Seas Beyond Infinity

/ By Finnigan [+Watch]

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[size16 #Swordplay#]

Tony and Jackie strolled through the dining room for the cargo bay. After situating the Fighter for its inevitable return to the Varsylian empire, the pilot decided that it would be best to enjoy today’s spectator sport. The mechanic who was still trying to get a feel for the Fighter and its strange technology followed Jackie. He’d rather study the ship, but he did not want to seem too invasive of their space. The inside felt industrial and not as homey as some parts of the Magnuze. Though he was no artist himself, Tony Maxwell felt as if there was no color or life within these metal halls. Comfort must have been a luxury for the people on Guten Nocht because even the simplest of ships of the Blue had some sort of home aspect to it.

“Everything suiting to your needs?” Jackie asked on their walk to the back of the ship. Somehow she was able to keep herself contained. She had not bothered to oggle her temporary resident.

The mechanic slightly nodded, but he was none too pleased with his living quarters. He believed that it was far too big compared to the bunkers within the Magnuze. Yes, Tony particularly complained about how it was twice the size of his bed and small walkway combined. What’s worse is that Tony did not share his space with two other mechanics. Even with the duffle bag and toolbox, the room was just as empty as before. The lights were extremely bright and there was not enough buzzing coming from the lights to annoy him. The bookshelf was not needed and the privacy was unheard of. Everything seemed out of place for Tony; the emptiness got to him.

Rhys was sitting on the ledge and watching the scene from below when Jackie and Tony came through the doors. The two newcomers nodded at him and joined in the spectating. Frank sat in a chair between Eudoxia and Duster who were engaging in a mild banter. Tony scratched what scruff he had on his chin and sighed at the mere sight of the Dalmenian princess.

“I can’t imagine having [i her] on board.” Tony feared that his brother might have had been connected with Eudoxia’s disappearance, and he absolutely refused to aid his brother in any way until the whole situation was sorted. Apparently, Tony found Jeraia completely innocent of the ordeal while he himself somehow wound up on the same ship as her.

Jackie placed her chin on her fist and cocked a thick black eyebrow towards him. Intrigued by his worrisome tone, she begged the question, “Why’s that?”

“She’s the prince’s bride-to-be. You don’t think she would sell us out to the queen, do you?”

Tony’s words contorted Jackie’s pudgy face. Outright objecting such a farce thought, she plainly laid it out. “Look, Eu saved our lives. There’s not a single bone in my body that doubts her motives. Who’s to say that you’re not a spy for Varsyl. Weren’t you born and raised in Varsyl? There has to be some of love for your country imbued in you.”

Jackie acknowledged she was not a believer in the princess at first. Like Tony, she was in the same position where she thought the teenager was going to take them for a ride in order to get what she wanted. Whether or not Eudoxia saved her and Frank from death out of selfish reasons was unimportant.

“Yes, but I don’t have an allegiance to the capital. Varsylgard and its governing body allowed whip crackers and touty men to enslave people, innocent or guilty as they may be. Let me remind you that the man we’re going to save allowed all of this to happen. He did not outright endorse slavery within the Varsylian kingdom, but he did not fix it either. Anyone who stands idle in dire times is part of the problem.” The moment went silent, but Tony carried on with his eyes locked on the princess. “Do I work for Harvey Lansit? Yes. Do I respect the man? Hel to the no, Jackie. Varsylgard and the Lansits are two sides of the same coin. Dirty business done by shady men.”

“Why work for a man so corrupt? Why serve the Lansit when you can freely choose your destiny?” Jackie asked. She focused on Eudoxia from above and smiled.

“I figure I might as well just sell my soul to the Goddess of Hel.” Tony rolled his eyes. Shrugging, he went on. “Anyways, I don’t have much going on for me.”

“Except, you know, being one of the better mechanics out there. You can work for anyone, but you choose to limit yourself. Why?”

“Waiting for that next big gig. The Lansits keep my wallet plump. Not going to find a living soul around the Varsylian empire that’ll keep up with my steak and potato binge.” Somehow he was able to crack a joke in the midst of all the serious conversation. Jackie’s stance perplexed him. Out of all the people in the Blue, the people from Guten Nocht defended the princess.

“Ya gonna be ready to use that thing when the time’s come?” Frank smiled underneath the floating lightbulb that crafted such a sinister face. Taking a puff of his cigarette and chuckled.

Eudoxia who decided it would be a great idea to practice in a poofy black dress with golden accents lifted the blade from its sheath. It’s tip sank closer to the ground and might have nicked the dress a bit. Nervously smiling at her opponent, she remarked, “It’s heavier than I thought.”

Duster over tilted his head and wiggled his nose like a hare. With a silver blade in hand, he aimlessly stood in place in confusion. This was not going to be any sparring session.

“Alright, Dusty, let ‘er have it,” Frank said between puffs. Crossing his legs and flicking away the ashes, the outlaw pointed at Eudoxia yet said nothing to her.

“I’ll let you know that I’ve been trained in swordplay. My Maestra is one of the best in the Blue.” Lifting the brand in front of her, Eudoxia prepared herself for Duster, although a bit shaky and in poor form. “Let’s see what you got!”

By no means was Duster a master in fighting at a close range. Like a ape in the wild, he caught the princess off guard with his slow yet devastating overhead swings. The Lucavi silver clashed with steel. The sparks flew in midair as the princess blocked each unexpected hit. Her heels dug into the ground and with each step backwards, she was quickly losing her footing.

“Wah! I wasn’t ready yet!” she shouted out. Eudoxia continued to hold out her sword, but Duster’s ravaging weakened her grip.

Holding off on his next attack, Duster lowered his makeshift blade and twitched his nose. “Princess. I am Duster of the Lucavi, an acquaintance of yours. If I was your enemy, do you think I’d wait for you to be ready? I am not your Maestra, I am your Lucavi.”

The two resumed their stance and Frank officiated round two. Duster immediately took a few steps back and allowed the princess to attack him. Her swipes were impressively fast, yet none of them managed to reach Duster who was constantly sidestepping and running circles around her. The skirt of Eudoxia’s dress shuffled across the cold hard floor in the opposite direction of her steps which caused a delay in her movements. Eventually, Eudoxia held off on her attacking to catch her breath.

“At a distance, you’re a ferocious fighter, but it’s unnecessary. It only takes a couple of pounds of pressure to rip through skin and flesh. Lucavi body, not so much. Use all that potential energy in a more efficient way.”

Eudoxia thrusted forward, but steady-footed Duster slid to the right and landed his blade in front of her face.

“Lunging too far into your attacks will leave you open. You’re prone to death now.”

As Duster went to tilt his head, Eudoxia spun around with the blade heavy in her hand. The metals clashed and sparks illuminated the air. Eudoxia kept on her toes and pushed Duster back until he thought it was appropriate to retaliate. Backed into a wall, Duster parried Eudoxia’s strike with ease and swung relentlessly at her. Eudoxia held her blade up, but her wrist numbed over time. Each strike was as if Duster was adding weight to her foil.

“Your defensive game is impeccable, probably second best on the ship, next to me.” Duster chided Eudoxia, but his patronizing did not stop at her. The likes of Jackie and Frank both shot a glance at the knight dressed in white. “Exactly how long can you keep it up until your opponent exploits a mistake?”

“First, it’s me being too forward,” she sighed. “And now it’s me being too passive.”

Eudoxia brought up her blade in a fit. One strike after another, she pummeled her sword into his without any sort of counter.

“Make.”

She took a step forward with a powerful strike.

“Up.”

Two more steps forward, one step back. The Lucavi steel struck back, but Eudoxia fought back valiantly against his rising tide.

“Your.”

She struggled to speak once she went on the offensive. At first it was another gallop forward, but a few skips back with a handful of grunts sprinkled in the mix..

“Damn.”

Beating Duster back with a few good shots, Eudoxia gained the upper hand and eventually pressed Duster’s back to a wall. The cold interior embracing him caught him off guard. With each jab, she missed his torso and instead pricked the lavishly polished steel walls.

“Mind!”

As she went for a clean blow, Eudoxia jumped to the side in order to block a second blade. Turning around to face a new foe, she realized that one of Duster’s Lucavi balls were floating in midair with a blade attached to it. Taking both Duster and his autonomous floating blade at the same time, the princess gritted her teeth and juggled her foes. With one mighty swipe, she was able to knock both blades out of the air and away for the time being. Gathering the floating black orb and sticking it down his throat, Duster moved away from the wall and kept his distance from a seething teenager.

“You let anger cloud your judgment, princess. Don’t allow your opponent to seep into your head.” Duster taunted, “After all, you’re not too shabby for an amateur.”

“Cheater!” Eudoxia cried out. She had caught her breath and smirked at Duster.

“Agile yet a fiery tongue. Quick but there’s still some improvement to be made. Your opponent will not play fair.”

“Does she honestly think she can win against the prince?” Tony made an aside to Jackie.

At first, his voice simply went over her head. Slow to process what Tony had just said, Jackie aimlessly threw out, “Where she lacks in power, she makes up in drive. Euey is nothing short of a fool, yet she fights for a man who’s scorned her.”

“I say that makes her a fool alone. A big one at that,” Tony raised his brows and checked to see if Jackie agreed. “I don’t think any man is worth death and defamation.”

“Apparently he is.”

“Well, I believe in Eudoxia,” Rhys muttered.

Tony awkwardly joked, “I think I might have to jump off the wrong ship because you’re all clearly insane.”

“You know what they say: if you don’t believe in anything, you’ll fall for everything.” Jackie muttered off into the distance and hoped that Tony would catch the majority of what she said. She was too preoccupied with Eudoxia’s stand.

“Cliche proverb on point.” Tony rolled his eyes. Everyone except for him was an idealist and a sucker for obtuse quotes.“And wait one minute, who said that I don’t believe in anything?”

Rhys turned away from the fight for a minute and looked up at the towering Tony. With such a cold expression plastered on his face, Rhys asked him, “Well, what do you believe in?”

“Uh, well…” Stumped, Tony scratched his head. He wasn’t expecting such a snappy comment from Rhys. He tried putting up a finger, but the answer would not come out of his mouth. “I’ll get back to you on that.”

“You okay, Eu?” Frank asked back on the cargo bay floor.

“C’mon, is that all you got?” Her panting was beginning to lighten up, yet her olive almond shaped eyes remained sharp as ever. She kept a good clutch on the hilt of the gilded foil.

“You’re clearly struggling to stay up, princess. Perhaps you should submit.” Duster pressed her buttons.

[i Princess.] What exactly entails when the word [i princess] is said? Did being born into an affluent political family mean that she could not rise to warrior status?

Eudoxia growled at the fluffy white coated Lucavi. “I’m not a princess.”

“If the dress fits, you might be a princess,” Frank quipped.

Closing her eyes and trying to hold back any outbursts, Eudoxia hummed to herself. She was more than royalty. The sword that she held was an oath that no mere princess could enact on her own. Her eyes begged her to cry, but she would not allow it. Instead, Eudoxia wadded up a large portion of her skirt and held it in front for Duster and Frank to look at. Without a bit of remorse, the fierce warrior hacked off a good chunk of the wad. Bits of expensive silk and lace plopped to the floor while she continued the attack on fashion and her namesake. She was more than just a pretty face and a cute waist.

Stunned, Frank ignored the fact that his cigarette was dropping flaky ashes onto his knees.“Whoa.”

“So you’ve kept your true skills hidden beneath the dress.”

Eudoxia, now wearing a much shorter dress, flew towards Duster with the foil in front. She was able to match the Lucavi hit for hit.

“Tenacity, she’s filled to the brim with it,” Frank chuckled.

“Exactly.” Eudoxia firmly stood her ground with the gilded sword at her side. This was her oath, the promise she made to the Lansit patriarch and matriarch.

Jackie clutched her bosom and sweetly sang in her sugary voice. “Everything she does, she does with passion. Love, hate, fight, sew; she does it with her all.”

“I guess despite her upbringing, she’s been a go-getter from the start.” Tony walked away with his hands behind his head. He got bored of watching royalty relieve themselves of their “troubles”, but he had to admit that the princess-no-more was very different from his initial reactions.

“Precisely, Tony-Tone.” Reminding Tony Maxwell of his origins, she prodded him in the side. Tony jumped into the air and puckered his lips in annoyance towards her. Jackie grinned, “She’ll go through great lengths just to get what she wants. I think we’ve all been there before, right?”

[i ‘I’ll get to be the hero someday, right?’] Rhys looked at all the people surrounding him and could not but help but think he was out of place. Everyone had their place on this ship and Eudoxia was just finding hers. Displaced, he kept his chin on the metal railing and hopelessly sulked in silence.
  HEAD ES DOODLE PETSUCHOS / Finnigan / 5y 12d 19h 45m 27s
[size20 #ARC 5: The Exchange of Broken Vows and Dreams#]
[size16 #Lansit Landing#]

[i ‘Now we play the waiting game.’]

[i ‘I hated stick ball growin’ up though.’]

Frank’s eyes scanned the room as if he was going to find the invisible princess and Lucavi. He could tell that these men in blue uniforms were an entirely different caliber than those in the mustard yellow. He appreciated that there was some variation to their facial structures and stature. The lot of them, worn out and weary from the long travels, scattered throughout the balloon and investigated every corner aimlessly. They wore heavy bruised bags beneath their starry eyes and slung the rifles across tender shoulder. Frank smirked at the pitiful group. Was this honestly the best Varsylgard could muster up?

The next ranking member behind Captain Gallien stepped in front of the line and inspected each face. He was just as serious as the captain, with a rougher and colder expression worn on his bony face. After he was done inspecting the pitiful faces of the Magnuze, he turned to his pitiful men and barked, “Take them to the holding brig. Get the cadet steering this thing to avoid Densch at all costs. The last thing I want to run into are rescue parties.”

“Yessir!”

The soldiers saluted. Some headed towards the front of the ship while nudged the prisoners up with the barrel of their rifle. Like a herd of chickens, Frank, Tony, and the rest of the miserable lot stood in one crowded bunch. Frank gravitated towards the mechanic and clung to him by the arm. Unlike Harvey who saw the workers’ lives as expendable, Frank began to plot for an uprising. If no one had to die, he would look toward that option. Their weapons were displaced on the other side of the ship in one massive pile. No spellgun, no revolver. Frank barely fought with his fists and he could not throw a punch as well as Jackie did.

Stuck in the middle with Tony, Frank and his schemes were not going far any time soon. Instead, he found a way to delay his incarceration. The crowd stepped a few inches at a time, so Frank decided to slow it down just a tad. Placing his foot between Tony’s legs, the plotter pushed him forward and towards the outside of the circle. Like standing dominos, the clumsy crowd of people fell onto each other into one cluster of a pile. The men shouted and punched through the orgy, angered by the anonymous person responsible for the tumult. The soldiers barked at the pile until the buzzing intercom interjected.

[b “Lt. Captain Yawalch, fogey inbound and rapidly approaching at 7:30 from below. Requesting Howlitzer support.”]

A few of the soldiers scurried to the top of the Magnuze while the others braced themselves for whatever danger awaited them. Many of them were cowards. Boots trembled, gloves shook.

“Thieving Sudranese!” yelled the ranking official. He commanded his soldiers to pick up the pace and to escort the prisoners quickly to the Magnuze’s holding cell.

Frank was the first among many to get back up. His dull eyes fixed themselves onto the ceiling of the ship as if he knew what was happening. It all happened in rapid order. One harpoon pierced the balloon’s exterior with a second striking another spot. Three seconds passed and a rather boisterous thud became the rancorous scraping along the top. Through walls and the quiet rushing of the air outside, the people inside the mighty Magnuze heard metal violating metal. This enemy ship, whomever it belonged to, shoved the Varsylian Howlitzers off and into the Blue.

[b “Lt. Captain, enemy ship has sideswiped the Howlitzers!”]

The voice on the other side panicked and sounded as if the Varsylian military had already given up. The assault on the Magnuze did not stop there. One of the anchors slowly peeled back the exterior thus slightly exposing the innards to a most violent sound. The Magnuze screamed in pain while one figure slipped through the top.

“Did you all miss me?” Jackie hung from the top with one hand grasping a beam and the other firmly clutching her stomach.

“Jackie flippin’ Simms.”

Frank’s face lit up in her presence. This was the moment he was looking for. The soldiers aimed their rifles up high and took a liking to the strange beast from above. The prisoner from below tackled the nearest fusilier to the ground and removed him from the skirmish. The mechanics and engineers of the Magnuze scattered in all directions. Some ran for the sake of living another day while others dashed for their arsenal. The contest between Varsylian and Densch-aligned raged, but it was the worn out workers of the Magnuze who fought for keeps. They cried out as they turned wrenches and hammers into devastating blows to the head.

Duster revealed himself with the princess closely following. Long silver blades shot through the air and severed the finely crafted rifles. From the other side, Tony took up Frank’s six shooter and held the remaining soldiers captive. The lieutenant captain, defeated, dropped to the ground on his knees and ordered his men to surrender. Some of the men of the Magnuze ordered for their immediate death and stated that it was only fair if their attackers shared the same fate as their leader. The other broken, wounded, and tired folk sided with Tony who demanded they be jailed. Without being told, Duster fenced in the Varsylians with tall and large silver stakes.

“How the Hel are ya still alive?”

Frank and Duster rushed over to Jackie who was slowly diminishing and fading out of this world. She had made her way down the to floor level throughout the fight while seemingly dodging the sparse bullets. Untouchable yet wreckless, Jackie Simms never ceased to stun her crowd with such feats. A fool most of the shipmates would call her, but to Frank she was an inspiration, a muse really.

Jackie fell back on her bottom and laughed off the pain. Duster had cut away at her shirt and his glowing green hands hovered over her giant gash. Wincing just a bit, she pointed up to the top of the Magnuze and remarked, “I gotta tell you Frankie, Rhys is the only reason why the Fighter and I are still in one piece. The boy managed to keep the vessel out of water.”

“We oughta thank ‘em.” Frank rejoiced from the inside. Somewhere in the Blue, his Maker was closely watching. Frank Dietz was not an avid follower, but he knew who to give credit to when all the right things happened. In order to maintain his tough guy persona, Frank would have to skip hugging Rhys. That above everything had to be preserved.

From the corner of her eye Jackie spotted the familiar face in the black jumpsuit. Smiling, she warmly welcomed Tony into the circle. “Well hello there, Tony. I didn’t expect you to be on this ship.”

“Likewise.” Tony sighed. He wasn’t ready for the lovestruck powerhouse: not today, not ever. “Anyways, our best bet is to return to Sudra and seek asylum with the Lansit estate.”

Tony and Frank remained on the Magnuze while Duster and Eudoxia escorted the wounded Jackie back to the fierce Fighter in the air. Eudoxia immediately embraced Rhys with a hardy hug and a kiss to his soft forehead. The princess was reluctant to go back to Densch, especially back to Lansit Landing. Would the masters of the estate allow them in or would they order an execution order against the foreign princess and the captives?

The Magnuze managed to make it back to Densch with very few problems. Somehow the giant powerhouse was able to draw enough magic to keep itself afloat. Lansit Landing resided on one of the taller stalks of the city and happened to have its own platform the Lansit owned airships. The pride and joy that was the Magnuze wobbled on its feet before securing itself to the surface. The Varsylian soldiers, now handcuffed and escorted by the roughest members of the flagship and Duster, marched with heads facing down and tails between their legs. The people of Densch would have to hold a triumph and parade the fallen soldiers as spoils of war.

While the enemy was whisked away into a holding cell, Tony led a few members of the Magnuze and Anchovi to the actual grounds of the Lansit mansion. The winding bridge between the platforms was gilded. The glimmering gold with carmine accents led Anchovi to one of the gates leading to the estate. Eudoxia imagined this moment a little differently. She dreamed of Harvey carrying her through the gates with a dutiful yet oddly charming pageboy announcing their engagement to Dulon and Rozlibet Lansit. In the very end, the lords of Lansit would bless their union and Eudoxia would live her life as happily married.

Somehow, the brilliant minded Antonine Maxwell was able to get Anchovi through all three gates of the estate. Where was he when Eudoxia needed him the most? The estate matured into a gargantuan figure with each lingering step. A palace simply fit for royalty. A red carpet ran down the middle with such an elaborate stone plaza filling the space. Fountains sat on either side of the wide red carpet as did steps to the main floor of Lansit Landing. Red, gold, and black intertwined the enormous building. There were at least two hundred windows on the facade, and that was not counting the wings. Anchovi ascended the steps of the property only to be met with front doors that spanned two stories high.

“I was brought to the wrong kingdom before, but here, here is where I’m destined live out my days,” Eudoxia whispered to herself. “With a husband whose empire will span other empires and crush those who oppose.”

The giant wooden red doors opened for Anchovi. Standing alongside the continuing red carpet were guards dressed in white and black checkerboard print. Armed with halberds, they stood with the utmost confidence. A dozen or so of these guys would have had no problem wiping out the Varsylgard’s best. In the main atrium, a revolving chandelier hovered above their heads with several smaller chandeliers dancing in place. Everything from the armor to the black marble statues and even the gilded railing that led to the throne room shimmered in the intense lighting.

The guards peacefully allowed Tony and the Anchovi to head up to the throne room. Rhys and Jackie commented that they should not touch anything in fear of tainting the regalia. Even the princess Eudoxia felt as if she was too unworthy to be in such a place. Lansit Landing, to be simply put, was an old Dalmenian fairy tale. Such extravagance stole her breath.

Looking towards Frank and Jackie, she nervously nodded at them and snidely muttered, “maybe you guys should stay out here. The Lansit are very particular.”

Frank rolled his eyes. [i ‘Like we all don’t know that.’]

The doors to the throne room opened to a long hall. Arched windows and more of the checkerboard theme ran rampant through the room up until the countless steps that led to the thrones. Tony and Eudoxia led the group to the steps and remained silent. The dominus of Lansit Landing, Dulon Lansit, sat upright and wrapped in red velvet. Bald on top, his beard which spanned farther than his shoulders compensated. To his left, the mistress of Lansit Landing, Rozlibet Lansit, wore a rather plain dress. As if she was bored with her magnificent life, Rozlibet rested her head on her hand. Tony bowed and Eudoxia curtseying. Rhys and Duster followed with Eudoxia reminding the last two that they were in the presence of royalty.

“Rise,” the lord commanded in such a gravely voice. “Such a surprise to see that the lead engineer of the Magnuze is back so soon. And this young dame over here.”

“Eudoxia of Dalme.”

“Ah, betrothed to Prince Chelon of Varsylgard. Oh joy,” the lady of Lansit Landing sarcastically enthused.

“The Magnuze was attacked, first by men in yellow and then the blue uniformed Varsylian military. The latter captured--”

“Silence!” the lord ordered. The roar echoed through the empty hall and shook the windows. “I am well aware of what happened. Lady Rumour is faster than any human tongue. She flies far up high and bears witness as far as her eyes and ears can hear and see. I knew what had happened before you even made your way back to Densch.”

Tony bowed. “I will tend to the Magnuze, my lord and lady.”

“Antonine Maxwell, you are needed elsewhere,” Rozlibet Lansit called out.

It only took the king and queen a few minutes before they realized that Frank and his troupe were present. The queen’s face twitched at their ungodly attire, but the king was clearly interested in what these strange folk could offer.

Dulon nodded his head and pointed his seemingly long fingers at Tony. “You will fetch Harvey for us.”

Rozlibet perked up and added on, “Yes, make sure that our son is alive and in good health.”

“Allow me to accompany him!” Eudoxia interjected. She fell to her knees and bowed to the throne.

“Oh?” Eudoxia piqued the king’s interest. Pulling himself out of the comfort of his throne, Dulon Lansit motioned for the princess to approach him. “Do tell, princess, what importance is Harvey to you? Does he owe you a debt?”

The young princess gulped. “Allow me to marry Harvey!”

The king and the queen tossed themselves back into their red velvet encrusted thrones in shock. At first they were appalled by the informal and insanely backwards proposal, but in a strange turn of events they laughed. The laughter grew like wildfire and Dulon and Rozlibet was unable to calm it.


The king in red had to move a tear or two from his eye before he composed himself. “There’s nothing in the Blue that would satisfy me more than hearing that Helvetia failed at securing a royal heir.”

“A tarnished princess of Dalme she is.” The queen blotted his eyes with a kerchief. “She lives through her only daughter. If she was years younger, she’d bed Prince Chelon.”

Eudoxia tried not to think about it. Cruel Chelon and her aging mother sharing the same bed made her gag out loud.

“Varsylgard is mere moments from politico implosion. The Dalmenian empire will not hold back once their Eudoxia marries our Lansit son. You, m’dear, are the last line of defense for the ailing land of Uol’. Are you willing to put the Varsylian empire out of its misery? Is that something that your heart can bear?”

“My lord, you are quite cruel.” Rozlibet motioned for the princess to approach her now. With a quick eye, she was able to see such pain in Eudoxia, but it was not for her second home. No, the pain Eudoxia felt was unrequited love. Sinisterly grinning, the queen calmly held the princess’ hands into her lap. “Though, I must say that Prince Chelon deserves what’s coming to him.”

The guard on Rozlibet’s left approached the throne with a sheathed sword in hand. The queen released Eudoxia’s hands and signaled for her to take the weapon.

Confused by this gift and unfamiliar with Densch or Lansit values, Eudoxia asked, “What’s this?”

“The brand which will spill the prince’s blood.”

“Eudoxia, kill Chelon and we will bless you with our son.” The king stroked the white clouds around his face and nodded in junction with his wife.

“Mother! Father! What is this?” A voice shouted from the other side of the room. A woman in a flowing purple shroud stormed across the room. She wore disgust on her face. Scrunched up and wrinkled, the ugly sneer’s deep lines moved Anchovi from aside. Seething, she ascended the steps snarled.

The king who seemed to have very little patience greeted the rude woman with a warm smile. “Seville, meet the future sister-in-law.”

The woman who was their daughter, Seville Lansit, was practically foaming from the mouth. No one knew exactly what her problem was, but she had to make sure that the rest of Densch knew how furious she was with her problematic brother. “Let Harvey suffer the consequences, that slag!”

“Tone down the explosive language.”

“Girl, if you value your life, leave now.” Grasping onto Eudoxia’s bony fingers, the Lansit daughter admonished the young fool with great contempt. For a woman who was sheltered from most of Densch and the world, Seville had a strong grip.

Eudoxia pulled away from the deranged woman’s squeeze. She cared not for Seville already and defended her future husband with royal scoff. Eudoxia turned to the guard with the sword sheathed in leather dyed in black. Knowing some of the consequences, Eudoxia took up arms against the Varsylian crown.

“I pray that you know how to use such a tool.” The king smiled.

Eudoxia, forgetting who she was talking to, quipped, “What’s there to know? You stick the pointy end into whoever you want dead.”

“There may be hope for Lansit yet,” chuckled the queen.

“Go with haste, Eudoxia of Dalme.”
  HEAD ES DOODLE PETSUCHOS / Finnigan / 5y 17d 19h 22m 54s
[size16 #Battle Aboard the Magnuze, pt. 3#]

“You asshole! Ow!” Harvey fell to his knees and screamed vehemently at Frank. His ears rung from the close encounter with the buzzing bullet, but he turned around and saw the dancing Fenshir dead. A persistent bunch, the Templar. Their leader followed suit.

Frank approached Harvey and lent out his hand. Smirking, Frank tried his best to keep his feelings bottled up inside. After all, the best people in his life were all gone and only the loneliest souls remained. “Yer welcome.”

At first, Harvey slapped away Frank’s hand. He would never stoop so low as to touch riff-raff. The Lansit never stooped so low in the long lasting legacy. Harvey fumbled for a while before sitting back down and huffing in defeat. The entire day taxed his body. Never in his life did he ever work his legs so vigorously. The air was so cold from the outside too that his voice chittered. “I’m rather conflicted on whether or not I tolerate your presence.”

“No use cryin’ over, oh, I don’t know, the bullet that saved your ass,” Frank sneered. He latched onto Harvey’s forearm and yanked him without notice. The two met eye to eye, but the mercantile magician seemed too headstrong in his thoughts. “I’m sure your presence is a present.”

Without another word, the two of them approached Fenshir’s dead body. One absolutely had no idea who he was or what he wanted but was relieved. The other feared for worse. The two looked at each other and nodded. It had to be done. With one great shove off the mighty Magnuze, Fenshir’s skydived for the Blue, but they remained looking down on the world below.

“Alas, Patty tried her best to save such an inferior ship.”

Frank was not sure if Harvey was trying to comfort him or if he was being an unbelievable ass. With a finger on the trigger, Frank calmly pointed the dirty revolver’s barrel towards Harvey’s unscathed ear. “Jackie. Her name is Jackie Simms. The next time you flub it up, you’re gonna bite the bullet.”

He could not follow up with his empty threat. Frank’s heart sank faster than a rock in a pond. He stood on top of the ship for the longest time with Harvey looking out in the opposite direction. “What now?” was the question on both their minds. The Templar continued to crawl through the ship’s innards and everything remotely familiar to Frank was lost somewhere in the infinite sky. The next closest people were the princess most unfamiliar to him and the dry Lucavi.

“Git me back to the princess n’ Dusty.” He sighed, “I can’t afford losing anymore crew members.”

“I agree,” Harvey responded. Some of the men on top of the ship groaned with bleeding gashes whereas the rest died by the blade. The captain of the ship refused to touch any of them. After all, the medical examiner on board needed to do his job. The blood and the guts would ruin his suit and his public standing.

Harvey and Frank entered the iron framed balloon. Surprisingly, the seasoned members of the Magnuze cleaned up the Templar pretty well on their own. With monkey wrenches and screwdrivers pitted against swords, Frank smirked a little at first, but realized once more that the men in mustard yellow suits bled like everyone else. Still fearless in the wake of the enemy, the Templar was mixed in company. Frank had wondered who were the Templar and what were their goals. Were they much different from Harvey or him?

The Magnuze had a group of Templar clustered against a corner, but the stragglers were the ones Harvey focused his frustrations on. With mere flicks on the magical fountain pen, the magician tossed men into and over the iron guard railings. Harvey repeated pushed an unfortunate soldier into the inner wall of the balloon over and over until sword and conscious dropped beneath him. Harvey pestered them all with a downpour of fireballs. The flames grew hotter with each hit and began to flay off cotton and skin alike. Harvey, the supposed merchant of death, slowly made sure the remainders died a repetitive and awfully slow death.

Frank followed him across the main runway, but a sinister wave caused him to turn around at the right moment. One sword swung and another jabbed for the lanky man, but Frank’s uncanny intuition told him to duck and roll away. One bullet, then another was all he needed to put down the sneaky swordsmen. With great precision, the gunman plugged each of the slugs into a forehead, but he could not exactly rejoice. As the dense bodies leaked through the steel grated walkway, the twice-dead Fenshir cracked an unholy sneer, one that caught the attention of Harvey Lansit.

“You just won’t die!” the magician cried out.

One after another, fireballs raged across the long and narrow path. Determined to put the Templar to death and for good, Harvey launched Fenshir and the lead footed martyrs across the stage. He downed them, but he continued to the onslaught. The sweat poured from his skin and his pearl white teeth clenched in fervor. The muscles ached and the knees cried for rest, but Harvey P. Lansit, the renowned magician, fought against his body too. Fenshir and the robots with the half melted exterior got back up. Harvey upped the barrage with fiery concussive blasts. Each whip of the arm brought life to blooming bomb blasts, and he did it in such a rapid order that caused him to blackout momentarily.

His anger should have left no remains of his enemy, but in the case of the light-footed Fenshir, the seemingly unharmed pariah of the occult stepped forth from the inferno. The wardrobe disintegrated and so did his flesh. The robotics and the wicked smiled were the two things that remained. Harvey’s nemesis whom he thought was human all along held his fist toward the gasping magicker. The first slightly sank and from the wrist two darts shot out. Frank shot one in midair while Harvey’s magic barely touched the end of his target. The small dart plunged into his neck.

A metallic voice creaked from Fenshir, “Give me the Xyianthis.”

Harvey immediately succumbed to the poison, so a loud shrill noise erupted from behind. Eudoxia, who was underneath Duster’s transparent cloak and observing from the balloon’s entrance, brandished her fiery dagger and enacted revenge. The edge seared into Fenshir’s spine and melted a good size hole before the automaton turned around. The brash princess accepted that if she could not be with him, she would die in his honor. Fenshir raised his hand for the final blow, but a flowing angel of white glided in front of her and severed both head and arm from the attacker.

Duster plunged his Lucavi sword into the decapitated Fenshir’s head while Eudoxia ran to the fallen Lansit. Harvey shook off the initial hit and pulled himself up before she laid a hand on him. Pushing away the advances, he limped past quiet Frank as if he was going to escape the entire situation. He was out of breath, out of shape, and out of cares. He stared to the other side of the Magnuze and saw that his men had won over the enemy. It was probably his first and last moment he’d ever appreciate their triumphs.

“Do you even know who you’re fighting against?” Eudoxia asked. Harvey irked her with all the avoidance.

Harvey turned back to Eudoxia and Frank and disappointingly shook his head. All this time and he did not even consider Fenshir to be a robot. He was clearly played as a fool. He exasperated, “I thought I did.”

“So what exactly is this?”

Eudoxia pulled out a clunky black sphere the size of a grapefruit and tossed it in her hand. [i Tick. Tick. Tick.] Inspecting it closer, she noticed all the grooves and dibits and the flashing green circle. She thought about cracking it open, but she did not have the time to do so.

“The Xyianthis!” Harvey struggled closer to her and tried snatching it out of her hands, but Eudoxia proved to be more agile than the crooning man. “Princess, I don’t know how you got your hands on it, but you have no clue what that is. Hand it over! Now.”

“Marry me,” she sweetly sang.

Pulling back in disgust, Harvey threw his hands up in the air before stumbling around and shouted, “I should have all you thrown off this ship!”

Frank snatched the ball out of Eudoxia’s hands with ease and inspected it further. The object was definitely older than all their ages combined, but he did not see any importance or value to it. “Wait, this? Nah, this ain’t no Xyianthis. Not even a component to the chassis. That’s just a glorified softball.”

“But it’s not! This encapsulates the will of Lansit. Your [i fiance] can have his throne and crown, that despicable boy, but it’s all empty promises. [i Entitlement]. This sphere is nothing but the truths and ideals of the many men who have fought long and hard through the best of time, through the worst of time. We the Lansit name know perseverance if anything.”

Frank rolled his eyes and tuned the ludicrous fellow at “entitlement.”

[i ‘An aura most familiar emanates from this.’] Duster listened closely to the ticking of the sphere. It was speaking to him in simplistic tongue. The Xyianthis was trying to convey a message this entire time, but the Lucavi was unable to decipher it.

“That’s a very nice story, Harvey, but I think I’ll hold on to it a little longer. You know, until you persevere.”

Eudoxia held her hands for the orb and Frank tossed it to the girl. If he valued it the artefact so much, he’d have to submit to her eventually to get it back. Wrong. Harvey eventually gave up on her silly love games and inspected the room. Fire, corpses, blood, holes. The unexpected ordeal caused him more money than any other botched up delivery.

“We will return to Sudra right away. The Magnuze has sustained enough damage for today. I’m hoping that my chief mechanic will be able to patch her up for the next Tsukimoto trip. This upcoming report is not going to bode well with the shareholders, that’s I can tell you that. The parlor alone will take 1000 kuna to repair. And my couches…”

Harvey splitted from the group and reconvened with his workers. Meanwhile, Eudoxia and Frank both sat down on a flight of stairs for a break. They too were not expecting such rude guests.

“Frank, where’s Jackie?” Eudoxia questioned. She looked around the room, but didn’t see the tough and squatty woman anywhere. If anything, this would have been her scene to shine.

Frank uttered, “I don’t wanna talk ‘bout it.”

“And Rhys? Let’s go back to the Fighter.” Eudoxia spoke with such enthusiasm, but sullen Frank could not muster enough emotion to be surprised. She tried pulling him up with his fingers, but Frank’s heavy heart anchored him to his seat.

“Eu, we ain’t got the flyin’ Fighter no more. Jackie,” His glassy eyes held back the tears. He did not want to appear weak in front of the teenage princess. He had wished he was the teenage princess. Eudoxia only worried about silly men and silly snow white beards. “Jackie tried saving the ship, but it went down with her and Rhys still on board.”

“Oh. Frank,” Eudoxia let go of his bony digits. Her heart sank as well and she plopped down next to him. “I’m so sorry.”

Eudoxia placed her head on Frank’s shoulder and the two of them mourned in undisturbed silence for an hour. Both left friendless and homeless, the two disenchanted souls thought of nothing, yet everything came rushing in.

“Hm?”

The moment of rest was short-lived and an even bigger commotion stormed the Magnuze. Frank subconsciously threw Eudoxia into the camouflaged Duster and hopped to his feet. He looked in their direction and held his index finger to his lips. From the Duster’s shroud, Eudoxia saw as a swarm of men dressed in blue surged the ship. From all sides, these Varsylian officers yelled into their faces and tossed Frank and the crew of the Magnuze to their knees. Armed with rifles and bayonets, the soldiers took complete control of the ship and made way for Captain Gallien’s eventual arrival.

“I don’t have time for a full cavity search of this ship. Lansit is the main priority at the moment,” he sternly remarked.

Two soldiers in blue brought forth a cufflinked Harvey who swore to enact revenge. He too was caught by surprise, but the Sudranese magician was too weak at this point to put up a decent fight. He felt worse compared to an hour ago when Fenshir administered the poison, but he was still coherent. Harvey had tried to get some work done at the front end of the ship, but Varsylgard’s air force arrived and surrounded the Magnuze before it could take any evasive maneuvers.

Eudoxia made a notion to kill Gallien, but Duster heavily detested her rash action, stating that she would only bring more harm to Harvey’s name. The great magician Harvey and a few of his men were hauled off and out of the room. The first thing they were going to do was ship him to the front doors of the Varsylian capital’s palace and have Prince Chelon distastefully disembowel him. The thought ran through her mind, but Duster was sound enough to keep her away.

“Well, this is a surprise.” A dark face turned to his right and stared at the rust colored head two bodies down. It was the machine whisperer that Harvey sometimes spoke highly of.

“Well this day just keeps on gettin’ better, Tony Maxwell. What in the Hel are you doin’ here?”

“I could say the same for you, but I’d rather not get into the grit at the moment. Once we hit Varsylian soil, they’ll mark us down for execution like the boss. We’re all accomplices in Harvey’s ‘very elaborate plan’ to usurp the Prince. You know, all that conspiracy junk.”

“Quiet there or I’ll make you!” one of the soldiers shouted.

“Ain’t seem like we’re gonna get a break anytime soon.” Frank was in luck. Hollis Westlands was nowhere to be found. The fusilier with the ugly mug would have pounded his mouth in with the butt of his rifle.

[i ‘Frank. The princess and I will keep our distance.’]

“Didja say somethin’?” Frank asked Tony.

“No.”

“I told you two to quiet down!” the same soldier barked.

[i ‘Frank. It’s Duster. I’ve established a telepathic link between the two of us.’]

“Hey, where are ya? I don’t see ya anywhere Dusty.”

Tony cocked a brow and wondeed who Frank was aimlessly searching for.

[i ‘Frank, please think before you speak out loud. You’ll compromise what advantage you have left. Princess Eudoxia and I will keep back until we find an opportune time to strike.’]

[i ‘Just mah luck. Gonna be strung up for all the wrong reasons. Gonna die before I ever have young’uns. I’m gonna die in a place that don’t know my name.’]

[i ‘Oh, don’t be so dramatic.’]
  HEAD ES DOODLE PETSUCHOS / Finnigan / 5y 24d 19h 40m 53s
[size16 #Battle Aboard the Magnuze, pt. 2#]

[b BOOM.] The searing beam of magic blasted not into Fenshir, but a faithful Templar. His body embraced the fiery blow, but his flesh did not disintegrate. Rather, it exposed sparks and wires from the half-molten man. The cogs, gears, and ticking timepieces struggled in the moment to move, but the automaton dressed Templar froze in its martyrship. Harvey and Anchovi stood there with mouths agape, truly unable to comprehend what had just happened

Frank uttered, “That ain’t human.”

“I’m afraid not.” Harvey went for his pen in order to finish off Fenshir, but he was left immobile. What was this witchcraft? No one within the Varsylian empire’s reach has seen cyborgs in centuries. Automatons sure, but they were an adult’s playtoy.

“Indeed.” The leader of the Templar camp switched up his leading foot and exotically posed for his aggressors. With such a lofty tone, Fenshir sneered at Harvey and his subordinates. “Now, you can see that I’m a very busy man, Harvey. I didn’t give any of them a personality or much of a face, and here you are wasting my time when all I want is one thing. We don’t have to get into detail for the sake of not boring these good honest people. You know, I’d rather you comply with these simple wishes and continue our partnership. It’ll be the simplest transaction you’ve ever made in your bombastic business career.”

“You can’t have it, even if I did.” Harvey pointed the nib of the fountain pen for the stalwart and expressionless Fenshir. “That...[i thing] belongs to the Lansit bloodline. What makes you think that it’s with me?”

Chuckling for just a bit, the aggressor smirked in the midst of danger and the whirring of the air penetrating the ship. Such smokey soft eyes matched his overall dull expression, yet the rest of his body moved rather flamboyantly. “Kal Seraf howls through these hallways. The Xyianthis. Bring it to me.”

“What does he want with some busted up robot. That line hasn’t been great since the 20k PK Red variant.”

Frank looked over at Jackie and scratched his head after his aside. He had no idea that the people of the Blue had robots around. Since his stay within Varsyl and Sudra, he had never lain witness to any functioning robot, let alone a Xyianthis model. Frank and Jackie were familiar with the subservient robots and even begged the mayor and sheriff of Last to adopt a few. They would have made Frank’s juggling of ranching and dozing off more manageable.

Harvey grew tired of their pursuit and stamped his foot in retaliation. He had remorse for all the terrible thoughts that ran through his head, especially when his target was the worst offender to the eyes and ears. Ever since he could remember, Harvey P. Lansit bragged about his family and their flagship, the Magnuze. Up until now, he had been evading the worst people to ever breathe a waft of air in the Blue, but the adrenaline zipping through him toughened him. The words began to spew from his mouth faster than he could think. Spilling like a deluge overtaking a dam, Harvey’s harsh tongue lashed.

“Fenshir, you Varsylian backwoods sword-toting bibliophiliac, you’re not worthy enough to be on the same ship as it, let alone gaze at the Magnuze from afar. All pretenders to a false religion, to any religion. Fuck your inane cult and your repulsive garment. A body bag is the only way to redeem that jaundiced atrocity.”

“Ah. So in your final words you choose to mock me.” The man known as Fenshir was taken back by Harvey’s vehemence at last. Suffering from the sting and looking to avenge a bruised ego, the man clapped his hands twice before sweetly singing to the Templar. “Boys: yah-yah.”

“Give us Xyianthis.” They echoed over and over. Once lifeless, the bodies contorted to all fours however it seemed fit. All their heads fixed in Harvey’s direction.

Jackie moved to the forefront and did not allow one of the creepy mechanicals from completely respawning. Brandishing a Templar sword left behind, she batted one with the flat side into the wall before bisecting it from the bottom to the top. Fenshir was right: same face, same innards. She was surprised at how easy it was to cut into the robots, but in reality she was too strong for her own good, especially with a wound to the stomach. With one wince, the powerful Jackie stumbled and let a small groan out.

“Jackie!” Frank rushed to her side with his revolver covering his behind.

“What?”

“Look at what ya did!” He pointed towards the two halves of the robot and patted her on the back forcefully. “Fuckin’ cool.”

“You think these puppets can scare me?” Harvey chuckled and ran his fingers through the dense white bed of hair.“I’ll show you what it means to quake with fear!”

Aiming right below Fenshir’s feet, Harvey released a magnificently colored explosion that not only sent the leader of the Templar plummeting to his death, but also demolished the majority of the windowed corridor. The floor simultaneously melted and shattered upon its master’s furious request. Shaking and creaking, the Magnuze unwillingly fell to Harvey’s feat of magical prowess, though it did try its best to keep itself composed.. Boisterous air seeped through and eventually broke the once invincible ship. Steel exterior and drilling chambers alike broke off in large chunks, and the charred androids fell through with their limbs helplessly flailing in midair.

“Eh, I think he has ya beat.” Frank quipped while supporting his hefty partner. He hated to admit it but Harvey was slowly growing on the rough gunman, yet he retained his envy. Magic always intrigued Frank, especially growing up and betrothing the strongest magicker in Guten Nocht.

“Hmph.” Harvey moved through the Magnuze without wasting another second on the riff-raff. He vowed to make it to the control before the end of the whole catastrophe. On his way back into the balloon, the intercom rang.

[b kzzzrt.]

[b “Sir! The enemy has breached sectors A4, A7, A8, and B5.”]

[i ‘How is this possible?’] Harvey gritted his teeth and noticed that Frank and Jackie were right behind him. In another room with large circular windows to the outside world, Harvey stewed in the Blue’s sunlight before shaking his head in failure. He felt awfully foolish for shaming the Lansit lineage. His father’s legacy would be forever tarnished if anyone outside of the Magnuze beared witness or rumor of the dilemma. He gathered his thoughts and pulled himself together for the latest round of Templar. Three more cast iron capsules dug into the brave Magnuze’s walls and without a moment to spare for a quick breather, more Templar dressed in mustard yellow arrived.

“Harvey, my patience runs awfully thin these days.” A figure popped out of the smoke and it was the Fenshir fellow unscathed.

Tiring from the rollercoaster of emotions, Harvey stood there without a word to say. He did not know how to respond to Fenshir’s miraculous return. Perhaps the great magician was finally outsmarted by a better magus. Unable to maintain his image for any longer, Harvey tossed his pinstripe coat to the side and cleared out the dust with one flick of his pen. “You fell to your death.”

“Hm, so you thought. Our god has blessed me so to withstand these trials you set before me. Kal Seraf birthed this world and he shall rebirth it once more.”

Six more Templar, each with similar faces rushed forth and aimed for the magician, yet they were not prepared for his battle readiness. Sending a volley of fireballs their way, Harvey encircled the unwelcomed Varsylian scum with a grand ring of fire. Any time a Templar would try to make a move outside of the blazing circle, the magician knocked them back to the middle with a great gust of wind. By no means was he a professional duelist; Lansit was first and foremost the playboy merchant Varsylgard grew to hate and love. In fact, the moment the Fighter stepped foot on the Magnuze was when he learned how to fight the Templar back.

“Urgh…” Jackie fell to a knee as the three of them continued to make it to the control room. Clutching onto her stomach, she feebly pulled herself up with the assistance of Frank’s sleeve.

“Ah! That’s right.” Frank was more preoccupied with the robots pursuing them, but gave enough attention to his friend whose life was slowly waning before him. She was going to make it; Frank was almost too certain of it. “Gonna git you to Dusty...somehow.”

Duster and Eudoxia were still on the other side of the now broken corridor. There was no apparent secondary exit to the parlor, and Jackie, out of the two, felt awfully pessimistic about getting back to them. She pushed away Frank’s help and hopped on her own with the intent of getting back to the top of the Magnuze.

“I have to get to the Fighter.” With Frank hovering right behind her, Jackie sped up her ascension up the stairs. “Rhys is in trouble.”

“Patty! I will accompany you.” The captain of the Magnuze nodded his head. Instead of having a great distaste for Anchovi and the princess, Harvey assisted them not to save Rhys or the Fighter but to ward off the rest of the invaders. He’d be down for one less problem without her if she and his friend would just hop into their aircraft and fall off the face of his ship.

Traversing the entirety of gargantuan Magnuze, the three made it to the top where they soon faced more trouble than ever. On the battlefield, the engineers of the ship took arms against the pestilent Templar. Bodies of both sides splayed across the surface with blood spilt on both sides. In an attempt to control the opposing mass, Harvey muttered under his voice an incantation that brought forth a rushing wave of flames. As the uniformed Templar seemingly writhed in blistering agony, Jackie jerkingly followed the fire wall. Frank followed and noticed that the Magnuze’s technicians were not harmed by Harvey’s tantrum. The Templar were very much affected and to the point where Frank realized that they actually human and not cyborg. Unable to stand the ear-splitting cries, the soft-hearted fellow finished the dirty deed by plugging each and every voice with a bullet.

With two of the anchors missing from the Fighter, Frank called for Jackie’s immediate retreat, but the pilot was adamant on getting back to her ship. The Fighter yearned for its captain to come back. As the back hatch of the Anchovi ship began to open, a third anchor became unhinged from a corner of the Magnuze and ultimately caused the smaller vessel to slowly swivel off the larger. A few inches per second proved to Jackie that it was enough time, but the Fighter’s footing was not as strong as she thought. Frank ran after Jackie, but she gradually ran faster until she threw herself inside. The Fighter finally gained enough momentum to swing off the edge thus causing the fourth and final anchor to let loose. From a distance, Frank, who hesitated on following Jackie completely, watched as his best friend and his younger adopted brother plunged into the vast Blue.

Frank fell forward on his knees and hands. Trying to keep the tears from coming out, he absolutely refused that all of it just happened and slowly moved back up to his feet. Deciding that he had to see if they were still hanging on, the wobbly footed man walked towards the edge in sorrow. The Templar would try to ambush him from afar, but the trainwreck named Frank indiscriminately plugged a bullet into anyone who stepped into his sphere. [i ‘Jackie ain’t dead. Rhys ain’t dead either. She’s the best pilot of all of Guten Nocht.’]

Getting his wish proved to be more counterproductive than he thought. Harvey approached Frank from behind to make sure that he was not going to fall. One of the many things that irked the merchant in the back of his head was owing dead peoples money. The thought was morbid even for Harvey.

“C’mon.”

Harvey tapped Frank on the shoulder, but the man from Guten Nocht could not be bothered. He was patiently waiting for Jackie to spring from nowhere and save the day.

“Look, she’s not coming back anytime soon, sorry to tell you that bud. Right now if you want to live, you’ll help me wipe out the rest of the scum lying around.”

With a firmer grasp on the shoulder this time, Harvey tried to pull up Frank but he soon clashed with fuming retaliation. The mourning Frank swung around and gave a good shove to Harvey. Whipping the revolver from his side, he pointed for the magician’s smug face. Unable to do much against a normal bullet, Harvey tried to reason with Frank rather crudely. “Shoot me and you’ve basically sealed your fate like Patty. C’mon don’t be a punk.”

“Not a punk, just big ole’ asshole.” Frank pulled back on the trigger and a feisty bullet rang past Harvey’s ear, slightly knicking an edge of it in the process. The bullet whizzed across the Magnuze and found its home in the creeping Fenshir’s cranium.

[i ‘Baddaboom. Baddawhut.’]
  HEAD ES DOODLE PETSUCHOS / Finnigan / 5y 26d 20h 11m 10s
[size16 #Battle Aboard the Magnuze#]

Harvey pulled himself together from the endless pace and faced reality. Everything up to this point had been smooth for him: prestigious name, opulence, daunting charm, and the greatest ship that has ever sailed the Blue. He had no one to turn to in this dilemma; Harvey P. Lansit felt vulnerable.

“If you excuse me, I have some business to attend to.”

Adjusting his coat for the tenth time since the call and collecting the calm that invisibly floated nearby, Harvey stiffly marched his body towards the parlor’s door. Jackie, on the other hand, interrupted his stride with a few great stomps. Folding her arms and nodding her hard head, Jackie glared.

“Wait a minute, what about the girl?”

“What about her? She’s not my problem.” Harvey tried to brush off the entire ordeal, but he was not going to get anywhere with the short and stout brick wall standing before him. The arrogance the Maker bestowed upon him fueled Anchovi’s anger.

“And she sure as Hel ain’t ours, bud!” shouted Frank. With much frustration built up in one part of his body, he pointed his finger into Harvey’s direction as if they were knives. Thinking that Eudoxia was bad, Frank had a grand distaste for such smugness. People like Harvey thought they could just throw away anything or anyone. The simple life never fully escaped the man from Guten Nocht. Perhaps Frank realized that even people like the princess had dreams and no one should ever be discredited.

“He said they were Varsylian?” The scorned princess murmured. Everyone in the pink parlor faced her with such surprise. Defeated by the man she fawned over, Eudoxia stepped through the Anchovi crowd and nodded her head at Harvey. She despised his rich brown eyes, but learned the very truth about love. The opposite of affection was not hatred; it was indifference. Eudoxia begged for the Maker to punish her lover the very same way she craved to be at his side. “I’ll go with you.”

Her offer fell flat. Harvey responded with his eyes rolling into his skull and scoffed, “These are not the people you want to get yourself involved with.”

“Capt. Galien will listen to my word, Harvey. I am Princess Eudoxia of Dalme.” She tried to regain the confidence she once had with a stamp of her feet, but she trembled deep inside. Her curls curled tighter and her lips dried up. The colorful palette painted on her face faded away and her chest shrunk.

“I wish it was that simple.” Harvey stepped away from the group and instead focused his attention on what was going on outside the only circular window in his cozy room. The same rich brown eyes Eudoxia cherished closed and imagined fire consuming the Magnuze and then Sudra. He could hear the tiniest zooming of the ships outside. Skipping the dramatics, Harvey solemnly stated, “We’re not dealing with Galien and his hokey pokey troupe of merry men. You getting in the middle of all this would only expedite my demise. Let me be.”

Harvey shuffled across the room to the intercom without interruption and clicked the circular button just below the mesh screen.

“Tell the gunmen to fell them. I’m not in the best of moods today.”

[b “...Roger that.”]

The captain of the ship excused himself without any word. Anchovi dared not to lay a hand on him nor question him directly. Fuming, Frank tapped his feet and kept a good eye on Harvey within the door frame. On the other side of the room, Eudoxia managed to throw herself into an armchair’s cushions. Her teachers told her fairy tales about witches carving out the hearts of fair maidens. Eudoxia had wished that a witch would do her the grateful deed. The little bit of soul that flickered in Eudoxia’s olive eyes died down as she stared aimlessly into the awfully carnation pink carpet.

Attempting to be remotely human, Duster stood next to the chair and lifelessly droned, “Perhaps it’s best if we remain here until the problem is solved, princess.”

Jackie was the next person to attempt to comfort the princess. Kneeling on the opposite side, she tilted her head and spoke in an unintentionally baby voice, “Euey…”

“I’m fine,” the princess huffed. Placing her head into her hands and her elbows onto her knees, she saw Harvey walk down the long corridor through paper thin Frank and wanted to die even more. [i ‘It’s not fair.’]

“Hmph.”

Frank’s irritated throat itched. He had become the most fed up with Harvey and his disgraceful hospitality. Granted, he and his crew did break into the Magnuze without a warning, but the merchant with more money and more problems left them without aim. Brash, impatient, flustered, Frank brandished his revolver and marched out of the parlor.

Jackie hopped to her feet and tried to pull trigger happy Frank back. “Wait, where are you going?”

The untapped power surged through the roughneck. Somehow, Frank shrugged her off.

“I’m gonna figure what’s goin’ on. Git some answers from Lansit.”

“Uh...hmm.” Left speechless by Frank’s sudden motion, Jackie muttered afar to the motionless Eudoxia. “We’ll figure this all out, Euey. I want you two to stick around while I go fetch a few things.”

Jackie caught up to Frank who was steadily marching for the stiff merchant. She thought to herself that there was no way that she was going to miss out on her boisterous pal’s spat. Frank would keep a steady stroll, but it was the Lansit in the clad black shoes that stepped quicker. The clacking on his heels on metal echoed through the stainless corridor. From the corner of their eyes, small bursts of fire collided with the Magnuze. The cabin rattled with the three bodies steadily traversing the walkway. Each of the three individuals fearlessly paced until the intercom buzzed in. Harvey pressed his face to the box.

[b “Sir, turrets two and three have been taken out.”]

“Damn you to Hel…” Turning his head from the speakerbox, Harvey gritted his teeth and slammed his fist into the Magnuze. Frank and Jackie gathered how severe the conflict was from his scrunched up face. Giving the couple a dirty glance, Harvey returned to the reverberating box and with much gusto commanded, “I want all evasive actions in the direction of Tsukimoto until I get to the control room. Have turrets one, four, and five continue their fire. This ship will run to full capacity and get as many men on top for additional support.”

Just as Harvey stepped out of the long stretch for the control room, a whizzing sound from outside pierced his ears like a mechanic working with precise equipment. The cabin rattled as the low noise grew louder and louder, and before the three could properly react, three large drills voraciously spun themselves into the Magnuze. The air rushed through the broken hull and tossed cloth and hair around. The three fell back from the hard impact. Harvey was the first two draw out his weapon, the bizarre fountain pen that acted as his wand. Then, it was Frank who pulled out the dirty spellgun and aimed it at the drills.

Attached to the giant drills where giant rectangular chambers. From these chamber, the doors popped out on the opposite sides. Black boots and uniforms of a dark mustard yellow fashion revealed themselves. The men whose faces matched Frank’s gauntness revealed their broadswords, jumped over their giant capsules, and anticipated the opposition’s fault.

“Heh, who brings a sword to a gunfight?” Frank cheekishly pointed out.

Jackie heard Harvey’s frightful utterance, “The Templar.”

The mere sight of their uniform stunned him from lifting his weapon. Harvey stumbled a few meters back, eventually surpassing Jackie and Frank. He was too busy escaping the consequences that he forgot to offer a reward to Anchovi if they successfully wiped out these Templar people.

“Put the gun away, Frankie. I got this.”

Jackie cracked her knuckles and stared down the six individuals before her. Each a carbon copy of the one in front of them: fair skinned, tall, brown hair, blue eyes, thinning lips, pointy nose. She knew that this was not going to be her most eventful fight, but she braced for the best. Jackie took a few steps forward, yet none of the men in yellow budged. It was not the reaction she had anticipated. They refused to blink or move even the slightest. Perhaps they were going to be a challenge after all. The brawler smiled without conviction and took a wide stance. With one foot forward and the other back, Jackie’s fists faced forward and the grin grew wider.

The first two closest to Jackie approached her first with their blades in front. Taking smooth strides and arcing in front of their target, the men of the Templar courted the bare knuckle fighter and waited for the opportunity to kill. One of them swung his sword down, but the dexterous Jackie caught the blade between her palms. It was the second one who went for the kill and tried to stab her in the gut. The narrow hallway disallowed the Templar from making any large movements, but the unarmed Jackie who built herself for versatility managed to block the strike with the captured blade. Yanking her first opponent in, Jackie drove her first into the solar plexus thusly curling him over. The sword dropped and the flying woman leaped frog over his back. With one mighty roundhouse, Jackie knocked the second into the wall.

The second couple flew past the fallen Templar with swords raised up high. Jackie ducked and rolled past them without a problem and taunted them as well as the third and last couple to approach her. Beyond mad and crazy, unusual aura surrounded the daunting Jackie Simms. Unstoppable and limitless were only a few words that the men of Last ever described her, and soon these uniformed men would know why. In such high spirit, Jackie whipped around the back couple and ran her knuckles multiple times along their backsides before simultaneously finishing them off with a high kick and a punch.

The third pair ominously stared up at the human brick wall as she gloated with both fists on her hips. Brash Jackie was short lived as her opponents from behind took advantage of her. The first one missed the one-shot kill, but it was the second who tagged her. Jackie had jumped to the side to evade the vertical swing, but when she went back to counterattack, the ready Templar swiped across her stomach. The tip made a cut between her diaphragm and belly button. Jackie stumbled back a little with one arm holding in her stomach. Jackie stopped momentarily to make sure the blood was not oozing out of her.

“Can anyone stop her?” Harvey pulled himself next to Frank in admiration for his champion. She had gone this far; Harvey could not fathom her dying at this point. He refused to have a remaining debt to a dead woman.

“You couldn’t if you tried. Fightin’ is what she does n’ what she knows, ya know. That’s like you bein’ a hatch hooch or porch fucker or some shit. It’s what ya do, what you know. Ya ain’t know no better.” Frank confided. He knew once she told him to put down the gun that she would stop them all.

“I have no clue as to which barbaric language you’re speaking in.”

Jackie, feeling weakened by the last attack, charged the last two after a quick breather. The last attack made her smarter, wiser than before. After one swing, Jackie charged her shoulder into the solid body of one of the Templar. Following through, she whipped around her leg and cracked him in the face and sending him into an unconscious slump. The last one, whose blade has carved into Jackie, came in for an attack, but the sagacious brawler made no time for childish jeers. The constant jumping on her feet unsettled her stomach, so with all her fury Jackie, kick after kick, took the knight by surprise and pinned him against one of the circular glass windows. Her might, unmatched by anyone from the Blue, fueled her fiery feet. Her stomps crushed his body into the metal sheeted walls and managed to stuff his body partially through the glass window.

Just as Jackie fell to her knees, eventually succumbing to her wound, three more bodies hopped over the drilling capsules. One of them happily engaged the merchant. This man was the most peculiar of all the Templar. His eyes were a darker shade of blue and the brown hair was sprinkled with ash.

“Ah, Harvey. Looking chipper as always.”

Harvey scowled. He should have made a run for it while he could. “Fenshir.”

“Have we come to a closing deal yet? I know how you Lansits are so busy these days, but I thought I would stop by in the neighborhood and check up on my favorite merchant of death.” There was a little skip to his step. The man Harvey called Fenshir eccentrically motioned for the merchant to come to his side. Agile to say the least, the assumed leader of the Templar had to be trained in elegant court dancing or enjoyed imitating marble statues.

“Just dandy,” was all that came out of the merchant’s mouth. He thought about lifting the pen up, but Fenshir had no problem outspeeding any of his spells. Harvey was quite fond on his hands and would rather keep them.

“I’ll put one between the eyes. And I’ll make it swift for ya too because I ain’t got time for ya, punk.” Frank. Frank was the solution. The spellgun aimed for the newfangled enemy.

[i Boom.]
  HEAD ES DOODLE PETSUCHOS / Finnigan / 5y 32d 20h 29m 10s
[size16 #Tale of Two Joes#]

The magician heaved for a bit, struggled to catch his breath from Eudoxia’s unexpected attack. She stood in victory over the fallen man who struggled to speak and calm the burning sensation in his throat. She congratulated herself on her own intelligence and knew that the few magickers who existed in this world required a clear voice and fancy handwork. Her obsession with Harvey Lansit was her greatest weapon against him and all others like him.

The Magnuze mechanics and engineers gathered around the scene in order to help out the marvelous Lansit, but the businessman refused any hand lent to him. Instead, he brushed off the dust his black with white pinstripe coat and barked snide remarks at the nearest employee. Aparently the janitor missed the spot. The Magnuze was to be kept clean at all times, especially when he was aboard. Harvey assured everything was fine until he met face to face with Anchovi. His face, partially paralyzed by his temporary defeat, twitched ever so slightly.

“It’s okay. Everyone go back to maintaining the ship. And get that mouthy brain up here to clean this up. Tell him to figure it out.” Harvey walked through Duster’s impenetrable fence and signaled for them to follow. They had made it this far, so he figured he would at least entertain the princess and her lackeys. “My [i guests] and I will retire to my parlor. I wish not to be disturbed unless it’s very important. And I mean important!”

Through a couple of well lit corridors and a thin walkway illuminated by a dozen or so circular windows, Anchovi who were silent the entire time reached the parlor. Frank realized that they were below the balloon, and that there was nothing directly below the humming walkway except for the vast Blue. He closed his eyes and momentarily calmed himself down with a few deep breaths. Jackie was impressed by the architecture and wished that Rhys would have came along with them to enjoy it as well. Harvey, apathetic to their wandering thoughts, snapped them into his lair.

The parlor, decorated with an awful red and pink striped wallpaper, reminded the outlaws from Guten Nocht of Sheriff Dempsi’s bathroom. In fact, Frank argued with Jackie on the side and claimed that it was from the exact same roll. The overpowering scent of the cinnamon and peppermint candies ailed him. There were a few loveseats and armchairs with the same atrocious shades and on one wall sat a table with an assortment of cakes. Jackie salivated.

“Take a seat and make yourself welcomed. After all, you storm into my flying palace.” Retiring into an armchair with a plate of white cake and a fork, the ireful Harvey P. Lansit crossed one leg over the other and opined, “Now, voice your reason for attacking me on my own ship, you wretched band of fools. Just to let you know, I could have had my crew thrown you off the Magnuze if I so called asked for it. A reminder for anyone who thinks they’ve bested me.”

No one spoke after Harvey. Both Frank and Jackie looked over at Eudoxia and wondered what she was thinking. After all, they would have never made it to Sudra and Densch without her. This was her mission, and they all needed closure. Why were they here, chasing after such an affluent man? Eudoxia sat in an armchair opposite to Harvey’s and with her head looking down into her lap. She had what she wanted yet she could not muster up the courage to speak the usually boisterous mind. Fear did not strike her, but it was unbridled emotion. Bliss.

Eudoxia jumped out of her chair and exclaimed with such a burning passion in her heart that matched Harvey’s bruised and fiery throat, “Wed me tonight!”

Frank’s jaw dropped and so did some of the cake in his mouth. If he was not too busy being stunned by the austerity of the filterless princess, he would ask her to repeat. Jackie and even Duster lost their cool. Jackie blamed the teenage hormones surging through her body. Eudoxia was not thinking rationally; her body was playing awful pranks. Surprisingly, Harvey was not moved by her words nor her animated giddiness. In fact, the equal-headed merchant thoughtlessly took a bite out of the slice of cake.

“I’m a lot of things and I’ve been called tons of names throughout my career as a world renowned merchant, but the word ‘suicidal’ never crossed me until now.” Resting back into the wood frame of the armchair, Harvey, with such a stoic face, remarked, “Do you think you’re the first woman to approach me with the same proposition? Of course not. I travel the Blue all the time breaking the hearts of hundreds. You, my deary, are nothing short of ordinary. Though, I will admit though, you carry a hefty price tag. That is the one thing that you have over them. Royalty, a mother and a betrothed with an army and air force at their disposal. Marrying you, Eudoxia of Dalme, is suicidal.”

Eudoxia remained standing up without any convictions while the Harvey got up from his chair to set his his plate back on the small table hosting the delicious cake. Finishing the rest of the creamy icing off his miniscule fork, Harvey pointed the utensil at Eudoxia before nudging her back into her seat. The cold magician devilishly winked at her before returning to his seat with more cake.

“I need a woman who’s strong and well-learned in the world just as I am. She needs to hold a candle to me in all things wordly. Despite your...standing in royalty, you’re far too wild and immature for me. Well, your body is well developed, it’s everything else that isn’t. You run with a pack of untamed wolves who are only using you for the money. Yes, that’s it, a barbarian princess and her pack of wild mutts, and sooner or later you’re gonna realize that they’re gonna bite the hand that feeds them.”

Eudoxia clasped her hands together and begged, an unusual sight for Frank and Jackie to bear witness. Both of them struggled in her pitiful attempts. Her eyes swelled with tears and were ready to let loose on command. “I can be all those things! I can grow up, Harvey. Take me away to another place so we can be at peace.”

Waving his fork and shaking his head, the antagonizing host uglily scoffed his infatuated lover, “Ah, ah, ah, but I’m ever aging, I can’t wait forever for you to grow up.”

Jackie wanted to step in and pummel the man to death, but Duster had to remind her that this was not her battle. The princess Eudoxia had to realize for herself that this monster of a man did not want anything to do with her. The Lucavi did not appreciate Harvey’s approach to the entire rejection, but she needed to hear the truth. Meanwhile, Harvey’s mind began to wander off.

“My grandfather constructed the greatest ship that the Blue has ever lain witness to: the Magnuze. You’ve only seen a fraction of its glory, if I am going to be honest with you. Of course, I’ve given it a different shade than it’s original run and I’ve made several adjustments to the infrastructure and how it's ran. My father, the mastermind Dulon Lansit, negotiated the trade routes within the Varsylian empire and secured an unseen monopoly.” Harvey enjoyed listening to himself a little too much and he was too touchy with his own body. The hedonist collected money with each breath he took and that’s what fueled him: money. “And me? I’m expanding the business to other non-Varsylian affiliated governments across the Blue more than ever. Within the last couple of years of me taking over, my company has commissioned five dozen more trade ships and with a pen stroke I’ll have more influence in five more contries. Do you know the empress of Bating? How about the emperor of Tsukimoto? The jarls of Ymidr? And what about the sovereign nation of Plaestoephron? I’ve met them and on several occasions I shook hands with royalty.”

“I think yer makin’ a bunch of these names up,” Frank huffed.

“Let me tell you the story of how the Lansits came to be. Believe it or not, we never started off as natives of Sudra. We were a little more important to the cosmos. Thousands of years ago we came from the stars, or at least that’s how everyone tells the Lansit saga. A band of mighty men fought against their oppressors and saved their land from a terrific malign being. Some giant chicken man or lizard woman, but that’s besides the point. If it wasn’t for the two Joes, the Elder and the Younger, the people of the aether would have been wiped out completely.”

Frank scratched his head. Even he knew that the bigot was talking about his home. Instead of interrupting Harvey’s inaccurate storytelling, the astute listener simply sat back in his chair and see how full of himself he was.

“The Joes eventually settled down in the troubling Varsylgard where Joe the Elder married a Varsylian princess most beautiful and unseen to the rest of the world. Somehow this stranger was able to swoon the richest maiden of all the Blue. Joe the Younger fell in love with a pugnacious bar wench despite his wonderful affairs with other princesses and lasses. The Elder and the Younger traveled across the Blue with their wives bound to the hips. The two couples’ fates were intertwined as if it was some bizarre Ymidian orgy--believe me, I was invited to one of those and I’m not so much about other guys. Out of nothing, the Joes were able to start the Lansit dynasty. They came from the stars with nothing but a few men, supplies, and the clothes on their backs. It was them who truly civilized the Varsyl as well as the rest of the adjoining countries. Technology and the most basic innovations saved the country, despite any word from Varsylian kings and queens, that you can believe as self-evident truth. Just look at the Magnuze, am I wrong?”

[i ‘Yer so wrong.’]

“The Joes valued family and strong bonds, but the business was booming too quickly. So what did the Elder and Younger Joes do? They got to work with their wives. Between the two families, there was a total of thirty children or so, and that wasn’t including all the bastard children of the Younger. In some sense, he was a wild and reckless soul, but he was a thorough worker. They say that he was the stars’ promised child, but the Blue needed him more. The Elder was a hard working man who had lost everything in his life, but was rather pious to the moon deity. Anyways, I apologize for the tangent.” Harvey thought about where all this was going, but decided to continue. “By a miracle, Joe the Younger’s daughter Ezra fell in love Joe the Elder’s son Spumone. Joe the Elder had some affiliation with naming his children after foods from back home. I’ve tried spumone and let me tell you, you’re not missing a lot. Supposedly it was a peasant dish. Someone in the family had to have sorry taste. Where was I? Oh yeah. With the two families finally joined as one and flying underneath one banner, the Nilats, the name we were known by right before some foolish dyslexic predecessor signed some papers as ‘sir Lansit’, boomed in business and garnered favor with the common people. Of course, the Lansit status elevated and renowned in upper crust circles. The bards tell stories of us.”

[i ‘Haven’t heard shit yet, bud.’]

“Their legacy eventually shifted to Sudranese shores. After the stabilization Varsylgard’s economy and the military reforms hundreds of years later, the Lansits at this point vied for a better lifestyle and looked for opportunities across the Blue. They were not too invested into politics and I guess it just went south between my family and the corrupt Varsylian government and Francolian pontifex. Well, that was what the three Lansit brothers, heir to the entire merchant empire, thought. And rightfully so because without them, Densch would be absolutely nothing without them and their technology. It was the elder two brothers who grew the stalks, but it was the youngest brother who married a Sudranese princess and established the law. The Varsylian cohorts who sought to cleanse the Mezze people invaded and destroy anything Lansit made, but were eventually subdued by the Sudranese that the Lansit brothers embraced. Ever since, the Lansit name has been growing.”

“What’s your point?” Eudoxia tuned out minutes ago. If this was his way to filibuster her feelings, he was doing an awful job of making her forget. The passion ran deep within her heart and coursed through her body.

Harvey’s fat cheeks puckered and his bloom white beard bristled out with joy. He took great joy in heartbreak and gleefully let it all out. “My point is that you’re worthless. You have no claim to Varsylian or Dalmenian throne; I’d gain nothing but more enemies by marrying you, princess. Let me repeat: I gain nothing of value by marrying you.”

She did not think the world was so cruel and cold, yet for the first time ever, Eudoxia was on the other end of rejection. Harvey laughed himself into his chair. His stomach swelled up and his breath left his body as the uncontrollable laughter intensified before their eyes. Even beads of tears formed from the sinister hilarity. Eudoxia felt helpless and her body froze in shame. She had no idea who she was now without any of her confidence, but two champions stepped forth. Both Frank and Jackie eclipsed the simmering pot of heat and tears. By no means was Eudoxia perfect, but even Frank had to step in before he harassed her any further.

[b kzzzrt.] Just as Frank went in straighten Harvey out, the intercom system fuzzed in.

[b “Harvey, we’ve been spotted by Varsylian aircraft. Three unmarked runners…”]

“Damn, not again.” Harvey paced throughout the room without saying a word to anyone else. The sudden turn worried Jackie.

[i Tick. Tick. Tick.]
  HEAD ES DOODLE PETSUCHOS / Finnigan / 5y 45d 19h 52m 1s
[size16 #The Great Magician#]

“Guys!”

The side door to the Fighter swung open. It was Eudoxia with her nails digging deep into her chest. She gasped for some air for a while before saying another word or stepping in. Sweat dripped from her nose. Dirt clung to her feet and pants.

Frank turned around to acknowledge the princess right before he went back to the iron skillet pan. His dish needed more of the strong basil. His lanky shoulders hunched up to his ears. The distractions only grew in number.“Hm? Don’t distract me while I’m cookin’. I think I’m onto somethin’. I know I’m on to somethin’”

“We have to leave now,” she let out. Eudoxia approached Jackie and confidently nodded.

“Now?” Jackie asked. She had taken her attention off of Frank whom she was pestering about lunch. Frank had gotten too much into the vegetables and fruits in his dishes that Jackie demanded more meat. The princess’ plea appeared dire.

“The Magnuze. It’s taken off.”

Jumping for joy, Jackie shouted, “Alright, this has been the excitement we’ve been looking for!”

Frank, Rhys, and to an extent Duster all jolted out of their skin. While Duster simply oggled Jackie, the other two gave a face of great disdain. While Anchovi as a whole took great pleasure in the town, it was the male kind that embraced it the most. Frank searched the streets for new recipes to add to his cooking diary. Anything and everything that the natives of Densch said, he furiously wrote down. Three weeks had passed since he found his true calling, and since then, he made it a mission to try all his suggestions. He had garnered a small cult following as well because of his strange accent and odd interest in Sudranese cuisine. The fellow cooks initially thought he was patronizing their dishes.

Besides cleaning the dirty dishes and maintaining the upkeep of the Fighter, Duster would often wander the platforms in disguise to get a better understanding of Densch culture. He’d even modify his appearance a few shades darker and add a few more colors to his wardrobe. The walking anomaly even weirded out the people of both Varsylian and Sudranese descent. He studied their walk which only reinforced the Lucavi’s head-first strut. He eagerly laughed at the most inappropriate times, but he tried his best to figure it all out. What he learned was that these people with giant hearts easily forgave his queer lifestyle.

Rhys benefitted the most on his solo journeys. Whereas both Frank and Eudoxia failed to teach him how to read and write, the Sudranese scholars gave the boy a chance, a very harsh chance. With Frank and Eudoxia’s obsessions occupying their time, Rhys wound up at a temple who pitied his poor upbringing. The devouts prayed for soul and introduced him to the alphabet, and so Rhys ran with it. They gave him a book of passages pertaining to the Maker, and he studied through the night and day. During the evenings, he would wander through the markets and ask strangers to explain words to him. Like Duster, there was nothing more he wanted than to be human.

Trying to get through the fear of rejection, Rhys squeaked, “Right now though?”

“Now.” Eudoxia nodded.

The rest of Anchovi was not exhilarated as the princess and the pilot. Jackie rallied the crew and spoke the blunt truth. “Look, I know that you guys are just beginning to enjoy yourself in Densch, but we’ve made a deal with Euey. We’re getting paid to help a friend out. The faster that we help her, the faster we will be back here. Plus, Anchovi does not spend enough time in a place to enjoy it. We’re drifters. Now let’s get a movin’.”

Not one body stirred or made a motion for take off that was not Jackie or Eudoxia. Frank shrugged it off, Rhys dug his nose into his book, and Duster stared aimlessly at the females. Disappointed in their attitudes, the women made their way up to the cockpit. On the way, Eudoxia was touched by Jackie. The word “friend” kept on ringing in her head. Were they friends because of money? Or just simply because Eudoxia saved her? She was not wholly convinced that their friendship was legitimate. Even the princess knew that she rubbed against the common folk all the wrong ways.

Within minutes, the ship soared straight into the sky. The boys, the food, and the loose cups on the dining table floated in midair. Rhys quivered at the sudden movement and nervously chuckled. His stomach churned in tandem with Frank’s. The rumbles in their belly roared, yet the two could not help themselves but laugh it off. The Fighter shot off and out of Densch’s sight. Finding a bustling city with good natured people was just too good for Anchovi. Eudoxia’s mission was going to drive them out of any permanent happiness they could ever get their hands on.

The Fighter, also known by the girls as the Sky Hound, sniffed out its target within the first thirty minutes, but Jackie was cautious enough to slowly tail the mighty Magnuze from afar. After assuming that the crew of the Magnuze did not spot the Fighter or had any weapon capabilities on high alert, the pilot drove right above the floating propellers and giant balloon.

“I’m impressed,” Eudoxia jeered. They were actually floating right above the Magnuze. She could not believe it. She felt Harvey Lansit’s presence. She knew he was directing this ship and residing within its metal frame.

“Pfft, child’s play, Euey.” Jackie swiveled her chair to the monitor with four different views. With a joystick and a click of several buttons, the ace pilot shot several wires across the length of the Magnuze. These wires latched onto heavily rotating propellers’ base. With the greatest handling, she eased the sleek aircraft onto the black balloon and parked.

The girls mosied on down to the cargo hold and the rest reluctantly followed. Strapped with eyewear and coats, Anchovi prepared for the chilling blast of the rushing wind. The loud wailing of the sky filled the hold. The giant chickens burrowed deeply into the their mounds of hay to escape.

“Stay here, Rhys-e-sweets. We should be back momentarily. It’s your job to guard the ship and make sure no one but us gets back on.”

Rhys, who was somewhat excited to see the magnificent construct, groaned. He wondered how he was supposed to stop anyone from getting in.

“Just how are we supposed to stay grounded and get inside if these winds are g’darn too powerful?” Frank yelled from the top of his lungs. He thought to himself that maybe they should have figured this all out before opening the doors.

“Magic.”

Eudoxia, who everyone thought was insane at this point, stepped out of the ship without a problem. It was as if her body was protected by an invisible barrier. Her hair was not blown back nor did her attire get torn off. No one from Nocht knew exactly how magic was going to solve all this or what it’s role was in keeping them alive. Jackie shortly followed without hesitation or consequence. Frank nervously looked at Duster who seemed to fix his eyes on him.

“Frank, do you want me to hold your hand?”

The gunman was not amused and stormed off onto the balloon. Duster followed with Rhys looking at the crew with discontent. The back door shut as Anchovi reached the doors leading to the Magnuze’s belly. The doors opened for the uninvited guests and as soon as they walked inside, they sealed away the windy roars. Frank stopped to catch his breath, for he feared that he would be the unlucky one to vanish into the open blue skies.

“This already seems like a bad idea.”

“Shhh, Frank, or else we’re gonna leave you back on the ship with Rhys.”

It wasn’t a bad idea, but he did not want to risk going out there again. In all honesty, he would rather have Rhys take his position if it guaranteed his safety. He continued though; he had a strong feeling that Jackie would never let it go if he turned around. [i Chicken shit.] The short path eventually lead them to the inside of the Magnuze’s balloon. Despite the plump exterior of the Magnuze, the ship was more structured than any of them really knew. The metal frames arched over their heads and beneath their path. The best metalwork resided in the ship and the engineering was impeccable. The belly of the beast quietly ran as if it was not flying through the skies.

On a lower platform, men in blue jumpsuits maintained the ship and inspected every meter. Curious Anchovi noticed that the men guarded a revolving machine. It intensely glowed and the rings spun around the light.

“It’s the same technology found in the Fighter,” Jackie reminded them.

Frank nodded. Jackie one time explained how it all worked, but it went over his head. “One of them magitech cores.”

“Several of them actually.” Duster pointed out the smaller machines that were arranged in a half-circle around the bigger machine. “I’m guessing that’s the reason why this ship can stay up for so long and carry so many people. Despite the shortcomings of humankind, they’ve made an effort to preserve such technology.”

The crew moved away from the machinery and headed towards the biggest room in the ship. Maneuvering through a few corridors and evading any Magnuze personnel, Eudoxia and the merry band entered the center section of the zepplin. The brightly lit area spanned the length of ten Fighters. The walkways lead around the midpoint and to the other side as well as several more magitech cores and giant industrialized fans. At least a hundred people alone were staffed in the epicenter, yet it was by chance that team Anchovi spotted the only one who mattered. Harvey Lansit stood over the rail looking towards the middle of the ship. Hanging right in front of him were giant black canisters hanging a rail.

“Harvey!” Jackie made their presence known with her tense shout.

Dozens of people immediately turned their heads to her direction, but it was Harvey’s that mattered the most. At first he did not recognize the voice, but then he turned around with open arms and gleeful demeanor.

“Patty! And Patty’s friend! And...oh--?” When he locked eyes with the princess, Harvey’s heart and soul sank to the bottom of his feet. He knew that he was in some sort of peril. Distraught, he bitterly snarled at the troupe. “Oh for Maker’s sake, what the Hel is she doing here?”

“We have someone who wants to talk to you.”

Jackie stepped aside so the princess could bask in Harvey’s attention. Eudoxia smirked and then winked at the merchant who was not expecting her to be here.

“That’s the thing, Patty, I don’t want to talk.” He began walking towards the other side of the Magnuze with his employees covering his tracks.

Jackie ascended the stairs with Eudoxia closely following behind. Duster and Frank watched from a few steps behind as the workers clumped around them. Jackie snarled, “We’ve came so far that I won’t take no for an answer.”

The snowy faced merchant sneered and annoyingly guffawed, “And I don’t care!”

The crew members of the Magnuze ganged up on the crew members of the Fighter. Jackie was the first to make a call and struck down anyone who got into her fists’ reach. She pummeled the people behind her, and the princess advanced. Royalty managed to surprise everyone as she went toe to toe with some of the mechanics. Dodging their best efforts to put her into submission, Eudoxia socked a few faces while gaining ground on the fleeing Lansit. She was closer than ever and she was not going to let him escape into a hobble. Unfortunately, the princess’ stride was cut short as a few men gathered around her and threw her to the ground.

“I’ll make sure to execute anyone who continues to get in my way! Mark my word!”

As Anchovi was slowly losing, the Lucavi who managed to intimidate the majority of the workers leapt onto the rails with great dexterity and jumped high into the balloon’s space. Spitting out a lustrous black ball, Duster rained a fence in front of Harvey’s exit. The strange cloak of white landed on the walkway thus blocking his target from moving any further.

“You’re an interesting specimen.” Unlike the rest of his crew, Harvey was quite intrigued by the strange looking being. There was something beyond the physical realm that attracted him to the Lucavi. He believed that there was a magical element to him and that he could feel the same magic that ran through the magitech cores brimming through Duster the Lucavi.

“Likewise.” Duster let out a little smirk.

“This alloy is rather bizarre. Durable yet you’re able to shape it.” Turning away from his captor, Harvey placed a hand over the fence. It felt cool and too sleek to be real. In a brief moment, he was able to think of countless possibilities of the alloy and how much money he could make. Returning to reality, Harvey returned the smirk. “Of man or magic?”

“Mad Moon born and raised.”

“Ah, but nevertheless, you’re no match for the magician.”

The so-called magician reached into pocket hidden inside his purple blazer and pulled out a slender black stick. This object was just as smooth as Duster’s metal, but it was of Blue standards and crafted from wood. He took his time removing the cap from one end revealing a steel nib. It appeared to be a fountain pen, but Harvey Lansit was no fool to fight with ordinary objects. With one quick lash, a ball of fire erupted from the pen and knocked Duster back a few meters. The attack stunned him, not because it frayed him but because it honestly caught him off guard. Harvey, poised with such grace, waved his wand like a conductor and the orchestra. The flames bounced off of Duster, but he was constantly thrown back until the great magician sent him flying with a powerful and invisible force.

Duster flew across the room and smashed into the steel frames above. Jackie, after rampaging through the crowd and freeing the princess, rushed the cackling Lansit. Flame after flame, the bold brawler ducked, rolled, jumped, and swung out of the way. Just as soon as she made it a few arms within reach, the snarky magician rolled his eyes and sent her away with an almighty push. His wand pushed her against the rail and with one more stroke, Jackie flipped over.

From afar, it looked as if he had killed Frank’s best friend. The enraged gunner elbowed a few faces before he took out the ancient spellgun. As soon as he inserted a cartridge, he fired into the Lansit’s direction, but the end results left him stunned. Instead of searing a hole right through the prick of a human being, the fiery beam met with the wand, splitted into tinier streams of magic, and simply went around Harvey’s body. The fragments of Frank’s shot pelted the Duster’s wall, and Harvey managed to redirect the remainder of the attack in an entirely different direction.

“Frankie, we’re not trying to kill him!” Frank ran onto the center walkway and noticed that Jackie was still hanging on by a hand. “Are you trying to kill us too?”

“Didja see that though? That ole’ fart deflected the shot with his li’l stick. A stick, Jackie, this guy ain’t no joke.”

“Four against one is not really a fair game,” Harvey quipped. With unrelenting whipping of the wand, his magic sawed into the silvery barricade.

“I’m guessin’ he missed the part where his lackies are a jumpin’ us,” Frank gruffly remarked as he pulled Jackie back onto the stage.

“Harvey! Wait!” Eudoxia took out her dagger and prepared herself to fight him.

“Oh, but princess, I simply don’t have the time to speak with you. Or ever, really.”

With one last impressive flick, Harvey carved himself an exit. Eudoxia ran for him, yet despite her standing, the Lansit of Densch and the Magnuze fired a volley of volatile magic in her direction. The intimidation halted her, but it was not for long. She continued her advancement through the rain and not one fireball fried a curly black hair.

“Yet you have enough time to throw fireballs at me. Real charming!”

“I don’t understand your obsession! Leave me be!” He hollered for assistance from anyone and everyone who was around. Desperate, he begged even Jackie who was right behind Eudoxia the entire time. Harvey knew that if he harmed the princess in any way, the prince, the mother queen, and the entirety of Varsyl would vow vengeance against him. Why dirty his hands when Anchovi was a possibility. “Patty, I’ll triple what she’s given you.”

“Sorry, bud, but you owe some back pay.” Jackie nodded towards the princess and smiled, “Plus, the princess knows my name.”

With no other option, Harvey Lansit finally shot at Eudoxia, but it was Jackie Simms who embraced the living flame. Jackie’s forearms covered her face from the heat as the flare consumed her. The fighter endured the pain and squatted into the perfect position for Eudoxia’s ascent. The fearless princess ran onto Jackie’s back and launched into the air for the dumbfounded magician. He couldn’t find the words for such swift action nor the response. He muttered beneath his breath right before Eudoxia’s stony fist jabbed him in the throat:

“You’ve won this bout.”

[i Finally foiled.]
  HEAD ES DOODLE PETSUCHOS / Finnigan / 5y 47d 19h 43m 34s
[size16 #Gastronaut#]

Frank slammed his fists into the dining table. Frustrated at what luck he and the rest of Anchovi has been having, he stared into the murky brown drink and wished he had some of the spicy milk tea the people of Densch so enjoyed. That had real flavor, but none of the villagers were kind enough to spare him any lately. The kick at the end of every gulp reminded him of home, reminded him of the arid wasteland called Last. Of course, nothing on Guten Nocht could ever replace the daring flavors of Sudra. The people could not afford to spend too much of their resources for something so rich and tasty.

Pushing the cup off disgusting coffee away, Frank’s furrowed eyes caught the attention of Princess Eudoxia and his best friend Jackie. With much annoyance to his voice, he voiced, “Two months and we haven’t been able to get through the front gates.”

Nearly two and a half months since he and Jackie were cured of the Gunyiki Sleeping Fever. Thanks to the brave efforts of Eudoxia and Rhys in tandem with Duster’s stalwart performance of keeping two bodies stabilized, Frank and Jackie recovered faster that the majority of Densch. Within a few days, Frank was able to wobble out of bed and yell vicariously at the younger crew members. At the time, he expressed his inner geriatric. He shook his fist and for a while he had the hardest time hearing anything snarky coming from Eudoxia’s plump lips.

Within two days, Jackie was up and about the ship at the strangest time. She managed to elude even Duster during the nights and rummaged through the pantry for food. The hunger was real. She managed to go through a shelf every night until there were only a few shelves stocked. Neither of the kids dared to step outside because they feared that the flamethrowers still roamed the city as safe measure, yet they hadn’t had the slightest clue as to where all the food was going. Luckily, Jackie came to her sense and ended her manslaughter on the waning cabinets.

“And there’s two more after those,” Jackie sighed.

She stirred around the eggs on her plate. Lifeless. Bland. Grey. Despite owning the stomach that ingested everything in its path, the glutton was unable to cook as well as Eudoxia or even Frank. In all honesty, she relied the rest of the town back on Nocht to keep her well fed. She grilled meat before, but it was usually based on a fluke that it turned out delicious. Frank was completely convinced that the gourmand actually lacked taste buds.

The combined efforts of Eudoxia, Frank, Jackie, and Duster proved to be futile. The infiltration attempts on the Magnuze’s shipyard ended in embarrassment. There were guards stationed around every other post in the perimeter and the iron-wrought gates stretched twice as high as any of the members of Anchovi. The billy clubs pounded some sense even into the arrogant Frank Dietz who was always gung-ho about everything. With persistence, the guards forcefully escorted Eudoxia off the premises and blocked all attempts to see Harvey Lansit. For a good three weeks, the merchant never left the mighty Magnuze.

“Girlie, he knows that you’re in town. He don’t want nothin’ to do with ya.”

“Thanks, mister obvious,” Eudoxia rolled her eyes and flipped her hair into Frank’s space. Despite her best efforts at trying to make amends with the Frank, the two clashed and fought in tiny squabbles. For the most part, the rest of the crew found it entertaining.

Frank pushed back his chair and scrunched up his nose in retaliation. He did not allow himself to snap at the princess. After all, she went through all that trouble to save his sorry behind. At this point in his life, he grew tired of all the “whoopins” he’s received throughout the months. He thought life down here would be better for him. He longed for a winning streak. Heck, he’d go to church more if the streak lasted several seasons at a time.

“I’m just tired of gettin’ mah ass kicked all the time. I want there to be one day where I ain’t bein’ thrown back onto the streets for doin’ absolutely nothin’.”

“We require a new approach to this situation, Eudoxia. The guards have been able to catch us at every angle and entrance,” Duster stated as his eyes continually stared down the silent Rhys. His head would turn both clockwise and counterclockwise like an owl, yet the perturbed Illumina said nothing about it.

“Then what? We already went with the disguise approach. And Lansit Landing? Dulon and Rozlibet are stricter than he is about security. Not even a fly could buzz on through without anyone noticing. We need to keep on trying.” The pessimism exuded from her pores too early into the morning. The princess’ low voice generally brought the thieving couple down.

Duster quickly jerked his head towards Eudoxia’s space. Hovering over her, he sharply remarked, “What we need are new ideas.”

The number of beatings badly bruised his ego too much. He could not suffer through another loss. Frank thought about taking up new hobbies, but then he cycled through them all with very little thought. None of them were too manly, and a lot of them sounded atrociously boring.

“I say we just wait. There’s no use in tryin’ when we’ve tried it all.”

Jackie snapped her fingers. A light bulb must have went off.

“Frankie might be onto something, Euey.”

“Ugh.” She hated that nickname. [i Euey.] It was worse than Frank’s patronizing “girlie”.

“I am?” Frank sat back up in his chair. He liked it when he was right, even if it was his best friend validating him.

“The Lansits own Densch, basically, but the skies? The Fighter owns the skies. Nothing outspeeds my baby.” Jackie chuckled and rubbed her hands together as if she had already done the deed. She reveled in victory all too soon.

Eudoxia then asked, “What if he never leaves? What if Densch is his last stop before he marries some Sudranese princess? Hello, I’m not paying you guys to sit on your asses.”

“Well, until then we’ll just bask in all the fruits the city has to offer. Once the Magnuze takes off though, he’s ours. We’ll be out of the city limits before anyone really notices our disappearance. And you’ll be face to face with him in twenty-four hours guaranteed.” The airhead stood out of her chair with her fists at her hips. She guffawed hysterically like the heroes in the cheaply made Densch comic books she glossed over the other day.

“Pfft.” The princess simply waved off Jackie’s presence like one of her typical peasant handmaidens. She hated when people were more idealistic than she was. Eudoxia saw it as a waste of time. The more she hung around the ship, the more she thought about finding a different band of idiots to boss around.

Shifting into a more serious tone, Jackie leaned over the table and met eye to eye with the sultry eyed princess. With the utmost confidence ever seen in Jackie Simms, she bolstered, “I can land this ship on the Magnuze and I’ll personally deliver you to him.”

Intrigued with Jackie’s moxie, the teenager bit her tongue and a smidge of smile escaped. This was the kind of thinking she took pleasure in. This is who she was looking for.

“I’ll have to take you up on that offer.”

As the girls were flirting with eyes and mouth, Frank threw up in his mouth a little bit and excused himself from the table. He needed to find something to keep himself occupied, but what? He searched high and low on the kitchen side of the ship and saw nothing but pans with burnt eggs. Everyone had a shot at making their own eggs, but only his turned out decent. Jackie’s eggs turned into a burnt mush. Rhys’ were bland and mostly out of the pan. Duster’s eggs ran too runny. Eudoxia gave up halfway when she realized she had more shell in hers than she really wanted. Frank’s were cooked to perfection despite the slight mishap with the salt. Too salty.

After scanning one half of the room, the disgruntled vagrant spotted the heaping pile of fresh vegetables and fruits lying next to the side hatch. “Hmph, while y’all idle ‘round, I’m gonna look at all this produce them happy villagers gave us. Figure I’d do some sort of cookin’ since I’m tired of gettin’ my ass beat.”

The grump mosied to the kitchen area and observed all his tools first. Everything was filthy and unwashed. He had to give it to his crew to maintain the status quo around here. Frank stated several times that messes belong in the private quarters. Despite being a slob sometimes, Frank abhorred a filthy common space. He insisted that someone else cleaned it. He turned around and inspected his potential victims. The girls were too into their conversation and the abnormal amount of sass would only surmount in a rebellion. Rhys was a likely candidate, but he had promised to take care of the chickens right after breakfast.

“Duster!” Frank hoarsely called out, “git over here and clean these damn dishes!”

Duster, who was watching the girls intentively, immediately rose from his seat and floated to Frank’s side. In an attempt to make light of Frank’s gray attitude, the bland voiced Lucavi droned, “Frank, do you want to hear a joke? Why didn’t the melons get married?”

“I don’t give a rat’s ass!” The fumigated dismissed Duster’s attempts.

“No...it’s because--”

Before he could finish the punchline, Frank shoved a scrub brush and a pan into Duster’s hands. Overly dramatic, Frank stormed to the other side of the room and squatted next to the vibrant pile. The choices were endless. The corn came in several different colors ranging from yellow to red to multicolored and blue. The myriad of bean, lentil, and nut baskets intimidated him. Fennel, endive, radicchio. Blue beet, red beet, black and gold. Peaches with and without fuzz. The sweet and sometimes sour pluots rolled away from the pile in varying degrees of color and tanginess. The greens? There were far too many for him to choose.

A new journey awaited the adventurous grump. He took a handful of ingredients: peaches, dandelion greens, raisins, green tomatoes, onion, garlic. He walked over to the kitchen area to plop it all on the pristine counter. Now the knife. Knife. Knife? Where was the knife? Frank shirked at Duster and scowled once he found out the Lucavi’s reflection mesmerized the Lucavi. Without any retaliation, the cook snatched the knife away from him. Duster was dumbfounded for a brief moment in his life, but then resumed cleaning the kitchen area as if nothing happened.

Observing each and every ingredient up close, he hesitated on the cutting them. They were almost too perfect and miraculous to bisect. He admired every groove and contour of each produce. The textures tingled against his rough hands and the faint aromas puckered his bony cheeks. He had to explore even further. The green tomato was his first target. Supple to touch, the ripe tomato smooth skin intrigued him. The knife glided through the flesh and the gushy innards slowly spilled onto the cutting board. Cutting out a sliver, bold Frank took the piece and tossed it into his mouth. The sweetness prolonged the tightness in his weary face. The wetness of the tomato weirded him out at first, but he appreciated the different textures of the outside skin, the gushy parts, and the fleshy “skeleton”.

While Frank spent countless hours in the kitchen, the rest of team Anchovi broke off into their daily activities. Eudoxia spied outside the Magnuze’s home for any signs of movement. Jackie began what maintenance on the Fighter from the outside. Duster roamed the streets for human interaction. Rhys stayed inside and cared for the chicken couple. It was Frank who worked the hardest though, tasting anything and everything that Densch offered him. He had to thank Eudoxia and Rhys for saving the entire city from the disease or else he would not have access to all the expensive foods.

The wrinkled and sunburnt face calmed with every adventure under the knife. Frank had to stop in the middle of it all because he found himself smiling. He vowed that no one should ever catch him smile, especially over food. These indescribable feelings would scare anyone surely. This would be his own secret. After the sampling of basically everything and finding out what flavors he enjoyed the most, Frank moved to the fridge and took out a small cut of beef. He would start from what he knew: chicken stew.

The entire afternoon enveloped in potent smells. Hearty and warm, the savory aroma of the stew allured quite the crowd. Of course, Jackie was the first to sit at the table. Then Rhys. Then Eudoxia. Finally Duster who felt left out in the shadows. Ladling some of his stew into small bowls, Frank handed them out.

“Here, eat this.”

The princess was none too pleased with the peasant dish set before her. It wasn’t specially prepared for her on a silver platter nor did it have all the vibrant colors she enjoyed. Instead, there were chunks of meat, carrot, potato, and bell pepper sitting in a brown sauce. She was appalled.

Pushing back the bowl, she glared at Frank. “What? I’m not eating this. You cooked it.”

“Just eat it.”

Before Jackie took a bite out of her bowl, she snatched Eudoxia’s and happily cheered, “I’ll eat it!”

The masticator devoured the entire contents of the bowl in a few bites. She sat back for a bit and thought about it, a first for the gluttonous pilot. Her eyes lit and she jumped with excitement in her chair.

“Wow! Where did you get this recipe? That was delicious, Frank!”

Frank modestly shied away and explained that it derived from the chicken stews he used to make in Last with the substitution of beef cutlet instead of chicken. Of course, he added more ingredients like the yellow onion and cloves of garlic. After gathering Rhys’ approval of the first dish, Frank brought out the second dish which he observed on the streets. It was rice flavored with such exotic spices with raisins and peach bits peppered in. He served a bowl to everyone except for the finicky princess.

“Wait…” Eudoxia’s stomach rumbled. The waft of warm foods finally intrigued her and she had to take back her thoughts on the peasant food. Swallowing her pride before dinner, she muttered lowly, “Lemme have some.”

Frank smirked and took out a hidden bowl made especially for the princess. She exhaled before dipping her fork into the pilaf. Pulling the fork to her face, she secretly blew onto the forkful and slowly consumed the rice in shame. Eudoxida felt lowly for berating Frank’s ability to cook. In fact, she took great pleasure in the rice dish that it cheered her up.

“[size8 It’s good.]” Eudoxia didn’t want to give in.

“Hm? Did you say somethin’?” Frank chuckled.

“It’s good.”

“Aha!”

“Yeah, yeah,” her sass snapped into place. “You got some skills, Frank, but don’t get too cocky!”

Sparking a playful argument, Frank retorted, “just be glad we’re feedin’ ya!”

“Oh yeah? Well, you got me to thank for that food you’re cooking!”

“Hey, hey, hey, Rhys over here also saved the day. I’m cooking his share of the harvest!”

Frank and Eudoxia went on for the remainder of the delicious supper while the other three could not help but enjoy themselves with such delightful dishes. In the kitchen, Frank found his calling. If he stepped out more, he could get used to Densch.

[i ‘Ain’t no need to pull out my pistol or push no boxes. Is this what it means to be happy?’]
  HEAD ES DOODLE PETSUCHOS / Finnigan / 5y 49d 19h 21m 43s
[size16 #Rakhosen#]

Letting out a boisterous shout, Eudoxia thrusted her brandished dagger. The blue skinned demon who trumped the princess in height nonchalantly swatted her across the field. With a loud thud, the airborne Eudoxia fell on her back grunting and huffing for air. Rhys cried out to her and as he ran for her, the fierce Rakhosen flung him across the green valley.

“Presumptuous girl,” the Rakhosen growled. It had the same black curly hair as Eudoxia and the same physical features as humans, yet the air around it screamed violently. When the monster grabbed ahold of Rhys, he felt its warmth radiating into his calf and for a brief moment it crawled through his skin. The blood from the severed heads dripped onto the bulbous feet, thus staining what cloth covering its loins.

Eudoxia had never encountered a being like this before. Terrified at the abomination of what she thought as witchcraft, she timidly asked, “You can speak?”

“Humans believe that they’re the only ones to walk this earth and speak in tongues. Roam my realm and your head will join my growing collection.”

He advanced, but it was Rhys who temporarily halted him from moving any further. The young boy tenaciously jabbed the thick skinned gigas with a syringe. Injecting him with what peroxide he had in his medical, Rhys quickly limped away before the gargantuan man punted him in the backside. Rhys flew a few yards before his face dug into the damp earth.

“Rhys!” Crying out for her friend, Eudoxia struggled to get back up, but the monster approached her rather quickly. “You blue bastard!”

The princess rolled underneath the Rakhosen’s grasp and between his dry knees. Her dagger seared through the inner calf once and in the back of the knee twice. The monster yowled as it fell to one knee, but it pushed through the pain and crawled for the enfeebled Eudoxia. Just as the Rakhosen dived, it snatched Eudoxia by the leg. The same warmth Rhys felt wrapped around her limb. Her assailant pulled her leg from underneath and Eudoxia fell into the earth as well as the monstrosity got back to its feet. Pleased with such a pretty figure, the Rakhosen chuckled in excitement and examined her closely.

“You are too pale to be from the clouds. You’ll do well in my collection.”

In its peripheral vision, the blue giant spotted a figure cloaked in white with shimmering gold accents. She appeared in a flash without anyone know who she was and where she was from. The Rakhosen lowered the princess, just barely hovering her over the ground. There was a calm demeanor in her eyes, yet in her left arm she held a long straight blade with the utmost confidence. With her free arm, she pulled back her hood and revealed such dark skin.

“A woman or another demon?” snarked the monster.

“Why don’t we wait and find out on that.”

Eudoxia fell to the ground as the monster jumped forth for the new challenger. The princess, annoyed at both the monster for dropping her without poise and the stranger for her interjection. Her fists tightly wound up and pounded the floor once she got a better look at the new person. The seething anger overtook her as she witnessed the battle unfolding.

[i ‘You!’]

The woman in white’s mastery over the sword was impeccable. She was able to match blow for blow with the Rakhosen’s claws as if she anticipated all of its feral moves. Jumping to the sides and back, the swordswoman sweat not a drop. She swooped under each attack and juked and feinted each step like a summer Varsylian waltz. In such flowing clothing, the stranger put on a show that both Eudoxia and the downed Rhys could enjoy. The light silk flowed through the valley’s breezy air; she was flying before all their eyes. The monster fumbled time to time and struggle to match her agility.

When it was time for her to go on the offensive, the woman in the white wardrobe hopped a few yards back chanting words to herself. Wipping her long braids back, she held her blade and her free hand before her with morale. From the base of her sword, fire erupted and engulfed the steel. Instead of driving the sword directly into the monster, she knelt to the floor with the searing blade at her side. Small particles of earth and grass levitated around her. There was something definitely magical about the stranger, and it only fed into Eudoxia’s frustrations even more. The spellblade sprinted and valley behind her erupted. Dirt, rocks, flowers, and grass flew into the air and she dashed for the Rakhosen. The monster swiped for her, but she juked the other way around and swiped along its ribcage.

The monster fell to its knees once more howling in excruciating pain. The flames from her black sword disappeared and slowly bloomed outside of the Rakhosen’s gaping wound. Trying to shake the flames from the body, it roared and called her out on unfair sorcery. Loud thuds echoed throughout the valley. Its incessant stomping crushed the flora. It’s belt and necklace of bloodied heads fell off as the monster wailed louder than ever. It blindly ran for the stream, but the huntress quickly put an end to its miserably short life. Flying to its shoulder, she ran her blade across its neck and bled the Rakhosen out. The blue gigas fell backwards and sank into the earth. Skin, flesh, and bone withered without a notice at an alarming rate, and only its loincloth and a bag remained.

“Witchcraft at its finest,” the stranger said to herself.

Eudoxia fiercely approached her savior yet couldn’t find the words to say. The stranger acknowledged her presence, but did not say anything before the princess could rambunctiously utter, “You!”

“Out of all the unimaginable places that you could ever be in the Blue, my princess, I find you in the worst of times.” She sheathed her sword and knelt before Eudoxia. The princess despised formalities, especially with people she had no respect for. The woman in white nodded at the princess and got back up.

“You!” Eudoxia screamed, unable to say anything else, “You…”

“Yes, princess?”

Slowly discovering more words from the vernacular, the gaudy princess sneered, “I didn’t ask for your help.”

“Yes, I know that, Princess Eudoxia, but I’m here on the city’s request.” The dark skinned lady noticed the dagger in Eudoxia’s hand. “I see that you kept my gift to you. It means a lot.”

“You know her?” Rhys struggled along to catch up with Eudoxia and the graceful dancer of swords. Nodding in her direction, Rhys was ever so gracious towards her. “Thanks for saving us.”

“Don’t thank her, Rhys.” Eudoxia nearly replicated the same grunt Frank usually did. Rhys held back his laughter, and the princess focused on the still unnamed woman. “You! I have so much to say to you!”

“Oh? Please, tell me what’s on your mind.”

“Why did you leave?”

Without any tell, Eudoxia fell into the lady’s silk and bosom. She sobbed uncontrollably and wrapped her arms around her waist. The lady with the toned arms embraced Eudoxia in returned and rubbed her top of her frizzy head.

Looking back up, Eudoxia demanded. “Answer me!”

“Princess, you were an excellent student, but sometimes we were brought in at the wrong place, time, and standing. Please take my word that I rather enjoyed teaching you my customs and technique,” she remarked sincerely.

“Lies! Why must you speak such tall tales?” Eudoxia backed out of the woman’s reach and shook her head. Sniffling, she violently accused with fingers and words. “You’re disappointed in my inability to use magic! I’m sorry that not all of us can be born a Kaf. I’m sorry I was brought into this world in the wrong place, at the wrong time, with such high standing, Maestra! These are things I cannot control.”

Refusing to add fuel to the fiery Eudoxia, the woman kept cool and held out her hands for Eudoxia. She kept all the hurt inside and instead tried to reason with Eudoxia like an adult. “With such sour tongue, Eudoxia, you believe that I have abandoned you for faults you had no control over. Shallow I am not. The situation I refer to cannot be spoken at this moment. It goes beyond you and me and possibly the entirety of the Blue. A manipulator of man by the name of Kal Ser--”

“The fibbing can stop now, Maestra. I am not a child and I’m not the naive girl you left behind.” Zipping up Jackie’s jacket, she sought comfort in its warmth. “I’m a woman.”

“Hm. I apologize if my words came off as patronizing,” she nodded.

Looking to break up the current heated situation and reminding Eudoxia of their original goal, Rhys chimed in. “Where is this lilac daystar?”

“If my sources are accurate, they should be on the other side. Follow me.”

The group of three traveled without saying much to each other. The stranger led the way, Eudoxia grumpily followed, and poor Rhys limped behind. Namely, the stranger was giving out facts pertaining to the hulking blue man they encountered. The Rakhosen, as legend had put it, was living dark magic that a disenchanted Sudranese sorcerer put together. People feared the Rakhosen and it was first defeated millenia ago by a wandering vagabond. Every couple hundred of years, the Rakhosen would reincarnate from the earth to terrorize the natives of the country. The leader of the group pointed out that the two of them would have died if she did not intervene at the right time. Eudoxia rolled her eyes in return.

Going through the Rakhosen’s cavern, Rhys sped up his walk to be next to Eudoxia. The wet tunnel was lit by torches and decorated in a simple fashion. Beast hides hung from the wall by nails and the Rakhosen fixed a bed on the side. Eudoxia pondered on the question if magic had intelligence and if the monstrous humankind showed empathy. She cut herself off from such thoughts and believed she was thinking too much into the situation of a beast.

Walking out of the tunnel, the three were met by more nature. It was nearly a mirror of the other valley, but with a small glistening pond in the middle of valley dotted with royal purple flowers. A forest of rich pine trees planted their roots on the other side of the valley. Rhys and Eudoxia made their way towards the pond and basked in nature’s glory. Knowing that they’ve found the cure, they picked from the tufts of purple flowers with loud laughter ensuing. The woman took her time to catch up. She smiled in their bliss.

“When you thought you couldn’t get anymore excited,” Eudoxia cheerfully said. She zipped from one patch to another to form a healthy bouquet.

“That’s the beauty of the world, princess. If you step out of the castle walls, you might see more than the tops of angry merchants and soldiers. There are lands to be stepped on and many more undiscovered. Maybe this young boy has done more for you than I have.”

“Believe me, some places aren’t worth an utterance. This though, is...nothing short of real beauty.”

After a brief moment to snack on Rhys’ supplies, the crew of the Anchovi started their journey back to Densch.

The lady called out to them, “We’ll take the Fa Malandi back.”

Grabbing enough flowers to fill up Rhys’ pack and the woman’s long shawl, the trio returned back to the middle of their path and spotted a personal ship parked. It got the stranger places, but Rhys would never exchange it for the Fighter. The crimson and golden balloon and the six propellers managed to lift all three of them into the air. Though shaky, Rhys was amazed with the untouched valleys. He couldn’t wait to tell Frank and Jackie about it all. He couldn’t wait to see them up and causing trouble. Discreetly staring at the lonesome princess, he had to thank her for going out of her way to save people who felt indifferent towards her.

[i ‘This sure beats taking the rope back up.’]

Landing next to the Fighter, the woman allowed the two to disembark with enough lilac daystar to cure the crew several times over. Royalty did not think twice to look back at the Fa Malandi and shrugged off any of Rhys’ enthusiasm.

“Let the petals seep in hot water for five minutes and have them drink from the cup. With all the flowers I’ve collected, Densch shall return to normal in weeks. Please do take care until next time, princess, and forgive me for my absence. Until we meet next time, be well.”

“Wait! What’s your name?” Rhys begged to know the name of the woman. He idolized her prowess and kindness. He thought Eudoxia was lucky to have her as a mentor.

“Excuse me! And princess, were you ashamed of your Maestra?” She teased the princess who was too tired to pay attention. Eudoxia just continued for the Fighter while Rhys stared her down with most admiration. Standing aboard her ship most valiantly, the woman with the amazing arms and deep skin responded, “I am Oe. It was a pleasure meeting you, Rhys. Please take care of Princess Eudoxia.”

[i ‘I am strong, Oe. I don’t need Rhys or you for protection.’]
  HEAD ES DOODLE PETSUCHOS / Finnigan / 5y 52d 20h 34m 42s
[size16 #Wandering Star#]

[b “I don’t know who…[i krrsch]...yiki...I repeat, the mass sterilization throughout…[i krrrrsch]...mptoms include excessive sweating--[i ksch], insomnia, vomitting, bloodshot eyes, [i ksch], death. [i Kst]--wait it out. Wait it out. The upper landi...not been infected [i kssssst]... Department of Customs has reported. Full advisory is in effect. A burn to kill ord...been issued.[i Krssssch.] Abajogadra phelmix [i kst]...he lilac daystar. A potential cure for the airbor--[i kssss]. Bherein moun--[i kssss…]"]

“Well, that settles it. We’re going down.” The princess turned around and nodded at the remaining two members of Team Anchovi: Duster and Rhys.

After hours of surfing the countless radio frequencies, Eudoxia was able to gather enough information on the fiery occurrence. A wicked disease had plagued Densch just a few weeks ago and mustered all its strength to wipe out the entire city. The upper platforms were safe for now, but it was those closest to the Bherein mountain range that suffered the greatest. The princess was none too thrilled at what had to be done. After all, her main objective incessantly pecked her in the back of the head and reminded her of her empty handed goal.

Duster was able to get back into the Fighter through the side hatch after he rightfully warded off the vigorous waves of pyromaniacs. The inferno charred away at his pristine white coat, otherwise Duster was normal. The team’s medic sat between Frank and Jackie’s cold and shivering bodies. Some of the convulsions were erratic with limbs occasionally flailing into the air. The shallow breathing frightened Rhys, yet he had no one’s shirt to cling to.

“I can manage the two of them. Rhys. Despite your…[inadequacies], your biomechanical physiology proves to be immune to many, if not all airborne diseases. I would love to test out this theory, but time is crucial. Well, we’ll see if you come back alive, won’t we.”

Rhys nervously gulped and rubbed his forearm. ‘Thanks Duster.”

The kids of the group suited up for their most dangerous mission yet. Rhys wore his pea green jacket and riding goggles as well as gathered a small pack of medical supplies for the unknown below. Eudoxia changed out of her burnt dress for more casual. Putting on a pair of loose harem pants and a tight yellow top, the teenage princess loaded her pockets with all the various gadgets she’s collected through her solo journeys. Before heading out of the side door, fierce Eudoxia snagged Jackie’s beloved leather jacket. The two scouted out for any members of the cleaning crew before making their way towards the edge of the city.

“How are we supposed to get down there?”

“This.” Pulling a braid of what appeared to be royal blue and white yarn, Eudoxia tied one end of the yarn to the anchor set in place on the edge of the platform and nodded. “The Dalmenian Skein.”

How Eudoxia got her hands on such a rare item, nobody will know, yet at the same time, nobody would care. As she tossed the other end over the edge, the Dalmenian Skein unraveled itself into a wool waterfall that plummeted past Rhys’ expectations. The drop below was long too; the tops of the Bherein mountain range was obscured by the thick clouds. The acrophobia settled in, but it was Eudoxia’s words of encouragement that kept him in the game.

“Just keep a tight grip on it. And whatever you do, don’t look down. Look, I know you’re not a bruiser like the rest of the ship, but you’re gonna do great, Rhys.”

Eudoxia was the first to wrap the countless strings around her arms and rappel off Densch as if it was child’s play. Despite the royal standing, the princess had proven herself to Rhys that she was a survivor. On the other hand, the young boy’s knees shook with indecisiveness. He immediately ran the scenarios through his head and psyched himself out in the moment. What if he went for the wool and stumbled off? What if he accidentally untied it thus sending Eudoxia to her doom?

Taking a few deep breaths of the frigid air, Rhys summoned the same courage Jackie would have inspired and tightly squeezed the Dalmenian Skein. Swiveling his body over the edge, he wrapped his legs around the warm wool and shimmied. Not even for a moment did Rhys’ hold on the wool loosen. The world that he left behind grew in size and in some ways, he appreciated it more. From below, Rhys oggled Densch and had no idea how much green thrived on the platforms. From the angle below, it appeared as if the balloons were lifting the entire city up.

“This is all stunning work. A city built on stalks.”

“Alas, if only I was betrothed to a Sudranese prince. What would it have been to be a princess here. The fashion and the people are all just better. Sudra’s people are so exotic with their chocolatey skin tones and chitzy makeup. Colorful and creative, just like Harvey Lansit.” The teenager ‘s head was well into the skies, especially when she mentioned the opulent and equally pretentious Lansit. She stopped in her descent and made an aside, “There’s nothing going on for Prince Chelon, he’s like the coolest person in losertown.”

“You don’t have feelings for the prince?”

“He’s a monster,” she solemnly put it.

“And what about this Harvey?”


“Well...let’s just say that Chelon and my mother aren’t too pleased with him.”

The prince was attractive in the face, yet it was his charms, or lack thereof, that drove Eudoxia out of the capital and into the rest of the world. Utterly cruel to his servants and the animals alike, Prince Chelon of seventeen years of age defined sinister nature. Princess Eudoxia was rather unsure if the prince truly love her or if she was counted as property.

“I ran away for love. [i Fleeting] love. Harvey doesn’t know it, but he’s gonna marry me.”

With their heads in the midst of thick snow clouds, the two came to keep their mouth closed despite how amazed both of them were. Their lips began to chap and the fingers hardly moved if they strayed too far from the yarn.

“Does he love you?” asked Rhys. The wind started to pick up and the chill tickled his ankles. He could only imagine how Eudoxia was holding up in such thin clothing.

“He’s gonna,” she nonchalantly stated. Obsession of a young woman’s heart, a rather bitter poison unsought by all.

“Whaaaa!”

Shocked by her words and the stinging of the cold air, Rhys’ briefly let go of the skein and stomped on Eudoxia’s shoulder. The princess twisted around the rope before stabilizing stance. The air pushed them closer to the stalk, but it was not strong enough to throw Eudoxia into the steel exterior.

“What was that?”

“Sorry, I...lost grip.”

The kids eventually made contact with the bases of the city. Rhys was captivated by the marvel’s mysterious construction in the midst of the jagged mountain tops. The snow piled against the tall metal stalks and graced the peaks with new powder. The founders of Densch leveled the area that was about two miles wide in diameter. The mountaintops staggered up high around Densch, but the city managed to go above and beyond nature’s limits. Stone lain paths branched from the shallow crater in several direction, thus brought confusion to the duo.

“The lilac daystar…” Eudoxia zipped up the leather jacket and pondered.

“Supposedly this will make everything better once we find some.” Rhys examined all the possibilities before making any motion. Five different paths, and only two of them. The blond haired lad snapped his goggles on and breathed into his hands. The warmth urged him to work fast so he could enjoy soup back at base with the rest of his family.

“We don’t even know if it’s growing in season or how to administer it, but if the reports are true, then we have to find some.” Eudoxia shivered for a bit. Pointing to one of the five paths, Eudoxia began to walk. “Let’s go this way and hope we’ll run into some or at least someone who knows where we can find it.”

The snowfall temporarily garnered more support from the heavy clouds from above and the winds gained speed and gusto against the wanderers. Eudoxia was not sure if she would make it through the blizzard in silence so she struck senseless banter.

“What’s your story?”

“Mine?” Rhys wasn’t sure he had a story.

“Yeah, yours. Who do you think I’d be talking to?” Her olive eyes began to flutter and the rushing snowflakes stuck to her face. She admitted to herself that she was not looking at practicality in her outfit. The blistering winter slowed her tremendously, but she trudged through the deep fluffy snow.

“Well, Frank and Jackie and Duster saved me from this giant spider woman. And then we were chased by robots one night and we happened to land in Varsyl. Oh and--” He suddenly remembered the wavy haired woman with dark skin. Rhys wholeheartedly believed in his heart which said that she was very much alive and kicking. He did not want to bring it up to Frank in fear of setting him off onto a rampaging tirade.

“Duster mentioned something about biomechanical. What does that mean?” She needed Rhys to keep herself awake.

“I’m not entirely sure myself to tell you the truth, Eudoxia. I don’t know much of the world and that’s why I asked if you can teach me how to read and write. I’m really good at observing things, but that’s basically it.”

“Call me Eu for short. Eudoxia is too formal.” Eudoxia, who was struggling without saying a word, latched onto the young boy and laid her head onto his. “And I’ll help you, with whatever you need. Reading and writing is gonna be easy.”

It wasn’t long until they trekked out of the dense clouds’ vast reach and met with something rather marvelous that would bring anyone to tears. Eudoxia gasped and clutched her chest as winter blew past her. Spring, both in season and in form, ran across the valley hidden in the heavens. The clear sparkling stream flowed without disturbance. Pastel pink flowers bloomed across the vibrantly yellow-green valley untouched by snow.

“Don’t you ever miss home?” Breathing in the refreshing air and shedding his jacket and goggles, Rhys smiled.

“Never. I love being out here by myself. I can be who I want to be out here, and I don’t need my mother hawking over me. Just look, Rhys, how could I ever miss home when this exists before my eyes? How about you?”

“The Fighter is my home. It’s all I’ve really known. I think I have a really awesome...family.”

The two ran down the hillside to be in the middle of the scene. The flowers brushed against their calves and the children were laughing. Rays of light pierced through the cloud coverage and greeted Rhys and Eudoxia with an open arms. The warmth sank into their skin, their bones. Neither wanted to leave so soon and in the moment they forgot about the lilac daystars. They forgot about Frank, Jackie, and the rest of Dench.

After settling down a bit from the excitement, Eudoxia continued the discourse and pointed out, “You don’t want to get too accustomed to them, Rhys. One of these days you’ll grow to appreciate the solitude that comes with adulthood. Unfortunately, I was born into a family that never granted me that pleasure. The guards always sulked around the corner, and the endless meals with ‘friends’. Let me not forget that. Don’t trust anyone but yourself.”

Discouraged by Eudoxia’s persuasion, Rhys held onto his friends. Scratching his head and finding the right words, the thought of bringing Eudoxia, someone who has recently gotten close to him, into the team rang with him. He sought a situation where he could keep both. “But I can trust Frank and Jackie. They’ve always been there for me. And I trust you too. Sometimes you need friends to lean on.”

“My mother and father were always there for me, but they chose what I wore, who I hung out with, and what I could and couldn’t do. The friends I thought I had were nothing but pawns in the bigger political game. My mother is trying to marry me to her late second husband’s son. Blood and bonds run thin.” Eudoxia frowned and confused Rhys even further with her random jabs.

A lonely cavern opening sat on the other side of the open valley. Large boulders scattered across the duo’s opposite end with remnants of cloth and metal dotting the verdant hill. The materials were obliterated and stained with blood. Eudoxia followed the trail of random bones up to the cavern where something most foul was happening. Rhys urged her to turn back, but the violent shrills that echoed into the peaceful valley and dying strands of flame which wailed caught her attention. Brandishing her dagger, Eudoxia stepped back from the damp cave and waited for trouble to reveal itself.

A higher shrill knocked Rhys onto his bottom and his eyes widened in absolute terror. Two sets of arms peered out of the darkness before the human faced beast revealed itself. Adorned in golden bands and painted by the blood of its victims, the giant stood out of the cave eight feet high. It strung a series of severed heads around its thick neck and trunk. It’s nails, dyed black lacquer, dug into the earth. A demon unfamiliar to the kids took one step forward and laughed at their trembling. With one sniff, it could sense their terror.

“That ain’t human.”

“Eu-Eudoxia, I...can’t move.”

“Rhys, run.” Eudoxia mumbled. “Get back to the ship and save Frank and Jackie.”

[i ‘Are you strong enough to cut down whatever, whoever stands in your path, Eudoxia? Of course not.’]
  HEAD ES DOODLE PETSUCHOS / Finnigan / 5y 55d 20h 28m 25s
[size16 #Gunyiki Sleeping Fever#]

“That mountain was cold! Now I know what the guards meant when they say Sudranese shekme.” Eudoxia shuddered at the fresh memory of the Vodhi temple. Thanks to Jackie’s sheer self-centeredness, the rest of Anchovi had to sleep rather closely to each other in one of the smallest quarters any of them had experienced. At one point, Frank was squished up between Jackie and Rhys because the equally self-centered princess demanded more space. Luckily Duster was able to minimize the amount of space he took by shrinking into a tiny luminescent fairy. “Although, I gotta say those huts were cleaner than any hobble I’ve stayed in Varsyl. Ick.”

The group of five hung around in the cockpit and witnessed the world for what it was. After the long journey up into the mountains, Frank swore off anymore detours and agreed with Eudoxia for once. The trip back to the Fighter was not as bad as he thought except for the brief moments where Frank and Rhys slipped on the thin sheets of ice and scared each other. The scenes were breathtaking with mountains spiking far into the sky, but he preferred enjoying it from the Fighter where he could remain warm and relatively safe from frostbite and whatever other dangers. His cheeks long remained ruddy, the same shade of rosy pink as the tip of his nose.

“What is that?”

Rhys moved towards the front of the ship and pointed towards the faint outlines of the ovular objects. As the Fighter approached, the shapes gained their solid outline and the oval shapes gained their lustrous colors of ruby reds and jagged yellows. The city grew from the mountain range below. The thin stalks of Densch bloomed into flowering steel platforms housing the illustrious air balloons, the ships, and neon lit metropolis. A few of the bowl shaped platforms hovered over the rest of the city, barely hanging on by the steam powered fans who dwarfed humans and the heavy usage of balloons. The snow could only embrace the perimeter of the city.

“Finally!” Eudoxia threw her hands into the air and glared at the pilot, “We’ve made it!”

“You sure we din’t fly elsewhere? This don’t look like Sudra. This place is floatin’ like it’s a bootleg Guten Nocht or somethin’.”

“This is Densch. It was a Varsylian principality before the Sudranese took Varsylian technology and fused their influence to make one of the few cloud cities in the Blue. If you thought that Varsylgard had the best airships, you were wrong. Densch and the high families such as the Lansits are responsible for the boom you see today. Marvelous really.” Eudoxia rolled her eyes as if they were supposed to know the entire history of Sudra. The princess’ mean streak started from the moment they got down from the rough mountainside and continued throughout the day.

Jackie radioed the control stations several times, yet there was no one on the other line. No response. Eerie static filled the air. Between the impatience of the snotty princess and the irksome crew members who feared the consequences with aligning themselves with said princess, Jackie found the nearest platform free of ship and buildings. The back hatch opened and the troupe welcomed themselves to the mystical Sudranese city of Densch. Fog obscured most of the platforms and branching paths, and the red warning lights fuzzed. The humid air stuck to their faces and coats, yet there was a bizarre draft frigidly licking their ankles.

“Alright, how do we find Harvey?” nodded Jackie.

Eudoxia tossed her head back and chuckled a little bit. Dressed in an elaborately decorated black dress that paired well with her frizzy jet black hair, the lucrative princess pointed at Jackie and Frank. “That’s where you two come in. You guys have the honor of being my good luck charms when trouble rears its head around the corner, and Harvey often gets himself into trouble. He’s more than likely going to be at Lansit Landing. Where that is in correlation to here, I’m not sure.”

Duster kept his mouth shut for most of the interactions between the team, but this time he could not help but interject. “Do tell, Princess Eudoxia, what is the full extent of your relationship with Harvey?”

Eudoxia pulled her head away from Duster and her face twisted in disgust and annoyance. Her lip quivered and her mouth shot off. “Look white man. I’m not paying you to ask me questions. Heck. I’m not paying you shit.”

“Quite a vile tongue for royalty.” Duster stood there emotionlessly. Amongst the the humans, the concept of respect was rather archaic. In many ways, the princess and the scruffy outlaw shared many undesirable traits.

“Oh, I’m not your average princess, snow white,” she sneered.

Cruel princess led the quest for Harvey and wandered along the broad winding paths that linked the platforms. These paths had no guard rails, but they had lights on the edges. Anchovi finally reached a platform heavily wearing hot pink and lime green signs. A shopping district perhaps, yet it was awfully empty for the late afternoon. Not a single soul stirred on the “floating” island. Not a single lamp or bulb was lit on the strip, and the doors were locked. Some were even barricaded. They traveled to a ghost town where no one knew their names.

“Is it me, or is it too foggy?” Jackie marched right up to the leader and stepped cautiously. Her eyebrows furrowed and the hairs on the back of her neck stiffened. Sweat dripped from her forehead and she removed the famed jacket from her torso.

“That’s just the steam tech. It all has to go somewhere.” Eudoxia’s eyes scanned the sky for any leads as to where Harvey might be. The feeling in her gut fluttered the truth. The Lansit businessman hid somewhere in the steel crafted jungle. It was the only place that offered him a substantial amount of amnesty from the empires.

“That’s why there’s no snowfall.” Rhys stopped to admire the obscured city. The particles of the coral colored mist tingled his skin and face. The simple boy did not concern himself with Eudoxia’s mission, but found great pleasure in exploring the new places. He wanted to know. Knowledge of nothing, anything, and everything was his first priority. The partial humming of the machinery around him resonated with him as if he had been here here before, or perhaps it had reminded him of Guten Nocht’s mechanical complexity.

Frank and Duster kept an eye on Rhys who stood facing up in the fog. Duster eventually broke off from the two to keep up with the competing Eudoxia and Jackie. Frank faintly smiled to himself and felt as if he was doing a decent job at bringing up Rhys Illumina. [i She would have been proud.] The joyous moment was cut short once a fiery object plummeted from a higher perch and smashed into the path’s edge. Rhys jumped out of his trance and Frank ran to his side. The boy, unharmed, latched onto his older brother and dug his face into his armpit. Frank calmly detached and observed where the object briefly touched. Blood.

“Oh fuck,” was all Frank could say once he saw the boisterous streams of flame jet out from afar and above. They were too short to reach Frank and Rhys, but the number of fiery streams steadily increased. Shortly after, Eudoxia and Jackie ran towards Frank’s direction and the flames followed. “What. The. Hell.”

“Get back to the ship!” Jackie screamed.

She pushed the boys in the direction of the Fighter. Frank and Rhys knew that all the wrong things had happened if Jackie Simms, the bravest and boldest of team Anchovi, was fleeing. Duster, who was in breaking out of his human disguise, fled as well with fire closing in on him. A calamity of footsteps followed behind. The Lucavi and the bio-android both caught a glimpse at their assailants. Men in gas masks and heavy duty flamethrowers. Whoever they were, they were light on their feet despite the copious amounts of armor they wore.

Eudoxia threw out there, “I don’t understand what’s going on! This didn’t happen the last time I came here!”

Anchovi was quite a distance away from the ship, yet their stride was strong. The masks and flames multiplied and the soldiers kept up with the pace. It was not until Duster halting that the rest of the troupe broke away from the mere thought of fleeing. Rhys and Jackie desperately wanted to stop for their friend, but they hesitated in slowing down. Duster nodded at them as a way of saying he had everything in control.

“Run first, talk later. I’ll buy you time.”

Silver disks rampaged and tore through armor as Duster valiantly fought for his crew. The remaining members of Anchovi swerved from one platform to another, yet with each intersection more of the pyromaniacs joined in. Frank and the princess furiously panted, and the sweat doused every inch of their body. Their bodies were already on fire; their muscles burned and tensed up in excitement. The next intersection proved rather fatal. Eudoxia and Jackie shot through a blockade crafted by the pyromaniacs, but a searing stream caught Rhys off guard. The golden haired child stumbled off the path and was saved at the last minute by the diving Frank Dietz.

“Gotcha!”

Looking up at Frank whose smile caught him off guard, Rhys bellowed out with legs dangling below, “Frank, don’t let go! I’m scared! I’m scared!”

The marching of the empirical ants got closer, and scrawny Frank was unable to lift Rhys up with ease and gusto. Jackie slid back to Frank’s side only to remove his revolver from his pocket. The brave fighter took a couple of shots at the crowd before igniting a flamethrower’s tank. The reigning fire consumed some of the hollering men in the dense ruby red suits, but their advances continued. Jackie pulled the both of them to their feet and guarded them from the rear.

“There’s more coming, c’mon guys!”

In the final stretch, Frank was unloading the handful of bullets he loosely stored in his crummy pockets into the torrid crowd and it was enough to get the back hatch of the Fighter to open and close. The muscles of the four humans wanted to scream out loud. Eudoxia, Frank, and Rhys collapsed to the floor for a moment, but it was Jackie who stood firm against the outside force’s banging against the ship and the wooshing of the flamethrowers’ hot licks.

Frank sat up and growled at Eudoxia. “You wanna explain what the Hel that was, girlie?”

“How the fuck was I supposed to know that it was grilling season? Don’t yell at me, you doorknob!” Laying the floor of the cargo hold, she kicked at his body in frustration. This was not the Densch she remembered visiting months ago. Eudoxia never heard of any uprising in Sudra, and surely her mother’s confidants would have mentioned something to her.

“Enough!” Jackie commanded. “Are we all okay?”

“Eudoxia! Your clothes!” Rhys pointed to her black gown that was partially incinerated. Char marks covered some of her skin. “Here, I can treat your burns.”

“What burns?” she asked. Eudoxia searched her entire body for any serious burns, yet she could find none present. If anything, she was more angered that one of her dresses that she had made weeks back was ruined.

“The flames skipped off her shoulders as if they were afraid.” In utter amazement, Jackie gasped. Remembering the very first encounter with the manic pyromaniacs, she witnessed the princess taking an entire blast. Her dress evaporated with the mist and fog, yet the flames never really touched her body.

“I..I’m not sure what happened.” Eudoxia sat there just as speechless with most of her upper torso exposed. The fired had not burned her.

Jackie, slammed against the back hatch in anger before heading up the stairs for the cockpit.

“Where you goin’?”

“Gonna contact with some officials and find what the hell is going on out there.” Jackie averted her attention to Eudoxia and sighed. “We might have to delay this mission.”

The princess was none too pleased with the statement. Even if it was raining fireballs, Eudoxia of Dalme would have trekked her way to Lansit’s Landing. Jackie exited the cargo hold with a shaky stride.

Rhys held his hands together and wished for all the fire to disappear. He muttered to himself, “Duster, please be okay.”

The sturdy Fighter rocked for a bit. From above, lithe tiptoeing pittered against the ship’s sleek exterior. The flames and beatings against the Fighter raged on, but the attacks became more dispersed. Frank tried getting up, but he soon fell back on his back and gave up.

“Errgh, Rhys.” Frank dryly pled for help as his fingertips struggled to find a firm grip against the hold’s surface. His pupils dilated and the stomach churned. Something awful was cooking up in his body and he cried for Rhys’ aid. “Rhys, gotta help me.”

Frank turned to his side and spewed up his stomach onto the floor. Rhys rapidly scampered into one of the chicken stalls and retrieved a bottle of water. Forcing the top to Frank’s lips, the boy poured a small amount of water into his mouth before Frank coughed it back up.

Eudoxia stood up perfectly fine and firmly stated, “He’s been afflicted.”

“With what?”

“Not sure, but I wouldn’t get too close to him. Whatever he has is probably the reason why those maniacs are aiming for us. We might be all infected.”

“I’m not leavin him.” Rhys softly slapped Frank’s cheeks and tried pouring more water down his throat. Frank was conscious, but his activity died out as soon as they got back to the ship. He muttered unintelligibly and even teared up, but Rhys continued to cradle his head. “Frank, c’mon, it’s me, Rhys. Stay with me.”

While Rhys took care of Frank, Eudoxia disappeared elsewhere. It was not long before she sounded off on the intercom.

[b “Rhys, this is Eu. Jackie is down and out too...it looks like it’s just the two of us.”]

Rhys’ body shook in fear. The two people who he sought as older siblings were dying before him and there was nothing he could do. Though he tried to look at things on a more positive note--the pyromaniacs’ barrage died out--Rhys could not help but think about Frank and Jackie’s deaths. He was not sure if he had been infected nor if he could die. Tears formed and the hands shook. Water splashed against Frank’s pale face and the vomit seeped into their clothing.

[i ‘It’s gonna be okay. It’s gonna be okay. They’re just resting. It’s gonna be okay.’]
  HEAD ES DOODLE PETSUCHOS / Finnigan / 5y 62d 19h 8m 37s
[size20 #ARC 4: XYIANTHIS COMPLEX#]
[size16 #Truth#]

Accompanied by the friendly youth Rhys, the cloaked princess made her last rounds in all the small crevices and safehouses scattered in the miserably grey city of Llamarr. The frigid rain managed to keep itself contained until the Fighter was sailing over the Blue. It took her several trips back and forth to the ship to finally move in the royalty, but for good reason. Clever Eudoxia made sure to split her dividends in order to maintain her opulence. The bags of money piled up, and directly adjacent to that pile was one of elaborate cloths. It took her weeks to amass such great fabrics, especially in a town dominated by the uncultured and unruly sailors and thieves.

“I was going to make dresses for myself, but then I realized that I’d be marking myself as a target,” she quietly stated as she examined an exquisite soft spring bloom pattern. This was going to be her first dress that she would have crafted, but realized how tough the town was. Under no circumstances did she ever reveal her face or speak the usual tongue. Her olive eyes kept to the slick brick pavement. Eudoxia cracked a small smile for Rhys and continued, “You guys are so drab. Where’s the fun in all this? Here, I’ll make a shirt for you.”

Rhys nodded. Hesitantly, he asked for a favor. “Can you teach me things?”

“Like what?” she scrunched up her face and tossed a blanket of cloth into his lap. “I’m not the greatest at stitching things together...yet.”

“Well if you can teach me to read and write, that would be great.”

“But you’re the most sensible one out of the group,” Eudoxia and Rhys took a quick liking to each other. She quickly scuttled on her shins towards the timid boy and held him by the wrists. Her rather low and sullen voice perked up for the moment and shocked him even more with the enthusiasm. “It would be an honor to teach the first decent peasant outside the walls how to read and write. It’s blasphemy, I know. Royalty and commonfolk affairs do not intermingle.”

Frank and Jackie walked into the dining room and both gave the two kids the strangest look.

“We ain’t gonna be takin’ care of no baby. Both y’all need to be on separate sides of any room at all times.” Frank shook his fingers at the princess and the bio-android. “And girlie, we ain’t no peasants. We can read and write.”

Jackie averted her eyes at Frank’s last statement. The eyes drifted towards the pots and pans.

“I didn’t know that the folk could get an education outside the palace walls,” Eudoxia snidely remarked. “If that’s the case, why haven’t you taught Rhys?”

It was true. Frank never realized that Rhys was illiterate. He simply concerned himself with keeping the boy alive and out of harm’s way. Never did Frank address Rhys’ desires nor needs. Stumped, he bit his bottom lip and skirted around the topic. Looking at the two piles behind Eudoxia and Rhys, he huffed. [i Entitled.]

“Got everything?”

Snarky, just the way Frank despised. “Everything that matters.”

“Where to?” Jackie asked.

Somehow serving the princess was dirtier money than the normal. She had not liked the feeling for it, not one bit. At any moment, she’d expect furious and bloodied nose Hollis Westlands with his flunkies to burst through the doors. The tapping of the feet brought attention to the gruff outlaw and the avant garde princess.

“Sudra.” Pulling herself to her feet, the princess whipped out a map from the pile of cloths and handed it Jackie. The pilot perked up and shifted her eyes in excitement.

Examining the parchment on the wooden table and unable to decipher it, Jackie scratched her forehead and gave Frank a grim look. The typography caught her off guard with all its elusive swirls. She had seen words before but never in such an ornate manner. She stupidly asked, “What’s this?”

“It’s a map, you door licker. It tells you where towns and mountains, rivers and lakes are. I’m taking a guess that you people aren’t from the brightest part of the Blue,” Eudoxia haughtily scoffed and tossed back her black curls. She heavily distorted the idea of working with Anchovi was on par with ruling over an otherwise unruly and dying empire.

“We ain’t from Blue, girlie. We’re from Guten Nocht.” The thought of slapping the prideful princess in the face came to mind. Surely her guards nor the royal prince or queen regent would not have noticed. Frank decided against it because deep in the back of his mind he was paranoid that the princess would savagely eradicate in the end. A monster in a dress he thought. Eudoxia was nothing but a prim monster in disguise.

“You guys are just as slow as the farmers. Bet you guys did a whole lot of nothing up there except munch on sticks and mud.”

“Sure.”

Jackie was tired of the trash talking and quietly removed herself from the situation. If the princess demanded Sudra, the princess would have it in a blink. Eudoxia had the money. At that very moment, money was the only thing on Jackie’s mind. Dropping the sour princess off at the feet of Harvey Lansit was a reward in itself. Jackie took the map with her to the cockpit where she closely examined the crusty paper for a while. She sighed and pushed her chair away from the console. She could pilot an airship and fight her way through the streets, yet something as simple as this bothered her.

Matters turned for the worse for Jackie. Instead of seeing grumpy Frank or even the mousey Rhys step through the hatch, Eudoxia strided in with a boisterous aura. She asserted her confidence in her step and swerved towards the main console. With a rather lecherous scowl, Eudoxia swooped the map and loudly plopped in the co-pilot’s seat. She examined the map herself. The room sat in silence for a few minutes without a single utterance made. The thick tension kept them on the opposite sides of the cockpit. Jackie refused to move from her chair in fear that the teenager would steal it from her. Even the thought of lifting a finger could set the royal brat into motion.

“Look, I know that you don’t trust me,” Eudoxia started off, “but we need to at least to work together in order to get what we want. Now I know more than ever that you guys are thieves just like the rest of Llamarr, but you guys have a lot more than the rest of the litter. You guys have five hundred thousand sterces on board with you. Sure, you can kill me right now, I don’t blame you.”

Jackie whipped her head to face Eudoxia. The young lady sealed the loud aura and showed a rather reserved side.

“But you won’t do that. I know this because you’re not murderers. Get me to Harvey and half of my fortune in yours. That’s worth more than the ship and then some. Granted, Harvey also owes you. Dulon and Rozlibet Lansit are rather keen on paying their off their family debts. So as long as you do what you’re supposed to do, you’re gonna benefit from this. And don’t worry, the princess is going to pull her own weight. Believe me.”

Eudoxia winked. Jackie started the ship off and in minutes the Fighter was leaving the continent of Varsyl for good. Anchovi had spent too much time in a country that was indifferent towards them and may have only made a few friends in the process in exchange for chickens and a little bit of Frank’s time. Mere minutes into the air and the rest of the team felt the weight of the Blue lifted from their shoulders. There was nobody in the skies to enforce rules. Wherever Sudra may be, Jackie had such a pleasant feeling about the promised land that she smiled out of the blue.

Hours passed without seeing any large body of land below. The Blue was dotted with isles, all supposedly claimed by the waning Varsylian empire, yet Eudoxia was not quite sure who or what lived on those small islands. Of course, none of that concerned her or the prince. The blissful ignorance spewed from the princess’ mouth as she bantered about the peasants and all the Mezze peoples causing a ruckus back in the capital. Apparently there were certain customs that “their” people did not follow, but in reality the merchants were too busy to adhere to such archaic Varsylian standards.

Entertaining the crew, Eudoxia babbled about the misdeeds of the everyone else in Varsylgard, no one was spared. She once cruelly jailed a woman for clashing colors and a pack of children were sent to a detention center for observing the Maker in her pathway. Unamused, Jackie and Frank deferred to their own little group and clandestinely berated the silly girl. Rhys and even Duster listened with open ears, yet the latter dismissed it all as rubbish. As the horrible truths of the crown came out, Anchovi’s arrival in Sudra was sooner than expected.

A gargantuan grin ran across Jackie’s tanned face and her eyes fired up more determined than ever. As the fierce Fighter slowed down and prepared to land itself, the princess halted her tales of terror and jumped out of her seat.

“What? No, we need to go to Densch. That’s where we’ll find Harvey. This is not Densch!”

“Harvey can wait.” Jackie smirked and cautiously lowered the Fighter onto the beachfront. The legs and bottom of the sleek ship touched base with the soft Sudra sands and the boys flew out of the cockpit in excitement. Jackie turned to the defeated Eudoxia and remarked, “When you first mentioned Sudra, I knew that we had to come here. I was told that this place exists. Stories were told to me about the Vodhi Temple.”

“We’re not here for sightseeing,” Eudoxia huffed and crossed her arms. “Remember what I said about working together? This is not working together.”

“Live in the moment, princess. We need to stretch our legs anyways. We’ve been cooped up in the ship for quite some time.”

“You suck. Literally.”

Jackie made her way through the ship in victory. The sound of Frank shuffling from room to room and crashing into chairs and pots and pans rang like music to her ears. Rhys ran around the ship gathering supplies and jackets for everyone. The patient Lucavi carried himself towards the cargo holding area and opened the back door as soon as everyone else clustered around. Pressing the button, the hatch opened to an entirely unfamiliar world. The lukewarm sand was squashed between the rock cliffs and foamy Blue. The Fighter was the only ship parked in the area enshrouded in a dense mist, but the mysticism behind Sudra was absolute and concrete.

Gravitating towards the rocky cliffs that hovered over his head, Frank yelled at Rhys. “Don’t go into the water! You’ll get swept up or some shit will eat ya. I ain’t savin’ ya!”

“C’mon guys. We’ve got a long way up.” Jackie started the trek and made her way to the steps carved into the black stone. She had dreamed of this moment and searched for the truth behind all the stories read to her as a young girl.

While Anchovi hiked the stairs, Eudoxia, still dressed in her navy garb, trailed not too far behind. She abhorred the hike and despised Jackie Simms the pilot for going against the original plan. Sour, Eudoxia wanted to headbutt the person directly in front of her, Frank, off the side of the stairs and back into the sand. No one but Rhys, who was obstructed by the gaunt Frank, had shown her complete kindness. Life seemed unfair, that everyone else was out to get her and she would never reach her goals.

The crew reached the top of the tall stairs and were amazed at the mesa. Mountains steeped far into the heavens and stretched across the horizon. Snow! Frank shuddered at the brisk and wet weather. Patches of snow amassed in piles and Rhys testified that the frozen teardrops were falling from the sky. Mosses of all shades of green dotted the dirt land and even coveted the large slabs of stone. A few wooden huts hugged the base of mountain and there were stairs on all fronts that lead to different paths. Sudra took everyone by surprise to say the least. Anchovi already knew that this was going to be better than Varsyl.

“Remember Ms. Callahan, Frank? She’s the one that lead me to search for this place.” Jackie lead the crew around the vicinity before she ultimately decided to take one of the trails leading into the snowy mountains. Frank and Eudoxia continued their struggle for a few more minutes before both mutually and tacitly deciding to stop in place. The leader of the band continued, “There’s a legend about a wandering soul who traveled across the Blue in search of truth. Not the truths of this world, but something a little, what’s the word, somatic. After the decimation of her family from across the seas--Ms. Callahan wasn’t sure where she was from exactly--she found more than the inner-peace she sought. She co-founded a path of life. Anyways, the stories I’ve heard mentioned that she traveled the seas, yet most of the texts have been long erased describing the entire journey. Sudra is the only remnant of that epic. I have to see the Vodhi carved from the mountainside. If they exist, then this story must be true, right?”

“The what?” Frank scratched his head as they scaled the mountains at lofty pace. The sweat beaded on his forehead and the breaths lived shortly. The cold air thinned and the flurries graced his ruddy face.

“We don’t have time for sightseeing,” Eudoxia growled to herself. She gritted her teeth in retaliation and desperately wanted to leave for elsewhere, anywhere.

“Vodhi is the Sudranese equivalent of the Maker.”

Hopping over a few boulders, Jackie pulled the likes of Rhys, Frank, and even Eudoxia through the tight spaces. The slick rock and the dripping cliffs surrounded the traveling troupe for long stretches. The wintergreen wore a thin layer of frost and grew mighty and tall along the path. The path was kept clear, but by whom team Anchovi would never know. The sculptors continued their masterful steps far into chilly mountain range. The mountain movers cut deep into the sable earth and wound around the solitudinous nature. Everything seemed at peace like the wandering traveler Jackie Simms so admired.

Half an hour had gone by before the ornate onyx decor budded from vermillion wooden posts and the earthen roofs constructed into the mountainside. Duster and Jackie seemed unphased by the temperature lowering while the other half struggled to keep their toes and fingers intact. The leader of the expedition gave the princess her jacket and pushed the caravan's limits. The deeper they went, the more the scene evolved. Ropes and poles held up flags of all sizes and curvaceous lanterns lit along the path.

Eager, Jackie picked up the pace, and before she realized what was happening she was running. The others who panted from the lack of water and air trailed behind in a slow jog. Despite not being in the best of shape, Frank was the one who was keeping up with Rhys, then Duster, and finally poor princess Eudoxia slugging behind. The elevation for the most part did not affect the people from Guten Nocht. Eudoxia gave up on a fit and threw herself back onto the ground. It was only around the corner when Rhys realized that she disappeared and as a result went back to retrieve her.

Frank and Duster eventually met up with Jackie towards the end of the slippery winding path where she stood flabbergasted. In the midst of the moment, the snow flurries died out to the grand flames flanking the mountainside shrine of Vodhi, the Sudranese deity. Crafted from the most flawless piece of stone, Vodhi sat at least thirty feet tall with the apex of his head and sharp shapely ears pointing to the sky. The stoic face which glowed from the mystical fires shot reverence into Jackie Simms’ breast and ignited a flame in her heart. Vodhi’s majestic arms, all eight of them, matched in pairs to craft such intricate hand gestures.

“This was apart of your mind, Jackie. Albeit inaccurate, yet the essence was captured.”

Duster’s noise faded into a gargled echo while Vodhi entranced Jackie. She stared at him with great admiration and his ominous scowl seeped the cosmic knowledge into her head.

[i Those who seek Truth may find the path soiled.]
  HEAD ES DOODLE PETSUCHOS / Finnigan / 5y 67d 22h 47m 59s
[size16 #Eudoxia#]

“I like to think it’s my finest work.” Frank cheekishly grinned at Jackie and stepped away from the unconscious thief who sat before them. He thought his knots were the best that anyone had seen in Last and swore to the town that not one of his chickens had ever escaped his nooses. In all honesty, the hasty knotwork was not his best.

Jackie slightly chuckled after she sighed and playfully remarked, “Hey, you finally brought use to the crew.”

“Shaddap.”

Jackie placed her hand on Frank’s shoulder and looked him in the eyes. Until today, she had no doubt that the thief in the navy garb and the outrageously gaudy accents were Hollis Westlands. It could all be over in a second with one firm pull of the hood. The mystery was unsolved, but both hesitated on the reveal.

“Who do you think it is?”

“Well it ain’t Hollis. Heh, at least you squared things out.”

Jackie sighed once more before sitting in a chair at the dining table. Frank laughed a bit, revelling in the stray faced fusilier’s utter punishment. Granted, the thought of plugging a bullet into Hollis’ foot or knee cap brought a rather sinister wave to his mug. A rematch was already in talks. Who was the better gunner? Frank placed his bets on himself. A stir in the unconscious body interrupted the idle daydreaming. The thief began to move his legs, and subtle jerks of the body appeared as if he was trying to slip away from the affixed pole.

“Hm?” Frank pulled out his gun and cocked the hammer as if the thief could do anymore harm.

Standing up and making her way next to Frank, Jackie watched as the vagrant opened his sharp olive eyes. The bound thief wriggled a bit before realizing the extent of the situation. The soft grunts and groans escaped the body, and Frank assisted with the excessive nudging with his feet. He pestered the awakened and sore soul until the defeated prisoner lashed out with wily lower limbs and deep huffs.

“You guys are complete assholes. You didn’t have to punch me in the gut so hard.”

Frank pointed and taunted. His inner child broke out in the moment. “You deserved it, you swindler.”

“Do me a favor. Kill yourself.” The thief wiggled a little more. The sharp tongue surprised everyone, but the voice was rather off keen to Jackie. It had lost some of its bass in favor of a lighter tone, but nevertheless it was a tad bit too gloomy.

“Hey, that’s not nice.” The incorrigible childish fiend named Frank Dietz nudged his prisoner with his feet again and stuck out his tongue. He acted rather sour like the apples the thief stole from him. A tart fool.

“Can’t say I was brought up to be nice. But really, do me a favor and take off this mask. I’m a hot sticky pudding mess.” Such sass rose from the masked voice. It was a surprise to the crew Anchovi that he managed stay alive in such a rough neighborhood. No one had a sense of humor around the grey city Llamarr and it seemed as if normal everyday words were ignominious jeers and threats. It was the same way for the most part in the remaining towns of Guten Nocht. The thief was lucky he had so many places to hide in the merchant town, because he would not last a couple of days in such an arid empty village such as Last.

“Hmph. Fine.”

Jackie leaned down to remove the mask, but the figure was struggling too much for her comfort. She backed away slightly and held out her index finger as a warning. If their prisoner tried anything remotely dangerous, Jackie let everyone know that she’d punch a hole through his face without verbal warning. She tried playing the better person out of her and Frank, but like everyone else, rash and spontaneous decisions made her uneasy. The thief from there understood and quitted moving for one moment. Copious amounts of sweat drenched the finely stitched mask. The thief must have been suffering the entire time.

Without anymore delay, Jackie snatched the thief’s mask off the head and revealed more than what anyone on the Fighter imagined. From the constrained space of the mask, a mountain of springy black curls poured forth and obscured the face. Whipping the hair around and squirming just a bit more moved the voluminous waves. Mouths dropped. The well shaped thick black eyebrows framed the sharp olive colored eyes. The slender ridged nose pointed out like an arrow and the full lips filled up her angelic face. She was a beauty beyond belief.

“Well this was out of the Blue.” Suspended by belief, Jackie stood above the prisoner speechless. She did not belong to this town at all with all the rough and wild men. Such a beauty could only be imported through illegal means. No sane woman dared to set foot in Llamarr.

“You’re a girl?” Frank was relieved by the fresh face. From the first time they met, the attraction he had confused him. The bandit made him secretly question his sexuality.

“Yeah, I’d hope you’d take my word, but, well, you’re probably a crazy pervert, murderer, and pedophile like the rest of them.” She was no older than eighteen; she was still maturing into adulthood. How she lived on the streets as a thief was nothing short of a few miracles. Or at least that’s what Jackie and Frank perceived it as. Indeed, the young woman feared for her preservation. She only had to kill a few men to remain pure, and that was because she was forced into small corners. The first few days out in Llamarr were the hardest, she would admit. “I’ve made it this far. I should have known my luck would run out eventually.”

“Whoa, whoa, whoa! What the heck are you talkin’ ‘bout? Ain’t no one gonna touch you. We just wanna know why you’re doin’ all this shits. Ain’t no rapin’ happenin’.” He held out his hands and reassured her that he was not interested. Frank started to sympathize with her. She was clearly alone on the streets for some time.

Whipping hair out her face again, the struggling teenager looked up to her captors and sternly stared back.

“Survive. All I’m looking to do is make it to the next day.”

Just as soon as he started to feel sorry for her, the hypocrite rudely remarked, “Then git a job. Thiefin’ ain’t gonna get ya nowhere girlie.”

“Frankie, she’s just a girl.” Jackie pulled him to the side and shook her head. In a lot of ways, and Jackie could tell this within the first few minutes of the big reveal, the female vagrant experienced the streets like she did. Settling Frank down, Jackie tried to reason, “She doesn’t have that many options in this town. And who are we to judge? Don’t you know who we are and who we ran with? What we did?”

“Ah, the thief. Came back for that rain check?”

Unexpectedly, the white coated Lucavi Duster entered through a door. The curly haired girl was speechless and scooched up tightly to the pole. Never in her entire life did she ever lay witness to a man white as snow with eyes green as spring. Mystified yet all at the same time familiar with the voice and person, the thief kept her mouth shut. She managed to run into all the wrong people within the past few weeks and they were all somehow related to each other.

“What are you?” she mumbled.

“You won’t have the pleasure of knowing that. Frank, Jackie, release her.”

“What?” Frank was just as speechless and clueless as the teenager.

“It is in your best interest if we release her and immediately leave the approximate area, for she is who Hollis has been tracking down.” Duster returned his gaze to the girl. She was quite crafty, and the entire time she was conscious and able to move, she was working herself out of the rope. He paid no attention to the subtle movements. She was going to get up eventually with or without help because Anchovi was going to let her go willingly. Adding onto his matter-of-factly droning, “Based on what I have gathered, she has been hunting down someone herself.”

“Harvey Lansit,” Jackie pointed out.

“The letter that I’ve recovered from our initial run makes me believe that there was a pre-established relationship between the two.”

“No. Don’t go any further.” Spoken like a real teenager, there was still some innocence within her. She dramatic cried out, “This is social homicide.”

“Well, yes. Fallen for the wrong kind of man. My...acquaintance, your face launched a thousand ships. You’re nothing but trouble, a cloud who cannot be pinned down. I will not ask you for your whole life story, as meaningful and eventful as it might be, but I do require that you at least tell us who you are.” If torturing teenagers was a pastime, his peers would elect Duster as the president of the club. He knew quite well who she was the moment he slashed her down the middle and read her message. “Confess.”

“I refuse!” she jerked forward and cried some more.

“Confess.”

She was at a lost of words. Sinking into her breast and hiding behind the spiraling forest she called hair, she felt helpless. Her identity was her strongest point. Finally, she pulled her head back up and faced the jury. “I am Eudoxia of Dalme, the princess betrothed to the future king of the Holy Empire Varsylgard: Prince Chelon, daughter of the regent queen Helvetia.”

“Yep.” He thought he could not be shocked anymore, but Frank’s jaw dropped further than before. Without making a motion or a face, the astonished and dumbfounded Frank lifelessly muttered to his best friend, “Jackie start up the ship. We’re dumping this like the ‘riff on a Saturday night.”

“You’re all fools.” Eudoxia sadly chuckled, “Don’t you get it, you’re stuck with me.”

“Like hell we are! We’re turning you over to Hollis as soon as he wakes back up.” Jackie was in accordance with her partner. There was no way that she was going to stay on the ship any longer than she had to. She made a move to release teenage Eudoxia from her bonds, but the pugnacious princess flung her feet in the air in defense. Jackie tried swatting the feet away, but Eudoxia emanated quite the aura.

“They’ll kill you. They won’t believe a single word you have to say. Once I’m back into their custody, they’ll execute you by firing squad. I can guarantee that. They’ve probably already accused you of the crime, yes? You’re not an asset anymore once they have me. You’re fish out of water, birds without wings. Dead.”

“Then we’ll leave you,” Jackie tried for another swipe, but Eudoxia flailed vigorously. The pilot feared for her life even more, and sadly there was not much she could do about the princess. Jackie believed that harming her would bring harm tenfold to Anchovi. She retreated.

“I’ll lie. I’ll tell Hollis and Hollis will tell Gallien. Gallien will then tell the prince and my mother all the things you didn’t do. And believe me, I’m convincing. They’ll hunt you down wherever you end up in the Blue. And you’ll die painfully, worse than the first option. It’s the prince we’re speaking about. Cruel, unusual, uncanny, defiant of all basic human rights.” A brat of the highest caliber. She was a demon in disguise. Eudoxia painted the devil’s smirk across her dirt blotched face.

“We gotta kill this bitch.” Frank’s last option. Granted, it was not the best or safest, but it was an option that could be considered. Eudoxia gasped in disgust and teenage angst.

“Huh?” At that moment, Rhys stood at the side hatch and heard Frank’s line. Confused and befuddled by the young woman sitting before him, he walked in and stopped between the two parties. Unamused, he glared at Frank.

“Oh look, my hero.” Eudoxia remembered the young boy from their first encounter and thought he was quite the charmer. Naive, but a charmer. She owed him one, she supposed.

Giving Rhys a thumbs up, Frank somehow managed to turn his downtrodden glare into a positive signal.

“Rhys, gonna have to help clean up. Find some cinderblocks and some rope.”

“Wait, what?” the prisoner belched out. Frank's barbaric methods disgusted her. Eudoxia squirmed and scrunched up her face in utter disbelief.

“You’re taking a perma-plunge.”

“This is insane!” Rhys exclaimed. He had known her for a few minutes, yet he assessed the situation as best as he could. The rest of Anchovi was making mistake.

“What, what?” Eudoxia was surprised with Rhys’ reaction. Maybe there was someone on this ship that was a decent human being. Her heart was beating fast now, and the crazy people on the ship stared her down.

“You can’t kill her!”

Stamping his feet around, Frank pointed into Rhys’ face. The guts in the boy compelled him to push away his finger.

“Rhys, you don’t even know her! She’s a thief!”

Jackie attempted to convince her younger brother.

“And the princess!”

“Thief, princess, whoever. She hasn’t done any wrong!”

“We’re gonna die with her staying alive.” At this point, Jackie threw off her jacket. If Rhys was not going to help Frank dispose of the princess, she was going to get dirty herself. Such thuggish ways of disposing a body really never interested her. Frank and some of the members of their old gang were perfectly fine with cruel methods.

“If I may interject, I believe that all this can be solved,” Eudoxia politely spoke up.

“How?” both Frank and Jackie asked.

“Money, my dynamic pair of numbnuts. If there’s anything that speaks to people like you, it’s coin.” The condescending tone was enough for Jackie to solo the dive job, but the furiously frustrated pilot restrained and allowed Eudoxia to deign. “Harvey probably left the continent without thinking twice, but he did not pay you for your last job. I’ll double what he promised you as long as you meet my conditions. Don’t worry, I don’t have too many.”

“She’s taking us for a ride! If she had all this money, then why was she stealing in the first place? She could have bought all her food herself. Swindler!”

Frank was ready to throw her out. Jackie’s nose twitched and Duster prepped one of his orbs. The tensions ran high in the Fighter and no one was seemingly willing to cool down. Rhys remained in the middle and slowly backed into the princess’s reach. Adamant, he was going to protect as best as he could which was namely just standing in their way.

“It’s hard for a girl to live in this worldly town. There’s only one man who I’m devoted to, and I’m not going to let some fishy fuck grope me before my bedding.” the princess Eudoxia immediately took the risk once she untied the last knot Frank forgot to finish. Swiping Rhys from underneath, she pulled out a knife red hot and put it to his throat. Somehow she managed to pull him and herself back to their feet and faced the rest the furious and armed crew. They weren't as fast as she was and they weren't going to make any more sudden movements. Audacious Eudoxia smirked. “Now, I’m gonna need your complete cooperation or--what’s your name?”

“Rhys.” Rhys was unphased by her threats. He feared for his life in the slightest, but he was not going to give up on her yet. The rest of Anchovi put her in rather terrifying position, and he was going to aid her until the very end. Eudoxia was still redeemable; she fought for herself for so long now. He felt her heart racing through her rough embrace and borderline singeing of her knife.

“Or Rhys here is gonna paint the dining room red.”

A revolver stood from the other side of the room. Frank was most certain that he could plug one right between the eyes and call it a day, but Rhys did not allow that behavior.

“Frank, lower the gun.” Speaking to Eudoxia, Rhys started off with, “Now…”

“Eudoxia, princess of blah, blah…” she badly imitated herself and the endless amount of titles that came with her life.

“Eudoxia, I believe that we can settle to an agreement, but holding threats over their heads will not get what you want. If I die here in your hands, by your hands, you die. None of us will get anywhere. I’m at your mercy, and I want you to know, and them especially, that you have my word: no harm will come to you while you’re on this ship. I will protect you.” He nodded and she slightly pulled away the violently burning blade from his neck. “Let’s agree on one thing though.”

“Go on.”

“This town sucks,” Rhys threw in some humor and surprisingly it worked in favor of everyone.

Jackie nodded in agreement. “Yeah, he’s right.”

“Fuck Llamarr,” muttered gruff Frank. He more than anyone else loathed the awful weather and the borderline slave drivers. He was tired of the indentured servitude and endless days of depression. It reminded him of home, except for the girlfriend and the dry weather.

“Let’s get out of here. You have the money, we have the ship. Both sides win. No one has to get hurt.”

The weight of the world lifted off her shoulders and Eudoxia freed Rhys from knifepoint. The young boy turned around and smiled. Years had passed since the last time she’s seen a sincere face. Immediately she lit up and returned the favor with a serene smile. Rhys then turned around to face the disgruntled side of the ship.

“Rhys, you can’t be serious. She just had a knife to your neck,” Jackie tried to reason with him, but she knew that he made up his mind. She stepped back in defeat once more and looked the other way. Jackie was none too pleased.

Frank huffed, “This girl is a deathwish.”

“She’s one of us, an outcast. We don’t belong to Varsyl. None of us.”

“For a kid that don’t know nothin’, yer smart.”

“You don’t need to be smart to have compassion,” Eudoxia spoke up and defended Rhys right away.

“Hey, you watch it, girlie,” Frank rolled his eyes and huffed even more. Defeated at every end. He was looking for his next big break. He tired from losing arguments and fights, the countless amount of hours of work for nothing, the weather even. He sought a remedy towards all of it.

“I may take a liking to the princess. At least she will keep Frank on his feet,” cracked Duster who followed Jackie and Frank to the cockpit. Though he strongly advised against Eudoxia, Duster had to let her on the ship. Behind Rhys, Duster was the second person they had to think about, for he was the strangest of them all. They were not sure what the Blue would do to him or the rest of the Lucavi. Without his protectors, Duster’s fate would remain a mystery.

“Alright. let’s go.”

Young Rhys smiled once more and led Eudoxia by hand to the front of the ship. She did not know what to make of all of it except that they were forced into an otherwise less favorable situation. While the only companion who enjoyed her company yearned for knowledge, she selfishly searched the vast Blue for unrequited love.

[i 'Harvey Lansit, you're mine.']
  HEAD ES DOODLE PETSUCHOS / Finnigan / 5y 91d 18h 54m 42s
[size16 #Between Two Mysteries#]

Duster, Frank, and Jackie sat around the table for mid morning breakfast. Frank scratched his head and wondered where Rhys had gone off this time, especially on muffin Mondays. Rhys loved muffin Mondays. Though Frank was not as a good cook as he thought he was, his crew managed to survive throughout his gourmand escapades. Jackie sat with her arms folded and Duster continued to analyze all the letters. Between reading the awful joke book and studying penmanship, the Lucavi kept himself busy. His obsession kept him from giving back Jackie’s heartfelt notes.

“This note and Harvey’s share very little in handwriting.” Duster held up the thief’s note and Harvey’s get-well card in the same hand. He went through the three notes--Harvey’s, Hollis’, and the mysterious man’s--a myriad of times with each intention growing stronger. He followed each loop, each strike, each dotting of the “i”. “Also, it would make little sense as to why Harvey would be outside and looking towards his own ship. As for the thief being Hollis. A slim chance. While the soldier has exquisite handwriting, it’s not as florid as this letter nor Frank’s. It has a masculine attribute to it.”

“How’d you figure my handwriting, Dusty?” huffed Frank.

“Just a wild guess,” Duster shrugged. Sleuthing, among his other hobbies, frightened the other two. They held Duster in such high regard because he was aloof and cold like the old automatons stored in the sheriff’s junk shed.

“But the headband, Hollis had the thief’s headband. I know it’s him!” Jackie sighed. She needed to justify her reasoning because she wanted to run into Hollis again and pummel him to his grave.

“There are too many variables to consider when it comes to the headband. When you wafted the letter, did it smell like Hollis?”

“No, but-”

“The letter had the aroma of the thief, so if Hollis does not smell like the letter, then the thief is not Hollis. Simple.”

“That letter was to lure Harvey though, you even said so!”

“Perhaps it is a trap for Harvey, but we are not certain on who is setting it up.”

“It’s our job then to help him before something wrong happens.”

“Guy’s a dickhole.” Frank munched on the muffin vigorously before he guzzled down a glass of milk. After finding out what cranberries were, he immediately went out to the nearest vendor who had them and bought some. They weren’t as tasty as banana nut muffins, but the cranberry apple muffins sufficed.

Jackie put down the muffin before she bit into and cried out, “But he’s rich, Frankie!”

“Beltram shipyard. That’s where you’ll find the Magnuze, but stick to the better parts of town, specifically Lenth’s.”

Lenth’s bar was part of the upper crust street of Llamarr. If they were going to find the most pompous and patronizing fellow in the entire town, Lenth’s was the best bet. No one of Anchovi pinned Duster to be as adventurous as he was. The first few months in the Blue demonstrated his fear for the outer world, and for some unexplained reason, Duster embraced it with open arms in the grimy streets of Llamarr.

“Howdya know all this?”

“Most men follow patterns.” As Jackie and Frank got up from the wooden chairs to chase down Harvey Lansit, Duster halted them for one moment. “Frank.”

“What?”

Duster asked, “Why cannot you trust atoms?”

“Uh..err, what? Why?”

“Because they make up everything.”

Frank and Jackie annoyingly stared at Duster, but not out of disgust but of ignorance. The handful of teachers Last had never taught them of atoms or what they did. A waste of time, but for the most part Duster’s intellect flew over both their heads often. Maybe Rhys would have gotten the joke if he was around.

Jackie and Frank went to the heart of Llamarr and headed for Lenth’s bar. The drizzle had died out on their way, but the chilly morning remained indefinitely. The sun refused to peek through the dense grey clouds as usual, and the soaked stone roads carried small puddles as a result. The streets surrounding Lenth’s carried an empty aura to them, namely because no one could afford such frivolous foodstuffs and debauchery. No one drank the expensive red wines nor dined on fancy herbed chickens. The masses preferred liters of beer and the fattest parts of a swine. Why spend so much for so little when one could binge eat and drink all they want on water and fat? At least that’s what the richest man in Llamarr would argue.

By coincidence, Frank and Jackie ran into the merchant just as he was exiting the restaurant. Today, Harvey decided to ditch the long cloak in favor of simplicity. Dressed in a black suit with matching pants, the businessman marched down the street until he recognized Jackie’s fat cheeks. With great benevolence masked by the indomitable arrogance in his lingering voice, Harvey called out.

“Patty! It’s great to see that you’re on your hooves so soon.”

He could call her anything just as long as she could keep him around as a friend. After all, Harvey’s carefree yet generous attitude with money kept her from working. If she had to, she’d adopt a sycophant to teach her his dastardly ways. Jokes aside, Jackie truly thought Harvey was incapable of being entirely malicious with his words. It had to be part of his his culture surely.

“We have somethin’ that might be of some importance,” Frank nodded.

Familiar with the face, but not recalling where he had seen Frank, Harvey pulled back a little and squinted. He scratched the inside of his ear and rubbed his head. Frank knew who he was when he came strolling inside the Fighter. To say the least, the merchant was not too happy with the ship and its choices of interior design. When he brought his henchmen and the flowers around for Jackie, he was quite critical and almost took pity on the crew. Frank swore he was going to have an emotional breakdown in front of an unconscious Jackie, but Frank nagged that he did not want to wash her sheets of Harvey’s dripping snot and tears.

“Hm? Who’s this again?”

“Frank.”

“You’re no Francolian, and believe me, I’ve seen Francolians. They’re excellent craftsmen. Too bad no one in this damn town has a sense for good furniture. Heck, if Francol and Varsyl did not agree to form such tight bonds, this continent would have suffered.” Harvey went on and on about upholstery and the glorious nation of Francol. Paisley, chevron, orinthian. All these words tossed out, yet no one of the audience grasped his foreign language. It must have been something superfluous because his white as snow eyebrows were bobbing vigorously throughout his unnamed soliloquy. He droned until the little men in blue suits came walking down the streets. “Well damn.”

“Harvey P. Lansit, we’ve got the warrant for your arrest! You’re ordered by the capital to show up before Prince Chelon and the reagent queen Helvetia.” It was Hollis again at the forefront, yelling until the birds came flying out of the alleyways. How convenient.

“I’ll double your last paycheck,” Harvey mentioned to Jackie who seemingly readied herself for the next bout.

“Oh, don’t worry, I’ll gladly accept.” She was bested last time by her ex-lover Hollis Westlands. The thought of him of all men besting her drove her insane. She had gotten better from the last time, but she was explicitly told by Duster not to move around so much. Well, she never listened much in the first place and had kept up her training regimen a secret.

“And you, Weenie?” the merchant asked Jackie’s friend.

“Me? Heh, I was lookin’ to quit my old job. With this money, we ain’t gotta work for quite some time.” Frank was taken back but quickly forgave him. After all, money spoke to these kinds of people. Coin chasers. The downtrodden. The so-called “working class.”

Hollis’ vanguard was not pulling back with the threats either. The muskets lined up side by side and aimed for the trio of besmirched thieves and merchants. Westlands had more than his pride on the line as well. Tasked on finding this mysterious missing person, he had to prove to his prince that the job could be done. Harvey of the Lansit family was not immune to the empire’s grasp, yet he constantly eluded the authorities at every encounter. Hollis told his men to wait for his next orders, and even from afar, Frank heard that he was the only target that could die.

“Alright, let’s not make a mess. No casualties!” Jackie nodded as she moved Harvey into an alley. This was her long awaited redemption.

“I ain’t no kid, Jackie. I’m the best potshot Last ever seen,” Frank remarked and pulled out his revolver. For some reason, he knew that he was not going to be able to leave the ship without bringing his gun, that somewhere out there trouble was waiting for him. Taken back by Hollis’ heartless commands and the furrowing brows the riflemen, Frank had every intention on making them suffer.

“Hollis is mine. Just give me an opening and I’ll take ‘em all out!”

Frank rolled across the street and into the adjacent alleyway just as Hollis signaled for a line of fire. One by one, the sharp crackling rifles set off and trailed down the remote street. Across from Frank’s line of sight, Jackie held Harvey back by the chest as she constantly awaited for her chance to strike. The merchant, unphased by the violence, mumbled obscenities throughout the firing squads empty threats. They had no intentions on killing him right here. The prince and his wicked stepmother would have to bring themselves to Llamarr if they wanted incarceration. Of course, Jackie purposefully cupped her hand over his mouth. He blatantly struggled with silence.

The gaunt man with the rolling revolver took cover behind a large wooden crate where he peeked his head. Nine men, eight of them armed with rifles ready to tear through him. They probably enjoyed the thoughts of bullets tearing through his flesh. They have not had luck thus far on their journey, so why starve the bloodlust any longer. The bullets whizzed around the crate’s corner and the men stepped forward without haste, yet Frank refused to let them take too many steps at a time. Time and money were all the motivation he needed to step out of hiding and fire indiscriminately into the blue crowd. The first round of bullets surprisingly found their targets, each of them digging into a foot or a hand.

The men shot dropped their weapons and fell back in such excruciating pain. Frank’s aim, breath, and accuracy was unparalleled for the most part, and his reload time was impeccable. The bullet cases rained on his boots as the next wave of bullets rapidly found themselves housed in their chamber. Cocking the hammer back, Frank pinned down the remaining men standing except for Hollis and then doubled up. At this point, Hollis pulled out a pistol of his own and fired relentlessly in Frank’s location. The grave attitude bloomed from the often awkward and ugly mustached man, but he refused to go down like the rest of them. He had to upload the law just like his ancestors did, at any cost.

At the same moment, both of the men with pistols finished reloading their guns and personally met the end of the barrel. Beneath the facial hair, Hollis’ face twitched with annoyance. He sought Frank as nothing more than a troublemaker, someone who could not resist the urge to break all the laws and establishments. He could risk it and send the man with the rust colored hair to an early grave but that would be doing Frank a favor. Though he never had any problems with Frank in the past, Hollis suffered from the warped illusion of justice. Without a doubt, Hollis’ ambition drove him to take dire measures.

The swift action of Jackie Simms saved her friend’s life. Without being noticed by either party, the bulky martial artist kicked the gun out of Hollis’ hand and flew onto a nearby roof. Frank pulled back and the fusilier's rage whipped him to face Jackie for the upteenth time. He tried throwing a punch, but the agile duke of combat tossed him over her broad shoulders without a problem. Their undisputable anger matched each other for a succinct moment before Hollis tried reasoning with the straddling Jackie.

“Jackie, huh-ooff!” He knew deep down he deserved each hit. “I didn’t mean to-ooff! Shoot you. I need--ooff! Dammit, I’m trying to apologize, you bastard! Harvey is dangerous!”

Despite all her hits, though he was sure that she was holding back, Hollis managed to fight back and wrestling with her for a while until he ended up on top once more. Frank and Harvey both stepped forward as if they were going to intervene in their serious moment, but pride was too important for Jackie right now.

“I was not going to kill you. I just needed you out of my way.”

Enthralled, Jackie ended the struggle with one good crack to Hollis’ porcelain face. He laid there out cold, and she stood victorious over his body. The smile briefly lasted as another unexpected and terrifying guest stepped into the arena.

“Impossible,” Jackie uttered. She dropped to her knees which also happened to drop into Hollis’ stomach and groin. She could not believe her own eyes.

Frank was just as taken back as Jackie was. Baffled, the two stood there speechless, each trying to find the words to express how ridiculous they felt. Jackie took a good look at Hollis and then back up at the figure dressed in a cool navy garb. She was going to have to apologize to Hollis later for accusing him as the shady thief. Frank readied his gun.

“Harvey Lansit, we have unsettled business.”

“Hey asshole, we have unsettled business. Apple bandit!” hollered Frank. “You owe me some apples.”

“Shut it, dicklips.” The thief with the foul mouth walked through the battlefield littered with Varsylian fusiliers and chuckled lightly behind the muffling mouth mask. “You’re not an easy man to get next to, Harvey. Everyone wants something, but I want something a little more from you. You have something that belongs to me. Take me to it.”

The thief of all people possessed the power to shush the boisterous merchant. Harvey was at a standstill and there was a little more than what he was letting on to his mercenaries.

“The Templar follow me here? I must flee.”

Opening the floor for more questions, Harvey’s shuddering body met up with ice cold glances from all available and conscious figures. The Templar? Unable to keep himself in one spot any further, the nervous man in the fancy black suit avoided the thief at any cost and revealed to have a smoke bomb on hand. His words confused With a sleight of hand, he tossed it to the stone street and evaporated into the dense formation of grey smoke.

The hasty thief ran for Harvey, but was no match for the combined effort of Jackie and Frank’s punch to the solar plexus. He fell to his knees gasping for air, but Frank, who refused to let go of menial vendettas, bopped him unconscious. Confused more than ever on what had just happened, Jackie tossed the covered figure over her shoulders and began her trek back to the fighter. If she and Frank were going to solve the mystery behind the kooky character, they were going to solve it in seclusion. No more helping the rich, no more dealing with Varsylian dogs. From there on, she wafted the scent of apples and cranberries on the walk back home.
  HEAD ES DOODLE PETSUCHOS / Finnigan / 5y 95d 20h 40m 32s
[size16 #Rhyscyclopedia, pt. 2#]

The fire raining from the sky haunted Rhys’ dreams like the so called beginnings of Guten Nocht did months ago. In his nightmares, a torrent of blazing shrapnel fell from the sky and devastated sea and earth alike. The screams echoed through his mind as he envisioned millions of people fleeing in every direction like birds do in the brisk autumn air. These infernal balls lay waste to every parish, metropolis, and continent the Blue had to offer. Stone crumbled. Emblazoned statues of heroes and monsters returned to the land as pools of precious metals. Had Rhys seen what had happened in a previous life or did he foresaw what was coming?

He had to leave the Fighter for the time being. His fleeting nightmares drove him out of bed and into his everyday getup: decent sized boots, ratty slacks, a white t-shirt, and his olive green jacket he coveted. He often took long strolls throughout the town, but troublesome Rhys desired to get his mind off the dangers of his abstract and often vague dreams. He worried that every spectacle he would come across would somehow come back and haunt him in the worst ways. What was it that he feared so much? Then he thought to himself, [i ‘I fear myself the most.’]

Leaving without leaving a notice for Jackie or Frank, the young man rode one of the giant chickens out of the Fighter from the side hatch. The sun had not risen yet, and very few people strolled through the streets at this time. Llamarr was a terrible place to grow up. The merchant town was cramped, the people were constantly on top of each other struggling to breathe. They were drowning in their own filth as they drank away their sorrows and the drizzling weather. The rain would not pick up for another three hours, or that’s what the admonishing auspice on one of the corners told naive Rhys at least. Regardless, the boy paid the begging fortune teller a coin.

The talons beneath Macereau and Rhys thundered on the stone pavement and throughout the streets as the young lad sped through all the usual spots. Fisherman’s wharf. Check. Shady alleyways. Check. Town gates. Check. The speed and revving of the feathered beast reverberated through the speed demon’s body. The blood pumped through his veins with each stride of the gargantuan chicken. Beneath Rhys’ goggles remained a classic smile: tiny yet effective. Despite his outward appearance of being the young and often foolish child of the group, he craved just as much excitement as Jackie or Frank. Racing was his outlet. Fast. Go faster. Run. Run. Run. The fortuitous Macereau, strong in bone and flesh alike, marathoned around the entire city without stopping. He and his jovial master knew no such thing as tiring out.

The youth escaped its fears just as it decided to halt at an unfamiliar shipyard. Ultimately finding himself in an unfamiliar part of town, a part he might have never taken the wrong turn before, Rhys hopped off of the golden bird. Before he decided to go any further onto the ever dimming dock, he looked back to the rest of dreary Llamarr. Old, grey lifeless; the golden boy and his feathered steed desperately needed to escape it somehow. Anchovi needed to leave. Jackie needed to fly out of the grey waters and find a new place. A place with sunshine preferably. A place with wide open spaces and brand new faces.

Varsylgard was only the beginning for his adventures. Rhys had hoped that Frank and Jackie would soon follow suit and decide to leave this Maker-forsaken town. The town of thieves and merchants, both alike in dignity, stunted his well-being. No one was his age. Everyone spat and pissed in the streets side by side with mutts. The narrow alleyways smelt strongly of urine and in the worst neighborhoods, the corners reeked of molding feces. On one side of the bay, the garbage stemmed from the continent itself to form mounds solid enough to walk on. Flies, gnats, fleas, and the rare mosquito did not bother the men of Llamarr. The rats and roaches scurried in the bustling of the city with man. Nothing was sacred.

Audacious Rhys led the chicken through the rotting docks in search of something new. Of course, the young man was going all the wrong places, yet he was determined to find some sort of meaning to an otherwise miserable environment. His gleaming blond hair poked through the dense fog with the chicken’s mane following suit. The masts of many ships poked out as well to great the two with their white sheets folded. [i A place with wide open spaces and brand new faces.] Excited, Rhys continued to sift through the unknown. The boards beneath him squeaked inconsistently.

Once he was satisfied, the boy stopped. Petting the top of Macereau’s thick beak, Rhys hushed down everything to a standstill. The waters, calm as he, plinked. The crickets hiding on ships chirped from various distances. The humidity creeped on Rhys, but the he refused to take off his jacket. He had not realized how muggy the town could get after its long rainy fits. The sun was not even piercing through the cloud coverage either. The swarthiness of Llamarr was nothing short of a living nightmare.

From afar, a man rang a bell and slowly approached Rhys from behind. His footing was rather heavy, assuring the boy and the steed that the man was indeed from this world and not the next. When he showed up, the rest followed. It was the bald fellow with one eye and a few teeth that slowly phased from the dense fog to meet Rhys up close. His tan wrinkly complexion caught the youngster off guard and sent Rhys backwards onto his bottom. Surrounding him, the gangly troupe of fiendish faces made sure their presence was acknowledged. The leader spoke out.

“Wasst dis? A young lath. Speak.”

“...” Speechless, Rhys sat on his butt with Macereau’s reins in his hands.

“Dith I stutter. Speak boy! A youf dothint make his way over yonder widdout an aim.”

“But I did just that. I wandered here,” the boy gulped nervously.

The crew laughed.

“Den lath, what are ye intentions? Make quick or my men will guth yah.”

Without a thought, Rhys blurted out in the midst of their evil eye. “Take me with you!”

“Yeh not able seaman. Mah fishin’ bessel ist no place for passengers. Not in dist weadder.”

Rising to his feet, Rhys brushed himself off. He was not going to take no for an answer. Being the most persistent he has been while he was in the Blue, Rhys spoke up, “I’m not taking no for an answer. Let me learn. I can do it.”

The boy’s response caught the captain by surprise. He did not have a snappy comeback and the rest of his crew stood there in a muggy silence.

“Fine boy, but don’t drag meh crew down. I warn yeh, the storm will wash the weak ofta my ship. Ye sea cunt of a god Belsa out dere, ye one of dem paedophiles. Fucks de youf outtadem.”

Rhys simply nodded without another word to be added. At full disclosure, he mentally geared himself for the worst. After all, there were worse outcomes than death in this world. For example, living in Llamarr for the rest of one’s life. The seamen filed onto the ship, following closely behind the captain. As each of them passed Rhys, they growled with foaming faces and pierced his skin with bug-eyes. Most of them did not fit the status quo of Llamarr or the rest of Varsylgard. Their heights were off by a bit, many on both extremes. Their hair either bounced in curls, both tight and loose, or draped past the shoulders like silky black curtains. Rhys noted that their skins were incapable of glowing in the moonlight as well as the rest of the town.

Rhys was given the rundown of the ship by one of the “friendlier” members of the Dir Matarang. Bow, port, stern, starboard. Rhys pointed to each of the directions. Forward, aft, inward, outward. The eager-eye captain kept the learning boy in the waist of the ship and observed him closely while the rest of his men swung from mizenmast to the foremast and back. Unable to keep himself in one place for long, Rhys broke his stance to get a closer look at all the action. The hard skinned men tugged on ropes made of the toughest twine. The sweat already poured from their faces before the rain had enough time to properly mask it. Before anything could truly sink into Rhys’ head, the main course, topsails, and jibs opened up.

The captain ordered Rhys and a fellow seaman to remove the anchors from the dock. A squirrely fellow hopped overboard and swung from a large rope attached to the shipyard, so the impressionable young man followed the same path. Before jumping, Rhys hesitated and glared at the murky grey waters below. No one really taught him how to swim. He was also confident in thought that Jackie and Frank had no idea as well. Rhys snapped out of the trance quickly, remembering what his main objective was at this point. [i ‘I can’t mess up now. They’ll leave me to drown or just plain leave me behind.’] In contrast to the monkey like movements of the first guy, the pathetic golden hair child shimmied down the rope. His back almost touched the water as he struggled to get up and remove the anchor.

Rhys ran back up the ramp as soon as possible only to meet up with a guffawing captain. He was amused by the Illumina’s efforts, yet his tardiness was inexcusable. The patchy faced bearded captain scratched his top lip in disappointment and ordered the black sheep of the Dir Matarang to help hoist more of the sails up near the bow. The constant rambling of heavy grunts offput Rhys. The utterances reminded him of Elbriz’s squealing pigs. He had no qualms with swine, but he squirmed for a bit getting used to hearing it from human bodies and even joined just to fit in with the rest of the crowd. Rhys joined in a line of a few men tugging away at another sail. Several times he had to release the rope because it was stung his unworked hands. The men jeered, yet they did not discourage him that easily. Mustering the endurance reserved deep in himself, Rhys rapidly returned with more might than before.

Hollering for the boy to take his place nearby, the captain made it his goal to instill knowledge in the docile Rhys or sometimes the captain would explain how a bunch of wily pirates ended in the slump of Varsyl. Many of them were Mezze, the middle people. The middle people were not Krem nor Kaf. The Mezze were the forgotten races, often depicted by their second-rate citizenship, varying complexions, and utterly poor accessibility to magic. The Krem were Varsylians, Francolians, Dalmetites, Kalenes, the fair skinned aristocrats with rare exceptions to the no-magic-in-the-blood rule. The Kaf kept themselves far away in distant lands with many of the known magickers coming from Nu’bai Katar, the last wonder of the Blue. Where the terms originated, no one in the Varsylian empire could answer that question.

The crew of the Dir Matarang rarely ventured into the city because of their skin and often relied on the very few white-skinned men to go into town and gather necessary food and supplies. In fact, they were pushed specifically into this shipyard as a result of a timeless scuffle that tragically claimed the life of one of their young men. The captain, who finally revealed his name to be Jir Nabuk’naan, second owner of Dir Matarang, swore to keep his men alive to reap the scruples of Varsylian coin. The other empires pushed them into Varsylian territory and the countries not associated with Varsyl led less lavish lives. Despite the decline, the Varsylian lifestyle felt the most liberating.

The ship sailed at full speed into the vast Blue. Rhys ran up to the bow where he experienced a mouth full of seafoam and a decent misting. The salty tang embraced him, and the emptiness of the dead sea allured the strange boy. Lands beyond his imagination existed with a plethora of mysteries waiting to be solved. The people, the culture, the language, all of it: Rhys wanted to know more, embrace it all with an open mind.

Drizzling weather slowly rolled in. The ragtag fishermen assumed their positions and searched the rocking waves for the buoys attached to their nets. With long sticks with hooks attached to the end, they fished around until they snagged a buoy and reeled. Another crew member looped a rope through the metal ring while the third called to all available hands on deck. From starboard, Rhys latched onto a rope to aid his fellow men in their latest endeavors. To them, this was not a menial everyday ordeal. Fishing was their life, a passion even. The fishy men took pride in work, their work. They pulled in the mesh inch at a time, with each time revealing more and more fish.

Slowly becoming one with the Dir Matarang and its crew, the young Anchovi took pride in his accomplishment. It was his first time on a boat and away from Varsyl. The splashing of the sea brine in his face and the flopping of helpless fish energized him. Rhys felt more alive than ever. He started to believe it was his calling. Become a fisherman. The baby hands turned raw and pink like uncooked chicken. The child stared into his hands momentarily, but was not phased by the blood. He embraced the pain.

Of course, no fishing trip would be complete without a special surprise waiting at the very end. Towards the end of the fishing net, the men struggled on its last haul. All the fish onboard were accounted for, yet the net had a little more oomph to it. Rhys tugged alongside the crew, and it was not until every abled man on deck lended a hand that the net came onboard. Caught in the net was something a little more worthwhile. It was a mechanical hand entwined in the net. It was as tall as Rhys himself. All five fingers intact with full articulation. The crew stood back while the captain hesitated from getting any closer. Rhys was the only one who actively approached it with interest. The drowned robot hand seemed far too familiar to him as if he had dreamed it up himself.
  HEAD ES DOODLE PETSUCHOS / Finnigan / 5y 98d 20h 27m 19s
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