This is a thinly veiled off-shoot of [http://rp.eliteskills.com/r.php?r=22610 Noir Fabula]. May or may not be canon, but who knows what will happen in ten thousand years.
[size16 |SBI:09:09 Hidrogg|]
Sprinting through pine and needle at an alarming rate, Jackie and Ahn Ten stormed to the Howlitzer they had just left hours ago. There was no time for sweat to do its job: the snow fell down like a heavy velvet curtain that instantly melted against their palpitating skin. A frenzy of panting and frantic faces ran through these doomed woods as the Hidrogg trailed behind.
They had quickly been accustomed to the blood curdling screams and red markers splattered in the crystalline snow. It was the nefarious work of the Hidrogg, a monster so renowned on these isles that even the Dalmenians avoided confrontation. Confrontation with the Hidrogg usually spelt death.
Born blind with no eyes, the hulking creature stood eight feet tall with a keen sense of smell. Each of its six surprisingly stubby limbs came with talons that tore through skin and light armor alike like the tissue paper. It had a stub for a tail and in the right lighting the Hidrogg was a silky brown creature with slats on the side of its neck.
Gills. Unbeknownst to the foreigners, the seemingly barbaric locals harkened a legend that an angry sea goddess birthed the Hidrogg as an avenger. The ancestors of the current day Dalamenians dumped their dead at sea in high hopes of rebirth in the goddess’s part of the Blue, yet she was displeased with these mortal gifts.
The Hidrogg was born to consume carrion at first, but then it emerged from salty waters for live prey. It disobeyed the goddess, scaring her even in a quick altercation, and craved a more violent path. Lifeless limb could do it no harm. What it sought after its first kill on land was the carnal hunt. The taste of iron and meat not brined satiated the senses.
No, the Hidrogg did not hunt to survive. Such a creature manifested from hatred and magic lived to murder. It thrived in large crowds. To the Hidrogg, hunting down humans was its twisted version of hide-n-seek.
“I think we lost it.”
Catching his breath, Ahn Ten rested his hands on his knees and looked up at Jackie. Their close encounter with the monster left her with three claw marks on a bicep. Blood trickled down her arm, but she was fine for now. The shotgun blasts deterred the Hidrogg, but neither knew what it was fully capable of.
The Howlitzer was still quite a ways away. The two named it The Pugilist after a rather winded discussion. Jackie wanted to call it The Monk, but Ahn Ten brought up the point that there was nothing holy or reserved about its character. He insisted on naming it the Lancer, but the name reminded her too little of the her old ship, The Fighter. Out in the middle of nowhere, they quibbled. Ahn Yen used the vast lexicon he called a brain and rambled synonyms before one struck Jackie’s fancy: Pugilist. Thus, the aircraft was called the Pugilist.
In the midst of the mountainside and its bountiful nestling of evergreen, Jackie seized up and dropped. A bullet from afar grazed her shoulder and burrowed into damp black bark. She scurried onto her feet and dragged Ahn Ten deeper into the forest for protection.
A game most dangerous had begun. Dalmenian? Black Parade? Someone far left field? The mystery behind the shooter was the price to pay for such a dicy gambit. Now Jackie and Ahn Ten ran the risk of leading their hunters to the Pugilist.
Her mind scrambled to the corners of her skull. The rush kicked in and Jackie Simms swam through the thick blanket of snow and prickling branches until she reached a clearing, a worn path leading to the valley on one side and the mountain’s zenith on the other.
They painted for a spell but not for long. An old friend stared at Jackie from the mountainside. Raf’s dead expression and fur lined leather jacket sent out the message that he meant business. He slung a rifle on one shoulder and kept a quick hand on the grip of his side pistol.
“Red’s an awful choice.” His stone face would not budge nor twist. Raf spoke as if he uttered words out of his ears instead of his lips.
This wasn’t his ideal choice of vacation. Heck, it was no one’s ideal getaway.
“I think we look good in red,” Jackie jested.
Ahn Ten looked down to Jackie for a plan. She had no plan. Instead, she had a wide smirk smeared across her face as if she won. Jackie took one step but the draw and firing of Raf’s sidepiece prevented her from making a second.
“At your funeral, perhaps.”
Rustling from the woods, Antezario shot forth and landed on his hands and knees. In a dissimilar fashion akin to Raf’s, the spring green leotard wearing maniac slung several more rifles across his shoulder and held one in his hands. Frantic like the Hidrogg, he closed in with the barrel pointed at the She-Bear.
“Shine!” Antezario chanted until she dropped down in excruciating pain. He guffawed in her wormy squirms and ear piercing screams. “You petulant scummy bitch. You’ve cost me everything—the boy, my treasure, the Black Parade—and now you die.”
He would not let up and she was not sure how long she could stay conscious. Jackie pondered what fate resided before her: were they truly going to off her here or would they resume this torturous life? Her vision blacked out several times but Antezario teetered with the limits. The chants oscillated like the Blue’s lustrous waves during a typhoon. Antezario sang lowly and softly at some points but unleashed bursts of anger the next.
[i ‘Die. Die.’] The sounds and pain repeated over and over in loop throughout Jackie’s body. She was unsure whether or not she was still alive. Blood dripped from her nose and ears, the hair on her arms fell in droves. [i ‘Die. Die.’]
The agony ceased its control over the crinkled body. In Jackie’s stead, the feathered loon dropped to a knee and screamed in disastrous horror. He held a freshly crafted amputation in hand and cursed. A hand flew behind the group, and along with it a lengthy streak of ruby red blood.
Ahn Ten stood triumphantly in place while Raf Gedemonde gasped. Before he could even put a rifle to his shoulder and stop the young man, Raf watched as one quick punch to the air severed a whole hand. This entire time the Black Parade had been underutilizing such potential.
Jackie, sore from the torture, scraped up what strength she had left and witnessed brave Ahn Ten’s heroic stance. Truthfully, he struck fear into Raf who desperately wanted to lift up arms and shoot him. Jackie reveled in the fear and anguish of her enemies, thus she broke in a growing smile.
“Boy, I should have chained you down in the brig and let the rats fester in your gaping wounds. I would have eventually found your parents and if I knew you were capable of this treachery, I would have made you watch as my men broke them in. Night after night after night. I should have—“
Sure enough, Ahn Ten remained in place as if a tearing bullet killed him in place. Those words, “shut up” came not from the teen from Bating but between the lips of Antezario’s right hand man. Well, former right hand man.
“What?” The lunatic with one arm cried out. He didn’t want to believe it, he didn’t want to hear it. What did Raf Gedemonde say? He questioned whether or not he was going into shock. The adrenaline would eventually wear off and the realization of him being any less than whole would surely send him to an early grave.
“All tyrants meet their end. With great honor, I’m glad to say that you are the ruler of nothing. Your men, [i my] shipmates, are currently being slaughtered by Dalmenians. Let’s not forget that [i you] had us leave many of them behind in deserted ruins because you thought these two were more important than them. There is no more ‘where will we go?’ business, Antezario. You’ve burned two hundred ninety-nine bridges, mistreated your men, and mistaken them as dogs. It’s over now. Everything that you have built concludes with this moment. The question you must ask yourself now is, ‘how will it end?’”
“I, Antezario Vespuccin, am your master! You’re all nothing but conniving dogs, each and every one of you. You were all nothing before I met you. Washed up no-gooders who were drug addicts and alcoholics, whores, lowly men! I offered my ship as a sanatorium and is this the thanks I so deserve truly? Help me, Raf, I’m poor, I’m bleeding, I’m pitying your fates.” He jammed his stump in Raf’s direction and roughly went on, “I demand—“
Raf’s rifle went off before Antezario compelled the incessant droll. The bullet dug through the hollow man’s chest, through his dismal heart, and peacefully sank into the snow. Truly heartbroken, Antezario reached with both hands for Raf. Whether he was pleading for aid or cursing the nefarious act, no one present cared. A fitting end for a mad king’s era.
“Free, at last.” Ahn Ten’s sigh made a heavy thud into the gravel path.
“That gets rid of one of our problems,” Weak Jackie chuckled. Not even a finger could move from the debilitating torture. Even breathing proved to be mighty difficult for the brawler.
Ahn Ten scurried to Jackie and the first thing he noticed was the circlet’s grip. It squeezed her brain no more. Parting her unkempt black hair from the banding and ornate grooves of the circlet, Ahn Ten cautiously dethroned Jackie from the accursed queenship of agony so that she could rejoin the commonwealth.
Immediately, as if taking the circlet off actually helped some, Jackie rose to her feet like red herons waking to the morning sun. Her confidant and newly acclaimed role model stepped behind and watched as she slowly regained her strength on her own. Knowing quite well that the Dalmenians continued to scour the area from all the commotion and gunshots, Jackie stumbled away, yet she didn’t get far before Raf remarked.
“Fear, money, and power are excellent motivators, but we could have easily walked away from it all. Two hundred ninety-nine men and the only person who was under this cruel contraption makes a daring escape. I gotta say, Jackie Simms, you’re an inspiration. Kudos.”
“You’re welcome.” She turned around and smiled back at the cold man who put Antezario to sleep.
Unlike her compatriot’s warm demeanor, Ahn Ten was sharp tongued. “She’s not signing any autographs today, Raf.”
Raf shrugged. Pulling out a cigarette from the breast pocket of his winter coat, he signaled to them if they wanted to join. Ahn Ten declined. The rifleman never smoked, or if he did, then he did not make it a noticeable habit. Stony faced and quiet, he was not much of a talker in the first place. They left. At least, Jackie and Ahn Ten tried.
“Where do you think you two are going?” he asked between puffs of his cigarette.
He exhibited a cool demeanor, but the young man knew exactly where this was all leading up to.
“Ahn Ten, you’re free to go as you please. Take the Howlitzer, find your parents, just don’t get in the way. But Jackie, you stay. You and I have unfinished business.”
“Oh?” Jackie turned to momentarily face Raf. She tried to bounce off his cool. If she was honest with herself, Jackie felt threatened and not in the best position to throw fists.
“You made me your worst enemy the moment you stepped into our lives.”
She continued to jest, “What can I say, I leave an impr—“
Yet he was unwilling to hear. Smoothly transitioning from the calm smoker to the Blue’s deadliest sharpshooter on this island, Raf flicked his cigarette into the deep white snow, lifted his rifle with poise, and fired a round into Jackie’s meaty shoulder.
Jackie fell right back down on the gravel and remained there. Ahn Ten positioned himself between the two and prepared himself to rip through this bastard. Raf’s barrel did not shirk nor hesitate to face its opponent.
“Don’t play coy with me. You’re well aware of what you’ve done. An eye for an eye, they say. I’d say a neck for a neck, but I’m not as strong as you or Eidos.” Raf broke down in mid thought. “He didn’t deserve such an ill fate.”
“He didn’t.” She thought back that fateful night when the two went at it in the ring. The ultraviolence that consumed her completely in the moment just to impress someone just as carnal as her. She tacked on, “That much I can agree with.”
“How much different are you from Antezario? Greed fueled both of you.”
Jackie feared not only for her life but that of Ahn Ten. He wasn’t going to let him murder her so easily. That fool. That silly, silly young valiant fool prepared to defend a cutthroat who prior to this event would have left him dead if she benefited from it. When did Jackie Simms become an awful person?
Still, she ran with it.
“It was only a matter of time before he bit the dust. Any of us really.”
Triggered, Raf ground his teeth and desperately wanted to blast her brains right there and then. [i ‘Dammit, kid!’]
“And [i you] get to decide who gets to live or die?”
“Yeah, I did.” Jackie professed what was on the heart at the time. She prayed to her Maker—something she seldom relied on during these times—that Ahn Ten used his wit and intelligence to step to the side or that the bullet would come out clean and kill her instantaneously. “I’m a really awful person, but you probably didn’t need much time to know that, Raf. I’ve killed plenty of people, and honestly, you’d be doing the Blue a huge favor by nixing me here and now. All my life I’ve grown up in the violence. Killing was just another normal activity to make it to the next day. I fought long and hard for thirty something years now; it was bound to catch up with me, bound to catch me when we least want it too. The lucky die in their sleep, the rest die by the hands of others. In this instance, it’s retribution. Nothing can excuse my actions and I’ve hurt you. Hurt you real good. Do me in, sheriff.”
A farewell was in order, but death hadn’t scooped either of the three away just yet. From the pines, the monster of Dalmenian origins, the Hidrogg, leapt forth and snatched downed Jackie by an arm. It dragged her thirty feet before tossing her aside and into brittle tree trunk. Her head spun; today wasn’t her chance to shine.
The hulking beast turned for Raf and Ahn Ten who were in turn frightened by the sheer savagery. Puffs of heat steamed off the shark-like terrestrial and its mouth remained agape and bloody. Who would it tackle first was what the humans thought. Raf budged up his rifle, signing his life away. The furious Hidrogg took shot after shot to the face, yet it never slowed down its leaps.
Amped from the adrenaline pumping through his body, Ahn Ten remained in place and watched as the Hidrogg tackled Raf to the ground. The rifle served as a temporary barrier between man and beast, but the extra pair of sharp limbs etched their way into Raf’s gut. Blood and grit sprayed the surrounding snow and rock; Raf’s grunts and pleas were drowned out by the monster’s panting.
The young man snapped out of a trance and motioned for Jackie, but the beast was perceptive of its prey. His fastest run was outpaced by only a few potent leaps. Ahn Ten had to fight. In the moment, the thought his parents drove him to retaliate. Sliding into a complete one-eighty, Ahn Ten jabbed the air as the Hidrogg was in mid-leap.
The intensity of the punch heated the surrounding air thus causing the render of air which cleaved through a thick limb. Ahn Ten ducked and rolled from the falling arm, and the Hidrogg crashed face first into the rocks. Oozing blue poured from its limb and seeped into the frozen earth. Daunting Ahn Ten faced its eyeless adversary with the intent to win.
It was his time to save the day. Not just for his friend, but for his family. He had to carry on his grandfather’s memory and eventually reunite with his mother and father whom he missed very dearly. Like Jackie and her family, they too sought better opportunity throughout the Blue.
The Hidrogg stood back up on the five remaining limbs, yet sniffed out the scenario. Ahn Ten bellowed our a live jolt of energy that admonished the wounded creature to advance no more.
So it obeyed. A low growl, followed by whimpering, escaped the ferocious mouth, and the next moment Ahn Ten was staring at its stub for a tail and a dying trail of deep blue blood.
Ahn Ten picked up Jackie who was now more dead weight than ever. It seemed that wherever she went everyone and everything was trying to kill her. How she made it into her thirties no one will ever know.
Jackie limped her way back to the Pugilist lighter than ever. The weight of agony swung with her gait; she carried that circlet through the snow as a reminder of troubling times. It was a lesson well deserved in hindsight. She wanted to cry tears of freedom and joy, but her body ached and the Dalmenians were still afoot in the area.
After a mile into the trek, she glanced over her shoulder and wondered.
“If the circumstances were different, I think we would’ve been best friends.”
She was talking about Raf Gedemonde, of course. Ahn Ten wasn’t going to entertain her whimsical ideas after these unfolding events.
“Shut up and keep on moving.”
[i ‘Ahn Ten, you don’t know how many times I’ve heard that phrase. It’s timeless.’]
HEAD ES DOODLE PETSUCHOS / Finnigan
/ 55d 20h 33m 33s
[size16 |SBI:09:08 The Winterborne Fleet|]
"That cannot be it." Antezario threw his hands into the air and cried out, "We did not come out here for a handful of Howlitzers."
Three perfectly good Howlitzers. Ones heavily detailed in a book Jackie used to page through when she was still on Guten Nocht. The pilots died hundreds of years ago when they arrived at the scene. The skeleton fragments were splayed across the ancient bunker and so brittle that even the slightest breath caused them to crumble.
One of the other excavation teams had found them a month ago, and it had been about a year since Jackie and Ahn Ten wandered into the laboratory. The men of the Black Parade returned to the mothership in order to reveal their finds to their king, but he was none too pleased.
Earthen cups and plates with zig-zags and concentric circles were offered up, but the mad captain shirked at the plain savagery art and smashed a few artifacts. Most of what was presented was garbage, thus he treated his crew like garbage. There was no payoff to be found and Antezario ran into bigger problems.
"It appears so."
Raf encircled the aircraft with twinkling admiration in the eyes. The expedition was well worth it, especially if he could pilot one of these fleeting beauties. One and two-manned aircrafts were diamonds. Only affluent families such as the Lansits could afford fighter planes. To Raf and Jackie though, they were an escape from cruel reality.
"Nononononono. We cannot leave. There's treasure here that needs to be found...preferably by us!"
With each night Jackie spent in near proximity of Antezario, Jackie wished his hair would fall out and he’d go mute. The latter wasn’t going to happen unless she ran a knife across his neck, but the former showed promising signs. He began thinning on top and the grays moved in on the sides. The hats started to stay on longer throughout the days. Though he never picked up a shovel nor brush, sweat beaded up on his face and anxiety nested in his shoulders.
"The intel was bad. The area is littered with booby traps and these Mogurel wildcats are too much of a concern. There's a reason why people aren't here, Antezario. The fleets of Dalme don't want anything to do with these ruins because they serve no use and plagued with violent mysteries. These ruins have been empty for millennia."
"No! You're scared, Raf." He would not have it, he would not have it one bit. Erupting into a shrill yelp, Antezario pointed with his long fingers. "Without Eidos cleaning out your plumbing, you're shitfilled."
Antezario’s once right hand man felt betrayed by the mad man’s insults. After everything they had been together and losing vital assets to the Black Parade, Raf Gedemonde could not hold back his tongue.
“I'm keeping the rest of us alive, you idiot.”
“No, you’re the idiot!” Antezario screamed.
“We've lost five people already from these beasts alone. Cats don't grow that big anywhere in the Blue. An entire crew suffered near debilitating poisoning from trap rooms. They’re tired. We’re tired!”
"I can't deal with this. You'll have to find another enforcer because I cannot work with such a childish imbecile who would rather watch his own men die for a lost cause!”
Raf walked away while he still had his pride in hand. He thought that maybe his absence would change the king of clown’s mind.
Antezario wasn’t done with the fight though. He jeered and taunted to close the distance between the two. [i Eidos. Eidos. Eidos.]
"And that's fine! You're stale!"
Raf stormed off, ultimately leaving Antezario empty in victory. Rather speechless that this enforcer had left, not a single word had left his mouth. The crew stared at their frozen idol in hopes that their prayers for home would be answered, but eventually a spit’s worth of spite sputtered from Antezario’s lips. Eerie eyes had set on the crowd and the sinister chuckling sent all the worker bees back to work.
Ahn Ten and Jackie watched the scene from a distance and behind a few crates. The future seemed rather bright for the captives.
"This could be the beginning of the end for the Black Parade."
"Let's hope so, Ahn Ten because we now have three viable chances of escaping."
She was, of course, talking about the three Howlitzers that sat on the flight deck. The members of the Black Parade started refurbishing the prizes of such antiquity. Despite the ancient Varsylian’s loss against the floating continent, these aircrafts were regarded as thousand-man murder machines. Armed with crude magitech missiles, thousands of Howlitzers razed city blocks within the first few hours of invasion.
However, these Howlitzers had been demilitarized with the exception of their primary submachine guns. While one missile would have been enough to destroy the Black Parade for once and for all, the substandard magitech casings would be more than enough to rip through the hull.
The hyper-responsive wings retracted and legs touched ground for terrain maneuvering. It took a few good shots to bring a Howlitzer down, but the agile craft proved to be elusive to most planned shots. The best pilots could outmaneuver almost anything in the sky and the deadliest shot could eviscerate a target miles away.
Black. Red. Green. Which one of these would Jackie keep in the long run? These were clearly newer models that were produced thousands of years after the originals. Which country they were built in or gifted to was another question. It was very possible that these belonged to the Dalmenians, but that would have made the ships at least a thousand years old. What very little recorded history the Blue had detailed how current day Dalmenians only became a superpower within the last millennia. The robust nation emerged from a name forgotten long ago.
Ahn Ten had snooped around for months in Antezario’s hanging spaces in high hopes of finding a solution to the migraine inducing headband, yet no set instruction or concrete key was found. Quitting was no option for the young man from Bating.
Meanwhile, a conniving Jackie Simms scouted the area around the Howlitzers for weeks. She made note of every watch and their rotation, each guard’s strengths and weaknesses, and most importantly Antezario’s steady decline into madness.
She thought about assassinating him in his sleep, but that would have required her to mow through his armed bodyguards and a ship of nearly 300 men. Surely, Antezario would wake up during the coup and bring her to her knees. He would tweet his song and she would curl up into a ball of writhing pain.
Perhaps the headband would never come off during her lifetime. Was she forever cursed to wear such an embarrassing mark? Her captor, the nefarious Antezario Vespuccin, had bested her, yet living with such a disappointing defeat gravely wounded her ego. During her patrols, Jackie winced at the reoccurring thought of her failure.
Ahn Ten And Jackie’s presence alarmed some of their fellow crew mates. They looked at them, especially the She-Bear, with great contempt yet never made an approach to stop whatever she was plotting. Many also feared that she or maybe even their lord would murder them outright. Antezario had sent men to the unknown ruins of a feral kind. Death was written on the limestone; it was a matter of time before Dalmenians ruins would claim their bones.
Two weeks passed and a wave of impatience or perhaps irrationality crashed into Jackie. With no luck on finding a cure for the enchanted circlet, she turned to Ahn Ten one night.
“Soon enough. Don’t pack too much, Ahn, we’re making a B-line out of here when the time is right.” Jackie scratched the peeling skin off her ruddy nose and confided in the young man whom she grew fond of. “We make P and S first thing tomorrow morning.”
He shrugged. “P? S?”
“Preps and sabotage.” Jackie gave him a thumbs up.
Ahn Ten scanned the three Howlitzers. Aside from the paint job, the three were nearly identical.
“Which one? I vote on not taking green.”
“You’re right. Green’s not our favorite color. Red?”
Jackie rather enjoyed the vibrancy of the red. The thought of the red Howlitzer harkened back to her Nocht days when she piloted for the local militia. She alone could defend the town of Last.
“We’re an easier target, Jackie. Everyone knows that red ships are the first to go down.”
Jackie’s heart slumped at Ahn Ten’s words.
“Black is sooo boring though.”
“Black is safe and always in style.”
She jested, “What do you know about style? We’ve worn the same muted garb for months now.”
“Fine.” He caved. Black or red, they’d be sticking out in the blue sky. “If you wanna go with red, I’m not stopping you.”
“I am the only one between us two who can pilot one of these.”
“Just gotta turn the system on and allow the condenser to regulate the flow of magic.”
“Not really. The engines are relatively quiet from what I’ve observed so a minute or two standby won’t put us into any real danger.”
“Well, you are the only one between us two who can pilot one of these. I’ll remove the blockers tonight.”
Jackie rubbed her chin and nodded. “Can you run distraction?”
“I’d prefer not to but I will.”
The Black Parade’s mad king could turn him into a bullet sponge in seconds. Ahn Ten teetered on his decision but concluded he was a dead man either way. He waited and anticipated for a moment like this, and it was the best shot he was going to have.
He trusted her with his life more than he should have. Jackie felt a smidge guilty for even thinking about leaving Ahn Ten if a worst case scenario situation went down. She would have to look at the road ahead and simply take off. [i ‘Never look ‘em in the eyes. Never.’]
None of that was the case though. The heist went better than expected.
Could she get away with murder and escape? Absolutely. Jackie left a couple of bodies lying around after they got too confrontational. They wanted to know where she was going. [i ‘Their mistake.’] Snapping necks was too easy for her now. She had dissociated her feelings for individuals from her own well-being.
Did she nab a bag’s worth of firearms and ammunition? Signs pointed to yes. The weapons department was completely blindsided by her ferocity and her willingness to snatch a shotgun out of hands. Pointblank.
Did her young confidant Ahn Ten make it onto the red Howlitzer? With very little difficulty. Explosions had set off towards the bottom of the ship which alerted all of engineering and the surrounding personnel. Half dressed men of the Black Parade scrambled to investigate the ruckus, both outside the hull and within. The confusion gave them both enough time to make it to the red Howlitzer.
Ahn Ten ran for the revved up Howlitzer and danced across the deck. He lunged with hands wound into tight fists and knocked in some teeth. He threw an attacker into wooden crates and hopped into the crowded passenger seat. Guns, lots of them: shotguns, rifles, a couple of crudely made pistols, but they were still better than going out empty handed.
Jackie was slightly disgusted with how Antezariofied the interior was. She lauded him for the excellent red leather upholstery but the black and white trimmings were a tad much. Antezario was a wicked man; his fashion sense exuded madness.
The controls were still similar to the Howlitzers back on Nocht and even reminded her of her long lost love child: the Fighter. The Howlitzer’s legs sprung up into the air and the wings unfolded for the vertical take off. Within seconds, Jackie and Ahn Ten shot forth into the Blue.
The Black Parade revved up the mounted machine guns amongst all the commotion. Within minutes, the ship took off and pursued the Howlitzer streaking red. Antezario, out of blond rage and blatant disregard, left without a few dozen men whose fates were to never be discovered thereafter.
Freedom whipped her hair; Jackie tasted the fresh air between her two front teeth. Arms stretched out wide to encompass the world and voices cheered as the aircraft left the Black Parade’s sights. They zipped across the Blue for hours before they met their next big problem.
“She-Bear, did you really think you’d get far with my treasure?” A hallowed voice crept through the console’s speakers.
“You couldn’t see the value in the Howlitzers. They’re better off in my possession, Antezario. The boy is mine.”
“You’re a fool, a no good stealing fool who bites the hand that feeds you.” The static roared in sync with his voice. “No one steals from the Black Parade. No one!”
The magical words flowed through the mesh wiring of the speakers and the circlet reminded Jackie that the curse had not yet been lifted. Excruciating tightenings of the headband wrung out what focus the pilot had, yet the She-Bear toughed through her trial just long enough to set a course. She blacked out for seconds at a time, but Ahn Ten’s rudimental understandings of the ship aided in the clunky landing. A few switches flipped and some levers pulled, the Howlitzer popped out its legs for a stumbling stop.
Having very little control of the steering from the back, Ahn Ten led the machine through a wintergreen forest. Branches of pine needle and cone swooped over their heads. The light dusting of snow sprayed across the windshield before Ahn Ten could seize the fumbling Howlitzer.
“Jackie! Wake up!”
He shook her to see if she was still alive. They were now alone in a different landscape. The snowy scape stole what breath he had. Still, unlike the bustling streets of his hometown in Bating. Off in the back of the woods, a couple of snow hares pranced up and under a fallen branch.
Jackie regained conscious after a few minutes. The chill air filled her lungs as she coughed. Witnessing the same scene reminded her of the mountains in Sudra. Perhaps the truth seeker whom Jackie idolized had left snow wherever she went.
“How long was I out?” She groggily asked.
“Out long enough to end up here.”
“We can’t go back up without coms. We’ve gone deeper into Dalmenian territory.”
Just the words that Jackie was looking for. Aside from their princess, she had no close interaction with a real Dalmenian. Maybe they weren’t as vicious as their queen Helvetia.
“Then there’s only one option left: we end the Black Parade here.”
Jackie was banking on having the Dalmenians finishing off the Black Parade for once and for all. Of course, that was if Antezario was that bloodthirsty to pursue and this land was indeed Dalmenian occupied.
Indeed these lands were occupied by Dalmenians. Jackie and Ahn Ten abandoned the ship temporarily to scout out the area for vantage points. With pistols strapped to her hips and a shotgun in hand, the roughneck prepared for an ultimate showdown in the ever changing landscape.
As they reached the side of a cliff, Ahn Ten noted the snowfall gradually picking up its pace. Off in the distance he heard the muffled claps of thunder, yet it was the sinister rays of lightning that spooked the two. The shining bolts arced from grim cloud to cloud.
They had arrived. No, not the Black Parade but an entity far worse. The steel stern of the Dalmenian ship pierced through the cloudy veil. Its spine rippled like the famed mystic dragons of Tsukimoto and hummed ever so slightly in the background. The oars waved in sync as the ship approached the earth for effortless landing.
“This is not good.”
Doors on each side of the spectacle opened and ramps unfolded, clinked, and clicked in rapid manner. They, those fearsome Dalmenians, smartly emerged from the hull of the ship with sharp axe and sword in hand. From the distance, they were giants who towered and championed any foolish foe to stand in their way. Parties of eights and nines fell out and expanded across the snowy island in search of invaders.
A sharp-eyes Dalmenian honed in on Jackie and Ahn Ten immediately. With his sword drawn out, he beckoned his company to seek and destroy. Caught and still no sight of the Black Parade or Antezario. The escapists ran from one trouble and into a bigger dilemma. Perhaps a dash of clarity woke Antezario from his vengeful nap and allowed him to steer clear of these cursed lands.
The pursuing Dalmenians charged the land. Option one: Jackie ran the risk of an early take off; Antezario would eventually run her to the ground. Option two: remain here in high hopes that her enemies may kill each other and most likely die in a place that doesn’t even know their names. The men in bear fur lined armor and clanging helmets closed the distance.
“Voluff dies Tingshan!"
[i Tingshan.] What a vile word to come out of a stranger’s mouth. Desire to turn around and punch a hole through the pursuers manifested. Ahn Ten clutched his fists, but he had to focus on keeping up with Jackie who was eerily light on snow. She skated across the surface like dragonflies gracefully dipping their legs into the pond unlike Ahn Ten whose feet sank like stones.
[b BRrrrrn!] One boisterous short horn blast sounded off in the valley behind the pair. Jackie paused to look back at the storming Dalmenians who in return stopped their chase. Magical creatures—Jackie was unsure if they were all human—stood as the chill powder whirled around them. Inconceivably, they turned away from her and Ahn Ten and vanished into the frigid element.
“Ist die Hidrogg!” One cried out.
“Hidrogg!” They repeated back.
HEAD ES DOODLE PETSUCHOS / Finnigan
/ 69d 23h 50m 30s
[size16 SBI:09:07 |Dark Design, pt.2|]
The fall was over in what felt like an instant. Jackie and Ahn Ten woke up minutes later on top of what felt like the gargantuan wildcat's coarse fur. Ahn Ten looked up and saw the shining crack of light from which they fell from with bewilderment. Surviving the fall astonished him, yet a wave of despair blanketed the young man. These black walls were too wide to finesse one's self up and the two of them had no climbing gear. Scaling back to the world of light was impossible.
"Where are we?" Ahn Ten brushed the dirt off his cloak and slid down the splattered beast. His shoes stepped into the massive Mogurel wildcat's blood and then onto the dusty clay earth.
"Somewhere." Jackie jumped off the corpse. Her head turned once to look back, then forward again, and then finally upwards. "I can't see anyone."
Ahn Ten's fingers glided across limestone; its cool touch could be attributed to Dalmenian climate and the thousands and millions of years it took to form this remarkable chasm.
The only way out of here was to start traveling in one direction of the abyss. Ahn Ten led with his cloak hugging his body closely. It wasn't on the account that he was freezing but rather the chilly draft running through the hall. They walked for thirty minutes in silence until the boy wondered more about his companion.
"What's your family like?"
"My family? That's a good question to pass the time." She walked with her hands behind her head and whistled. What tune she was whistling was a mystery to even herself, but she found the aimless noises coming from her gap amusing. Her amicable companion wasn't bothered too much by it. "Honestly, I don't remember much of my mother or father. It's been some time since they've passed, but I've always thought of them in a good light. I wanted to be strong like my dad and I could never amount to my mother's beauty. She had the best hair and she always worn the most elaborate earrings. They were her most prized possession, and I remember she kept it in one of those tiny wardrobe looking boxes made specifically for jewelry. Her jade earrings were her favorite because it reminded her of some emperor from some story she was told as a young girl."
"It's probably the story of the Jade Emperor who could lift mountains and command rivers to flow upwards. My grandfather was too a fan of this story so much that he convinced me that if I ate my vegetables I would become the next Jade Emperor. Even as a kid I didn't believe that bullshit."
He grinned and mimicked Jackie's posture, even her reckless whistling. She had rolled her eyes at this gesture and
"Then how does Guten Nocht float in the sky?"
The childhood naivety carried well into her thirties, but she could not blame nor get angry at such tall tales. After all, anything in the realm of magic was very much a possibility. Jackie fell for an egregious monk centuries old and befriended a stone faced Lucavi.
"So that's how the story goes? The Jade Emperor is responsible for dusty rock up there? Now I know for sure that he's made up." Ahn Ten guffawed, "Nobody knows or seems to care about how Guten Nocht floats. What was once a great threat to countries like Bating and Varsylgard now resides in rubble. Trash really.”
Was this the same thought amongst all citizens of Bating? Jackie kept to herself in order to work with her heated up partner. After all, pride was what got her originally in this mess. Fighting against Ahn Ten’s harsh words meant time and energy well wasted when they very much needed a plan or a way out of the chasm.
She wasn’t able to shake it off on the account that the teenage boy with such a high opinion continued his tirade against the floating continent. Ahn Ten yammered on about how primitive Guten Nocht was and how nothing or no one of significant worth hailed from such a boring place despite never setting foot in the continent.
The rant came to a screeching halt when Jackie and Ahn Ten stumbled upon the chilly draft’s origins miles down the chasm. Sixty foot doors made of dulled ancient ore remained a smidge agape to let wanderers pass through. Poor Antezario envisioned such a grandiose treasure trove. Some terrifically terrified craftsman molded the faces of giants into this gargantuan passageway. Faces of anger and rage jutted from what appeared to be at one time lustrous silver.
Jackie heard the rocks Ahn Ten was gulping down. Neither of them spoke but instead inched towards the crack. The question of what monsters resides within was about to be answered. Valiant Jackie stepped forward and peeked into the vast darkness that stretched for miles on ahead. Fortunately, little guide lights provided some vision. Barely, sure, but the two souls had very little options left, so they traded one unforgiving place for another.
Jackie entered first with Ahn Ten who was on his toes following close behind. Despite the Lilliputian LEDs illuminating the sides of the path, neither could attain the scope of the the seemingly endless corridor. The frigid draft had not bothered them, and so the eerie blue glow lured them deeper into the dungeon. They could only see glimpses of the wiring and piping which infested the walls completely like a rash. This kind of technology was far beyond Jackie and Ahn Ten’s comprehension.
Blind as moles, they trusted that their wandering feet would lead them in the right direction, that wherever they end up will be free of monsters, both domestic and foreign. The blue lights grew stronger with time thusly bringing the two bodies into a well hidden compartment. They came face to face with a dozen rows of luminescent blue cylinders stretching from the front of the room to the back. The creeping whirling radiated off the machines and every once in a while the adjacent machines would click a few times.
They traveled down the rows of cylinders and inspected their contents. Bodies. Bodies of both humans and monsters resided in a stasis as if a curator was preserving them for later use. What mad man had inserted a myriad of tubes and hoses through these subjects?
"What in Hel is this?" Upset, Ahn Ten gazed in horror as he stopped in front of a cylinder.
"It's a laboratory of sorts.” Jackie shivered. She had only seen this once when she and Frank went to the city and found innocent Rhys suspended.
Ahn Ten moves to a slightly bigger tube which two bodies shared. The limbs and heads were completely separated from what appeared to be heavily mutilated female torsos fused together. Thin electrical wiring connected the satellite pieces to the bulk. The crude intertwining of organic and inorganic material mortified Ahn Ten so much that his stance shook. Surely they didn’t deserve such a fate like this, so he muttered a prayer to his chest.
"Are they alive?"
"I don't want to stick around long enough and find out. Let's go."
Jackie scooped away the boy and headed deeper into the dungeon. She looked past the pickled subjects, yet Ahn Ten was fixated on their demise. No, he wasn’t worried so much that he’d end up in their predicament but rather he feared for their family and friends. What would his parents think or do if he never returned to their arms? They would never know the fate of their sons, just like many of these humans and animals’ mothers, fathers, siblings, and lovers.
Down another corridor and around a few more corners, Jackie felt she was more lost than not, for she thought the same thoughts as Ahn Ten. She thought that it would be most ironic if she died while the rest of her crew had reconvened. She pondered whether or not they’d look for her like she did for them. Either way, she knew that they’d never travel in this direction. Especially Tony. He had his brother and loathed being on the Fighter. Still, Jackie would have joined his side if it weren’t for the mind-breaking headband.
They wandered in the darkness until they came across a dim outline of a crooked figure. Its body slumped heavily to one side. The forearms surpassed the knees and the knuckles grazed its waning ankles. The faint breathing cautioned Jackie and Ahn Ten.
“What is i—“
Jackie took a few steps forward. The figure contorted in such a bizarre manner that had her shuffling back into Ahn Ten who fell to the floor. The twisted figure wound down the dark corridor and pursued the invaders.
Jackie back peddled as her companion scurried to his feet. In the moment she forgot about Ahn Ten and let her instincts kick in.
"Bad day, bad day, bad day!"
The young man couldn’t believe his partner and instead of booking it like Jackie Simms, he faced his fears head on.
"Fuck this shit."
A skull shattering crunch halted Jackie. A body, somebody’s body fell onto the cold firm floor. She pivoted around on the heels of her feet and cowardly reached into the darkness for Ahn Ten’s form.
Stubby digits brushed against a surface rather unpleasantly gooey. She pulled away immediately but she didn’t retaliate with a fist. Instead, Ahn Ten came face to face with her in the low light. She glossed over the slime splattered over his face and hand. Rotting flesh.
"You can't be punching fucked up things in the face. It could be infected." Jackie crouched over the attacker. Ahn Ten had obliterated its face completely. At one point the attacker was human but had been altered in some unfathomable fashion. The skin appeared darker than hers in the lighting and was covered in pustules and rough scaly patches.
"If it wasn't infected before, it is now." Ahn Ten continued the journey down the corridor. There had to be a way out of here somewhere. “I didn’t punch it.”
“Well, I did punch, but there’s a little bit more that goes into the technique. I, um, I don’t know how to say it plainly. I punch hard the air so hard that it hurts whatever’s in the way. An air render.”
“You’re telling me that you’re that great of a martial artist that you can do the impossible? What is it, magic?”
“Jackie Simms, I don’t know if you know this but magic doesn’t exist in Bating. The government forbids such craft from ever taking presence within our domain and is punishable by death. What I can do is an extension of my training and essence.”
“That’s a gift you got.”
“Anyone can attain this level of accomplishment. I’ll train you to be good as me.”
“Here I thought I was gonna carry the team.”
“You know nothing, Jackie Simms.”
The dim path eventually led to an atrium. The smooth and smartly lit hallways were traded for a more jagged walls and glowing geodes. Whoever’s palace this was possessed exquisite taste: the balcony, grandiose in design, overlooked several stories of glowing blue tubes; the crystal chandelier hovered below a stained glass ceiling.
Taking the encircling stairs down to the ground floor took forever. The walls were surrounded with more of the infected people. Tubes plunged into their veins and the likes of such an atrocity tore Ahn Ten. He wasn’t so sure what he was fighting in the dark, but now he saw the horrific in full light. Dozen of faces obscured by disease and large tumors, an over growth of teeth and wiry hair suspended in fluids, rancorous limbs splayed for much needed hugs.
"This can't be what Antezario is looking for. All this...it's wrong." Tears rolled down his cheek. “Nothing about this place is right, Jackie. What kind of sick person would do this?!"
Once they reached the bottom of the staircase, she answered, “A monster."
He was unsure what to call this spectacle. Was it a mausoleum or a museum? The specimens were in a suspended animation state and could not ask for aid. Ahn Ten would like to believe he’d do the right thing if he swung hard enough. Looking to do something about this, he took long breaths and closed his eyes. Between the inhales and exhales, he scanned the room until he saw a console tucked away in the back.
This had to be done. Gathering the last few steady breaths, a passion reveled through Ahn Ten’s body. His fist eviscerated the air. The air crackled as an acute crescent launched and crashed into the console. Arcs flashed and fired erupted from the machinery.
"Ahn! That's enough! We have to get out of here”
"We have to destroy it all, Jackie." He spoke with watery eyes and his forearm clutched in one hand. Ahn Ten could not see these poor creatures and fellow humans suffer under such malicious intent. "Burn this fucker to the ground so that no one has to suffer here."
He could not bear to look at the suffering faces, twisted and turned from their cell. They were no longer the missing daughter or son, mother or father, lover or enemy that their family and friends once knew. Ornaments, a sick biologist’s nefarious experiment, the mangling of flesh for cruel pleasure. Ahn Ten releases them from this devious world in high hopes that they would reunite in the afterlife.
He struck the room with fast fists and the room erupted into flames. Jackie dragged Ahn Ten away with a relentless grip to his garments. He struggled and even retaliated with tightly wound hands, but one swift punch to the solar plexus extinguished his inner flame.
She carried him over her shoulders and ran down an exiting tunnel to the monster’s atrium. The fire and destruction: how could one boy hold so much power in his rage? Truly terrified, she hauled him down the tunnel for a long mile before she saw the speck of light. The faint hope at the end of the tunnel felt like a vivid hallucination. Jackie walked for an eternity and nearly forgot she was carrying an unconscious boy over her shoulders.
The exit grew clearer. A series of plexiglass partitions separated them from the other world. Luckily, Jackie was able to walk through the small plexiglass doors which Jackie must have gone through at least a half dozen of them.
By the time they got out of the labyrinth, the sun was just settling behind the dusty horizon. Her stay in the dungeons felt like it spanned over a couple of days, but now she faced graver problems. The fire and explosions slowly consumed the caverns as she walked through the brisk canyon. The Mogurel cats or their gigantic distant cousins stalked the ruins. Surely they’d be out and about tonight.
Chattering teeth woke Ahn Ten up hours later and he soon too joined Jackie on foot. He spoke not a word to Jackie that entire night, not even after they found a small abandoned abode carved into the face of the canyon walls. She had tried to converse with him in the dark but he kept to himself and took the first watch of the night.
Surely he wasn’t as sadistic as the murderous She-Bear. Unlike her, Ahn Ten did the right thing in putting an end to their suffering. He hope that the mad mind behind the facility died horribly in the flames or died of asphyxiation. In the back of his mind, they deserved nothing less.
Jackie woke up later on that night and relieved Ahn of the watch until the they set out the next morning. They relied heavily on keeping close to each other because the light could easily attract the wildlife or worse, Antezario. Of course, there were other ways of attracting unwanted bosses. Just by simply strolling out in the open of the Dalmenian ruins, two hovercrafts shot around the corner and encircled.
"My dearest She-Bear! You're alive!" The hovercrafts settles and the ostentatious ringleader charmingly took a knee to a hovercraft’s side and smiled.
Was it too late for Jackie to hike back to the wrecked ruins and let the fire engulf her? This encounter was far too convenient for her taste. The Maker must have had it out for her. This was her fate, her likely demise for being the ravaging She-Bear.
HEAD ES DOODLE PETSUCHOS / Finnigan
/ 161d 6h 17m 33s
[size16 |SBI:09:06 Dark Design, pt.1|]
Antezario hopped off his throne and skipped to and fro across his platform. Chipper for today, he put out a very crucial detail. "Keep a keen eye out for anything shiny. Shiny."
Raf Gedemonde sighed. He shook his head as Venomous Vespuccin interjected in the middle of his brief. Raf had to remind himself constantly that the pay was still great for all the minor annoyances this mad man had caused him.
"The canyon is deep and there's plenty of buildings that need to be excavated during our time in the northeastern region of Mogur, Dalme. We've divided up into six sections as of right now. Half of the Black Parade's crew will remain with the ship for maintenance and patrol of the immediate area but that's subject to change with an inevitable war. It'll act as headquarters for the time being. In five groups of thirty, we will start on the farthest reaches of the Mogur ruins and work towards the ship's domain. The furthest two will take two hovercrafts each and load two months worth of dry food onboard."
Raf felt trapped because he was ordered to protect Antezario, with the assistance of Jackie Simms no less. A prisoner of his own choice was what he murmured one day. He never thought about revenge against Jackie for killing his confidant, but rather longed for intellectual and stimulating conversation. The Black Parade seldom had intellectual and stimulating conversation; Antezario was quick to quash what intelligence dribbled out of his crew’s mouth.
"Zones 3, 4, and 5 will each take one hovercraft each and one month's worth of food. Each section will be responsible for arming themselves with proper weaponry and shall be provided with five flares. Given proper time, the Black Parade will either commence a fast-acting pickup or send out a general recall flare if an emergency should arise in the area. This is a covert mission, so don't be attracting the attention of any stray Winterborne."
"Any known dangers?" A concerning voice threw out.
"No known tribes, clans, or kingdom lives within a hundred mile radius. I'd advise not to mess with any wildlife if they should exist in such a forsaken place."
The Black Parade carried 301 unique individuals that all had some sort of expertise. Granted, most of them were mechanics and laborers but they were far from the mediocre work seen on any other ship. Zoologists and geographers who covered different parts of the Blue, a handful of doctors ranging from surgical to magical, mages from foreign waters, renowned fencers and famed hull technicians from Francol. This motley crew was to be feared because it achieved what many countries objected to: collaboration and the willingness to adhere to xenia. They saw past the country of origin their fellow brethren and focused on the task at hand.
Antezario Vespuccin came from the kingdom of Salcia. He said that thousands of years ago his country went by another name and had a vigilant winged goddess watch over them. The crew brainstormed what ailment had started the madman’s mental descent. Some swear they've heard him speak in demon's tongue and was possessed by a demon. Many said he was a disgraced prince who was exiled by the king for defiling his daughters.
His supposed departure led him to wander the seas and sleep a monstress, a melusine or maybe even a siren of the Blue. When the monster sang, her songs wound him to suck on his thumb for three months, spin in counterclockwise circles, and even kill those who looked at the monstress in such a surprising manner. Then, one day the siren lost her control over Antezario. As revenge, he sought out the very same circlet Jackie wore and forced her to become a sex slave until her untimely death.
On the other hand, Raf Gedemonde hailed from Peleutia, a kingdom adjacent to Salcia, but seldom did he speak on the subject. How he ran into Antezario was another sore subject for the two of them, despite Jackie's eagerness to know such mysterious origins. Not even the boisterous ringleader entertained that story.
Antezario, Raf, Jackie, and Ahn Ten rode in the same hovercraft through the Mogur canyon with few stories of their previous lives sprinkled in between the long periods of solitude. The sunset colored walls of the canyon stretched for miles and branched off into a myriad of corridors. The shade was brisk, but the rising sun warmed their backs as they sped through the desolate alleyways. The ancient musk filled nostrils yet strangely at the same time felt rather refreshing like reminiscing golden days.
"This thing is fast."
[i 'Not as fast as the Fighter though.'] She recalled the days of being behind the control of her mint truck and fiendishly insane jets. The rush and sense of adventure could not be satisfied by the hovercraft. Sick for adrenaline, Jackie knew that they weren't going to give her the controls to it and the thought pained her.
"It's the best money can buy. Suped up a real junker with all the gearheads I own." Sitting on a velvet throne which seemed to follow him whether he went, Antezario clacked heels together and guffawed, "Sudranese play too safe. Gotta go fast!"
"'Too fast, too gone.' You've ever heard of that saying? It's akin to 'play hard, die hard.'"
She felt rather honest with herself: if the hovercraft flipped over and left her paralyzed or possibly dead, she'd be okay as long as his raggedy face was left mangled across the earth. As low as her life was, she wished for serene death. At least in death she’d shed such aches named Antezario.
"There are no games that are hard for Antezario Vespuccin! Ahahahakahaha!"
Death couldn't come sooner.
It took the two hovercrafts two hours to successfully navigate the canyons to the designated excavation site. The vehicles resided underneath a crag in the canyon and the likes of the camp was established nearby. Just a quarter mile out of the way was a small stream that trickled from one hole in the canyon's side to another.
As Jackie and Ahn Ten pitched their tent, the two briefly conversed about their situation. Separately, they wondered if this was going to be the moment they escape, that the Mogur ruins would set them up for success. Running away where though? In order to make it out alive, they'd have to hijack one hovercraft and compromise the other.
By noon, Ahn Ten had enough of the sizzling rays of the sun and retreated to a shadier spot.
"What are we doing out here?" He asked.
"We're playing the role of a lackey to a complete idiot." Jackie finished up the fire pit and leaned on her shovel.
"We can take them out if we wanted to." The rambunctious young man blindsided Jackie for once. "Two against twenty-eight is doable, right? That's fourteen each."
Usually she would be down to brawl, but once she heard the odds coming from someone else's mouth, she realized how foolish she'd been all those years. Wiping the sweat from her brow with a red handkerchief, she shook her head, "They have the weapons, Ahn."
"We knock 'em out before they get the chance to make it to the lockbox." Ahn Ten flexed his muscles. It was really the first time that he had really opened up to Jackie and shown his youth.
Jackien genially smiled and then shook her head. "You speak if you're gonna do anything about them. Y'know, I used to think that I could carry the team on my lonesome, but I've gotten mighty wiser these past few years. Twenty-eight is a chore for me."
[i 'Did I really just say that? My biological clock is ticking!']
"Antezario can catch these hands." Sendign a few jabs into the air and raising his foot well above his head, Ahn Ten showed her what his late grandfather had shown him.
"Oh shit!" She exclaimed. The woman from Guten Nocht was not expecting the boy from Bating to be much of a fight.
Chuckling and remaining in that stance, he asked her, "Scared?"
"Surprised." Speechless really.
"I could teach ya, but I'd have to charge."
Ahn Ten lowered his foot and folded his hands. A little bit of his cockiness oozed out, but he remained cool for the most part.
"Yeah, yeah." Jackie half-joked, "Half my rations."
She adhered to her strict diet and wasn't going to be a lagging tail in this partnership. Rather, Ahn Ten, who had much more to live for, inspired her to be a better fighter, a sharper fighter.
Jackie nor Ahn Ten were part of the excavation party for the first couple of days. The boy established watches and plotted out boundaries to the camp when he wasn't tending to the flamboyant diva. Jackie hoisted tools out of the hovercraft and cleaned Antezario's dishes and latrine when requested. She was also expected to stand eight hours of watch after a twelve hour work day, but that wasn't going to happen. Ahn Ten would split the midwatch.
"Jackie, wake up."
The two were posted by the campfire with Jackie curled into a pudgy balled up blanket. The rest of the crew had retired into their tents. Ahn Ten shook her by the shoulder and Jackie slowly unraveled.
"Is it already time for watch?"
"No, but the crags have eyes."
He pointed to the cliffs, but Jackie was still waking up.
"There's something out there staring at us."
"Probably a Mogurel wildcat." Raf quietly and coolly rolled out of his tent with a rifle in hand. "They're curious felines but shouldn't be a problem for us."
"Smart man." Jackie looked up to him and grinned with her giant gap swallowing what happiness he had.
"The smart live long enough to see tomorrow. The prepared can last a lifetime," he dryly worded. He scratched his scruff and spat dirt from his arid mouth. How romantic.
Jackie fanned her face cheekily. "And a philosopher? What can Raf Gedemonde not do?"
"Get rid of you soon enough, I suppose."
Ahn Ten spoke his thoughts and might have even brought a small glimmer of a smile out of Raf. Jackie shot a glare towards his direction yet Ahn Ten remained grinning.
"Kid's right." Raf shook his head. He joked, "The sooner we get rid of you, the better."
At least, Jackie thought he was joking. Ahn Ten believed him.
"Will you be the one to put me down? At least give grant me one last wish."
"I don't want anything to do with you."
He sat next to the fire and put his hands to the fire. These next couple of years were going to be Hel, especially in the winter months. Though the northeastern region of Dalme was the hottest, the winters were unforgiving and harsh. The storms would enclose families inside their cabins for months and the worst blizzards killed off the unprepared villages.
"Go to sleep."
"I'm cold though. Come here and cuddle."
Jackie blew kisses yet Raf seemingly dodged the cheek-seekers.
[size4 "Creator, please kill this bitch."]
A few months into the exhibition and the the spirits of the crew were waning. The Black Parade covered only one percent of the Mogur ruins, which was roughly around the equivalent of 32 square miles. Day and night, the crews searched through every nook and cranny they could scale. Remains of old clay houses hung from the bottom of cliffs which made the ascent rather difficult.
Raf exclaimed, "Quick! Take cover!"
There was no time for questions. Jackie and Ahn Ten dropped to the dusty earth and hid behind a rock face. Within seconds, the charcoal gray bow of a segmented Dalmenian ship traveled upwards. Dozens of its wings rowed across the skies. The stench of magitech and diesel displaced the canyon’s cool breezes. The reverberating roar shook bones. Even Antezario was impressed by the display of the massive outdated airship.
"What was that?" Jackie asked as the monstrous machine flew up and north.
"Dalmenian patrol ship."
"You said that these parts of Dalme were abandoned."
Antezario steadily clopped towards Raf in his heel loafers and clipped him across the face. The enforcer took it without retaliation and looked his master in the eyes.
"With the eventual invasion of Varsylgard, perhaps they thought it was wise to patrol otherwise empty areas in case of retaliation."
"Time foolishly wasted. They will not get in my way!"
Antezario yelled and hollered and screamed until the Dalmenian disappeared from sight. He jeered and taunted the invisible enemy until Ahn Ten garnered his attention.
Ahn pointed behind the idiot. "Hey, are those cats supposed to be that big?"
It was a Mogurel wildcat. It was classified by the typical four white tufts of fur sticking out of its face and the black ear tips. The beast was half the height of Jackie, typically. Not this specific cat though. Sporting a bluish hue instead of the rich sienna tone, this wildcat stood twice the size of Jackie.
"No." Dumbfounded Raf stated in an "oh shit" kind of matter. Fear settled in his eyes.
Jackie watched as the beast closed in. Perusing, the wildcat inspected its prey before dashing for slaughter.
"You've got to be kidding me."
Antezario distanced himself from the rest of the crew as they watched the starving feline. He could always replace the lot of them if need be, but he would prefer to have the circlet back if Jackie were to go. Raf was an okay shot, but he did make running the Black Parade easier. And little Ahn Ten? There were going to be dozen more adorable mascots out there.
"I wish I was."
Raf inched away and the monster quickened its pace. He figured if they played it smart, the crew could intimidate the feline or outsmart it. Raf had his rifle but a single bullet wouldn't fell the blue wildcat.
Antrzario panicked and triggered the beast into a full on sprint. With a head start, Antezario and Raf hightailed it across the land and made way back for the camp. Jackie and Ahn Ten trailed behind with the canyon's guardian rapidly closing the gap.
Raf flew past Antezario and reached the other side of a skinny path that bridged across the canyon walls. Quick to act, he pivoted around and dropped to a knee. His boss zoomed past and muttered to his lackey about leaving the others as cat food. He ignored Antezario and pressed the the butt of the rifle into his shoulder.
His breath caught up before he belted, "Duck!"
Raf took aim. The beast took its leap as Jackie and Ahn Ten tossed themselves to the floor.
The gargantuan feline flew over and fell face first into the bridge, but the fates of Jackie and her sidekick was sealed. The beast broke through the crumbling earthen bridge and fell into the ravine below, taking Jackie and Ahn Ten with it.
HEAD ES DOODLE PETSUCHOS / Finnigan
/ 175d 8h 13m 56s
[size16 |SBI:09:05 Beautiful, Dirty, Rich|]
"Look!" exclaimed the lead joker, "We must make pitstop before next expedition. Varsyl today, tomorrow Dalme."
A month of heavy repair and maintenance had gone by before Jackie really understood the true meaning of the Black Parade. Antezario Vespuccin typically enjoyed three square meals a day in his quarters while the crew slaved around to overhaul any major issues. Galupsos was long and far behind them, yet they remained in the general area of the crumbling Varsylian empire. Raf Gedemonde mentioned that the Black Parade wasn't far off from Sudra, a country Jackie Simms has dreamed of and been to.
Today was different though. Antezario had brought out a new suit not seen by the weary crew in high hopes of revitalizing spirits. Truly, he was an awful man. An awful man with impeccable taste, but nonetheless an awful man. Some outrageous tailor glued giant lime green pompoms to an putrid burnt orange two piece suit. To top off the travesty, his tie and hat matched each other: more speckled pheasant feathers. Rumor has it that Antezario was also an excellent marksman and loved to hunt.
The ringleader also had a knack for putting all his men to work. The days started at 5 o'clock in the morning and ended 8 o'clock at night. Cleaning, painting, lifting cargo from port to starboard and often starboard and port back, cleaning commodes several times over. The Venomous Vespuccin--as Ahn Ten had appropriately nicknamed--made the likes of the Merchant of Death look rather decent.
Alas, Fatty Patty--good Jackie's old nickname--had avoided the donkey work for the longest time. While the fingers of crew grinded into sore stumps from dishwashing and heaving around unnecessary line, she was ordered by the ship's doc to slim down and tone for the next mission. The initial check in consisted of the the doctor constantly prodding her shoulders for tumor growth, name calling, and half a dozen shots in each arm. To Jackie, the moment felt like another round in the ring.
She prepared herself for whatever came her way. Antezario put her on a better diet than meat and potatoes. Jackie had access to vegetables not seen in the Varsylian Blue. Blue carrots, fiery red onions, leeks that grew up to six feet tall, giant gooseberries, and pink apples that grew like grapes. Jackie had it all.
Of course, Jackie wasn't going to live up the good life forever. Like Ahn Ten's grandfather, she plotted day and night on her inevitable escape. If she wanted to make it off the Black Parade alive, she was going to have to change once more. Speed was a must with strength and endurance maintained. Jackie thought of Vespuccin as a fool; he practically gave her all the tools she needed to succeed.
"What the heck is out there in Dalme that worth our lives?"
A crowd of 299 souls plus Jackie gathered around Antezario to hear the latest news. Formal yet informal, the captain expected everyone to listen closely to his remarkable voice.
"Scared? Fear not. Wealth unimaginable is buried in mountains!"
Antezario's enforcer stepped up to the same same platform the leader was on and assured, "Antezario is not going to lead us astray. We will be outside of normal Dalmenian reach, especially with what news we got about the invasion. Intel believes that the four fleets will hit Varsylian shores in three months. They gives us enough time to be in and out of Varsylgard as well as out of the fleets projected path."
Raf Gedemonde, in many ways, resembled an earlier Jackie Simms: he was the glue that kept the crew together, especially with a far fetched character like Antezario at the helm.
"A heist of the finest is in order. Quogwert Fortoon, the biggest bank outside of the capital, will set us up for two year expedition. That's enough time and money for four expeditions for what we'll be getting our hands on."
Individuals amongst the crowd mumbled. What could possibly top vast wealth from easy pickings? Another stranger from the crowd spoke up.
Antezario paced back and forth with his hands behind his back. He ponders on how he wanted to present the answer. Elaborate and drawn out? Loud and to the point? The options were endless for him which in turn frightened his crew. Unpredictable.
Antezario stood before his men and simply stated in the most straight laced voice he could muster, "Power."
The Black Parade exploded in applause. Everyone but Jackie and Ahn Ten cheered on their genius of a remarkable leader. More and more, Jackie struggled with loathing the feathered maven. Heists were "her shit" as she or Frank would have put it in Nocht terms.
As the crowd cleared out, Antezario and Raf approached. This was Jackie's chance to impress with her knowledge.
"Ah, welcome to the first of many briefs, She-Bear." A suave step in and Antezario gave burly Jackie the creeps. "Noticed that you aren't chained, no? I give you the privilege to walk amongst the free. After all, you will be part of the entourage."
"Entourage?" She played dumb.
"Yes. For the heist. You will do as you're told or die painfully you will."
"You'll have an integral part in this heist, Jackie. Usually it's a two man job, but you decided to nix your partner way too soon."
Raf wasn't going to let her down for her opponent's death. There was a vindictive tone that slipped out of his mouth.
"Oh, sorry." She drove the knife further into his ego. Jackie knew what she was doing and was distracting herself from winning over the Black Parade.
Jackie taunted, "I'm guessing you two weren't close."
Antezario turned away from the two to hide his usual smirk. He basked in conflict, even with his enforcer being attacked.
"Guessing got you into this mess. If I was you, I'd play it safe from here on out."
Raf Gedemonde wasn't scrawny by any means. He was around the same height as the typical man, but his well kept hair and stoic face that kept Jackie entertained. Give it another month and she'd have him in the sack. Or so she thought.
"Raf was it? We're gonna be the new power couple to beat. With me around, we'll be unstoppable."
She wasn't getting paid anything for this heist, that she knew, so she was going to abuse her prowess to get what she wanted. Some people mistook Jackie as a whore, but she adopted the philosophy, "why spend mine when I can spend yours?"
Raf ignored the advancements for weeks to come, but Jackie was insistent on peppering in her sexuality amongst her thieving expertise. She'd constantly rearrange some parts of the heist's organization and revised the tactics in approaching the bank. Raf appreciated the wealth of knowledge, but could not fathom such a repulsive monster. Easily, she could pass as a man, yet it wasn't her masculine physique that scared him off. Jackie Simms was a fiend, a tormentor to his ears. She--like the rest of the hooligans--lacked vocal sophistication.
It mattered not during the heist though. Trimming down ten pounds and two inches off her waist in three weeks, Jackie felt lighter than ever. She made note that this was just a preliminary round. Jackie had the strength to launch herself into the air with ease, but she wasn't fast enough. Sticking a round off into a double tuck followed by five backhand springs and landing a half turn took her fifteen seconds when she wanted it done in ten. When Raf asked her when such an elaborate stunt would come in handy, she assured him that it would never become handy.
The day of the heist came sooner than anyone had expected. The Black Parade landed miles away from the bank and in a small patch of forest. Raf and a couple men dressed up in moderately fashionable suits left first, then Jackie and Ahn Ten, and finally Antezario and a few attendants. Ahn Ten who never agreed to be a part of this heist assumed the role as Jackie's younger brother. He thought she was too dark and wide in the face to be related to his pale lankiness.
The three sets of groups entered at different intervals, each armed with weaponry and the knowings of Quogwert Fortoon. The columns lined up from the facade to the tellers' bench. The bank was well lit in conjunction with the natural lighting. All white, simple yet traditional to the Varsylian taste.
"Ms. Jackie Simms."
A deep note snagged Jackie by the collar. She turned to see who had said her name and met with a tall black bearded man with dark skin. Who was this? She pondered.
"You, I've seen you before." She prayed that this was not another one night stand who's hung up on her. She sucked her teeth before it clicked. Relieved, she sputtered, "No--you're Tony's brother."
"Indeed I am. It's been a long time."
Indeed it had. She gawked at Jeraia Maxwell. He maintained his fortified build and dressed sharp for a simple bank transaction which was going to be interrupted by the inevitable blindside. Definitely the better looking Maxwell.
Coolly, Jeraia snapped Jackie out of her drooling daze with his sultry voicebox. "Before Tony left for the Easteroth Monastery, he mentioned you quite a bit."
"He's alive?" She quivered at the thought that maybe she wasn't the only one who was alive. Though less of man compared to his brother, Tony held a smidgen of Jackie's decaying heart.
"Very much so. If you manage to get out of your situation, you might be able to catch the last ferry to Francol. He'll be clear of the oncoming storm."
The Dalmenians were a growing threat each and everyday, yet Jackie huffed and puffed her chest out and feared no one. Eudoxia hailed from Dalme but she was not as imposing as much as she was a broody teenage girl. Jackie then reexamined the fact that Eudoxia could transform into a dragon and wondered if all Dalmenians had this terrifying ability.
"You need to leave now and head to your next destination," Jackie admonished, "It's not safe here."
Jeraia had kind eyes that had a way of turning women, especially in the case of Jackie Simms, into puddles. He had quite the agenda to fulfill. Gallant Jeraia continued to free slaves across the Varsylian continent and establish a free state for those who were wronged. Some say that the sizable kingdom of Buenzeldyne grew overnight because of welcoming arms, yet their leader, Lord Buenzeldyne denied any collusion with freedmen.
Jeraia nodded. "It's safe nowhere these days."
He casually strolled the other way and anxious Ahn Ten brought Jackie back to the plan. [i 'Tony in Francol.']
Anchovi was alive. If Tony, of all people, survived then everyone else had to be. She wanted the best outcome.
The reunion would have to wait though. Raf and his men armed themselves and blocked the doors. Antezario's attendants helped him onto the tellers' bench. Jackie and Ahn Ten moved in front of the ringleader.
The devil smirked and projected to his audience. "Ladies, gents: you've read the routine in how this all works. Cooperate and die you will not; disobey and prepare to get shot in the face."
People screamed but they complied in the face of firearms and dangerous magicians.
Swords and daggers held people in place. Raf nodded to his leader and Jackie.
"We don't want paintings or anything decor. Cold hard stones that bling are the motive and you all have the motivation to start moving. Or else," Antezario chortled. The adrenaline was pumping and he lived in the exhilarating time.
"Or else what?"
An audible fool hiding behind a marble column asked. He certainly wasn't speaking for the rest of the frightened hostages but the thieves made sure everyone heard the response.
[b Bang, bang, bang. Bang, bang, bang.]
Jackie threatened the clerks with nothing more than a robust fist. Shaking down each and everyone of them, she growled and yelled until they opened the two giant safes and all the deposit boxes. She and Ahn Ten swiftly moved into place and dumped the contents into giant duffle bags. Ahn Ten carried two and Jackie lugged six on her own. Hundreds of pounds strapped onto her shoulders yet she remained straight-backed.
The brother-sister duo stormed for the doors where Jackie and Ahn Ten ditched their bags and bolted as fast as they could. The confused crew members of the Black Parade tried to control the panicking crowd as well as keeping a solid eye on the deserters.
Antezario and Raf reached the front entrance of the bank with rifles aimed for the two of them. Jackie glimpsed back and wrestled Ahn Ten into a meat shield. Surprised, he struggled but she easily overpowers him.
With Ahn Ten's in a deathly chokehold, she yelled, "I'll kill the boy!"
"Shiné, shiné!" The madman chanted.
Jackie's laugh boomed. "Ah-ha! Fuck you, you clown bastard!"
She had him beat. His incantation lost effect with distance and with her heavily distorted hearing. Jackie and Ahn Ten had tested various substances on the airship for suitable hearing protection. Smooth peanut jam worked wonders.
Raf Gedemonde was an unforeseen shot though. The bullet zipped fifty meters away and straight through Jackie's shoulder. Untouched, Ahn Ten collapsed to the ground with her, and before the two could scramble, they were staring down half a dozen rifle barrels.
"You're becoming a real nuisance, you know that?" Raf grunted.
"Frankie's a better shot," she muttered as she was arrested.
The Black Parade gathered its leader, the crew, its newly acquired treasure, and the two idiots who dared to escape its clutches. Right away, Jackie and Ahn Ten were thrown into their respective cells for the rest of the night and without dinner.
The boy fumigated and was frustrated with her stunt.
"You're still alive," Jackie assured. She pressed against the tension strumming in the cargo bay.
"Yeah, barely!" Ahn Ten was still frustrated with how she managed to blindside her own partner.
"You were safe the entire time."
"You know that whatever they're setting out to find seems to be more important than my parents' bounty. My usefulness is waning, Jackie!" He threw himself to the bars and screamed, "What the fuck was that?!"
Lights dangling from the ceiling lit their faces. Ahn Ten hated them so much and wished to be hidden in complete darkness. He thought of Jackie as another lackey to Venomous Vespuccin's hoard of snakes.
"Me testing the waters. I found out that they're not willing to let go of me or you yet."
He was not sure whether or not he ought to listen to such an overly optimistic idiot like Jackie Simms. As of right now,
she was a user. They were gonna place a bullet between his eyes the next time, that he was almost certain.
"Plus, I know he's alive."
Jackie laid back against the cot and bars and smiled. Ahn Ten hated how she kept a sense of cool about the situation.
"Tony, Toni, Toné."
HEAD ES DOODLE PETSUCHOS / Finnigan
/ 187d 7h 59m 41s
[size16 |SBI:09:04 Ahn Ten|]
Jackie stirred in the prison with the headpiece still latched onto her cranium. She yanked, scratched, and even punched herself. She tugged at the shining circlet and rammed it against the rusting bars, but alas, the cursed headwear did not budge one bit. The ringing lingered in the back of her brain, and Jackie was well aware of what kind of person Antezario Vespuccin was: vindictive, fearless, born and bred a psychopath.
[i 'How did I get myself into this situation?']
The question befuddled her, and she thought about how inhumane this all was. Jackie was human and had to be afforded basic inalienable rights, but she failed to understand that certain consequences followed bad decision making. She failed to acknowledge the murder of one Eidos Schwinn, despite him knowing well that the ring was an unforgiving place. She paced thoroughly in the spacious cage. With a thumb’s fingernail in the mouth, she plotted inevitable revenge, yet no amount of skill could outlive chance. In reality, Jackie thought of all the foolish ways she could die.
The Black Parade was a pristine ship that collected no dirt or dust nor was there an inch of rust. Its caretakers kept her in peak shape and maintained the gaudiness through the apparent love for stripes and whacky costumes. This troupe of clowns rode in style though this did not please Jackie one bit. The hairs on the back of her neck stood stiff.
The men of the ship licked their lips and voraciously insulted her, degrading her based on her thick hide and chunky curves. Jackie found herself rather shapeless compared to what she used to look like. She never had the need to feel sexy; men buzzed around like bees to flowers. She guessed that they were going to play with their food before ripping her limb from limb. After all, she believed these circus freaks were going to eat her.
[i 'Why did they have to be carnies?']
It had appeared that they locked her in the cargo bay with the rest of their supplies safely secured, neatly organized, and very well lit . She saw that the food was properly stowed in a water tight compartment in one corner with the water tank diagonally opposite. She was parked right behind dozens of landcrafts and amongst other cells locked in a bigger cage.
They allowed her enough space in her cell and the chains leading up to her comfy shackles were long enough for her to move about, so Jackie--bored of the ship already--worked out. Crunches, push ups, pull ups, and handstands. Stretches followed half a dozen sets before she realized she was being watched by a teenage boy in a far off corner.
He was tall and rather lanky but had muscle from what she could see. Eyes were small but not as small as the faint line of his eyebrows. His head was buzzed and his lips were full like his nose. This young man carried a tray in each hand as he approached the She-Bear's cage.
"Hey. Meal time," he stated in a rather droll voice. He slid the tray underneath the lower horizontal bar of the cage. After that, he turned to his cell and observed his rather pitiful tray.
"Inform the cooks I send my regards." Jackie stirred around her tray. The gray matter looked rather horrendously bland. Across the aisle she could hear the crisp crunching of vegetables. "What are you eating?"
He paused. The boy was instructed not to talk to her unless it was absolutely necessary. Of course, like all good teenagers, the youngster had a hard time of hearing the adults’ tone.
"Just rice and some pickled cabbage. Nothing special."
[i 'Yum.'] Jackie kinda forgot what vegetables tasted like. The fresh crispness of the bite enticed her ears.
"Sounds better than what I'm having." Underneath the gray matter was a scoop of rice. The meal didn't seem too bad until she took a bite of the rice and realized that it wasn't cooked all the way. Immediately skipping dinner, she called out to him and introduced herself. "The name is Jackie. Jackie Simms."
He paused. Was it worth his life to interact with such a villainous prisoner?
Scanning the environment around him to make sure it was safe, he whispered across the giant cage's aisle, "They told me not to talk to you."
Jackie scratched her chin and then tapped on the circlet. "You got one of these on as well?"
"Lucky Ahn Ten," he muttered to himself. "That's me."
"You don't sound so lucky." Apparently her hearing was on point because she could hear the boy whose name was Ahn Ten and his messages that quietly died in midair. “So Ahn Ten’s your name? I like it.”
"Hey I know that you're new to this party, but if you haven't noticed, we're apart of the Black Parade: a guild of poachers, bounty hunters, and treasure hunters all under one roof. If the price is good enough, we'll take the job no matter how dirty the details are. They'd sell their own grandmother on the market if she was worth the coin. Cutthroats with cutlasses. We're their property and they get to do what they want to do with us as long as it brings them fortune. Small talk isn’t gonna save either of us.”
Confused, Jackie pressed her face to the bar.
“They're not carnies?"
"Carnies? These guys might be a bunch of clowns and acrobats, but this is no circus. Antezario is strictly about business." Ahn Ten shook his head in disappointment. He thought to himself that the captain had inherited another brainless crook. "What do you know about the Black Parade besides what I had just told you?"
Jackie shrugged. "I've only been on the ship for half a day now, not much besides they have shit for cooks and a goon as their leader."
That smirk was forever seared in the back of her head like steak on the Fighter’s wings. No matter how she tried to scrub Antezario’s face from her mind, Jackie was reminded that he bested her.
"I'll let you in on what the guild members of the Black Parade can do. Five months ago the Ubizeni tribe in Zagara existed until a rival tribe hired the Black Parade to wipe the Ubizeni entirely out. They took up the bill and three months later the Ubizeni ceased to exist. It took us a month alone to stock up on supplies and get all the way to get to Zagara. That’s on the other side of our maps of the Blue. Our 300 versus their 10,000: they spared not even one child from the report I saw. 10,000 dead in two months."
Sighing, Ahn Ten slumped his elbows onto his knees. Only fifteen years of age and he was a witness of terrible genocide. He remembered the nights where the Black Parade dragged him along and he especially remembered the frightened faces of the slaughtered Ubizeni.
The Ubizeni was a peaceful and relatively new tribe that had been mostly comprised of farmers. With year after year of successful harvests, the wealthy Nujaku family—who had made their wealth on Zagaran lands—encroached on Ubizeni territory. Ubizeni officials sought to protect their lands from the pilferers through parliament in which enthralled the Nujaku. In response, blood had to be spilled.
Jackie wondered about this Ahn Ten. He was far too young, but even in the Blue could the most imaginable terrors exist. She poked her finger through her cell and at him.
“Did you partake in the killing?"
"I wish," Ahn Ten began. Jackie's heart skipped but then he continued with, "I would have tried killing as many of these fuckers before they did me in for good.”
Ahn Ten scratched his brow in slight disdain but took a few breaths to compose himself. He shuddered at the trembling memories of mothers shielding their young with their bodies as blades sank into their backs. The Black Parade danced in long pants, top hats, and elaborate coats as they cleaved their swords and fired off rifles into confused crowds. Who were these foreign men and what did the Ubizeni do to deserve such cruel punishment?
Speechless, Ahn Ten stood in the midst of the smoking fields. He watched the blood of human and cattle splatter across the tall grass. Mothers and fathers cried and fought as their children were set ablaze in large barbed wires pens. The unholy shrieks of the children heralded the catastrophic demise of the Ubizeni and ushered in the Nujaku rule.
“I’m just a coward,” he mumbled.
Silence. Ahn Ten pressed the pickled vegetables to his lips but did not eat. He witnessed a genocide in his very short life yet never had anyone listen to his feelings.
"So what's your story? You know, before any of this." Jackie pressed her fat cheeks against the bars and showcased the ugliest grin. She had to win Ahn Ten over; he was the only member of this atrocious troupe that minded her any attention.
"Long story short, mom and pop were conscious objectors who fled from Bating. The prime minister put a bounty out on them and I became collateral as a result.”
Ahn Ten returned to his food promptly. He squinted and turned away from Jackie.
"So there's a chance your parents are alive then."
Even in a slightly drunken stupor, Jackie had rare moments of optimism. Some of the old her simply refused to die with Anchovi.
"I would like to think so. Ship's admin knows how to lock up information and everyone else is decent at keeping their mouths shut." Ahn Ten had been on the ship for almost a year now and had been placed as the tottering messenger boy. It wasn't the best position, but at least he got to go to sleep without any lashes. This did not improve his attitude whatsoever though. "They could be dead."
"That's a possibility." Jackie got positive vibes from Ahn Ten. She thought that she could possibly finagle a breakout with him. "There's also a possibility of you leaving this ship alive."
Ahn Ten scratched his brow and shook his head. Fifteen years young and alone, the teenager had so much to look forward to in life like his first kiss and owning his own house. Not even an hour after knowing each other Jackie Simms, she was leading him down a path of absolute suicide.
"I can't risk my life for a stranger," he peacefully put it.
"Then perhaps we can risk our lives as friends." The audacity Jackie had. She joked that it leaked from the gap between her two front teeth.
"There's no such concept as friendship on the Black Parade." Ahn Ten shrugged and turned away from her direction. "Fuck, if family can't save me, then who can?"
He took half an hour to compose himself. The memories flooded his mind and down his cheeks, and he couldn't let this strange bulk of meat and a mouth catch him crying. Stalwart and fearless: that's what Ahn Ten strived to be. That's what his parents taught him to be.
Finally, Ahn Ten spoke up after Jackie had lain down for the night. She faced the young man across the aisle and listened closely.
"My grandfather was with me when Antezario captured us in Upper Bihon. We had gotten a message from my parents that we were going to meet at the Gilded Lily. Of course, these bounty hunters were already keeping a close eye on us hoping to catch mom and pop. Gramps knew that we couldn't lead them to my parents so we tried our best to lose them in the Uchi-soto league. Didn't work for us. These headhunters scoured across the Grand View in hopes of collecting the biggest bounty they've ever seen."
[i 'Grand View? That's a new one.'] Jackie believed that his parents did more than object to Bating's ruling. It pained her to watch him skirt around the glaring holes in his story.
"Wan Qien was my grandfather's name. He loved his daughter very much and always encourage her to go against Bating's grain. Mom was a blacksmith who made art out of dated relics; turned old jian into magic. Gramps made sure that my mother only married the best. Pop aspired to be a diplomat but was fated to serve the Bating's oligarchy as one of the country's leading bodyguards. Bating suffocates the common people in order for the affluent to live well and prosperous. Gramps sought potential in our family and initially caused my parents to flee from the country. Only when they reached Red Bird Station did they let me--their only son--know that they were leaving for good. I soon followed."
Tidbits of Bating were thrown around ever since she was a young girl. Jackie's parents always talked about how their ancestors uprooted from the home country and made the migration up to Guten Nocht with several dozen clans. Initially, her ancestors and their people settled in Astrid and prospered financially with textile making, food service, and farming.
The clans from Bating intermarried with each other and forbid marrying outsiders. Soon enough, distant cousins were marrying each other and the bloodline traits formed. The weak died fairly young, but age old tradition and fighting styles lived for millennia through the generations.
It was only until Jackie's great-great grandparents that her line moved to Last, where they started an orphanage attached to a fighting dojo. The dojo lasted for a couple generations until the Simms struck calamity and were forced to close down for good. Jackie herself was never fully immersed in the culture, but she took in what she could get. The entire armory was sold before Jackie was born: she never saw traditional armor nor a jian or dao.
The one thing she recalled was that there were four stations to the capital, each in a cardinal direction. Black Turtle, Green Dragon, Red Bird, White Tiger. Jackie wasn't connected to these places per se, but there was a flicker of wanderlust. One of these days she'd make it to Bating, but her guess when was not anytime soon.
"Gramps plotted for months to flee this ship, but the wrench monkeys always kept a vigilant eye on us. We knew of former slaves who tried to jump ship, but it didn't end well for them. They were quickly recollected and whipped for days. Eventually, they had crumpled under pressure and died. But my gramps, he came up with the idea to poison them all at the dinner table. Take them all down in one fell swoop."
"That's gutsy," Jackie perked up and propped her head into her palm. Now the story seemed to go somewhere.
"No, Antezario has guts. He caught my grandfather administer the poison into the stew. The feast was canceled but the two ate in that lunatic's private quarters. I kicked and I screamed and fought. My fists weren't enough to knock out all his guards. The two of them enjoyed the stew, my grandfather and Antezario. Well, Antezario did. Oh, and Raf with a gun to the back of gramp's head. Raf made sure that the entire pot was split between the two men, but only one of them made it out alive."
"Rumor has it that Antezario Vespuccin is apparently immune to poisons. He's ingested hundreds of poisons over the years and built up his immunity." Ahn Ten, whose lanky arms wrapped around the bars, held back his tears and continued with the tragedy. "That night they shackled gramps to the walls and I witnessed my grandfather's body turn into maggot meal for two months before they allowed me to clean out his cell. For two months, I was locked up to witness his death. The poison was slow acting, and it melted him from the inside-out. He'd try talking away my tears but only vomit and white foam came out. It was a clear reminder that if I ever tried to flee that I would suffer a more painful fate than him."
He pulled away from the dry cell bars for a spell. The nightmares of the past tore him apart internally. Helpless Ahn Ten, locked behind bars, was forced to watch Wan Qien's body to collapse on itself. Every time the boy closed his eyes, his grandfather's cries for death echoed in the distance.
"I'm scared." His voice trembled.
Jackie jumped onto her feet to comfort Ahn Ten. She held out her hands for him, but the aisle kept them apart.
"You're allowed to be scared, but you don't have to go alone." She assured him. "I had someone very close to me be in a similar situation."
"And what happened to him?" Ahn Ten wanted to calm down, but the grotesque scene haunted his thoughts.
"Well, you see, that's a long story in itself." Jackie then lied, "He's safe traveling the Blue, probably learning new things wth all the friends he's made since we've split."
She hadn't the slightest clue as to what happened to Rhys Illumina or the rest of the Fighter's crew.
"I'm gonna reunite with them, and if you're smart, you'll tag along with me. We're survivors. Survivors need to stick with each other."
With false hope, Jackie lured Ahn Ten yet managed to leave out an important bit to Jackie's past: survivors needed to stick with each other until all further use has been exhausted. Jackie Simms belonged outside of the bars and back with her people. That is, of course, the people of the Black Parade, for she would go to great lengths to save her own hide at the risk of other bystanders.
HEAD ES DOODLE PETSUCHOS / Finnigan
/ 194d 20h 35m 25s
[size16 |SBI:09:03 Welcome to the Black Parade|]
Food and fingers flung into the blood soaked air. The hedonistic audience reached their climax and expelled a frenzy of ruthless applause. They rose to their feet, Eidos fell limp to the ground while the victor basked in infamy. Jackie Simms who made it a point to kill only when necessary snapped the neck of her own coda in tandem with Eidos Schwinn's.
This fire deep down in her chest raged and resonated with the bloodthirsty fans. Jackie caught herself panting but not because it took effort to murder her opponent. The adrenaline pumped through her so rapidly that the animalistic crowd’s cries were drowned. This was not her usual method of letting loose yet she was strangely okay with the results.
Eidos did not have a family nor did he have friends, just associates, but during this moment in the arena Jackie had not given it a thought. Her poisonous vices removed what morals she was raised with in Last. Getting trashed, winning fights, and screwing passable men topped her list of priorities; everything else was dead last with her fallen foe.
Cruel Jackie stopped her triumph to look Antezario straight in the eye and smirk devilishly. Grief simmered in his stomach like bad seafood and ratty Antezario smirked no longer. She had won on two fronts. Or so she thought in the moment.
After collecting her money from the box office located in the front of the building, Jackie stepped out to a crowd of fans who were ready to celebrate. They locked arms with their hero as if they were friends from the beginning and trailed to the local bars where the endless drinking began. Drink after drink poured, Jackie Simms was obliged to down each shot glass and pint thrown at her. It did matter what drink she had in hand; they all went down as smooth as water.
Mirrored plates with various substances in pill and potion forms settled in the middle of the bar. Her new friends encouraged her that she’d return to her place soon enough, but the night was far too young to retire. She observed the options set on top of the the bar. Blue diamonds, pink elixirs, white lines, yellow parchment. The sky was the limit with this company. Jackie partook in the euphoric lines and the true fight started.
Way past her limits and a few lines in, Jackie's head spun in circles through a night of victory, bright lights, and laughter. It took the likes of six men to toss her into the air, but she would not know because her head spun on a swivel. Euphoric Jackie bobbled from tavern to bar, from one end of the street to another. One blink she was in front of the Outland Bar, the next blink at Chunky’s.
A splash of color filled her eyelids every time she closed her sullen eyes. Elaborate light shows that moved faster than what she could comprehend plagued her at one point in the night which caused her to be slightly nauseous, but nevertheless she persisted. Her adamant fervor round her to consume more. Without limits, she was unstoppable. Without limits, she was self-destructive.
Jackie could not remember where she went or where she was nor who she was with. Men from the island and tourists wanted to be her, wanted to be with her. She'd lock lips with young and old alike, light and dark skinned, tall, short, fat, skinny. Even a few women snuck in a peck, one even went as far as to eat Jackie’s face off. The warrior tried all sorts of flavors, yet she could not pick one to be satisfied with.
The fighter was empress of trash and she got trashed. At the end of the night, Jackie stumbled onto the realization that nobody hung out with her for the sake of companionship but out of association with a champion. The mighty She-Bear made them feel important, that maybe one day they’ll step into the arena and maybe pull off a fraction of her prowess. They were vampiric losers seething to leech off her success.
She still had to return to her desolate shack of a shelter and do it all over again to make ends meet. The lethargic brawler quickly realized in this business that no victory was going to make her blow up and become a superstar. The money she made went to her searches across the Blue, the gym rental space, and the gross amount of food she consumed. No matter how much she won, no one cared for the She-Bear. No one could ever love such a slovenly beast.
Her last bar stop was a lonesome one to the Tipsy Tea Lantern where her favorite bartender Harkess was nowhere to be found behind the usual line. The night came to a sudden halt with a half beaten frown wiped across Jackie's clammy face. A few more lackluster drinks climbed down her throat right before she decided to give up on getting lucky. Digested to a slight degree with herself, she swung her upper torso off the bar and back out into the streets like a rag doll.
Jackie reached her beloved estate but only when the night slithered to a stop. Stumbling and stammering in the same dirt patch for a few minutes, the She-Bear leaned across the rickety white picket fence with a dumb smile smeared across her broad profile. Her shallow breaths sobered up some before coming to the front door of her shack. That's when she realized all her mistakes tonight snowballed into one big bitchslap.
The air crackled as strong Jackie flew across the alleyway and back into a rickety fence. As soon as the smoke cleared the long barrel of the shotgun, the attacker and his employer stepped out of the wheezing She-Bear's cave. The man with the shotgun had not yet introduced himself, but the second was very apparent.
"Silly She-Bear. You moon people aren't the only ones with guns." Antezario Vespuccin's wide grin and bulging eyes glowed in the eerie white moonlight. He had now changed for this occasion in a blood red suit with a cover decorated with all sorts of pheasant feathers.
Jackie hyperventilated on the spot. Her entire chest was embedded by tiny studs. She had to keep it together, keep herself from this awful feeling of vomiting. Her chest felt warm and immediately she thought she might have been bleeding. In the midst of the night, she locked eyes with the gunner and wanted to wipe him out.
"Don't worry, you're not gonna die. It's rock salt." The shooter said in his gravely voice as he opened up his shotgun and dispelled the empty plastic cartridge. In contrast with his boss, this fellow wore a pilot's cap with goggles, a tattered vest loaded with ammunition and clips, and khaki coveralls. Jackie made note that he'd be the first to die amongst whoever else was underneath the wing of the mad foreigner.
"Yeah," Jackie lifted her head and sputtered, "I can taste it."
The madman covered in feathers tasted the saccharine prick of revenge. Antezario walked over to Jackie's head to be face to face, upside down. "Stings a little, no?"
"Boss believes that you got rather greedy when he visited you earlier tonight. You're a glutton, Simms. He gave you a simple compromise that you should have taken when it was presented to, but you chose to be difficult and deny such a gracious offer. You're an unholy woman to behold, an embellishment on humanity's record." He must have been the right hand man to the lunatic because Jackie could understand him. "Now you better prepare to work twice as hard now that Eidos is gone."
"How do you figure that?"
She laid there with such fury in her eyes. The heavy breathing had calmed down to brisk nose flares and intense staring. It hurt to move and even uttering a single sound pinched Jackie's bosom. Antezario rubbed his ratty face and then fiendishly smirked. Jackie's erupted through the injury.
"I'll kill you both or die trying!"
If she had magical aptitude, Jackie from Guten Nocht would spew fire and smoke from her mouth and melt mountains. Rivers would dry up and the earth scorched by such fervor. The bones of the madman and his executioner would turn into the greyest if ash.
Antezario lapped up the fire within her eyes so much a squeal escaped his mouth.
“The circlet, Raf."
The lackey removed from his satchel a thin golden strand headpiece. The craftsmanship on the circlet was stunning but the upkeep was mediocre, even considered less than stellar. Embossed were a few green and red gems, yet the horns had dents and significant bends which might have been prevented if this subservient man had stowed the circlet better.
Raf handed gaudy Vespuccin the circlet. With great honor, the strange man crowned downed Jackie and sang.
An unbearable migraine shot through Jackie's head as if the circlet itself was constricting her head. She swore that the metal shifted like boa snakes tightening their grip on prey as Antezario chanted some more. Eyes felt like they were going to pop out and blood vessels were on the edge of bursting.
Jackie's closest experience to this kind of anguish was when she was first learning how to become an aircraft pilot. She remembered the simulation apparatus being very real and responsive, especially with altitude changes and exceeding maximum height. On a very visceral level, the simulator would deprive Jackie of oxygen thus causing her to turn red then briefly blue.
Antezario had to rub the victory in Jackie's face. After all, this was all simple payback for killing his prized warrior. Perching his behind on her broad chest, he playfully slapped her in the face and grinned. He smelt of pure stank, more armpit and ass than anything.
"You, She-Bear, are mine."
She would remember his face for years to come. That face was destined to cave in by her very own fists if not by a swift yet powerful stomp. Vengeance brewed through the numbing pain. Jackie Simms was going to undo Antezario Vespuccin. Every fiber would be torn from his skeleton, every cell obliterated from the Blue. She vowed this as she writhed in uncontrollable pain.
"Disobey any order from me and wishing, you will learn faster. Try running away, your head will erupt painfully. Be wise not anger me." Pressing his fingers together, he uttered, "Shiné."
Antezario went on a fruitful rampage that repeatedly stung Jackie in the head. It wasn't a full minute until the mad man had knocked out the ursine creature. She had succumb to the intensity of the cursed circlet and had not woken up until the next sunrise.
Chained inside a cage, Jackie found herself in a suspenseful daze and surrounded by a ragtag group of vagrants of all shapes, sizes, and colors. Moving by hovercraft , such elegant posing models wore fruity wardrobe and some wore white makeup with exuberant characteristics on their faces. Feathers protruded from the hats and the purple vests glimmered in the early morning. She'd only heard about these nightmares in the stories the older people used to tell to pacify their children. It's where all the awful people ran to; this unspeakable prediction freaked out Jackie.
[i 'The circus.']
Lips remained sealed until further noticed. Not only did she have to watch what she said around the ringleader, she had to make sure that the "carnies" didn't rip her apart and defile her body. Not many things scared Jackie Simms, but a fate met with these freaks was a fate worse than death. Frank had said that "carnie" was short for "carnivore" which was quickly mistaken as a synonym for "cannibal". Until the cart stopped, she pretended to be asleep until she could find a viable route to escape.
The high hum of the hovercraft came to a halt as it ascended a ridged ramp. The vehicle scaled the inner walls until its cushion successfully deflated on the main deck of what appeared to be a gargantuan open faced airship. Red and white stripes were painted alongside the steel edges and the wings were old fashion oars protruding through the ships chocks.
Jackie's steel cage opened. Four men each took a chain attached to a limb and walked out the bewildered beast. Up closer they were gruff looking men dressed in flamboyant costumes and some of the worst makeup ever seen in the Blue. She could easily wrangle control from them, but then the ringleader and his pit boss approached her with welcoming arms. That trademarked smirk of Antezario glowed in the midst of all her misery. The repugnant glint his teeth had cast repulsed her; his ugly was the worst of powers and yet he approached her with such vile finesse.
"Welcome to the Black Parade," said the man she would eventually respected the most out of the this crew. His name was Raf Gedemonde, the secret lover of the late Eidos Schwinn. Straight laced and apathetic to the world, he plainly put out, "This is your new home until the boss decides to use you as bait or works you to death. Whatever comes first usually.”
HEAD ES DOODLE PETSUCHOS / Finnigan
/ 221d 11h 3m 52s
[size16 |SBI:09:02 Queen of the Ring|]
Jackie Simms smashed clay disks in midair with nothing but bandages wrapped around her fists. She traded in her years of agility to become a bruiser. The years of alcoholism and the low key use of drugs had tampered with what she used to be for sluggishness and slow reaction. Meteor hammers and big knuckles have cracked her across the face plenty of times, but Jackie remained in the fights long after her opponents were down.
Of course, the She-Bear always threw in a few backhand springs when she wasn't recovering from a night's worth of binge drinking. In the ring, she knew how to entertain and command the crowd. Suspense riled up the blood flow and living on the edge beaded up the sweat. Sometimes the matches would last five minutes, but sometimes would go on longer than an hour. She'd take a few punches to stir up the emotions, but for the most part she'd deliver the final blow.
For Jackie, it was another ordinary day in the ring, and she never thought too much into her fights. Rumors circulated that her next opponent was a convict under the command of a wealthy aristocrat who sought to bring up the greatest fighter on this side of the Blue. This did not matter to dull Jackie, for her opposites in the ring all fell the same.
Then again, Jackie wanted to be the best and perhaps the aristocrat could help her travel the Blue in a more efficient manner. A win-win situation she thought. Just show up and perform, best the next best guy and call it cash. Cold hard cash.
Her elegant stance waded into the years and the more fiendish ursine gesture. Her height never intimidated, but bulk had offset her opponents. Jackie was stockier than ever due to the strict diet of meat, the starchiest potatoes, and rice she had put herself on. The voracious woman consumed the average calorie intake of five strong men and felt no shame or remorse before, during, or after meals.
The tourists often mistook her as man and the women were utterly repulsed by her sloven lifestyle as if her mere presence peeled back their skin. By no means was she living a grand life either. Aside from spending the majority of her money on food, Jackie was poor. Bathing was a treat unless she was spending the night at a hookup's hotel. Jackie snuck quick showers with garden hoses in the back of convenience stores.
Life was anything but perfect, but the brute to behold pinched every coin she got her hands on in order to pay for her airfares to and from the island. She refused to admit it but the drugs and alcohol were digging into her savings as of lately.
Jackie scratched and clawed for any outlet that she could latch onto: excessive drinking, sex, fighting, binge eating, the bimonthly visits to the opium dens. Three years ago, she had a smile that killed with gentle warmth, but now she had a list of problems to fix. Eventually, of course.
The gymnasium housed Jackie for most of her days. She'd hop into the grind without stretching and have a trainer hurl rocks at her by magic. They curved, even screamed when soaring through the air, for her, and Jackie had to learn to pick her fights. Most times she obliterated them with a good punch or two, on rare occasions she dodged, but more often then not blocks the size of stepping stools pounded into her sides.
The cruel eyed healers patched her up quickly so she could be torn down again. Stitches, sutures, bandages; she was up again. More magic went into repairing fractured bones and restoring minced fingers. The pain kept Jackie moving. Her injuries reminded her that she was indeed alive and not in a state of perpetual limbo.
Bleeding and limping around the island were her best friends. Her ex-boyfriend: ruptured organs. Jackie avoided making any real conversation on Galupsos and squatted in an abandoned hut a few streets away from the arena by herself. She'd go through days without making eye contact with anyone on the island nor speak anything but low growls. After all, she'd have to protect herself from her sole self-proclaimed weakness: companionship.
With the match tonight, Jackie kept the intensity on low. Sweating off the meat and only suffering from a few nicks and scrapes, she retired early back to her dimly lit shack and focused on the goal ahead.
[i 'Gonna go in there and take the prize. Fame, notoriety, perhaps an actual sponsor. Let's go for a hat trick.']
Slapping herself awake with what little water she had in her washing basin, she amped up the pep talk with grunts and and shouts. She observed the outline of her thick nude body in the dark and paused very briefly to realize that she no longer just a woman but a beast with huge fangs and terrifying claws.
Jackie thought Werebear would have been fitting as a stage name, but the few people she consoled with at the bar shot down the idea.
[i 'Werebear ain't a care bear.']
After downing a gallon a water, Jackie napped for a few hours before heading back to the Hap Shui arena. She tossed on black compression shorts and a green tank top. She wrapped a red cloth to contain her thinning black mess she called hair. Jackie embraced her so-called disfigurations despite collecting a hoard of one night stands. She honestly believed that men only slept with her as a task on their bucket list or perhaps they secretly desired to be with a man without the extra extremity. It didn't matter in the end, the sexual encounters mitigated her inner pains.
Jackie entered through the backdoors of the shady establishment and headed towards her personal locker room allotted by the managers. She sat on the bench in front of a handful of lockers and started pep talking herself again.
[i 'We won't be defeated.']
Over and over again, she chanted to herself until she felt the presence of a figure looking over her beefy torso. His cold blue eyes ran chills down her spine and immediately she looked back up at the man she would eventually know as Antezario Vespuccin.
"Hullo there." The last syllables lingered in the air. "Please allow to introduce myself."
"No need," with a stern face she stated, "you were just about to see yourself out."
Zesty and vibrant is how she would describe his wardrobe. Horrendous oranges clashed with deep purples on his top hat with a plethora of badges pinned to the suede chimney. Multicolored sequins lined his collar and traced down to his coat tails. Crudely stitched in pinstripes lined the deep azure fabric of both coat and slacks, but what set Jackie off were the yellow feathered loafers with the inch high heels. An atrocity in motion, this stranger with the stranger accent smelt of deceit.
"I am Antezario Vespuccin." He bowed most elegantly and smirked. "I come today to you because I have the best interest for you. See, my eyes have been enchanted by you since my airship docked on this amusement park."
The common tongue wasn't his first language and Jackie had to make sense of the rambling.
"I don't see how you can help me if you can't speak normal."
She grew rather indecent with strangers who didn’t offer anything worth her time and her patience was like a block of wood being whittled down.
"Ah, money, it speaks!" The spark of enthusiasm jumped off his tongue. "Right?"
"Enough to move out of that commode that is called home," Antezario clapped his hands and laughed. His charming grin revealed a few golden teeth and maybe a side of sinisterly ugly.
Jackie perked up. Money was nice, but it was the stalking she was not okay with. She prodded some more.
"Under what conditions, Antezario?"
"The match you will throw!" He cheered as if she had already agreed to his condition. "Winning my combatant does, submitting is what you do."
"Fuck no," she angrily snapped. "Your sorry excuse for a champion wins by beating me fair and square. Pay me what you're paying him and more when the ref announces me the winner."
"Pride is an ugly monster, She-Bear."
"Scram if you don't like what I got to tell you," she shrugged.
The moment presented itself but her greed got the best of her. Scruffy faced Antezario smirked as he slowly backed out of the dressing room.
[i 'A weasel. A weasel with money no less. What luck.']
The ovular ring's floor was bare dirt surrounded by high walls. Behind the chain linked fence were hundreds of seats for the bloodthirsty audience. Two narrow entrances fed the ring its combatants and an hour later Jackie was in the ring in one corner facing her opposite. He didn't look different from any of the small fry she was familiar with, rather generic.
The referee for the match walked through Jackie's entrance with great gusto. A crowd pleaser, he rose his hands and the audience roared and cheered for their champions.
"In this corner at five feet and two inches, weighing in at one-hundo eighty pounds with a 57-3 record, it's the mightiest, the greatest She-Bear in action!"
Jackie amped up the crowd by lifting her hands into the air and yelling. The gladiator thrived in this culture; it was now her way of living.
"And in this corner, we have a raging stallion at five foot ten at two-hundo forty pounds with a clean record on the island, it's the prince with the most, Eidos Schwinn from Valbaigna! Let's hear it for the newcomer!"
Eidos Schwinn from Valbaigna. His golden grey facial hair shimmered in the dingy arena's poor lighting. Buzz cut and scarred, Eidos seemed like another punk from Jackie's good old days on Guten Nocht.
Jackie looked him in the eyes and smirked. "Let's have a good clean match."
"Heh, clean." He pulled out a bayonet from the scabbard attached to the ankle of his boot. With a low grumbly voice, he sneered back at his opponent. "Look, I have no problems taking you down just because you're a woman."
"I'm not just any woman. I am She-Bear."
The match immediately opened up with Jackie flying towards her opponent who ducked and anticipated her foolishness. The tip of the bayonet stuck into the ground and shot up fist sized rocks into a vulnerable Jackie. The sharp edges dug into her skin while Eidos followed up with close quarters combat. Off to a bad start, Jackie dodged what fist and knife jabs directed her way. The blade was only able to make a few superficial wounds.
Backing away, Jackie and Eidos circumnavigated the arena's perimeter until both went in for the grapple. He had height and weight over her, but she was able to remain grounded and still retained some agility over her foe. Quickly, she outmaneuvered Eidos and swung behind him for a quick suplex across the dirt floor. The toss landed him feet away as he skidded on his face and got the first hand experience of what Galupsian dirt tasted like.
Jackie scrambled back to her feet to charge forth and into Eidos with a strong knee to the jaw. Bone striking bone crackled like an evening thunderstorm. The challenger fell back with drool spilling fro the side of his mouth, but Eidos refused to lose. Grunting the pain away, he entwined his arms barely around the barrel bodied She-Bear and threw her to the ground.
The audience roared and lost their minds from the turn of events. The audacious referee peeped his flat nose between the combatants as they struggled for control of the dirt floor. With the sharpened edge in hand, Eidos played for keeps with the point aimed for the beautiful glow in her eyes. Jackie's felt the fire in the fibers of her muscles, her very own soul, as she struggled across the line of life and death.
Face to face and sweat mixing with sweat, Jackie headbutted Eidos in the face once, twice, three times before his grip loosened. She knocked the bayonet from his hand and wrapped her legs around his torso and right arm. If she had to, she'd rip his arm right out of the socket. She's done it and continued her savagery.
Eidos came prepared with another knife on his belt. With his free hand he pulled it out of its holster and jammed it into her calf and Jackie's hold unwound. Blood dripped onto the earth as they scurried away for a brief tactical retreat. The heavy panting drowned out the crowd and all Jackie saw was her opponent in the same condition. They wobbled in place and readied themselves for the clash that would decide the victor.
Without a moment's notice, they charged towards the center of the stage with great weight in their burning muscles. Eidos lunged into Jackie's gut and smashed her into the wall. Crack after crack of fist to the face, she was taking an precedented pummel. Blood oozed from her skull but she threw up fists to minimize the barrage's destruction. It seemed all over until he let up and exposed himself for the wrong flash in time.
[b Crack!] One devastating punch to the jaw was all she needed in the fight. The audience gasped and swore the earth beneath her buckled as she launched into the air. Jackie pushed him away and with the adrenaline surging through her body, she tore the knife in her calf. Blinded by blood and the rage of war, she punched him back with the knife in hand. Step by step, Eidos lost ground and brain cells as she churned up an unbreakable storm of jabs and hooks. Nothing could break the tide. Eidos threw a single punch in retaliation, but Jackie swooped underneath his long reach and stuck the knife in the pit.
At last, the match was done when he stumbled to his feet, but then the She-Bear spotted Antezario Vespuccin in the crowd with his patchy facial hair and grotesque smile. Jackie had a simply remedy for that problem.
HEAD ES DOODLE PETSUCHOS / Finnigan
/ 243d 8h 56m 39s
[size24 [b ARC 9: When She-Bears Fly]]
[size16 |SBI:09:01 Distant|]
The inhabitants of the Galupsos swore that their island floated across the Blue. The only fact that could stem from this absurd idea was the fact that the island was the inhabited by Bating descended men and women in the midst of Varsylian domain. Legends say that mere men steered the ship for decades to escape a long forgotten tyrant. Of course, Galupsos attracted tourists from the large continent and made a profit on its tall tales in the long run.
Galupsos hosted many attractions: get away resorts, gambling which was prominent with people from Bating, gargantuan water parks, nonstop drinking, nonstop eating, nonstop partying. The island brought foreign cuisine to salivating mouths and leisure was said to be an all time high for all persons involved. The weather remained warm year round and the rain showers were pleasant to stroll through if one didn’t mind getting a little wet. Transportation was among the best of all the Blue with buses, personal vehicles, bikes, and pedestrians each having their own lane. This getaway suited those who had to escape from all the pains of the real world back on the mainlands. Quite the fantasy life anyone had seen.
Lately though, tourism died down significantly from Varsylgard because of the disarray happening at the capital. Prince Chelon had died in his sleep and all the lords and princes scrambled for the throne once he took his finale breath. Young he was, yet he had many enemies waiting for the right moment to nix such a clueless figurehead. Old houses with strong ties to the Varsylgard parliament divided into multiple fronts and the armies multiplied. The extent of who was fighting remained a mystery to the outside world as Varsylgard’s iron curtains concealed the truth for years to come. Wicked Chelon’s untimely death unfortunately marked the end of the era.
That was none of the Galupsians business though. They bowed down to no prince or foreign ice queen; money spoke the most to the vendors and business owners. The local government allowed the islanders to conduct business however deemed fit. This gave leeway for the risky business owners to rule their parts of the neighborhood without repercussions.
For the adventurous, they could order escorts from the Veena district or even become prostitute themselves if they so wished. There were a lot of cases where foreigners would sell their bodies for the experience just as long as they didn't bring back diseases or a frantic mistress. The island allowed sexually deprived Varsylian men to cheat on their wives with whores laced in silk with the plush lips, some even took up young muscled men to fulfill a forbidden fantasy.
Down in the pits of Hap Shui district was where the rowdy rumbled and rested. Bar fights occurred every other night up and down the strip, but the tourists and islanders alike reveled in the widely advertised underground fights. If a brawl broke out in the middle of the street, men and women clustered to cheer and gamble for the pugnacious drunks.
Champions came far and wide to throw down in the ring for all reasons, whether it be for fame, fortune, or just the sport. The matches often turned into bloodsport where the crowd roared and rampaged. The fury, guts, and grit fulfilled the dark deep twisted fantasies of the foreigners.
At a measly 5'2" and 180 lbs., the longest standing champion fought viciously but always left her opponent intact. Locals called her the She-Bear, many of her lovers called her Mama, and the enemies were far too unconscious to say anything. With a 57-3 record under her belt, Jackie Simms was a glowing attraction. She suffered heavy losses in the arena, but always bounced back from the brutal beatings. Harder, faster, better, stronger. This was the new Jackie.
The new Jackie though wasn't so new as much as she was changed though. She hopped from one bar to another just to numb her pains away. She detested the bitter taste of beer because it reminded her so much of home and her family yet she pounded tall mugs of ale. Inebriated from the first drink, Jackie drank until the next morning where she usually woke up in a stranger's bed or front lawn without the slightest clue as how she got there.
For three long years she perfected her brand, her presence to the native Galupsians and tourists. She received stares yet she walked with her chin above the clouds. She was "the baddest bitch in the game" and Jackie Simms was unstoppable in and out of the ring. She took what she wanted and she wanted it all without having to lift a finger. There was no need to bat an eye to charm men; her presence in the same room commanded attention.
Stumbling through the doors and flushed in the face, Jackie slid into her usual spot and got to business by rapidly gulping down four shots of the spiciest liquor on the bottom shelf. She glanced up at the mirrored shelves and saw a fragmented reflection of herself in the different colored bottles and mirror. Disgusted, she called out to the bartender.
"Hit me." She looked around to make sure no one was around to start trouble. The patrons took things too literally around these parts. "With another, hot shot."
"You're at four already. I think it's time for you to quit. Two's your usual limit."
He had small green eyes and black wavy medium length hair. Harkess was her bartender of choice at the Tipsy Tea Lantern, her bar of choice. His voice was soft like freshly done laundry, and Jackie wafted the faint spell of persimmon dabbed on his collarbone.
"I'm feeling real sad tonight, Harkess." She blubbered and winked, "Let a woman live a little."
The bartender tapped his finger on the bar and looked her straight in the bruised eyes. Jackie scrapped and she was mighty good at it, but she didn't leave without getting her fair share of licks to the face.
"On one condition."
"Sure, hit me first, hun," she sang. She giggled and reveled in the stench of alcohol and hard work.
Harkess poured her another spicy shot reluctantly.
"You've been coming to this same run down bar on this party island for three years now and nobody has the slightest clue on who you are. People start to worry when they don't familiarize themselves with new neighbors.”
Could she be considered a local? A resident? An extended tourist? Jackie thought of herself as transparent and not one to keep secrets, but apparently her lack of broadcasting worried the island. What else could be said about her besides her passion for a fight?
"And your point?" She shifted as downed her drink. Jackie mischievously threw out, "I'm bad news, hun. The baddest."
"I'm well aware of what you can do, I've been to some of your matches. Brilliant even." He moved to some drinking glasses that required his attention. "Give me the scoop. I only know you by stage name."
"This going to be published anywhere?" she half jested.
"Nah," he winked, "unless you want to be published."
"First name Jackie. Last name Simms. I was a wanderer who wandered with bodies now estranged. We were Anchovi." She spoke into her empty shot glass and sighed.
"Anchovi? You mean the little fishes that taste awful? That’s a weird name to go by. It’s kinda ironic.”
"No. Anchovi." Pronouncing it the right way, Jackie had forgotten the origins of the crew's name. She had forgotten a lot in her recent drinking binge. "We were something, but we weren’t small fry.”
"Ah, another brave soul. We get ourselves plenty of sailors who turn into pugilists around these parts."
"Hah, sailors can't compare to me, Hark. I'm the best pilot from Guten Nocht, hands down. Even the most strong armed can’t do what I can do.”
Jackie reminisced the days where she flew aircrafts with single seats, days before she joined Frank and the rest of the Last gang whose names were long forgotten. It had seemed that she forgot her previously life prior to making the descent into the Blue which caused her to frown more into the empty shot glass. Reverence settled in her gut.
"I had the fastest airship ever seen in the Blue and the Fighter had mighty fine character unseen in these parts.”
"That's still a place, that Guten Nocht? I heard it was trashed."
Jackie avoided the news and rumors about Guten Nocht as any information regarding the floating continent was seldom and sparse. She tried not thinking about it for the longest time after being separated from the rest of the crew because it would only drive her to drink herself into submission. They should have never left, they shouldn’t have left [i her] behind.
"Haven't been back ever since we embarked. Who knows what's of it now." The regret settled in and everyone's face from the past suddenly popped up: Doc, Sheriff Dempsi, the mayor of Last, and the woman that her best friend cherished. All these these people she had surrounded herself with brought back a small bit of joy in an otherwise joyless paradise. "And it was everything but trash. That's my city--well Last is--but still, now I'm sure I wouldn't have left if I knew my life led me down this road."
"You can't regret your life decisions, especially here in the Blue. You have a better life now."
He did not convince her.
"Hardly." Jackie sank into her seat and rested her chin on the wooden counter. She stared at the slim figure and sulked, "My crew is gone and their faces have been scratched out of mind. I used to love but now I live out the rest of these days in drunken solitude.”
"Surely you've picked up quite a few lovers."
"I got an icebox where my heart used to be." Hapless sex couldn't fulfill what she had lost three years ago. "I'm empty and incapable of loving at this time. Maybe for the rest of my life. My crew and my ship were my loves and there will never be another to replace it. I loved each and every one of them like brothers and sisters, and no man could ever fill this gaping void.”
[i ‘How poetic.’]
"Keep that love you have for your crew strong, Jackie Simms. They're alive, you guys are just on a temporary break.”
The optimistic view was appreciated, but could not halt a reckless woman.
"If they are, I don't have the means to find them. I've taken airship to and from this island to other lands and I haven't picked up a single clue in three years." She desired to have the Fighter back. Jackie loathed being on a ship, especially the smaller ones which rocked too much. She had followed in the same steps of the vast majority of people who believed that the Blue was an unforgiving place. "I've been to the Gilded Lily four times in the past six months and not a trace or lead to any of them. I avoided the fleet out there in case they were looking to apprehend me for further interrogation.”
"That's where the whole big incident happened right, the one with the giant monster lady with the giant breasts?”
Apparently news had traveled the Blue. Tidbits of information flowed with the various currents and what few daring ships, but with such a humongous event such as the monstress’ assault on the Gilded Lily, surely the rest of the Blue would have heard of it by now.
"Why not stay there?" Harkess was concerned with her wellbeing though he actively participated in her downfall.
"Because it pains to me to walk through the the Lily and think that we almost had it all. I fell in love with a righteous man whose ideals didn't match mine. He turned out to be someone else entirely, a complete jerk I might say. If we didn't get tangled up with him, Anchovi would be standing here right now. Or settled down somewhere peacefully.”
[i Mahoraga Genji]. Jackie knew that said righteous man was responsible for Anchovi's breakup, that whatever hit the Fa Mulandi was conspired by a vengeful monk. She wondered how he got the last strike on Anchovi; how did he enact his plans in his confinement?
"Sounds like a heartbreaker himself."
[i 'Oh, you don't even know.']
Jackie slumped back up to her elbows and sulked some more. "It doesn't matter anymore. Frankie's dead. Sweet Rhys is dead. Euey's dead."
Dead. Dead. Dead. Dead. Dead. Dead.
"You don't know that." The beautiful bartender shrugged, "The Blue works in the strangest ways, Jackie. Now, I'm not one for stories from the Blue."
"But you are."
"But I am. The Creator has his way of uniting peoples together. There are gods and goddesses in the midst of exotic jungles and majestic beasts who encircle the waters. You'd be surprised who you meet."
"Hm, maybe I'm in the presence of a god," the lazy drunkard yawned.
"Could be." The genial smile killed her. Kind as always, Harkess drove it home with a message. Jackie hadn't been paying attention to his nightly sermons but she obliged him anyways. "It's always good to practice xenia. Be kind to family, friends, and strangers alike."
Both their ancestors came from Bating yet they were worlds away from that land neither of them had lain witness. Sobering up quite quickly, she could feel kinetic energy flicker off of him and through the lacquered bar. Something was truly electrify about the bartender and it wasn’t his physical appeal.
The two went on about their travels and how they got where they were. With him, he grew up on Galupsos, tried leaving, but sailing the Blue always took him back home. Some forces like electromagnetism wound around Harkess and the island and strung them together. The waters worked against him and the series of unforeseen events turned the ship’s around despite Harkess’ wishes. Jackie believed it to be a curse because he was unable to leave the island as he pleased.
For her, she was fished off the coast of the island by a few dauntless fishermen. She'd work for them for a season until she found her calling in the arena. Ever since that day three years ago, she decided that Galupsos was home base. This island was a blessing in disguise or at least that was what she brainwashed herself to believe. Jackie didn’t mind the clumps of blood or the torn flesh dangling from her fists; she only cared that she was alive to see another drunken day.
Closing time came around, yet the conversation continued through the morning at his place where they would lay for a spell. Harkess found the woman who appeared to be chewed and spit up by giants appealing, in some way, in some fashion. Maybe it was her flickering soul that enticed him closer. Perhaps it was her charming personality that snatched him up like a starving flytrap. He treated her like a goddess regardless of her gruff demeanor. A true diamond in the rough.
Jackie had no regrets, only a short list of constructive criticism.
[i 'Did I just shag a god? I've had better. Got a cute ass though.']
HEAD ES DOODLE PETSUCHOS / Finnigan
/ 245d 12h 5m 52s
Rows upon rows of cells breathed in the megacity Dha Khammoune. All sealed behind thick plexiglass, convicts from all over the Uchi-soto League wallowed in sterile misery. A sink, a toilet, and a cot: these were all the items given to the morally wicked and criminally insane, the monks and the masters at arms. The Palm of Heaven were scattered throughout the hundreds, maybe even thousands, of cells. There and then, the young lady of Tsukimoto pulled up a chair next to a cell and spoke solemnly.
Her voice, rather low and secretive, wistfully sighed, “I have nowhere to go.”
Hayao’s voice, muffled by the thick plexiglass, sarcastically replied, “I can't go anywhere.”
Stripped of native garments, the now shaven, both the head and the face, Hayao of Soga sat on his cloth to wait out the rest of his life. The Fleet Authority administered him a contrasting red one piece suit to the spotless and heavy reflecting hulls of the Dha Khammoune. All of the inmates were stripped of body hair and their individuality for these itchy jumpsuits. Now, they were nothing but another cell number to the impenetrable mobile fortress.
“Well, there's one thing we can agree upon: we can never go back home, not to Soga, not to mom and dad. Ever.” Sullen eyes matched with sullen eyes. It’s been a long time since either of them spoke to their parents. The long for home was nothing but an empty daydream. Machiko reported to her brother of the news. “Hae Suun plans for yours and Amaro’s execution, but of course, the Fleet are looking for a bilateral approach. The admiral wants to see you two hang on his terms. Also, the lack of an emperor also factors in keeping you alive.”
Yes, even in the wake of victory and capture of one of the biggest terrorists, Tsukimoto’s infrastructure was at the brink of a collapse. The diet gushed into chaos. They vigorously argued the weeks after Akio’s death about a successor, and not more than five at a time agreed on a worthy emperor. They either feared that they were ill-suited or not legitimate enough to ascend to the throne. Ancient familial ties roused up and geared against the wicked unknown. The Order withdrew deeper into the shadows as a political movement. Rather than be seen as an enemy of the state, Hae Suun and her sisters agreed on letting the diet take the brunt of the backlash. Hayao’s actions only delayed his demise, if only a smidgen in time, but confinement between these four walls implored an excruciating eternity.
“The Order will probably torture me until they find the heir.” He usually stroked his scraggly black beard as a way to comfort himself. His face hadn’t been this smooth in a very long time, not since he left Tsukimoto the first time.
“Or until you give in.” Morbid she was. A fool she was not. The sisters would tear him apart fiber by fiber and then wipe every living cell and dust particle of his from the face of the Blue. That was a guarantee.
Hayao’s eyes sank into dry hands but then he pulled himself back up.
“I regret nothing.”
“Same.” Getting banished by the Order of the Camellia took a great weight off her shoulders, even though she still had strong feelings for her sisters.
“So you're gonna stick with those idiots.”
“That's my plan.” She couldn’t express how smitten she was, especially not in front of her brother she so happened to capture. Meeting Anchovi was the best thing that could have happened to her, but she refused to gloat in front of Hayao. Instead, she took this moment to be sappy and briefly reminisce on the good memories of her childhood. “Say, if you could write anything to mom and dad, what would you want to tell them?”
“Well, that's a random question.” He quizzically side-eyed Machiko, suspicious of her motive, but ultimately answered, “I'd tell them that I died fighting for a cause I truly believed in and I fought with them in mind. I fought for their freedom and I fought for what they would have thought was right.”
She sat for a while and entertained Hayao for only a few more minutes before the brig’s guards patrolled through the everlasting corridor.
“I’m sorry,” were her last words to her brother.
“I’m sorry that I got caught,” the swallow chirped.
Fleet Authority returned Anchovi and their friends back to the chipped up Lily to be rejoined with the Fighter. Despite their salty grunge against Anchovi, the Fleet allowed them to leave without a caveat. Supposedly, they even began to fear the crew and their sheer willpower and destructive force. Some of the officers swear that Anchovi could withstand their firearms and even swallow up explosions. Admiral Sidurathay abandoned them without another word. The Fleet left without any remarks, threats, or asides. Delighted, Oe and Frank reveled in his disgust and disappointment.
Naturally, individuals such as Jackie, Tony, and Duster scaled a rather lengthy rope ladder up to the Fighter. The elevators bridging the upper and lower halves of the Lily remained untouched since the last time. However, the land below benefitted. The metal shacks which were left behind as a parting gift remained firmly in the ground, and the fields were once again turned for crops. Though it was on a smaller scale prior to the attack, the farmers whose workforce was cut significantly by death, disease, and the constant clearing of the birdcage’s rubbish raised patches of lush greens and watery fields of rice.
Oe and Frank stayed back and watched the rest scattered throughout the Lily. She gladly served alongside the man from Guten Nocht, and since she had lain eyes on him back in Varsylgard, wanted to see him thrive. What was to become of Anchovi? Oe never trusted the likes of Machiko of Soga and swore she was an agent of the Palm. She sought to dispatch the nefarious little girl but ended up being wrong about her character. Oe desired to know Frank’s thoughts about the future and prodded a little bit more.
Oe threw out, “So you’re taking on a new crew member?”
“No one wants nothing to do with her. That Order ain’t even recognizin’ her as Machiko, n’ she up n’ turned in her brother. What luck, right?” Frank had always been hesitant on the petite ninja, but all this time she was just another unnamed member of Anchovi. Lonely and deserving of a home, Machiko was born a wanderer. She belonged to the crew, and it bothered not Frank, nor Rhys, nor any of the others. “It’s another mouth to feed, but she can carry her weight, we’ve seen. It’ll be nice to fill all the empty rooms in the Fighter for once. Nice ole’ snug family.”
“As long as you’re okay with it.”
“Y’know, there’s always room for you too,” Frank suggested to Oe. “Ya ain’t gotta play all mysterious. Eu trusts you n’ that’s all we need to trust ya. Helped our skivvies more than once now.”
He smiled through black and bruising, and a smile streaked across Oe’s brown face. She enjoyed the liveliness and camaraderie amongst Anchovi, especially the strange talk of Frank Dietz. The things he had said, both unintelligible and profound, perked her ears. Oe reserved her comments, for she did not want to impede on his long tirades about nothing and everything at once. Joining Anchovi would be utterly irresponsible as the lone wanderer had not completed her mission, and she never saw herself much of a team player until last week. The two strolled through the recovering village until a brief shadow eclipsed over them.
“There goes the Magnuze,” Oe observed.
“Good, that man can be trouble elsewhere.”
Frank wasn’t the biggest fan of Harvey, and Tony found it quite strange that the return back to the Gilded Lily involved him secluding himself in a corner when he could have easily left on the Magnuze. The no-nonsense fellow had to drown out Rhys’ saccharine comments concerning the malicious merchant. The magician must have charmed the young boy, but then the most absurd compliments came from Tony’s mouth. Frank cringed at “good guy” Harvey P. Lansit, the man behind all the controversy in this part of the Blue and the next.
“Will you be staying in the Gilded Lily?”
“Yeah, I figure that we can stick ‘round awhile before we set out for the next journey. Stock up on some good stories to read n’ help out them farmers. Those pushovers upstairs ain’t nothing. They ain’t able to lift up a damn fork if their lives depended on it.”
The natives on this plane need not the assistance or advice of Frank and his crew but rather the other way around. He could restart his entire life here on the Lily if he had enough land to farm, but then realized he had gotten himself into deeper trouble. Somewhere out there, the Palm’s associates still flew the Blue. They would more than likely harass Harvey, but on the off chance, Frank believed they were vengeful individuals who would track him and Anchovi down.
“We still have the Templar to worry about, ‘specially after they din’t show up to the party.”
That’s what Oe feared. Jailing the Palm of Heaven was just the beginning of both their troubles. She feared that their influence had spread throughout the various parts of the Blue and was ignorant to said influence’s magnitude. Maybe the puppeteer and his minuscule crew was all that were of the Templar, or perhaps he was one in a hundred. She and Frank shared the same suspicion.
Eudoxia found Oe and Frank wasting the rest of their afternoon on a rock reminiscing their latest adventure. She had hoped that her teacher was being pleasant and not flirting with grisly Frank. Oe comfortably relaxed on top of the boulder and keenly listened to Frank. Eudoxia enjoyed his presence, but her Maestra could do better. Eudoxia perched herself next to Oe and Frank acknowledged her presence. Oe petted Eudoxia’s black frizz and was ecstatic to see her student in lively spirits.
“We’ll be heading out tomorrow for Nubai. Are you not excited?”
Frank raised his brow. “Well ain’t this some news. You’re finally leavin’ us.”
Awkward silence. Eudoxia was not sure how to articulate.
“No. No, actually,” The princess, now clothed in a vibrant yellow dress, turned to Oe and delivered the bad news. “Maestra, I wanted to talk to you about this.”
They had just found Rhys. She could not be torn from him again, at least, not this soon. Anchovi was too close to splitting up, especially after Jackie’s short lived revelation. Her miraculously intelligent professor filled her with wisdom, but this crew had too much heart to pass up. She blossomed into womanhood as a result of their companionship, and she feared that she’d lose more experience if she left with Oe Madu.
“Anchovi needs me a little bit longer.”
“Is that so? The other is still strong in you.”
The other referring to her draconian side.
“I went with my answer knowing this. I don’t think I’ll ever figure out my other side, nor do I think anyone else will.” How many people in the Blue knew how it felt to be a dragon? Eudoxia guessed not many. “I also realized how much I’ve learned since you’ve been gone.”
“What audacity you have, my princess!” Oe blatantly joked. Frank caught himself staring at her pearly grin.
“This won’t be the last time we see each other, Maestra, that I can promise you.”
“We’ll hafta visit ya.” Frank screened the sky beyond the giant iron bars. The Gilded Lily will never be his home, not as long as there’s other lands to step foot on.“Y’know, just as long as we can rest our feet without a worry.”
“Nubai Katar has the finest citizens one can find in its Blue. Trouble can’t find the doormat to our kingdom.”
Oe found herself right most of the time. Very few people make it to the last wonder within the Blue. Surrounded by vast desert on all sides, the kingdom of Nubai Katar remained untouched by outside influence and continued its advancements in technology, medicine, and magic. Gilded Lily was a far second, but she greatly appreciated its enduring and diligent members of society. Perhaps one day Anchovi will make a life for themselves in her land.
They pondered into the evening and the clouds slowly rolled across the horizon. Longing to be reunited with his bed, Frank led the rest of Anchovi up loose rope ladder. Questions rolled through his head. What was for dinner? Were the chickens still alive from all the neglect these past few months? Was everything the same as it was before he left? The company consisted of Frank, Oe, Eudoxia, Rhys, and Machiko when Jackie came sprinting in their direction.
“Frank!” she screamed.
Worried by the sweating mess rocketing his way, he meekly let out, “What?”
“Someone hijacked the Fighter! We gotta get those fuckers!”
Frank’s heart started to race. They just got back home, but the rollercoaster of an adventure had not made a complete stop.
“Take the Fa Mulandi,” Oe immediately pointed in the direction of her small ship. The Fighter was all they had, and they had to save her from some petty thief.
Rhys and Machiko urgently sprinted for the ship with Jackie quickly trailing behind them. From a distance, Duster and already exhausted Tony caught up and surpassed idle Frank and Eudoxia.
“It’s never boring with you guys, isn’t it,” Oe jested.
Eudoxia dryly chuckled a little bit before taking off, “Never for one moment.”
“I’ll wait for you guys here. Get back safely.” Oe nodded the two of them off with Frank returning the gesture.
In full force, all hands of the crew rushed to the snug open faced Fa Mulandi. Within seconds, the airship took to the skies and jetted into the setting horizon with furious Jackie at the wheel. Her pride and joy was on the line, and she refused to let strangers get away so easily. She dozed off for thirty minutes, which gave the burglars enough time to knock out the mechanic and solve the Fighter’s configuration. Ridiculed, she pushed the Nubai airship to its limits. Its sharp knife-like head speared through the wind like acute shears cutting across silk fabric. The engines resoundingly roared and the propellers spun hotly.
Duster tended to the disoriented mechanic with some assistance from Machiko. Collapsing on the deck, Tony insisted that he would partake in the inevitable beating of these dirty thieves, but Machiko restrained and consoled him. The world around him spun and the flight churned his insides. He probably should have stayed behind, but they were too far from the Lily at this point. While the doctor administered his healing hands, Machiko kept Tony in her lap and reminded him about all the novels they were to discuss once they got back onto the Fighter.
Eudoxia and Frank flanked Jackie and focused on the Fighter which was not far out of their reach. Despite Eudoxia’s shaky relationship with the pilot, she had to set that difference aside in order to recover the Fighter. She desired to transform and enter the Fighter in midair, but that option felt rather risky for her, her crewmates, and the Fighter. Frank hesitated on shooting at the Fighter with his spellgun. These three feared that they would run out of fuel before they even closed the distance.
Something swifter than the Fa Mulandi crept behind, and an ominous current tickled the space behind Rhys’ ears. While the rest were occupied with the brigands soaring away with the Fighter, Rhys walked back to the butt of the ship and caught glimpse of the active cloud pursuing Anchovi. A bare chested figure with fiery golden eyes rode on top of this rich tuft of condensation. The image of the gargantuan man with the grey beard etched into Rhys’ mind. Not knowing who exactly this robust man was and what he wanted, Rhys safely assumed he was no friend of Anchovi nor would he be in the years to come.
HEAD ES DOODLE PETSUCHOS / Finnigan
/ 2y 77d 23h 51m 47s
[size16 #Anchovi’s Triumph#]
Reaching behind his ear, the dejected Mahoraga Genji pulled the adamantium toothpick which grew into a shoulder high staff. He had dealt the final blow to the white demoness who plagued his beloved Gilded Lily; he would have no problem killing a more compact black dragon princess and the black skinned witch. Eudoxia caught wind of the burly monk and spewed a fiery stream. With nothing but elegance and graceful determination, Mahoraga strode throughout the temple without a single gray hair singed. The Master, unlike Princess Dragon, toyed with his prey and wound up the fortitude of his staff. With one quick swipe, the adamantine rod effortlessly cleared half of the remaining beams and swept Eudoxia into a wall.
“Woman or beast, your deceit shall not conquer Mahoraga Genji!” he guffawed with a hearty breath.
Retracting the magical weapon, he prepared for the killing blow, but Oe Madu’s presence and sword interrupted the monk. Fighting on behalf of her student, Oe pressed her foe and stepped up to the crazed monk’s dexterity. With one hand she constantly interfered with the rod’s trajectory and with the other she conjured lightning. Quickly, she infused the dangerous element with her sword. The loud crackling danced up the blade and back down to the hilt. The spellblade whipped the shimmering steel back and forth, and with each strike of the sword a jolt surged from one body to the other.
With hair frazzled in every direction, panting Mahoraga backed off. Poised Oe played to the weapon’s weakness. Every time he went to strike the spell fencer, the tip of her blade redirected the unbreakable staff. At a disadvantage, the observant giant tossed aside his weapon and moved in with empty hands. As Oe pointed her blade and shouted at Mahoraga, her sword discharged an electrifying beam. The magic dispelled from her sword and only grazed his thick shoulder and eviscerated more of the wooden structure. Wincing at the minor discomfort, Mahoraga’s steel skin absorbed a glancing slash. The tip of Oe’s blade cringed at the unimaginable flesh, and in return the laughing monk latched onto Oe and threw her across the room with his magnificent strength.
Machiko moved in and tried to dig her sickle into his back, but her efforts were fruitless. The sharp edge curled at first glance. Displeased yet managing to keep his laughing fit up, Mahoraga snatched the small frame by the leg and launched her into a recovering Oe. He quickly recovered his staff and aimed it for the two girls like a rifle.
“Two birds with one st--”
The half-dead, half-blind Frank sat up from an early grave and fired off his revolver in rapid succession, each bullet compounding at the base of Mahoraga’s temple. Six bullets, each crushing into his steely forehead like crushed tin cans, knocked the monk off his feet and sent him caving into the wooden flooring.
He sat there, bleeding out of his head, and then and there Jackie loomed over him. She did not expect such a potent concussive blast from Oe, and she certainly did not anticipate the ruthless quick slinging from Frank. Bruised, she closed in on Frank and prepared to sock him out of this existence. Frank, half smiling, made what he thought was his final argument as Mahoraga withstood six bullets to the head.
“Jackie, I ain’t carin’ that my face is all fucked up, I forgive you. But don't you excuse his jackassery for kindness. No one gits to play judge, jury, n’ executioner.” At that point, Frank and Jackie turned to Mahoraga who was moaning over a monstrous headache. He pried the bullet stumps from his forehead which made Frank wet his pants a little. Sitting there, he tried to reason with the blind Jackie. “Do you really think euthenizin’ them ‘weak’ peoples is ethical? Cause if ya do, I'll do it. I'll plug you right between the brows before I do him in. Or at least die tryin’. The fucker can shrug off bullets, for Maker’s sake. He doesn't git to decide who lives and dies, Jackie, that's fucked up. He's gonna level out countries for some crazy ass idea.”
“Frank, how daft can you be? The Master searches for paradise!” She held back from killing Frank and allowed him to get to his feet. Not until he explain himself.
“Ask him ‘bout Roz Suprema and South Island. I bet he ain’t tell you ‘bout the weapons he’s been pilin’ up there.”
“Is this true?”
Wiggling off the brain rattling migraine, Mahoraga used his staff as a crutch and went further into his warped philosophy. “One of our goals is to alleviate suffering found throughout the Blue. There is some weight behind this poor man’s words, but when the meek and unfortunate suffer, I cannot but help sympathize. Why let suffering persist any longer throughout the Blue when we can end it through peaceful ascension? We will carry on the torch for those who cannot walk any longer; it s the duty of the Palm.”
Then, reality broke. [i Peaceful ascension.] Torn Jackie refused to believe the spoken word. She fell for a warmonger who recited enchanting poetry. Truly, Mahoraga was just a fabrication. The man who stood before her was a deceiver with ulterior motives. The Palm of Heaven, these people, killed innocent people. They trampled the weak and assimilated what willing strong men and women they came across. Perturbed by the pious monk, the fool shook her head in disbelief. She should have known when Hayao, a murderer and traitor to Tsukimoto, was revealed to be part of the Palm’s ranks.
“I...I can't let you do that.”
“My disciple, you’ve repented for your endless greed and gluttony, atoned for senseless violence and manslaughter, yet you dare turn an eye to the altruistic alternative. For shame.” Mahoraga frowned and felt a fragment of his being breaking off. He loved this woman, both as a comrade and a consort, but a pious man he was. Bound by duty, he fretfully responded to her negation. “Is this how you become undone?”
“Not undone, just readjusting my moral compass.”
She turned her back from Frank and bravely stood against the Master. Mahoraga pulled up his staff and clutched his heart.
“No, I've yet to begin to demonstrate my potential.”
The adamantium staff shot through the space, but nimble Jackie deflected the flashing pole upwards and filled the space. Tracing along the pole’s trajectory, the betrayed fought with reigniting passion. With one punch, Jackie painstakingly disarmed the staff from his grip. Suspended by his disbelief, Mahoraga staggered back at the daunting feat. Her fists blistered and bled with each crack to his face; his enduring body tanked the hits and merely pinched. She was one of his better students and she insisted on fighting with her bare hands. Jackie knew well that her efforts made minimal progress, but she knew that she could deter his advancement.
Her former master fought back with his own martial arts, but for every kick there was a dodge and for every punch there was a worthy counter. They exchanged blows and throws, but the newer lithe version of Jackie kept up with Mahoraga’s ability and magic. She ducked and swiveled at his glowing palms which was certain death. Even a good punch to the face was certain death for her. Now that she knew the truth, she had realized the error of her ways and earnestly fought for redemption.
As Jackie and the nefarious monk leaped throughout the temple, Frank loaded six more bullets into his revolver and aimed carefully for Mahoraga’s head once more, but then lowered his weapon. He never gave up on Jackie’s benevolent nature. Misguided, yes. Malicious, never. She fought a losing game, and now he stood there helplessly. He scanned the room looking for a miracle and then he looked to his holsters. Pulling out the antique spellgun, Frank finally had the solution.
Jackie, who was bruised badly and numb in the arms, slowly backed off. Any minute now, Mahoraga would sink the staff through her head and murder the rest of them. Lo and behold, Mahoraga, equally exhausted, initially aimed his staff for Jackie but spotted Frank’s trinket. She caught sight of his intentions and immediately intercepted the expanding pole. At the risk of permanently losing her hand, she gave one last punch to the inexorable cudgel and shifted its path elsewhere. Frank beneath beneath the weapon and shot one last grin before pulling the spellgun’s trigger. The burst incinerated a hole through Mahoraga’s chest.
The gargantuan man wore nothing on his face but shock. He stammered forward with one hand over the conflagrant hole which exposed bone and heart. By the third step, he fell forward to his end. Jackie, holding a crippled hand inwards, looked at the pulpy Frank and sighed.
“I can't help myself but wonder what good he would have made in the Blue. Ambitious but his execution was morally broken.”
Without giving Frank enough time to make a witty remark, she turned the other direction and headed out.
“Where ya goin’?” He shook his head. She stopped and allowed his words to pervade her space. “I ain't done with ya.”
“I don't pull punches,” she trailed on, “And I didn’t.”
Jackie could have killed him in a flash and with a few hits. What kept her from murdering him with the first strike?.
Jackie heard the hammer to the revolver click back. She knew what she did was wrong, and Frank, as well as the rest of Anchovi, had the right to get even with such a despicable being. “Well, you shouldn't either. Pull that trigger and bury this traitor.”
“Pffft, you ain't deservin’ a burial. Not yet, punk.”
[b BANG!] Jackie’s eyes grew, but not a bullet penetrated her body. She looked down at her feet.
“Yes, Miss Jackie Simms?”
“Why?” she wanted to know why she was still alive. Why was she still going despite her betrayal?
“I need someone to pilot the damn Fighter. She ain't gonna fly herself.”
“Fuck you,” she threw out.
“Eh, bein’ honest wit cha. I’d only miss you a l’il.” He’d miss her a lot. Frank could not deny his affection for his sister-at-arms. He’d feel just as empty hearted as the dead Mahoraga. Figuratively, of course. “As much as you think that you’ve wronged us, we wouldn’t have gotten this far without you. I did not spare you just as a payment for your hard work though. Rhys misses you, and his happiness is my utmost importance.”
It was hers too before she met the leader of the Palm. Jackie let down Rhys and she was afraid to confront him after all this.
“It can’t this easy, Frankie. I have to atone for my wrongs.”
“Ya did,” Frank pointed at Mahoraga’s body. “The asshole is dead thanks to you and you saved hundreds, maybe even thousands of people as a result. You saved me. Machiko gets her happy ending and Anchovi lives to see another day. The Fighter is gonna have its fair share of awkward occurrences but that’s always been the least of your problems, Jackie.”
Oe. Eudoxia. Frank. Rhys. Machiko. Jackie. Duster. Tony. Harvey. The next couple of days, the nine of them had time to fully recover from the latest adventure before they sat before Admiral Sidurathay and the authoritative members of the Fleet. They sat in a conference room in the Dha Khammoune and said very little to each other. As the Admiral and his posse filed in, Anchovi and their allies smugly smiled. Especially Harvey, of course.
“First and foremost, congratulations on both fronts of this mission. Though some of the objectives were not fully met to the Fleet’s standards and your methods were quite unorthodox, we were thoroughly pleased that this Palm of Heaven had been captured.”
Admiral Sidurathay could not express how livid he was freely, for he did not want to break his cool in front of his lieutenants. On the opposite side of the table, the end chairs took joy to his subtle defeat.
Oe clarified, “Well, as many that could be captured. We’re not sure the exact number of members within the organization nor their whereabouts. The only known associates that were closely tied with Mahoraga Genji were Gua Fa Jing, Hayao of Soga, Amaro Goji, and Chichiraiden as well as the remaining few dozen monks.”
She suffered a few bruised ribs, but she made it out of the fray with the least scrapes. Many of the monks either fled by ship off Prok’mai or committed suicide through medicine. The Fleet, whose forces were rather uncannily vulnerable on land, arrested thirty seven monks of the hundreds of bodies tagged and identified. Many came from Prok’mai as well as the rest of the Damphrukian archipelago but there were men and women from Tsukimoto and the Bihon region as well. The one mystery that puzzled them all though was their leader.
“And you’re telling me that Mahoraga Genji’s body vanished?” One of the senior lieutenants asked.
“Look, we all left the temple. You didn’t tell to watch dead bodies,” Eudoxia snapped. Constantly battling her random fits of rage, she held her tongue from attacking the inept Fleet any further. She promised Oe she wouldn’t roast Sidurathay and the knuckleheads. At least, not without legitimate reasoning.
“Yeah, din’t you have yer forces surround the island? A dead body ain’t gonna git up by itself and walk out unnoticed.” Exchanging the flushed hue for mauve lumps, Frank’s face struggled to get better. He carried the brunt of the pain for Anchovi.
Harvey agreed to remain with Anchovi until everyone was allowed to leave. His strange attitude shockingly swept Anchovi’s impressions. He mocked the Fleet further. “Get those investigators back here to inquire the prisoners. They were great.”
Sidurathay sneered. Where was a firing squad?
“Ah, and Antonine Maxwell. Your mission was to secure and keep the Roz Suprema intact, yet its ruins reside at the bottom of South Island’s harbor. You have any comments on that?”
“Admiral, would you believe it or not, these Palm fellows had the ship rigged for detonation. I figure they must have known that the Fleet would have eventually gotten their hands on their weapon of mass destruction.” Tony shook his head in false disappointment. [i Oh well.] He was glad to be sitting down again. He could not wait to get back to the Fighter.
The merchant laid the sarcasm on thick. “You’re sore out of luck, admiral. The most beautiful Roz Surpema would have been a great asset to your Fleet Authority. Alas, let’s not dwell on what could have happened and let’s look forward to the future.”
Another lieutenant spoke out of line. “Surely the blueprints were retrieved.”
“Nope,” Rhys simply yet contently added.
The Fleet stirred in the midst of Anchovi’s resistance.
“Look, the person that we were looking for wasn’t there either, so there’s a good chance that Kal Seraf is still out there with the knowledge for magitech weaponry.” Tony gave them some glimmer of hope for a new toy.He envisioned the Blue permanently free of the Templar. The ideal situation included a severe crippling of the Fleet as well.
“And for her, the girl who claims she’s Machiko of Soga.”
Sidurathay ordered the officer guarding the door to open it. Stepping into the conference room, a chill and a captain of the Order entered. Behind the captain wearing the black trenchcoat, sister Nami followed nearby. Jackie smirked and Machiko jetted to her feet.
“Captain Hae Suun.”
The gleeful tone was there, but something queer the small girl off put Hae Suun.
“This girl resembles the late Machiko, but she’s not the sister to Hayao.” She shook her head, but then politely nodded to not-Machiko. “I must congratulate you regardlessly.”
“I am Machiko!” the small girl exclaimed.
Appalled by the sudden outburst, the stoic and callous captain curled her lips, “I don’t know how a girl from Tsukimoto made it this far to this archipelago, but this girl should learn to hold her tongue to authority and mind her manners to the Order of the Camellia. Who are your parents?”
“Isao and Miyu of Soga, captain.”
[i ‘I wonder how mom and dad are doing. They’d be proud of me, kinda. I guess.’]
“How dare you play such an ill hoax. Their only son is a murderer convicted for the death of the late Emperor Akio, and their daughter was a disgrace to familial and civic duty.”
“Hey, you frigid hag,” Jackie garnered the attention of her rival from Tsukimoto with a lively voice and her pointing. The two had profound respect for the other’s abilities, but it was a feud only settled by a serious beatdown. “If she looks like Machiko, speaks like Machiko, and says she’s Machiko, she’s more than likely Machiko. If she’s not, then we have a serious problem at hand.”
“Yeah, you don’t want to be known as the people who collect twelve year old girls,” Harvey jested.
“I know who you are Anchovi and what you’ve done, but I can say with certainty that this girl is no Machiko.” She bit her tongue at the end; it was Anchovi who first arrived at the capital. As for the pretender at hand, she offered her best response, “She’s a revenant if anything. The late emperor’s aide confirmed Machiko’s death and no one has the power to come back from the dead. No one.”
Duster muttered, “She doesn’t even know the half of it.”
“I’ll be back tomorrow, Admiral Sidurathay.” Hae Suun lacked the patience to deal with Anchovi’s brash mouth. She’d rather be in Tsukimoto in order to resolve booming conflicts.
The admiral saluted the captain, “We’ll discuss legal matters of the Tsukimotoan. Take care.”
As Hae Suun, her subordinate, the wave of winter left the conference room, Sidurathay returned his attention to Anchovi.
“As for you nine.”
“Yes?” Frank rolled his eyes.
With great disdain, Sidurathay sighed, “We’ll allow you to return you to the Gilded Lily and from there you can go on with your mishaps.”
The meeting was adjourned, and Fleet Authority’s leadership filed out. For a few seconds of silence,, the nine of them just looked at each other. Rhys was the first to break the quiet and laughed for no reason which ultimately caused a ruckus throughout the other eight.
HEAD ES DOODLE PETSUCHOS / Finnigan
/ 2y 84d 2h 33m 18s
[size16 #Palm Strike#]
Eudoxia wanted a piece of Jackie who she thought of as an older sister. The traitor had abandoned Rhys Illumina to die in the living labyrinth which resided within the Gilded Lily. She whom Eudoxia had trusted the most became blind by power behind a man and an idea. The draconian princess cried out, “Traitor!”
[i ‘Not now, Eudoxia. Keep it cool.’]
Oe examined the opposition in front of her. Her best bet was to single out Mahoraga, but his lackies were dead set on stopping the away team. Machiko would more than likely pursue her brother, given that she might only have one more chance to reel him back onto Tsukimoto shores. Frank and Eudoxia would tussle with unarmed Jackie, and that gave the wise woman a two-for-one deal with the famed swordsman of Tsukimoto and Mahoraga’s bodyguard. Seemed like an easy task to Oe.
“I din’t expect this to happen.” Frank wrapped his hand around the revolver’s grip. He never thought he’d have to pull the trigger on Jackie, his first and best of friends. “Never in my thirty something years of life did I ever think I’d run across this day and be like, ‘Jackie Simms, I’m gonna hafta put ya down like a good ole’ hen. Always been my equal, heck, sometimes a superior much needed to keep me on mah heels. I think without you, we’d be a few people too short on the Fighter. But now I realize somethin’: you and Rhys are the only things I have to remember Last. I ain’t got much now, but if it has to come to this, then at least I still got Rhys.”
Jackie squeezed her fingers into a tightly wound fist. He should have never opened his mouth or else the fight would have gone smoother. She was now bound by her duty to the Palm of Heaven. Uphold the sayings passed down to her by Mahoraga and the monks, adhere to the strict laws, and trounce any opposition set before her.
It was her, who turned her eye away from the radiant boy, who struck first. With half the vast room set between Frank and Jackie, she advanced in what appeared to be a few long strides, but it was Frank who drew his revolver and pointed its polished barrel at the swift Simms. Unarmed Jackie zigzagged towards Frank and slammed his hand upwards with her palm. Immediately, she snagged him in by the shirt and growled. Dismayed by his performance, she snapped.
“Stop hesitating, Frank. If you’re gonna do the deed, plug a bullet in me already!”
At this range, Frank could not recognize a washed Jackie. Beneath the sweat and grime there was a woman gifted with handsome charms. His face twinged red; he knew that she knew that he was quite the sharpshooter who would have easily thrown her back to an early grave, but it had to be her. Frank shot a few rounds into the air to unnerve the Palm and her eagle clutch. When that failed, he threw in an elbow to her face, but Jackie had unprecedented reflexes. She guided the elbow away from her body with an open hand and then kicked him back. Staggering, Frank stumbled back and tried to aim for her breast, but she clipped the silver revolver out of his hands and away from his range.
His demise was at hand.
“You’re killing him!” Eudoxia screamed.
Punch after punch, Jackie’s rage enveloped. Frank scooted back as much as he could, but he could not escape the winding tempest. She socked him in the gut and he lost his breath in the moment. Blacking out, Frank went death and the taste of iron flooded his mouth. The ringing persisted and his body wailed all over. His head spun thrice without a moment’s notice as if he was reliving the nightmare of the playground merry-go-round. Once Jackie got onto Frank, his vision went murky black for the duration of her fistful tirade. He might be dying, he might be dying.
Eudoxia slung herself towards the massacre and grazed her enemy’s shoulder with her sharp blade. Jackie pulled away the bloody pool of flesh and phlegm and gazed at the adamant woman dressed in a black shawl.
“You killed him! You beast!” she cried out.
Oe and Machiko stood back, mortified at the mess lying on the floor. Frank’s body didn’t move and his blood continued to fan in all directions. The two women felt Eudoxia’s seething rage from afar and so could the Palm. Without knowing the full potential of the Dalmenian, they braced for the worst.
“I must fulfill my duty to protect my people and their rights. That includes former companions.”
Blood dripped from Jackie’s rough fists and her hawkish eyes waited for the prim madam to fault. Yes, even the Dalmenian princess who was once thought of as a younger sister was not exempt from the fury of the Palm of Heaven’s newest acolyte. This time, Jackie played a passive role and allowed Eudoxia to break the idle silence. The swift footing of the sword kept the brawler on her thick toes. Every swipe and poke had one purpose: tire out the opposition and go for the throat. Eudoxia pushed and pushed, both the sword and the boiling red buried deep in her bosom. Such passion pressed her forward. Energy unbound, Eudoxia thought she had Jackie but fell quickly to a sleight.
Eudoxia lunged forward with the intent of killing Jackie who was purposely playing sluggishly. Jackie stepped into the attack thus closing the gap and tripped Eudoxia to her knees. With the advantage, Jackie went for the decisive blow to skull’s posterior. Acting urgent in response and having her doubts about her student and her ability to control the other side, Oe jumped in the way of Jackie’s coup de gras and single handedly snatched the flying fist with finesse.
“You may tout your strength,” Oe’s beam paralyzed Jackie. Oe’s free hand surged with magic and with one unexpected palm strike to the solar plexus, she jettisoned Jackie across the room and behind the rest of Mahoraga’s clan. Jackie’s face thudded against the wood flooring and her body skidded for a meter or two. “But you will never walk softly as long as I’m around.”
Ignoring the downed soldier of the Palm, Chichiraiden, Goji, and Hayao stepped forward and towards a recovering Eudoxia, but the the assassin from Nubai Katar halted them with great gusto in her breath.
“I’ll take the likes of you three on all by myself before you lay a hand on her!”
Mahoraga smirked in the background. She entertained the blissful monk, and perhaps she needed some convincing to join the enlightened Palm. A smile glimmered from his fuzzy face and the only time he moved his feet was to sidestep one of Machiko’s stray throwing knives. Anchovi’s ninja lent a hand to Oe and broke Hayao from the herd. Her knives chirped in midair, but were quickly intercepted by Hayao’s straight edge.
Oe took her sword out and engaged the skilled swordsman from Tsukimoto. At first, locked steel with the sword from the red scabbard. Their briefly met before Goji broke off. He keenly observed how Oe was able to best Jackie. Not sure if it was purely psychological warfare or a burst of magic, the sharp eyed Amaro Goji of Tsukimoto paid attention to her feet and hands instead. From his peripheral, he saw a white grin.
“You’re not the only one with tricks, my friend,” he muttered with great disdain. Withdrawing the red scabbard sword in exchange for the blue scabbard katana, he assumed a squatted stance.
Taking caution of the other, they danced in a circle and waited for the next beat. Focusing on her hands alone this time, the patient ronin closed the distance to strike. Oe was just a tad too slow and the shining edge cut into her forearm. A violent scream, not hers but rather his sword, escaped. The katana diffused a faint cyan aura and left not a scratch on Oe.
“A weapon enchantment of some sort,” Oe remarked. A few drips of blood stained the wood, but she remained intact. She felt slightly wobbling throughout her entire body, but she maintained mastery of her body. She listened to her surroundings for a quick check in: Eudoxia was slowly getting back up, Chichiraiden was pacing in place, the Soga siblings’ metal was clashing, Frank was still incapacitated.
“Yes, these swords are one of a kind, kindly gifted to me by the best blacksmith of the Blue.” Goji boisterously raved about the two swords at his side and allowed both of them out of the scabbard. Essentially the airhead broadcasted the entirety of his technique. “I'll let them introduce themselves to you: the Mana Masher and the Maneater!”
On the other side of the temple, Machiko had just thrown her twentieth dagger. Relentless and ready to pin Hayao down with all the fight she could muster, she held her tanto in front of her and anticipated the swallow’s tricks.
“How much shit do you have stored?” Hayao panted and propped himself up against a log pillar.
Where did all this unbound energy come from? Her sporadic movements, all akin to dances, paired finely with fluttering knives sharp accuracy. Hayao might have been the older brother by a significant amount of time, but he was no extraordinary fighter compared to the borderline demonic Machiko of Soga.
Making more stilettos appear from thick smoke, she grinned and homed on the fearful voice of Hayao. “Enough to make sure I don’t make the same mistake twice. Enough to make sure I can level this entire complex down. Enough to make sure that you’re brought back to Soga!”
One stiletto whizzed through the air and obviously passed Hayao. The elder sibling jumped out of his hiding spot and was not prepared for her surprise attack. Hayao planted his feet right in front of a smoke grenade which engulfed body and sight. Immediately, he pushed through the smoke fast enough to dodge the younger sibling’s barrage of knives. He avoided breathing in the smoke but his sight was partially obscured which gave Machiko the advantage to summon her next weapon, a massively long meteor hammer.
Its spiny head punctured the crackling floor with its weight alone. Quickly, Machiko ran springy cord’s length and began the wondrously perilous wind. Slow she was, but the turns gradually grew in strength and speed. The cord stretched and the spikes were whistling in the twister. Hayao ducked and fled away from the human tornado and waited for Machiko to succumb to the dizziness. He was quite wrong though. After successfully getting the meteor hammer up to her preferred speed, she stopped her revolutions yet moved the hammer around her body by its handle. The flail shredded the whatever poor pillars got in her way.
Splintering in midair, the chunks of wood flew everywhere and Hayao panicked in the midst of unfiltered power. He noticed after each strike how the iron hammer slowed drastically. The rogue slowly drew Machiko towards a long wall and bravely---foolishly even--dropped to the floor on his belly. The heavy head sank into the wall, just enough leverage between drywall and wooden beams to keep Machiko stuck. With his chokuto brandished and ready for a kill, Hayao confidently approached the struggling Machiko.
The girl though was like her brother: intelligent and just as brave. Machiko lined her sights just as her brother blocked her sight of the hammer. A red button rested on one end of the hammer’s handle, and so she fiendishly clicked it. [b Click.] The hammer’s head rocketed its thorns in all directions and caught Hayao off guard. These large spikes ejected more into the wall than it did anywhere else, but the few that managed to propel into open space lodged themselves into the runaway’s back back and thighs. Without an apt response, he collapsed underneath the pain and curled into himself.
Knowing that she would have to outsmart the astute Hayao, Machiko had to use a perfect contraption. She swiped his blade away, cuffed his left wrist to his right ankle, and so rashly taunted, “Sucker!”
As Machiko scolded her brother, Oe tackled on Goji and Chichiraiden simultaneously. Between the three swords shared by these two members of the Palm of Heaven, Oe had her hands tied, especially once she figured out the full effects of each of these weapons. The Mana Masher, as Goji noted, had successfully drained and hampered her magic limits. She had geared herself up for a devastating firestorm, but her current state allowed mere flickering embers. His second blade, the Maneater, carved into her skin and sapped up her life and restored any scrapes Goji accrued by Oe’s sword. Avoiding the third and last magic imbued blade, Chichiraiden’s twisting blade spun like a drill and sought to bore holes in anyone who got in its path.
Oe tested her magic between the bouts, but the flames seldom changed, but then the fierce combatant had no reason to summon flames. While Oe parried and shrugged the devastating blows from the opposition, the black magnetic cloud of crackling lightning and thunder enveloped Eudoxia once more. From human flesh to the stony scaled armor, Eudoxia’s other emerged. Her wings and tales thrashed but the fiery breath streamed for Oe and the opposition. Chichiraiden managed to fall to the floor, but preoccupied Goji and partially Oe felt the glowing wrath.
Oe watched Goji catch on fire, but could not stomach his writhing suffering. Struggling back to her feet, she limped over to Goji rolling back and forth and picked up the Mana Masher. Immediately,the glow flowed from the hilt of the sword and back into her manastream. With one wave of her hand, a sand storm emerged from her clothing and consumed Goji and flame alike. Sighing heavily, the teacher turned to her draconian student to calm her raging storm.
Instead, she found Chichiraiden brashly attacking the dragon. The fight was over before she even knew what to think of it. With one great slap of her tail, Eudoxia’s scales scraped through Chichiraiden’s veil and into her smooth flesh. The tail flung her across the room and the unconscious ragdoll crashed into a wooden pillar.
Oe hummed in attempts to sooth Eudoxia and her other. Still unsure on how to bring Eudoxia back in control, she tried to hush the dragon and lost focus of everyone else in the temple.
“What a sham,” the monk noted as he removed the upper portion of his saffron robes from his bulging body. He observed his disciples, each downed by under the radar individuals. Disappointed, he allowed himself to finally enter the fray. “I guess I’ll leave these unforgiving lands empty handed.”
HEAD ES DOODLE PETSUCHOS / Finnigan
/ 2y 86d 2h 22m 36s
Dressed in the best saffron, two women of the same size and stature sat back to back, reciting what the monks have taught them. In an open space in an undisclosed temple, they allowed their bodies to be at peace on the ornate wood floors and their minds to be released with the scent of sandalwood incense.
The first one, whose gravelly voice rumbled, recited, “War is immoral.”
The second woman, whose voice more stern than the first yet carried a stronger hint of femininity, then counteracted the first, “You must fulfill your duty to fight a just war.”
“Executing blood ties and companions is abhorrent.”
“You must fulfill your duty to protect your people and their rights.”
“Violence contradicts my coda.”
“You must set aside your feelings and earthly tethers.”
“Actions aforementioned are reprehensible.”
“A far greater sin it is to neglect your duties.”
Their meditation had transcended the hours into days into weeks. They sat, dined, and coexisted with the monk commune of Prok’mai. The past two months proved to be rewarding to lost souls, especially Jackie Simms’. Yes, the ex-pilot of the Fighter had boarded the Magnuze at the downfall of the Gilded Lily and did not her back, yet she remained deeply conflicted. Surely, everything would play out just as Mahoraga Genji had told her and Chichiraiden assured. Her entire time she felt useless in the search for the young Illumina and especially during the sea monster’s attack. As a result, she sought to become powerful in a more productive way.
Once she boarded the Magnuze, Jackie’s first priority was to dispose of the magician and his tyranny, but much to her surprise Harvey Lansit was nowhere to be found. Chichiraiden found the owner of the Magnuze to be an arrogant whore and was rather pleased that he was nowhere to be found. How Harvey and her newfangled master were connected was a mystery but Jackie went along with Mahoraga’s instructions. Surely, he was going to lead her to enlightenment.
When she got to the island of Prok’mai, the possibility of who she could become was endless. These were the people that her master preached about. The fields were tended by the monks, the food was prepared by the monks, the packages were assembled by the monks, and the sailboats were manned by the monks. Missionaries with one goal in mind: seek the righteous scattered throughout the Blue and assemble them in one place. The rapport between the different peoples breathed verisimilitude. Nothing about their operation felt fake nor tiring. The endeavor was great, but the mind, body, and soul handled it with serenity.
The neophyte desired to jump into the middle of the production, but her experienced companion told her that she first needed to be inducted properly into the culture. The monks tested her mentally and physically. Her reading became exceptional within weeks. Jackie devoured any oration and sewed the philosophy into her mind. Though she believed that she was at her physical peak, the conditioning and meditation transcended the typical fighting style of Jackie into something rather refined and refreshing. Becoming swift and fluid, every time she moved, she experienced large soothing drops of rain percolating her exposed skin. Tingling, the tiny hairs rose with each sparring session.
This was who Jackie was meant to be. She even managed to grow closer to Chichiraiden as result and saw her more of a sisterly figure. The devout follower of Mahoraga spilled her vulnerabilities onto Jackie’s lap and together they laughed and cried profusely together. In the mornings, they would go down a hundred moss covered steps in the humid jungle to fetch buckets of water. During the long afternoons, they cooked the thick soups prepared with rich spices, and Chichiraiden continually jested at Jackie’s abhorrent cooking ability. In the late evenings, they traveled to a few towns to bathe the elderly. At the end of their long day, they’d bathe finally, lay on the straw mats, and look at the stars.
After the first month, the congregation accepted Jackie for her remarkable dedication and work ethic. The blissful Mahoraga Genji seldom made appearances at the temple as he was busy with work back on the Gilded Lily and the surrounding islands. What brought the giant of a man into Jackie’s bright-eyed spotlight was his egalitarian philosophy. This entire time, she thought that the wise-cracking Mahoraga was the leader of the band, but in truth he respected everyone’s opinion on any given subject and followed the collective group’s final decision. He had spoken with Jackie and explained that this was not a movement he started but one started by the people.
The hefty spirit could never wrong nor wrong her. To err was not in his vocabulary, especially when the saffron robe commune traveled the dangerous seas in order to do good in an otherwise unfit world. Jackie had seen bits of this world and convinced herself that there were only a few good men and women in a Blue filled with hate, despair, and treachery. These governing bodies punished the poor, and the wicked continued to climb to the highest points. She believed that the man she admired was going to revolutionize the Blue for the better.
“I ain't never thought you'd be here.”
A rather notably hoarse voice opened Jackie’s eyes.
Frank stood in the open meditation space with Machiko, Oe, and Eudoxia looking inwards. Seemingly they managed to waltz into the abbey without resistance. The Fleet Authority soldiers haphazardly planned their invasion of Prok’mai and decided to go for a surprise from behind. Frank loathed the moist air and had the hardest time breathing. Now that he had Jackie in his sights, his skin and blood sizzled. She was alive this entire time, more so cavorting with the monk.
“I don't see why I wouldn't be.” Frank shook his hands at his side. Outraged, he burst out, “Did you even try lookin’ for us? What about Rhys?”
At this point, Jackie and Chichiraiden got to their feet and addressed Frank properly. Chichiraiden, disgusted by such an ill-looking scrawny man, scoffed. On the other side of the room, Eudoxia was impressed with Jackie’s transformation and “promotion”. The monks trimmed down her waist and her long black hair was pulled back in a long black braided ponytail. Somehow, they transformed her into a “real” woman from the chunky donkey she used to be. The saffron get-up was also notable too. Eudoxia wanted to nab a set or two and incorporate it into her gothic style.
“Did you find him?” Jackie asked with enthusiasm. She felt Chichiraiden’s grave stare from the side thus the tightening of her stance.
“No,” Frank then pointed at Machiko and exclaimed, “but the new girl and Tony did. Tony!”
Furious he was, Oe tried to pacify his ire but the scruffy man from Guten Nocht was inconsolable.
“Now you've joined a commune of broken eggs. What about Anchovi?”
“I prayed for you for the longest time. I lost sleep thinking that you were dead and that I did nothing in retaliation. Selfish I was but I couldn't wallow forever. Mahoraga told me that the Gilded Lily was lost.”
Jackie felt awful more than ever, but she had to defend her current lifestyle. She was ready to let go of Anchovi for good, but then Frank and his entourage showed up. Mourning would have not brought them back, but then she realized that it was fate that brought them back to her. This was the universe testing her faith in Mahoraga and the people.
“That man!” he shouted.
Oe stepped forward and pressed her fingertips to Frank’s chest. Remaining placid, she simply stated, “You follow a wolf in sheep’s clothing.”
“Silence your tongue, you ungrateful wench! The Master is at work. Mahoraga tells nothing but truth.” Unable to stand in the mere presence of blasphemy, Chichiraiden stepped in front of Jackie and pointed at the heathen Oe. No one insulted the Master. No one.
“Haha! What a reunion!”
At that moment, everyone in the meditation room turned to the lively spirit of Mahoraga Genji. Flanked by Hayao of Soga and another man born of Tsukimoto origins, he graced the presence of Jackie, Chichiraiden, and Anchovi equally. His hearty chuckle assuaged the tensed Chichiraiden but immediately exacerbated Machiko’s growling temper.
“I thought you said you killed off your sister,” the other man from Tsukimoto wistfully sounded. Unlike the rugged Hayao, his face was clean shaven and hair neatly pulled back into a ponytail. At both sides of his pair of black hakama resided a katana.
“Treachery, no less from the Order of Tsubaki.”
“Says the man responsible for the death of the emperor!” She thought about driving a spike right at the apex of his head, but restrained her anger from getting the best of her. Machiko’s mission was to secure the Magnuze first, and then rightfully bring her brother to justice. She turned an eye to the stranger and immediately recognized the sharp face. “Amaro Goji. Aren’t you a prized swordsman?”
The man snapped out of his daydream and paid attention to the fiery ghost. “Huh? Are you a fan of mine?”
Truly disappointed at such behavior of the celebrity, she snarled the narcolepsy out of Goji.
“No. Not only are you clearly a traitor to the Tsukimoto empire by association, but you’re also a coward runaway who abandoned his country.”
“Man, your spite is what’s keeping you alive,” he lazily replied. “You know as well as I do that that the emperor was just a plaything to your Tsubaki cult. That bitch Hae Suun would have nixed Akio if your bro didn’t. You truly thought you were doing good, but you and your sisters did not trust the people and allow them to lead lives free of a peeping government. That’s not my flow, little sister.”
“My, my. I can see that we’re quite lively today!” Mahoraga clapped, “We’re not here to cause any trouble, my friends. The flames are not needed. What is it that you truly desire?”
“The Magnuze needs to be returned to its rightful owner: Harvey Lansit.”
Well, Fleet Authority would confiscate the ship and do whatever they wanted with Lansit. Frank sought answers or something awful to happen at this point. Jackie, Mahoraga, Hayao. A precarious alliance to say the least comprised of bandits, murderers, and traitors.
“Where is our friend Harvey?”
“Hopefully destroying that giant ole’ gun you got goin’ on South Island.”
There and then did Frank witness a break in the hearty man’s facade. What quaint content expression quickly twitched into a frown and then dissatisfaction.
“So you’re workin’ with the Templar, ain’t cha.”
“Well, Harvey Lansit is more or less not a liaison between the Blues.” Mahoraga clarified. The dramatic break followed through with the saffron monk demonstrating the use of his cunning voice. “If I’m gonna be honest--and I’ll be honest--he’s more of a means to move things around, for you see, the Templar and us are one in the same.”
Jackie froze in her stance. That she was not aware of. The ravenous Templar stormed the Magnuze and nearly plunged the Fighter and Rhys into the Blue. How could the puppeteer and his legion of automatons be apart of this movement? Mahoraga moved to the forefront and middle of the meditation room, and she stared at his magnificent stance. The man she admired and loved was in no way malignant. He selflessly served others and embraced the divergent beauties of strength, grace, and intelligence.
Eudoxia kept an eye on each of the five opposing individuals. She then queried Mahoraga, “So I gotta ask you a question, oh holy one: are you human or one of Kal Seraf’s robots?”
“Ohohoho! Dear princess, I’m more human than you can imagine. I see that you are indeed the same crew Seraf struggled with. You’ll notice the difference in our philosophies, but you’ll realize we’re all fighting for the same endgame. We learn from each other’s mistakes, and I don’t intend to repeat his mistake of underestimating strangers.” The Master of the Prok’mai abbey scanned the opposing four and chuckled. He then picked out the sore thumb of the bunch: Oe Madu. “I’m sure you get this all the time, but you don’t exactly fit in this part of the Blue. You’re a long way from home, and you’re definitely not the tourist type.”
“I’m sure you’re familiar with Ewan the Cat.”
The mere mention of the name sank Mahoraga’s fractured smile and expelled what little joy he had in his step. Now it was personal.
“When you’re as famous as Harvey P. Lansit, people from all parts of the Blue flock to witness ‘greatness’ no matter how overt or covert you may be about it, and when you have an indispensable piece in your long scheme of things such as Harvey P. Lansit, you tend to want to keep that piece. You’ll then pit a less experienced assassin against a well versed one.” Oe sensed how livid Mahoraga was at this point and topped it off with, “I can assure you that there’s more than nine ways to skin a cat and that your poor Ewan put up somewhat of a fight before I punched his clock in for good.”
“Seems like you have beef,” Eudoxia tacked on.
“I got a whole heifer and a calf,” Mahoraga nervously chuckled. He remembered the day Ewan’s head returned to him, all neatly packaged and wot not.
Restraining himself from bashing in the black skinned witch’s skull with his adamantium rod, he folded his hands in and stepped back. He would not fight with such animosity. Fate had taken its course, and he would not succumb to act out in revenge. Revenge was not part of his goal. Instead, it was Goji, Hayao, and Chichiraiden that moved in front of their master and drew out their weapons. Jackie froze with empty hands. Was this really going to happen? As a response, Anchovi followed suit and geared up for the brawl.
“You must detach yourself from such earthly tethers and be empty like the open Palm of Heaven,” Mahoraga asserted. “Sever your bonds.”
Without hesitation and a thought of her previous family, Jackie Simms raised her fists against Anchovi.
HEAD ES DOODLE PETSUCHOS / Finnigan
/ 2y 89d 1h 33m 35s
[size16 #Magicannon Breakup Story#]
Frank and Tony shared a grave sigh at the bow of the Dha Khammoune. Hundreds of men geared up the dozens or so airships on top of the gigantic carrier for the upcoming war within the Damphruk archipelago. The destroyer ships which the flagship dwarfed spearheaded the Blue in two flanks. One headed for South Island, the southernmost piece of land within the Fleet Authority’s jurisdiction, the other for Prok’mai whose abbey secured the crew of the magnificent Magnuze.
“Are you ready for this?”
Frank shielded his face from the glaring sun with his floppy hat. He fought the past couple of months with the admiral and his men about the plan, but the Admiral Sidurathay vowed that a two front assault would catch the enemy off guard. The naval power did very little land reconnaissance during the two month preparation, and sent spies throughout the isles for brief skirmishes. Sidurathay and his league of lieutenants feared guerrilla warfare. They valued the rank and file members of the naval force but gave the soldiers very little credit. Armed with high tech armor, arms, and advance training on land, sea, and sky, the Fleet Authority had the means to take over neighboring countries if the Admiral so chose.
“I hope so.” Tony sighed again. Glad that Frank tore him away from the stacks of papers and intel, he relaxed on the edge of the bow and let his feet dangle over the foamy Blue. He observed every detail of the dual-headed plan like a giant mathematical equation. Every variable was accounted for to the point where the mechanic solved complex calculus equations for stress relief. “Here's to hoping that the past two months didn't go to waste.”
“Keep Rhys alive and get him back safely. The three of you really.”
Frank turned around and watched the rest of Anchovi and friends. Duster loomed over the young Illumina who was endlessly chatting to the likes of Machiko, Eudoxia, and Oe. Gruff Frank entrusted the remaining original members of Anchovi with the mechanic who garnered his attention and respect. He feared that he might lose his Rhys once more, but it was Tony who was there when Rhys was recovered. Behind the group though was the slouchy magician, a glaring variable to the likes of the two men.
Frank sneered, “Him? Not so much.”
Tony slumped and rested his chin in his hands. He sat there, perplexed and unsure how to address another glaring problem.
“The admiral has decided against an aggressive campaign, as per my request...strangely.” Yes, Admiral Sidurathay agreed to Tony’s conditions without resistance. He did promise that the farmers of the Gilded Lily would be taken care of. Perchance the leader of the armed forces extended this way of thought to the rest of the islands, but in the back of Tony’s mind, he doubted good will was a trait of the admiral and his men. “We’re not even sure how close the magicannon is close to completion, but I’m certain that the Khammoune will be its first target. I think we have a better chance of staying alive if we’re up close and personal.”
“Just the way Anchovi likes it, heh.”
“Naturally,” Tony rolled his eyes.
Down the ship, the rest of Anchovi entertained each other with silly songs, but the dreading Harvey had different intentions. He pulled the tiny girl from Tsukimoto aside and squinted to her level.
“Miss…” Really, he didn’t know any of their names except for Tony’s, but now he was at the mercy of the crew and the Fleet. He trailed off nicely, but he had not the slightest clue what Hayao’s sister was called.
The girl simply nodded and dryly stated, “Machiko of Soga.”
Machiko of Soga had not forgiven the magician for her brother’s escape. She thought about sinking the magician’s wand into his thick skull and calling it even. In fact, the wand was the subject of their brief interaction.
“Miss Machiko, I do believe that you have something of mine.”
Harvey P. Lansit was practically begging a child for an extended piece of himself. He got sad just thinking about the wand: the most important part of his body. Without the fountain pen, he lacked the means of channeling his magic. Dare he think it, Harvey was just as pathetic as the Varsylian mass and inferior to the likes of these plebs!
Machiko debated with herself for a few seconds. Despite loathing the man, she needed him to further her hunt for her runaway brother. The pen poofed into her hands and she hesitantly handed the weighty pen to Harvey. [i ‘Fine.] Immediately regretting it, everything that could possibly happen from here on out flooded her head. If he wanted, Harvey could flood the Khammoune, destroy the airships, or even set ablaze the people.
But he didn’t. In fact, he simply nodded thanks to Machiko and parted in a different direction.
“And you’re confident that this uncanny crew will make it back alive?” Oe asked Eudoxia as she watched the two foreigners interact. The student and teacher moved away from the other couples and pondered the true potential of Anchovi and its ‘allies’.
Eudoxia, thoroughly pleased with the transformed man, spoke out, “This is a different Tony we’re seeing; he’s more confident about himself this time around. Maestra, we should focus on the mission ahead of us. We’re not sure what we’ll run into on the Magnuze.”
Dusk had settled finally and in half a day’s span, the operation would begin. Frank, Machiko, Eudoxia, and Oe all traveled to one airship. Tony led the likes of Rhys, Duster, and the conniving Harvey to an opposite airship. Harvey got special privileges and slept in a locked room by himself which pleased him greatly. Soldiers stood vigilantly outside his door, but it was not enough. Cloaked from the human eye, Duster remained by their side to make sure the merchant of death remained silent. The mastermind and his apprentice, Tony and Rhys, headed straight to bed and once they closed their eyes, they fell into a pleasant dream.
Tony woke up at the crack of dawn and heard the propellers and turbines at work. Humming throughout the walls of the airship, the living and breathing engine whispered sweet nothings into the mechanic’s ears. He stretched out of his bunk and immediately made his way up to the quarterdeck. The sun’s rosy tips peeped from the horizon on the left and embraced his rich skin with a warm hug. Never much of a night owl, Tony thrived in the sun’s domain and stretched in the midst of the brisk air. There was work to be done and plans to be revisited. Of course, such a glorious day did not exist without Harvey’s lingering breath.
Approaching the mechanic from behind, the magician with the shifty mustache tossed out a question. “What do you think they’ll do with us once we’ve secured their new toy?”
Tony’s mouth ran dry; he wished he had gotten a glass of water before dealing with Harvey’s bullshit. Of course, Tony wondered what exactly what Harvey was getting at. “New toy?”
“Well, they didn’t give us specific instructions to destroy Roz Suprema outright. Don’t you find that at least a little concerning?”
[i ‘Dammit. I hate when you’re right.’]
Touché. Harvey brought up a valid point, and reaffirmed Tony’s suspicion of Fleet Authority. There was not much the four of them could do against a hundred men and their air and sea crafts. Anchovi was more or less there to take the fall with Harvey tied at the sinking ship’s bowsprit.
“There is some truth to this, Antonine,” Duster suddenly appeared between the two figures. “I fear we’re just another pawn in another game of checkers.”
“Chess,” Rhys interjected from behind. The boy had woken up shortly after Tony.
“Hm?” Duster tilted his head.
“Pawns are usually played in chess, Duster.”
“Well, it looks like it’s four against the world.”
Harvey dug his fists into his love handles and guffawed into the air’s gentle brush. As much as Tony wanted to whip him across the face with his wrench, the haughty millionaire spoke truths. These were the same truths that Tony wanted to be outright lies.
Approaching South Island just before noon, the few airships sank closer to the misty Blue. Barely skidding above the warm sea, the airships shot for discretion. The few sailing ships started to encircle the island to avoid the clashing rocks prodding the northern coastline. Tony could see the sight of the magicannon sitting on a high bluff. Not all the trees on South Island could hide the Roz Suprema’s main barrel. It must have been Harvey’s latest living sexual innuendo.
The site baffled Tony. Harvey claimed that it was a mobile weapon capable of leveling several islands effortlessly, but it was currently being constructed in the heartland of South Island. Not even the Magnuze had the fortitude to lift such a monstrosity from its cradle. The mechanic prepared for rapid fire engagement. The sea support routed any opposition from the southern side while the airships planned to hit hard on the northern front.
The airships prepared for the descent for South Island. The gears cranked and the turbines blasted the sand beaches. The soldiers pointed their rifles inland as the ships claimed their footing. The stairs unfolded and soldiers by the dozen flooded the beach. Tony and his daunting crew followed behind closely with their eyes transfixed on the destination. Now all he had to do is break from the ranks and eradicate the Roz Suprema from the face of the Blue.
Squads of ten to twenty scaled the bluff without opposition while a group of forty remained on the beach to secure an apt and secure exit. This kind of green was unseen to the likes of Anchovi. Tsukimoto was lush, but it lacked the myriad of green seen throughout the brief stint of South Island. Tony’s crew scaled the bluff as well, but decided to move onto a path clear of tangling ivy. The winding staircase zipped up the bluff and the poorly armed guards were quickly subdued by the Fleet’s hi-tech rifles. The sentry forcefully shoved the shabby natives to the ground without mercy and humiliated them with degrading slurs.
Tony caught a glimpse of such ill action, yet did nothing to address the unneeded violence of the workers. His lungs breathed in the muggy air. The stifling environment pressed him to move forward and to ignore the misdeeds. The guilt sat in the back of his mind: these people were casualties caught between the Fleet’s iron rule and Harvey’s nefarious plans. They sought opportunity but for the wrong man. The Fleet’s brutal police cracked down and cuffed anyone outside of a uniform. Anchovi kept together in tight formation and pressed ahead the Fleet until they reached the summit of Roz Suprema.
With the exception of the oddball Duster, they panted hot air and poured sweat from the pores. The cannon of the Suprema lingered over their heads and bluff’s slope. As tight as the clearing was, the Suprema, which was twice the size of a Fleet’s destroyer ship yet still dwarfed by the Dha Khammoune, surrounded itself working equipment painted yellow and Lansit technology. At first it seemed like a clash between nature and the human world, but Tony felt a bond between the conflicting ideas. Then he snapped out of the romantic thought and realized that the Roz Suprema had no place in the Blue to thrive.
The hull of the ship barely floated over a sliding ditch that dropped down the southern side of the island. So that was it. The cannon would slide straight into the Blue and start its tyrannical run. Over Tony’s dead body it would.
A tall and robust woman half-dressed in an apron called out from a scaffold straddling the Suprema. She held a smithing hammer in her rough black gloves and her biceps bulged. The headband kept her long black hair out of her fiercely hard-nosed face. The blacksmith heavily reminded Rhys of the late Jackie Simms, only taller, with longer legs, and a less sultry voice.
“Who is she?” Tony turned to Harvey for further disclosure. She did not belong to the likes of these lands, her skin was less of a red pigment and more of a tan complexion.
The magician trembled at her mere presence and wished that they had not encountered such a magnificent woman. Holding her in high regard, Harvey muttered, “You might be the designer, but she is the builder. She is the mother of steel.”
She scaled down the scaffold and stood her ground with hammer in firm hands.
“I am Gua Fa Jing.”
[i Templar scum.] Tony, severely underestimating the sole opposition, dismissed her entrance. “Well, I’m not into introductions.”
“Neither am I.”
Duster stepped forth with sword in hand.
“What?” Harvey and Tony spat out simultaneously.
The alien was committing suicide. Duster against [i her]? Well, if she somehow won and smashed the Lucavi into pieces, Harvey knew he’d still have components for a second Roz Suprema.
“We must act swift, Antonine. Go.”
Tony, Rhys, and Harvey slowly avoided the woman firm in her stance, but not without a sample of her power. She struck the ground with her hammer and a jolt of hot lightning surged for the three men. Quick to react, Duster erected a wall of white steel to intercept her attack.
“I’m unfamiliar with your kind, beast.”
“I prefer the term Lucavi.”
While Duster faced against the ominous Fa Jing, the remainder of Anchovi infiltrated the hull of Roz Suprema. From there, Harvey led the group towards the reactor based on an old set of blueprints he managed to memorize. For the most part, the ship was switched up here and there, but traversing the ship provided some difficulty. Very little lighting was provided for the workers and the scaffolding inside was worse than outside. The walkways and stairs leading to the upper floors swiveled like a snake by a toe’s touch.The goody two-shoes held his tongue back from making snide and condescending remarks to the cheap entrepreneur. These conditions boiled his blood.
Without the aid of the Harvey, Tony reached the reactor. The machine that powered all the magitech within the Roz Suprema took up a hefty portion of the ship and probably the majority of Tony’s explosive charges. A crystalline pylon situated itself smack dab in the middle of the machine. Golden bands crossed the pylon with shards of Lucavi metal facing inward. The control console for the magitech reactor was directly attached to the crystal’s platform by a plethora of tubes and cold pipes dressed in blue lighting.
“Ah, what a sham.” Harvey died a little inside. “This was supposed to be the greatest thing I’ve done; it was going to be a legacy that not even my children could surpass.”
“Whether it fell into the hands of you or the Fleet, a weapon like this needs to be destroyed. Crafted by sinister hands for nefarious intents, I cannot stand idly and let something like this breathe on the necks of the commonwealth. People have died not knowing what this machine does and more people will perish.”
“Boo, you’re such a pathetic bore. Spare me the poetry, Maxwell.”
Tony and Rhys divvied up the charges and planted them around the inactive reactor. Even with the two months, the Templar and the builders were unable to mobilize the Suprema. Maybe Harvey and the Templar needed Tony’s assistance for this project. Tony cracked a small smile that no one espied; he felt important for once.
Harvey called it. A group of eight Fleet members lined up with their barrels pointing towards the reactor and the perpetrators. Tony and Rhys shot their hands up in quick defeat and the magician’s nose twitched. Just as the pompous fool anticipated, a quick backstab and Fleet Authority would have their hands on a new weapon in their already unstoppable arsenal.
“Tony, what are we gonna do?” Rhys squeaked.
“Do what you must. In five minutes, you’ll set those charges off, with or without me.”
Harvey stepped forward and pulled out his wand in quick defiance. Shocked, Tony’s mouth dropped and nothing short of a wisp of air let out. Was Harvey, a Lansit no less, willing to sacrifice himself? No one back home would believe this story.
With a tap of his foot, Harvey disappeared from the Fleet’s sights and left Anchovi exposed. The soldiers cautiously searched high and low for the devious magician. From above, they heard Harvey’s foot landing on an iron beam and thus they sounded off their guns. Bullets ricocheted and chaos tampered with their minds. Now they were overly cautious and easily flustered. Harvey reappeared several times in midair and rained balls of fire on the troops from various angles and directions. Static crackled within the reactor room and tickled ears and nose ridges. Trained militiamen panicked in the midst of confusion.
While the fiery drizzle bounced off the incombustible armor, Tony and Rhys fled the reactor without looking back. One foolish officer tried to stop the newly branded fugitives, but Rhys slid between the soldier’s legs and continued his escape on a light foot. For a brief second, the soldier looked over his shoulder and hesitated on chasing after the boy, which gave Tony the chance to shoulder check him into a steel beam.
5. The minutes counted down. 4. Maybe Harvey would make it out. 3. If Tony and Rhys made it out without a scratch, then the magician would have no problem. 2. Unless it was all a ruse. Was it a ruse? Was Harvey working with Fleet Authority the entire time? 2 and a half. The couple of renegades waited in the surrounding jungle for signs of Harvey popping out, then they would detonate the entire place to kingdom come. 1.
Tony’s stomach churned.
[i ‘Man, why do I feel this way?’]
Click! [b BOOM!]
[i ‘What did I just do?’]
Fiery wrath erupted from the metal shell. The Roz Suprema wailed and her metallic voice screeched. A grey billow of flustering smoke swallowed the sky. Split into two pieces, the front piece of the magicannon fell forward on its nose at first and then slid back into the back half. Its weight pushed the burning reactor and the supporting cranes down the sliding ditch. The magitech components exploded several more times on its descent towards the Blue.
“That’s probably the single, most selfless thing he’s ever done.”
Rhys complied. Maybe there was some good in Harvey yet.
A voice in the distant green hollered, “I’m not dead yet!”
Tony scrambled and groaned. Hopeless wishing it appeared.
HEAD ES DOODLE PETSUCHOS / Finnigan
/ 2y 92d 10m 47s
One against many, the lone sword stuck through the sea of guns like a shining obelisk in the radiant distance. Oe Madu of Nubai Katar challenged the authority of the Fleet, and not once did she blink a doubt in her own prowess. Not cocky but rather sure of her ability, the oddity on this side of the world challenged the military on their own turf.
“A witch! And her familiar!” Doterev jumped to the front of the firing squad and stole one of the rigid rifles. Aiming between Oe’s eyes, he angrily panted.
Jumping in front of the rifle, Frank exclaimed, “Ay! We’re not here to fight each other. ‘Member we gotta bigger problem at hand.”
He further explained that the nude lady was part of their crew and had been afflicted with a disease. Much to their chagrin, they wondered what kind of malady warranted such an unsightly transformation and where she contracted it. That was one thing that the Maestra wished she knew. No one should live with such a heavy burden on their shoulders. Tony managed to round up the Fleet’s leadership back into Harvey’s holding cell. He worked with such urgency that alerted the admiral. This magitech weapon worried the mechanic so much that he rarely slept throughout the long windy nights.
The Sarak traveled half the day to the floating headquarters of the Fleet Authority, Dha Khammoune. The unimaginable size of the airship carrier baffled the likes of Machiko and Rhys who remained on the Sarak’s deck. Dozens of ships similar in size of the Sarak were parked on the front end of the carrier. Near the middle of the carrier were Howlitzer class aircrafts. Individuals piloted these machines, whose designs were tweaked over the centuries by many different countries. Towards the back end of the Dha Khammoune sat the control tower.
Anchovi and the other guests filed into the Fleet’s five thousand staffed individuals. Pilots, captains, medics, mechanics, a well staffed house and essentially a sailing city, the Dha Khammoune seldom sought port because it was well equipped for the worst of times and more. The Sarak landed and the medics were the first to greet Anchovi and their blacked out Dalmenian. Oe remained near Eudoxia’s side at all costs and made sure that the transition from cot to stretcher went smoothly. Harvey was escorted by the admiral, his entourage, and Tony to the brig for the night. The scribes escorted the likes of Frank, Rhys, and Machiko elsewhere and deep into the carrier for the sake of clearing space and eliminating one less problem for the Fleet.
Successfully delaying Oe’s persistence, the medical team stored Eudoxia in the infirmary for the night. Rather, they stuck her in a room by herself with a couple of armed soldiers guarding her. The head doctor ordered for the room to be quarantined from the rest of the ship, including Anchovi. Of course, confidence alone brought Oe before Eudoxia’s locked doors. She moved her braids to the back and casual insisted with the junior officers that she be allowed to pass. The couple of sailors whispered to each other and commented how well defined her arms were. They even went as far as to criticize how “man-shouldered” she was.
“Men, we’re not here to discuss my physique and how threatened you are by its mere presence. By the looks of this ship, there are very few if no women on deck, so of course you’ve probably forgotten what a real woman looks like. I don’t want to embarrass you and then you later on have to explain to your admiral why you were disgraced by a foreigner.”
Oe nudged through the couple of soldiers who shouldered her back. Opening the door to the bare infirmary room, she saw Eudoxia resting beneath soft mint blankets in the back. The medical equipment impressed Oe, but she pressed that the doctors of Nubai Katar were far more advanced. The machines were less clunky and boxy and more sleek and circular. A low hum buzzed from the machines and sterile lights. Oe approached Eudoxia’s bed and sat beside her student. She was not sure what her first words would be to the princess once she woke up. How could she affirm that her transformation would not happen again or that she would survive the next uncontrollable throng of rage.
Catching Oe by surprise, the princess, whose eyes were shut and conscious barely awake, weakly worded, “Oe, I’m scared.”
The blistering heat vanished from her body and instead Eudoxia felt the winds of winter rattle her bones. Eudoxia tried opening her eyes, but a great weight troubled her eyelids. Bedridden, she feared that the black scales would pop up again and fire would singe the cool air.
“It’ll be alright, princess,” Oe stroked the princess’s frazzled hair. Useless. Oe had not a solid plan to solve Eudoxia’s current predicament. She held her young apprentice by the hand and prayed for good health. She had prayed that Eudoxia never live another day as the black dragon.
“Let me go, I don’t want to hurt you.” Crying softly into her shoulder and the pillow, Eudoxia allowed the horrid visions of Oe’s death to invade her mind. The vivid imagination soured her stomach and her throat ran dry. A stream of tear trickled down her pale cheek and into the flat pillow.
Oe smiled and assured Eudoxia, “Not once did you graze me while you were transformed.”
In fact, Eudoxia transformed as a result of Oe’s fall. The teacher thought that maybe this was not a disease worth treating. Heck, disease was the incorrect word for it perhaps. The two sat in silence for a while. Eudoxia wanted to erase the past and the entirety of this facade. She’d trade it back for the glamor and closed walls she once knew. The life she once knew disintegrated into the flames of the black dragon. Everything before this life appeared to be a lie. Was Helvetia her real mother? What about her father? What truths could she hold on to? Meanwhile, Oe was learning to accept the truth behind the Eudoxia.
She breathed in and then calmly exhaled, “Eudoxia, you have a real gift.”
“No, my teacher, if you understood, this is nothing less of a hex,” Eudoxia groveled.
Oe let a narrow smirk escape from her lips and teeth once she heard a typically dramatic response from Eudoxia. At least she knew that she wasn’t dying from the metamorphosis. “Whether you see this as a blessing or a curse, it does not shape or form you. A great power resides in you, and it’s up to you, Eudoxia, to decide what you want to do with it.”
“You want me to transform? The guards said you were crazy, but I didn’t think you were this crazy.”
“After we all get out of this dilemma, let me take you back to Nubai Katar.”
That promise got Eudoxia to open her watery eyes.
“Really? You’ll take me to where you’re from?”
“Of course, I’ll show you my city clad in gold. You will know the names of my family and where we came from. We’ll soar through the Full Quarter by airship and you’ll be amazed by all the life that thrives in such an otherwise place. My princess, it’s unlike any place you’ve been. There, we will resume our training.”
Eudoxia heard tidbits of the far off land of Nubai Katar. Of course, the younger version of her dismissed it largely as mythology. Nothing could ever flourish in such a harsh and unforgiving environment. Helvetia actively despised Maestra Oe and swore that the foreigner was just another Kaf with a slew of tall tales to tell.
“What if I can’t control it? What if I turn again?” She feared that the fever would come back and all Hel would break loose. Eudoxia broke sweat just thinking about it.
“It’ll be a learning experience for us both, Eudoxia. You’re not in this alone, and you never will be.”
Oe reassured the princess that no harm would come to either of them. Eudoxia highly doubted the wise woman, and instead relied on her human intuition. She looked down at her own hands and saw the sharp talons that would rip her teacher into shreds. She convinced herself that a fire was building in her lungs and the air around her skin was sharp enough to cut through bone and flesh. Surely, Eudoxia thought she had pissed off the wrong woman with vanity alone. That or her obscene language.
Oe left the room once Eudoxia fell back asleep, and Rhys was the next to sneak in. Slipping through the door during the change of the guard, he slowly slinked across the room and sat in the chair next to his friend. He truly did miss Eudoxia, but it wasn’t the first priority on his mind. Today’s excitement quickly caught up to him and before he knew what was happening he slowly dozed off next to the princess. His head slumped onto the bed and his mouth rested on her arm.
For a few hours, the two competitively snored until one loud snort--undetermined as whose it was--woke Eudoxia. She looked to her left and saw a bushy tuft of blond sitting on her arm. Immediately, she grinned and ruffled Rhys’ soft head. The boy jolted out of his skin and then slowly pried his wet face from her forearm.
Rhys nodded and took a while to wake up fully. Yawning and stretching out his arms, he looked down to his pocket and saw the searing dagger’s hilt sticking out. Pulling it out, he placed it in Eudoxia’s lap.
“Brought this back for you, just as you wished.”
She was relieved that he kept his word. The dagger was one of a kind, but Rhys was irreplaceable.
“I’m glad that you’re alright, Rhys.” She missed her little brother so much that she lured him in and wrapped Rhys in her feeble arms. “I don’t know what I would have done if we never found you.”
“I don't think we'll ever be apart. Our connection is too strong to be completely severed.” Rhys pulled away and stated with the utmost and bizarre confidence.“We’ll go through Hel and back and we'll make it out together.”
“That's mystical, Rhys. Have you been reading?”
“It's what I did to pass the time while I was chained up.” Granted, a good portion of a stack was philosophy tied in with some countries of the Uchi-soto League.
“Who found you?”
“Tony and Machiko.”
“Not Frank and Jackie?”
No one had mentioned Jackie since the Gilded Lily. Frank and Rhys had presumed the worst fate had happened to her since she did not show during the civilian roundup. Frank avoided answering any of Rhys’ questions pertaining to the pilot and instead deflected them all on the monster’s attack. He did not want to confess to the young boy that his older sister was too wrapped up in a guy and his philosophy. Frank wanted Jackie to die with dignity.
The door opened, and this time Frank strolled in. Fuzzy faced and just as grumpy as ever, he squinted at Rhys.
“Git out boy, time for yer bedtime.”
Without another word, Rhys scrammed and went back to his temporary quarters.
Frank poured the princess a tall glass of water and handed it to her. Parched, Eudoxia thanked the eternally frumpy man and drank.
“Decided to check up on you. They have us on the other side of this floatin’ city. I’m hopin’ we get you back on our side.”
Dha Khammoune squeezed thousands of sailors in a labyrinth of gangways and packed barracks. The bunks stacked three high, and the few who were too tall suffered bruised foreheads and crowns. They’d bump their heads trying to move through the lilliputian doorways or if they were caught off guard, they’d jump straight out of bed and into the bunk above. Tony deemed the design unfathomable for tall people like him, whereas even Frank complained how he nearly scraped his head.
“I don’t like none of these people, Eu. They’re runnin’ scared.”
Frank had the suspicion that Anchovi was on a rather short rope with Fleet Authority. The link between them and Harvey, Eudoxia’s scaly appearance, and the willingness to help the Fleet were all red flags to the higher ups. Frank figured they were being watched closely somehow.
“They should be, Frank. I don’t know when will be the next time I transform or what will happen. I don't want to hurt anyone. I need to get out of here.” The walls slowly closed in on her and the cool air stifled.
Frank exacerbated her anxiety with his uncouth tongue. “I’ve run across a few scientist types back on Nocht. If there’s somethin’ you gotta know about these folks, know this: they’ll cut you up and find out everythin’ about you. No questions asked. They wanna know what makes them scared of you. That’s science. They’re the kind of kid that snatches the boogieman from out in the distance n’ then dissect ‘em. Guts, blood, n’ all.”
The Fleet disgusted him more than Ximena back on Guten Nocht. At the very least, she was a giant cyborg wish less human characteristics than the Fleet’s lot. Frank avoided any direct eye contact with the officers onboard the Dha Khammoune. The members of Anchovi and their associated acts were essentially prisoners on the floating carrier. What was keeping Anchovi alive was probably the mutual fear of a weapon of an entirely different scale and to an extent, Tony’s mouth.
“If at any point you feel like all the douchebags, assholes, scumbags, jerk offs, whatever are gangin’ up on you, run. I got a plan: run away as fast as you can. And take Rhys far, far away from here.”
Eudoxia had enough.
“Running away. No more running, Frank. I’m tired, we’re all tired. If and when we have to face these guys, I’m gonna fight, but until then, we’re gonna tackle whatever is on our platter.” Eudoxia sat up in bed and took another swig of the glass of refreshing water. “I'm going to help you; I’m not gonna be another burden.”
“Huh?” Frank scratched his beard and belted, “Like Hel you are, girlie.”
“I'm not staying on this ship.”
Oe reentered the room in the midst of a blooming argument, this time with a ceramic cup of boiling brown liquid.
Facing Frank, she stated, “Hm, didn't expect you to be here.”
“Oe, please convince Frank that I can be of some help.”
Frank looked back at Oe and thought she would have sided with him.
Oe shrugged, “Well she can.”
“Magistra will teach me how to control this! She believes that I can do more.”
“You know that I know that this is all fuckin’ ridiculous, right?” Frank gave in to the two. “Two months n’ two days. That's all the prep time their givin’ us cause y’know, politics and precision. The admiral and his cabinet are workin’ on scenarios and the best way to approach both objectives simultaneously.”
Eudoxia sneered, “Sounds like they're giving us enough time to be reckless.”
“Indeed,” Oe nodded as she took a gulp of her coffee.
Two months. Two days. Plenty of time.
HEAD ES DOODLE PETSUCHOS / Finnigan
/ 2y 95d 1h 11m 7s
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