6 – Change in The Order

Melas watched the sunrise from his seat onboard the airship. The captain had visited him again, making sure that the mercenary was comfortable. He also had come with the payment: a voucher worth five hundred thousand gil, and compliments on a job well done. The elvaan could not help but feel as though he had somehow cheated the man out of his money. Was his presence really all that was needed for this? With this sort of money, he could actually begin thinking of retirement.

"You do not look pleased." The hume had said.

"Why magicite?"

"I'm only a ship captain. Whatever a government decides is out of my hands."

"What are we taking back to San d'Oria?" Melas pointed at the dockworkers milling about between both his ship and the decoy ship.

"Jeuno is grateful for the San d'Orian cooperation in this matter, and your Royals feel the same."

Melas watched as passengers began to board the second ship. He found a growing distaste for this job in that moment. These people didn't even know what they were getting in to. He spied Galanin at the stern of the vessel, away from any others. He looked like he had fallen asleep against one of the main turbines on the deck.

Only two of us for something like this.

He indulged himself in his text.

-

Callah was amazed when she saw Arngrim waiting for her at the stables. She was certain that she would be there first, and she was surprised that he'd been able to afford a mythril breastplate to replace his old one. He had the long sword still, and strapped to his back was a new greatsword. He looked ready for a small war, and she let him know that.

"Just in case." He replied.

She couldn't figure out exactly what the man was like. It was like a game to her, to be able to predict those around her. She was good at it. This one was very different. He had paid for the chocobos, and being among the last few at the stables so early in the day, Arngrim had forked over two plates worth a thousand gil apiece. The mithra would have rather walked than pay such prices.

"You didn't… You didn't need to pay for that, mine anyway."

"You would rather walk?" Arngrim climbed onto his mount, the giant bird squawking once in brief protest. "If it's money you are worried about, it's not something I worry about, so why should you?" She just shook her head. One of the elvaan stable handlers came up to them and started to lead their mounts towards the gates. "I've got more than enough of it squirreled away."

"What kind of work have you done to be so secure in your funds?" She figured Arngrim wouldn't tell. Mercenaries and adventurers rarely shared secrets.

"I kill things, escort things, and guard things. That's actually pretty recent, about two years or so."

"Please be careful with our Chocobos!" the stable handler pleaded, bowing respectfully to the two riders.

"Nothing to worry about with us!" Callah nudged the sides of her mount with a squeeze of her legs, and it chirped in reply before taking off, Arngrim riding just beside her. "So what else? I've done much of that escorting and guarding things you talk about, but I wouldn't be so careless with my money."

"I used to be in the Iron Musketeers." Arngrim chuckled. "They paid pretty well in the time that I was a part of them."

"Used to be?"

"Then came the First Defensive Battle of North Gustaberg." He looked away for a moment. "I had to leave after that. They did pay me handsomely to try and keep me. The armor I had been assigned also was worth plenty in the right hands, it's how I met Aldo."

"You? A Musketeer? I've heard stories of theirrr actions on that day…" She was wrong about him again, she wouldn't have guessed this, wouldn't have known unless he'd spoke of it. "So now I ask you, why am I still alive?"

"You're pretty good, killing you would have been a mistake, and you didn't need it." He kicked at the chocobo's sides, and the pace nearly doubled, the bird lowering it's head into the wind, Callah upped the pace of her mount to match. "I want to get to Jeuno as quickly as we can. An airship is faster, but I've no Airship Pass, and neither do you. I want to take the land route through Jugner. These will have to do, they seem strong so I don't think this will hurt them."

"Prrretty good you say?" the Mithra asked, grinning from ear to ear.

"Don't dwell on it."

-

The ship had made a very sharp bank quite suddenly, and Melas gripped onto his seat tightly. They had been in the air for an hour or so, just passing over Jugner now, the sudden jolt was very out of place. He'd ridden on many different high altitude airships before. He could see smoke trailing from something far below. He pressed against the porthole to see if he could get a better angle, but the view was too limited. He looked at his lance, a chill passing through him. He stood from his seat, making for the compartment door, lance in hand.

It opened as he put his hand on the handle, a very distraught ship captain on the other side.

"What is going on?"

"Something's happened on the first ship. We just saw some people get thrown off, we think there are hijackers, one of my observers says they are seeing magic-"

"We've little time." Melas moved past the captain, heading for the deck.

"Melasierg! It is freezing cold on the deck, why in all the hells are you-"

"My job is to guard these ships. Innocent people are being thrown off of one of them. I'm going down there."

"Melas!" The captain tossed a pearl at the mercenary, who caught it without looking. "Whatever is going on down there, you need to tell me, you understand?"

"Of course." Melas slipped the small pearl into his right ear. Reaching underneath his chest plate, he pulled out the voucher for the gil he'd earned for this contract. "Seyn, get this to my wife. Get this to Balmina. Do you understand?"

"You have my word, what do I tell her?"

"I'll be running late." He got to the deck's pressure door. "You'd better get to the bridge."

"You're insane!" Captain Seyn called, as he scrambled towards the bridge compartment.

"I'm a Dragoon."

-

They had gotten across the great plateau quickly, the strides of the chocobos unbroken since they left San d'Oria, pausing on occasion to feed them greens purchased at the vendors. Behind them was the great crag of Holla, and before them lay the rather imposing Jugner Forest. They stopped once more to feed the birds, Callah watching as Arngrim spoke softly to his mount, reminding it that it was doing well, assuring it that everything was alright.

"You're rather good with animals." The mithra didn't bother to hide it; the hume genuinely impressed her. He replied with a half smile.

"Practice, Callah. You would have thought otherwise of me if you'd met me years ago." As he looked back to the forest his gaze traveled upwards. "Smoke? Coming from the air?" The mithra looked into the distance, squinting slightly.

"An airship… That's the source. I can't tell you much else, it looks like it's losing altitude." Arngrim patted the chocobo's head once before kicking it's sides, the mount immediately sprinting into the forest, Callah following a second later. "It may be coming down in Jugner!" She added quickly.

"Let us hope they do not fall in to Davoi, or else any survivors will be lost."

-

The deck of the ship was slick with frost, so with each step Melas took, his lance dug into the deck to steady himself as he made his way to the sides. Seyn was maneuvering the ship to be somewhat over and ahead of the lower airship, but they were still thousands of feet away. It would take time that they didn't have to get closer. He stood out on the railing.

"Fly, Altana be with you." Seyn spoke into his ear from the linkshell.

Melas leapt.

His heart sang, and a part of his younger days returned, the air whistling past his ears, the lance tip of his weapon sliding away, revealing the adamantine spear that was hidden underneath, and he pointed himself at the airship. One of the engines was aflame and out of commission, at this rate the ship would be coming down hard in Jugner.

A familiar roar accompanied his fall, and Melas smiled. To his right was his second 'other half', a brilliant azure dragon whelp, slightly larger than chocobo, eyes locked onto the elvaan questioningly, and it knew. A single flap of it's wings, and it moved over the falling elvaan's back, talons grasping onto his pauldrons, guiding him. They closed in faster now, details of the ship now coming into focus. No one was on the decks. A few more seconds till he was there.

He adjusted his angle, legs extended towards the ship, and the whelpling matched this, the dive slowing somewhat, now aimed at the deck rather than through it. With nothing save the beat of his heart in his ears, he shrugged, and his dragon released him. He tensed.

His heavy armor made the wooden deck planks buckle, and his momentum was enough to drive him across the entire length of the ship towards the cabin door that lead to the lower deck. He whirled the spear once as he closed in, and thrust it forward, the door splintering from the assault, decorating the stairway down with debris as he streaked through, leaping over the first set of stairs. He planted the spear into the far wall, and half spun to check the second set of stairs that led further down into a hallway, hanging from the wall and sagging down to the floor, the weight of his gear pulling the spear through the wall. If the enemy did not see him coming, they certainly knew he was here now.

"I'm on board, Seyn" he whispered, remembering the linkshell, the high of his fall fading away.

Blood stained the steps, a trail from a body apparently having been dragged down them, leading off to the blind corner to the right. Pockmarks from musket and pistol fire dotted the walls, with the remnants of arterial sprays dripping from the ceiling. The body of a hume female sat against the wall, head hanging to one side limply, her white robes stained red with clearly fatal wounds. Before her lay a taru, the little man gasping for breath, reaching towards the ceiling with shivering hands before at last fading, the arm collapsing to the carpet with a dull thud.

Melas worked his spear free from the wall with a single pull, whirling it once and holding it at the ready, walking down the steps briskly. He glanced to his left, and saw a figure shrouded in black, a cloak hiding its' face, an ungainly four barreled rifle of some kind hanging loosely towards the deck. The elvaan stared right at where the face was supposed to be. Niether spoke for a long moment, until Melas decided to.

"This your work?"

The figure tossed its' head back once, easing the cloak away, revealing a darker skinned hume with greasy, wild jet black hair, green eyes that seemed to glow dimly in the simple lighting of the cabin.

"It's easier to pull a trigger, than use a spear." The man spoke, raising the miniature cannon at the Elvaan.

"Getting your gun off?" Melas taunted.

"Of course."

The elvaan heard footsteps behind him, heavy armored ones, accompanied by less distinct others. He half turned to face the new arrivals, and a frown passed across his face.

"It is nothing personal." Galanin said, standing to the left of an individual in polished, dark armor. "These people had to die, Melas. Just the same as you have to." He gestured to the gunman with a curt nod. "Anton."

"This one is a full Dragoon." The dark armored man intoned, removing his helm, displaying his terrible scar across the face, brushing aside strands of hair. "If I may ask you, warrior to warrior." The Elvaan did not relax as he turned completely to size up the speaker. "When you fight, do you fight for your government? Or do you fight for the things you truly care for?"

"I've a family." Melas glanced to his left. The passenger compartment door was there. He gazed back at the apparent leader of these killers.

"A better answer I could not have expected." The man smiled, turning towards the far balcony that fed out into the open air. Melas moved, diving at the door with surprising speed, just as Anton fired. Galanin leaned aside with equal deftness, the shot passing near his face with mere inches to spare. The man in the heavy armor also moved, far too fast to be a normal hume, a sword flashing from a sheath as he turned, a spark exploding before him, a part of the wall blasted away by the deflected shot. "Take him. I will meet you where it is safe."

"Arbalest, this ship is gone in three minutes." Anton said, calmly loading a new shell into his weapon. "We've the refined materials here secured, and the numbers for the storage spaces in question at Jeuno. All we need is the final few pieces."

"Three minutes?" Galanin questioned.

"Enough time to ensure we make an example out of the old man."

"Excellent work, the both of you. I'm off. I'm taking Lian and Vaelast with me. Ensure the Dragoon cannot speak of this in detail to anyone." The heavy armored knight strode towards the balcony, hands moving in a series of signs, a pillar of light forming around him.

"What about your injuries?" Galanin fastened his katars to his fists with practiced ease.

"Arngrim fared much worse. I've much to accomplish. He hasn't hindered me." The light faded, along with the hume. The monk sighed, then glanced to where the dragoon had thrown himself to.

"Anton, I don't suppose you could poke your head in there and coax the old one out?" The corsair muttered something under his breath, pulling out a second weapon from his cloak, a crossbow of some form, a box sticking out ungainly atop the weapon, the tips of a dozen bolts within glinting with menace.

Melasierg was fairly convinced that he was about to lose his life.

"Seyn. What was this ship carrying? The passengers are all dead. The attackers so far as I am able to tell consist of Humes."

"We were taking back refined magicite cannon shells to San d'Oria. The only place in Vana'diel that can process the crystals for such use is Jeuno. For months now we've been switching between the high altitude ships and the passenger ships to ferry the weaponry back and forth between the nations. We've never had-"

"Seyn, I am about to be very busy. Get that money to where it belongs, and get the authorities on this as soon as you are able."

"What about you?"

"I'm going to try to live."

Melas was in the center of the passenger hold of the airship. Striding in briskly were the monk and the corsair, taking up either side of the door that had been shattered when the elvaan dove through it. The corsair raised his weapons at Melas, but did not fire immediately.

"You surely must have heard." Galanin said, assuming a relaxed defensive posture. "Almost two minutes until this ship is destroyed. While myself and Anton have a means to get to safety, I doubt even the fastest of wyverns could save you."

"Since I am about to die, why don't you just tell me the whole works now?"

"Don't even think about it." Anton fired a bolt from the crossbow, aiming wide purposely. "You have a linkpearl. You came from the other airship."

"It's about the magicite?"

"Something like that." Galanin slipped his hands into the grips of his katars. "This can go very quickly or very painfully."

The hume pair found themselves surprised when the dragoon had already moved within a few paces of them, spear deflecting a pair of bolts and a shot from the pistol Anton wielded. It began.

-

Arngrim and Callah drove their feathered mounts harder, seeing just how low that airship had sunk towards the ground. To their dismay, it was most assuredly crashing into Davoi, listing into a slow turn that degraded into a shallow dive towards the orcish stronghold. Over the sounds of the trees whipping past them, they could hear the roars of the beastmen, the war drums beating loudly. The whole forest echoed of killers anticipating the victims or their possessions.

"Arngrim…we should-"

"Not be headed this way? I don't intend to fight every single orc." He tossed back a half grin that seemed to be his trademark. "Have I scared the kitten?"

"Why do humes insist on referring to my people as kittens, or cats?" She glared at him.

"Changing the subject or genuine curiosity?"

"Both."

"Silly girl. Have you taken a look at yourself in a mirror?" He could hear her sniff with indignantly, causing him to laugh.

"I do not look like a house pet."

"The ears? The tail? The fur?" He added.

"Is it so hard to just call us Mithra?"

"Well, I suppose I haven't heard you refer to me as a smoothskin just yet. I could call you Mithra."

"Thank you."

"Cat is much easier though." She sighed at this. "Why get so upset over it? You're a person just like anyone else."

"I don't like being referred to as something that normally belongs to a person." Her mount had pulled up alongside of Arngrim's. "I'm not property."

"Why were you selling your services as a Ranger?" He ducked down slightly in his seat to avoid a branch that nearly knocked him off the chocobo. "For a woman who values her personal identity and freedom, it is strange that you'd press yourself into that sort of service."

"If I had to belong to anyone, it would have to be one man and one man alone." She sounded wistful.

"Aldo never told me about a Mithra." Again, that stupid grin of his, she thought to herself. She could feel her cheeks warm significantly, and silently hoped that he didn't notice her fur bristle with the discomfort she felt.

"What has he said?" Her voice nearly broke.

"Nothing about a woman. You don't have to act jealous quite yet." He chuckled upon hearing her growl. "I seem to be skilled at finding subjects you don't care for."

"I-indeed." She shifted on the mount, peering through the canopy of the trees at where the airship had fallen to. There was a bright flash, and her mouth dropped open to cry out in surprise. They heard the sound a moment later, their mounts rearing back and squawking in protest.

-

It was a fight unlike any other Melas had participated it. In the moment that he charged, a rush unlike any other coursed through him. He did not want to die. He would not die. He would make it so. He would see Balmina again. This he decreed. And he moved.

Anton fired a spray of bolts as the elvaan as he moved, and hit nothing but adamantine spear as it whirled before the dragoon protectively, his own pistol shot wide by a foot. Too fast, far too fast-

Galanin cross arm blocked an overhead swing from the dragoon's weapon, and found that he'd sunk into the floorboards from the power behind the swing, and in the brief second he earned himself from backpedaling away, felt the unfamiliar sensation of being out of control of his situation, but did not feel angry. This was something he'd not felt in some time. He leaned back from a determined swipe for his neck from the spear, then launched forward, trying to drive the elvaan back, and found that the seemingly heavily armored warrior was far more nimble than expected, shifting around the monk, smacking the monk across the back with his polearm while taking his legs out from under him in the same motion.

Anton fired another bolt, watched it be deflected, watched the dragoon close the short gap, batting aside another three bolts before one struck home on his chest, through the plate. He batted the crossbow away, sending the corsair spinning. Whirling back to face Galanin, Melas parried a frenzied series of strikes, heard the loud click of Anton's pistol reloaded and ready to fire, spun 'round once more, catching Galanin in the jaw with the blunt end, the blade catching the pistol and knocking it upward as it fire, the shot striking the crown of his helm, shattering it. As the pieces fell free, Melas spun his weapon once more, sending the firearm across the room.

The vessel seemed to quake violently. Pain shot through the back of his head, and Melas tumbled forward, tasting blood in his mouth and a second pain through his back now. He saw that one of Galanin's katars was coated in his blood. Pulling the bolt stuck in him made him gasp with the effort.

He was losing. The fight was too restrained here.

"What did these people do to deserve this?" Melas spat blood to the deck.

"If they were not here, they would have lived. Nobody can report our faces. Not for this."

"Refined magicite cannon shells?" Coughing, Melas took up a defensive stance

"Galanin?" The corsair was rapidly making a set of magical seals. "We've got to escape, now."

"True enough, meet you shortly. I'll finish this."

The ship did shudder violently this time, Melas tossed into the air. He spun around in the sudden rush of air, and saw that all around him, the ship was coming apart in massive chunks, explosives that had been set finally going off, deafening at such close proximity. He vaguely could make out the gunman's form fading away from what remained of the passenger compartment, and saw that Galanin stood firm on the badly listing piece of airship, staring at the near helpless elvaan.

A gentle light surrounded the dragoon, and he glanced at the source; the wyvern had managed to keep up, breathing a stream of light over its' master. The potentially mortal wounds he'd sustained faded away, and Melas righted himself in the air, the wyvern assisting him as he set foot on another massive piece of falling wreckage.

Galanin's expression shifted between shock and rage.

Melas beckoned the monk to make the first move. Jugner loomed below. Thirty seconds. Maybe less.

He was going to be very late.

- -

Man, I do take a while between chapters. Read and review if you'd liek folks, and I hope you enjoyed it.