Skies of Arcadia: Heroes


Chapter One—"Angel's Awakening"

Shards of a voice echoed from her memory to her dreams, as if heard from a great distance.

Fina…you…replace…Rami…Moon Elder…are…hope…Don't allow…trust…the surface…

Thevoice faded away as Fina gradually became aware of her surroundings. She was lying on something soft, which was a surprise considering where she had last remembered being conscious. It was actually…soft and warm. Maybe I'm in the afterlife…no…I'm probably still in the clutches of some enemy…I should probably open my eyes and see where I am now. She slowly opened her eyes, fearful of what might be out there.

"Looks like she's starting to come to."

Two faces peered down at her, hardly a hand's breadth away from her own.

"Oh good!" The other one said in a voice barely below a yell. "How do you feel?"

"F-fine," Fina said reflexively. Actually, she felt like a sack of moonstones that had been carelessly lugged around all night and then tossed into a corner, and she thought she had a bruise on her head; but she didn't have the presence of mind to give them the full synopsis.

The two heads backed up to let Fina sit up , letting her see the bodies they were (thankfully) attached to. Fina's head spun a little bit as she sat up—uhg, definitely not fine.

The one the first voice belonged to spoke. "My name's Vyse," he said. His voice was kind, and his gaze didn't seem to betray any ill intent. He had a glass eye patch over his right eye, and a long scar ran horizontally under his left. His hair was dark brown and hung down around his ears in the front but was neatly trimmed in the back. A red bandanna contrasted with his blue uniform.

"And I'm Aika!" The one on the left said. The girl was dressed in a bright yellow one-piece uniform that flared off in a daringly short skirt that seemed to contradict her innocent face. Her bright red-orange hair was braided in two long pony tails on both sides of her head.

"You're on board our ship, the Albatross—" Vyse said.

"We rescued you!" Aika cut in.

"Yes," Vyse said, unfazed by the interruption. "The Valuans captured you, but we stopped them before they could take you away."

"Th-thank you," Fina said. Ship? Albatross? Valuans? She wondered to herself. Oh, the Valuans must be the people who ambushed me…

"It was my pleasure as a Blue Rogue! " Vyse said, tossing a carefree salute.

"Um…What's a Blue Rogue?"

Aika's eyes grew wide. "You've never heard of the Blue Rogues?"

"Um…No," Fina said, embarrassed and wishing she had kept her mouth shut. She might have just insulted them, and the last thing she needed was more enemies in this place.

"The Blue Rogues are a branch of air pirate, I guess you could say," Vyse explained, seemingly not hurt by the girl's reaction.

"I'm sorry, but what is an air pirate?" Fina asked, since they seemed to be happy enough to answer questions, although she couldn't restrain an embarrassed blush.

"You were out traveling and you didn't know about air pirates?" Vyse asked slightly incredulously.

"I…don't get out much…"

"Air pirates are people who attack other ships and steal their cargo," Vyse explained.

"Oh, my!" Fina gasped, reevaluating her two "rescuers."

"Don't worry!" Aika said, seeing her obvious consternation. "We're 'Blue Rogues.' We only attack armored ships, preferably Valuan ones."

"We steal from the rich," Vyse continued. "And we use the money to help keep the skies clear of bad guys like the Valuans and Black Pirates."

"Yup!" Aika chirped.

"But Black Pirates—they're another story," Vyse said. "They will attack unarmored ships unprovoked, and are constantly looking for a fight."

"They're bullies with no sense of honor," Aika said.

"The Blue Rogues fight to protect the innocent people in their airspace," Vyse smiled. "You're safe in our care."

"Um, thank you very much," Fina said. The two teenagers called themselves pirates, but they didn't seem to be dangerous.

"No problem!" The pirate girl said. "So, what's your name?"

"Fina," she said and then flinched, mentally berating herself as she recalled the Elder's warnings. Why did I give them my name? I can't allow myself to be tricked into a false sense of security by these people.

The girl's discomfort didn't escape Vyse's notice, but he chalked it up to her still being disoriented after the earlier ordeal. "Fina, huh? That's a nice name. It's so…feminine."

His attempt to cheer her up was a massive failure. Fina stared at him blankly, having completely missed what he said during her contemplations.

Vyse shook his head. "Yeesh…you try to complement someone, and nothing…"

"Ahahaha!" Aika laughed. "You call that a complement? Looks like you have a lot to learn about women!"

Aika's laugh was infectious, and Fina giggled too despite herself. Vyse sighed helplessly at the fun they were having at his expense, but he was happy to see that Fina was beginning to loosen up a bit, at least. To tell the truth, while he could communicate fine with the opposite gender, he had very little interest in the intricacies of close relationships. Relationships and eventually marriage, in his mind, were something for the far future when he was "old" (as in twenty-four or five). As long as there were new things to do and learn and discover, love was not high on his priority list.

"Vyse! Aika!" a slightly tinny voice reverberated through the room. Based on where the other two teenager's eyes went, Fina guessed it came from a metal tube in a corner on the wall. "How long are you going to stand there chitchatting? Report to the bridge immediately for your duties, over."

"We'd better go before Dad goes off the deep end," Vyse said, starting towards the door. "Come up on deck later and stretch your legs if you want!"

"Nice to meet you, Fina!" Aika said, waving as she closed the door behind her.

Fina mustered up a small smile and nodded. Fina stared at the closed door for a few moments, then flopped back into her pillow. She suddenly felt really tired.

o0o0o0o

Fina sighed and sat up again. She had tossed and turned for at least an hour, trying to catch up on the sleep she had missed during the last night's adventure, but met with little success. The stress from the ambush, as well as the uncertainty of her current situation, combined with all of the curious new sounds and disconcerting motions of this new vessel had her mind running anxiously. Unable to think of anything better to do, and not quite ready to venture out of the relative comfort of her bed, Fina peered around curiously at the small room. Unlike the Valuan ship that was primarily steel and muted grays, the walls, floor, and ceiling of this room were made of some kind of wood that filled the room with a nice smell, and creaked occasionally if the ship made a turn or someone walked down the hallway. Fina noticed the faint sound of wind whistling by beyond the wall behind her. Getting up on her knees, she turned and looked out the port hole above her bed. It was blue as far as the eye could see, dotted randomly with white puffs. Every now and then, they passed an island—they seemed to be passing through some kind of relatively small, floating mountain range of disconnected islands. One island they passed at the end of the range had a pile of stones on it that looked like it could have been put together by man many years ago, but Fina couldn't guess what it had been used for. It didn't seem like a building—it was much too small for that, probably only a couple feet taller than her. She thought she could make out some writing on the weather-worn stones, but it was too far away for her to make out. Fina watched it as the ship went by, then brushed it from her mind. Her curiosity about the rest of the ship had gotten the better of her- she turned and swung her legs out of bed.

Hesitantly, she tried to stand. Stiff, but no pain—that is something to be thankful for… She glanced at the door. Is it really okay to leave? "Sigh." Why am I being so hesitant? They invited me up to the deck when I was done resting. I am done. And they seemed friendly enough... She put a hand on the door to the hallway. What do I have to lose at this point anyway? I had thought my mission was over last night. Fina nodded, coming to a resolution, and turned the knob.

Fina poked her head into the hallway and looked around quickly. She could hear muffled voices from further down the hall, but everywhere in sight was still. Feeling a little more adventurous now that it was clear she wasn't faced with the prospect of communicating with anyone right away, Fina tried opening the door across the hallway from her own room. A tidal wave of delicious aromas was the first thing to greet her senses. The second was the dim glow from a yellow moonstone on the ceiling that provided light to the otherwise windowless room. It was also noticeably cooler, Fina noticed as she took a step into the room. Much cooler—fog rolled out of the room as the cold air in the room clashed with the warmer air in the rest of the ship. Fina realized it must have been some kind of primitive refrigerator, using Purple Moon Stones to cool the room. She peered into the nearest barrel. Sure enough, it was filled to the brim with apples! And in another was bananas, and there were vegetables in another, and salted pork in yet another. She stared in wonder at all the exotic food for a little while, and then tried to figure out how they insulated the room for a little longer. Eventually, she decided to move on, reluctantly setting down the apple she had picked up to look at more closely. She had always wanted to try solid food, but doubted even hospitable pirates would appreciate someone taking food from them without permission.

A few steps down the hall was another door. On it hung a triangular-shaped sign with a picture painted on it that Fina didn't recognize. The background was bright red, and in black was a round ball with what looked like a string coming out of the top. The tip of the string had an orange flame on it. The door was unlocked, however, so Fina stepped inside.

The room was a weapons storeroom. An amazing collection of guns—rifles, pistols, muskets, musketoons—lined one wall. On another wall hung lines of gleaming blades—mostly common short-swords, but there were also a few claymores, a rapier or two, and even a cutlass. The rest of the room was occupied with metal canisters of black powder and huge crates of cannon balls. Most of the cannon balls were plain black, but one crate was special. The cannon balls in it were made of some kind of heavy glass or crystal, inscribed with old Arcadian runes, and they each had a Yellow Moon Stone set at the center. From her studies, and the lectures her friend used to give her, she recognized these as special concussion rounds, used to disrupt any mechanical equipment in ships they came into contact with and temporarily paralyze nearby crew. They weren't designed to cause damage to, but rather incapacitate, ships, and her friend had told her that, due to the care that went into making each one, they had always been very expensive. Fina figured that this was probably what she had been hit by when she was ambushed last night. If so, her ship had probably already sunk far underneath the clouds.

"Oh! If it isn't the guest we picked up during the raid. I see you found our weapons storeroom."

Fina jolted at the sound of the new voice and whirled around. "I'm so sorry, I didn't mean to intrude, I'll—"

"It's okay it's okay," the boy at the door said. He looked only a couple of years than Fina was herself, so probably around twenty or so. He wore a red shirt with the sleeves cut off at the shoulders, exposing sun-tanned arms that were crisscrossed with scars already. He was armed to the teeth too, with at least two daggers that Fina could see strapped to his legs, a cutlass on his hip, and a musketoon strapped to his back. "Between you and me, I was supposed to be guarding this room, so if you keep it between us that I left my post, I'll pretend I didn't see you."

"Oh, thank you so much," Fina said, still eyeing the numerous sharp weapons he was casually wearing.

"Oh, my name's Luke, by the way. Luke 'The Raider'," he added noticing her wary eye. "I'm usually in the first wave of a boarding party. With my melee skills and my musketoon, it's my job to thin the other side's defenses as much as I can so the main party can board more easily—that's why I'm so heavily armed."

"Oh I see!" Fina nodded. "That must be a very dangerous job, for you to be so badly scarred so young."

"It is, I suppose," Luke said thoughtfully, as if for the first time. "But it's a rush, too—being out there alone in the enemy's territory. Spells or even bullets flying around you. Almost so much of a rush that I don't realize I'm injured until after the fight's over…" Luke laughed self-consciously. "But anyway, while you're here, I might as well ask—did you notice anything different about this room?"

"H-huh? Um…" Fina wondered, looking around. Other than the high quantity of explosives and dangerous weapons…? "Oh, the walls and floor are all steel, or some kind of…"

"Yup, that's absolutely right!" Luke affirmed. "This room isn't just our weapons room, it's also where we stow the weapons and ammo and other dangerous things we pick up after raids. It's reinforced on all of the walls, floor and ceiling with solid steel, so if we were ambushed on the way back, between the outer wood frame and the inner steel reinforcement, the contents of the room can't be easily damaged or blown up. It's a common problem for all air pirates, so Captain Dyne designed the room himself. Oh, don't tell people I told you about that either please," he added as a side-note.

"That's okay, it is quite fascinating, actually," Fina said. "Your technology here is very intriguing-if I have time, I would be very interested to learn more."

"Sure—I'm not the best one to explain most thing, unless it's directly related to weapons, but the others would be happy to tell you all about what I can't. At least, what isn't a secret," he added with a slight embarrassed blush. "Vyse—you met him just a little bit ago, right?-knows these airships inside and out, so you should ask him if you have any more questions."

"Thank you, I may just do that," Fina said. "Um, for now though, could you tell me which way the deck is?"

"Oh, I'd be happy to show you—"

"Um, I could not take you from your duty…"

"Oh! I almost forgot again," Luke sighed disappointedly. "The door out to the deck is just down the hall. The big double doors—can't miss 'em."

"Thank you, again, Mr. Luke. It was nice talking to you," Fina said politely, bowing slightly, and then headed off on her way.

"Heh, Mister Luke, huh?" Luke chuckled quietly, leaning back against the wall as he watched her leave.

o0o0o0o

The view out on the decks was enough to take anyone's breath away, but it left Fina particularly awestruck for some reason. For a little while, she just gaped at the blue canopy above and all around the ship. Brisk wind danced across her skin and tickled her hair. White tufts of…something hung in the air all around them, sometimes even getting obliterated as the ship stormed through them. When she had been flying the other night, it had been so dark she had hardly noticed a difference from her own home.

"So…this is the sky…huh," she said quietly. Looking down from above really didn't do its grandness justice.

The Silver Moon hung in the same place as always, a welcome sight among all of the strange new scenery. That, at least, was a small comfort for the girl.

Fina noticed the ship was rapidly getting closer to a small island in the distance. That must have been the destination those two pirates had mentioned—Pirate Isle, they'd said. Not exactly a welcoming name, Fina mused. She had heard countless horror stories about the violent nature of "Arcadians," as they apparently called themselves, and wondered anxiously what kind of city such a culture would produce. The airship drew closer to the island, and then went straight by, in order to make a wide circle. What she saw wasn't exactly what she expected—it was children playing. They were in a big group in a central clearing of the small island, chasing a dog and squealing loudly enough to be heard up in the ship. Not far away, women bustled around, hanging out laundry to dry in the midday sunlight, or just chatting together in pairs. The kids were the first to spot the airship, whooping and screaming in glee, trying to get the deckhands' attention. A few who had their hands free waved back, and the rest who were working the rigging settled for whooping back even louder. Fina smiled a bit at the sight, and even raised a hand to wave, but quickly used it to brush a few stray strands of hair out of her face instead. It may not have been what she was expecting, but she wouldn't let herself get carried away so easily.

"Hey, you're up," Vyse said, coming around to lean against the rail beside Fina. "That's our base, Pirate Isle. It's pretty, huh?"

Fina nodded, she couldn't deny it looked like a very peaceful little village. Much smaller and less…depraved than she had expected, certainly.

"We call it Windmill Isle around outsiders, actually, but you're in deep enough it probably doesn't matter," Vyse laughed.

"It…looks like a really nice place," Fina said genuinely. "Um…but where does the ship…?"

"Heh, just watch and see," Vyse said with a playful wink.

The ship turned wide and pointed its bow directly at the side of the island. Before Fina could voice any of her mounting concerns, Vyse pointed at the rock face of the island and shouted, "Look!" Three straight, hairline cracks appeared in the wall, and a drawbridge lowered to reveal a huge hole. The Albatross drastically cut its speed and slowly glided into the cavern, with some guidance from a sailor that had appeared on the drawbridge door. It wasn't until they were safely in the cool darkness of the cave that Fina realized she had been holding her breath.

"Come on—let's get off and Aika and I'll give you the grand tour," Vyse said.

o0o0o0o

"Weapons, armor, gold…Now this is a great catch! One of our best yet!" A pirate said, one of a group that had congregated on the platform beside the ship that was picking over the loot from the raid.

"Tonight, we should celebrate!" A female pirate said, holding a bottle up high. The rest of the group loudly expressed its approval, rushing off, eager to start the festivities.

"Well, Fina, this is what we do!" Aika proclaimed cheerfully. "What do you think?"

Having never ridden on a ship before last night, Fina never had to adjust to getting her "land legs" (as Vyse had called them while they were walking out) back. Her slight nausea, combined with all of the overwhelming sights and sounds that made up the dark cavern that was the Pirate Isle base, made it hard for Fina to concentrate on the conversation. "Well, it certainly looks challenging…" she vaguely replied.

"Ahahaha—challenging, huh…" Aika echoed. "Well, now that you mention it, it isn't easy. But it's fun!"

"This is the underground port inside Pirate Isle," Vyse said, gesturing around himself. "From the outside, this island looks like a quiet, peaceful village. But here, underneath it, is where our headquarters is located."

Now that the dizziness had receded a little, Fina cast her gaze around the cavern. The cavern-port was truly huge, bigger than Fina would have thought possible for the small island. In fact, the extremely heavy-looking wooden cross beams and steel joints on the walls made Fina wonder if the island was really more mad-made fabrication than natural. Behind her, the moored Albatross took up almost half of the underground space. In front, the wall was divided into three staggered floors that each had various rooms hollowed into its rock face. The whole room seemed to have a strange, otherworldly feel, of earthy smells mixed with sulfuric gunpowder, combined with the muted sounds due to the earthen walls and flickering torchlight.

"There are armories, shops, and even a tavern inside here," Aika added, although Fina failed to comprehend the meaning behind more of the words she said. "Come on, we'll give you a tour!"

"Vyse!" Just as Aika was about to march off, a stern voice stopped her and the others in their tracks. It was Captain Dyne, looking down on them from the highest floor. "Come to my office immediately…and bring the girl with you."

"Vyse…I wonder what that was all about," Aika said worriedly. "He sounded even gruffer than usual…"

"Ooh! Sounds like you—got—in-trouble Vyse!" Matt the deckhand crowed from where he was scrubbing the boardwalk nearby. "That's what you get for jumping out in front of everyone else~"

"I don't want to hear anything coming from the guy who slept through the whole raid," Vyse retorted dryly.

"Uhg," Matt grunted at the painful truth. "Hey—I'm just not a night person…or a morning person! Besides, Dyne himself said I wasn't ready for combat yet!"

Vyse rolled his eyes dismissively and turned back to the two girls. "…I'm not sure, but we'd better hurry, I suppose. You know how Dad gets when we're late."

"Yeah…" Aika said with a slightly grim smile, a shadow of some painful memory passing over her face for a second. "Engine room duty…"

"Grounded for a week," Vyse shivered violently. "No sailing for a week…"

Aika bounced back out of her gloom abruptly. "Come on, Fina! It'll be okay if we give you the abbreviated tour as we go!"

"Yeah, most of the good stuff's on our way anyway," Vyse seconded.

"Ah—o-okay," Fina stuttered, allowing herself to be half pulled along by Aika. The people in the base were positively armed to the teeth—everyone her age and older seemed to wear some kind of sword or (rarely) a rudimentary gunpowder rifle. Weapons were stacked in rows by the walls and under tents too, the most notable being a huge canon emblazoned with the Blue Rogues' emblem. The atmosphere was fairly laid-back though; everyone they passed greeted them warmly.

"Okay, first is our little tavern," Vyse said, leading the girls through a door on the second floor. It was just a tiny cave dug out in the wall, but it was packed to the brim with barrels, crates, and other boxes. A table, already crowded with drinkers, took up what little floor space was left.

"Cheers!" The men and women exclaimed, clinking their frothing mugs together. One of the women took a long swig from her bottle and then thumped it down on the table with a satisfied gasp. "-Pah! Nothing like a good bottle of Loqua after a successful raid!"

"AYE!" The group agreed.

"Or in your case, after a raid, and after any other time of the day!" A burly man guffawed, drawing the others into it.

The lady pirate laughed good-naturedly along with the rest of the group, then asked coyly. "But, Timnus, should you be with the rest of us bums when you've got a beautiful, hard-working wife waiting for you at home on the surface?"

"Yeah! Yeah! You ungrateful dog!" A few people in the crowd added.

"Hey! There's nothing wrong with relaxing with friends after a long day's work!"

This seemed to win the crowd's favor again, and they sloshed their mugs together for another toast. "Yeah! To a hard day's work!" Dropping the matter, they turned to the more important subject of imbibing more Loqua and shout amongst themselves.

"My, oh my… They're as noisy as always," Aika laughed. "Whaddaya think, Fina? This is our tavern. They serve all kinds of drinks here, juices, sparkling water, Loqua…"

Fina raised her hand. "Um…excuse me, but what is 'Loqua?'"

"WHAAAT?" Vyse exclaimed. "Fina…you really don't know what Loqua is?"

"Well, um…I don't know exactly," Fina said, blushing. "But…it appears to be a really good-tasting drink of some kind…Everyone seems to be drinking so fervently, it must be delicious."

"Want to share a bottle of Mur Loqua with me?" The female pirate offered Fina, winking in a way that struck the girl as odd. "It's made from Loquat Berries and Moon Stones. Packs a punch and tastes great!"

"Nononononono!" Aika said firmly before Fina could accept, directing her back around towards the door. "We don't have time to sit around right now! We have to go talk to the Cap'n!"

"Why?" Fina asked as she was ushered out the door by the other two teens. "Are we not supposed to be here?"

"Well, the Cap'n is always getting on our case about being late and stuff… No need to get him even angrier with us…" And Mable is not the safest person to get drunk for the first time around… Aika muttered under her breath, shivering.

Yeah, I made that mistake too, and when I woke up, she and Timnus had smeared makeup all over my face and someone had pulled a frilly dress over my sailing uniform… Vyse added.

Where does she even GET that stuff? She never wears those things… Aika added.

I dunno… "HAHAHA, but yeah, Dad can get pretty worked up when he's mad," Vyse said more loudly to Fina, who was wondering if she should tell them that she had heard every word they said. "We wouldn't want him to have a heart attack, now would we?"

"Haha, you're so mean to your Dad, you know that Vyse?" Aika said, tapping him playfully on the shoulder. "Come on, let's pick up the pace. Sorry, Fina, we'll show you the other stuff later, okay?"

"Oh that's fine," Fina said.

As they walked, a voice called out to them from a stall built into the wall. "Hey Vyse! Aika! Check out my wares! I got lots of new weapons in stock from the raid!" It was a small man with a shiny, bald head, who wore dark glasses despite the poorly lighted cave.

"No way!" Vyse said, as he went by. "Your prices are robbery! At least give a teammate a discount!"

"Heheheh, no honor among thieves, right? Not a chance!"

"H-hey, Vyse! Welcome back!" A girl called out from the next stall over. "You should come by and tell me about your adventure later! I'd l-love to hear it!"

"Sure! Later!" Vyse called as they went.

"Ahahah… Erinn's still crushin' on you I see…" Aika giggled after they had reached the third floor.

"Huuh? Whaddaya mean still?" Vyse asked incredulously. "You mean she has for a while?"

"Haha you're so dense, about these things, Vyse…" Aika laughed, shaking her head.

"I'm dense? Says the girl who—"

Fina listened to their good natured banter as they closed the distance to Dyne's office. The girl had never seen or heard anything like it in all her life. When she was with her only friend, most of their "conversations" had been her listening and nodding vaguely now and then while he ranted passionately about the "surface" and the "future," and showed her his dusty old maps he had found in some forgotten storage room. The friendship these two had seemed different though—both spoke to each other in equal proportion, and while their jokes were rough, they never seemed to hold any grudges. This was a new concept to Fina.

"Vyse and Aika reporting for duty," Vyse said as they stepped into Dyne's office. "And we've brought Fina like you've requested." Briggs the Vice Captain and Borris the Head Gunner stood at either side of Dyne, who sat at the head of a long conference table, adding to the formal air in the room. The expression on Dyne's face made it clear that this was a serious occasion.

"Hmph, you're a little late…" Dyne paused. "I'll let it slide this time, though. Come on over."

The three teens lined up just next to where he sat. Vyse and Aika had fairly serious expressions now, Fina noticed. She supposed they were as in the dark about what would happen next as she was.

"Young lady, I am Dyne, as you probably already know," he glanced at Vyse and Aika on either side of her, "I am the captain of The Albatross and the leader of this whole group that we call the 'Blue Rogues'. There are some questions that I would ask you—will you answer them for me?"

"O-of course…"

"I've been sailing for a very long time, and I've been to a great many places, but I've never come across anyone wearing clothes like yours. What country are you from, and why were you traveling alone out there at night?" His steely expression made it hard to tell whether he was angry or concerned.

Vyse shot a concerned glance at Fina, but kept his opinions to himself. Above all, he trusted his Dad's judgment and knew he wouldn't make a rash decision about Fina. He just hoped that Fina herself was as good a person as she seemed.

"Cap'n Dyne, you worry too much," Aika laughed awkwardly. "Fina's just a normal girl—if you spent any amount of time with her you'd know she was a good person—"

"Silence, Aika," Dyne slammed a fist down on the desk and glared at her fiercely. "Being a 'good person', looking innocent…doesn't mean she isn't a threat to your safety." He leaned back and looked steadily at Fina. "I am the Captain here—it is my duty to protect the security of my family and my crew." These words were meant more for her than they were for Aika now, Fina knew. "If this girl is a danger of any sort to you of any of my men, I cannot let her live." Fear gripped Fina, although it honestly didn't compare to the fear of leaving home for the first time. Surprisingly to her, though, she actually couldn't hold it against him—he was obviously only doing what he thought he had to to keep his loved ones safe.

"B-but…But…" Aika stammered, and looked pleadingly at Vyse for support, but he was stoically looking at the ground.

"Fina…" Dyne said, addressing her by name for the first time. "It is your turn to speak."

Fina was silent for a moment, her gaze drifting to the floor beside Dyne's chair. She knew it wouldn't be taken well, but she, too, had to do what she thought was right.

"Finaa…" Aika murmured, trying to find something to say. Vyse just watched Fina and Dyne carefully.

"…I…I cannot say."

"Why is that? Is it because we are airpirates? Is it that you don't trust us?" Dyne probed quietly.

"No—that has nothing to do with it," Fina said, her confidence building as she heard herself speak. "I thank you with all my heart for saving my life. You have shown me nothing but kindness even though I have been nothing but a burden on you. I honestly never expected such kindness from anyone... But I cannot tell any living soul about the purpose of my quest. Even if it means sacrificing my own life, I must hold my tongue. All I can say is that I have no intention of endangering any of your lives. If you believe anything I say, please believe this."

Dyne was silent for a long moment; but then a smile broke his grim face. "Alright then. Heh… Looks like I lost this one."

A smile finally cracked on Vyse's face and Aika flat-out cheered and pumped her fist.

"I understand your dilemma, I've been in tight situations at the mercy of others like this before too" he added, and it seemed to her like her really did. "And I see in your eyes that you're true to your word. While that still doesn't necessarily mean that you aren't a threat, I see that you're honest enough that it's not worth pressing any further. You're free to go on the next merchant ship that passes through if you wish—we were not able to retrieve your ship—or you can stay with us as our personal guest for a while."

Fina couldn't hide the shock that was clearly painted across her face.

"Although they call us airpirates, and even we've started as well, we have a strong sense of honor. You don't need to divulge the secrets of your quest. Understand that you now have my trust—be careful you don't lose it." Dyne's last words were almost drowned out to Fina by the joyful cheers of the two teens beside her.

"Yaaay!" Aika yelled in relief, glomping Fina in a big hug. Vyse smiled in relief and patted Fina on the shoulder, casting a grateful look at Dyne.

"C-Captain Dyne…" Fina said recovering from the shock to do a half-bow through Aika's hug. "Thank you so much. I will not disappoint you."

"Vyse, Aika," Dyne said to the two teens. "Take the girl—Fina—topside and give her a tour of the village."

"Oh yeah! That's more like it!" Aika yelled.

"Way to go Dad, I knew you'd come through," Vyse added as they walked for the door.

Dyne's eyebrow twitched in irritation. "It's not 'Dad,' it's 'Captain'… How many times do I have to—bah, I give up for today. You're excused. Don't be late for dinner." At that he returned to the book in his hands.

o0o0o0o

"That was a kind thing you did there," Briggs said when the kids had cleared out and the three adults were sitting idly at the table. "But are you sure it was…" He let it hang at that.

"I have my doubts too, but I know at least two kids who would hate me forever if I laid one finger on that girl's head," Dyne chuckled. "And I know my people here in Windmill Isle. They wouldn't be too happy if I kept an innocent girl here against her will either. They all take freedom very seriously."

"I guess that's true, sir," Briggs replied. "But just letting her go without knowing—"

"Peh. Stop your worryin', Briggs, you old codger," Borris "humph"-ed. "We ain't law enforcers, and it ain't our job to interrogate people. She has a right to freedom, and dat's dat. We can take care of ourselves."

Briggs glared at Borris and was about to retort, but Dyne overided him. "Your worry is noted, Briggs. It's good you're always sharp on these things. But there's nothing more we can do right now. And Borris, leave him be, he's only being careful."

"Aye," the latter said, dropping it easily.

"Yes, sir," Briggs said, leaning back in his chair again.

"How many years do I have to keep telling you, Briggs, not to call me 'sir'?" Dyne laughed. "Borris caught on quickly—maybe too quickly," he glared good-naturedly at the Head Gunner. "We're not in the navy anymore. I consider us equals—the titles are just formalities."

"Of course, sorry. Old habits die hard, I suppose," Briggs chuckled.

"Do you regret leaving?"

"Absolutely not."


A/N: Ahhh no flashback coming next installment, although I may do a short/medium followup story later... This wasn't in the first draft, but I'd been nursing a backstory idea for Dyne for a loong time, and I figured this would be a great time to plug it.:P

As for background notes, if I do them this time, it'll be in part 2 of this chapter.

If there are any grammatical errors, or practical errors in my world design, or you just *possibly* like where things are going, please review. Constructive crits are also welcome, although I may or may not take them into account.:P