Chapter Fifteen- Postlude/A Discovery
Hey, folks. I really hope you enjoyed reading my minor tome (of 70,000 words in two months! Yeah!!!!!) and I hope I did well enough to keep most of you coming back for Book Three. Skies Of Arcadia Legends: Where Loyalties Lie, coming soon to an internets near you.
I apologize if in places the characters seemed... well, out of character- to me, it's the most difficult part of any piece of fiction to accurately recreate the personality of an established character. Or maybe I just suck at it. ;.; at any rate, I'm trying.
As usual, applause, love, and all the kingdoms of the Earth for my wonderful reviewers: Arcon1, Lord Elecian, Desert Lynx, SoraHyrin58203, dogluv101, Skyraptor66, and aika arcadia. You are the only rays of sunshine in my otherwise pampered teenage life! You all! You, lurking in the shadows! Yeah, you, punk! Review already! Yeesh. It's not that hard- you could do like Lynx-kun does and write down three words each time. :3
Make sure you've author alerted me, both to show me how many people love me so I don't fall into a horrible spiral of teen angst, and also so you get the next book when I start it.
Um... yeah. I don't have many author's notes because, well, what's there to say mostly? Enjoy this last chapter, in which the enigmatic, crusty old man who vehemently dislikes the prospect of teenage hanky panky opens up, just a smidgen, to the boy.
Last Chapter Starts Now!!
Loqua. That universal beverage was even well-known to the hermetic peoples of Ixa'taka, as it's making was rather simple. It was all the Loquat buries, which grew well in any climate, ground down for the sweet juices within. Vyse and his teenage friend, Aika, were both rather pleasantly surprised to discover the natives had brewed upwards of ten gallons for their enormous victory celebration. It had almost no negative physical effects, minus a temporary headache the next day when you woke up, besides the obviously desired effect of severe intoxication.
They partied, for many hours, enjoying themselves and temporarily forgetting the burden of the world's troubles. Drunken wildness inevitably ensued, but this was alright. Drachma was the only one present who abstained from the loqua- even the King had a few rounds.
Vyse slowly drifted back into consciousness, intense throbbing sensations shooting throughout his head as he groaned. The regular calls of the varied animal species around the village seemed incredibly loud now, as if they had all collected bullhorns and went up to scream in his ear. He knew this was only the effects of the hangover- although his father had discouraged it's usage, Vyse had been treated to loqua several times. He was the son of an air pirate gang, after all.
Slowly sitting up, he realized he was sitting on a comfortable blanket of some sort. Opening his eyes with another groan, he surveyed his surroundings. The familiar profile of the Ironclad cast a massive silhouette over him. He was in the same place he had slept yesterday, before their assault on the Gigas. To his left, bodies intertwined peacefully, was a slumbering Aika and Fina. He gave a small smile and stretched out. That was one wild time... I wonder what- what in the name of Daccat, king of all pirate lore am I WEARING
He had made the mistake of looking down. Instead of his sailor's tunic and pants, he was now clad in a regular female Ixa'takan dancer's attire, the skimpy leaves covering a small part of his chest and barely concealing his manhood. Struck speechless for a few moments, he decided to lay back down and go to sleep.
Hans chuckled, watching the bewildered and skimpily-dressed Blue Rogue lay back down and try to ignore what he was wearing. His adopted father and mother had also had a bit too much to drink, and was laid out below the decks of the rusted ship. He had only taken a few cups, and felt good enough to get an early start on the day's repairs. With the Valuan blockade of the continent ended, we can get out of here as soon as the ship's airworthy again.
Drachma lumbered out onto the deck next to him. He was the only one not affected at all by the berry juice. "Well," He rumbled idly, "Your engine is mostly patched up, I figure she'll fly alright until you can put in at a dry dock somewhere with real supplies."
"Thanks," The mechanic nodded. "How is your own ship?"
"I spent most of that 'partying' crap fixin' her up back into fightin' shape," Drachma replied. "I have to always keep alert, in case Rhaknam shows up lookin' for a fight." Vigilance is the only thing that'll save me if we meet again.
"Good luck," Hans said, putting out his hand and shaking Drachma's surviving flesh-and-blood appendage. "I hope everything goes well in Valua. Well, as well as Valua can be."
The old fisherman walked down the metal boarding ramp, onto the soft grass clearing. He proceeded over to his crew, who were peacefully sleeping. He was about to wake up Vyse, but paused. "You've earned your rest," He mumbled, looking back up to the Ironclad. "When they wake up, send em my way on the double. We'll eat breakfast on the move." He considered for a moment, whiskers twisting slightly in a smirk. "And remind the boy that his other clothes are all aboard the Little Jack."
"You got it," The Blue Rogue acknowledged, waving to him.
Departing the secluded landing site, he emerged into the winding village of Horteka. It was mostly asleep, a lot of the population having celebrated themselves into comatose collapse with the defeat of the Giant and the Easterners. He retracted his steps, by now having easily memorized the confusing route across multiple platforms to where his ship laid in wait.
He was approached by a native girl. She was about the same age as Fina and Aika, and nearly as beautiful. Obviously a dancer, her outfit was pretty immodest, especially in his opinion. "Captain?" She asked. "Are you the Captain of the hero ship... Drachma?"
"I am," He replied, stopping and turning to face her. "What about it."
"Um... well, I have a request to make of you," She admitted. "I am Merida, a dancer, obviously. Some time ago, I send a note in a bottle out to fly amongst the winds... it traveled far, out of sight, and I have never seen it again. The chances might be small, but, in your travels, if you should ever find it, could you return it to me? It is very important."
Drachma paused for a moment, then nodded. "Hrmph. I guess I could try, although I can't make any promises at all, mind."
The native girl's eyes lit up and she bowed to him. "Thank you, Captain. Safe travels." Without further words, the fisherman continued on his deliberate way, an enormous amount of thoughts running through his head.
He had been waiting aboard the ship for about an hour, lost deep in thought, when Vyse appeared over the loading ramp. His face was bright-red, and he angrily stomped past Drachma, below decks to get into the cargo hold and his spare clothing. The sound of girlish laughter heralded Fina and Aika, who were both atwitter. "Ah, don't sweat it that much, Vyse," Aika snorted. "It's quite a skimpy problem, really."
"Maybe he got a nice man yesterday with that outfit," Fina said, burying her face in her hands to try and smother her giggling.
Drachma turned to the hysterical girls. "You're one to talk, Aika. You got the most drunk out of the three of you. So much so, you bumped the real dancer off the stage and started a striptease to a rendition of 'I'm a little teapot' at the top of your lungs. You almost had it off before a couple of Ixa'takans could stop you."
Aika turned a nice shade of red. "Cap'n! That's not fair! I thought friends didn't gang up on each other."
"What about me?" Vyse asked, emerging in a fresh set of his own garments.
"You don't count," She responded simply. "Oh, that's reminds me, I almost forgot... Centime says to keep our lifeboat bay doors open, he's going to give us one of his because I mentioned that Piastol had stolen one of ours."
"The man's too charitable," Drachma said, relinquishing the helm controls to Vyse. "Get us ready to fly, boy. As soon as Centime leaves for the docks again, we've gotta move."
"I don't even see why we need lifeboats, anyway," Vyse said, taking the wheel and staring up the old fishing sloop's stolen Valuan main engine. Rumbling noises shook the ship as moonstone power filled it's circuitry and mechanical units. "We already survived two Gigas, two Valuan Admirals, and a whole bunch of other nastiness, including South Ocean."
"You gotta be prepared," Drachma replied simply. "You never know what might happen the next day out in these skies..." He paused for a moment. "You never know..." He proceeded down below the decks, leaving the three teenagers with the impression something was wrong.
Vyse opened the doors to the lifeboat dock via remote, and he soon saw Centime's small metallic skiff gliding across the treeline. "I wonder what he's thinking about," He said idly. "The Captain seemed pretty distracted back there. Come to think about it, we don't know much about him at all, do we? All we know is he hates that Rhaknam arcwale."
"He'll open up in his own time," Aika said. "Not like we can force anything from him, trust me, I've tried." They looked over as Centime walked onto the bridge. "Hey, Centime!"
"Hello," The kindly father and engineer said, smiling. "I know I can't ever fully repay you, but I hope that my spare lifeboat will help. I also wanted to see all of you off. We're moving out in a day or two, as well, and thusly our paths might not cross again for some time." He held out his hand. "What say?"
Vyse shook his hand and nodded. "It was great knowing you, Centime. You've helped us enough."
Aika grinned. "Yeah, what he said. You're an awesome guy. Maybe some day we'll meet you again. The world isn't as big as they say." Fina bowed respectfully to him, keeping quiet.
"Where is Drachma?" He asked, looking around.
"He's in his quarters, probably," Vyse replied. "He must be thinking about something. Don't mind him. He's just a grumpy old man. We'll send him your warm regards." After they had finished their goodbyes, Centime departed back into the village, and they turned to the helm. "Little Jack, lifting off!" He pulled up the throttle and wrenched the controls, pushing the ship up with it's powerful propulsion drive. There was no fanfare this time, and they slipped out without much notice, as most people were still recovering from the party.
They passed north, following the great divide that separated the two main halves of the Ixa'takan continent, and occasionally passing Ixa'takan ships. Without the specter of the Armada, their sky was their own again, and they took full advantage of that.
Drachma came back up to the Bridge after a while, and said, "Kids, accordin' to the Ironclad's crew and the natives, there used to be an enormous iron net set up to span the only passage through the north of the continent, ensuring no escape from Ixa'taka. When the Valuans ran away, they had to have taken down the net, so we should be free and clear to pass through North Ocean."
Soon enough they did find the northernmost part of the continent- the land slowly crested upwards to form an enormous wall, with a single wide passageway and a delta-like land formation floating in front of it. Iron bracings and structures sat to either side, but the air itself was clear.
Vyse said, "This is it. Bye bye, Ixa'taka. Entering North Ocean." Unlike the turbulent wastes of South Ocean, or the lively skies of Mid Ocean, the region they were traveling through seemed... dull. It seemed almost as if most of the life had been scooped out, and the skies got a little bit darker each minute they spent traveling north. Schools of fish were rare, and monsters nearly nonexistent, giving the crew plenty of time off. Drachma spent it wandering or shutting himself in his room alone.
The teenagers were beginning to get worried for Drachma, but couldn't think of any way to figure out the nature of the problem, much less how to help with that unknown difficulty. Vyse shook his head. "He never told us much anyway. I wish he could open up a- hey, there's something ahead." He reached for his skyglass, magnifying the black speck until it came into sharp focus, filling one half of his vision.
It was a ship, that much was obvious by the black sails mounted above it's hull. It was shaped like an oval, almost like a fish, wider than it was tall. It's metal plating was painted in the colors of a fish, even though it bore a decorative pair of leering eyes. Sharpened spikes were scattered across it's outer surfaces, and a number of black cannons poked out each side of the ship. The Black Pirate flag flapped proudly over this very odd creation of the skies.
"What do you see?" Aika asked after a second's pregnant pause, leaning over to peer with her naked eyes to the mysterious object.
"I can honestly say I see the weirdest looking flying object I have ever seen. It's a pirate ship... I think. Black pirates. It's profile is like absolutely nothing I've ever seen before. You'd better get the Captain up here, maybe he knows what to do."
Gordo was a man of fine tastes. He loved food, it was his primary interest in all of life. He loved food so much, he had singlehandedly assembled a crew of elite chefs to become his Black Pirate crew and purchased a suitable ship, a unique rarity called the Bloodlust. Traveling North Ocean, he was a true terror of cargo frigates and fishing ships, and even took on Valuan convoys if they had food. His bounty was currently about 5,000 gold to capture, kill, or to simply drive him out of the area.
He was currently enjoying Midmorning Second Brunch, which was the fourth of approximately twenty-seven meals, all of which he considered vital parts of his diet. He took a brief pause between devouring meals to chuckle to himself over the spoils of his latest hit, which was a ritzy private fishing sloop.
"Ah... it's good to be a pirate... Cold Ocean starfish soup... Valuan Yelooper with a side of dressing... and a mountain of Red and Blue Sardis Fish! This is wonderful! Those wealthy private ships always have the best eats aboard!" He smirked, going to work with his new silver fork.
"Captain Gordo," The lookout declared, clad in the royal purple chef's outfit like all of his crew, "A ship has been sighted dead-ahead. It's armed with an enormous harpoon cannon, and flies the standard fisherman flag."
"Hm?" The rotund raider paused in his eating and cocked an eyebrow. "Harpoon, you say? Fisherman, you say? Excellent." He stood up, heaving his impressive girth out of the embroidered throne overlooking the dining room table. He was dressed in an expensive golden jacket and white under-tunic that was too small for him, allowing a sizable part of his fat to poke out at his midriff. Luckily his pants were more logically sized. "Fishing ships are always good for some eats. Prepare to board that ship, kill it's crew, and take all of their stuff!" The pirate/chefs all cheered raucously at this.
While the Little Jack was being regarded by the Bloodlust much like a predator would a wounded Looper, Little Jack was having a hard time knowing how surprised to be at how Bloodlust looked. Drachma emerged onto the bridge and frowned. "What's goin' on, boy? This better be important, I told you I didn't want to-" He saw the ship, increasing in size as it approached. "Oh."
"'Oh'?" Aika echoed. "You know something about that weird ship, Cap'n?"
"Aye, indeed I do," The fisherman replied, frowning. "That's the Bloodlust, commanded by Gordo the Round. Bounty's five-thousand, wanted for attackin' cargo ships along the North Ocean region. He'll do anything for a meal, he's also called the Gourmet Pirate. He's an oddball, that's for sure."
"You're telling me," Vyse chuckled. "Well, Dad always told me the weird ones are the most dangerous. We'd better keep on our toes... is he going to fire on us?"
"No," Drachma shook his head. "That's not his style. He's afraid if he uses his guns, he'll burn the food onboard. He's goin' to be wantin' to board us and kill us, personally."
"Well, he's getting close enough for it..." Aika said. "Um... we should really move out of the way..." The ship slid alongside the Little Jack, expertly reversing course and initiating shadowing maneuvers from a few meters off the starboard bow. The ship shook once, then twice, as boarding lines attached to the hull and deck. The ropes connected the two ships together, and Gordo's men started unloading platforms over. "... nevermind. They're challenging us, Vyse!"
Vyse smirked, locking the controls and drawing his twin cutlasses. "Well, as long as they're here, why don't we go kick their asses and collect that bounty." He led his friends down the stairs, and out towards the deck.
Gordo himself had just arrived onboard with an escort of four of his odd chef-pirate men. They all looked over as the crew filed out from the inside, weapons ready. "Well, well, looks like they're here to stop us, boys!" The chefs laughed for a couple of seconds. "Show em how we deal with uppity fishers! Roast em!"
Vyse and Aika shared a moment's glance, and the redhead nodded, stepping forward. Gordo's men all started to chant, and the familiar runic symbols of Red Magic appeared under them, illuminating the wooden floor. She knelt, closing her eyes and focusing all of her willpower into creating a shield to deflect the magical flames. "Aaaaaaah!" She cried out as rainbow-colored light appeared in the sky overhead, swirling around in odd patterns. "Delta Shield!"
"Moons, Give Me Strength!" The four chefs shouted as one, releasing Pyres spells. The spells formed a gigantic whip of fire that combined and lashed out for them. When it hit the shield, the enchanted flames bounced off harmlessly. They tried twice more, but their magic could not penetrate the defensive screen.
"Nice job, Aika," Vyse said. "Alright, my turn for these clowns." He raised his blades with a smirk. "Hey, Fina, can I borrow Cupil?" The Silvite nodded, and he leapt up, perching with one foot on the small creature. "Cupil! Up!" Grunting and squeaking under the burden, it slowly rose into the air above the inert ship and the combatants.
Gordo snorted. "Ha! Just cause my red spells can't hit you, you think you can goof off? Lookit, boys, he thinks he can fly!" They began to ridicule him again, but stopped when he leapt off, into the air above them. His swords began to glow with his blue energy, and a ring of power encircled the ship.
"Shut up," He commanded, his voice echoing with new force. "Rain of Swords!" A hundred magical blades appeared in the sky, and stabbed downwards in an enveloping arc. Explosions appeared on and around the Bloodlust's crew, dealing them massive damage and throwing them to the ground. Each of them cried out in pain as the bombardment finally ceased.
"Oh, no," The portly man said, nursing a massive burn on his side. "I'm done for! Alright! Alright! We give! You win!"
Drachma huffed. "That wasn't so tough, especially considering your bounty money."
Gordo chuckled in a grandiose manner. "Well, when a tale gets out of control... I used to be a really good fighter, but mostly now people give up when we board them. I haven't had much exercise lately." He bowed his head. "Well, I guess this is it. We're your prisoners, you can kill us if you want."
"Woah, kill you?" Vyse shrugged. "Besides being obnoxious and kind of stupid, I see no reason to kill you... as long as you promise to get out here and not cause any more trouble, you can go."
The fat man's eyes lit up. "R-really? Alright, it's a deal! We promise not to attack anyone anymore! Heh, maybe I can settle down and open that bistro I've been wanting to for a while..." He looked around. "Wait, I almost forgot. Who are you, strangers, that could beat us? We deserve to know your names."
"I am Vyse, Blue Rogue," He replied, smiling. "The lady next to me is Fina, and the girl in orange is named Aika." Aika frowned at this subtle verbal jab.
"Figures... you Blue Rogues always did have it out for us..." Gordo paused. "Vyse, eh? I heard something about you... you were that kid who busted out of Valua, right? Wow. Didn't know you were operating in North Ocean, though, I heard you were from Mid Ocean."
"This is the first time we've been out here," The teenager admitted. "For now, we're getting passage aboard Captain Drachma's ship, the Little Jack."
"Drachma? Little Jack?" The defeated Black Pirate looked over at the tallest and strongest of the group. He squinted. "Wait... Drachma, were you ever in this area before?"
The old fisherman took a moment, then replied, "What if I was?"
Gordo laughed again, smiling. "Then it is you! Man, I've heard all about you! You're the guy who's hunting that arcwale, Rhaknam, right? I heard you're after him to avenge your son..."
"Enough!" Drachma growled, striking the nearby mast with his arm, and shaking the whole boat with his vehemence and power. Everyone winced, looking surprised at the old man. "I don't know what kinda stories you been hearin, but you'd best keep 'em to yourself. Now, get off my ship before I toss your fat ass overboard."
The Gourmet Pirate, like everyone, was quite intimidated by the sudden flare of anger. He raised his hands in a placating gesture, and said, "Aaah... heh heh... no, that's quite alright... we were just leaving." His crew followed him back up the boarding platforms, and pulled them back behind them. The Bloodlust detached itself from it's conqueror, moving off into the skies.
The three teenagers stood there, more than a little stunned at their captain. Drachma rounded on them with a ferocious glare. "Well?! What're you all standin' around for?! Get back to your posts before I toss you lot overboard!" He slammed his fist into the mast again. He had made quite a sizable dent in the reinforced wooden cylinder.
"Aye aye," They replied as one, turning one by one and running back into the ship. Fina was last, and turned to give him a small formal bow before retreating inside.
Drachma stayed outside for a while, looking up into the cloudy upper sky. "Rhaknam..." His expression softened a little, and he looked less like a terrifying avenger, and more like an overburdened old man. He felt the weight of many years press upon him. Eventually he resumed his tough mask and went inside as well. The hunt continues.
Their voyage only had one other moment of any occasion, when they spotted an odd set of lights just off one of the many abandoned islands floating around them. Quickly identified as Will 'o Wisps, the mysterious event that was nearly legendary, they recorded the coordinates to turn over to the Sailor's Guild the next chance they got.
Before, Drachma had then worried. Now they were deeply troubled, wondering more about the roots for Drachma's life-defining quest. He reacted so defensively at Gordo... that must mean that it's partially true, Vyse mused to himself, paying little heed to his steering as he mindlessly manned the helm. His son... did Drachma loose his son to the arcwale?
For hours they continued onwards, watching the skies gradually assume the gloomy perma-night of the Valuan continent. In the distance, finally looming out of the black, the shoreline of the great landmass appeared. Vyse nodded. "Looks like we've reached Valuan airspace. Man, even the air sucks here." He squinted. "Where's the grand Armada's patrols, then?"
"Their continent's pretty huge, Vyse," Aika replied. "They can't defend all of it, you know. Plus, look. Mountains all around. They probably figure most ships who try it run aground on the rocky shores."
"I'll look for a pass in the rocks, you go inform the Captain," Vyse said. The redhead nodded, walking down the steps. The teenager used his skyglass, magnifying the intimidating formations of yellowish-tinted ground before them. He spoke up to the timid Silvite standing near him. "So, Fina, the Yellow Crystal is here, right?"
"Yes," She replied. "It's sealed with the Yellow Gigas, which is called Yeligar. It has the ability to control ions. That means it can channel any amount of electricity it wants. It can also fly, which will make it tougher than the last two Gigas we have faced."
"Oh, like we need tougher enemies," Vyse said sarcastically.
"Yeligar was so resilient, they couldn't beat him enough to bury him, so they managed to put him to sleep. They sealed him under an enormous bulkhead with their most powerful holy enchantments of the moons. It's called the Maw of Tartas and it plugs up the only entry point into the network of tunnels that crisscross under the continent."
"So when we get over land, we have to look for a huge metal seal, right? At least that doesn't sound too difficult. I bet the Valuans are trying to open it."
"They will fail," Fina replied. "Even if the Silvite clans were together again, they could not break it. Only Yeligar's power might be able to free himself, but he is in a slumber that will never cease. I hope."
"Well, if nothing else, they'll probably set up a huge defense force for the Maw, knowing we'd come for the Crystal. The possibility of entrapping all of us in one place under the guns of their whole Armada is probably giving Galcian a boner."
Fina paused for a moment, and then Vyse realized his error. "Um... Vyse? What is a 'boner'?"
Drachma was sitting in the Engine Room, staring blankly at the opposite wall and not even noticing the lively hum of the modified engine a few meters away. Aika came running into the room and said, "Cap'n! Cap'n! We've reached the Valuan shoreline. Man, I can't believe it- we've traveled pretty much around the known world already, right?" The old man gave her no reply, and after several seconds she tried again. "Cap'n? Are you alright?"
"Hm?" His head snapped up to look at her, and he blinked. "Oh, um... I'm sorry. What were you sayin', Aika?"
"Um... just that we're at Valua," She replied, worry written over her face. "Are you ok?"
"I'm fine," He replied, getting slowly to his feet. "Now c'mon, let's get back to the bridge. I want all hands on deck, this place can be as deadly as South Ocean with the Armada about."
They traveled up above the decks again, just in time to hear Fina again ask Vyse for information on what a 'boner' was. Drachma growled, delivering a not-so-gentle tap to the back of Vyse's head. "Boy!" He roared. "Don't be pollutin' her mind with perversions. Aika's bad enough." Aika tried to look insulted and couldn't. It is very hard to be wounded when you're laughing.
Fina blinked. "So... is it one of those subjects that we're not supposed to talk about?" Her three companions all nodded quickly. "Oh... I see. I am sorry."
"Don't worry about it," Aika said. "Besides, Vyse got his knock for being a perv, so we're all good."
Vyse made sure to turn his glare up to extra-venomous for Aika before returning to the helm. "Well, sir, I just located a pass that I think I can bring us through in the coastline mountains."
Drachma nodded. "Then let's go." The Little Jack, being a relatively small fishing ship, was able to just slip through the gaps in two towering structures of soil and rock. Moving through the pass, they easily made several turns, until it opened up into the interior of the continent- a wide-open, desolate plain of mostly rock with little topsoil. Many craters littered the environment, and Drachma said, "I don't think those are moonstone impacts. The Valuans use explosives to mine sometimes. I guess caring about the lands you own don't matter to the mightiest nation." Occasionally lightning flickered on the horizon. The skies were black as night, and even the ever-present glow of the yellow moon only faintly penetrated the heavy cloud blankets.
Minutes of searching later, and they came across it. Unmistakably standing out from the ground around it, the enormous metal plate appeared to be situated at the bottom of a shallow crater. "No Valuans in sight," Aika said, sweeping her gaze again amongst the jagged and barren landscape. "That's really odd... this seems like the sort of thing to gather some attention." Vyse spun the wheel, taking the ship alongside the edge of the crater and gently setting it down. With a small rumble he shut off the engines and the fins on either side of the ship stopped their movements.
Taking out their boarding ramp, they disembarked, slowly proceeding down the mellow gradient until they reached the enormous metallic barrier. It was shaped like a pentagon, with a wavy orange border around it and a smaller, discolored pentagon inside. Over the surface of the center was five circles situated equally around a sixth in the middle, contained in a double-lined circle and other faded designs. Vyse blinked, taking in it's enormity. "Wow, that chunk of metal really is huge!"
Fina nodded. "As I told Vyse, this is the Maw of Tartas, which leads to the only known entrance to Valua's ancient tunnel network. Stored herein are both the Yellow Crystal and Gigas, which is asleep."
Drachma nodded in approval. "Good. Keep that thing locked up- one less thing to fight."
"Well, I am kinda glad that the Yellow Gigas can't get out," Aika admitted, sitting down in the thin dirt and looking down. "But it also means that we have no chance of getting in. Unless anyone has a plan? What should we do now?"
They tried to devise a method of moving the titanic seal, falling into silence for a moment. This thoughtful pause was broken by an unfamiliar and brash voice. "Hey, you there! Don't move!" They all looked up to the source of the voice, which was a Valuan Sergeant in full combat armor and with the distinctive silver lapel over one shoulder. He wielded a semi-automatic yellow carbine, whose hammer gave a small clack as it was drawn back to fire. "The punishment for trespassing near the Great Seal is death!"
Vyse snorted, crossing his arms. "Oh, come on. One guy? Do you really think you can take us... on... with one... guy..." He trailed off, seeing ten regular Valuan troopers armed with steel longswords emerge over the crest in a formation, surrounding them completely. "Ah hell."
They all charged as one, letting out a battle-cry and leaping down. The Sergeant opened fire, and a yellow bullet zipped past Drachma's ear, it's near-miss causing some of it's electrical power to frizz his snow-white beard. In reply, the old Fisherman put his metallic arm up and used it like a projectile, launching his large closed fist straight for him, much the same way his ship fired it's Harpoon Cannon. Fina walked backwards onto the seal, and Aika and Vyse formed up to either side of her for defense.
The metal fist hit the pointed beak-faceplate of the officer, knocking him backwards and denting his helmet inwards. The jagged shards sliced him open and he cried out, flailing on the ground in pain and dropping his firearm. The arm returned a moment later and Drachma turned, ready to confront the three Valuan troopers charging from, all from the front.
Vyse began to to duel with two of his enemies, one Cutlass for each, and they exchanged dozens of swift blows. These troops knew their swordsmanship, and he was hard-pressed to counter their attacks, much less launch his own strikes. From behind him, Fina began to chant a spell that shoved a dozen shards of magical ice into another Valuan, knocking him down.
Aika also engaged in melee combat with the enemy, was not as fast, and began to accumulate several vicious red cuts across her arms and stomach. She growled, finding her own first hit, and luckily striking the critical area between the shoulder-plate and helmet. She sliced into her assailant's neck, and he gargled, limply falling to the ground in a heap of metal and flesh. Nimbly rolling out of the way, her two other enemies fell forward instead of killing her.
Fina finished her next incantation, and said, "Moons! Give Me Strength!" Red lines appeared under Vyse's feet, and suddenly a fiery contrail enveloped him for a moment. When it dissipated, the Increm spell gave him extra power, and he felt invigorated. Using his new strength, he beat down both of his opponent's blades and cleaved them down the middle, cutting through their helmets and heads.
Drachma meanwhile had used his artificial arm as both shield and battering ram, blocking the weaker iron swords and counter-attacking with a speed that surprised the Valuans. He reached his free hand into his pocket and produced a Crystales crystal, throwing it to the ground and backing up. Not seeing the small magical object in the dark soil, one of his enemies stepped onto it, cracking it and releasing the power stored within. The man only had a second to wonder what was happening before his armored form was encased in magical ice.
Fina readied a third spell, but a lone assailant had turned to her. Charging up to her, she recoiled, expecting the sharp pain of his fatal strike any moment... but instead there was only the sound of his fluent cursing. She looked back and saw that Cupil had morphed into a shortsword, and had parried the blow. "Good job," She cheered on the small silver creature, and it chirped happily, beginning to duel ferociously with the trooper. It's small and nimble features made it an apt opponent, and it had soon made several large gouges in the impressive armor.
Agony ripped apart her back, as the redheaded Blue Rogue fell to her knees and cried out. A deep gash marked where the enemy's blade had found purchase, loosing pools of blood that flowed down over her clothing and dripped onto the ground. Aika found it impossible to move much, and she shook as the victorious men prepared to deliver her coup de grace. They both looked over, in time to see Vyse. He sliced them both in half, making clean cuts with his furious blades and sparing the life of her friend. The four disparate sections of Valuan soldier fell to the ground.
By now the dirt and seal were bathed in thin streams of blood, tinting the ancient Silvite designs across it's cover an odd color. Vyse knelt beside her and handed her two Sacres crystals out of his pouch before springing to his feet again, weapons ready to do more harm. Aika reached out and grabbed them, clutching them both close as they automatically released life-saving energies throughout her.
The old man had crushed in the face of his second foe, but the third one didn't look like he had the stomach for any more fight. The man who had been hit by the ice, Drachma's last enemy, and another Valuan were all that was left of their assailants. They backed up, into the center of the Great Seal, and tossed down their weapons. "We surrender!" The one in front cried, nursing a puncture wound on his arm.
"Hey, these guys are smarter than the ones back on the Cygnus," Aika said in disdain. She stood up, almost fully recovered. "Alright, tell us how to open the seal and we might let you scum live."
"W-what?! But that's impossible. Our entire Army couldn't remove that thing, so the Empress wasn't too concerned about it. At least it meant that the Yellow Crystal was safe from you all! Unlike us," He finished, looking down.
Vyse nodded. "Makes sense. But why isn't this area better defended? Where's the Armada's garrison fleet?"
"We had a bunch of ships around, but they've all been integrated into the strike force under Lord Galcian's direct command," He replied. "They're gearing up for the attack on Nasrad."
Aika gasped. "You're going to war with Nasr?"
"That's what they told us," The man replied. "I don't know much specifics, though, most of what I get is down the grapevine. I heard a couple other rumors about why we didn't get more reinforcements... supposedly everyone who isn't preparing to fight is hunting some big arcwale in a secondary task fleet."
"Arcwale?" There was no other word, except besides maybe using his target's proper name, to interest Drachma more. He walked a step closer, intent and energetic now. "Rhaknam's in Valua? Answer me, now!"
"That's just what I heard," The trooper answered, shrinking away slightly from the intimidating fisherman. "Um... some fog rolled in yesterday, and there were reports of a couple of squadrons being destroyed. Apparently it's causing an uproar at Command."
"Yesterday? He must still be in the area," He said. This is the closest I've gotten to him since... the day I found those two, near the wreckage of that damn dinghy that blocked my shot... and got me into this whole mess. As he turned to look Vyse in the eyes, the teenager saw a determination that was never there before. "Boy, I have to chase Rhaknam. I've been following you kids around, helping you hunt down the Moon Crystals... now it's your turn to follow me, and help me hunt Rhaknam."
Vyse saw little option. It was his friend's quest, and even though he was a cranky, rude, mysterious old man, Vyse still counted him as a friend who he owed his life to. He nodded and said, "Of course. We're with you all the way, sir." Besides, it's not like the Yellow Crystal's going anywhere fast.
"Very well," Drachma nodded. "Then it's time for me to finally face him." Without looking back, he began to walk back up to the Little Jack. "You three, get out of here before I change my mind. Go tell your commanders that nobody's killin' that arcwale but me." The bewildered Valuans didn't need to be told twice, and retreated another directions as fast as their legs could carry them. The teenagers followed Drachma back to the ship, and boarded it.
They got into the sky, and the old man said, "Alright. Chasing after him won't do us much good, and I bet we're all exhausted. Let's find a good canyon and settle down in. We can lie in wait for him there, and pop out when he passes." Searching for a while, they came across a trench that suited their needs. "Bring us down, boy." The ship was soon nestled smugly, out of sight from the air. "Good." He turned to the teenagers. "Now, all three of you, get some rest. We'll need it for the fight."
Vyse had honestly tried, but the excitement and anxiety running through him precluded all sleep. After a long while of useless time spent waiting for a thing that would not come, he sat up and sighed. the engine beside his cot was silent, and the ship therefore seemed a lot quieter than usual. Getting to his feet, he wandered a bit around the ship, touring the place that had been his home for the last few weeks and reflecting on all that they had accomplished. They would soon go into battle with the monster that had tried to kill him and Aika... such a long time ago, from his perspective.
Eventually he found himself at the double-doors leading out onto the deck. He opened them, and saw a small lantern shining in the darkness. The large hunched figure of Drachma sat on a crate next to the lantern, looking down. "Captain..." He said quietly.
Drachma looked over his shoulder, his voice softer than it had ever been. "... Is that you, boy? What're you doin' up at this hour? You should be gettin' some rest."
Vyse approached him, his footsteps seeming louder compared to everything else because it was hushed. "I was about to say the same thing," He replied, a faint smile tracing across his lips. "It's the middle of the night." He noticed that Drachma held a small wooden box in his remaining hand, and blinked. "What's that?"
Drachma cast his gaze down to the box. "Hrmph." Looking back up, his face was not it's usual scowl, but a more vulnerable, gentler expression adorned his aged features. He offered the box to Vyse. "... Open it."
Vyse accepted the box, curiosity erasing any lingering thoughts of sleep. Opening it, he found inside a large pile of feathers, of many different colors. "It's full of..." He reached in, pulled one of them out, and held it up. It was orange, but tapered down to a blank white at the stem. "... feathers..."
"My son collects... used to collect those..."
He looked up again, surprised. "You had a son?"
The old man leaned back slightly, looking up over the crest of the trench they occupied, to the dark and clouded sky. "Aye... he was about the same age as you are right now. A long time ago, I used to run a fishing boat in North Ocean. My son loved sailing, he was gonna be a fisherman, just like his dad... he came out with us a lot on flights. His name was... Jack. He was a small boy, who loved to help out. The other sailors called him... Little Jack..." Vyse finally understood the meaning behind the fishing frigate's seemingly odd name. This kind of openness from the curmudgeonly captain was unprecedented, and he listened with all of his attention to his story.
"One day, we went out fishing as usual. Everything was goin' good. Then... then Rhaknam came. We didn't know how powerful he was, and we tried to fight him. But... there was no way a fishing boat stood a chance against him. He destroyed the ship, and I only barely survived." A single, lone tear fell from his eye, running it's way down Drachma's cheek. "But my crew... and Jack... weren't so lucky. Last time I saw Jack, he was clutching some feathers as he fell... like they'd stop him from falling...
"I can still... I can still hear him screaming, as he fell... fell into Deep Sky... and from that day, I swore I would take revenge on Rhaknam. For my crew, and for my son." He looked down, becoming emotional for the first time in a long while. "I need to kill him..."
He looked back towards Vyse and frowned. "Hrmph. I'm gettin' long winded in my old age. Boy... don't let it bother you. This is my problem."
Vyse was speechless. He had never known, and the story moved him as well. He continued to stare down at the box of feathers, and could only manage to say, "Captain..." The air began to get a little thicker, and he looked up to find a swirling fog that thickened each second, much faster than natural mists would. "This fog... could it be?"
Drachma stood up, turning around and staring into the sky. "Boy, go wake the others. It's him... Rhaknam is here." Vyse nodded, closing the box and handing it back to his captain. He turned and ran inside the ship, headed for the room that Fina and Aika shared.
The old man clenched both his fists, feeling his destiny drawing nearer. All those years... and the time has finally come. Rhaknam, one of us will die today... this I swear, in the name of Little Jack.
TO BE CONTINUED.