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An Uncommon Road
 

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An Uncommon Road


  Table of Contents

  Title Page

  Book Details

  An Uncommon Road

  About the Author

  An

  Uncommon

  Road

  Stephanie Rabig

  Governess Temperance Caldwell has several misgivings about her upcoming mission trip. First, she can never take a ride on an airship without getting sick. Second, her charge has been quite recalcitrant lately. And third, she's heard terrifying things about the Amazons.

  That fear proves to be justified when Amazons take over the ship, mistake her for someone else, and take her hostage. Her best chance of survival is to make a liability of herself, prove to be too much trouble for the Amazons—and that would be much easier to do if Cynara, the leader of the Amazons, wasn't so captivating…

  An Uncommon Road

  By Stephanie Rabig

  Published by Less Than Three Press LLC

  All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner without written permission of the publisher, except for the purpose of reviews.

  Edited by Keith Kaczmarek

  Cover designed by Natasha Snow

  This book is a work of fiction and all names, characters, places, and incidents are fictional or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual people, places, or events is coincidental.

  First Edition April 2017

  Copyright © 2017 by Stephanie Rabig

  Printed in the United States of America

  Digital ISBN 9781620049877

  An Uncommon Road

  "Isn't it time to go yet?"

  "No. The airship doesn't leave for another hour," Temperance said, gently brushing the little girl's thick, black hair back into a ponytail. She tied it with a bright blue ribbon that matched the dress her mother had bought her for this trip.

  Amphitrite sighed loudly. "You said that an hour ago!"

  "No, I said it ten minutes ago, and I'll probably say it again five minutes from now," Temperance teased. "They're in the middle of their final inspections. Come on. Let's double-check your suitcases."

  "Again?"

  "Would you rather sit here and stare at the clock?"

  "I'll check the biggest one."

  "Good girl."

  As she flipped through her clothes, making sure that she had everything she needed—their previous go-through had revealed that she was missing Peggy, her favorite stuffed Pegasus—Amphitrite frowned. Temperance let her be, knowing that she could be a recalcitrant child, and that pressing her about whatever concerned her was a sure way to make her hold her tongue.

  Finally, she said, "Temperance?"

  "Yes?"

  "Is mother going to want me to preach about Zeus, too?"

  "I don't believe so," Temperance said. "I think she just wants you along to see what kind of work she does and to enjoy the trip. However much she may want you to follow in her footsteps, I doubt she expects you to become a missionary at your age."

  "Okay."

  The frown didn't disappear; that question was only the tip of whatever was truly bothering her. But further discussion would have to wait, because Dorothea Lightning bustled into the room. The white dress she wore seemed to gleam against her black skin, and she wore a belt made of tiny lightning bolt charms that matched the ones threaded into her updo.

  Her original last name had been not Lightning, but Dalton. But upon entering her fifth year of being a missionary, both she and her daughter had taken the last name Lightning in deference to their patron God.

  "Everything together, darling?" she asked, leaning down to kiss the top of her daughter's head. Amphitrite nodded, and Dorothea beamed at Temperance.

  "Thank you so much for getting everything arranged, Temperance. I don't know what we'd do without you on regular days, let alone these past three weeks. Just think! In seven days' time, we'll be speaking with the Amazons."

  Assuming they don't try to kill us for approaching in the first place, Temperance thought. Two of the earliest missionaries who'd tried to make contact with the Amazons had become martyrs to their cause.

  She sincerely hoped that once they reached their destination, that Dorothea would leave her daughter on the airship. That the Amazons traveled to a nearby mine to harass and sometimes even kill the workers was bad enough, but they were also a tribe made up entirely of women. The horrific things that were done to male children born to them, or to men who happened to wander too close to their territory…

  Dorothea was certain that she would be safe. The missionaries who had been killed decades ago had both been men, after all. She was sure the Amazons would be more receptive to her.

  "Can we go wait on the airship?" Amphitrite asked.

  "Certainly," Dorothea said, taking her daughter's hands. "Temperance, I'll send someone along to help you with the bags."

  "Thank you," Temperance said. Once the two of them were out of the room, she sighed and sat down on the little girl's bed. "You'll be fine," she muttered. "It'll be okay."

  The last time she'd traveled by airship, she'd gotten dreadfully sick and had spent the entire two-day journey holed up in her room, barely able to get herself to the facilities, let alone take care of Amphitrite. Yes, the island they'd vacationed on had been beautiful, but all she'd been able to focus on the entire stay was the inevitable airship ride home.

  This wasn't a two-day voyage, but seven. Seven there and then seven back, and that was assuming she would have any break in-between. If the Amazons and the surrounding villages weren't receptive to Dorothea's preaching, then they would turn right back around and come home.

  She hadn't eaten a thing all day, but the idea of going onto the airship already had her stomach wavering.

  Then one of the servants, Erasmus, came into the room, and she got to her feet with a smile.

  "Well. Good thing there's not a lot of bags to carry," he joked, looking at the five bags Amphitrite had gathered and the two that Temperance had packed.

  "Do I want to know how many Dorothea had?" she asked.

  "Over a dozen. Though I think half of them were pamphlets and Zeusian pendants."

  "Undoubtedly," Temperance said, picking up her two bags and one of Amphitrite's.

  "Have something for you," Erasmus said, holding up a small brown paper bag and folding it in half before sticking it into her apron pocket. "Fariha made them. Says they might help with the airsickness."

  "Oh, I hope so," Temperance said. "Tell her thank you? Amphitrite is wanting to wait on the airship, so…"

  Erasmus nodded, and preceded her into the hall. "We'll see you when you get back. Safe travels."

  "Thank you."

  She exited the main building and headed out into the enormous central courtyard where the Lightning family airship, The King of the Gods, was docked. On the way, she passed by a smaller version of the statue that graced the front of the library; it depicted one of the earliest settlers to this world, Sophia, as she knelt down and reached her hand toward a young Mimicry.

  During a mission to rescue Sophia's love from an escapee of the former prison colony, she and her friends had been the ones to initiate first contact with the Mimicrys. The green-skinned creatures could imitate the appearance of any animal that they saw… and, sadly, their integration as fascinating 'pets' into human colonies had also brought in their diseases. This had quickly led to the cutting-off of this planet from the rest of the galaxy.

  The sicknesses had been near-eradicated almost fifty years ago now, but very few citizens wished to try and reestablish contact with the outside worlds. No longer did they have to send taxes back to a centralized government, no longer did they have to endure regular inspections and judgment from people who had otherwise never set foot here.
They were free to create their own society, to cause their own successes or heartbreaks.

  And eventually, the Deities themselves had rewarded the people here, by proving their existence.

  All of it had started with the simplest gesture, Temperance thought. One kindness, a hand extended in greeting.

  She raised her eyes to the airship, looming over the statue, and bit her lip as she headed for the ramp.

  First thing she would do when she got on board, she thought, was eat one of whatever Fariha had made for her. Or maybe the entire bag.

  Once on deck, she nodded in greeting to the new captain. The captain who usually helmed their airship had taken quite ill three days ago. Not wanting his daughter-in-law to have to postpone her trip, Kenrick had hired the captain from the Koralia's Dream, the airship owned by Antares Mining.

  She'd never met him, and hoped he would turn out to be a pleasant sort. Their regular captain was a heavyset man who moved quite awkwardly everywhere except the deck of his airship. He was always ready with a smile and a bad pun, trying to keep her mind cheered up even if her body wouldn't fully cooperate with the effort.

  As they rose into the air, Temperance closed her eyes tightly, taking several deep breaths before she felt up to opening her eyes again. Amphitrite was peering over the railing. At least this time she kept her feet firmly planted on the deck; the first time Temperance had ridden with her, she'd climbed up on the railing as she waved to the people below.

  "Look!" she cried now. "I can see the briarhorse farms! It's feeding time; they're running across the field to the troughs. And there's the train station! I can see the steam rising from the smokestack."

  "That's very nice," Temperance wheezed, sitting down.

  "Wow," Amphitrite said. "The people all look so tiny from up here!"

  "All right, dear," Dorothea said, sitting down next to Temperance. "I think that's enough."

  "Sorry!" Amphitrite said, scurrying over to Temperance and throwing her arms around her. "Are you okay?"

  "Yes, yes. I think I'm just going to lie down." The task of getting back to her feet seemed insurmountable, however, and so she just carefully reclined onto the deck, after making sure she wasn't directly in the path of any of the crew.

  "Here you are, miss," the captain said, leaning over to hand her a damp cloth and a glass of something cold. "Spiced water," he said, when she gave the glass a questioning look. "My granddaughter gets airsick as well." He smiled warmly and then walked back to the helmswoman, and Temperance took an experimental sip. It was a pleasant enough drink; light, yet with a cinnamon-like taste.

  This captain would do, she thought, even as she tried her hardest not to notice how uncomfortably close the clouds were getting.

  *~*~*

  "Amphitrite!"

  Temperance got to her feet along with the little girl. They'd been inspecting the clear bottom of the boat. The solid coating on the inside and outside had a layer of plasgel pressed between, ensuring the clarity of their view. Plasgel turned clear once it was dry and tended to do the same to any material it came in contact with. The only exception found so far was athonyx, the mineral that Kenrick's friend Antares mined. When the two were mixed together, they created a powerful energy source that was slowly putting the steam magnates out of business.

  Amphitrite was eagerly planning to spend the majority of the journey lying on the floor, watching the scenery pass by.

  Meanwhile, Temperance had already eaten four of the small golden-brown, chewy candies in anticipation. She'd also requested the recipe for the spiced water the captain had made for her.

  Dorothea beamed at them as they headed up the stairs. "I suppose I should have waited to give you this until we landed, but I simply couldn't wait." She drew a necklace from behind her back, and Temperance blinked in awe.

  It was Zeus's symbol, the lightning bolt, rendered in beautiful shining white and silver jewels. It hung from a thick silver chain, and the pendant itself was almost as big as Amphitrite's palm. Once she got over the admiration for the glittering adornment, Temperance saw the hesitation behind Amphitrite's smile as her mother draped the necklace over her head.

  "I had one made for each of us," she said, fastening the second one around her own neck before beaming down at her daughter. "Oh, look at you. Your father would be so proud." She pulled her into her arms, hugging her tightly for a moment before she cleared her throat. "Well, Temperance, I had one made for you, too. It isn't precisely the same, of course, as I wanted my daughter's and mine to match, but I do hope you'll be pleased."

  She withdrew a third necklace from the pocket of her skirt, and Temperance smiled as she took it. The pendant was considerably smaller, as were the jewels—only white ones in this pendant, rather than white and silver—but it was stunning all the same. She remembered the matching necklaces Dorothea had made for them the year they'd each turned eighteen; bright pink and gold, the colors to symbolize lasting friendship. "Thank you so much, Dorothea."

  "You're welcome," she said, hugging her as well. "Amphitrite, darling, could you give us a moment?"

  Amphitrite nodded quickly and scurried back down the stairs.

  "I want to thank you again, for standing by me these past… these past few difficult years," Dorothea said. "Despite what the papers say, I'm not a simpleton. I know full well what most folk have been saying about me. If you've ever had such thoughts, you've kept them silent admirably well, and—"

  "Of course, I haven't thought ill of you," Temperance said.

  "You… I know my father-in-law would likely faint to hear me say it, but you're like a sister to me. I'm not sure if I could have made it past Jameson's… what happened to Jamie without you."

  Nearly nine years, Temperance thought. Almost nine years ago now that Jameson had died, and still Dorothea couldn't make herself say the word 'dead.' It was always 'what happened to Jamie' or 'the accident'. As much as she had indulged in the usual fantasies about finding grand, passionate love, the idea of ending up in Dorothea's position, of having every seam in the fabric of her life ripped apart, was terrifying.

  Temperance started to reply, but then her stomach lurched as the airship slowly began its ascent.

  "Poor dear," Dorothea said. "Do you think fresh air would help, or would you rather just stay in your quarters?"

  "Perhaps fresh air," Temperance said. On their last voyage she had sequestered herself as much as possible, after all, and that had done no good whatsoever.

  Dorothea nodded and took her hand, guiding her up the stairs as the airship rocked gently upon meeting the wind currents.

  "There," Dorothea said, as they walked out onto the deck. "I always find a bit of a breeze helps settle my stomach."

  Temperance mumbled an agreement, feeling like the slightest motion of her head might offset any good Fariha's candies had done. Her stomach was still upset, yes, but at least it didn't feel like she would be sick any moment, and she wished to keep it that way. She watched as they rose above even the height of the mountain their city had grown up around, the one that had once been a prison complex.

  Now it served as a library and museum, holding pictures of the humble beginnings of their city, diaries from some of first settlers, stuffed bodies of sandlizards and desert cats, examples of altars to the different Deities.

  It was a beautiful view, and Dorothea was right; the breeze helped somewhat. In event of truly strong winds or a storm, a plasgel-filled dome would close over the deck, but for now the skies were blue and clear, and the wind simply ruffled her hair rather than tried to knock her off her feet.

  Perhaps this would be a pleasant journey after all.

  *~*~*

  "Sooner or later, you're going to have to go to bed."

  "I know."

  Temperance watched Amphitrite as the little girl stared down across the ocean. Their first night out here, when they'd still been over land, she'd been content to sit in her little chair down here and read, casting occasional glances at the passing la
ndscape below. Now she lay on her stomach on the clear floor, transfixed by the water.

  It was almost an hour past her bedtime, and Temperance knew she should tell her to get to her room, but instinct stopped her. Something had been bothering her charge lately, and she needed to know what. There were few better circumstances in which to talk than this.

  Finally, after another half-hour of silently staring down, Amphitrite spoke quietly.

  "Did you know a sailing crew out last year, from The Amaterasu, almost captured a siren? They did get pictures."

  "No, I didn't know that," Temperance said, puzzled.

  "And they just put up a new painting in a museum, based off descriptions the first settlers gave when they traveled to the ocean. All the colors, the fish and the flowers and the shells. You can look down at this now and just think it's an expanse of nothing, just water, but it's amazing below the surface."

  "I'm sure it is. Amphitrite… what's the matter?"

  "I don't…" She trailed off, cleared her throat. Looked away as she continued in a rush. "I don't know if I want to be a Zeusian."

  Temperance held back a curse. She'd been expecting something like Amphitrite dealing with her first crush, or worrying about some aspect of her studies. But this? Dorothea would not take it well. She hadn't even gotten up the courage to tell her that she herself worshiped Athena, because she knew that would upset her enough. But her daughter?

  "I know mother wants me to be a Temple Maiden, or a missionary," Amphitrite said. "And I love Zeus. I do. But when I think about devoting my entire life to him?" She shook her head. "I want to worship Poseidon. Mom would be really mad, wouldn't she?"

  "I don't think she'd be mad," Temperance said carefully. "I think she'd be scared."

  "Why?"

  "Do you know who Exodus is?"

  Amphitrite nodded. "Yeah. Grandpa calls them crackpots. They… they were the ones who killed daddy."

  "They were," Temperance said. "Most of them—most of them would never dream about hurting anybody. They just want to explore space, that's all. Get back in contact with 'civilization'."

 
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