Far Above the Skies

Chapter 1

Around the vicinity of Mount Kazai, a huge battleship could be seen. The ship's name was the Delphinus. On its bridge were the legendary Blue Rogues Vyse, Aika and Fina. They were on a southbound course towards the city Yafutoma. But they were not out on a joyride. It was time to finally assemble their new crew.

Considering the location of Crescent Isle; Nasrad would be the logical first stop in their journey. However, their new acquaintance had made it clear that it was currently dangerous for Blue Rogues to even show their faces in Nasr's capital. So they had settled for the second best: Yafutoma. The two sisters might wanted to join them again. The Delphinus may have managed to stand against such threats as the Hydra and Zelos, but not without a full effective crew.

"Finally we've arrived", Vyse said, confirming what could be seen right in front of the wiewport.

"Yeah, definitely finally," Aika agreed. "Just hope they're still there. Or at least Kirala. I so wanna have a hot spring."

"Yes, we all know about that." Vyse shook his head. "I still don't know how you managed to talk us into this."

"You just accepted advice from a higher intellect, that's all. By the way: shouldn't we give our crew a nice, hot welcome?"

"Not saying we shouldn't, but we did went through a whole lot of trouble to get that treasure. We could do something else with it."

"But what good" Fina began "is money unless we spend it?"

"See?" Aika said, grinning widely. "Fina says it, and then it must be true. Now we're two against one!"

"Fina doesn't know what money is."

"Of course I do!" Fina said quickly.

The Silvite had intended to sound a little bit angrier but she still couldn't help smiling, as if to an old fond memory. Now afterward, she understood how absurd it must have seemed to not be aware of what money was. Plus a whole lot of other ordinary things.

"Hey, don't be a meanie now, Vyse!" Aika said. "Else, Fina will get to learn what 'mutiny' means!"

"You don't scare me," Vyse said and grabbed the hearing tube which led to the cannons. "'Cause now I have backup. Esteban, are you there?"

Immediately, the answer came.

"This is the cannons, over."

Esteban's curt voice sounded just like a blast from his past. But while on ship, and elsewhere on duty, Esteban always acted strict professionally. It wasn't that he was shallow anymore; he just wanted to do a good job. During these past days; he had clearly improved. He was still quite laid-back, didn't talk much, but he felt better, and that was worth a whole lot. And hadn't Fina herself been far from an Air Pirate the first time she had met Vyse and Aika? People could always change, for good or bad. But in Esteban's case it would be good.

"We're approaching Yafutoma", Vyse said. "Come and meet us at the exit."

"Are you sure? Shall we just leave the ship?"

"Yes we are," Vyse grinned. "No one will dare touch this ship, as you'll see."

"Affirmative. I'll be on my way then."

Now the city could be seen at portside. Split up in different heights and levels. Unsymmetrical but harmonic. Bridges and waterfalls linked the city together. Far off in the distance, several battleships could be seen patrolling. No matter they weren't here for sight-seeing; Fina had always liked Yafutoma, and it felt nice to be back. Having lived her entire life in the isolated silver shrine; Fina loved the closeness to nature, the still harmony and the general atmosphere that flavoured this city.

Two battleships from the Yafutoman fleet joined up at the Delphinus's sides. Some manoeuvres later, the Blue Rogues' ship laid offshore the island. The two ships remained at both sides, watching over Delphinus like a koketa watched its hatchlings. This was, after all, the very ship that had saved them all from both Blueheim's winds and the wrath of Zelos.

The three Rogues left the bridge, went down the stairs and found that Esteban waited for them. He stood leaning against the bulkhead, hands in the pockets of his new blue waistcoat. His blue headband was in place like always. As usual, he had a look of a slight inner pondering. But at the sight of them, he brightened up. He joined up at their sides.

They opened the door that led out from the inside. A gentle breeze blew by them as they began to cross the deck towards the starboard side.

"And off we go," Aika said. "While Vyse's little slaves will stand on guard."

"It's not my fault they keep doing this!" Vyse objected. "Someone else will pay them for that. I don't pay any salary."

"But you could," Fina. "Now when we've got such a big treasure."

"Yep!" Aika grinned, and then delivered a nice pat on Esteban's shoulder. "And it's all thanks to you!"

Esteban smirked slightly, and shrugged his shoulder.

"I just had a lot of luck," he said.

He wasn't all too used to getting compliments. In his previous profession such things were not necessary, and the one who had tried that would've been seen as weak and tainted. Fina remembered especially one time when Aika had cheered him for taking down a Black Pirate ship. Esteban had just coldly answered "I know."

"Luck?" Aika repeated. "I don't think so. You were cut out to be an Air Pirate. I mean, you were digging up treasure maps even before we had met you."

"Only one, and I stole it."

"That's the pirate-way, you know."

When they had reached the lifeboat, Aika and Esteban loosened up the binding that kept it moored. Vyse took the controls while his three passengers sat down in the other seats. Being a lifeboat from the Delphinus, it was quite spacey. As well as supplies for a week, it was a nice little lugger.

"Okay," Vyse said as he started up the engines. "Soon we'll, hopefully, have at least two new acquisitions."

"There might be more," Fina said. "You have a quite good reputation around here, so it is possible we might get more than we expected."

"I like your thinking," Vyse said. "Just hope we'll have enough cabins."

"Sure do," Aika nodded while the lifeboat started its way towards the dock. "'Cause if so: I'll have slaved in the harbour for the last time." She nudged Vyse on his head, since he hated being touched anywhere in-between his hands and shoulders when he was steering. "Of course, you got some of your chores left."

"Did I really have to do that? It wasn't exactly what you would call a fair deal."

"I didn't say it was fair, call it aggressive negotiations."

"Or abuse from a braided, lunatic fruit-fetish!"

"Why you…!"

"Aika, calm down," Fina intervened. "Vyse is, after all, steering right now."

"That's why I'll beat him up when we've reached shore," Aika said.

Esteban had observed the altercation with a slightly amused look. Now he said:

"I'm beginning to understand why you decided to get a new crew."

Aika turned her head towards Esteban; her eyes were a mishmash of indignity and shock.

"Hey!" she said angrily to the former mercenary. "Vyse, did you hear what he just said!?"

"I did," answered the captain. He turned his head and looked fixedly at Esteban. "And if you ever say that again… I'll give you a nice promotion."

Through all that, Esteban had looked downright anxious. But as soon as Vyse said 'promotion' he relaxed visibly.

"I say you can promote him to first swabber," Aika said pretending sulky. But she did smile.

Esteban had been slightly worried that he maybe had put his foot wrong, but then he understood that this was just part of the thing that was called "joke". He had learned the hard way to never again be amazed at anything Vyse and the others, Aika in particular, said or did. Although, sometimes he wasn't all too sure whether they were kidding him or not. But no matter, they were most definitely a welcome change from, for instance, the syndicate. These past days had been far happier then his last ten years. For the first time in many, many years he was with people who cared about him and wanted him well. It was a strange, yet pleasant, feeling.

Perhaps it was the feeling of coming home.

The lifeboat got closer to the harbour. It skipped on the water's surface and soon stopped. The four Rogues disembarked their boat, and went on up to the landing stage.

While most landing stages flow out into the sky, these were laid upon water. Not all too common. Concerning the swiftly flowing, careful mooring was vital.

This was the same harbour where Vyse had docked after that time he had shown the Tenkou a thing or two. Being meant for visitors it was not as big as the trading docks. Despite the close alliance with Valua, the commerce with the western world was not yet that large. The geographic location had its part, and there was lack of ships as well, since many of them had been lost during the Battle at Soltis and such.

"Have you been to Yafutoma before?" Aika asked Esteban.

"No," he answered. "I practically haven't had a single free day ever since… well, since Maramba."

"But within your profession, maybe?" Fina suggested.

"One could almost believe that, but I never told… her that my ship had that ability."

The talk about Esteban's earlier profession seemed to make him almost nervous. He sure didn't have any thoughts of returning to his former employee, especially since he quite effectively had burnt his bridges. Not only burnt, they had been crushed, dismantled and sent to the deepest depths of the Dark Rift. And if they found out…

"Are you still worried about them?" Vyse asked.

"Yes," Esteban nodded. "You just don't quit without getting punished, in one way or another. I know I should've informed you about it earlier but…"

"Don't mind that," Vyse said confidingly. "They don't yet know you've left the ship. And when they do: you won't face them alone."

"You bet," Aika said and laid a hand on his shoulder. "You are one of us now."

Their words sunk in into Esteban's mind. He straightened up, and his gaze was no longer worried, but decisive.

You are, Fina thought. And that means a lot.

It all looked so familiar. In this same way, Fina has been brought up in Vyse and Aika's fellowship. Once they had been two. When Fina came they were three. Now they were four. Now it was time for Esteban to feel the joy Fina has been through. Going from nothing to all this. She knew that he had a wonderful time ahead of himself.

At that moment a young woman emerged out from the city entrance. They recognised that black ponytail at once, and, when she rushed down the stairs, they also noticed that her tool-belt was still on place. It was Kirala.

The Yafutoman builder walked up towards them and greeted Vyse with a handshake, which soon turned into a hug.

"Good to see you, Vyse! And you two as well of course and… hey, I haven't met you before. What's your name?"

"Esteban. I signed up some days ago."

"Aha. Well, I can tell you got good taste when it comes to selecting your captain. But anyway; are you guys here on an excursion or have you found a new gigas?"

"Neither," Vyse replied. "The thing is that right now we're rounding up a new crew."

"Really? But what happened to the others?"

"They returned back home after you and Urala. So if you're interested, you'd be welcome onboard again."

"Aha. Well, this comes a little sudden. I did have some things to finish back home. But now… I've finished my house and I'm pretty sure the docks can manage without me…"

"It's your choice."

The Yafutoman carpenter frowned in concentration. Her home and job fought against the adventurous life as a Blue Rouge. The Air Pirate alternative won.

"Hmm… ah what the heck, I want to sail again. Vyse, you can count me in! And this time I'll stay!"

"Great!" Vyse said, and got assent from the others. "Do you think Urala wants to come along?"

Kirala made a pensive face, almost a bit astute.

"I think so, if only the propositions are right. You see" she smiled "she has travelled to Valua."

"You mean that…?"

"Yep!" Kirala grinned. "She wants to get a clear yes or no from Hans!"

Everybody, except for Esteban, lighted up. Back when Crescent Isle prospered, not many had known about what went on between Hans and Urala. Except for Vyse, and he had only confided in Aika and Fina. Not much had happened between them both. Until now.

"Wow!" Aika exclaimed. "Just hope he has enough brains to say yes."

"Oh, you can be sure," Vyse said. "Very sure."

"You know something?" Fina asked.

"Yes I do. I got a little talk with him back when he set up the afterburner. He told me to keep it quiet, but why should it matter now?"

Suddenly two guards appeared. Dressed in green armour and wielding a naginata each, they made a solid impression. They marched down the stairs and made their way to the small company.

"Captain Vyse," said one of them. "We have been sent to escort you to king Daigo."

"Any reason?" Vyse asked while getting bombarded with eyes of puzzlements from his friends.

"He requests your presence."

As far as Vyse could remember, he hadn't done a thing that would warrant the use of the royal garde. There didn't seem to be any reasons to worry about the guards. But still, a guard was a guard was a guard… Old habits were hard to shake. Especially as an Air Pirate.

"Alright, anything to explain here, Vyse?"

"Don't ask me!"

"Don't worry," Kirala smiled. "In fact… I think you'll be pleased. Just go with them and I'll take your friends out for a tour."

Vyse shrugged. No options in sight, he just had to go with the flow, or at least the guards.

"I guess I have no choice then," he said. "But remember to set sail when you see me come running."

"Shall we?" Fina said, puzzled. "Shouldn't we wait for that until you're aboard?"

"Okay, be ready to set sail!"

"We'll try to remember," Aika grinned whilst she waved goodbye to Vyse as he was led away.

The two guards took the lead while Vyse walked behind them. Up the stairs, and soon he was out of their sight.

Kirala still had an astute smile upon her lips. Aika had a feeling that the Yafutoman carpenter were covering something, covering as in surprise that is. But until she revealed it…

"By the way" Aika started. "Do you think you could bring some building stuff with you?"

"Sure I could," Kirala answered. "For the right funding, of course. Did you think of something special?"

"You bet," Aika grinned. "I… uhm, we want you to build me us I mean, a hot spring on Crescent Isle."

"That'll be a pleasure. I've never understood how you westerners manage without."

"That's what I've said to Vyse all the time. But now we can afford something extra. Fina, give her a sample."

The blonde Silvite unhooked a small pounce from her belt and handed it over to the builder. Kirala opened it, and was marvelled by its shining, sparkling content. It was some of the diamonds from their last plundering.

"What the… where did you steal this? You did, didn't you?"

"Sure did. From a Black Pirate base in Ixa'taka."

"Pirates? There?"

"Nope. Not anymore. That base was long since abandoned. Plus, it lay beneath the sky."

"I always found that strange," Fina added. "Has there been any contact between our civilizations before?"

Technically, Fina was a silvite but she considered herself a westerner. Also, the land of the Silver Moon lay to the west anyway, all depending on the map of course. She never forgot her origin.

"Not that I know," Kirala said hastily. "If so, it would've been unofficially. But anyway, let's go. I know someone who probably would like to join up. Hmm, this turned into an interesting day."

With that said, the little group started to walk. Aika and Fina exchanged a glance. Something seemed odd about Kirala, alright.

xXx

After some wandering through the city, the four of them reached a tavern. Decagonal in shape which meant it had ten sides. It was painted light brown with blue strokes around the door and windows. The roof was red and curvy pagoda-styled, twisted slightly upwards at the draining-pipes. Water was running at three directions.

"Ah, the heart of the city!" Kirala exclaimed. "A place for rumours, shiffeling, gossiping, and a good glass of loqua."

"Yeah," Aika agreed. "And all the good salts who want to set sail."

"Precisely. I know one of the men working here, and I'm pretty sure he would trade this place for the Delphinus."

They entered the tavern. No matter the decorations, all taverns around the world seemed to share some strokes with each other. A couple of tables littered with glasses both full and empty, guests sipping wine. It was around noon, so Fina knew from her brief stint as barmaid in Nasrad that very few would get what was called 'binge laid' at this hour. In one corner sat a young woman playing a harp. The tones were soft and pleasant.

"Just sit down for a while and I'll get to you later," Kirala said, and then went away towards the counter.

Aika had already called a waiter, and soon all three of them had a small shot of low-grade loqua. It tasted more than it felt. A general rule in sailing was to not make yourself see double being at a ship's helm, if you weren't Don that is. The beverage was brewed on blue Moon Stones. It tasted very mild, even Fina agreed, especially since she didn't drunk loqua as often as others. Esteban seemed quite indifferent about his drink. If it went down, it was okay, he reasoned. Food was food.

"Curious, isn't it?" Aika said.

Both Fina and Esteban gazed at her questioningly.

"What is?" Fina wondered.

"We and taverns always seem to exclude Vyse in one way or another."

Fina smiled to this, while Esteban didn't look any smarter.

"Occasionally, but not last time."

"Yeah, maybe. But I always felt we were one person short, right Esteban?"

If he had seemed confused before, he was directly clueless now.

"What do you mean?"

"Nothing special," Fina said. "But we were at another tavern the day we met for the first time. In Nasrad, that is."

"You mean after the bazaar?"

Now it was Aika and Fina's turn to look puzzled. But before they got to ask him further, Kirala returned. Together with her walked a man who, although he seemed to be a bartender, had an air of military in him. He was tall and muscular. The wrinkles around his eyes showed he was used to fire off glares hard as velorium. Like most Yafutomans, he was dressed in blue. A towel hung from his belt.

"Okey," Kirala started. "This is the guy I talked about."

"Yes," he replied. "And I'm thankful for that. My name is Tairon, and I am a former Tenkou."

"Tenkou?" Aika blurted. "Wow! Were you in the battle against Blueheim?"

"Only against the Valuans. Before the Gigas itself was awakened, our ship had been heavily damaged, so we had to pull away. As a token of my appreciation to you, for all you did for our country that day, please let me serve on your ship."

Unofficially Aika and Fina were vice-captains, but new crewmembers were Vyse's decision. On the other hand, here stood someone who had crossed cannons with Valua at least once before…

"Ah, what the heck. Just saddle up," Aika said. "Vyse has the last word, but it should be swell."

Tairon didn't seem to be ready to celebrate just yet. In fact, he was still waiting.

"Well?"

Then suddenly it hit Aika that he had his eyes on Esteban all the time. Was he…? If so, this had potential. Aika nudged Esteban in his side.

"Come on, Vyse!" she said. "What do you say? Should we hire him or not?"

"Why are you asking me? I'm not…"

"Oh, Tairon," Kirala grinned. "That's not Vyse."

If Tairon were surprised or embarrassed, he didn't show it.

"I see," he said plainly. "Then where is he?"

"Off for the surprise," Kirala answered quickly. Tairon just nodded in reply.

Aika only liked secrets she was let into. Ah well, hopefully they would find out soon enough.

"Okay," Kirala started, as usual. "We should get going to the harbour. We can't let Vyse wait too long. Also, I got a butt load of timber to bring down."

"Hold on a sec'," Aika said. "I'm not going anywhere until I have finished my drink." Quickly she sunk her remaining loqua. "There, all clear."

Fina hadn't sipped through half of her drink, but she didn't felt like downing it, so she just put her glass away. It was Aika who had paid for it anyway.

After Kirala had been given yet another sample from the treasure she buzzed off. The three Blue Rogues and the would-be Rogue started to walk towards the harbour. Fina and Tairon took the lead.

"By the way, Tairon," Fina started. "Did you participate in the battle of Soltis as well?"

"I was written out from the hospital yesterday, if that answers your question," Tairon answered with a sly smile. "No I wasn't. But I was gravely wounded, so I was unable to take part in the last battle against Valua. As things began settling down, I decided to live a calm life."

"Did you? Oh, please, don't feel forced to sign up! You don't have to."

"Make no misunderstanding, ma'm. I thought I was done with sailing, but I don't want to miss this opportunity."

Aika had observed the conversation, and now she said:

"Fina, you know you shouldn't look a given dabhu in the mouth."

"We are in Yafutoma, Aika," Fina answered. "There are no dabhus around for the moons knowhow far."

"Yeah, but he'd be angry if I said koketa."

Of course, Fina did know what Aika had meant with 'dabhu'. Although, her past lack of understanding in figure-speeches and everyday things were still the core of many in-jokes in between Vyse, Aika and herself.

Some steps behind, Aika walked with Esteban by her side.

"Funny isn't it?" she said.

"What is?"

"You've just signed up with us, and people already take you for Vyse." She giggled. "Swell, but I think you missed a darn good opportunity back there. I mean, you could've said that all new shipmates must… say… swab the docks for a week… or even make my bed. Now that would've been fun."

"I take it as you don't like it."

"Who does? Just ask Vyse, and you know I'll do anything to get out of housekeeping. Even threat of force."

"That's strange."

"Yeah, last time did involve some questionable methods, but Fina thought it was alright. Heck, she helped me. And I've never seen Vyse laugh that much anyway, so I can't say he suffered."

"I didn't mean it that way," Esteban said. "It's just that I've told myself to never be confused at anything you say or do."

"That seems quite hard, if you ask me."

"Yes. I already have to renew that vow."

If Fina had ever wanted to know what 'amazed' meant, she should've turned and looked at Aika for a perfect description.

"Now first!? Shiver me timbers! I gotta get serious, don't I?"

Esteban rolled his eyes, and shook his head in vain. But he did smile. And that was wonderful to see.

xXx

Hardly had the small company made their way to the docks before a full-loaded carry-team made their entrance. Planks and boards, long and short, crude and polished. They brought wheelbarrows filled with sacks of nails, bolts, screws and in addition to that; a dozen Moon Stones and birch wood.

"That's the material for hot springs," Kirala explained.

"Fine," Aika said. "Just as long as it works, and is big, I'm not concerned about the size, or the cost."

Right at that moment Vyse came rushing. At the first glance it seemed like he was being chased by at least one armada. Quickly he hurried down the stairs, only to find it blocked by a carrier. Vyse then grabbed a hold of the leading pole and swung down to the ground, almost hitting an innocent bystander, and then rushed up to his friends. The smile on his face was so bright it could probably outshine the sun.

"Unbelievable!" Vyse chimed. "It's totally… fantastic!"

"What is?" Fina and Aika said simultaneously.

"You can never guess what's just happened!"

"You found Daccat's real treasure?"

It wasn't very like Vyse to be this excited. This must've been something big.

"We… have been promised… a ship! From Daigo!"

The redhead, the blonde and the former mercenary turned into the definition of astonishment. Only Esteban seemed to keep his calm… to some degree.

"What sort of ship?" Esteban asked.

"A battleship," Vyse said. "Directly from the royal shipyard."

"And I thought it was just a lifeboat," Aika mumbled, totally dumbstruck.

"I… see," Esteban said. "Did you buy it for the rest of the diamonds?"

"No I didn't. I didn't steal it either. We got it for free."

"We got it?" Fina asked. "For what we did to Blueheim, wasn't it?"

Vyse had now caught his breath. With a calmer tone of voice, he said:

"Yes. It's like this: about one month before we came here for the first time, the king started building a fleet to counter the threat from air pirates."

"But the plans fell apart," Kirala said. "Since you three came in between."

"That's right… You know about this?"

Kirala smiled proudly.

"Pretty well. Since I was part of your crew, lord Mikado let me take care of the finishing touch on one of the ships. Although, originally it was the prince's idea. To put it short, you have done so much for us, Vyse, this is our way to repay you."

"Ooh, don't feed the ego," Aika grinned. "If you keep this up, Vyse will need a whole room for his head."

"Kirala, I hope you don't mind building a jail so I got something I can lock Aika into."

"All for the right price."

After going through their regular high-five celebration, the group started loading the equipment. But using the life-boat as transportation seemed to be a long-day's work. Fortunately, a nice trader who just had docked offered to freight the huge cargo. While all that was going on, Kirala and Tairon took the opportunity to go home and gather some stuff. It might take a long time before they could go home for a visit.

"We're not leaving just yet, are we?" Aika said. "I mean, hello, we're in Yafutoma, and there's one thing you can't miss while being here."

"Let me guess," Vyse said. "Stuffing your face with Yafutoman specials?"

"Hmph, I prefer 'sampling the culinarities', you make me sound like some gobbler. And don't say it, I know you were about to!"

"I think we should go," Esteban said. "Before she starts nibbling on us."

"I don't taste Yafutoman," Fina said. "Would you eat me anyway?"

"If you ask nicely," Aika grinned.

xXx

After making a good and through visit to a nice restaurant, the Blue Rogues returned to the ship. There they found that Tairon had spread the word around, and six other men wanted to sign up. They were everything from craftsmen to real sailors, and one of them was Tairon's old friend from the Tenkou days.

As soon as every little piece of equipment was batten down on the Delphinus, the group went up to the bridge, except for Esteban, Tairon and the others who took post at the cannons. The first thing they did was check the map. Since they had used the afterburner very sparingly, they had only a few test-results.

Let's see, if it had taken this much time to travel so far, and if they wanted to travel there… Finally Vyse, Aika and Fina managed to agree to an at least fairly reasonable result.

"We don't need to travel all too close anyway," Vyse said. "And it would be bad to accidentally crash Enrique's place like that."

"But that's why we are travelling above the clouds," Fina said.

"When we're going down, I mean."

Aika grinned.

"Ah, just remember to turn back the engine," she said. "But on the other hand, it was actually quite a bit fun."

"If it's done concentrated, that is," Fina smiled. "I think Cupil might want to steer again."

Vyse sighed.

"You know, the Delphinus is not a playhouse, but sometimes I think it's a fools house!"

Fina gazed him a bit questioningly.

"Is it that wise to say that? If this ship is an asylum and you are the captain? What does that make you?"

"Fina, it's at times like these I long for the good old days when you didn't even know what coins were. But seriously" That word had an almost magical effect. Enough of yadda yadda, now they were pros. "Let's get to work. To your posts."

With that said, they all went to their stations. Aika and Kirala took the starboard panels, Fina took the portside.

The Delphinus made it out of the port, and soon they were on their way to the west.


A/N: many thanks to user MartinIII for proofredaing.
Any remaining faults are my own.