Gilder walked into the shack and looked around at the dingy walls and floor with broken boards. What a dump, ran through his mind, as he looked down and saw two barrel bottoms with flowers growing in them. He walked further in and saw some purple clothes folded neatly inside a small crate, topped with a hat with gold braid and white feathers.
"Hey! What're you lookin' at!?" Ciboulette growled from behind him, and Gilder turned to face her, smiling as he put his hands in the air placatingly.
"Nothing, nothing. Sorry," he replied. He leaned back against a wall and folded his arms, watching Ciboulette as she walked in and closed the door behind her. She walked in a short way, then stopped and watched him for a long moment, her face unreadable.
"Tell me, Captain Gilder... How is it that your Claudia can fly?" she asked.
Gilder grinned and brought up a hand, one finger raised. "Wait a minute. First I want to know something."
One thin eyebrow raised above Ciboulette's hazel eyes. "And what would y'be wantin' to know?" she asked, her sailor's dialect becoming thicker.
"Nothing too difficult," he answered, shrugging his shoulders as he folded his arms again. "You said you're a captain, right?" Gilder nodded to her, his eyes passing over the dress she was wearing and the basket of flowers she carried. "How'd you end up like that?"
Ciboulette's lips tightened slightly, annoyed. "It's a long story."
Gilder smiled his most charming smile. "Hey, I've got time," he said, spreading his hands. "My crew isn't expecting me 'til morning."
She sighed and closed her eyes, brought her head up and looked at the ceiling. "Fine, I'll tell you what happened...
"It was a very stormy night as our ship, the S.S. Juniper-Berry, sailed past Seagull Beach," she continued. "The engine room exploded without warning, and there was no doubt we were going down. Some of us escaped on rafts or Trotmobiles, but... We lost sight of one of our newest crewmembers, and the other was seriously injured, so we didn't have much time."
Ciboulette closed her eyes and lowered her head. "I'd be lying if I said I didn't feel partially responsible." She opened her eyes and looked back at Gilder. "But, of course, there's no way to know exactly what caused it. We did make it here. Our injured crewmember is recovering in that room over there--" she nodded to another door, "while the others are planning to rebuild the ship." She raised the basket of flowers on her arm briefly. "And, I'm selling flowers to earn the money we'd need to do so."
Gilder blinked, confused. "Selling flowers? Why not something else? You can't be making much money doing that..."
Ciboulette half smiled. "You'd be surprised." She shook her head. "I've lived my whole life onboard one ship or another... This is really the only thing I know how to do on land."
"Oh." Gilder frowned; it made sense, but... "So you're stuck on land for now?" Not being able to fly was one thing, but being unable to sail at all...!
Ciboulette nodded. "That's right." She hesitated a moment, then continued: "I know this is coming out of nowhere, but could you do me a favor?"
"That depends," he answered cautiously. "What is this favor?"
"Fair enough..." she answered, nodding. "The S.S. Juniper-Berry should still be wrecked on Seagull Beach. I want you to bring me the Sailing License from that ship."
"Without that certificate, we're not allowed on open seas. So... Even if we did rebuild the ship, we wouldn't be allowed on it."
Gilder jerked in surprise, then looked at her with wide eyes, jaw hanging open. "You need a certificate to sail?!" Not even the Valuans have gone that far...
Ciboulette frowned at him. "That's right. ...Where are you from, anyway?"
Gilder folded his arms again, and told her about the vortex and the world of Arcadia beyond it. After he was done, she was staring at him. "No man lyin' would hope to spin such a tale and hope to be believed," she said, shaking her head. "If yer lyin' to me..." Her eyes narrowed dangerously.
He brought up a hand. "I swear it's the truth," he replied. "Before I came through that thing, I'd never even heard of Trotmobiles, let alone seen all the ones out there walking around."
"Hm... Very well." Ciboulette nodded to him. "Arcadia or no Arcadia, yer ship can fly, the railroad to Nefroburg is closed at the Quail Tunnel, and the road to Happy Garland is being blocked by some jerk of a Trotmobile pilot. You're the only one who can get the Sailing License for me."
Gilder smiled and straightened, pointing a thumb at his chest. "Hey, don't worry about a thing, Captain. We Blue Rogues are supposed to help out those in need." He winked. "When they're lovely ladies like yourself, that just makes it all the better."
Ciboulette snorted laughter briefly, but she smiled back. "Good to know," she replied. "I think you can find it in my old room, if the hull's still intact."
"Don't worry about a thing, Captain Ciboulette," Gilder said as he began walking towards the door. "I'll get you that Sailing License back before you know it."
Vyse was at the wheel of the Little Jack, grim-faced as he flew through the skies above Valua looking for the arcwhale Captain Drachma had been hunting for so long... Rhaknam. He remembered the overwhelming power of the massive beast when he shattered the small boat he and Aika had been sailing to Valua to rescue their friends...
He suddenly turned his head, hearing loud booms in the distance. "...What's that sound?" he asked.
Aika and Fina turned to look that way as well. "It sounds like cannon fire..." Aika answered.
"Boy!" Drachma suddenly yelled. "Dead ahead!"
Vyse looked forward out of the bridge windows again, and felt goosebumps rise over his flesh as he saw the hulking shadow looming through the fog. "Captain!" he exclaimed.
"...It's him!" Drachma yelled, taking a step forward.
The shadow came at them with astonishing speed, then slowly grew purple as it grew closer. It turned suddenly right in front of the Little Jack, making the small ship buck with the winds of its passage. It's large red eye peered into the bridge as it went by. "Aaahhh!" Fina screamed as the ship shook around them.
"It's... it's huge!" Aika exclaimed.
"Hey!" Vyse called. "Look over there!" As Rhaknam swept by, it revealed the presence of two Valuan Gunboats turning to follow the arcwhale, their forward cannons firing after it. "They're going after it!" Vyse continued, then turned his head towards Drachma. "We can't fight them both at the same time! Captain, what should we do?"
"Take out the Valuan ships first," Drachma answered, voice grim. "I don't want them interferin' in the fight with Rhaknam. I need to kill Rhaknam myself." He suddenly raised his voice and roared, "Battlestations! Take out the cruisers in front of us first!"
Vyse looked forward and spun the wheel towards the nearest cruiser, using the Little Jack's superior speed to bob and weave to throw off the Valuan Gunboat's aiming. "Launch torpedo! I'll man the main cannon!" Drachma roared.
Aika rushed to the back and lifted one of the Shock Torpedos with a grunt, then shoved it into the tube. She closed the hatch, then pulled a lever. "Torpedo launched!"
The ship shook as the Gunboat's main gun rattled the hull, the metal sheathing creaking ominously. "Fina! Get ready to do some repairs!" Vyse shouted, and the Silvite girl rushed down the stairs.
Drachma glowered over at the Gunboat as another round of its main cannons shook the hull, but not as heavily as before. "Good job, boy! They only clipped is with that one!" He eyed the streak of the torpedo as it descended from the sky, then let loose the main cannon with a roar. The Gunboat veered sharply as both the torpedo and the shell struck it, and its volley of subcannons missed completely.
A green glow encompassed the Little Jack as the hull stopped creaking. "Alright Fina!" Vyse yelled, then threw the ship into evasive maneuvers as a torpedo launched, limiting the damage when it and a shell struck the ship in turn.
"Take this!" Drachma roared as he let off another round of the main cannon, which struck the Gunboat amidships. The Valuans, instead of veering this time, closed in and let off another round of their main cannons, followed by their subcannons.
Drachma growled, "That's the way they want it... Fight aggressively, boy, and close in on the enemy! Let's give 'em a taste of the Harpoon Cannon!"
Vyse veered the Little Jack towards the Gunboat, ignoring the two torpedos it launched as he closed in behind it. Vyse's lips peeled back from his teeth in a grin as the rear of the ship filled the forward windows. "Harpoon Cannon... Fire!" he shouted.
The massive harpoon launched out of the bow of the ship, exploding through the rear of the Valuan Gunboat and cutting a swath of destruction all the way through it... length-wise. Explosions wracked the steel hull as it quickly started falling down towards the Valuan continent below. As it fell out of view, the sight of Rhaknam just ahead of them was revealed. "Alright!" Vyse shouted. "We've got a straight shot at Rhaknam!"
Drachma leaned forward, peering out the window. "I've waited for this for a long time... Harpoon Cannon... FIRE!"
The harpoon, reeled in from the attack on the Gunboat, lanced out again and wedged into the purple arcwhale with a cry from the beast. "Heh... There's no escape for ya now," Drachma growled. "All cannons, fire! Launch torpedos!"
Aika and Fina hurried to the back and loaded torpedos into the tubes, then pulled their levers. "Torpedo launched!" they called in unison.
Vyse punched a control next to the wheel, cutting loose a volley of the 5-inch subcannons as Captain Drachma fired the main G-Type Cannon. Rhaknam squealed as the Little Jack poured cannon fire and torpedos into it, breaking for the open skies east of Valua, but dragging the Little Jack along in its wake.
"Captain! He's dragging us!" Vyse exclaimed. "If Rhaknam dives into Deep Sky, we'll get torn apart!"
"No!" Drachma shouted, pounding his metal arm on top of the control panel. "I'm not lettin' him get away! Keep firin'!"
The Little Jack twisted and bobbed at the end of the chain, unleashing every weapon in its arsenal. Rhaknam twisted to-and-fro, trying to dislodge the harpoon, but it was stuck fast.
Vyse clenched his jaw, wrestling with the wheel to try and hold the ship steady, then blinked and peered closer at the arcwhale. "Huh?" He suddenly pointed and shouted, "Captain! Look! That light!"
Drachma grunted in confusion as he looked over. Down above the eye of Rhaknam was some sort of receptacle with the look of Old World technology... and from within it shone a bright purple light. "What...? Is that a Moon Crystal!?" Drachma exclaimed.
Aika and Fina ran forward to the window and stared down. "It must be..." Aika said. "Which would mean that Rhaknam... is the Purple Gigas?"
Fina gasped, then said, "I can't believe that Rhaknam is the Purple Gigas! The... the name of the Purple Gigas is Plergoth. According to the legends, the citizens of the Purple Civilization implanted the Purple Crystal into a living creature."
"Then... that means that Rhaknam was once a normal arcwhale?" Vyse asked.
Drachma suddenly growled and slammed his metal fist down on the control panel again. "Enough of this!" He fired the main cannon again, the shell exploding against Rhaknam's hide. The arcwhale gave out a howl, paused, then howled again, continuing the call.
"Why is he making that noise?" Aika asked.
"I... I'm not sure," Fina answered, staring down at Rhaknam in concern.
"This isn't good..." Vyse commented, arms straining as he held the wheel level.
"Look at his eye!" Aika shouted, pointing.
Drachma looked down, then his eye blinked as he saw water fill the red eye below. "Wha... what!?" He stared, disbelieving, as the eye slowly started to close, and a tear ran down from it. "He's... cryin'..."
"Look... the Crystal!" Vyse exclaimed, pointing at the receptacle. The Purple Crystal gave off a flash of bright light, then slowly dimmed as a humming whine built for a moment.
Then the Purple Crystal fell from the receptacle.
"Vyse!" Fina gasped. "The Purple Crystal is falling!"
"Hold on!" Vyse suddenly shouted as he retracted the harpoon, throwing the Little Jack into a dive as the Crystal began descending towards Deep Sky. They all shouted as the dive threw them forward, but Vyse kept his eyes on the bright purple light as the ship gained on it, its engine thrumming.
"Captain, take the wheel! Aika, come on!" Vyse shouted as he braced a boot onto the control panel, then jumped up the sharp incline of the bridge to the stairs. He threw himself down them and slid along the floor to the doors leading out to the deck. Behind him, Aika landed on the floor and also started sliding down as Vyse threw the doors open and braced his feet, sliding over to the side of the ship and grabbing it.
As Aika grabbed the side just behind him, he shouted, "Aika, when the Crystal gets within range, grab it! I'll hold onto you!" He glanced briefly up at the bridge window to see Drachma and Fina staring down at them.
"Alright!" Aika shouted, face steeled as she squinted her eyes against the rushing wind of their dive.
Slowly, the Little Jack overtook the Purple Crystal until it was falling alongside the ship. Aika let out a shout as she hopped up onto the railing, then leaped outward at the Moon Crystal, her gloved hand outstretched. "Got it!" she shouted as her hand closed around it, then looked down to see nothing between her and the dark roiling clouds of Deep Sky below. "Vyse!" she screamed just before a hand closed around the back of her blue belt.
Vyse gritted his teeth as he pulled with all his strength, yanking Aika back onto the deck of the Little Jack just as it began pulling out of its dive, sending the two of them tumbling across the wooden planks in a heap. The ship groaned below them at the strain it was being put through, then eased as it zoomed back up into the sky.
Drachma and Fina ran out onto the deck as soon as the ship was level, and Fina breathed a sigh of relief and smiled as Vyse and Aika slowly picked themselves up, Aika rubbing her stomach and Vyse rubbing his head. "Ow... You really pulled hard there, Vyse," Aika said, mock-concerned, then beamed at him and leaped over, wrapping her arms around his neck.
"Ow!" Vyse exclaimed, and she pulled back, eyes wide.
"Are you alright?!" Aika asked.
Vyse was frowning, eyes closed as he rubbed his head. "My head... You really knocked me back there, Aika. Maybe you shouldn't eat so much..."
Aika's eyes went wide and her mouth opened in surprise, then she blushed as her eyes narrowed dangerously. "What?! Are you saying I'm fat?!"
"Huh?" Vyse opened his eyes and brought his hands up in a placating gesture. "I didn't mean that at all! Wait a minute..."
"Hmph!" Aika folded her arms and turned away from him, still blushing.
Fina brought a hand to her mouth, giggling quietly, then stopped as she looked down and saw the Purple Crystal lying on the deck near her feet. She stepped forward and bent over, picking it up and gazing into its depths.
Vyse slowly stood, looking at Aika's back with a bemused expression, then looked at Fina holding the Moon Crystal and smiled, bring a fist up and pumping his elbow back. "Alright! That's three down!" He looked over at Drachma, and saw the Captain staring out over the sky. Vyse turned and looked outward, his expression serious.
In the distance, the form of Rhaknam was visible as it twisted in the air, falling from the sky as the sun finally rose. Drachma's expression was unreadable as his longtime quarry slowly sank beneath the clouds of Deep Sky...
There was a long moment of silence, then Drachma spoke. "I've spent my life... searching for Rhaknam to avenge my crew... and my son..." He brought his metal fist up and clenched it. "And I've finally done it." He blinked, then reached down into a pouch at his belt and pulled out the box he'd shown Vyse the night before.
His son Jack's box, Vyse thought as the Captain walked slowly over to the side of the Little Jack, staring at the box. When he reached the side, he opened it, revealing the multicolored feathers within. Drachma slowly extended his arm out over the side of the ship, tilting the box slightly so that the breeze caught the feathers and swirled them away up into the skies...
After they were gone, Drachma heaved a heavy sigh and let his arm drop to his side. "Chasin' Rhaknam was my reason for livin'. And now I've got to start over..." He closed his eyes and shook his head, as if trying to drive deep-seated memories from his head. "When you're as old as me... It's not easy to change your ways."
Vyse, Aika and Fina remained silent behind him, then Vyse smiled and brought up a fist, holding it out in front of him. "We're still with you, Captain!"
Fina bowed at her waist to Drachma. "Captain, I would be honored if you would continue travelling with us."
Aika winked and grinned, laughing a bit before saying, "Yeah, Cap'n, you can't get rid of us that easy!"
Drachma turned and looked at them for a long moment, then nodded slowly. "I'll go with you kids." He brought his metal fist up and looked at it a long moment, before looking back up at the three of them. "With Rhaknam gone, Valua's the biggest danger in the skies anyway. Now, get back to the bridge! We've got sailin' to do!"
"Aye aye!" the three of them shouted, then hurried back to the bridge.
"So where should we go next?" Vyse asked from the wheel as Drachma walked onto the bridge.
"The Little Jack took a beatin' with those acrobatics you threw her through, boy," Drachma said. "Nasrad, the capital of Nasr, should be to the south. I say we head there and get some repairs done."
"And we should warn them about the attack Valua's planning," Aika chimed in. The soldier back at the Maw of Tartas had been sure enough about that, and it had been the main reason none of the Admirals had been free to pursue Rhaknam personally... though rumors were growing about the point of light Valua's Mid Ocean Fleet was gathered around.
"Right," Vyse answered, nodding. "Let's go! To Nasrad!" He spun the wheel, turning the Little Jack towards the south.
Vanilla sighed as his Earl Grey II walked past the last the wheat fields, leaving two plumes of smoke where two bandits in hopping Thresher Trotmobiles had attacked him. "Finally made it," he said to himself as he parked at Skylark Farms' main gate and began descending from the cockpit.
As soon as he turned away from his vehicle, a young barefoot boy in white shirt and blue shorts ran up to him. "Hey Mister, do you travel a lot?" he asked. "Ever been to Vision Ranch?"
"Yeah, I've been there," Vanilla answered.
"Really? I have a friend who lives there," the boy said. He held out a letter. "Could you maybe give him this next time you go?" Vanilla took the envelope and looked at the return address, which said the boy's name was Pete. "Promise, okay?" Pete said, then ran off.
I'll be heading back there anyway, Vanilla thought to himself as he tucked Pete's letter into a pocket, and made his way over to a nearby farmer wearing a straw hat and overalls. The farmer blinked when he saw the stranger walk up to him. "Did you come from Happy Garland?" he asked.
"Yeah, that's right," Vanilla replied. The people at this farm sure have a lot of questions.
"Some jerk in a Trotmobile is blocking the way to Neuhafen," the farmer replied, looking sour.
" I see..." Vanilla frowned. Maybe I should look into it. I am a member of the Civilian Army now. First things first... "I'm here to stock up some wheat for the Civilian Army," he said.
He was taken aback when he discovered that it was 77 UR per unit of wheat, but shelled out the money and loaded the large cloth sacks onto his Trotmobile's wide flatbed. I hope I'm going to get compensated for this, he thought as he climbed back into the cockpit and headed west on the road to Neuhafen.
As he drew close to the outer gate of Neuhafen, he caught sight of a large black and red Trotmobile that grew more familiar the closer he drew. When he spotted the spider leg frame, Vanilla sighed to himself. "Oh great," he muttered. "It's that Dudley guy."
Dudley seemed just as surprised to see him. "Hey, you're the guy I fought at Fort Raven!" he exclaimed. "This is good timing," he continued, tossing a crumpled envelope hard at the Earl Grey II's cockpit, hitting the seat next to Vanilla with it. "Could you take this to a girl named Aloe, at that farm? Bring back her response, too. I'll be waiting here, okay?" he asked, sounding earnest. He subsequently exploded that tone by threatening, "And don't you dare read it!"
Well, if it'll get him to stop blocking the road to Neuhafen, Vanilla thought as he turned his Trot back to Skylark Farms. The trip back didn't take long, and a few questions pointed him to the larger of the two houses where Aloe lived. When he found her, he found that she was a blonde girl of around his own age who wore a green shirt, long pink skirt and an apron over them. Vanilla wordlessly handed over the crumpled envelope from Dudley.
"What's this...?" she asked, then tore it open and pulled out the piece of paper, smoothing it out. She quickly read through it, then blinked as she let the hand holding it drop to her side. "Oh!" she exclaimed, then continued in a neutral tone: "...Please give this to Dudley." Aloe quickly wrote on a piece of paper, folded it and handed it to him.
A short time later, Vanilla was again facing Dudley's Trotmobile in front of Neuhafen's outer gate. He handed Aloe's response over, and the brute eagerly ripped it out of his hand and tore it open. His grin of elation faded as he read through it. "Ohhhhh no!" Dudley shouted. He stabbed a finger out at Vanilla, shouting, "Dammit! This is all your fault, you wuss! Urgh... You ruin everything!"
"What are you talking about?" Vanilla exclaimed. "Don't blame me for your own screw up!"
Dudley was still incandescent with anger, and shouted through Vanilla's reprimand. "I don't need your sympathy! Shut up and fight, you little girly-man!" He suddenly cut loose with a couple of cannon shots, and Vanilla quickly dodged his Trotmobile out of the way.
"Here we go again," he muttered as he brought his new arm frames to the ready. He'd bought the best ones he could find in Happy Garland before heading to Vision Ranch to join the Civilian Army, and the Earl Grey II was armed with a buzzsaw arm and sniper arm. Vanilla moved in slash at Dudley's Trot with the buzzsaw, then blinked in surprise as a gout of flame suddenly poured forth from its other arm.
He's got a flamethrower! Vanilla quickly thrusted backwards away from the fire, and raised his sniper arm, firing off a quick shot. He decided to play it safe and kept his distance from Dudley, firing repeatedly into him from a far distance with the sniper arm and staying well away from the numerous bursts of flame and cannon shells the distraught Trot pilot was flinging around. At the same time, he tried to keep the black and red Trotmobile from getting too close to the wheat fields - with the way he was spewing fire all around, he'd burn the fields in a heartbeat.
Eventually, the slow-firing sniper arm wore down Dudley's Trotmobile enough that it spewed smoke. "No fair," Dudley yelled, waving a fist. "My arm part broke." He slowly backed his Trotmobile away while it could still move, shouting, "Just you wait! I'll remember this!" His black and red Trotmobile limped away from the outer gate, leaving it free to traffic.
Vanilla smiled as he looked at the open gate, missing the sight of a red ship with black sails flying past overhead. Then he stretched, sighing at his relieved muscles as he said, "Well, back to Vision Ranch with the wheat." He turned the Earl Grey II around and started back towards Happy Garland.
Ramirez ascended the stairs from the lobby, where people wandering in the crowd watched him go in either awe or uneasiness. His green eyes narrowed in dark amusement. He'd achieved B Rank that morning, and he was already gaining a reputation of ruthlessness to rival Elder's. He took in the jet black-and-red shape of Corvus with a fondness he'd previously bestowed only on either his sword or Lord Galcian, and all three for much the same reasons. Powerful and deadly... each suited to their roles.
The maintenance man in the battler's lounge nodded to him as he walked by. "Hey, good fightin' out there!" he called, and Ramirez nodded to him. Deeper into lobby, the three gladiators he'd been able to face so far eyed him as he climbed into Corvus' cockpit; Sudou with his usual inscrutability, Sampson with a frown now that he'd gotten a better sense of the Silvite, and Genius clucking over the damage his Trotmobile, the Clever Fool, had taken in their previous match. I do not care if they like me, as long as they fear me.
He piloted his Trotmobile back to the Lobster Inn, and looked consideringly at the Real Estate office as he went by. Perhaps it's about time I look into getting an apartment here, instead of staying at that inn all the time. He'd have more of the privacy he craved from time to time, for one, and... And perhaps I'll stop wondering about Connie if I don't see the stage every day, he thought, mouth twisting in annoyance.
Ramirez parked in the lot next to the Lobster Inn and headed inside, loosening the tightness of his bow tie around his throat. He had nodded to Dustin as started towards the stairs when a female voice said behind him, "You're looking well, Ramirez. That suit is quite flattering."
The Silvite blinked, quite humanly astonished for a moment, before he turned around and saw the familiar dark red-haired woman sitting at one of the tables, legs crossed. She had also changed her outfit, and wore a long-sleeved white blouse with a red ribbon around her neck, a calf-length red skirt and black high-heeled shoes. "Belleza..." he said, staring at her.
Belleza's smile widened as she uncrossed her legs and stood from the chair, then folded her arms. "You've been busy, haven't you?" she commented as she walked over to him. "Befriending the Garland Globetrotters, battling in the Trotmobile arenas..." Her smile faded slightly as she stood next to him and lowered her voice: "...And failing to send reports of your progress back to Meme Village."
Ramirez eyed the older Admiral, expression neutral. Inside, he felt a twinge of guilt. Lord Galcian set me a task, and I've gotten myself distracted. He suddenly eyed Belleza in a new, suspicious, way. Has he sent her to eliminate me? As soon as the thought occurred to him, he dismissed it. My lord knows that an agent such as Belleza would stand no chance against me in a fight.
"Why are you here?" he asked finally.
Belleza's smile reached her eyes again as she watched him consideringly. "It's simple enough, Ramirez. I'm here to discover what you have learned so far, and see how best to use the knowledge to benefit Valua." Her gaze suddenly focused on him with disconcerting focus. "I'm in overall command of this operation now, Ramirez, by order of Lord Admiral Galcian himself. Now... tell me what you've learned..."