Chapter 1: The Dream and the Promotion
The ship around him rattled violently, its timbers threatening to fall. The splinters of the old helm cut into his bare fingers as he struggled to steer the ship out of its list. But it was no good; the rudder had been destroyed, and with the supplies below throwing off the ship's balance by being on the starboard side, it took all of his strength against the wheel to keep the ship from nose-diving into whatever existed below the clouds.
"Line! Line, where are you!?" he shouted over the weather deck, using his eyes to scan for his friend.
But the only figure he saw was a feminine silhouette tumbling towards the starboard bulwark. She hit the bulwark and immediately grabbed the closest rigging line to stand.
"No, don't!" he shouted to her, catching her attention. Her head snapped in his direction, and a wild mane of blond partially obscured her face. For a moment, he was stunned. But he shook his head and called out, "Keep low! Try to get back below!"
An explosion sounded, cutting through the chaotic winds the ship faced, and he saw the bowsprit shatter to splinters in an instant and disappear somewhere into the turbulent darkness in front of the ship. Fortunately, he did not have to worry about losing the fore-mast yet.
"Line!" he shouted again.
The hatch behind him flew open, and a male figure clad in a blue tunic and black tights pulled himself onto the deck. Their eyes met, both exchanging a mutual fear of the situation. "What's happening?!" Line shouted first, leaping forward and grabbing two available handholds on the helm.
"No, go adjust the ballast!" the one struggling against the wheel told him. "We have to get out of the Sky Line!"
Line nodded, but he lost his footing when another explosion blew apart the fore-mast before both of their eyes. He slid into the bulwark behind the other young man, stopping himself with his feet. Flipping onto his belly, he pressed his palms against the deck and crawled back towards the helm. His fingers wrapped around the bottom of one of the set of levers near the helm, and he used it to pull himself up. Standing again, he then grabbed another by the handle and squeezed the mechanism so it would unlock. Then he threw it forward.
The ship lurched in response, and all three onboard felt themselves grow lighter as the ship descended. Line managed to wrap one arm on the railing in front of the levers.
"Is there any land nearby?!" Line shouted.
"I don't know," the other boy replied, grinding his teeth as he felt his arms weakening. "I need the chart from downstairs! But I don't think there was anything here!"
"What do we do now?"
"Can you get to the signal flags?" Line nodded. "Send up a surrender; we can't take much more of this!"
"Got it!" With that, Line hauled himself over the rail and landed on the weather deck.
Then he felt the jolt of something slamming into the listing side. Pressure lifted from the helm as the ship almost appeared to right itself. The helmsman glanced over towards the source of the sound.
His eyes grew wide at the sight of a jet-black hull scraping against his ship. Lines were already falling from the bulwark of the other vessel, which looked to be five times larger.
The boy heard Line come back onto the deck. There was a pause afterwards.
Then the boy's head hit the helm hard.
He fell to the side, his vision blurring from the strike. Rolling onto his back, he peered up at the vague image of his attacker. He could not make out any details, but he saw a glint of steel approaching his face fast.
The figure stood and walked away.
A book flew over the desk and into someone's chest as Link suddenly sat up straight in the wooden chair, startled into waking by the frustrated calling of his name.
He cast alert eyes around the room, reaffirming his location. He recognized walls of faded red clay, a floor of old wood weathered before being finished again and used for their current purpose, and a pale ceiling with skylights letting in beams of sunlight. His desk, stacked with papers stamped and ready for sorting, had a fresher build to it, only having been his for a few months. Dirt on the surface told him where he had been resting his boots before he woke.
And standing before him was a tall, burly man wearing the red jacket of an airship captain. His face sported a heavy beard, and his thick eyebrows formed a V-shape as he stared down at Link. His bald head shone in the sunlight of the window above. With his hands clasped behind his back, he spoke with an air of respected authority, "Nice to see my apprentice so hard at work."
"S-sorry, Captain Alfonzo," Link replied, using a hand to brush dirt of the edge of the desk. "I-I guess I fell asleep."
Captain Alfonzo held up the book that had struck him. "A completely understandable situation when you've been reading Niko's journals," he said, "but nevertheless, sleeping on the job is sleeping on the job. It's not something I can have a newly-promoted lieutenant do."
Link quickly nodded his head in agreement. "I-I know, sir, and I am…" He trailed off when the entirety of the captain's statement registered. For a moment, he stared at the captain's softening eyes, slack-jawed from shock. "S-sir?"
"You heard me," Alfonzo replied, finally showing the smile he had hidden under his beard. "The fleet captain approved your designation as the skipper of one of the smaller haulers. Now…" Here, he cleared his throat. Then he barked, "LIEUTENANT LINK, I WANNA SEE A SALUTE NOW!"
Link jumped to his feet so fast that the force of his legs against the chair knocked it backwards. He nearly gave himself a concussion slapping the blade of his left hand to his forehead. For a moment, he stood trembling with both excitement and fright, waiting until the captain dismissed the salute. Alfonzo's right hand was calm and steady as it touched his brow and fell back to his side. In response, Link's left hand slapped his thigh hard, forcing him to hold back the urge to yelp in pain.
"As you were, Lieutenant," Alfonzo told him.
But Link could not unfreeze himself from his straight position. "S-sir… I… I don't know…"
Alfonzo held up a hand. "Let me stop you there," he interrupted with a formal tone. "You know the rules for being promoted to a skipper rank. For now, you aren't officially a skipper."
Link gave a sharp nod, cracking his neck in the process. "Y-yes, sir."
"Get your gear together. We're sailing in one hour."
"Yes, sir," Link replied with a salute equally as violent as the first one.
"Dismissed," Alfonzo replied, returning the salute. He spun on one heel and strode for the door with footsteps that made the floor underneath Link's feet bounce.
On his way in, another person suddenly snapped to attention beside the doorframe as Alfonzo exited. He waited for a moment, and then he quickly bounded into the room and right up to Link's desk. Link immediately recognized Line, wearing the blue tunic of a full airman (the same tunic that Link wore) over a black, skin-tight bodysuit. The boy's red hair was disheveled, and his eyes lit like a pair of bonfires as he stared at Link. "Link, I just heard about the promotion," he said in an excited tone.
Link gave a relieved sigh. "He surprised me with it," he confessed. "I didn't even know I was up for promotion."
"Are you kidding?" Line responded, leaning on the desk between them. "You're Captain Alfonzo's understudy! What's the point in being that if they're not going to bother promoting you?"
Link's mouth pulled into a stupid grin. "I-I guess you're right," he admitted, scratching the back of his neck.
"Come on now," Line told him. "We need to get your stuff."
"Why all the rush?" Link asked as he rounded the desk.
Almost immediately when Link was in range, Line leaned forward and smacked the back of his head. "Why do you think, stupid? We're going to Castle Island!"
Link gave a nervous laugh, rubbing the spot Line had struck. "Oh," he answered. "Right, I forgot."
"Come on," Line told him, slapping his shoulder. They started walking as he continued, "You know every captain has to be recognized by the royal family before they begin commanding an airship for the realm."
Link, as they stepped into the hallway outside, flashed a surprised look. "You mean we really have to see the royal family before we pilot a ship?"
"Not everything the other airmen tell you is a fib, Link," Line responded. "Of course you have to meet the royal family. And with the king and queen off in Termina for the rest of the year, you know what that means, right?" Along with the change in his tone, Line's eyebrows twitched suggestively.
Link's neck recoiled. "Doesn't that mean I can't be recognized?"
Line smacked the back of his head again, this time eliciting a complaint from him. "Geez, how thick can you be, Link?
"It means you'll get to see the princess! The Princess of Hyrule has to recognize you!"
Link blinked in confusion for a moment. "Hyrule has a princess?"
Line growled at him. "If I hit you again, it won't be as friendly," he threatened him.
"I have a hard time believing that anytime you hit me is friendly," Link replied, rubbing the sore spot on the back of his head.
"We're going to Hyrule Castle, and you don't know a thing about the people who are going to let you command an airship?" Line asked incredulously.
"Well, it's not like I've had the time to get to know other ports," Link confessed as they rounded a corner. "Captain Alfonzo didn't let me leave the ship unless the whole crew was disembarking. And from there, I never got to see much beyond the port. I've had to keep records for the Grand Sails; I haven't had the time for anything else."
"Well, you'll have time for it now, Lieutenant," Line said. "Especially since you'll be commanding the Island Sonata."
"The Island Sonata?" Link asked. "I thought it was in dry-dock for repairs."
"It was," Line answered, grabbing the back of Link's tunic to keep him from missing the door to their quarters.
Both boys stepped inside. The room had a bunk bed set across from the door, and a pair of dressers on either side along with a small table and chair for each of them. The top bunk, which Line used, already had a bag ready and waiting. Link stepped over to his dresser and pulled an empty travel bag from the top.
Line leaned against the doorframe and watched Link begin to stuff the bag full of clothes. "The Island Sonata was already set out yesterday, full repairs and a new ballast system," he told Link, crossing his arms. "You're telling me that you didn't hear about that?"
Link shrugged. "It's not like anyone tells me anything anyway," he replied over his shoulder, stuffing a clean set of his usual white trousers in the bag. "Is it holding up? The Island Sonata?"
Line nodded. "About as much as can be expected," he answered. "I took a look at it before I came looking for you. They left up some of the older rigging lines, and the hull creaks a bit, but it's still in the air."
Link pulled open a lower drawer and found his compass. "Good," he answered as he placed it around his neck.
"'Good'?" Line asked in a mocking tone. "You're going to meet the Princess of Hyrule, and all you can say to it is 'good'? You should be more excited for this!"
"I just don't see what the big deal is," Link replied as he shuffled through the same drawer looking for anything else he might need. "It's not like there's much coming out of being recognized by the royal family. There are plenty of other airships out there who operate just fine without it."
"Yeah, but how many of them get to boast having the approval of and the sanction for working directly with the royal family?" Line pointed out.
"Anyone who lies."
Line gave a sigh and rubbed his forehead. "Yeah, well, it's the truth for the Skyrider Company. But still, Link. You could show a little more excitement. You know Captain Alfonzo's letting you take the Island Sonata in today's convoy, right?"
"Yeah, I know," Link answered, pushing the drawer shut with his foot. "Who's crewing?"
Line held his arms open. "You're talking to it."
Link's face formed a frown as he turned to look at Line. "You're kidding, right?" he asked. "Just two people for the Island Sonata?"
"It's not that big," Line pointed out. "As soon as the rigging's back up, all it needs is someone to fire up the propeller, and we're all set. You've got nothing to worry about."
"I'm going to worry no matter what," Link replied as he shouldered the bag. He followed Line with his eyes as the airman crossed to their bunk beds. "Are we hopping ports along the way?"
"Nope," Line replied as he shouldered his own travel bag. "The flight plan's already set.
"We're taking the Sky Lines there."