Skies Of Arcadia Legends

Book Five- Amethyst Lightning

By Jonathan Pelikan


Chapter One- Ice

She was truly content. She didn't even mind that the ship's heaters occasionally failed to compensate for the cold, rendering a chill through the metal craft, for her best friends would gladly warm her again. Their quest was well underway and they had already achieved things no human being was thought able to do. She didn't know what still waited ahead, but was sure they could overcome just about anything.

Fina wasn't born on Arcadia. As a descendant of the Silver Civilization, a Silvite, she was raised high above the atmosphere of the planet, and had journeyed down many months ago for the first time. Her mission was to secure the six Moon Crystals that had the power to control ancient superweapons known as the Gigas. Along the way, she had learned a great deal about the island-dwelling people of the world, and enlisted the help of many friends.

Often called beautiful, she was pale and delicate. Her blonde hair flowed down her head, hanging thick bangs around a gentle face. Crystalline earrings hung placidly from both ears, and a translucent veil hung covered the back of her head over her hair. She had solidly and physically matured, as her long, thin Silvite dress showed. It was white, flecked with many golden Silvite symbols and markings. A small artificial shape-shifter called Cupil accompanied her at all times, usually formed into a bracelet over her wrist.

The floating ice was still a new wonder to her. She stood on the bridge of her crew's pride, the Delphinus, looking out the large viewing screens. The icebergs slipped to either side, and more appeared on the horizon. Crystalized water sparked as the sun's weak rays bounced off them. It was so cold outside that the light rains covering the ship's hull from Mid Ocean were frozen onto patches of armor.

"Pretty, ain't it? Back in Esperanza we never got so much ice, or much ice at all." It was a quiet morning, and the only other person in the room was one of their pilots, Don. The mustached semi-drunk took a sip from his bottle and breathed in deeply. His eyes were slightly glazed over, but still somehow retained an intelligence as they carefully looked over the flight controls. His jacket was that of a Valuan Armada high pilot that had fallen into a state of disrepair, even as it was his most treasured possession. His other gloved hand tightly gripped the wooden steering wheel of the airship, maneuvering it artfully through the ice.

"Yes," She acknowledged, nodding slowly. "In my home, everything was artificial, and the only ice we had were small cubes used to cool drinks."

They said nothing for a period of time, until the hatch behind them clicked open. A man in a flowing red cloak and jacket stepped through, his shaggy brown hair obscuring the top of his tanned face. He raised his hand in greeting and said, "Morning, you two." A glance out the window assured him they were nearing the Lands of Ice. "How long have we been going through this stuff?"

"Good morning." Fina turned towards him and bowed lowly. Cupil, from its bracelet-form, chirped a greeting.

"Hey, David. I'd say about an hour or so, still no landmasses though." The pilot briefly nodded to him before taking another swig. TheDelphinus' Vice Captain, David LeCroix, walked forward, his boots clapping idly against the imprinted metal deck. The rush of the winds in the faint background combined with the thundering of the engines below their feet and the sounds of the heaters spreading precious warmth throughout the large airship.

"When did you take over from Lawrence? You're looking a little more peaked than usual." The ever-observant Blue Rogue sat against one of the idle control panels.

"Around ten," Don replied easily. "I'm still good for a while more, if the merc's snoozing away." He glanced up at the digital clock on the wall. "Six-twenty." David and Fina were usually awake early out of habit, but for the more laid-back Esperanzan this was noteworthy. He let out a yawn to punctuate his point. "Ugh."

David was about to say something else, when the voice of Tikatika burst through one of the talking-tubes. The lookout said in a clear voice over the howling winds, "Bridge, this is the Crow's Nest. I have spotted an unidentified object, it heads towards us. I do not believe it to be a ship."

"Confirmed," Don replied. "Thanks, man." The pilot shut the tube again to stop the flow of cold air and sighed in relief as warmth returned to his hand. "I seriously admire that Ixa'takan for going out there, even in heavy wrappings, and sitting for hours. I'd be frozen solid... there!" He pointed to it, and his friends both looked up. The new discovery was but a speck in the distance, but was obviously different from the icebergs of their surroundings.

Without being told to, the pilot turned the ship. The Delphinus responded, shifting around between several jagged icebergs. The nose now pointed almost directly for the creature, which appeared to be coming closer as well. David squinted, grabbing his skyglass and magnifying the aspect of the flier. He examined it as it approached, taking in all the details.

It looked like a large insect viewed from the top. Its thicker lower body tapered off to the large top webbing of thin ice. It wobbled in the arctic breezes but appeared adept in manipulating them with the net and small appendages scattered around the lower body. The monster was so foreign in appearance that David was struck speechless for several moments. "What a weird looking thing," He said. "Arcadia holds a bunch of surprises every day for me. Fina? What is that?"

"I don't know," Fina admitted. "There is some information about the Lands of Ice and the ancient Purplites that has been gifted to me, but our intelligence does not cover modern life in this region."

"Think it's hostile?" Don asked. Many of the exotic life-forms on Arcadia were perfectly harmless, but the majority were at least fiercely territorial. Many species of animals had been hunted by human beings for their own safety, and monster populations were a constant danger for traditional sailing voyages. Despite its frail appearance he could tell it was enormous, taller than their own ship by his estimation. The monster possessed no obvious natural weapons, but that didn't mean anything in the uncharted regions of the skies.

"It's vanishing," David said in surprise, zooming his glass in closer. "No, wait, it's turning to the side... that thing is so thin I can barely see it anymore! It's like a sheet of flimsy paper. Let's get closer and have a look, the Sailors' Guild might pay well for info on this new creature." The concept of such a thing being dangerous failed to enter his mind until, without warning, it opened fire.

Spikes of magical ice lunged for them at incredible speeds. There were five shards, and the first four went too far off and missed the Delphinus. In their wake, a faint trail of sparkling magic faded like vapor into the chilled air. Don reacted, slamming the wheel to one side, and the battleship responded to his command. The fifth shot was more accurate, and slammed into the prow despite this evasive action.

The ice shattered, but the force of impact shook the entire ship and nearly threw everyone to the deck. Fina cried out in surprise, gripping a nearby control panel with all of her strength to steady herself. Don tossed his loqua bottle aside, taking the wheel in both hands while he brought the ship into another set of erratic maneuvers.

"Well, I think we know it doesn't like guests," David said. He turned to the talking-tubes and the PA system controls, and flicked then all on. "Attention, all hands, man your general quarters. We are under attack by a flying spider-ice-paper thing, if you couldn't tell from the shaking. Move it!" The Vice Captain closed the circuits again and looked over as another wave of shots came at them. "Do you see the vector?"

"I'm trying," Don replied irritably. He was still slightly groggy and drunk, which actually made it easier, since the goal was to fly erratically and avoid damage. In this manner, he abused the steering wheel and made the ship pull off turns it wasn't designed to do.

"Fina, charge the Moonstone Cannon," David ordered. "Let's get this over with, I don't want to know what else it can do." The next hit tossed him over the console, sending pain through his chest as he struggled back to his feet. "Son of a bitch!" He resisted the urge to either cuss further or bend over on the floor, instead opting to repeat his message over the PA.

The hatch to the bridge swung open, and in walked the other Vice Captain of the ship. The woman had close-cropped black hair and yellow-tinted skin, and a sinewy form under a suit of armor made out of scales and leather. Her blade hung off her belt to one side, one of her hands resting warily on it. Naomi Takako called out, "What is that?" as she spotted their assailant.

"Spider-ice-paper thing," David replied. "Didn't you hear the announcement? Just started taking potshots at us for no damn reason- brace!" This time they were ready, and nobody was dislodged by the shivering floor. "The only good thing is that despite being annoying, it doesn't look like these ice things have the power to punch through our forward armor. Shit, where are our guns?!" He fumed to his comrades.

"Wasshapennin?" A young girl called over the talking-tubes from the secondary batteries, buried deep within the steel airship. Belle commanded most of the guns aboard the ship, minus the main battery which was handled by a bulky soldier named Khazim.

"Belle, we need to start returning fire," David replied. "Naomi, manage communications. Fina, step aside, let me handle the cannon and go to the throttle. Don, can't you dodge them faster?" According to the gages, their superweapon was still gathering energy in the magnetic coils located in the main body of the ship.

"No," The Esperanzan flatly replied. "I do anything more and we'll stall. Gotta keep engine exertions at sane levels until I got someone in Engineering who can compensate for overcharge."

A moment passed and then the ship rumbled once again, but this time it was softer and a great deal more comforting. A dozen cannons mounted on top of the polished metal deck belched smoke and flame into the morning sky, sending advanced explosive shells out at the monster. The first wave was inaccurate, and simply exploded in fiery patterns to the left of the creature.

"Why is something always waiting to shoot at us when we go to new places?" The loud clatter of boots against metal made David turn his head, to see two teenagers run onto the bridge. The girl was dragging the more disheveled boy by the arm, which looked ready to fall off.

Aika was a pretty girl, even sleep-deprived and harried as she was now. Her long, flowing red hair was usually tied up in an intricate braid that closely resembled a scarecrow, but now hung freely downwards in semi-tangled strands. Her skin was well-tanned and held a body of ready muscle from years of piracy, although she had curved out from puberty very nicely too. Instead of her usual yellow one-piece dress, she was garbed in light-blue pajama pants and shirt.

Being led by the hand by his lifelong friend and confidant, Vyse Dyne didn't look much better than she did from a readiness perspective. His thick brown hair was long and messy at the best of times, but now it looked slightly humorous in its disarray. His scarred face was lacking his usual glass eyepatch, but out of reflex he tried to magnify the distant attacker anyway. Vyse didn't even have a shirt, but simply a pair of grey pants.

"Because they're jealous," David supposed. "You two don't look so well, but we'll deal with that later." He handed Vyse his expensive gold-rimmed skyglass. "Check it out. That thing is freaky, but we don't think it can do much real damage as long as we're facing it."

"Why ain't we shooting back-" As he asked that question, every gun on the Delphinus simultaneously howled out. The force made the crew on the bridge stumble, but they all watched as dozens of rounds shot straight for the creature. The proximity shells peppered the area of the thin flying monster, shaking it with several heated blasts. As the boom of cannon rolled back into the airtight compartment, so did boisterous laughter.

"Take that, ya ugly paperweight," Khazim the gunner declared over the talking system. The man was a hot-tempered artillery chief from the desert nation of Nasr, and so was already irritated by the cold of the Lands of Ice. The fact that he was enjoying a good sleep before being so rudely awoken didn't help, either, and he relished the sound of his cannons firing and reloading. "Eat it!"

"How is that guy so energetic so early in the fuckin' morning?" Marco the street-urchin appeared next down the hallway. The small red-headed Valuan boy was profane enough by usual standards, although he was silenced at the sight of their enemy. "What is that?"

"That's the question on everyone's minds," David sighed. "Don, look, it's changing somehow!" He pointed towards the creature. The icy spider-web had begun to glow and pulsate. "Looks like it's charging up for an attack, although I could be full of it."

"Or Option C, all of the above," The pilot said. "Don't worry, I'm a leaf on the wind." He looked at the speedometer and the other controls near him, as they began to stop spinning. "Hey, Hans and Brabham are finally up." He chuckled. "Time to get interesting. Throttle to 120, Fina. 140 on my mark." The Silvite obeyed, shoving the golden lever as far down as it would go. Immediately the floor began to shake more, and the ship was filled with the roar of its own turbines.

They picked up more speed, moving incredibly quickly. Don tried to evade the many icebergs, but scraped several with the maneuvering wings of the craft. The monster pumped out more and more ice-shots and sent them out, imbuing each wave with more power. When it managed to strike the side-armor, it burrowed straight through the metal with a horrible ripping screech. The ship rocked backwards, knocking aside a smaller chunk of ice like it was nothing.

"Leaf, my ass," David groaned. "Vyse, the Moonstone Cannon is jacked up and good to go. As soon as we're in position we can blast that thing to Deep Sky."

Lawrence seemed much more organized and much less panicked than his shipmates when he idly walked through the open hatch to the bridge. His long black hair covered most of his high, tight face, and his purple flight jacket did the same for his thin form. With his arms crossed, he surveyed the situation for several moments before speaking up, "This is it? Might be good practice for Don."

"Good idea," Aika giggled, stifling a yawn at the same time. "Don, show us what you got against this little bastard, so we know you can do it against the bigger enemies." At her behest, the drunk turned the ship about so they now faced the creature. "Yeah, face-to-face confrontation! We're lined up to fire, Vyse!"

"How do you know that's its face?" Lawrence asked dryly. "Could be trying to bolt."

"S-shut up! I'm the one driving here, and I say we've got this bastard dead to rights either way," Don retorted quickly.

The captain of the ship sighed. "Moonstone Cannon, fire, then." Most of his enthusiasm would take a while to return, even with adrenaline pumping through his veins. David slammed the controls and underneath them gears began to turn.

The prow of the Delphinus split and began to open like the petals of a blooming flower. The thick metal plates made way for a single long black barrel, with thin magnets twisting around it like a screw design. Waves of magical energy began to charge at the front, creating a huge ball of purple light like a beacon. At the same time, David observed their enemy begin to glow again, only this time its body was luminous.

Their beam weapons fired together. The force of the Moonstone Cannon lanced through the air, parallel to a great cobalt spear of power. Both of the attacks glancingly hit, but this affected the creature more than it did the heavy armored airship. The spider-web began to partially melt away, having some sort of effect on its magical powers even as it was knocked off-balance. The Delphinus lost a huge chunk of armor to the opposite side, but their hull wasn't even breached.

Everyone shut their eyes because of the blinding light, but moments later it was gone again. All they saw was the cold blue sky, the icebergs encircling the battle, and their foe. Several began to cheer as they saw the thing loose its ability to stay airborne and plunge downwards. Luckily for it, the thing was over a particularly large shelf of ice, and landed roughly on that instead of falling to Deep Sky.

"Yes! Right in the face," David relished angrily. The creature that had woken most of them up rather rudely would be getting no mercy today. TheDelphinus swung around and began to hover, everyone looking over the side at the monster. It was still alive, but unable to float. The creature tried to move its tiny body and legs, but it was to no avail, especially with the remainder of the ice net weighing it down. "Let's leave it."

"Agreed," Vyse nodded. "Let's hope there's no more of those things." They turned around towards the south and set out again. The crew relaxed from combat alert, the sleepier ones quickly returning to their bunks. Most of them, however, elected to stay awake and begin their morning. Between the many people aboard, the Delphinus soon became a hive of activity. The gunners were ordered to keep their charges free of ice and ready for another fight, while their chefs, Polly and Urala, whipped up an enormous early-breakfast feast.

Luke and Rodgers had come to the bridge. The two teenagers were, like Aika, childhood friends of Vyse's. They all grew up on Pirate Island together, learning how to fight and fly. Luke's mottled brown hair had grown long, and was confined in a thin ponytail going down his muscled back. He wore a clean ruby-red sailing tunic and black leather pants, his sword slung across the shoulder. Rodgers was a pale-skinned girl with brooding eyes and a long black overcoat. Her silver moonstone daggers were holstered inside hidden pockets in her jacket. "Hey, Vyse," Luke said.

"Hey," He replied happily. "Haven't heard much from you two in a while, what's been happening?"

Rodgers chuckled. "Plenty. But most of it's stuff you can already guess. Um... when we find that lost city that Fina was talking about, Glacia, we'd like to come with you."

Luke agreed readily with her. "Yeah. We are supposedly Marines, you know, and you could always use the extra help. Plus, I'd rather be out there exploring than in here half-freezing myself to death."

"It's probably colder down below the ice," Vyse said. "But I don't mind if you come along. Go around and see who else wants to join us, and who wants to stay aboard, while you're at it. I definitely want Piastol and Doc along to help us with the cold, and possibly the Yafutomans." They talked for a few minutes about other things, and then took their leave from the command deck.

He sighed, watching them depart and observing the obvious awkward attraction between the two pirates. Reminds me of two people I knew a short while ago. Hope for their sake Aika gets extra nosy again. The captain of the ship was about to set out for the Mess Hall himself, leaving Lawrence alone in the huge room.

Before he could leave, however, the hatch swung open again and the rotund form of Osman stepped through. The Nasrian merchant was draped in large gold-painted layers of coats, even with her weight being unused to the cold. Her chubby, ill-contented face was partially obscured behind her large violet glasses. A foreign cat perched atop her expensive hat, occasionally yawing and mewing feebly. Osman was in charge of the affairs of money for the crew, and was generally not a person to go to for conversation. He started out, waving to her. "Come for an audience with the King?"

Osman snorted. "Hardly. Come to talk with you about business. Specifically, a new opportunity that has presented itself. This venture will be inexpensive to us, but will reap great dividends, I believe."

Despite any charisma deficiency, Vyse had known her to be smart with finances in her tenure aboard the ship, so he had a seat on the map table. "Go ahead."

"In Nasr, ice is obviously a very, very rare commodity. People will pay enormous sums to obtain ice. Ice is somewhat of a symbol of status for the higher merchant classes. Sure, all people can afford refrigeration and air-conditioning, but to cool one's home with genuine ice supplies? Anyway, my point is that we're currently swimming in what is basically pure gold. If we were to haul in some ice with the skiffs into the empty cargo bays and insulate them, we could make an insane profit margin in Nasr. It would effortlessly account for the extra weight."

He grinned widely. "You got the cunning of a pirate, Osman." Surely the lifetime Blue Rogue meant it as a compliment, but he could tell she wasn't receptive at all to such a concept. "I like that idea. Talk to David and Naomi and we can arrange that easy. We could always use more gold."

"Glad to be of service," She purred in an unintentional mirror of the cat on her hat. "Now let's go eat. According to Polly, she was almost ready to serve the first batch when I came to find you."

Vyse almost asked Lawrence to join them, but remembered the pilot was diligently navigating the chains of icebergs. He was also one of the most antisocial people in his employ, which didn't help. In parting, he merely said to Lawrence, "Call if you spot land or trouble. Preferably both," And followed Osman into the metal hallway.

By now he had gotten a nearly reflexive knowledge of his craft, the days of wandering for minutes and hours aimlessly long gone. They made it to the Mess Hall quickly, the massive room full of noise and light. The upper level was ringed by expensive paintings, depicting airships and beautiful sunsets. A chandelier of delicate Valuan design hung above the room, all of the magical candle slots burning a slow and warm light. The lower level had countless dining tables of fine wood over a royal red carpet. The crew was spread out amongst the tables, all eagerly awaiting the food.

Marco and Khazim had begun to chant, "Food, food, food, food," in a highly immature way, punctuating each repeat by banging their fists against the table. David made a big show of pinching the bridge of his nose in frustration, like a confounded parent of delinquent children.

Belle snuck up behind both the massive Nasrian and the diminutive Valuan, and punched both of them in the back of the head. "It's done when it's done!" Apparently, this was a forceful impact, as it was enough to make them stop chanting. They gingerly rubbed the back of their skulls as Belle hopped back to her own seat cheerily.

"Shouldn't we be waiting for the sleepers, too?" Vyse asked as he descended the staircase to the lower level. Eyes looked up to their captain and a chorus of disorderly greetings floated through the air at him. Several people booed his suggestion, however.

"I say let 'em starve," Don suggested from one of the front tables. Cheers broke out this time.

"Well, since you're so eager to help out your comrades in arms, maybeyou should be the one to go around to all the dorms and wake up all the sleeping crew," Vyse suggested, grinning in a much less friendly fashion. "Better hurry before the eggs get cold."

The pilot was stunned for a second. He stood up angrily, and stomped off, muttering, "That's what Aika said," Under his breath before he left the Mess Hall.

Vyse took a seat at the head table, where David, Naomi, Aika, and Fina were waiting with Prince Enrique. The crown prince of the Valuan Empire was a fair-skinned, gentle teenager who seemed to not fit in at all with the Blue Rogues around him. He had pure blonde hair carefully maintained under a royal purple beret, and his lethe body was wrapped in a suit of royal fencing armor. He had stolen the armor, and the ship, in order to aid Vyse in his escape months back from jail. Vyse took the last remaining seat while Osman stalked off to the back moodily.

"Early morning, everyone thinks they're funny," Aika said darkly.

0-0

Sheets of pure, undefiled snow coated the continent, which appeared to be made completely of ice, in patchy drifts. The snow swirled and tumbled about, at the mercy of the powerful gusts of wind that continuously blasted over the polar region. The layers of blue and white flowed out to the opposite horizon, the sky clear and sharply blue against the jagged skyline. The Delphinus passed quietly over the coast, headed towards the mountainous inland area. Many crew members were crowding around the viewports in awe of the huge uncharted lands before them.

"In the Old World, the Purple Civilization was almost as advanced as the Silvites in terms of technology," Fina said. "Due to the harsh conditions, they became a solitary people, and even with survival so hard they all became incredibly intellectual, cold, just like their lands, and distrustful of outsiders. Their capitol, as I said, was Glacia, buried under the ice. Even after the Rains we will no doubt find an intact city."

"What about their Gigas?" Naomi asked, standing at the viewport with Marco and Piastol. So far, despite all efforts, the crew had ended up fighting every Gigas they found. The ancient machines of war were supremely tough, and possibly their most dangerous enemies, even with the Armada on their tails.

"Plergoth," The Silvite said after a moment of thought. "The most mysterious of the Gigas. It was fashioned like an enormous arcwale, and controlled ice elemental powers beyond comprehension. Of all the Gigas, records are sketchiest on Plergoth, especially where the weapon was buried. It might be near Glacia, however, and hopefully trapped under this ice and snow."

"Hope we don't wake it up by our merciless crashing through the ice layers of this continent," David said off-handedly. "So, if the Rains of Destruction didn't kill off the Purplites like it did to everyone else, where are they? If they're still alive they haven't made contact with the rest of Arcadia yet, and even Valua would be easy pickings for an Old World Civilization."

"Nobody knows," Fina replied. "The Silver Shrine's records on this continent abruptly stopped when the Rains fell, only to pick up near the present time. All I can say is that nobody lives in Glacia anymore."

"There are a lot of reasons for a civilization to disappear," Enrique spoke up thoughtfully. "Maybe a plague hit their realm, or maybe they all went off to war when the Rains came down and were killed. It's all just speculation now."

"To think that a whole country could just vanish..." Aika leaned over her control panel to get a better look out of the nearest view-screen.

"We should be able to see it from the air," The Prince continued, abruptly changing the subject. "According to the Imperial research vessels, they could clearly observe many parts of the ancient city, but just couldn't get in to explore it personally."

Naomi was closest to the talking-tube control system. She opened the one to the Crow's Nest and said, "Lookout, be on high alert and observe the terrain. Our target should be visually obvious." Tikatika acknowledged her order and she closed the pipe, cutting off the frigid air that had poured forth from it.

A few moments later the roar of the heaters sputtered and tapered down to nothing. A set of ominous clicks echoed out from the vents on the celling. David looked up and let out a long sigh. "The heater failed again." He got on the PA system. "Engineering, status report. Where is our environmental controls?"

Hans replied quickly, "We're working as hard as we can! This Valuan stuff wasn't meant to put out so much energy for extended periods! Someone didn't refill the coolant and it's been overheating for hours and hours through the night. We're going to switch to using up Blue Moonstones to keep the temperature down, even though that'll mean we have less maneuverability."

Lawrence said, "Go ahead. We won't be needing to pull any more hard turns, just breaking through ice."

"Whatever it takes. Blue Rogues improvise," David reminded him. "Just keep us from freezing, or give me time to put on another jacket. Bridge out." He clicked off the PA and sighed. "Vyse, speaking of which. Doc is worried about the Nasrians on the crew. They might have a tough time adjusting, especially when our heaters finally crap out."

"So if we find a fight here, we'll be less able to move and half of my gunners, the bigger and stronger ones, might catch colds," Vyse shrugged. "Tell them to layer up, or whatever Doc wants to do. And if our heaters go down we'll all be having tough times."

A noticeable chill had begun to run through the air of the bridge before the vents gave a solid rumble and began to spew blessed warmth again. The spectators amongst the crew had retreated from the bridge, back to quarters or their posts after seeing the Lands of Ice personally. Vyse himself was considering going down to the Mess Hall for an early lunch before the Crow's Nest reported a sighting.

"The ice is beginning to thin considerably, and there are some specks ahead. I think they're below the surface," Tikatika reported, his thick and low voice battling with the arctic gusts of wind around him through the tube. "Directly ahead."

"Nice job, Tikatika," Vyse couldn't help but smirk happily. "Keep us posted when you can get a better look at the objects." He switched to the PA system. "I think we just found Glacia, guys. Anyone who wants to come after the first team, get geared up and ready to go. We'll need to dress warm."

0-0

The ship rumbled and shook while the ground tilted forward enough to make one loose their footing. Everyone grabbed for something to steady themselves as the Delphinus' turbines screamed and roared. The battleship was literally punching through the ice, tilted downwards and driving its nose like a shovel into very hard dirt. Lawrence carefully gripped the wheel, making sure to keep the powerful beast around him under control. "Depth?"

"We've almost penetrated the ceiling," Naomi said, leaning over the console and holding several levers with all of her strength. "Main fans at 100,000 RPM and holding steady, the reactor is still churning out a hundred and thirty percent."

"Pull it back to one hundred percent now," The mercenary ordered. "We'll reduce power as we burrow so we only hollow out a huge hole through the ice, and not actually penetrate full through."

"This is the thin part?" David asked skeptically, leaning against the Map Table, which was bolted down to the deck. "Theeasy part?"

"For us? Of course," Aika replied, sitting right next to him and clinging to Vyse and Fina.

"Now sixty percent," Lawrence said. The engines died down from their cacophony of noise and motion, and the deck started to shake progressively less. "Forty on my mark, and we pull up and out! The ice should be thin enough for a skiff to pierce now." To relieve the enormous strain on their reactor they were skirting the line between too little power and therefore stalling or blowing out the power conduits in Engineering.

Moments later the ship was pulling up and out, and the floor under them became fairly level again. Everyone breathed a sigh of relief, people getting shakily back to their feet. Vyse slowly walked over to the view-screens, seeing the huge crater their pirate flagship had dug in the ice. At the huge epicenter sat a sheet of ice about three centimeters thick. "That was some skilled drilling, Lawrence," He said.

"I don't bleed you of gold for nothing," The hired gun replied blandly. "We can go now."

"I'd like to come along," David spoke up. "So let's see... Enrique, Aika, Fina, me, Vyse, Piastol, Doc, Naomi, Luke, and Rodgers... the Askar should be able to ferry that many people at once, I think. We can leave Lawrence in charge, unless you want to come too?" Unsurprisingly, the pilot shook his head negatively. "Didn't think so."

"Sounds like a plan," Vyse confirmed. "Everyone, let's grab our jackets and get down to the lifeboat hangar." They left for the storage bay with the cold-weather gear they purchased at Sailors' Island earlier. Along the way, the others in the expedition joined them. After passing down several flights of stairs, they reached the cavernous room.

In one corner were the newest additions to the crews' cargo- crates secured to the deck and painted with stylized blue Valuan symbols. They broke open the crates, revealing thick, multi-layered jackets, scarves, gloves and boots, and other tools and clothing. The jackets were made of multi-colored thread, and everyone had their pick of a random color. Vyse was pleased to grab the blue and red jacket, even though Aika encouraged him to take the pink one. Everyone covered up as much skin as possible, Enrique even putting on a face-mask to protect himself from wind sheer. Doc advised each of them on keeping warm, and handed out Red Moonstone shards for 'just in case'.

"Better not stay too long," Aika said in mock-concern. "Vyse might freeze solid, and then we'd have to carry him home. Osman might be able to sell him, though. Fina, how much do you think Vyscicles go for on the Nasrad black market?"

The Silvite giggled and said, "I'm not the one to ask about money, remember? Besides, I don't think anyone would pay too much for Vyse."

Vyse fixed them both with a suitably ferocious glare and said, "I'd threaten you both with some harsh punishment but Aika might enjoy it too much. Everyone ready?" The pirates acknowledged this with a cheer. "Alright, then. Let's go!" His wandering spirit propelled him to run ahead of the others, letting them follow him down to the lifeboat hangar.

The party all climbed aboard the partially wooden skiff, which was larger than their many metal lifeboats. He worked the controls of the doors, and then leapt aboard himself as the blast doors slowly slid open. As soon as they cracked, blisteringly cold winds slapped them, causing them to avert their faces. With their insulated clothing, however, they could endure it, even though the Askar's pilothouse wasn't even sealed.

"I'll fly," David volunteered. "Don gave me a few lessons and I want to try it out. Where's the throttle... oh. Hold on to your souls, heh." With that highly comforting declaration Gilder's Vice Captain started the engine. The maneuvering fins began to flap, lifting them above the magnetized rails and into the air. The sailboat's sheets had all been rolled in, as the turbulent winds would have rendered them useless anyway. "Even this thing should be able to break the thin remaining ice layer above the city. Off we fly, then!"

He did a competent job at the helm, taking them from the rear of theDelphinus, which hovered a good distance above the surface, to the crater. They descended through the newly-carved, jagged bowl of frozen water, until reaching the bottom. David punched the throttle forward and kept descending, and the bottom of the boat smacked up against the ice, sending everyone tumbling. "Sorry," He yelled out. "Should have warned you all."

"You're still better than Aika- ow!" Vyse's reply was cut short by his wail of pain, as her fist somehow got through his thick clothing and hit the teenage boy's ribs.

TheAskar made short work of the ice. As they finally penetrated, the ice that was shattered fell in noisy shards. The splintered pieces descended into the misty bottom of the huge cavern, under the city. As they looked around, they found that the stone buildings appeared to be built on the top of the ice and growing down like stalactites. Luckily, they had broken through a huge gap in the city structure, and the buildings around them were all untouched and still 'grounded' solidly in the ice.

Glacia itself was very purple, all of its bricks semi-reflecting the hue of the ice around them. Devoid of all signs of life, even those of monsters, the frozen city was shrouded in frigid mists that thickened as the buildings drooped lower and lower. Complex networks of sturdy walkways connected all of the structures.

Everyone was stunned for a little while, looking at the city, which was strangely beautiful in a way and ominous in another. "So this is what an Old World city looked like," Doc said, breathing shallowly. "Amazing."

"Certainly a lot to explore here," David said. "I'm going to put us down on what looks like a dock." No ships remained, but the stone walkways stretched out and abruptly stopped, strongly resembling the air-docks of Sailors Island or Nasrad. The skiff easily fit on one of the platforms and he touched down, leaving enough room on either side for people to stand comfortably. After locking the controls, he emerged to join the others, pulling his radio out from his jacket's pocket. "Lawrence, this is David. We've made landfall inside the city. Everything looks so quiet, but we're going to look around some more before we give the all-clear."

"Affirmative, David," Lawrence replied simply, and then terminated the transmission.

A small pebble laid upon the otherwise pristine ancient marble floor. Aika kicked it, and watched it fall. After a short way, the fog engulfed it into the invisible maw stretching below them. "Everyone, watch your footing. That looks like a long way down."

With Piastol in the lead, they moved down the dock, until they reached a set of gates that barred their progress. At their approach, they silently slid open, as if inviting them forward. The Blue Rogues obliged, moving through a long hallway with ancient, rotted machines hanging from the ceiling. A piece of glass replaced one of the walls, and showed a reflection of them. All of their weapons glowed an angry red against their silhouettes, and they watched it for a few moments. "This must have been some kind of security station," David guessed. "Well, nobody here to check our luggage now, I guess. Let's keep moving."

The hallway emerged into a huge lobby-like area with decks and strange-looking terminals. The mats and pillows of the couches had degraded over time, but the metal supports looked in perfect condition. Rodgers sat in one of the chairs and found that it still supported her weight. "Old World stone lasts so long," She said, astounded.

"The Gigas are proof that people back then built their tech to last," Luke said. They went to the other end of the lobby, and to large double-doors that needed to be manually pushed open. They emerged onto a spiral ramp that led both farther up and down. "Which way?"

"I say we split up," Vyse said. "Aika, Fina, Enrique, Luke and Rodgers, let's go high. Doc, Piastol, David, Naomi, go low. Watch it, the fog's already kind of dense." Before anyone could make a comment, he started walking up. The girls and Enrique followed him quickly, with Luke trailing behind and Rodgers in the back.

Piastol was again leading her group, this time downwards, with David closely following. They went down several floors until they reached what looked like a crossroads, with several branching paths. One of the ramps continued downward, and so that was the route they chose. Descending further through the city, they began to feel the chill in the misty air even through their coats.

"Getting harder to see," Doc said. "Let's move a little more slowly, guys. Even though most of this material is intact a path could be out and we would never know about it."

"Yeah," David agreed. "Leave it to the Old World to fail us at exactly the wrong time." He took another step forward, now almost side-by-side with Piastol despite his own warning. Thus, he fell in the same instant she did when the floor underneath them gave way to air.