Disclaimer: I do not own Last Exile.
The Man Called Freedom- The Lost Man
"Gran-mum says ye're lookin' for somethin'."
"Well, what is it?"
"The answer to a riddle."
"What do ye mean? Is tha' all?"
Alex shrugged. "Perhaps."
Days passed with Sophia and Tatiana stuck in their room. Someone would come by with food for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. They weren't starved. It seemed nothing was held back from them but their freedom. Sophia snorted at the irony.
"Do you think they'll get there before us?"
"Vincent is very determined. I'm sure he will be there before Freedom can get the Silvana in the air."
"What if he isn't?"
"I'm more worried about why he let us tell Vincent where we are going. He's practically orchestrating his own capture."
"Could he have known where the Silvana was all along?"
"Then what would be the point in this?"
"Maybe he's set up an ambush. The Irbanus is the only ship we have that rivals the Silvana. Maybe he wants to destroy it."
"He asked us to meet him at the Dragon's Fangs. And we waltzed right in. He could have attacked the Irbanus there if that was all he was after. No… He didn't know where the Silvana was." Sophia let out a loud sound of frustration. "If only we knew who he was or why that ship is so important to him!"
"Maybe he wants to sell it? The Silvana… There are people who would pay dearly to have it for themselves."
"No," Sophia said pensively. "No. It's all about the ship for him. If only I knew…" A look of determination took over her face. "My guess is we won't see him again until we get there. If I get nothing else out of this, I will see the face of the man who's kept me here."
The days passed and eventually Declen appeared at Charlene's door. He asked her how Alex was doing and Mama Char informed him that he was doing much better than expected. She also told him not to say anything about the tattoos.
Alex sat in the chair with his legs sprawled out before him and his back rigid. "Is it done?"
Declen nodded. "Yep. It's done. But just where do you plan to take it?"
Alex blinked. "I don't see how that's any of your concern."
Declen sighed. "You are one patient woman, Mama Char. You sure it's safe to send him into the sky?"
Charlene smiled. "Safe or not, I can't keep him locked up any longer. But yes, I think he'll do just fine."
Declen looked uncertain.
"Forgive the lad, Declen. He is more than a beet restless."
Sometime during their conversation, Alex had gotten to his feet. Today is the day. He sighed. He would miss these people. He looked down when he felt something brush his coat and found Seamus staring up at him with sadness marring his face.
"Will ye come back?"
Alex hesitated slightly before settling his hand on the boy's mop of reddish-brown hair. "I'll try."
"Ye'll be alrigh', won'tcha, Alex?"
"I don't know," he said quietly.
The boy smiled and hugged him around the waist. "Ye'll be alrigh'."
Claus felt heavy as he approached the solitary structure, the home to a single ship. The Silvana. He also felt surprise, for it looked just as it had the last time he'd seen it. There were no hidden ships waiting to attack, no signs that the place had been compromised. But he had to make sure…
"Lavie, we're going to need to land and make sure there's nothing fishy going on inside."
"Alright, Claus." Though Lavie had gained some courage since their time with Captain Alex Rowe, she was obviously having trouble with the idea of being on the Silvana again. She hadn't had the connection with the captain that Claus had. She didn't understand. But then, she'd never had that look in her eyes…
"Claus!" Lavie screamed. "What are you doing?"
The vanship had suddenly dropped and swerved. Claus blinked and took control again, leading the small ship into the hangar and landing swiftly. He sat there in silence for a moment. How many eyes have I seen like that? Like my father's, but with so much more desire, yet so… empty. The only man I've seen with eyes like that… Claus shook his head and jumped out of the vanship. "He's dead."
"What?" Lavie asked.
"Nothing. Let's hurry." He looked over at the Silvana, alone and silent. It looked dead, too. "It creeps me out seeing it like this."
The whole hangar was deserted, as well as the Silvana itself. Claus couldn't help but shudder as he walked down the silent halls, and so he made his trip quick. By the time they stood next to the vanship again, he was satisfied. The place was completely deserted.
"Let's take another quick trip around the outside and then we'll make contact."
"Are you sure?"
"Yes, sir. There's no one here."
"Alright, then. Contact me at the first sign of the Saoirse's arrival."
"Yes, sir." Claus sighed as the line went silent and he turned to Lavie. "Hungry?"
She nodded. "Mmhm."
"We should be there soon," Sophia said tensely.
"Are you worried?" Tatiana asked.
The younger woman didn't seem convinced, but she remained silent.
"I would try to talk you out of this, but there is really no turning back at this point."
Freedom looked up at Morwey from his seat on his small couch in his cabin. "I would have to agree with you on that point."
"That ship is really worth all this to you." It was almost a question, but more a statement of wonder.
"That ship made me."
Morwey's eyebrows drew together. "No, Captain. You made that ship."
Freedom shrugged. "Either way, I must get it back. The Silvana… is my freedom."
Morwey let out a sigh. "And what about the Empress? You've declared yourself her enemy even as she continues to mourn for you."
Freedom was silent.
"Two years… and she still flinches at your memory."
"You know what to do when we get there, Morwey?" He reached for the hidden compartment.
"You're still young. There is a possibility that you could fix this. Make a real life for yourself."
Freedom snorted. "There is little chance of that." He poured himself a drink and stared at it in the glass for a moment before gulping it down all at once. "Besides… This is my life. The sky, the Silvana… that's all I need. Freedom."
Morwey looked sad. "This is not freedom, son."
Freedom shot him a look. "Do you know what to do when we get there?"
Morwey pulled his hands behind his back, resigned. "Yes, Captain."
"Good. Make sure the men are prepared. We won't have much time to make the switch before Vincent shows up."
"And if he is already there?"
"If he is already there, I'll have the Empress long enough to get you on board the Silvana, and then I'll have a little surprise for them."
Vincent was not in position when he got the message from Claus telling him that a ship was approaching. But he was close. Even if they all got on the Silvana, they would never make it out of the dock. He would make sure of that.
Claus watched the ship glide toward them as his stomach twisted with nerves. He and Lavie had landed the vanship in a shadowed corner of the bay so it would not be immediately noticed. Now, he stood and pulled his friend up next to him.
"We should go hide behind the vanship. We don't want them to see us right away."
Lavie followed him, biting her lip. "What do we do when they notice us? It's not going to take long once they're here."
"I'll say I'm here for the Empress, to make sure he follows through with his side of the deal. We're going to have to rely on Commander Arthai for the rest."
"This is going to be a close call, sir."
Freedom's eyes stared ahead, seeing only his prize. Finally…
"Everyone prepare for the transfer. I want all of you out of this ship and on the Silvana by the time I get there. I'll be taking us down." There was a sudden burst of energy as everyone scrambled to the door, running to get to their rooms for their few belongings before it was time to make their final exit from this fine ship. Freedom spoke to Morwey without looking at him. "It is time. Prepare Sophia and Tatiana to disembark. This is their stop."
"It's also your last chance, captain."
Freedom gave no response.
"As you wish," Morwey said with a sigh. He didn't like what his Captain was doing, but he was loyal, and he cared for him, perhaps as a son, so he would follow him to the end.
Sophia blinked as the light changed from stepping out of the Saoirse. Freedom's man had come to escort them both off the ship, and she looked around as she saw the entire crew hurrying onto the Silvana. Then she spotted something else in the shadows on the other end of the docking station…
Sophia jumped and spun around to see Freedom walking up behind her. She grinned at him and prepared to put her plan into action when…
"Empress Sophia!" She twirled again to see Claus and Lavie running toward her from the vanship. "Hold tight, Ms. Sophia!" he called, stopping at a safe distance. Almost the entire crew was aboard the Silvana now.
Then she saw the Irbanus. So did Freedom. His strong arm slung around her neck and held her back to him as he made his way into clear view of the other ship. Sophia's hands instinctively went to his arm, but he wasn't holding her hard enough to hurt her. He held a device to her ear.
"Speak to them," he demanded. He could tell their guns were already trained on the Silvana.
"Commander?" she said, more nervous than she would like to admit. She didn't want Alex's ship destroyed… but she knew Vincent wouldn't hesitate.
"Empress." He sounded surprised, but not unhappy to hear from her. "This is going to be a very dangerous operation. You need to get away from him. There is a second vanship ready to pick you up now."
"You will divert your guns from my ship, Commander Arthai," Freedom said.
"I will do no such thing until Sophia is safe."
"If she is safe, you will fire."
"You should have thought of that before you made an enemy of the Empire."
As they spoke, Sophia had managed to squirm around so she was facing him. Freedom looked down at her. The mask shifted as his eyebrows rose, surprised to see such a determined look on her face.
"I will know you," she growled. She thought she saw the smallest smile as her hand flew up to the mask, but as she gripped the edge, all sense fled her. She ripped the mask away, and her mouth opened in a silent scream. Her eyes met empty ones, so, so very familiar. "Alex…" The name escaped in what was barely a whisper, and yet it seemed to echo all around her. Suddenly, he glanced to see that all of his men were aboard the Silvana, and he pushed her away. Tatiana caught her, but they both stumbled.
Vincent saw Freedom running toward his ship with one other man, and he also saw Sophia on her knees, not moving.
"Get to the vanship!" The shout came from the small, abandoned device as well as the throat of Claus, startling Sophia out of her shock enough to stumble to the communication device.
"Hold your fire!" she screamed into it, her voice wild, almost devoid of sanity.
"Sophia, you must get to the vanship. He'll escape!"
Alex had disappeared into the Silvana and she could hear it starting.
"HOLD YOUR FIRE!" Her voice was firmer now. "It's Alex! I won't kill him again! Hold your fire!"
Tatiana ran to Sophia and pulled her to the vanship that Claus and Lavie had come in as the Silvana began to rise. It was alive again, along with its Captain. Sophia's body heaved, and she was unsure of the truth of what had just happened.
"That's an order, Commander." She managed to muster enough clarity to sound like she was capable of giving out orders.
With a shout of anger, Vincent yelled, "Hold your fire!"
As the Silvana made its way into open sky again, there was near silence on the Irbanus. As it began to move, one of the crew said, "We're just going to let it go?"
"That was the Empress' order."
"But…" the man started.
"This will not be our last chance to take him down. He has declared himself an enemy of the Empire, and he will be destroyed. Just not today."
Something was bugging him, though. Sophia had said "It's Alex" when she had told him not to fire. He hadn't thought her so attached, so weak that she would let a criminal go free to save the ship of a dead man just because it held memories. She had to move on, or she would be deemed unfit to lead. She would have much to account for when he had her safely back on the Irbanus.
Sophia watched the Silvana retreat. It was only when she could no longer see it that she allowed Tatiana and Claus to help her to the vanship that was waiting for her.
Vincent was waiting for her alone when she entered the Irbanus. He looked very unhappy. "We can still go after them," he said.
"No." Her eyes were unfocused and her voice seemed far away.
"Sophia, what is wrong with you?" he snapped.
"It was Alex."
"What are you talking about," he hissed. "It's a ship, not a person!"
Tears leaked from Sophia's eyes. "Freedom. Alex Rowe is the man called Freedom."
Vincent's eyes widened, thinking she was delirious. But when he looked at Tatiana, she nodded. "It's true. Alex Rowe is alive."
The vanship was old, but when compared to its state when Alex had found it, it was shining like a gem. As he flew through the Dissith sky without a navigator, he knew this was going to be one of his most difficult trips. But at least he knew exactly where he was going; there was only one place for a man like Alex Rowe to find a ship...
He was finally sitting in the Captain's chair on his Silvana again. Everything was as it had been, barring the crew.
It was familiar. It felt like home.
But it didn't feel right…
...And the roses still bound him.
Author's Note: Thank you so much for reading this story! I know this is a bit of a cliffhanger, but don't worry- this is only part one. Part two is The Man Called Freedom: The Silvana, and the first chapter will be coming as soon as my studies allow! It will be a separate story on here, so if you have reviewed this story, I can send you a message letting you know when it is up. Thanks again; it really does mean a lot to me that you take the time out of your lives to read my work. –A.P.