Skies Of Arcadia Legends

Book Four- A World Unending

Chapter One- Honor

The sun had been up over Cape Victory for several hours, although even in the morning air the sky looked an angry red, and the ever-present Dark Rift stretched out it's forbidding walls of black wind to one side of the horizon. In Esperanza, many were already up and about, for the first exciting thing in quite a while was going to happen in a few hours, and they would bear witness to it.

The Delphinus and her crew were going to single-handedly take on the task force of Valuan Admiral Gregorio. The aforementioned crew were all awake, and some had actually managed to grab a decent amount of sleep, even as tension over the coming battle rose to a feverish level. Having enjoyed a rest on solid ground, they were already back aboard ship, in the Mess Hall and taking a hearty breakfast, except for Enrique, who preferred his stomach empty until after the fight for obvious reasons.

She had a lot on her mind. One of only two surviving descendants of the ancient Silver Civilization, Fina brushed a lock of clear golden hair out from her large and gentle eyes, staring out one of the Mess Hall's windows into the ominous sky. Her pet and companion in battle and life was a small mechanical creature called Cupil, a shape shifter that followed her commands and communicated via a mental link. It had assumed it's usual shape- that of a fairly rotund inflated balloon with a small tail, and was floating over her shoulder.

"Hey." She looked up, seeing him standing in front of her table with several plates full of food miraculously balanced on his arms. "Mind if I have a seat?" Vyse Dyne was an air pirate. The skyglass eye-patch over one eye, gash-like scar under the other, longish, nearly unkempt hair and blue sailing tunic all communicated that, although his face was that of a confident and caring man, and people found it easy to trust him. He was the Captain of the Delphinus, and one of her first friends in the world.

"You're late," Aika chimed from her seat next to Fina. Aika Vazquez was a childhood friend of Vyse, Fina's and Vyse's' lover, and an air pirate with flaming long red hair that was usually confined into a scarecrow-like set of braids. She wore a tight-fitting one piece yellow dress that perfectly showed off her mature form, and was one of the most magically adept people on the crew. "I still can't believe you actually got her to Slipara your ass to sleep."

"The spell was a little stronger than a usual sleeping spell," Vyse admitted, skillfully depositing the food and sitting across from the two girls at one of the many tables in the almost cavernous room. "I guess Fina's more powerful when she just wakes up, heh."

"I'll be more careful next time," The Silvite promised, reddening slightly under the minor criticism by her love interest.

"Psh. Yeah. Next time knock him out permanently," Aika said, following her suggestion by sticking out her tongue in a very childish manner at Vyse. Vyse, in consternation, did the same thing back to her, rendering both teenagers rather ridiculous looking.

"Sorry to interrupt the intellectual meeting of minds." Enrique was the crown prince of the Valuan Empire, the most powerful and ruthless nation on the face of the planet. With an exceedingly fair and gentle complexion, well-groomed blonde hair and a lithe figure, he seemed slightly effeminate, but was guided by a strong will and sense of morality, and was fierce with his royal rapier in battle. He was also airsick, although in today's battle he would be making the greatest effort to control himself and help his friends win against Gregorio's fleet. He sat down next to Vyse, smiling at everyone.

"No problem," Vyse said, pulling back his tongue. He then registered a suggestion about what Aika could do with her tongue that had both blondes sputtering and beet-red and Aika with a lecherous grin to match his own.

"Alright, everyone, listen up." The voice of their erstwhile and veteran Vice Captain, the mysterious and straight-laced David LeCroix, carried throughout the room, and the crew paused whatever conversations they were on about to turn and listen in. David's mop of hair covered most of his face, and his expansive red tunic and cloak covered almost all of his body, rendering him totally concealed from curious eyes. Subordinate to Gilder the Unfettered, his knowledge and expertise had proved a saving grace many times to his comrades.

"Gregorio's tactics involve a judicious use of force deployment. What that means in people-speak is that he's not going to come at us all at once with his fleet, but send his force against us in at least two separate waves. Our ship is superior in every way but defense to the Defender cruisers, and our main guns will easily rip through even their thick armor plating. He knows this, and so I suspect he will send his ships in two pairs against us, and if we destroy all four Defenders, then he'll bring the Auriga into play. That ship's armor will be a tough nut to crack indeed, and I don't think anything less than the Moonstone Cannon can get the job done."

"Why not just bum-rush us all at once?" Aika spoke up. "I mean, with five-to-one odds we'd probably just get pulped real quick, even if we can beat the enemy on even terms."

"If Gregorio ever had a flaw in his tactics, then it would be that he over analyzes a situation, and often over-estimates the strength of his opponents. The Claudia got into a tangle with his fleet once, and because he deployed peace meal, we could take out enough ships to escape. He also doesn't adapt well to changes. This is all going to work to our benefit...

But fighting two Defenders at a time is going to make the field almost even, and we're going to take some damage, alright. I want everyone ready for damage-control, we have to keep the ship as much together as possible during the first fights so we have enough defenses left to tangle with the Auriga."

Vyse nodded. "So basically, the plan is to blow up the enemy and stop us from getting blown up?" A general round of laughs passed around the Mess Hall, and the tension in the room dropped a little bit in light of the humor.

"You've grasped the basics," The Vice Captain grinned. "Finish up your plates, then put em in the sink over there, and scrape the food remains off first, for the love of the Moons. I don't care if we're pirates, you can at least learn how to take care of your dishes while we rape and pillage. Once everyone is at their posts, we should get moving, and take the initiative for the battle."

Khazim, one of the gunners who was in charge of the ship's main cannon battery, was quite happy about recent developments. "Alright! It's finally time to get some revenge on the Armada, and sink a few shells into their stinkin' hulls!"

"Are you going to be ok, Enrique?" Vyse asked seriously, turning to the prince.

"I hope so," Enrique replied with a sigh. "I think my airsickness is getting a little better, bit by bit, and Doc's medications are helping, too. I'll do my part in the fight, don't worry." He gave them a reassuring simile as they carried their rather empty plates up to deposit them in the growing stacks in the warm soapy water ran by the ship's cook, Polly.

They headed up to the bridge together, taking their place on the command deck of the battleship. Lawrence was still at the helm, having already woken up and eaten breakfast. The man said nothing as they entered the room, even though he seemed more tense than usual, and for good reason. The Valuan Armada was never something to be taken lightly.

Marco peeked into the room. "Hey, Vyse, some guy named Don is here to see you. He's waitin' out on the deck. Looks like a drunk to me, really."

Vyse blinked. Don? What does he want? "Thanks, Marco." He made his way through the ship, down several flights of stairs and out the main hatch, stepping onto the reinforced metal deck. Standing there was indeed the washed up ex-Sailor, bottle of Loqua clutched in one hand and wearing an unusually sober expression. "What is it?" The Pirate captain asked. "We're kinda busy. We're getting ready to go kick a Valuan Fleet's ass back across the sky."

"You're really gonna do it?" Don asked hollowly. "Take on Admiral Gregorio and his squadron with just this crew and a single ship?"

"That's the plan," Aika chirped from next to him. She had followed him down, also interested in hearing out the Esperanzan shipwreck.

"I don't doubt your abilities," He continued. "But I used to be a pilot in the Armada. I know full well what they're all capable of, and I have to tell you, going up against one of their Admirals is plain suicide.

Vyse smirked, looking around. "Take a look at this ship, Don. It's the best, in the world. We're a lot faster than anything Gregorio can field, and we've also got a firepower advantage, even if he is tougher. I think we can do it."

"But... even if you win, you'll never ford the Dark Rift," The drunk objected further.

"Like I already said, our ship is the best. Our engines are of a class nobody's seen before, and they're more powerful than a Spectre. That means that we just might have a shot at it. Besides..." He looked up into the morning sky. "I've always wanted to see what was beyond the horizon... beyond the edge of the world. Now is the time, the chance to fulfill my dream. If we fail, Valua is going to destroy the entire world, and nobody will ever be able to stop them again." He favored Don with his confident smirk. "I would be a liar if I said I wasn't scared. But I won't let this chance pass me by."

The Esperanzan paused for several seconds, taking in the teenage air pirate's words. "Hm... then I guess nothing I could possibly say is going to persuade you." He sighed and took another swig from his bottle. "Listen good. The Dark Rift is an enormous vortex. If you can get past the first layer and to the center, you might make it. It's rumored the eye is calm, just like regular storms. There are other calmer pockets throughout... if you leapfrog across those pockets, you may have the slightest chance."

"I see... thank you, Don." Vyse gave him the thumbs-up sign. "When we're done, I promise to return here someday. When that day comes, maybe you'll reconsider sailing again."

"... Maybe," The man nodded, turning and taking his leave, walking down the metal boarding ramp back down to the docks and looking as the ramp was pulled back up after her. Vyse nodded to him and then returned to the bridge, and he smiled whimsically to himself. "Heh. Reminds me of someone real familiar his age... wonder what I've lost." Vyse, you'd better win, after all that inspirational junk you been spewin'. Oh, I'm gonna be an old softie again if this keeps up... "Hm. Better get more Loqua, this should be good."

David got to the bridge a few minutes later. "Everyone's ready," He announced. "It's time to go fight Gregorio." He leaned over to the set of talking-tubes, opening the one down to the deck. "Cut the lines and reel up the anchors." He clicked over to Engineering. "Ready the engines for battle speed, and turn over full control to the helm station." Everyone rushed to comply with his orders. The Delphinus soon began to drift away from Esperanza, the massive sets of propellers mounted on the ship's back picking up more speed each second.

Under it's own power, the airship began to fly away, climbing up slightly and leaving behind the hopeless city, headed for the distant dots on the horizon that could only be the Second Fleet of the Armada. Every crew member reported in and told Vyse the same thing- they were all ready. Everything was now set in motion, and the ship began to pick up even more speed, rocketing forward.

"Battlestations," Vyse ordered. "Here comes the first enemy ships! Main cannons, fire on my mark..." Here we go...


"My Lord, the Delphinus has taken off from the city. They're accelerating to attack posture, and heading straight for us." The radar operator was hunched over the primitive display case which showed the results of the moonstone sonar scans that periodically pulsed through the air around the Auriga.

Gregorio sighed. "So, it will be war, then. Our orders are to bring back the Prince to Valua... alive, or if he resists, dead. We must not allow that to happen. Send the first wave to meet them, and order them to target their weapons. Do not sink the ship, only disable it."

Two of the Defenders moved ahead of the fleet, and prepared to meet the charging prototype airship halfway across the sky from their positions. With the crackle of thunderous cannon, the first long-range volleys whistled through the air, most of the flaming projectiles roundly missing on either side and leaving dozens of burning trails in the sky. Several hit, causing small explosions to bloom on the armor of the Defenders, and a solid shot to shake the Delphinus.

As they drew nearer, the pirate flagship switched to it's secondary coils, firing almost solid streams of smaller explosive shells that peppered one of the Defenders and shook the Valuan ship heavily with the raw firepower of the enemy's secondaries. Both of the slower Valuan ships veered to either side, returning fire with their sub cannons on the sides of their ships. The Delphinus passed between them at over twice their speed, rippling ahead before sharply turning.

"Torpedoes on my mark..." Vyse turned to Enrique, who manipulated the targeting control system on the bridge with a skill that had probably been given to him by training. "Fire." Columns of smoke and angry flame shot out of the explosively opening hatches on the prow of the airship, and four torpedoes rocketed skywards.

"Incoming! The enemy has magic cannons!" Even as Aika said this, a dozen Crystales shells landed on and around them, forming magical ice over the sturdy armor of the ship. She looked around. "The spells didn't seem to have much effect at all besides freezing parts of our side-armor." The Defenders were being encircled by the Delphinus, turning with all of their might to keep their ships facing the enemy as their topside cannons fired away. Solid shot, concussion shot and more purple and yellow magics rained down upon them, because the ship was not taking evasive action.

The enemy received worse, however, as the gunners used the nearly steady gun platform to unleash hideous batteries into the heavily armed but slow opponents. A main cannon shot exploded on the prow of the lead enemy ship, ripping and cracking sheets of white-hot metal off into the sky and literally pushing the ship back with the explosive force. Two torpedo shots landed on the weak, wooden top armor of the target, the plunging shots burrowing into the interior of the craft before unleashing their power.

The Defender was gutted effectively, as rolling waves of flame from the explosion, trapped inside the decks of the ship, melted through personnel, equipment, or ammunition alike, setting several enemy magazines aflame and bringing them into a chain-reaction which was quickly ripping the metal airship apart. It wobbled in the air, large armor segments steadily falling off and the wooden deck completely burning.

"Woah! That got em!" David smirked. "That ship is going down... the life pods are headed for Esperanza, heh. Vyse, what about the second one?"

"Let's end it quick," The pirate captain commanded, as two more enemy shells melted small parts of the flagship's side armor. "Lawrence, ramming speed. David, let's give them a taste of some DeLoco-class hospitality." The Vice Captain stepped up to the controls of the Delphinus' most powerful super-weapon, known as the Moonstone Cannon. The airship turned again, stopping it orbit to head directly in for the Defender, who seemed frozen in their crosshairs before starting to fire again. "Think you can handle this thing while they rock the boat?"

"I know I can," LeCroix stated flatly. "Charging now." The nose-armor of the Delphinus opened up like the petals of a metallic flower about to bloom, producing the long, thin black barrel of the cannon from within the depths of the armor. Energy pulsated around it in purple waves, flowing over the deck and collecting in a brighter sphere every moment in the muzzle. "Ready!"

They were getting closer and closer to the enemy. The Defender attempted evasive action, but it was so unwieldy, Lawrence had little trouble keeping the nose-fin of the ship lined up like a targeting sight with the short, bulky craft. "Moonstone Cannon," Vyse ordered, gripping the side of a control panel, "Fire!"

No armor in the world could defend a ship against the nearly almighty force projected now outwards at the command of the Delphinus' crew. A purple beam shot through the air, instantly connecting the blue and white pirate ship with the rust-red Defender Cruiser. The beam passed right through it with absolutely no effort, melting almost everything contained within the superstructure, including the ship's power plant, which ceased to function even before, a moment later, the beam withdrew itself, fading out into nothingness.

The propellers keeping the ship afloat simply stopped receiving power, their huge metal fan-blades grinding to a halt. With no source of lift, the heavy ship was seized by gravity's all-encompassing hand and dragged beneath the clouds, bound for Deep Sky forever.

Soaring right over the sinking ship, the Delphinus doubled back for Esperanza to await the next wave, the crew both enjoying their first set of victories and effecting emergency repairs to some damages made by the enemy. Gregorio exhibited no outward reaction to the anxiety beginning to creep through him. That ship is twice as powerful as even the optimists hoped... and those pirates are skilled. I had better attack with everything this time... it's the only chance. "Form the Gatekeeper and Shieldarm up. Helm, full steam forward, all hands, prepare for engagement."

On the docks of Esperanza, a hundred former sailors, pirates, and soldiers were all cheering and whooping, shouting out to the distant cannon-fire explosions as if it was a popular sporting event in the Valuan Coliseum. "Yeah! Yeah! Get em! Turn there, go left! Go left, you idiots! Kids today ain't not no tactical skills!" One of them decried, joining the chorus.

"Check out that super cannon," A woman said, smirking. "Knocked everything clean out of that enemy ship. Is that the thing DeLoco had on his ship a few months ago?"

It was as if it was a professional gathering of active sailors discussing their trade with enthusiasm to an exhibition out in the sky, not the ruins of a hopeless city forgotten by the world. Don surveyed the effects that Vyse's actions were having on the thrilled crowd of onlookers, and huffed angrily. "They might have defeated the first wave, but here comes all three remaining ships, at once. They're in for a tough battle this time, and I bet that cannon needs a while to charge up."

A stray round of long-range cannon shells soared in, hitting the cliff walls to either side of the sailing city, and blasting off large stone chunks that tumbled downwards beneath the clouds. "Incoming!" Someone yelled as an unlucky shot landed right above them, sending boulders and rocks tumbling downwards into the crowd, which began to panic and scatter.

Don held his position, stoically watching the battle begin to unfold with his arms crossed, his expression more sober than it had been for a long while. He retained this air of seriousness until a small yet fast-moving rock clobbered the top of his head, at which time he fell to the ground comically, knocked pretty far out for a while.

Onboard the bridge of the Delphinus, Aika looked up from her radar. "Hey, guys, the Auriga's coming in with the other two ships. Looks like they're going to try and all rush us now."

"It's finally time..." Enrique frowned up at the approaching dots in the sky. "Uncle Gregorio, I won't let you take me back to Valua!" He hunched over the torpedo array, commanding the automated machines to reload another round of explosives into the tubes, which they did with admirable speed.

"Vyse, we need a plan. Do you want us to focus our firepower on the Auriga or her escort ships first?" David asked, looking up from the Moonstone Cannon controls.

"Divide and conquer," Lawrence advised. "The Defenders are weaker, and if we take them out we can engage Gregorio's flagship on even terms."

"If we demolish the Auriga first, the escorts will bug out," Aika dissented, staring into the sky. The distinct explosions of long-range fire began to appear in the sky between them, the Valuan guns throwing poorly aimed covering smoke and fire in the general direction of the Delphinus.

Vyse pondered for several moments, tapping his fingers on the metal cover of the control panel. "Alright. We're going to cut through their squadron, straight through, and aim for the Defenders first. We'll pick both of them off and then turn our attention on the flagship. Belle, Khazim, I want all guns ready for an Alpha Strike on my command." Alpha Strike was the simple principle of unloading every weapon system on a ship at once, which would presumably cause massive damage to a nearby enemy. "Enrique, what's the recharge time on the Moonstone Cannon? ... Enrique?" He looked over at the silent prince.

"Sorry," The blonde said nervously. "Feeling a bit woozy... according to the ship's specifications we'll be able to fire again in two minutes."

"Now I know how DeLoco feels when we kick his can around the skies," Vyse sighed. "Alright, let's go!" The crew leapt into action again, and the forms of the three Valuan airships speeding towards them continued to grow. Two shells landed hits on the Delphinus, striking one of the side-fins and vaporizing it. Lawrence struggled to keep the ship on-balance, managing to stay the course as more hits challenged the reinforced armor plating of the royal ship.

Closer, closer, and closer still soared the two opposing forces, and the Delphinus still offered no return fire, which only made Gregorio suspicious. Vyse hunched over his command console, keeping his footing as the floor shivered and shook from hits. "Get ready..."

The moment before they passed the three armored airships, he bellowed, "Alpha Strike! Fire!" And the ship was rocked harder than any enemy cannons could. The kinetic energy of every gun aboard the ship was released all at once, turning the world out the viewport into one of smoke, flame, and rattling thunder which blanketed their minds.

They were clear past the enemy, and the lookout, Luke, opened his talking tube to report even as Lawrence swung them in a wide turning arc for another pass. "Vyse, we really clobbered one of the Defenders, it's trailing smoke but it's still airborne." The ship rattled again. "They're firing more Purple Magic at us! What are they-"

The floor fell out from under them, and nobody kept their footing. Slamming back to the ground a moment later, the crew looked around in confusion as the Delphinus began to sink. "Report," Vyse demanded, sitting up.

"We lost a good chunk of our propeller power," Lawrence stated in a surprisingly collected manner, considering the situation. "Magical ice has formed in the engine fans behind us, and stopped many of them from turning. Power levels across the ship are beginning to drain, and we can't keep this altitude." To further prove his point the frame began to groan and the nose tilted further downwards, the distant but approaching lower clouds of Deep Sky looming.

"Oh crap," David cursed. "If we don't get the propellers free of that ice, we're going to sink!" If the ship slipped below the fatal lower cloud covers of Deep Sky, then it would never be seen again, the air pressure would crush them further and further as they descended until they were no longer recognizable as a ship and people. "We have to do something!"

Aika snapped her fingers. She turned, abandoning her post on the bridge and running down the hallway towards the main door to the outside deck. Vyse watched her from above curiously as she ran out amongst the rippling wind, struggling to keep her footing as the ship tilted more and more downwards. She looked around, then knelt and began focusing both her spiritual and magical energies into her boomerang. Flaming-red light appeared around her, growing in intensity. Focus... focus...

"Here goes..." She tossed the flaming boomerang straight up into the air, leaping forward and grabbing hold of it, curling herself into a ball around the weapon. The boomerang's power began to get more bright, a blinding white light pouring out from it's aspect. Suddenly she uncurled, pulled back, tossing down the boomerang. Six flaming copies broke apart and tumbled downwards around the entire ship, cutting burning arcs through the air. From these beacons which began to spin around the Delphinus, walls of fire appeared, completely covering the ship in a shell of magical heat.

"Omega Psyclone!" Aika bellowed, her voice echoing as the flames intensified, washing over the metal airship. Almost instantly, all the ice covering the ship evaporated away into hazy clouds of steam which billowed forth in an imitation of smoke, and superheated the armor until it glowed white-hot. Everyone in the ship felt the temperature skyrocket. The blue paint across the ship also evaporated, leaving the ship unmarked.

The flames began to recede, as Aika fell to the deck, and the spiritual attack ended. Flickering out, the steam and smoke blasted into the sky as the ship continued falling, but the main engine propellers and turbines mounted in the back of the battleship were now free. The winds rippled over the hull, slowly cooling it down again.

Lawrence pulled up on the throttle. "Power's back," He declared. "All power to the engines, full steam..." Vyse pulled down the helm control, and the ship's power plant roared. The fan blades spun quicker and quicker, pushing them back up away from the cloud layer even as Lawrence twisted the ship around to face the enemy and Esperanza in the distance.

Everyone on the dock watched in amazement as the Delphinus cleared itself of ice and turned up, salvaging it's seeming doom in what was seen as a miracle. The crowd began to go even more wild than before, convinced of the divine providence of the Red Moon that had favored them with salvation, and cheering on the Blue Rogues as they came in to continue the fight.

"Aw, that paint job was awesome..." David sighed. "Well, I guess it's a small price to pay. We can always repaint the hull later... Aika! Are you ok? That was incredible, what you did out there!"

The redhead seemed fatigued but smiled proudly under the praise of the Vice Captain. "Thanks. It's a new move I thought up on the spot from my Alpha Storm and Lambda Burst." She looked up. "Let's show Gregorio we're tougher than he thinks!"

"Torpedoes, fire," Vyse commanded, and Enrique sent a round of the missiles straight into the air, tilted slightly so their angle would bring them down at the Valuan ships. He stared up at the damaged Defender, which was sluggishly moving to avoid the torpedo volley. "Belle, secondaries! Fire!" The smaller shells rippled through the air, many of them scoring long-range hits and dancing incendiary explosions across the flawed and scorched surface of the enemy's armor.

"Main cannons..." He paused, looking up. Enrique's volley were plunging back down through the blood-red sky, and were seconds away from impact. "Now!" The ship rumbled under the force of the main battery, which let loose a pair of large shells that hit the Defender in the same instant that the torpedoes did. The already-damaged hull began to come apart under the enormous destruction inflicted upon it, and a shell obliterated the bridge, ruining the last chance the enemy ship had for survival.

Descending slowly towards the clouds, it spewed dozens of lifeboats which all made a beeline for the shore with their Valuan crews, but the Delphinus ignored them completely.

The Auriga and the last remaining cruiser both opened fire, their large rotating cannons mounted on their decks sending waves of solid shot and concussion into their adversary. One of the shells hit directly below the bridge, shaking the room so badly everyone fell and Lawrence lost control for a few moments, enough time for them to unload another round which ripped into storage compartments and destroyed delicate supplies. Crates and containers whipped about around them in the wind, sucked out by the vacuum created with the smoking holes in the superstructure.

Passing the Valuans again, they turned a tighter arc and found themselves within moments making yet another attack run. Their cannons continued to pound the other Defender, shattering it with a few more volleys while the enemy's fire slowly accumulated damage and scars on the royal flagship. Occasionally their magic cannons threw Driln spells out for them, but they either missed, or backup power generators took over, rendering the EMP effect of the Yellow Magic useless.

Gregorio stared down the fleeing aspect of the Delphinus as it swooped in the air with a powerful agility he couldn't hope to match. "Signal the Latchkey to break off and retreat. They're no match for that thing..." Well, you've made it past my fleet, Blue Rogues, but you will not pass the Auriga. "Transfer power from the weapons into engines, and prepare for Hull Ram." His ultimate weapon, as it turned out, was the sheer size and bulk of his ship, combined with the massive spiked prow of the craft, which would crush even the Delphinus. He was about to orchestrate a head-on collision of the catastrophic kind.

Lawrence once again spun the ship around, the sluggish engine response due to the fact that most of their rudders and fins had been blown or melted off in the course of combat, and the many pockmarks and holes in the armor plating allowed wind in which disrupted their aerodynamic frame and made them slower. Even with several crew members casting Sacri spells across the ship, the repairs couldn't keep up with the pace at which they sustained new damage.

When Gregorio's flagship swung back into view, it was barreling straight for them at a surprising pace. "Uncle Gregorio's going to ram us," Enrique exclaimed, forcing with all of his will the almost empty contents of his stomach and bracing himself against the torpedo control console.

Vyse ordered the helmsman to take evasive action, but Lawrence was three steps ahead, spinning the wheel with a jerking motion that made the ship's frame groan and shudder under the stress. At such a velocity turning an aerodynamic mess was quite a challenge, but he managed it, and they began to veer away from the Auriga right at the moment of impact.

The horrible, deafening scraping of metal on metal filled their ears, as the top of the flagship ripped into the weak bottom armor of the Delphinus, peeling off jagged strips of metal as if it was a tuna can being roughly opened in a dozen places. The friction further cracked their armored shell, and for moments the ship shivered in an intolerable manner before they were finally clear in the sky again.

"They missed, "Aika declared. "And with that much speed, Gregorio's going to have a Huskra trying to turn around. Vyse, now's the time for the Moonstone Cannon- it's ready to go!"

"Alright." Vyse smirked. "Time to finish off the Auriga, everyone. Lawrence, get us into firing position. David, charge it up." Even though the armor of the nose was badly bent and cracked, thankfully the black barrel of the cannon emerged and began to gather energy as usual, the waves and patterns of power shifting around the jutting pieces of ragged metal. The nose turned around, and they centered Gregorio's ship in their sights, as it was turning at an agonizingly slow pace to try and avoid the inevitable.

"Ready," The Vice Captain chimed out. The Auriga was almost sideways to them, but still could not escape as the Delphinus rocketed forward, more energy constantly gathering before it and tracing an electric shell through the air.

"Moonstone Cannon! Fire!" Vyse pointed forward, and David hit the firing control. The incalculable energies stored up by the weapon were focused into a large beam and shunted outwards, like every time the super cannon was fired, and it connected the two ships for a split-second.

The moonstone beam melted off over half of the Auriga, the massive ship's alloys simply no match for DeLoco's invented weapon. Molten, frayed edges of the ship expelled gases and people fell off the edge as the crew scampered for cover and safety inside and on the deck. Rocking back in the sky, the ship's engines struggled to stabilize it, and several overloaded, leaving the ship afloat, but stranded to almost a crawl in the sky. Instantly, white banners unfurled from the sides, desperate sailors waving them in the flapping winds to signal the ship's surrender.

Lawrence brought the ship to an idling position, as they were near what remained of the second Valuan admiral's flagship. Vyse grinned and whooped. "We did it! We beat Gregorio and his fleet! Hey, David, are we fuckin' bad or what?"

"We're bad, alright," Concurred the astute man with a grin, relaxing at the control panel and letting out a long sigh of relief. The entire crew did the same, letting out a cheer that nearly shook the ship at their amazing victory. Aika slumped to the floor on the red carpet, sprawled out in exhaustion. He looked over at the beeping radio. "Incoming transmission from Gregorio."

As they drifted a bit closer to the ship, the occupants of the two bridges made eye-contact, and the old admiral examined each of them, his frame sagging but still standing upright. He sighed, and they saw his lips move. A second later, the radio carried his words through the air and metal covering them. "I always thought that if we went into battle together, it would be as allies, and not enemies, Young Prince..." Enrique walked over to the radio to hear him better, still looking at Gregorio himself. "Is there anything that I can do to make you reconsider?"

"No." Enrique stood firm, looking him in the eye, man-to-man. "I am not going back to Valua. I know you've noticed a change as well... in the way the Empire conducts itself. Our forces get more brutal, our tactics less humane, every day. They're headed down a dark path. Trying to rule the world through an iron fist will be the downfall of our nation..." He smiled in the benevolent way which made people naturally trust and accept the born leader. "This world... this sky... is not Valua's to rule. It belongs to the people."

Gregorio offered no reply, and so Enrique concluded, "That's why I'm traveling of my own free will with Vyse and his crew... my friends, all of them. To right the wrongs my people and country have committed. Tell that to my Mother... and also, tell her that I pray to the Yellow Moon every day for her safety and health." He took in a deep breath. "This is goodbye. Fare well, Uncle Gregorio."

"Farewell, Prince Enrique," Gregorio simply replied, looking with an enigmatic mix of emotions on his face. Below the surface, a storm of emotion brewed, but the grizzled and veteran old soldier never allowed such things to show. "Be safe." I have failed in my mission.. and yet, I know what he's doing, and it's for the right reasons, as he sees it... I hope you survive your quest, Enrique.

Vyse turned to Lawrence. "We are victorious... now, let's get moving! Into the Dark Rift, full rudder!" At his command, the propeller blades sprang into action again, and the prototype battlecruiser turned away from the broken and battered husk of the Auriga, rocketing off straight for the distant band of darkest black in the sky.

In Esperanza, every citizen was in an uproar, the entire city cheering on the victory of the Blue Rogues as they rode off towards their next, still greater challenge. "Those kids were amazing!" An ex-Nasr Marine declared. "They make me feel like tasting the wind on my face again, m'self!"

Don crossed his arms, smiling. "Damn fine job, Vyse. You did it... good luck." Fording the Dark Rift won't be easy... but if anyone could ever do it, it's gonna be you. I can feel it... I hope you make it, and I hope you make it back here again, like you promised...

And when you do, I hope you take me with you... back into the sky. It's where I should have been all along.