Welcome to Alannis. It's the main continent on a world dominated by oceans, dotted with islands. The caps are frozen over and few people venture there, save those that don't want to be found. The few significant landmasses are all under the direct government of Alannis or are kept under strict scrutiny, with the local governments being independent in name only. The smaller, outlaying islands are independent for sheer virtue of being too insignificant to be worthy of more than just the favorable trade treaty or two. And Alannis itself – a tropic region crisscrossed with rivers and expansive, sprawling cities. In a natural harbor, the largest in the world, lay the capital, the Emperor's Palace, the headquarters of the Cadre, the Academy, and the twins Langley and Sabreur of the Stormrider family.

Sabreur, the male sibling, was a technomancer by trade and a pyromancer by profession. Like most people in Alannis he carried a thin-bladed rapier and knew how to use it. However, it was the varied array of metallic spheres he kept on his person that made him dangerous, as well as the components stored in a battered bag he kept slung over his shoulder. His sister, Langley, considered herself a jack-of-all-trades and went by the title of technomancer only for propriety. Like her brother, she also knew how to handle a rapier, except she carried two of them, not metallic spheres, and her components were kept in a bag hidden under her knee-length jacket.

Neither of them were technomancers or pyromancers or anything by degree. Both had dropped out of school shortly before starting their final year at the Academy.

However, for a pair of dropouts, they spent a majority of their time inland at and around the Academy campus. The reason for this was a chronomancer in training – Brin. A year younger and with no intentions of dropping out and pursuing other endeavors aside from his degree and possibly the Cadre after that, which was the main purpose of the Academy. It was also the reason the twins had elected to not receive their degrees.

"So I say to him, I say, 'Excuse me, but you're addressing the wrong person. THAT is the first mate. I'm the captain.'"

Brin laughed, knowing what comes next. Across from him sat Langley, a spoon dripping with ice cream held up over the steelwork table. People ambled by on the cobblestone sidewalk and in the streets, carts and the occasional carriage rattle by. Above, the whine of a skimmer momentarily punctuated the noise.

"And he stares at me like I'd just announced I had three heads and was going to take over Alannis."

The ice cream dripped and Langley remembered that she should be eating. As she shoveled more of the dessert into her mouth, Brin folded his hands under his chin and took up the story.

"So at which point, you draw steel and write your initials in his coat, right?"

"Actually, no. But his hat will never be the same."

Brin chuckled. The young woman opposite him continued eating her ice cream. She was small in stature, barely scraping five foot four with lanky limbs and a face that belonged to someone much younger than herself. Mouse brown hair was drawn back into a short braid.

"How you get away with all this stuff never ceases to amaze me."

"Eh, you know how it is. No one really cares what happens down at the docks as long as the skimmers come in on time and the cargo is delivered to the right person. If a young captain takes offense at being overlooked and makes herself unforgettable next time around, it's not paid any attention to. Normal. You know…" She shook her spoon at him and dripped a couple more droplets of vanilla onto the table, "we still have space on our crew for another person. Another 'mancer would come in handy."

It always came around to this at some point. Brin leaned back in the chair and stared at the sky. A couple clouds languished above.

"Sorry, Langley, but you know I can't. I want my degree."

"Yeah, yeah. You still planning for an advanced degree as well?"

"That, or picking up a second."

"Might as well plaster 'Cadre bait' on your forehead."

"If I ever leave school, that is."

She returned to her ice cream. Brin had finished his already, simply eating while Langley kept up a steady flow of talk. Conversations when the twins returned for a visit were usually one-sided. Those two were off traveling from port to port, island to island, encountering interesting people and generally enjoying the havoc they inevitably seemed to encounter – or create. Brin – there wasn't much to be said. Schoolwork. Essays. His chronomancer magic being used to complete intentionally impossible deadlines. That, he admitted, was still difficult. Freezing time to finish a test in five seconds of real time was not good on the nerves.

"Run into any trouble on the seas?" he asked as Langley gulped down the last bite.

She eyed him.

"Whatcha mean by that? I already told you about the storm we hit. The one that tried to overwash the ship. We had to-"

"Raise altitude and wait it out, yeah I heard. Lost a day of travel. Reason why you want a chronomancer on board. No, I meant from the government officials."

"Ah. No, not yet."

She stood and wiped away the spilt ice cream with a napkin. It'd been all across the harbors and taverns seagoers populated – Alannis was getting more stringent in their shipping rules and boarding more and more skimmers for inspection. Rumor was the Emperor was getting paranoid, although in the captain's circles that was widely scoffed at. Generally, only the educated made it to own a skimmer or fleet of their own. Really, the truth of the matter was that Serpent – legendary smuggler who was reputed to have hundreds of agents under his control – was starting to annoy the Alannis government a bit too much. Some even went so far as to say he'd managed to not only elude, but even kill some of the Cadre. Langley had to admit that one might be true as she'd seen a few more Cadre down at the harbor. Thankfully, it was not her ship they were interested in at the time, nor her crew.

"I swear Brin, if you ever graduate and get recruited into the Cadre, I will not hesitate to throw your ass off my ship if you want to board it in neutral waters."

He looked startled, but it was not at the grim declaration about his ass and throwing.

"They're going that far now? Neutral waters?"

"So the rumors say. But when has Alannis ever been concerned about the rights of the smaller nations? Does this really surprise you?"

The man didn't answer. They threw away their trash and stepped out of the open ice cream parlor courtyard and into the flow of sidewalk traffic. Langley put her hat back on her head – a three-cornered gray thing that had seen too much action. A tattered gull's feather stuck out of the brim. Unimpressive, but Brin knew that the hat was a devastating weapon in Langley's arsenal. A captain of the high seas was dangerous with a little bit of magic and a feather in hand.

Some people stared as the duo passed. The older appearing Brin, his jacket trimmed in the white edging of an Academy student and Langley, with the crisscrossed gold of a skimmer captain. It seemed out of place, here in the upper-scale district of the city, often populated by those with enough money to waste on the shops boasting little more than the scenery to account for the raised prices. It was what Brin was used to, being from a rich family, and Langley was never going to complain as long as he was buying.

"Think it's about time we found that wayward brother of yours?"

Langley shrugged. Sabreur had said something about shopping for components and raw materials and she knew from experience that he would take a while. She had also learned from experience that it was unwise to go with him. Something invariably went wrong, usually when he insisted that he at least test the quality of the component.

The shopkeepers generally disagreed with the results, what with Sabreur being a pyromancer by practice and all.

"He'll show up at the ship by sundown, I imagine. If not, I'll go looking for him. He's easy to find, what with us being twins and all."

She shrugged and her eyes lazily slid across the shop roofs towards where the towers of the Academy could be seen. High up, near the clouds, was a light-weight skimmer, docked with the banner of both the Academy and Alannis flying from the tip. She had piloted one of those once. While able to achieve phenomenal altitudes, Langley hadn't particularly liked the design. They were smaller, more spread out, and only able to carry about eight people with no cargo. Also, they were completely enclosed. She couldn't feel the wind and taste the salt in the breeze. That was what bothered her. She was a Stormrider at heart and they belonged on the waves, at the forefront of the tempests.

"I have class in an hour. May I at least escort you back to your ship?"

"Brin, it's an hour walk to the docks, at the very least. Then you have to walk back."

In response, the man pulled a pocket watch from his jacket and dangled it off one finger, a sly grin on his face. He didn't say anything because Langley knew. Chronomancer. Someone had been practicing extended slow time. She nodded and he spun it, once, and all around them the people slowed to a pace slower than they had been going, and the duo started off again, weaving through the people as they walked. The breeze lingered in the suddenly still air around them, and Langley could taste the salt of the ocean from there.