“A mousetrap?” Izabela was skeptical.
“On my word of honor,” said Dmitrio. “It was an overgrown flytrap, I think. Definitely big enough to eat mice or even very small birds. I wouldn’t want to go back there in a few years. It might be big enough to eat a person by then.”
“How did it get so big?”
“I suspect the raw aetherium we found had something to do with it. There was probably more stored under the table where the plants were growing. I’m sure there was an irrigation system piping in water from the pool. If the aetherium got wet and the roots broke through their pots, then the plants could very well have been wrapped around them for additional water.”
Izabela regarded him suspiciously. Was he making this up? She finally said, “You are not allowed to have a greenhouse.”
“I promise that if I do build a greenhouse, then I will not store aetherium in it. Fair enough?”
Izabela snorted. “No. You’d probably set some down in there in that absent-minded way you have and forget where you left it. Best not to have a greenhouse at all. So what was in those papers?”
“Notes on the fortresses of other Aether Masters.”
The balloon floated lazily in an easterly direction over red sand and stone piled formations that were inspirations for legends of ancient cities of giants. The ocean shimmered blue to the north, blurring into deep blue sky at the horizon. A winged jackrabbit, commonly called a flitterjack, landed on the railing and twitched her ears. She hopped closer to Dmitrio and tentatively nibbled the paper he was reading. He waved her away and twisted to the side. The flitterjack hopped along the railing behind him and tried for the paper again.
Dmitrio glanced up at Teri. “So it seems. Is she one of yours?”
“No. This one’s feral.” Teri shooed the flitterjack away and sat down next to Dmitrio. “Find anything interesting?”
“This page describes possible entrances into Sareli’s Nest. Here are notes for Ossir’s Aviary.” He shuffled through the papers. “There’s a page here with sketches of various locking mechanisms. I haven’t figured out what the locks are for.”
“Are there notes on all the fortresses?” asked Teri.
“No. There is nothing on Marcia’s Peak. Whether that’s because they never existed, they’re lost, or they were taken, I cannot say.”
“And you said that Marta had a fascination with Marcia?”
“True. And we know she was at Erinn’s Folly. It is a reasonable hypothesis that she took any notes about the Peak,” said Dmitrio. He was suddenly very aware of how close Teri was sitting, nearly touching at shoulder, hip, and knee. His face warmed as he focused on straightening the pile of papers. They sat in silence for several heartbeats; an eternity from Dmitrio’s perspective.
Teri sighed. “If I weren’t chasing your sister, I would ask to get to know you better.” He stood abruptly and retreated to the control panel where he fiddled with various adjustments to the furnace.
Dmitrio’s eyes widened at the confession. Mal’s shadow fell across him as he put away the papers. He glanced up at her. “You seem amused,” he observed.
She leaned against the railing facing out to the desert. “Just kiss him and get it over with.”
Dmitrio snorted and joined her. “Easy for you to say. It could turn very awkward later when we finally do catch up with Marta.”
“A problem for another day. At least talk to him.”
“I’ll just point out,” said Dmitrio, “that the last time I took such advice from you, I ended up on a raft in the middle of Cobbler’s Cove for six months.”
“But you enjoyed the company,” she countered. “And had a fine adventure too.”
“Very funny.” He looked over his shoulder. Teri was very definitely working hard at not paying attention to them.
Mal nudged him and whispered, “Go on.”
Dmitrio sauntered over to the control panel and waited for Teri to look up from fussing over the coals. Sunlight glint off the brass fixtures and glass–covered dials. A tiny crack in the glass cover of the altimeter looked like it would soon spread.
“Need something?” Teri finally asked as he poked at the coals.
“Marta has always had a talent for complicating my life. It is most frustrating.” Dmitrio absently traced the crack in the glass with a fingertip, guessing the possible path it would take.
“I can imagine.” Teri closed the furnace door and stood, wiping the soot from his hands with a rag. “The glass cracked when a flitterbun carrying a message for me decided to land on it. I suspect the message tube caught it just right.”
“Ah. My younger sister is a glass worker. She might be able to repair it,” said Dmitrio. He noticed the smug on Teri’s cheek and resisted reaching over to wipe it off. Instead, he vaguely gestured at his own cheek. “You’ve got a smudge…” Their eyes met.
“Thanks.” Teri wiped it away absently.
“My point was that I would enjoy becoming better acquainted with you as well. Marta be damned,” Dmitrio said in a rush of words. He held his breath, uncertain now that the words were out.
“She might well be,” Teri said levelly.
Dmitrio forced himself to relax and breathe. “We’ll find a path around that mountain when we get to it.”
Teri folded the rag and put it in a small bin on the upper right corner of the panel. He scanned the gauges. When Teri finally made eye contact, he smiled warmly and asked, “That’s quite a workshop you have. What exactly do you do in there?”
copyright 2015, all rights reserved, Kimberley Long-Ewing