AN8 Holy crap. Thanks a big bunch to my editor Arrow for this one. Really helped me out, and he deserves so much credit for the content here. So give him a lot of e-hugs. 8B

Mermen were annoying. Smelled pretty nice when they were cooking though. Yuri and Karol busied themselves with disposing of the dead fish persons, Estelle and Judith shouting out words of support and being generally obnoxious all the while, and I returned to the cabin. Just another thing to write in my Journal. I was laying down in bed, scribbling on my latest page when I was interrupted yet again, the boat rocking hard and the sound of the water around me becoming audible through the wooden sides of the ship. I felt a certain, eerie weightlessness, and then I slammed flat on my behind into the floor of the cabin. The ship creaked and quaked, protesting loudly until it gradually came to a complete standstill.

Ready to roast a few more mermen I leapt up and charged the staircase to the deck, only to be met by empty stares. The ship was not moving, and the sails were still, hanging empty from the masts.

"Wh…what happened?"

"We don't know." Kaufman answered simply. "Tokunaga is at the engine making his observations now.

"I was. I'm done now…and so are we." He frowned, tossing his headwear at the deck in exasperation. "The blastia's busted. We're not going anywhere."

'What??'

"Lemme see it, get out of my way." I demanded, probably a little brusquely in retrospect, pushing my way over to the blastia through Tokunaga's frustrated scowl. I started to work at opening the blastia, my hands flying back and forth over its control panel frantically, but there was nothing for it. The blastia had ceased to function completely.

"Well, it's not dead. It's just disabled- not that I know how."

It was only now that I noticed what it was the others had been staring at when I arrived. I had been so taken with the disabled blastia that I'd missed the massive, decaying brigantine moored alongside us. Is that what we hit?

A creaking sound filled the air, and for a moment I thought that the hull had sprung a leak. I think that some of my hair fell out. Then the source of the noise revealed itself theatrically, and the gangplank of the brigantine slammed down onto the deck of the Fierta, rocking us violently and sending plumes of dust spiraling into the air. I myself jumped what felt like ten feet into the air, hair standing on end and screeching at the top of my lungs. It was not one of my prouder moments.

Collecting my senses again, I ran over to Tokunaga, who was poking rather uselessly at the blastia core. "Come on, get that thing running again!" I demanded, shaking him by the shoulders.

"I don't know what's wrong." He responded helplessly, throwing up his hands. I pushed him out of the way, sighing irritably. I dragged the core's menu into view once more, searching for some sign of a change. And there was one. Now it fizzed in and out. This wasn't good at all.

I looked over at the others; Karol must have run off to hide, but Estelle, Yuri and Raven stared at the ship, discussing it amongst themselves.

'Now where is Judith… ?' My gaze moved to the other side of the ship, colliding with Judith's cheerful face. 'Ugh.' I glanced back at the ship, scanning the sides of it. 'Atherum?'

"How long do you think it will take to get the blastia running again?" Yuri asked me, walking over..

"I'm not sure. Hours, maybe." I shrugged.

"Hey, would you get mad if we went to take a look?" Yuri was speaking to Kaufman now.

"What? What if the blastia starts working again?" Kaufman frowned

'Wuh…go on the ship? No. Come on. Don't be stupid. Why in the world would you wanna go on there' I thought to myself confused and anxious, my face draining.

"Just send up a flare or something if it starts working. We'll be back." Yuri insisted.

"Well…"

'Say no. SAY NO.' I ordered Kaufman silently.

"…I guess it wouldn't hurt. We could be here a while. But don't all of you go. Leave someone to keep watch."

'DAMN. IT.'

It had been decided that Yuri and Repede would go, taking along two other people. My admittedly selfish prayers were answered when Yuri called on the cowering Karol and the old man instead of me. Raven was more than happy to go, going on about how he'd "look good in front of the ladies" or some crap like that.

"Well, aren't they nice?" Judith giggled to herself.

She seemed so calm! What was WITH her? Even Estelle was a bit jumpy.

"Karol's so adorable when he gets scared like that." She went on to comment.

Actually, it was pretty funny. Karol was the first to board the ship, and he shrieked like a little girl when the boards started to creak. He tried to run off the ship, but Raven grabbed his arms and dragged him back. I did feel kind of sorry for him, I'll admit...

"Wow, they're all so brave." Estelle stared off at the ship in wonder. The boys had just disappeared behind a doorway.

Judith started to comment as well, and soon enough the two of them then started to gush about "Who was cuter" and "Who would win in a fight?"

I busied myself with fixing the blastia rather than joining them, hoping they wouldn't notice me off to the side.

Judith did however and she approached me, looking over my shoulder and smiling down at me. "Hey Rita."

'Go awaaaay.' I chanted in my mind, as if performing some voodoo ritual. 'Go awaaaaaaaaay.'

"Rita?"

"What, Judith?" I replied flatly, pretending to be busy.

She shook my shoulder gently, Estelle giggling in the background. "Why not come talk with us? We've barely been able to get to know each other!" Her smile grew.

'Uh, no.' was what I wanted to say. "I have work to do." Is what came out of my mouth.

"Come on! You have plenty of time! You're always acting like you don't know how to have fun."

"I know how to have fun. I'm having fun right now!" I responded with a fake smile, wanting to slap her.

"It doesn't look like it…"

"Just leave me a-"

Before I could finish, the mast of the brigantine cut loose a thunderous crack. Before I could react, the mast fell over, crushing the cabin of the ship underneath it. Kaufman ran out of the cabin of the Fiertia just in time to watch the dust clear.

Estelle was already sprinting up the gangplank. "Oh, no! They're still in there!" She shouted as she ran to no one in particular.

'Ooooh no.'

I couldn't hide my emotions. For all of the things the guys did to get on my nerves, they were my friends, and now that I thought they may have been crushed I was scared. I raced onto the ship after her, waving to Tokunaga to continue looking at the engine. And, not surprisingly, Judith –walked- onto the ship with her face still locked in that same flighty expression.

"Alright, let's go!" She instructed. Wasn't she scared?

I forced myself to stop trembling. This was the last thing I wanted to do while we were here, and now that I actually was I could feel the ship mocking me. It was that same feeling I had on the Fiertia. … We weren't alone on this ship, and it wasn't the boys presence I was feeling. But, that couldn't be, right? It was just a feeling. I was letting my mind screw with me.

"Rita, come on!" Estelle called back to me.

She and Judith were investigating the damaged cabin, looking for a way in. The door that the boys had gone through wasn't damaged, according to Estelle, but it was locked from the inside. They couldn't possibly be stupid enough to lock us out. More bad vibes…

I began my own investigation while the two of them searched the cabin. Only the top of the cabin had been smashed, but the mast had fallen down completely and created a block over one side. The fracture in the middle wasn't complete, so one part was still connected to the other. Luckily, only the part above the lookout had broken.

I smirked to myself. That was our way in.

"Estelle, Judith, I think I found the entrance."

They turned around. "Where?"

I pointed above me at the mast. A long ladder led up to the crow's nest, the fallen mast leading back down to the cabin.

Judith was the first to reach the ladder. She inspected the weight of the first few rungs (Though considering how unbelievably thin she was, I couldn't imagine her breaking them) and jumped back off. "It's safe!"

Estelle looked up at the mast, then back at me. "Are you sure that will get us in?"

"It's the only chance we have."

We began our climb up the ladder. I was second to climb, Estelle having gone first and Judith going last. I figured looking down would make me lose my nerve, so I resolved not to. The mast was a lot taller than we'd thought, and it took us a good two minutes to reach the lookout. Now the real challenge came: Getting down the broken pole to the cabin. The mast was smooth and fell at a steep angle.

"…So, who wants to go first?"

Judith didn't even reply to me. She took off in a run down the mast, never losing her balance. Estelle and I lacked her coordination and simply slid down.

When we reached the cabin, we discovered to out dismay that a majority of the doors were locked, and it took us a great deal more walking to find that one magic door. I swallowed my fear, forcing myself to enter the dark interior of the brigantine.

The outside of the ship had nothing on the eerie darkness on the inside. That pull we felt on the Fiertia had become a head-pounding pressure that was pouring in from all sides. What little light there was filtered into the rooms through small cracks in the wooded ceiling, leaping off the many mirrors and creating the illusion of movement as the ship gently rocked. To be honest, my fear was starting to get the best of me, and I jumped at every sight of moving light.

The mirrors did nothing to calm my nerves. Every moving cloth reflected into my peripheral vision, giving me the ever-looming feeling that something was watching us… stalking us… I felt that, at any moment, something was going to pop out of them and attack-

'Oh, my god, what's that!' my mind screamed. I stared in blank-faced horror at the mirror beside me, watching as a menacing looking sheet of blackened cloth floating behind me. I slowly turned my head, but all I saw was darkness.

"Rita, are you okay?" Estelle's worried tone brought me back to reality, and I slowly remembered I wasn't in here alone.

"Y-yeah. I just thought I saw something move, that's all.."

I looked back into the mirror. Whatever it was, it had disappeared from the reflection, but that stalker feeling only grew stronger.

Judith had walked further ahead, and we continued our trek deeper into the ship.

I could have sworn I'd heard a voice just then. "Estelle? Judith?"

They replied to me in near unison. "Yes?"

"... did you hear that?"

"No?" Estelle shook her head at me, but Judith looked around, as if trying to detect sound.

"Nope!"

'Damn.'

At that time, I felt something grab at my shoulders and squeeze. I instinctively let out a loud yell, running off in the opposite direction until I was beside Judith.

"Are you okay?"

"Something touched me!"

Then Estelle shrieked and moved back with us. "I felt it, too!"

"Oh, my." Judith said, her head cocking to the side. She walked in front of us, now wielding her spear. She took a swing at the air and the tip collided with an entity that fizzed in and out of sight. "Look what I found!"

The monster solidified completely and tried to attack Judith. She dodged off to the side and stabbed at it with the spear. The monster let out a shriek and collapsed to the ground in a pile of dust.

"I'm pretty sure half of the boys are dead by now." I said quietly. "There's no way Karol wouldn't be scared to death."