smirks, and scorn following in her wake.

               Why return where she was not welcome, when what she’d spent her entire life dreaming of was right in front of her? But she was bound, at the very least, to her word to her Queen. And if nothing else, it had been she who had valued Rose’s opinion.

               Her crew stood beside her, a motley, ragtag group: Yew, the healer, stood tall behind her captain, a medical bag tucked close to her side, her smock covered in mysterious, unidentifiable stains, her long, dark brown hair bound in a bun at the nape of her neck, bright amber eyes glinting behind a pair of thick spectacles. As was her way, she was content just to let Rose drink in the magnificent view; she knew what this meant to her, and Rose was grateful for her friend and first crewmate, and her patience.

               Beside Yew stood her wife, the demolitions expert, Vesper, clothed in a tight blue leather bodysuit, cigar clamped between gleaming golden teeth, peering with more than a little terror at the edge of the stone staircase, built into the sky. It was almost funny; give the woman explosives and something to blow up and she was running into it full tilt, whooping with joy, but put her somewhere high up and she was pale green and ready to be ill; Rose noticed that she gripped Yew’s arm in a vise so tight that her scarred knuckles shone white. Yew was smiling, head bent toward her spouse, murmuring words that Rose couldn’t hear.

The cabin boy, Emmett, stood beside Rose, peering over the edge.

               “I’ve never been this high, Captain!” The boy said, and Rose had to smile at his enthusiasm; all of the crew had shared in her excitement, in differing degrees. But her young stray had been as hopeful and excited as she, and she had to bite back a laugh. “Not even in the airship!”

               “It is pretty high, isn’t it, Emmett?” She agreed. She knew that she had to begin the trek into the actual city, but right now she wanted to drink in the sight of what she’d always known was real, even if no one else had believed her.

               The cook, Zahar, smiled at Emmett’s antics, shaking his head. “Be careful, little man. You could fall off of the edge if you don’t watch your step.” His scent reminded Rose of the galley, sharp garlic and pungent cloves, woody rosemary, and sharp chili; he sported a merry potbelly and a full, sable beard striped with silver. A father himself with a young wife and a bevy of little ones waiting for him back in the kingdom, she trusted no one else to watch over the boy, not even herself.

“Shouldn’t we be going inside, or at least to the gates?” A voice piped up from the back of the pack, and their navigator, Salazar, pushed to the front, not noticing that he stepped on several toes on the way up. Sharp as seaglass he was on the ocean and the sky, but interpersonal relations were not his forte at all. As long as he did his job well and didn’t go out of his way to pick fights, Rose didn’t care that he kept to himself. He was a dark-skinned man with all manner of colorful tattoos, the most noticeable of all the compass rose that adorned his throat.

“I mean, really, Captain. How long are we gonna stand here? I want to see the city. Not the outside of it!”

Vesper frowned, and opened her mouth to contradict him, but Rose held up a hand, signaling for peace without even opening her mouth.

To Salazar, she said, “Calm yourself, navigator. We’ll go in soon. I just… I just want to look at it for a little while longer. Please,” She murmured, and much to her surprise, he nodded, though he turned his back from them and toward the doors; indifferent though he had seemed through the journey, she could sense his curiosity roiling inside of him.

A lump the size of an orange formed in her throat, and she had to hold the sobs deep inside; her crew, under no circumstances, saw her emotional. That wasn’t how she operated.

As much as she wanted to continue to savor the moment: She was really here, she could feel her crew’s impatience, and supposed she had no choice but to give in to it. Now, it was time to discover what The Hidden City actually contained.

“Let’s go.” She said, and they moved as one toward the entrance to the city.

**