Seas Beyond Infinity

/ By Finnigan [+Watch]

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[size16 #Fish#]

“Nope!” Frank exclaimed as he crossed his arms.

It had been a long two hours in the dining room with Jackie Simms and Rhys Illumina pushing for him to get out of his chair. The clock struck eight in the morning and the two instigators were ready for their latest adventure. Dressed in their grungiest yet functional outfits they could find around the fighter, Jackie and Rhys both held a slender rod with nylon wiring stringed up on it. In Jackie’s free hand, she waved a plastic cooler in Frank’s face.

“What do you mean ‘nope’?”

Frank scoffed, “Ain’t never trusted big waters. It just ain’t natural.”

“Quite the contrary, Frank. Humans may have originated from the Blue.” Duster entered the room with a satchel worn over a shoulder. Even he looked ready for this trip.

“Nope.” Frank refused. Despite having the day off, he was not accustomed to leaving the ship for any reason.

“You’re being an ass. Just look at Rhys-e-sweets!” As she went to point towards Rhys, she accidently whipped her young friend on the nose with the tip of the fishing pole.

Frank shrugged. [i ‘Fuck the Blue.’] He shook his head with great disappointment and gravely grunted. Once he had made up his mind, there was no changing it. Stalwart like any boulder, he sank into his seat and sternly glared at the rest of the crew. “Y’all can go if you wanna, but imma stay here. Not gonna be any sort of fun.”

Rhys remarked with such enthusiasm, “Even Duster is going!”

Before long, the entire crew of the Anchovi set themselves for one of the many fishing docks in Llamarr. It would have been a shame to stay inside the Fighter on a less gloomy than normal day. Displeased with Rhys’ taunt, Frank Dietz crossed his arms and huffed the entire walk childishly. No one knew why he was so against fishing; Guten Nocht had no dangerous waters to drown in. Unable to cope with his defeat, he demanded that he at least be responsible for lunch and carrying it. No one fought him for the privilege and allowed him to have his wish granted.

A thirty minute walk to the specific dock that Jackie sought out landed them in a quainter area of the town. A few groups of people scattered across the rather large dock and paid no attention to the latest arrivals. Somehow, the foreign crew was allowed to camp out on the ledge with the greatest view. Parking her bottom on the edge of the dock, Jackie smiled towards the rest of the crew and took off her boots. She was going to enjoy her newfangled unemployment. Why would she not take advantage of the money Harvey allocated to his human bulletproof vest?

“I think I might be sick.” Frank complained from a few feet away. One good look at the rolling waves made him sick to his stomach. The culling of the seagulls made him angry. Though it was a nicer day than it had been for weeks, Frank could not stand the cloudy skies. He even thought he would be better back in the capital.

“You wake up to to the sea, what makes a difference?”

Jackie adjusted a few things to Rhys’ fishing pole before they both decided to cast their lines into the sea. The two of them shared a few giggles before temporarily zoning out to the hypnotizing waves of grey Blue. The entire experience felt more real than working in the warehouses and serving in the marketplace. They did not have to speak to each other because they were at peace.

“I never faced it in the mornin’. Looking into a glass of water makes me queasy.” He plopped his bottom on the splintering pier and huffed some more. Speaking to his friends seemed hopeless to him. The malign sea had taken his friends. The salty tang to the mist stole them from him. A cheap temptress no less, Frank turned his back to the sea.

“Thalassophobia.” The cloaked figure next to Rhys spoke out.

Duster had settled on his disguise the moment he first used it and had fun with different clothing options. Though he was able to morph into a human with clothing, he shortly found out through experimentation that it was easier to morph into human without shaping clothing. The first few days in his new skin alerted the rest of the Fighter. A man most nude roamed the corridors. Frank and Rhys alike did not leave their rooms not because of a strange face but because of Duster’s queer mannerisms. No human bobbed their heads back and forth like an owl, and even the most awkward man knew when to stop staring. Frank was so kind enough to donate a few articles of clothing to the bizarre Duster.

Jackie yanked a few times in high hopes of catching a huge sea bass. It was not even noon and she craved a nice hearty dinner. She added on, “This trip is supposed to be relaxing for all of us. If at anytime you get sick, just face inland.”

Frank set the picnic blanket down on the pier and rested his head. Once he closed his eyes, the sound of the waves swishing beneath him did not bother him as much. Frank imagined all the different things he could be doing right now like reading or eating. Well, his list was short and could be done anywhere. He desperately needed the bedroom to feel better. The covers were what he missed the most. Being wrapped up and cocooned from the rest of the world while reading a nice novel was a rather pleasant thought.

As time passed, Jackie decided her spot was unlucky. She did not mention anything to the rest of the crew and skipped to another location on the dock, leaving an intense Rhys reeling away and Duster placidly rummaging through paperboard. Frank was unable to get an adequate amount of sleep so he mustered enough strength to sit between the two. Neither acknowledged his presence, yet Frank kept his mouth shut and gazed into the water before him.

“You know Rhys, life could be worse. We all walk different walks of life, but we learn to understand people are lookin’ for a reason to live. We find meanin’ in stuff. Right now I’m in a rut.”

The sudden and unexpected dialogue snapped the young man out of his trance.

Setting down his pole, the boy who always stopped whatever he was doing to listen replied, “Why’s that, Frank?”

“I ain’t workin’ towards nothin’. It’s not that I hate jobs, but I hate jobs that don’t mean much to me. ‘Til this day, I think gettin’ in the mix of Galhead was a good thing for me. Ya learn a lot about yerself when yer fightin’ for a cause. Our jobs ain’t indicative to our lives unless we make it that way.”

Silence filled the air. No one knew what to say after that. No one pinned Frank as a philosopher, for Frank never saw a reason to have a real conversation with anyone except his crew. He would confide with Jackie, but Duster and Rhys were essentially strangers to him. Though he had no intentions of listening to Rhys’ problems, if he had any in the first place, Frank wanted to throw out his emotions. Sensitive by the Dietz family nature, the twiggy man rubbed his chin and tossed his head back.

“Do you still think of her?” Rhys wondered.

“Of course. Best thing I never had.” Frank tried to remember her face, but the fishy smell of the dock got to his senses.

“She’d like you.”

“You say that as if I ain’t got a clue who she is.”

“But she doesn’t have a clue. You’ve changed.” Rhys insisted on the last part. He laid back and stared into the clouds. In some respects, he felt like Frank. Lost and looking.

“Hm.” Mimicking Rhys, Frank tried to pick out clouds that reminded him of home. All he picked out was the audacious and out-of-place sculpture he got as a gift. Its face haunted him some nights back in Last. Frank gave himself a pat on the chest for not bringing it down to the Blue.

“For the better. We’ll never be the same person we were yesterday.”

“Good point.”

A voice from afar etched the wrong words into Frank’s ears. Some kind of slur slithered its way towards Frank and motioned for him. Frank could not recall what it was the voice had said, but it was a call, a challenge of sorts. Perhaps manhood. Unable to decline an offer, he jumped to his feet immediately, searched the area for any shifty sailors, and romped himself in that direction.

“Ya got somethin’ to say, eh, punk? Take yer fish lips elsewhere!”

Rhys chortled before he started to bug Duster who was fast at work. The Lucavi in disguise handled several letter which he examined very carefully every couple of seconds. His eyes would scan from the first one, then the second, then the first one again before he checked on the third letter. The doctor of sorts was fascinated by the letters.

“What are you doing over there?” Rhys decided to ask.

“I’m analyzing data that’s recently piqued my interest in human graphology. I’ve taken up a hobby in my free time.” Duster had a knack for talking while paying no attention to the other person trying to have a conversation, yet he was a master at staring people down with his ominously glowing green eyes. Frank suggested to Duster one day that he actually make eye contact with others if he wanted to be believable. It got Duster’s attention. It worked.

“If it doesn’t bother you, would you be able to teach me how to read and write?”

Duster removed himself from the letters. The quizzical middle aged man-face perked up by such a thought.

“You mean you don’t know how to read and write? You’re supposed to be a perfect replication of one of the smartest men of Guten Nocht. Perhaps it’s a malfunction in your brain.”

“I’m broken?” Rhys never thought of it that way. He never understood the concept of who he was or how he was made, but it was always in the backburner in his mind to find out all of the questions. To him, Rhys Illumina was just a normal boy with normal boy problems. Except for the whole traveling around Varsyl without a permanent home. That idea was absurd to most Varsylians.

“Most of us are.” Duster’s human face smiled a little and as a result, creeped Rhys out the slightest. Duster was now human, but his personality was too sterile and blocky like a robot. Sensing a great disturbance, the human Duster toned down his smile to a neutral expression. “I’ll see what I can do.”

Frank and Jackie both came running to the edge of the dock, the former more hesitant on stopping on a dime. Jackie pointed to the sky in awe as all their faces glowed a golden orange.

The infernal balls soared across the skyline from afar and beautifully reflected from Rhys’ rich brown eyes. “What’s that up there?”

“It might be an airship accident,” Jackie stated.

“Great.” Frank was warming up to the Fighter.

Duster shook his human head. “That’s rather a copious amount of fire to be a simple airship.”

“It’s beautiful. Flame raining from the sky.” Rhys was in amazement. Though he was not sure how it began or how it would end, the alarmingly robust scene made the hairs on his forearms stand up.

“Poetic, but yer all clearly insane if you think that is anythin’ but terrifyin’.”

“It’s not like you to be a worrisome. Don’t get soft on me now, Frankie.” Jackie could not keep her eyes off it either. Realizing that it started to rain more fireballs, she suggested that they leave but not right away. The disaster happened miles off the coast. She saw no reason to move with such haste.

“Have you guys even caught anythin’ yet? Fishin’ sucks.” Frank threw his hands into his pockets.

“I’ve had a couple of bites, but I haven’t reeled in yet. This is really fun!” Rhys jumped for joy with the fishing rod in hand. He tried his best to distract himself from the background, but Rhys always found himself staring back into the sky.

“I thought you would have liked it,” Jackie nodded. “I find it very meditative. I could go the entire day on the dock and fish. Too bad all we’ll get out here are small fry.”

“More like fish fry.”

The sky burned for four long days and for four longer nights.
  HEAD ES DOODLE PETSUCHOS / Finnigan / 5y 102d 18h 48m 49s
[size16 #Silver Sleuth#]

[i “Note to self: I have just read Frank Dietz’s diary. For a man who prides himself on raising chickens and saying the foulest things possible in the presence of human and Lucavi alike, he has exceptionally bizarre handwriting. The humans call it ‘cursive’. Frank has managed to connect letters in one fell swoop of a pen to describe his feelings about a lost lover, who I presume might be…”]

Duster was not clear on what motivated him to snoop around the Fighter. Aside from the occasional injury, the Lucavi possessed no stable career, in or out of the aircraft. The keen individuals he shared space with cleaned up after every meal and for the most part kept their clutter in their separate chambers. He could not describe what he was feeling nor did he realize that he was feeling a sense of boredom. For the first time in his life, he questioned whether or not his kind could display emotions. He emulated persons before, but emotions, tones, faces, and language were far too out there for him.

Frank hid his small and scraggy journal in a hollowed wood portion of his bed frame. Duster had espied one night into the room from a cracked door and watched the secretive outlaw route his feelings onto paper through pen. This was the root of Duster’s curiosity. Frank’s whispering nights gave the camouflaged cretin enough material to study. The rhythm of turning pages and furious writing expressed the unexplainable human feelings. Tears meant almost anything: happiness, anger, grief. Frank was at his realest when he was alone. This alone generated enough interest in Duster.

Frank’s quarters were well kept except for one corner. Two burlap sacks remained untouched for the longest time. They were planning on sharing a room together. Even then, Duster felt a little heavier and if he could, he would have shed a small tear for her. He thought about going through her stuff to rummage through memories, but Frank would have done that already if it would not leave him heartbroken. As soon as Duster made motions towards the corner, a sudden low clamor rung through the steel walls from another part of the ship.

[i “Self: I heard a noise in Jackie’s room. I believe that I will check it out for myself. I will continue to learn about cursive and eventually learn how to integrate myself into human society. So many loops.”] Before leaving to investigate the latest problems of Team Anchovi, Duster stopped momentarily to investigate an edge barely prodding out of a burlap bag. The Lucavi’s childlike fingers wrapped around the object and revealed that it was a small blue book. The title read “365 Jokes for the Clinically Hilarious.” Intrigued, he spoke to himself, [i “What’s this? A book on jokes? What are jokes?”]

Deciding to take the book with him, Duster headed out of Frank’s room in stealth until he stopped right outside of Jackie’s opened door. She always had an open door policy and it was seldom she ever shut it for long. The policy was thrown out the window when Jackie was shot through the shoulder and immediately collapsed from blood loss and shock. The passive observer noticed Frank and Rhys crowding around her bed with excitement.

Jackie finally woke up from her long spell. An entire day passed and the guys were ecstatic to hear the low grunts and rough turning of the toughest member of the Anchovi crew. Duster thought about joining in, but decided to hold off once Frank started to lightly patronize his contemporary.

Shaking his head, Frank let it out without any disappointment, “Jackie, yer just lucky that someone found ya on time and decided to toss ya body at our front door. The good doctor was kind enough to patch ya up.”

What caught Duster, Rhys, and even Jackie off was Frank’s hands. The cold calloused hands found themselves wrapped around Jackie’s. She was nothing short of a sister, and that man loved her as much as he did his only true sister.

[i “Note to self: Jackie Simms has an affinity for mischief that results in self-harm. She has been able to recover steadily over night. I require no gratitude.]

The three inside the bedroom quickly looked up to see where the faint murmur was coming from, yet they were not able to spot the cloaked companion. Jackie then turned her attention to her surroundings. Flowers of all kinds with unspeakable names filled her room. Bright oranges, yellows, and lilacs swarmed around her as if she were kin with them. She envisioned herself as another wildflower basking in the sun in the gargantuan open fields. She gravely preferred that vision than the reality of living in the cloudiest city in Varsyl.

“Where did all these flowers come from?”

“Some weirdo by the name of Harvey Lansit stopped by and his goons and dropped all these vases. There’s nothin’ better than a sunflower to brighten up the mood.”

[i “The man was extraordinarily impeccable. One of utmost ignorance.”]

Jackie ordered Frank to pull one of the many vases up to her face so she could properly get a whiff of what she imagined a greater Varsylian summer. Somewhere out there, there was a place, a small village, or perhaps a large country where it was eternal summer and the flowers managed to thrive the entire year. Though she did not care for his attitude, Jackie appreciated the merchant’s kind gesture. Where did he even find flowers in Llamarr?

“He also left you a note. Want me to read it?”

She nodded. He went on.

“‘Patty, I gotta thank yer meaty collar for takin’ that bullet. It allowed me to escape the prince and queen’s dogs. After all, a busy man does busy work. You just might be an exception to that clause. I’ve entrusted the bumpkin with the rottin’ tooth yer coin. I left a little extra.’ Jackie, this guy sounds like a grade-A dumbass.” Frank had to check all his teeth by tongue to see if any of them were falling out. Nope, all good.

Jackie smiled to the both of them and happily stated, “I can’t say he had the best manners, but maybe it’s just Varsylian etiquette.”

Rhys took out the sack of gold that Harvey entrusted Frank with. It was rather heavy for the boy to hold up, but he managed to gently toss it onto the bed. Opening the drawstring to the bag, Rhys exclaimed, “Look at how much sterces he left Jackie!”

Jackie’s brown eyes even began to turn into a lustrous gold. A wide smile cracked in the midst of it all and a loud cheer erupted from a flaming mouth. Frank jumped back and Rhys’ eyes turned wide at the sharp action.

“My Maker, he promised me two months worth. That’s enough to last me half a year!”

As soon as Jackie made the effort to jump out of bed, Frank held her back by her chest and lulled her excited state back into a pillow.

“Whoa, buddy. You ain’t supposed to be movin’ too much. Doc say you ain’t right.”

“Since when did you listen to Duster?”

From afar, Duster pulled his head back in what he described as slight disgust. Of course, Jackie later added a laugh as if Duster was in the room and apparent.

“Since he been pullin’ his weight ‘round here. Patchin’ us up like we’re ragdolls. Gotta say, he puts the good ole’ Doc Roc to shame.” Frank pulled out a letter and handed it to Jackie. “Oh, and you got one more thing for ya.”

She squinted at the letter and tried to read the name. It was less than stellar as Frank’s writing, but completely legible. Demonstrating a miniscule amount of frustration, she asked, “Who’s it from?”

Dreading the mere thought of that disgusting handlebar mustache and silly clown getup, Frank shuddered out, “Hollis.”

“That fucker shot me! Wait until I get out of here Frankie, he’s gonna wish he finished me off--Yeouch!” The excessive waving of her hands put her in submission. The bullet had exited her body and Duster was able to heal the wound completely, but he was unable to explain why he could not make the pain completely disappear.

“It’s a note. Want me to read it?”

[i “Note to self: I have high suspicions that Jackie is able to read the note due to illiteracy or perhaps atrocious Varsylian slant. I will have to cross-examine the handwritings later.”]

“I don’t care what that letter has to say, Frankie.” She did not care to admit it, but she let it out before she let her discomfort build up. “Hollis is the thief that attack us that one night.”

“Naw! Hollis ain’t shit!”

Jackie had to be misinformed. Frank would not allow Hollis Westlands be the one to best him.

“He had the same headband as the thief. Floral on yellow.”

The two friends pondered on this thought for a few more seconds before Duster decided to come out of hiding. Revealing himself just outside the door and out of everyone’s vision, Duster came in acting as if he had not heard an ounce of information. He paused in the midst of his step and recognized that he was becoming more human than ever. Lying and eavesdropping. He did not feel like a Lucavi. No Lucavi possessed the organs to be so snakey.

“It is most wise that we allow Jackie to recuperate.”

“Oh so nice of ya to join us, Dusty. Alright Rhys, let’s go tend to the chickens.”

As the boys left, Jackie nodded, smiled, and stated, “without you I would have died. We don’t really see each other often so I want to say thanks.”

“Not necessary. A woman once helped me in times most dire to me. When the world was crumbling, she told me all I had to do was breathe. Now close your eyes and let your body recover naturally. I will check up on you later.”

Might surged through the doctor as he strolled out of the living quarters and into the dining area. He stopped before the side hatch and took a deep breath.

[i “Self: I have decided to log in my observations and thoughts throughout the day. If I’m supposed to be a human, I must sample from a greater pool.”]

Death would await Duster any day now, but if he never took one step outside of the Fighter, how would he learn the truth of humans and the world of Blue? Duster believed that his life was on a waning phase. Ever since their departure from Guten Nocht, the agoraphobic alien man lost touch with Mad Moon which was his greatest source of power. The Lucavi thrived on its mystical energies because they were born from it. The true moon men started off as specks of Mad Moon dust with the potential of becoming anything or anyone. Thus, Duster metamorphosed.

With no one watching, the fluffy figure of the alien miraculously warped into a man not much taller than Frank. Duster combined the traits of all the faces he’s ever collected crafting a Varsylian queer enough for all eyes. Frank’s rusty colored hair was mixed in with some bronze undertones and gray highlights in his facial hair. The average Varsylian fellow in drab clothing took one simple breath before examining his entirety. Duster was so certain that his disguise would not hold up so he allotted himself a time limit of two hours. He was not even so sure that he could make it a half hour outside the walls of the steely Fighter.

Opening the hatch, the bumbling man made sure to have his cane nearby. Duster had recently gotten better at standing on his own two feet, but often hugged the wall with his body. Getting off the aircraft helped him regain his footing though. The air was refreshing as it gently caressed his face. The damp air gave Duster shivers, but he embraced all the sensation at once. The fishy smell, he embraced it as well. The clamoring of the rugged men chimed ever so sweetly in his ears and the uneven pavement beneath his shoes somehow made his shoulders ache with joy.

So many faces, yet it troubled him very so. All the faces were very similar. Fair skinned, brownish hue to the body hair, straight small noses and blue eyes. Guten Nocht never had so many clones running around. The Fighter had more diversity than the entire merchant town of Llamarr. Women were nonexistent while men plagued the streets in all different kinds of builds. Traveling through the marketplace, Duster searched for new oddities while maintaining a good eye for detail. In fact, his ability to stare down many men at once freaked them out, regardless if they were frail or boisterous in muscle mass. Duster tried to resist bobbing his head to and from when examining objects.

The gawky fellow paced himself out of the crowded marketplace in search of a more personable setting. Loud, obnoxious drunks were not his subject of choice. He required targets to have some sort of finesse to them. It was not until he made it thirty minutes outside of the fisherman’s wharf that he found the only airport in Llamarr. What caught his eyes the most were the men in blue uniforms with their tall shako hats. He recognized the capital’s best soldiers and espied from a distance.

[i “The Varsylian vanguard. Supposedly they’re the greatest men that Varsylgard has to offer. Note to self: find out why if there’s any symbolism behind the color blue and where they got the large feathers for their hats. I continue.”]

Hiding behind a corner, Duster listened.

“Where’s Lt. Westlands? The Lansits are not going to welcome us with open arms.”

“Don’t worry, we’re just surveying today.”

“Hmph. Fine.”

“You!” One of the men in blue spotted the meek Duster. “Yeah, you over there. State your business.”

He froze in place and wanted to move but couldn’t. The two soldiers surrounded him, silently observing what an old and lame man was doing near the shipyard. They stood tall and confident even though it appeared they were going to beat down on the elderly. Both of the men could have been stand ins for Hollis if he shaved the mustache Frank so despised. Not much variation aside.

“I’m just passing by. I don’t mean any harm.”

“Then be on your way, wherever you’re going!” one yelled. So far, Llamarr was not treating him too kindly.

Duster went ahead into the shipyard anyways. They did not have a clue whether or not he belonged, and if they wanted to stop him? Duster had some preemptive measures set up. According him, Lucavi are innovative. Duster walked away without any problems and left the rifle toting men to ponder on nothing. Wandering through the distant and rather silent neighborhood, the old man enjoyed all the shapes and sizes despite the glaring problems most of them would encounter on their next flight. Some propellers were bent out of shape and many of the ships were on their last legs.

As he wandered around, Duster managed to spot the king of all Varsylian ships: the Magnuze. The Lansits’ flagship that was supposed to end all other competition was the blue ribbon winner of the day. Painted with a deep and rich navy blue, the Magnuze sported golden swirling accents on the cabin, cockpit, and the magnificent blimp portion. Men worked day and night to keep the ship in peak performance which often meant cleaning all four hundred windows in addition to washing the main areas on an hourly basis. One had to be a fool to deny its excellency.

In that moment, the alien realized he was not the only one watching from afar. Duster turned to the roof of a small outpost building and witnessed an onlooker that matched Frank and Jackie’s offender. Sporting only the floral on yellow sash, the thief maintained his focus on the ship with grave intent. Duster scaled the squatty building in one jump and landed with a soft thud that broke the onlooker’s concentration.

“How the flying apeshit did you get up here?” the low voice muttered.

“What a peculiar stance you have for a man.”

It was true. No one in Llamarr had ever tossed their hip to one side with their hands resting on the waist.

“Hmph.”

“And that sweet aroma.”

Snidely remarking, the stranger in the yellow sash matter-of-factly stated, “Cranberry and apple. Any more bright observations, gramps?”

“What’s your relationship with the Magnuze?”

“You’ll have to beat it out of me.”

“Okay.”

Duster regurgitated a black orb and fiercely tossed at the cloaked figure. The orb rapidly transformed into a giant white disc that sawed across the roof, but missed on the account that the thief in the yellow sash dive rolled out of its direction. The Lucavi organ zipped back into Duster’s empty hand and he smiled.

“Still?”

“Yeah, a rain check is in order.”

“It’s okay if you weren’t expecting that. It catches many people off.”

The thief made an effort to escape Duster, but stopped in mid-flight to fend away his attacker. The aging Duster, with the power of youth struggling to find its way in both human flesh and Lucavi ability, crafted a silver sword in which cut the yellow sash and navy cloak vertically between the breast. The thief, exposed and bleeding from the superficial slicing covered the chest with arms wrapped around and immediately ran away from both Duster and the Magnuze. Soon after, Duster’s body began to warp and a silverish hue spread throughout his human disguise.

“Note to self: research more human anatomy. Specifically tumors in the pectoral region in men. Find out what’s an apple and what are cranberries.”

When Duster went down to retrieve the torn sash, a letter that smelled of the thief revealed itself. Intrigued by the countless learning opportunities, the Fighter's doctor had much to learn these next coming days.
  HEAD ES DOODLE PETSUCHOS / Finnigan / 5y 104d 18h 15m 10s
[size16 #Romp#]

Hollis sprung up from pillow and sheet, only to realize where he laid his hat he had called home. The fuzz face Varsylian soldier patted down his thinning brown hair in high hopes he could make it back to his platoon in a fashionable order. The uniform that all great men were accustomed to disappeared from plain site and were more than likely buried underneath the bunched up chicken down comforter. This was no simple mistake.

Rubbing the tiredness and crusty gunk out of his eyes, the soldier turned to the magnificent beauty who slept beside him. She was unlike any woman he had ever met and he wondered if all women from the floating satellite country were like her. With great disdain in his voice, Hollis meekly remarked, “You know, we need to stop meeting like this.”

“Oh baby. You’re gonna break my heart.” Just as Hollis had popped up, Jackie sprung up to his level and smiled. Despite all the teasing and assertive comments she made towards her lover, the pilot really did enjoy her time. She thought his motives were just a rather shoddy yet viable excuse to get near her. It worked.

“I’m sleeping with a suspect! What’s wrong with me?”

Hollis jumped out of bed and ran his calloused fingers through his baby soft hair. He slowly paced looking for all the articles of clothing Jackie personally disrobed. The dimmed lights illuminated his fair skin and Jackie just thought he looked out of place. After all, he was only wearing underwear and his atrocious half-calf white socks. The Varsylians needed some fashion advice, yet Jackie was strangely attracted to their awkward bodies. She thought to herself that no one really truly looked good naked.

Rushing towards the door without having both legs in the blue slacks, the frantic soldier scurried out of Jackie’s chambers and left her to wallow. She feared that this was male nature, that love was a one act stage play. She observed herself: her breasts, her arms, stomach, waist, thighs, even feet. Jackie knew she was not like most girls. Confident in her martial arts, she often hid her softer side with her mannish figure. Who in the Blue could ever appreciate a woman stuck in a boxy physique? The thoughts faded quickly with a grand sigh.

“Not even a kiss goodbye.”

Jackie was always the first one out of the Fighter for work. It was a bowl of oats with a cup of milk mixed in that started her day. Frank and Rhys would rarely join her this early for breakfast and even then, the boys were too groggy to make conversation. She was an all day, everyday kind of person. Morning, afternoon, night, the bubbly woman’s zeal was unmatched. With a kick in her step, Jackie Simms exited work the same way she entered.

The streets of Llamarr emptied out in the afternoon for everyone’s second break, or as Rhys would put it, the second drink. The bars filled up quickly with clamor and camaraderie. Jackie skipped out on today’s revelries with her coworkers and instead decided to look for a particular man. A merchant by trade, the man she was looking for was quite renowned. His name rang through the rumor mills, and Jackie pledged to find the magnate of the Magnuze. Harvey Lansit.

Some of the menfolk that hurled empty wooden crates across the empty stone lots on their first break hinted that this Lansit would be around the market area looking for particular wares. When Jackie asked what these particular wares were, they shrugged and continued to toss boxes. With no description to go on, intuition and audacity kicked in, two of Jackie’s other best friends. She reveled in the local merchants, yet was unable to get a clear answer from them. [i What do you know about Harvey Lansit? ]

“The man is about eight feet tall with a giant red beard and axe. He’s a fearsome pirate.”

“Yeah, my ex-girlfriend’s sister’s aunt-in-law had an affair with him. Man ended up putting her in the chair for the rest of her life. A real pelvis wrecker.”

“A complete psychopath, has no respect for other men. I heard he stabbed a man five times with five knives without blinking.”

“He was secretly working with Galhead. Go figure, a filthy Mezze working behind the scenes. Boycott the Lansit Family!”

“The Lansits aren’t merchants, they’re world renowned hairdressers.”

“That man robbed my blind grandmother!”

“He’s a real lady lover. Did you already talk to Rolf down the street, Harvey Lansit obliterated his ex-girlfriend’s sister’s aunt-in-law’s skull.”

“Lansit has crabs and not the kind I sell!”

Jackie had to sit down for a while so she could catch her breath from all the ridiculous leads. Llamarr, a town of thieves, merchants, and liars. The coworkers who led her astray would pay for this. she vowed so. The drab gray sky remained in place for a few days, and secretly Jackie was weakened by the lack of sun. She wore a great expression on her face, but the combination of the weather and the lack of interest by the filthy pale skinned men ultimately chipped away. No one else smiled in this town.

By chance, the only other decent human being walked down the stone road with a black cane in hand. The fading smile reversed and grew to the ends of Jackie’s plump face. This man--she pointed--had to be him. After all, the determined Jackie was not going to settle for defeat today and she already harassed everyone else. Jumping to meet this stranger, Jackie clapped her hands together and the surprised stranger jumped back. Angered, the man used the top end of his cane to butt his offender in the stomach.

Rubbing her belly, she brushed it off and continued with her bizarre and freakishly weird grin. “You must be Harvey of the Lansit family. I heard that you need some cargo moved around. They say that you don’t have the toughest crew around and are looking for new hires. I’m easily worth any three men in this town.”

“And you sure look like it too. You’re quite the Patty.” He was clearly intrigued by her cocky comments, but while he was in the presence of such riff-raff, the stranger decided to take a few jabs at his newest victim.

“Who?”

“Ahem, you’re a heifer, deary. You’re nothing but a bunless meat patty,” he snidely stated.

Though he was not as trimmed or built as the rest of Llamarr, the man known as Harvey Lansit was rich in money and his looks. Beneath the pea green bowler hat was a man in his mid to late forties. Dark skin with slight yet rather alluring freckled bags under his eyes. He had a broad nose, but what made the profile was his remarkable cloud he called facial hair. Matching his thick bushy white brows, his beard and mustache possessed the vibrancy of edelweiss as well as the scent of jasmine. Covered in a cloak matching his hat, he wore a rather formal black suit in the dampest parts of the city. His fingers were adorned with thick golden bands and jewel encrusted rings.

Jackie shrinked back a little from the round man. Unallowing him to get to her, she questioned him. “And that’s a bad thing?”

Scoffing, Harvey waved his fingers in her face. “I suppose not. But then again, you would be an eyesore to me and an open market to my men.”

“I don’t follow you.” Her usual approach to annoyance was to punch whatever annoyed her, but Jackie wanted to get on the man’s good side. Caving in his face would do her no favors. He was also Harvey Lansit, a maven in the eyes of Varsylgard, a merchant with vast potency.

“Your [i fish] market.” He pointed to the spot between her legs with his cane. His nose twitched at the mere thought of it. “Surely you’re aware that sodomy is punishable by death in the Varsylian empire, my men are wise to follow that rule. You would be the only thing that’s open for season. You’d be black, blue, and dead after they were done with you.”

“I’m afraid you’re wrong. The only thing beaten will be the faces of your men.” She imagined fighting her way through a corridor of men, pummeling each and everyone’s face into a bloody mess. She lived for a fight.

“One woman against a few hundred Varsylian dogs? You jest. You must be well aware that there are nothing but Varsylian men in this town. Women are a commodity. Llamarr has a history, you know. The story goes that the city was initially found by people of Guten Nocht. The people of the floating continent were thought up throughout the Varsylgard as rapists, thieves, and atheists. The seized whatever they could get their hands on: the land, money, the women of neighboring villages. What you see before you is the one of the last remaining settlements of the moon men.”

“Thanks for the story, bushy tongue,” she laughed. He was not amused.

“Harvey P. Lansit. You’re wanted by Prince Chelon and the Queen Helvetia.” A voice came from the other end of the block. Harvey moved forward to see who had spoken, but it was quite clear who they were by the blue suits and tall plumed shakos.

Standing his ground and tapping his cane on the stone road, Harvey smugly sneered. “As do many people, boy. Speak your nature.”

“Dammit,” Jackie murmured under her breath. Out of all of the soldiers who showed up, Hollis had to be the one to speak. She kept her head low and avoided any sort of eye contact with the Varsylian

“You know this fool?” Harvey asked. He thought about insulting Hollis’ mustache but kept his best comebacks to himself.

“We’ve had some encounters,” she admitted.

“Say no more.” Turning away from Jackie and facing the vanguard on his own, the merchant firmly stood with both hands on top of his cane. “Now you boy, I demand you tell me the nature of this arrest.”

Plainly spelling it out for the merchant, Hollis droned as his merry band of men prepped for a forceful capture. “Suspicion of a kidnapping.”

“Oh, for the Maker’s sake, my family has openly opposed the Galhead dynasty for decades! How dare you accuse me and besmirch my family name! Have you any idea who my father is? Dulon Lansit!” In an uproar, Harvey tapped his cane furious on the wet cobblestone. The curses came out of his mouth one after another in an endless string of violence. Accusing the whole lot of young men as nothing but eye candy for the flamboyant prince and his whoremother, abeit more cryptic in his diction, Harvey steamed.

Taking one glance up to get a glimpse of the situation, Jackie fully noticed something hanging out of Hollis’ pocket.

“That pattern!”

It was the same pattern seen on the headband and sash of the thief she encountered days ago. The eyesoar of the floral on an obnoxious yellow poked out and made Jackie extra wary of the man she spent many nights with. Hollis was playing her as a fool the entire time! She felt so dumb, so stupid that she let Hollis Westlands--Hollering Hollis--of all people manipulate her! Nice guys were few and far between, and a little soap and water revealed the true scum.

“What are you making right now, Patty?” Harvey addressed Jackie as patty because he never really asked for her name, but it was a safe bet that he probably would have forgotten it mere minutes later. The storm brewing in Jackie Simm’s heart acknowledged her fancy counterpart. “I’m guessing that you’re working a dead end job without any education. You couldn’t be making more than a few sterces a day. I’ll pay you two months worth if you get me down the street without having a single imp land a hand on me. Yes?”

“Oh yeah.” Getting in a few stretches, she prepped herself for the one hundred meter dash.

Harvey nefariously smirked, “good.”

“Looks like we go round two!” Before she could finish her words, she ran at full speed down the cobblestone street with the devil possessing her body and soul alike. She was thirsty for blood and anticipated herself as the victor already. She ran through the Varsylian vanguard like they were the short chain-linked fences fancied as hurdles in a child’s self-made track meet. Before their rifles could properly aim at the fiendish Jackie or the pompous Harvey, the devil in woman’s skin gave a sharp crack to their faces. Down and out! Bouncing from one side of the street to the other like a pinball in its extraordinary machine, she laid a beatdown onto her foes before spearing into Hollis Westlands himself.

The struggle began with Hollis’ rifle with each side muttering unintelligible garble. At first, it looked as if Jackie had the upper hand in the situation, but Hollis found himself on top half of the time. It wasn’t until Jackie stole the floral headband that the two broke off from each other temporarily.

“The band!” She shoved the piece of cloth into the air as if she won a prize.

“What?” The soldier in blue was confused by her actions. He usually had no time for women, but somehow he landed the biggest loon in the entire continent. Hollis had to question why he thought Jackie Simms was an option. “What is this all about?”

The feral woman reminded herself of who the man before her was and she tossed her shoulder into him. Pinning him down once more, she chuckled, “You’re gonna have to be better at playing dumb with me, Hollis!”

“You’re getting...on my nerves, Jackie!”

Hollis went for an object in his pocket, but Jackie immediately backed off in fear of it being a bomb. She hopped to her feet and stepped back creating a distance away from the thief who stole her heart. With the headband in hand, she demanded answers. What Hollis returned with only generated more questions. Instead of a bomb, the frustrated leader of the pack who remained on his back pulled out a small luger pistol and shot Ms. Jackie Simms without a single regret.
  HEAD ES DOODLE PETSUCHOS / Finnigan / 5y 108d 18h 38m 39s
[size16 #Mentha#]

“Well, I hope you two are satisfied. It’s wise to avoid fights we cannot win.” The doctor of the Fighter pulled up to Jackie’s face and scoped out her singed skin. Lightly charred like her cooking he remarked.

Sighing heavily at the reminder of her own defeat, Jackie scratched the back of her head. Some of her hair fell out in the front while strands crinkled into a nasty mess from the explosion. In all reality, Jackie was alive and kicking. She only suffered from first degree burns splotched all over her face and arms, and she seldom complained about Duster’s incessant prodding.

“Easier said than done, bud.”

Both of goons of Team Anchovi sat on the lone wooden bench in the cargo bay while Duster twisted and turned. The doctor bobbed his head like the Llamarr owls that frightened both Rhys and Frank at night. Frank hated how they swooped from nowhere and ominously cooed. The myth about owls secretly being witches first originated on Guten Nocht, but Frank and his friends never saw an owl. It was when he reached Varsyl that Frank truly feared the nocturnal hexes.

“That was the worst game of rock-paper-scissors.”

“Yeah, the guy had a bomb. [b Yeouch!]” Jackie shouted. Frank, Rhys, and the pair of chickens jumped as a result.

“Hold still Jackie. Your face requires attention.”

“Heh, that’s a first.”

“Frankie.”

Duster’s fingers started to glow over Jackie’s face. Frank’s face spelt out disgusted as he was the closest and watched as the green bubble peeled off a layer of dead skin. Jackie winced once more and Frank turned away once the progress got worse. The Lucavi worked over the freshly pink and raw layer without budging. Rhys cringed at the sight of bright green light and the unimaginable sound of searing flesh. Beside the doctor, Jackie was the only being who sat still throughout the entire process. She had been through worse, but everyone else just assumed that she was the toughest member of the Anchovi crew.

In mere minutes, Jackie was patched up before everyone’s eyes. Her body was clear of any scrapes, burns, and bruises. She jumped in the air and in place while everyone else simply stared at her. Jabbing a couple of times, the fierce pugilist exclaimed that she could fight a row of guys before punching a few trees. Before anyone could get in another word, she ran up the stairs and shouted as if she conquered her a small country. The steel steps beneath her boots clanged and her rough hands on the railing made an awful noise akin to driving fingernails into a chalkboard. Perhaps Duster was too good at patching people up. A living steroid.

Frank headed up to the cockpit in high hopes of finding some solitude, yet it was the alien dressed in white fluff that squired. Despite the large layout of the Fighter, the rust colored bandit seemed to never find enough alone time. There was no nook, no cranny, that gave him the space he wanted for himself. The evasive Duster was everywhere, and Jackie felt the need to drop in on her friend from time to time. Rhys did not have any friends of his own either so he was always in the main areas of the Fighter. Before he let out a deep exhale, Frank thought about it and stopped himself. Duster would make sure to be apart of it somehow.

The lonely man sat back in a chair and looked through the cockpit’s wide open windows. He could see the dock in front of him as well as the many people who worked here. Placing his feet on top of the console, he zoned out for one moment in high hopes of ignoring the wise cracking Lucavi. [i ‘Just ten minutes. That’s all I need.’] His mind blanked out and Frank closed his eyes. He wanted to remember that smell. that one particular smell that he could not place a finger on. It made him nearly cry. He could not remember how she smelt. Only the stenches of the salty waters and of rancid fish lingered.

Duster lingered as well but not without help of the wooden cane Rhys somehow returned with one day. Walking on an airship floating on water still troubled him. He wanted to leave this ship as well, but he ultimately feared the worst would happen if anyone saw him. The air was poison or at least that is what he convinced himself. His soft pearl shell would crack once it touched the putrid Blue air. Oxygen in the Blue was more abundant which he theorized had more toxins in it that could lead to his unfortunate demise. Death never scared him this much before and it was not until his exile that he started to care about his mortality. He was a mortal. He was just as human as Frank and Jackie were.

Not much longer before the two settled down for a quick siesta, the rough and tough Jackie stomped on through the doors. [i ‘Eight minutes. Damn.’] Frank opened his eyes with great annoyance and glared at Jackie. She retaliated with a friendly smile. Getting mad with her was futile, especially when she was in such a blissful mood as now. He wondered for the longest time on how his best friend could immediately switch from the happiest and luckiest girl in the world to fist throwing meister. Frank wondered if she ever held anything back in their relationship. No one was ever that optimistic to be alive in Last, even Sheriff Dempsi attested to that statement.

Frank approached the glass dome and aimlessly stared through the bustling crowds of Llamarr. Everyone doing their part to make enough money to survive to the next day. The people at first feared the Fighter but they eventually grew to simply ignore its undesirable design. Frank did not care too much for the thick-skinned attitude of the mass. No one was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. Where was the honor among thieves? His static glare pierced through the crowd and unintentionally picked up an oddity amongst the crowd. The oddity moved through the crowd. He wore a blue suit with ornate golden buttons. The hat, oh the plumed hat that Frank so much despised, touched the sky with its flat top. Worst of all, the mustache.

“Dammit Jackie, yer boyfriend is coming this way.”

Jackie pressed herself to the window as if she was going to cast herself into the sea.

“Not my boyfriend.”

She watched closely until he passed the cockpit’s peripheral vision and then she started to pace back and forth. Frank jumped to his feet and then rubbed his chin. How could this have happened?

“Tell ‘em to shoo.”

“Alright.” Jackie and Frank rushed out of the cabin and into the dining room. The worst case scenario happened. The youngest member of the Fighter stood in front of the side door with a familiar face standing next to him. “Oh fuck, Rhys what the hell?”

Hollis Westlands stood there in his fancy knee high boots and rifle strapped to his back. He was meaning some serious business. The duo came down to hesitantly greet him and separately they were concocting plans on ejecting him from the ship.

“Frank Dietz,” Hollis gave his utmost attention to him yet was unable to look his clandestine and often lusty lover in her sweet honey eyes. Stiff as ever. “And uh...Jackie Simms.”

“Hollering Hollis,” she smirked.

His back jolted back up. Speechless. “...”

Jackie took the reins and allowed herself to handle the situation. “What brings you onto the Fighter?”

“We were just in the area.” Lying through his teeth, how unlike the honorable Hollis. Jackie thought of him as a sweet young man with a serious demeanor, yet he lacked a backbone to call his own. Captain Rhoton was his master and he was the dog willing to do anything to please those he served. At least she liked his mustache.

Hollis nodded at the two and started to wander the dining room without saying a word. Frank and Jackie closely trailed behind just in case something peeped out between his lips, and this frustrated Frank. With every tiny step he made, the pair of thieves took two tiny steps. When Hollis took a large and deep lunge forward, Jackie and Frank did as well. The strange and unannounced visit shocked the both of them, yet they secretly could not help but slightly blame the other for his sudden appearance. Hollis’ tendency to observe objects in a tight and thorough manner made them nervous.

“Don’t touch that,” Frank sharply commanded to the uniformed man who was interested in simple coffee mug.

Pulling back at the request of the easily annoyed Frank, Hollis turned around and let a small grin out. “Of course.”

Jackie was getting tired of these shenanigans and she stated, “I don’t believe that you were just in the area just for fun. If I recall, you and Captain Rhoton staunchly urged that we stay in the capital. Frankie, can you confirm this?”

“Woman doesn’t lie. She has no reason.” Frank crossed his arms and nodded.

“Now, Frank, the problem doesn’t reside with Jackie. Or the rest the rest of your crew.” Hollis looked around and then stared at Rhys who was looking at him the entire time. A rather poor showing, Hollis thought to himself. What kind of crew was Anchovi? A couple of thieves and a snotty brat did not constitute as a team. He added one, “As you’re very well aware, the capital is in great peril. You and the Maxwells have made quite the muck after the entire Galhead problem. Now it’s not the capital’s duty to indict you.”

“Then what brings you here?” Frank began to tap his feet. He wanted the ugly mug out of here.

“Your departure has left a rather sour note with the royal prince and the queen. Now tell me: you wouldn’t happen to have any secrets on the ship, would you? The crown does not appreciate any secrets its guests might be holding.”

Rolling his eyes, Frank tapped even faster. “Like what?”

“Stolen cargo, perhaps any remnants of Galhead property? Specifically ex-slaves.”

“Can’t say that we’ve made the conscious effort in keeping property that did not belong to us.” Jackie interjected. Aside from what supplies they could scavenge for themselves, Anchovi made sure that the freed men and women of Galhead got their fair share of cloth, food, and coin. The thought of owning another person sickened them, especially Frank after the whole ordeal.

Hollis tossed his head back and nearly lost his hat in the process. “The hilarity! This coming from a den of thieves.”

“Like I said before, the woman doesn’t lie.”

“Then you wouldn’t mind if a few of my men and I search through your ship.”

“Like Hel, you piece of--”

The growling Frank was politely interrupted by tranquil Jackie.

“Frankie-baby.” She nodded to him and continued on with Hollis, “Yeah, we’ll let you search the ship, but if you break my Fighter, be prepared for a bruised keister.”

“Alright, I’ll be back with my--” Hollis stopped in mid-sentence

Hollis’ vanguard stood behind Rhys who was in the same spot when he first let in Hollis. Pestered by this “cute” stint, Frank wondered if he wronged the boy in some shape or form.

“Rhys buddy, yer gonna need to stop letting strangers in.”

“Oh.”

Hollis and his men in matching blue suits and golden ornate buttons scattered throughout the ship. Eight, nine including Hollis, scattered throughout the ship without a word. The rifles they carried had bayonets strapped to the ends and the Varsylian troops used them to pick through everything. Everything. Through cupboards, bedrooms, toilets, everything. Jackie zipped through the Fighter keeping an eye on all of the men in her ship while Rhys bothered Frank.

“What about Duster?” the boy asked.

“If they find him, they can keep him.”

Though he was joking, Rhys took him quite serious. Though cryptic Duster rarely moved around as much as the rest of the crew, he still had a place on the ship. He was always ready to patch someone up if they ever needed it.

“I’m kiddin’ buddy. They’ll probably kill him.”

Frank wished he was completely joking. So did Rhys. In the spur of the moment, Hollis came back and approached Frank with a small object in hand. It was a picture. A particular picture that made Frank very upset once he set eyes on its subject.

“Frank, who exactly is this woman?”

“A memory.” These guys were sure nosy and they were good at seeking out even the most secluded hiding spots. It angered Frank that these men were turning the entire place upside down for someone who never set foot on the ship. They were looking for a slave, but not any slave. This one was very important to the prince and the queen. Out of everything to question him on, Hollis had to pick the most important possession to Frank.

“Hm. Where is she?”

“She ain’t with us. Ain’t gonna tell you much more than that.”

Hollis could hear Frank’s fists tighten. The timid leader of the vanguard slowly backed away in order to reconvene his men back in the dining room and avoid any altercation with the foreigner. Jackie promptly returned with a confused look on her face.

“Frank. I counted ten.”

“Yeah?”

“There was only nine when Rhys opened the door. Did anyone come in?”

“Nah, ain’t no one been through that door since Yer being crazy.”

As the three of them stood in the dining room, the men began to yell at each other in the cargo bay. Soon enough, they ran to see what the deal was about.

“How did you get all the way up there, Jackie?”

Confused, Jackie scratched her head.

“Were you not just down here with us telling us about your day?” Hollis asked. He was just as confused as well. Jackie was just telling him about how many crates she moved in one hour. Thirty-six.

“Sir, maybe we should make our way back upstairs,” a soldier spoke up. He was quite clumsy on his feet and stumbled to and fro on occasion. “There’s nothing down here worth our time.”

The most unusual thing happened. The lights flickered in and out right before they went out completely. A few seconds later, the lights popped back on with everyone in a slightly different position. Put on edge, the soldiers looked at each other in confusion as they felt as if something nudged them out of place in the very brief darkness. A soldier from upstairs came bursting through the doors to the cargo bay and panicked. Hollis swore that the soldier was the very same one who suggested they go back upstairs.

“What is it?” Hollis got the chills out of nowhere. The hairs on the back of his neck stood up as a hauntingly aroma of peppermint stung his nostrils. The sharp scent irritated and forced him upstairs, yet no matter where he went, the scent followed. Before grumbling out of the back of the ship, Hollis turned around and swung at the air. Nothing.

As soon as Hollis and all eight of his men group together, the persistent scent infected the rest. It was unusual for such a benevolent smell to be so volatile. The potent mint overwhelmed them all and their eyes began to water from the sensory overload. Jackie and Frank made sure to back away from the group who struggled to keep their composure. It all started with one soldier who involuntarily bent over and held his stomach. Feeling queazy, he shot for the dining room’s exit. Before the crew’s eyes, one by one the men in blue flew out of the Fighter without saying another word.

The last to leave was Hollis who keeled over in writing pain to the stomach. The sweet toxins overpowered him and without a word, he looked at Jackie and winced. Hollis Westlands, unable to find who he wanted, fled in defeat. As the door closed behind the last Varsylian vanguard member, Duster pried himself from the walls and slowly revealed his figure.

“The most logical route was to drive them out through nonviolent means since violence has not been working out for us. Namely you two. ”

“Wow, way to rub it in,” Jackie chuckled. “You could have died if they found you out.”

“They would had eventually if I did not act.

Rhys quipped, “Duster, if you can make it smell like that whenever you want, why can’t you make Frank’s room smell better?”

Jackie was the only one to laugh out loud, and despite the jab from the young boy, Frank shook his head and quietly chuckled. Team Anchovi was well aware that Hollis and the vanguard would come back for further investigation, but they earned the right to relax for the rest of the day. After all, the humans did not know when would be the next time Duster freshened up the place.
  HEAD ES DOODLE PETSUCHOS / Finnigan / 5y 112d 18h 40m 51s
[size16 #The Swanky Thief#]

It was towards the end of the day when Rhys met Frank on the corner of the fisherman’s wharf. Frank, Jackie, and Rhys were all granted jobs given they could survive the typical nine to five grind. The pilot and her confidant worked in one of the myriad of warehouses down in the wet wharf. From dragging the large fishy palettes in and out of the store to stacking large wooden crates, the mightiest duo of Team Anchovi often stood above their peers. Lucky Rhys landed a job within the marketplace himself as a stocker. Despite having no sense of taste, the youth successfully sold produce.

“Thanks for helping me out with the groceries.” Carrying the two heavier paper bags by their handles, Rhys smiled up to Frank. He did not mind working and rather found it therapeutic to interact with his surroundings. The clamor of everyday calmed and filled Rhys’ void of a mind. On his break, the boy circled the strip of stores in search for knowledge. Of course, as shy as he was, Rhys only observed and never asked questions. He was obviously still intimidated by the roughnecks of Llamarr.

Frank was less thrilled with his job compared to the somehow eternally blissful Rhys Illumina. No matter how much he tried sleeping the work off, the soft-bodied Frank Dietz struggled on a daily basis. He had put more shoulder into moving boxes than any other thug in the warehouse yet he was unable to make suitable progress. Heck. Frank’s blistered fingers struggled to carry the lightest paper bag. Wincing to the side, Frank painfully chuckled it off. “Heh, no probs, kid.”

Looking around for their third body, Rhys asked, “Where’s Jackie?”

“She always a disappearin’ after work.” Frank let his bag drop to the brick pavement and painfully tried to unclutch his fingers. His supervisors were not too pleased with his work ethic and one even stressed the desire to lash at him with long strips of tanned leather. Pulling out a squatty scarlet sphere from the paper bag, Frank exclaimed, “Hey! Didja know that they have more than almonds in this wet hole? They get actual produce like lettuce and tomatoes. Tomatoes, Rhys!”

Rhys simply observed the sphere in Frank’s hand but said nothing in response.

“I guess you don’t really eat. Huh.”

Rhys nodded. As Frank went to put back the tomato into the brown paper bag, a figure cloaked in navy blue swiftly swooped from behind and firmly clutched the bag in one hand. The lithe character chuckled in a deep and muffled voice. Whoever they were, they stopped several yards away from Frank and Rhys to adjust their bizarrely bright and tasteless yellow floral sash and matching headband.

“What the flyin’ Hel was that?”

“Hi.”

The thief waved. Rhys waved back. Frank scowled at the golden child.

“Look, pal. Gimme back the tomatoes or I’m gonna get rough with ya.” Frank shook his fist at the thief and puffed out his chest as if it added more mass to the massless. The vindictive tone came from his empty stomach. His job refused to give him any lunch breaks and rarely did he ever get to see the day of light during a regular shift. This thief with the smug attitude was the last person he wanted to encounter. Hunger raged.

“Look pops, you’re not going to lay a finger on me.” The witty soul taunted Frank with his lunge stretches and wild gesticulations. “This is couture.”

“I ain’t got time for fashion.”

As if they were truly offended by Frank’s words, the thief in the navy and yellow angrily pulled out the top tomato and aimed right for the lanky man’s scruffy face. Frank, despite his current state, dodged the runny tomato. The thief laughed, “What an injustice!”

“You got quite the arm. My turn.” The outlaw pulled out his revolver and returned the favor by pointing the barrel in the direction of the thief’s face.

Rhys held onto Frank’s wrist and cried out, “Frank!”

“What?” Frank furiously snapped. He tried shaking off Rhys’ grip, but he was far too out of shape to make a difference. Frank lowered down his gun and turned to Rhys. “What is it?”

“I don’t think he poses a real threat,” Rhys stated. He did not want to add another casualty to the natural grey and grim town of Llamarr. “He’s hungry.”

As Frank tried to raise his gun up once more, Rhys pulled it back down and shook his head. The trigger happy ruffian snarled once more, “He took our groceries! I think times like this warrant for a bullet in the kneecap.”

“One of my arms is currently carrying all this delicious food and you still can’t beat me with your bare hands. C’mon pops. Don’t shoot me down like the mangy dog you think I am. Punch me. Faggot.” Whoever this person with high self-esteem and elegance was beneath the disguise, they shared the same foul tongue like every other sailor and fisherman in town.

“He’s right.” Who was Rhys siding with: the thief or poor Frank? It seemed like no matter who was with Frank, they were all out to tear him down. Rhys continued, “You’ve got the advantage even without the gun.”

Chuckling from afar, the thief waved at Rhys once more. “Thanks kid.”

“He’s setting me up for a fool, Rhys.”

Frank clenched his fists and deeply inhaled the salty air. Even he knew when it was time to quit. This thief was gonna wipe him across the floor without a single problem. Exhausted, Frank dismissed the thief and turned away with his head down. He was powerless. He physically could not shake off Rhys who never really posed as an obstacle before. Frank had to retain some sort of integrity, especially in such a rough environment like the shanty Llamarr.

The thief scaled a shack and saluted the boys off. As soon as Frank trailed back home and Rhys waved off his best new friend, the thief hopped from one tin roof to the next. His footing was rather off tonight as the thief sometimes stumbled to stay up. The stranger was used to living on the streets and pilfering from the rest of the city. He had no shame for the city was just as damned as he was. No matter how Llamarr distanced itself from the capital, the merchant city was just as corrupt. Everyone played their respective role in the downfall of the Varsylian empire. The thief perpetuated the suffering and wholeheartedly believed that the continent could not be saved.

Tossing a tomato into the air and catching it, the thief could not help but admire his uniform in the bright moonlight. He strutted down the ridges of the roofs while basking in the moon’s milky rays. No one cared that he was prowling around in the nighttime. Everyone else was either safe asleep behind locked doors or squandering their hard earned time and money at one of the many bars strategically situated throughout the town. As if they all regularly attended church, the roughest and toughest men in Llamarr chimed somber songs. Tales mostly about the Blue and its endless mysteries. In a different time, the sailors and merchants would have been choirboys.

The thief hummed along the rooftops until he came across another figure staring standing in the white moonlight. Just a few houses away, a woman with a thick build adjusted her jacket. Jackie Simms and the perplexing thief locked eyes in the blue night. Jackie, whose blouse was previously bloodied and torn by unforeseeable events, devilishly smirked and laughed at the petty thief. Perhaps she was taken by bloodlust and happened to meet the right, or in the case of the thief: wrong, person. Whoever’s blood it was, Jackie wore it on one of the few white blouses she had.

“Hullo there!” Jackie exclaimed.

“Sorry, but my mother told me not to talk to strangers,” quipped the thief in navy.

“I know exactly who you are.”

‘Yeah?”

Cheekishly, Jackie remarked, “you’re a thief.”

“Yeah, Zatoichi, so is everyone else in this town.”

“Wanna spar?”

“Right now?” The thief was taken back by the queer woman. The thief was not even sure if he could call Jackie Simms a woman. She wasn’t your typical bar wench in this town and she sure was not a madame.

Jackie hopped from roof to another until she could see the whites in her opponent’s eyes. The cool thief stepped back once he got a better understanding of this hulking yet stout figure. All he could think about were the wild boars in the Varsylian forests. Of course, the scoundrel whose voice was deep and grim was foolish enough to engage the beast. Dropping the bag, he rushed Jackie and sent a flurry of punches her way. Punch after punch, the martial artist smacked away each blow without effort. Using only her palm, Jackie pushed her offender back.

Moving a few strands of her jet black hair from her fair, Jackie suavely, almost snobbishly, chuckled, “Your form is sloppy.”

“My form is just fine, thank you very much!”

Clearly offended, the thief came at Jackie a second time, this time throwing some kicks in the mix. Using all the frustration burning into his muscles, the thief swept for beastly Jackie’s feet yet missed by seconds. A mere sleight of hand caught her off guard though as the thief managed to toss a whizzing knife from a well hidden breast pocket. The miniscule blade sank into Jackie’s thick thigh which ultimately caused her to retaliate. Pulling through the stinging of the knife, Jackie jabbed a few times before her novice opponent fellow back on his plush ass.

Getting into the groove of things, Jackie jumped around with her fists ready for a second round. Taunting her opponent in getting up, Jackie patronized and instructed, “If you’re gonna take punches, hands up. You block with your forearms, not your face.”

The thief, falling for the taunt, sprung back up and engaged the frenzied Jackie once more, but again was not able to land a solid hit on her body. Jackie moved so effortlessly against the thief that all she could do by the end of the bout was jeer some more. What she looked for tonight was a worthy opponent, but what she ended up with was child’s play.

“That headband is so gaudy. What are you a teenage girl?”

[size8 “Jackie, is that you?”] a familiar voice echoed from below.

Jackie looked down from the rooftops and saw Frank and Rhys standing there.

[size8 “If that asshat is up there, give ‘em a good kickin’ in the mouth!”] The vindictive voice belonged to Frank. [size8 “And git back my tomatoes!”]

Cracking her knuckles, the brawler approached the shifty thief.

“So you’re messing with our tomatoes?”

[size8 “What does she mean by [b ours], Rhys? Last time I checked, I was the one who paid for them. She best know.”]

“Did your mother ever teach you not to mess with other people’s food?”

[size8 “Like [b MY] food!”]

“Gonna have to give you a whoopin’ my friend.”

[size8 “She better be up there kickin’ his candy ass right now. My feet hurt. I wanna go home.”]

A little too much talk gave the thief the perfect chance to pull out another trick of the thief’s trade. Reaching deep into his dark blue garb, the dastardly rogue pulled out what looked like a small paper mache jawbreaker. With just a flick of a fingernail, a rather short fuse ignited in the milky white night. Stunned, Jackie fumbled into a step back. The thief guffawed behind his mask right before he tossed the ball towards the seasoned yet cocky fighter. Before Jackie could make a move, the thief rolled himself off the opposite side of the rooftop and the paper ball exploded in mid-air.

“Uh-oh.”

From below, Frank and Rhys watched a giant wallop of flame expand in the air with their cohort Jackie Simms flying straight off the roof and into the brick road below. Her hefty body landed with a great thud. Though Frank was not the best at telling the complete truth, he swore that the impact broke more of the brick than it did Jackie’s ego. Rhys and Frank hurriedly ran to her side to make sure she was okay. In fact, Jackie swung back up to a sitting position and coughed a few times before sighing.

“Damn Jackie, he done fucked you up.” Frank was rather blunt despite losing to the same thief just minutes ago.

Team Anchovi, the band of merry losers from Guten Nocht, just could not get a break, but the worst part of it all was that they were down one bag of groceries. Of course, it was the bag Frank was most excited for. He guessed that almonds for breakfast would be a decent substitute to delicious tomatoes. Though Rhys was complacent with the events, both Jackie and Frank vowed for revenge. The thief enthralled Frank’s empty stomach while the thief knowingly caught Jackie at a weak point. They would keep their eyes wide open for the thief in the atrociously disparaging yellow headband and sash.
  HEAD ES DOODLE PETSUCHOS / Finnigan / 5y 116d 21h 58m 15s
[size16 #Merchant Town Llamarr#]

“No regrets.”

Frank tilted his head up and smiled. Another new start, perhaps with a happy ending waiting for him. The capital was getting too caught up in politics and the decline of the economy. Frank and the Maxwell brothers were spreading around as household names for the revolution. Frank Dietz was not a revolutionary. He confessed that he was not necessarily a great man of words either. He had a knack of getting into trouble and throwing the rest of his crew in the face of danger. A sound and secure future waited for him somewhere in this newfangled Blue.

“What?”

The bubbly pilot scratched her head as she soared through the Varsylian skies. Captain Gallien Rhoton was insistent that she and the rest of Team Anchovi remain in the capital’s metropolitan area for a few more weeks until some more imaginary paperwork came through and grounded them even further. Patience she lacked, and nothing but persistence she had. The grizzled Jackie pulled some strings of her own, namely her favorite romp, Hollis Westlands. The sex was not as stellar as usual, but with the way she vividly described it, Frank might have believed he was there for a very brief moment.

“Uh...nothin’. Just thinkin’ to muhself.”

The rust colored hair quickly grew into a wily catastrophe in the past few months with no curly haired siren to tend to it. There would be no long nails scratching the tender surface of Frank’s scalp as their owner pondered on how to shape the strands of whimsical hair. He smiled at the thought of the both of them laughing, with her caressing him from behind with a pair of scissors in hand. She knew how to cut hair, just like his late sister Elle. Frank unconsciously let a small whimper out which was quickly caught by the rest of the crew, for he was the least perceptive of them all. Jackie simply smirked and let the other two investigate.

“Is everything okay, Frank? You seem distraught,” Duster parked his face up to Frank’s and constantly tilted his head left to right. “Are you getting enough to eat?”

“Whaddya want, Dusty? Yer in my space.”

“Animals usually create some sort of utterance when they’re hungry or need to excrete waste.”

Rhys chuckled from the other side of the cockpit but rapidly piped up when Frank struggled to look over Duster’s body and shoot a dirty look.

“You think somethin’ is funny over there, Chuckles?”

Frank shook his fist. At this point, he was trying to recover his tough guy persona. The thought of her raced through his mind often. He counted in one day sixteen times. He believed that the surreal moments of his dark skinned goddess-companion were her contacting him. The idea of her developing some sort of telepathy did not surprise him. After all, the Maker crafted her to be the most magnificent being. Frank eventually simmered down into a seat.

“Elbriz says that we’ll find a job in Llamarr in no time. I reckon we be transportin’ some goods while we’re there so everybody is gonna have to put in some muscle.”

The idle white mannikin they called Duster quipped, “I do not have muscle fibers, Frank.”

Frank heavily sighed.

“Don’t worry Frankie, I got enough muscle to cover him.” Jackie flexed her biceps and posed for her audience. They threw their hands in an uproar. At least, that’s what she wanted to imagine.

“In fact, she has enough muscle to support the entire crew threefold.”

“Besides the point, ya guys.”

Jackie winked at Duster despite the fact that Duster was incapable of expressing love or any personal connection with another sentient life. the cheeky pilot loudly hummed and smittenly puffed out her chest. She had too much energy and the day was just starting for the crew. They left the shipyard before the crack of dawn in hopes of arriving in Llamarr by high noon. Unknown to the rest of the crew, aside from the astute Duster who might have been in cahoots with Jackie, the Fighter was able to make it to Llamarr by ten in the morning. She purposefully ran the ship a tad slower because she enjoyed the whirring of the engines and the ship’s sharp cutting into the air. Jackie also cherished the very brief moments with the entire crew.

[b kzzzrt.]

“This is Ms. Jackie Simms of The Fighter, ace pilot of Guten Nocht’s Last, breaker of Galhead chains. I’m requesting any open space within the city of Llamarr to taxi my airship.”

[b “Salutations, Ms. Simms. This is air traffic controller Kels Tieren of the Easterian Shipyard. We are unable to accommodate ATL services at the moment, does your airship have necessary measures for an ATS landing?”]

Frank and Rhys looked confused. ATL? ATS? Jackie looked back at the two of them and responded, “Baby, baby. The Fighter is top of the line. She’s straight Jukain. Send me the coordinates and I’ll be down in two shakes of a chicken’s tailfeather.”

Jukain? Not even Kels Tiern of the Easterian Shipyard knew what she talking about. Within the next hour of the last radio transmission, the Fighter approached the town from the waters. Both Frank and Rhys were shocked at the sight set before them. Rhys smiled. This new place gave him a chance to explore more of Varsyl and the Blue. Frank swallowed his saliva and deeply exhaled. Jackie lowered the ship causing it to skim across the waters, and the rest of the crew panicked and clutched onto the nearest solid object.

Waving his hands around in frenzy, Frank hollered, “We’re gonna drown! What the flying fuck are you doing, Jackie? Bring the Fighter back up! Bring it back up!”

Frank tried for the steering wheel, but the stalwart ace elegantly nudged him back into his seat with her knuckles. The pilot turned back to her friend and assured, “Frankie baby, Rhys-e-sweets. No need to cry, the seas have enough salt. The Fighter has naval capabilities.”

“How do you know that?” Frank cried out even further. “There was never enough water for you to try this out on Nocht!”

“Faith.”

“Well fuck faith!”

Jackie pulled up to any empty dock where several men directed her to a complete halt. She shut the Fighter down and was the first person to get up out of her seat. Even Duster who was fearless of everything but black witches and fairy tales dared not to move all too much. In fact, the rocking of the boat kept the Lucavi off his feet for some time. The spindly limbs were not enough to support him through the tumults, and Frank took pleasure in watching the horned silver alien crash into the walls.

It was the first time that the crew of the Fighter opened the side hatch to the outside world. Jackie shoved the heavy door open and lead Frank and Rhys onto the left wing of the ship. As soon as Frank saw where he was, he threw himself back inside and onto the floor. Rhys clung onto Jackie’s leg like a monkey to the thick trunk of a great tree. Jackie thought to herself that she was going to have to carry the entire team on her back. Clumsy cowards, the lot of them. What use were these men? Well, one was a bioandroid with a young boy’s mind, another was an alien, and the last was Frank. Frank was Frank. Frank is always Frank.

“Eugh! There’s so much of it,” Frank muttered from inside the ship. “Not going out there.”

Jackie jested, “Scared, Frankie?”

“We’re supposed to drink water, not the other way around.”

“If it bothers you so much, we can find you an inn and you can always operate from there. I’ll even carry you across the wing if you want.”

She heard a loud grunt from the interior. Frank was not having any of her taunts. Not today at least. Rhys tugged on Jackie’s shirt and she gladly gave him his full attention.

“Can you carry me across?”

“No,” she gleefully responded. “You’re halfway there. We can finish the battle together, but I’m not always gonna be by your side. Frankie over there needs some motivation. If he sees you do it all by yourself, then he’ll be compelled to do it.”

“How did you come to that conclusion?”

Jackie removed her eyes from Rhys and shouted back into the Fighter.

“That’s because Frankie baby is a chicken shit!” She grinned at the child once more and slowly pried him off her body. Whispering to him, she nodded, “Go.”

Removing one leg then the other from hers, Rhys slowly released his vicegrip and started at a sloth’s crawl across the chilly wing’s span. The foamy seawater swished to and fro the Fighter’s sleek body. Somehow the smell of the vast sea enticed the boy for a few moments. The humidity and mist spritzed his face, yet it was not a miserable humidity that the capital sported. Jackie allowed Rhys to take his time and snickered at Frank who was tacitly watching from the inside. The adolescent wobbled to his feet and gradually stepped towards the end where he hurriedly threw himself onto the wooden dock.

Rhys gave the Fighter and Jackie a thumbs up which prompted the stubborn mule inside to sluggishly slither onto the wing. The pilot offered her hand, but gruff Frank had too much pride. Swatting it away, Frank followed in Rhys’ steps and wobbled to his feet. He made the conscious effort and darted across the wing. Before Jackie could make a joke, Frank plummeted next to Rhys who immediately tended to a grounded fool. Jackie, without any effort, hopped down from the wing and lead the way to the exciting world of Llamarr.

Right off the dock, the troupe got their first hand experience. The town had a cooler tone to it, mostly draped in drab greys and blues. Vibrant lime green moss grew on the roofs and ivy vines snaked along what few brick walls the town possessed. Most of the gloomy shanties stood only a floor tall with the obvious inns and taverns being the exception. There were half-hearted attempts at trying to brighten up the place, but the droopy flowering plants sank like the hearts of their owners. The people, mostly men, were either built with muscle from all the heavy lifting of wooden crates or wiry like Duster’s limbs.

“Looks like our kind of crowd, eh Frankie?”

The port town was bustling as always with fishermen hollering prices of their latest wares. The few women who wore dull rags on their heads and resided in the town sold expensive the most vibrant objects in town: tulips. Of course, the asking price was rather high, but they seemed like a hit with the tiny girls in their tiny blue ascots. On the opposite end of the wharf, a few men were duking it out over something irrelevant and menial. Fists flew and a crowd manifested as a result. Brawlers perhaps, Frank was clearly not interested, but Jackie raised a brow.

“I think we could get used to it. Maybe this is our home.”

“Everyone looks...so mean,” Rhys remarked. He hid between his guardians.

“Yeah, Llamarr isn’t just a town for merchants. A merry band of thieves and wot not.” A shifty man picked up on the newest residents to the neighborhood and immediately gravitated into their direction. He wore a shabby torn grey overcoat spoke as sweet as a guilty person could. “I’ve heard they steal from the rich and the poor! There’s a reason why the crown doesn’t deal with us as much. Well, besides the fact that the capital is complete shit. Some rebel rousers did a number on the slave trade. Ever since then, it’s been a train wreck and a half, a mass chain of explosions.”

“Yeah, those were good times.” Frank daydreamed. His mind wandered elsewhere and paid no attention to the scrub.

“Excuse me?” Trying to figure out what was going on and who exactly he was talking to, the burly man cocked his eyebrows at the foreigner and scratched his scruff.

Grabbing onto Frank’s hands, Rhys squeaked, “My brother likes to run his mouth off, don’t mind him!”

The man scoffed the foreigners and began to walk away, but Jackie felt a sinister wind from behind. Halting the man with such great instinct, Jackie slid her palm across his chest and glared. She retrieved a small felt bag that jingled of gold. [i Her] gold. The man who was a head taller held back a stupid grin, but Jackie Simms of Guten Nocht was not amused.

“Ah, I’m sorry. I thought I could help myself to a little tip.”

“I’ll give you a tip: I won’t hurt you too badly, but the next time you cross Team Anchovi will be the last.”

Jackie jumped into the air and spun the heel of her foot into the man’s wide jaw. The thief fell to his knees where Jackie wound her fist for the finishing strike. He flinched. Instead of knocking him out, she withdrew her fist as soon as she put it up and childishly stuck her tongue out. The man scurried to his feet and ran away while muttering obscenities. Team Anchovi was going to thrive in the city of merchants and thieves.
  HEAD ES DOODLE PETSUCHOS / Finnigan / 5y 119d 20h 5m 15s
[size20 #ARC 3: RUNNER IN THE NIGHT#]
[size16 #Fighter Returns#]

Months had passed by without a single trouble for team Anchovi, but the same could not be said for the Varsylian capital and its surrounding cities. The fallout of Galhead had invigorated people to join the fight against slavery and the mistreatment of fellow humans. The Maxwells were at the forefront of the sporadic movement, yet Tony Maxwell felt off kilter about the masses. Before the events of the Galhead Trade company fiasco there was very little discourse concerning its downfall. No one until Jackie and the rest of Anchovi dared to go against the malicious slave trade.

Pondering heavily on the thought while standing on a tall ladder parallel to the Fighter, Tony was unsure on whether he inspired revolution in the Varsylians or if they were just opportunistic. In chaotic fashion, people of all origins and ages outside of the palace walls raided Galhead assets and sacked what food and wares they could carry out by hand and cart alike. Jeraia swore that these people were more or less barbaric than the slavers themselves. There was no sense of caring for human life and the elder Maxwell believed that the barbarians thought he pushed for anarchy.

“How’s she doin’?” Frank merrily tipped his floppy hat up and watched Tony twisting cables into each other.

The man from Guten Nocht had gotten back from the farm on a late summer afternoon. According to many Varsylians, summer was an arduous six month affair with the blistering sun and sometimes week-long droughts. Stories of self-sustaining floral springs and brisk autumns were passed down through the generations, yet no one from the area ever experienced these seasons for long, if at all. The more Frank remained in the metropolitan area, the more he realized that Varsyl was only a notch above the hollow Guten Nocht.

Removing the pair of soldering goggles from his eyes, the lean fellow in the sweat drenched tank top and half worn jumpsuit looked back at his comrade and nodded, “Today will be the last day that she’ll be out of commission.”


“It’ll be months before she sees the doctor again, Frankie.” Jackie came around the back of the ship while wiping the grease from her hands. She happily smiled towards his direction right before the the Fighter’s end burst into white smoke. “Oops.”

“Hmph, we’ll see about that.”

Shouting from the other side of the ship, Jackie tended to the Fighter’s whine.

“Where’s Rhys-e-sweet?”

“Engergast. That boy’s been leading those folk in my absence. Give a kid a crash course on chicken handling, he suddenly becomes a know-it-all on gallomancy.”

Frank and Rhys were often not seen in the shipyard. Frank traveled to nearby cities from time to time with Jeraia and tried to play peacekeeper. Wherever Galhead had employees and cells tailor made for slaves, the duo hopped on their steeds to assist the downtrodden. Time was most essential to the two of them as they needed to beat the raiders to the facilities in order to resupply the newly freed with Galhead goods. Day and night, Frank, Jeraia, and the few brave souls who stuck around had ridden from one town to another with justice and liberty in mind.

Frank had only been back in the area this past week and found that he was not needed back on the ship nor Engergast. The young boy Rhys worked passionately with Elbriz and Luzi and their most trusted ranchers. A few of Elbriz’s men shirked away from the giant chickens after a few close encounters with the razor sharp talons, but it was Rhys who bolstered the remaining men’s confidence. He often spent the days, nights, and sometimes even weeks at the farm and shared many meals with the gracious Elbriz. The patron of the land saw Rhys as a friend and even as a son. Rhys and Luzi were inseparable. They often did most of their chores together and sang old Varsylian nursery rhymes.

Growing bored of doing absolutely nothing in the day, Frank wondered about his good friend Jeraia. “Where’s yer brother?”

Tony was too distracted with the Fighter’s wiring that he had not realized his jargon muttering trailed off for minutes at a time. He went another couple of minutes before he realized Frank posed a question. “Probably in Selby. Last message he sent was in Kruftenbourgh, back on plantations. Freed thousands I heard.”

“Makin’ a dent.” Frank sighed. He regretted not being in the fray this time. He regretted coming back home to a bunch of busybodies.

Tony never complained about the long hours between his three jobs. In addition to fixing up merchant ships, he balanced the whole liberation movement and the Fighter’s tuneup most excellently. Of course, there was a moment in the past two months where he had to sit Jackie down and berate her. A lot of the Fighter’s wiring was done wrong and the placement of several components of the ship were misplaced. In the end, Tony struggled at being frustrated with her and the ship because she managed to make it awkward with her incessant gawking. He tried provoking Jackie into an argument, but somehow she was able to sit there in bliss. She took all his pitiful jabs and returned with a gooey sweet grin.

Dinner was often awkward for Tony. Jackie fawned over him. Duster was the only other person who accompanied them to dinner, and Tony quickly learned that Duster had a major staring problem. The mechanic often ate his meals in solitude before he freed Jeraia, but it was the foreign behavior that gave him a bad taste in his mouth. He vowed that he would never visit Guten Nocht if this behavior was the norm. He was grateful for Jackie’s hospitality and her willingness to share food with him. She ate with a queen’s appetite and devoured an average of five Varsylian meals in one sitting.

“Hey, why dontcha come with us?”

“What?” Pausing in his work, Tony turned back around to Frank once more and squinted his eyes.

“I’m gettin’ this feeling that we won’t be around in the area for a long time and we’re gonna need a mechanic. Since yer doin’ such a great job, it’d be nice to keep ya around.” Frank felt awkward in trying to convey his words. Though the rest of his crew accepted Tony without a problem, it was Frank who had a problem with him. Perhaps it was Frank having a problem with Frank. He never entirely thanked Tony for helping out in his release. He struggled to find ways to make it up to him. Besides stealing and fighting, Frank did not have an array of skills or passions he could repay with, and words were not his strong suit.

“My duty resides in Varsyl and despite the fracturing of Galhead, Jeraia and I still have a lot to do.” In some ways, Frank and Tony were almost the same person. They expressed their emotions horribly and could not find the right words. On top of it all, Antonine Maxwell had this notion that he had to play it cool the entire time. Displaying any weakness was social suicide. A calm composure and a solid build was all he needed.

Deep inside, Tony struggled with more than what he could handle. At first, it was Duster who pointed it out to Tony in private. One day, the Lucavi cornered Tony and offered to mend his mind, but the weirded out Varsylian slowly and rudely declined. He pushed past the alien who did not understand boundaries and walked off in disgust. The night terrors started since Jeraia’s abrupt journeys and they grew worse with each passing day since Galhead’s destruction. The next person to approach him was the young Illumina who suggested that none of it was real. As much as Tony wanted to shove the kid and tell him that nothing was wrong, he could not. His pride got in his way.

It was not until Jackie when Tony started to crack. He came across her meditating one day in the cargo bay. She was wearing only her bra and panties and straddled the area between cool interior metal with the lustrously hot ramp. She did not have to say anything that day because she had anticipated it all from the beginning. There were no surprises to her because she too had gone through the same situation as Tony. He was clearly shaken from the encounter outside of the marketplace with the Galhead executive. Rage had taken over him and before he could fully comprehend his actions, the sword skewered the slaver. The red hot rage and guilt had masked his pacifist nature, and as a result he attended church every day for three weeks. He begged for forgiveness with his father’s pendant clutched between his hands.

Tony could have fooled Frank, but one of the most perceptive people in all of Varsyl happened to be on the same ship as Tony. Though she often flirted with Tony on a daily basis, Jackie put her childish antics to the side and aided him through it all. He had never killed until that day, and his thoughts betrayed him as a result. Unable to come up with a reason for not working, Tony caved and broke down in front of her that day. Holding him in her arms, she reassured him that if he wanted to look cool, he had to be cool. Standing him up, she did not want to coddle him like Rhys or any child.

“Hey,” Frank said thus breaking Tony’s daydreaming sequence.

“Yeah?”

Frank struggled before he awkwardly squeaked out, “You work too hard, Tony. Take it easy.”

“Hm.” Before Frank could make it far, Tony chirped, “If you’re gonna stick around in Varsyl, I suggest looking elsewhere for work. The capital’s economy is gonna tank soon, or at least that’s what I’ve heard from a few employees from the Lansit Family.”

Before the end of the day, Tony presented the pair of thieves with an updated Fighter. He boasted that the Fighter would be able to outspeed any Varsylian aircraft flying under the Prince’s guard without breaking a gear. He expected the ship to run smoothly without any tuneups for the next few months, but Frank quipped that it’ll be back in a couple of weeks knowing how rough the crew was. The three took a good moment to realize how amazing the Fighter was. It was one of a kind and had the best of both worlds. Whoever engineered this magnificent piece of work wanted something something strong and able to take a few hits, yet they did not want to sacrifice its agility and responsiveness.

“Are you sure you don’t want to tag along with us, Tony?” Jackie begged, “We need someone like you to balance out our crazies.”

“I already declined Frank’s offer. Plus, I have a few personal issues I need to settle with first before I before I bring on my own crazies.”

Acting silly in front of Tony, Frank, and the setting sun, she daintily placed the back of her hand on her forehead and dramatically sighed. “Oh Tony! We’ll die without you!”

They all laughed.

“So what’s the itinerary?” asked Tony.

“Rhys came back with Elbriz’s suggestion. Llamarr. Wherever the flip that is.”

“A merchant town?”

“Yeah, you know where that is?”

“Southeast coast of the continent. I guess if you’re gonna be looking for a job, there’s your best bet. You might be able to do some good work out there too with Galhead. I would not put it past them if they’re trying to ship out the last of their slaves there.”

“We’ll have to check it out then, Tony. You dining with us tonight?”

“Nah, I’m heading over to the hangars to fix some expressway ships. Also, word of advice: I would not do anything too suspicious as of now. There’s some serious dilemma happening in the palace. I’m guessing that something is missing from the queen’s wardrobe or something. Anyways, don’t give Rhoton a reason to blast you out of the sky.”

“You’re saying that as if I can’t out-maneuver a few missiles.” Jackie laughed, but no one joined her.

Tony shot her such a dirty glance that she immediately stood still. “I wouldn’t risk it.”
  HEAD ES DOODLE PETSUCHOS / Finnigan / 5y 91d 18h 12m 21s
[size16 #The Breakdown, pt. 2#]

Frank readied the ancient spellgun with the second shell. Aiming for the center of the armored crowd, Frank hummed happily a rather off-beat tune. The Galhead tradesmen shook in their metal, some even cowered and threw themselves to the ground before Frank pulled the trigger. Dispelling a grandiose display of lightning and fugue, the second blast crackled from the chamber. The lightning ravaged the men and branched from one body to the other like the thin threads of a weaving spider.

Though the magical prowess of the spellgun impressed Team Anchovi and the Maxwells, Frank fell to his knees. He eviscerated the threat before him but suffered from another ailment. His vision momentarily slipped away and his mouth ran parched. The kickback of the spellgun caught him off guard. His first shot had not sent him to the ground like this. Panting, Frank pushed himself back to his feet and haphazardly dusted himself off. Jeraia worriedly glared at Frank, but the man from Guten Nocht called him out.

“You got a starin’ problem?”

“No. I’m just shocked by the sheer amount of power one weapon has. Can’t say that I’ve ever seen a spellgun in person either.”

“Eh, not so common in these parts of the water?”

“Well, nowhere really. They’re just as rare as magic itself.”

Tony looked past the fried, unconscious, and twitching bodies. Every second they wasted here increased the Galhead executive’s chances of escaping. The gait quickly turned into a full on leap. Never had Tony been so ambitious. His feet took him and his fleeting heart raced. His drive left his brother and Frank speechless.

Watching the young man run the fastest and hardest he’s ever done, Jackie droned, “I’ll go with him.”

Jackie turned to the other Maxwell brother and nodded. Frank was too trigger happy at this point and if he had any of his other weaponry, he would have leveled the entire arena without a problem. Luckily, he was exhausted. Also, despite the recent turn of events he did not vibe well with Tony’s zeal. The outlaw would have claimed that he did not want to claim the mechanic’s thunder. Confident, Jackie’s close combat skills were unparalleled with this group of menfolk. Swords, axes, spears: there was no arsenal that she could not take care personally.

“You don’t happen to fancy my brother, do you?” Jeraia jokingly said. He turned to his brother’s admirer and winked heavily. She was momentarily caught off guard. “I’m just kidding. Now he’s not much of a fighter. It’s the rush of battle that’s turning the gearhead into a master of machismo. I figure that the only reason why your friend Frank is still alive is because he has friends. My blood is safe in your hands. Now go.”

As brave Jeraia and the rest of the freed bodies mobilized to charge Varsyl for the better, Jackie sprinted out of the halls of the colosseum just to try and catch up with the vibrating Tony. He was a tail ahead of her, but she knew exactly where he was going, for Tony was following the destruction that Galhead and his men laid out. Blood splatterings and turned-over fruit carts, turned stone and weeping children. Whatever or whoever was in the way of the fleeing mortal soon found themselves disoriented and distraught. The marketplace cried out of its savior. Frightened by the devil and his men, they prayed to the Maker for a swift justice. Men swung big swords and sometimes the cold steel would find its edge in flesh. Jackie ran with these images cycling through her head.

The fighting spirit of the vengeful Antoine Maxwell was hot on their trail. The velvet capes of the guards were within his reach. All he could think about was the death of Galhead by his own hands. He wondered why he had not done it any sooner. As he reached the other end of the marketplace, he soon realized that he was ahead of himself. The Galhead guards planted their feet on the ground, turned around, and drew their swords out in the open space. Tony stopped before them unarmed and quickly winding down. Sniggering, the man in his robes patronized Tony.

“You decide to chase me and then when it comes to the final fight you choose to bring no weapon? I’m sure you’re aware of it now, but I did not hire a rambunctious pack of prepubescent girls to protect me. My money buys men on the daily, you sniveling Kaf morsel; my coin can purchase a personal militia.”

Trying to look over the hulking figures’ shoulders, Tony addressed from afar. “Fight like a man! If you didn’t have money, none of these guys would stand for you. Shows you how much support you really have.”

“I don’t pay these men to think, Maxwell. Your father squandered his money on freeing the wrong insolent child. When I tell these men to raise their swords, their swords rise without question.”

The men began their advance. With his hands naked, Tony looked around for any object to fend off the attackers. Backing away, Tony felt a swift wind brush up against his side. Like the bolt of lightning that emerged from Frank’s gun, Jackie erupted into one of the swordsman. She showcased such strength and speed in her movements. How she jumped over the man’s shoulder while locking her arm around his head brought fear in everyone’s eyes. Her speed and tight grip slammed the opponent down on his back. The other guards turned their attention to her and point their swords in her direction.

Tossing the fallen soul’s sword to Tony’s feet, Jackie quipped, “the real party can now begin.”

A crossbow bolt zipped in front of brave Jackie’s face. She could feel the fletching of the bolt skim the skin off her nose. Invoking rage, she stepped his way with fists curled up, but before the marksman could reload another bolt into his crossbow and fire it, Tony lopped off his hands in one upward swing.

“The Galhead Trade Company is everywhere. You think that disposing me will end the business?” Simply oblivious to the gore set before him, the cruel executive laughed in Tony’s direction. The sadistic laughter only angered Tony even further. This man had no respect for anyone else’s life. Pleasure and goosebumps ran across the executive’s body.

“No, but it’s a start.” Tony put up his sword with intent to fight through the crowd. This was probably his third or fourth time handling a sword. He did not think they would be so heavy to handle.

The man in the lavish robes tossed his head back and laughed it off. “Ah, but this is where you end.”

Tony and Galhead’s men locked swords. By no means was Tony a fighter. He was granted strength, yet he did not possess the posture and finesse of the average swordsman. Sometimes it was even too much power when he swung the sword. He spun with the sword. The Galhead men hopped back from his attacks with ease and wondered if this fool would succumb their blade or his own. They mocked his sword handling and even jeered his mental health.

“Eh, a Kaf wif’ no magick swings like a complete tard. What use is he?”

“I figure that he would at least die with honor. What a damn shame.”

Tony was very fortunate though to have the hulking Jackie cover for him. She would guard Tony’s back and even then, she flew to the other side. The soldier of the toughened fists engaged the men as if they were men she fancied and engaged in everyday conversation. Every time a sword came her way, she would counter with the same combination: dodge, rotate, sweep, and finish. A sword swung for her head, but she leaned back, encircled her foe, used her gargantuan legs sweep her topy heavy foe, and relentlessly punched him into submission. The Galhead numbers rapidly dwindled without Tony even having to swing his sword a second time. This was Jackie Simms. She was born to pilot ships and fight.

If she could fight all fights, Jackie Simms would. She happily stepped in for her crush, but not because she wanted his affection. No, she always won the hearts of men off this sort of battlefield for another. Life for her was fought on two different fronts: love and war. No, Jackie Simms fought for Tony because she owed him for assisting in getting Frank back to her and she believed in his cause from the very first encounter. She was looking to start a new life, yet found something a little bit more meaningful than just the average day to day nine to five stint.

Finally, there were no guards to stand between the snake and Tony. Jackie swept the floor of all the rubbish and allowed her associate to take the reins. The executive who nervously chuckled began to back away into a run, but the vehement Tony Maxwell effortlessly pushed the older man into the ground face first. As the dust settled, Tony’s boot dug into the man’s gut with the sword pointed at the face. Victory was closer to Tony now than ever. After years of plotting and consistently failing against the Galhead name, he savored this moment. He waited fifteen years, a lifetime to him, to free his brother and father from slavery.

“I yield!” he pled. He threw his arms in front with palms wide open as if that would stop Tony’s rage and blade from coming down on him. Well, surprisingly it worked for a moment.

“Where is my father? Where is Dyon Maxwell? You know, the one whose freedom I tried buying along with Jeraia’s, yet you cruelly denied me their freedom.” Tony lowered his sword down, unable to bring himself to kill this man. He teetered on the idea that he would sell him with the rest of Galhead to neighboring empires as an ironic and poignant statement.

“May the Maker take pity on your soul, filthy Maxwell.” The malign man spat. “Hel will await your soul one day.”

The executive tried scuttle away like a beach crab, but he kept on tripping on his own robes and thusly did not get as far as he exaggerated in his mind. He continued to scoot back only to tear into the velvet eggplant purple robes and dirty the fabric with the dry earth. Within the rising cloud of dirt, something familiar to Tony shone through it all. The Varsylian summer sun pointed out an object on a gaudy golden chain that resonated with Tony’s soul. The peridot pendant was a heirloom of the Maxwell family and passed down from one generation to another.

“Hold it,” Tony dimly spoke. “Where is the owner of that pendant?”

No answer.

“Answer me.”

His prisoner of war was melting from the heat. The sweat trickled down his aged face and his clothes mopped up the drops attracting the dirt to stain the lavish purples. The two remained in place in silence. The Galhead boss pled with his eyes now knowing that if he stalled enough, an airship of his would come by to save him.

“I am willing to pay the price for freedom.” Unable to control his stewing anger any further in the midst of stillness, Tony took his father’s pendant in the left hand as his right hand slipped the tip of the blade into the head of Galhead Trade Company’s chest. He knew that his father had died a some time ago due to unforeseen circumstances, but Tony’s best guess was that his father died in the hands of Galhead. The utter neglect and mistreatment of a human being was enough to justify his action. Vengeance ran full circle. As the final breaths escaped the executive’s dying lungs, strong browed Tony parted ways with a rather vindictive final farewell. “As one life slips from the Maker’s hand, ten-thousand are freed.”

Team Anchovi and the Maxwell brothers lived another day, and the crown tried its best to stay far away from the controversial affair. A herald of Prince Chelon and the empress dowager Helvetia announced the follow day that the empire was no way associated with Galhead Trade Company and would not investigate it any further. In reality, the empress was slowly losing her favor with the other empires. With the slave trading company compromised, her influence was slowly waning. Luckily her future son-in-law was malleable and had some authority.

Captain Rhoton Gallien and Hollis Westlands were dispatched to the Varsylian capital’s slave encampment site to piece together what had happened. The captain, puzzled by the effort of just a few men, strangers nonetheless, scratched his chin as his men rummaged through every empty nook and cranny. Jeraia Maxwell cleaned out the place before Varsyl’s military made the scene. There was not a body in sight nor was there any leftover resources.

“What’s the final say, Westlands?”

“A few of my men and I were able to access Galhead’s data bank. The Galhead Trade Company has a better filing system than the capital, sir. I mean how is it that a slave trading company keeps a cleaner record than we do?” The captain sternly stared at Hollis and tapped his foot. He was not in the mood for the fluff. “With this information, we’re able to find out names, the point of abduction, medical history, and transactions throughout both the Varsylian empire and adjacent empires. These businessmen were shrewd fellows with a good eye for detail. I have retrieved the files for Mr. Frank Dietz of Guten Nocht and Jeraia Maxwell as per request, sir.”

“Ah, good stuff, Westlands.” The captain looked through the files. Jeraia had a hefty case on him, yet he amused the captain. There was a lot of notes regarding negligence and talking back, but Rhoton admired his audacity and work ethic.

“Sir, why did we not interfere with either acts of rebellion? Galhead was responsible for the small boom of wealth in the capital. Should we have protect the best interests of the prince and the regent queen?”

“Prince Chelon and Queen Helvetia have suffered two mighty losses today. With the Maxwell brothers inciting liberty throughout the empire and Galhead slowly crumbling without its figureheads, it’s only a matter of time before the crown resorts to transformation.” Though it troubled his companion, the captain was more than fine with change in the empire. Smarter than the rest, he knew the country was in a decay. The crown was a joke. Stopping himself from fantasizing about his ideal world, Capt. Rhoton Gallien nodded to his subordinate and asked, “Hollis, did you find any clues to [i her]?”

“We did a thorough search of the data bank. Nothing. Looks like another lead gone cold if you ask me, sir.”

“The queen will be devastated by the news.”

“The queen? The prince more like it, captain.”

Pacing around, the captain rubbed his chin harder than before. Surely [i she] did not deserve what cruel fate came her way. “This though, Westlands, isn’t good. [i She] must be scared. She’s been missing for two weeks now.”

“Not to be so succinct with you, sir, but what about Galhead?”

“What of it? It’s a cold case. We’re not to interfere with businesses outside our jurisdiction. If the Maxwells and Frank of Guten Nocht want to start a revolution. Let them do it. It’s none of our business to interfere with the people as long as they bring money to the empire and don’t mess with the crown. As far as I know, they’re not responsible for [i her] disappearance.”

“Right: one man’s been a slave for fifteen years, another just arrived to Varsyl to set free his giant chickens, and the other works for…” Hollis trailed off with the sun setting beyond the marketplace and colosseum.

“What? You don’t think that the magician is responsible, do you? Surely the man with one of the biggest names in Varsyl as well as the Blue has nothing to do with it. The prince would have done something about him sooner if that was the case.”

Captain Gallien called for his people to regroup and sent them on their way home. Before dismissing Hollis himself, all the captain could do was shake his head. Change was for the better, but not if the prince was involved. It was Gallien and Westlands job to investigate the missing person, but if the magician was involved, so was the prince. No one wants to work for the prince. [i No one.]
  HEAD ES DOODLE PETSUCHOS / Finnigan / 5y 136d 17h 46m 20s
[size16 #The Breakdown#]

The crowd erupted into a loud roar that filled the colosseum with such animosity. The cheers rang of senseless bloodlust and malign nature. The Varsylians lived for the excitement behind the kill like the ravenous beasts seen from across the seas. Hundreds if not thousands of people flocked in droves once they heard the latest and greatest event happening in the capital. Galhead had rented out the colosseum with the power the mighty executive ever knew: the coin. People bowed to the amount of money he amassed and were honestly afraid. The men and women had heard stories of kidnappings happening throughout the night. They slipped through doors like wet snakes and fly through the windows like witches who transfigured into owls.

“In the end, we accomplished nothin’.”

Frank, Jeraia, and the captured convicts trudged in a line of shackles and chains to the main doors to the arena. Adults and children alike anticipated the worst. The youngest of them cried about the lions, tigers, and bears wrangled from the Blue’s plethora of exotic continents. One of the women who did not directly partake in the fierce battles as much as the others offered to throw herself in front of a blade as long as it meant that she would not suffer from molestation and humiliation. Her hands timidly shivered, but it was Jeraia who reassured her. As they waited at the doors, he cupped her frail hands and quietly prayed with her.

“I think making a statement is more than nothing. We proved that we’re not invisible and our voices must be heard. All lives matter. We must accept our fate with open hands now.” Jeraia stood strong for his people and allowed them to lean on him for some pillar of hope. He wore his scars proudly and his sober eyes withstood the dry air and dirt. He tried to be there for them when even they could not be.

“I’m not going out there just to accept death. If they want to kill me, they’re gonna die tryin’,” Frank muttered throughout the blaring crowd’s cheering.

With such surprise, Jeraia whipped his head in his direction and glared. He snickered, “As if killing you would be that hard, my friend.”

“Yeah, yeah.”

“I will not oppose this action. I will not speak for the rest of you, but I’m willing to throw a good punch if it means just a small smidge of a chance to live.

One by one, the people whom the Galhead executive thought as playthings chimed. They rose to the occasion like plants do in the blooming season. They lacked rest, yet they mustered up the strength to stand with their rock. The colosseum security forcefully pushed the chained gang into the open fighting pit where thousands of people vulgarly roared. The obscenities drowned out whatever thoughts that were racing in the captured men and women’s heads. Jeraia and Frank locked eye contact with the leading figure of Galhead. The smug smirk caused Frank’s face to twitch and twist up.

The coordinator of the event removed his signature eggplant purple robe and approached the front of his shaded box. He whimsically grasped the copper microphone’s stand and pulled it to his sickly thin lips. The crowd simmered for a moment in order to listen.

“My fellow Varsylians! It does not matter whether you’re rich or poor, Kaf or Krem, or even if you’re the ruling prince of the country, we are all here today for justice. The handful of people you see in the center of the colosseum are responsible for the deaths of hundreds. Innocents slaughtered like livestock because these barbaric monstrosities believed they deserved better in life. The Galhead Trade Company believes that labor and penance is the only way to cleanse the body and soul of sinister nature! These sinners believed they were above paying for their wicked ways! An eye for an eye, I say. I say we let them die like cattle, just as they did when they sliced the throats of well-being men and women. What do you say?”

The crowd righteously cried out for judgment. The more subtle members of this spectacle felt the uncomfortable warmth they’ve generated.

“Guards, unshackle them. Give the crowd what they want!”

The guards slowly unshackled the group starting with the youngest. Frank and Jeraia were the last two to be unshackled, and before Jeraia could formulate some sort of plan, one of the convicts ran from the group with fists prepared to fly. Profusely yelling towards the officials, he waved his fists into the air.

“Wait, you dumbass! I thought we were sticking together!” Frank screamed out.

Jeraia held Frank from running after him, fearing the unknown of the colosseum. Never in his life had he or anyone in the group ever step foot in the magnificent structure. Rumors flew around about its transforming nature. Some swear that the proctors of the arena had the ability to convert at least half of it into a small lake suited for naval combat. In fact, just as Jeraia kept Frank within his reach the ground rumbled and trap doors opened around the stray prisoner. The dark pits ejected large feral cats into the air and onto the dirt ground they landed. It was too late for the stray cattle to return to the herd; the cats pounced high and low and sunk their sharp canines into his flesh. The maned lions jerked the sharp shrilled and limbed meatbag.

“Everyone stay close to each other!” screamed Jeraia. “If one of us goes down, we bum rush the cats. Keep the kids in the middle of the circle and keep moving. Let’s go!”

Everyone complied with tough Jeraia at the forefront. The two wild felines were content with their latest catch that they simply ignored the pack moving away from them. Another trap door opened but it was larger than the last. The sudden action gave some of the weaker members of the group a scare and they jumped. A giant reptile with an elongated neck, sharp beak, and ridged shell showed up on a platform. It was too slow and easily outmaneuvered by human foot. Jeraia slightly scoffed at the crowd who thought that the lethargic reptile would put up any kind of fight. It snarled and slowly took small strides, but the group could crawl away easily and safely with one leg and an arm.

Gladiators with tridents flanked the circle from the other side with the intent of forcing them towards the giant tortoise. Frank rotated his side facing the armored pugilists before he and several others fearlessly speared and captured one for themselves. The series of stomps and punches to the body put the one body to rest before they equipped themselves short swords and a trident. The other arena fighters diverted from the line to confront Frank, but were met with strong resistance. The group threw one into submission before taking on a second trident wielder and cleanly gutting him from existence.

As he watched the inferior group somehow overcome their obstacles, the head of the slave trading company gritted his teeth and slammed his fists into an armchair just as ornate as his cape. He kept his extravagant box filled with his closest confidants and business partners. They enjoyed the spectacle he put on despite the slaves he despised so much slowly persevering against the odds. Excusing himself to rid the images before him, the Galhead admin got out of his chair only to find two obscure figures in light black cloaks waiting at the door. The guards brandished their swords with the intent to kill the intruders. Smirking, the executive noticed a blade in the figure’s hand. He knew that it was meant for him.

“Speak now or you’re next on the lion’s menu.”

Without saying a word, the man removed his hood and revealed himself to be none other than a stormy Tony. The cutthroat mechanic caught wind of the biggest event to happen since the late Varsylian king’s funeral. If there was any way that the event was linked to the fires, the shortly lived revolt, and Frank Dietz, Tony had to make sure that he was invited to the event.

“I see, so the favorite son of Dyon Maxwell comes back to enact revenge or perhaps buy someone’s freedom.”

“You have no right bringing up my father’s name. I’ve come back with the sole intention of bringing down the Galhead Trade company.I’m here to put an end to your reign, you malignant growth!”

The investors and the confidants all turned to see what brash fool would ever make a statement and laughed. They worried not about their money as much as they did about the match. They commented on how strong the company was and how slavery would always exist as long as there were enough weak-willed fools to fill out the labor ranks. Their tripping on power triggered Tony. In his other hand, he held a pistol and inside that pistol he reserved a bullet just for the executive.

“You’re surrounded by the best men the coin can afford. Presumptuous Maxwell! Your father was filth and so are you!” The executive ordered the men to dispatch the man “crafted of wasted resources” with a flick of a wrist.

“Then allow me to defend myself.”

The guard dogs raised their swords only to be cut down by the second cloaked figure. The whirling mess of fabric and mess cannonballed into the air and behind the guards before she skillfully launched one with a kick and the other with a punch to the face. Flying out of the cloak, Jackie followed up her lightning assault with a flurry of punches simply overwhelming her foes. The swords had dropped a long time ago, and she was unstoppable until she stopped.

Jackie chuckled and taunted Galhead and all its supporters. “You’re all talk. I’ve met teenage pregnant knife-wielding despots with more bang for their buck. You Varsylians have no clue who you’ve tangled with and now you’re about to get stung by the bull’s horns.”

The executive pulled out a pistol of his own and aimed at the woman from Guten Nocht. His attempts at killing her proved futile as Tony grabbed him by the wrist and aimed the gun into the sitting crowd’s direction. The bullet strayed from course and grazed the forearm of one of the screaming madams. Tony pulled out his pistol and the two held each other at such a close range. Dead silence and minimal struggle. The two were equally matched despite the age difference, height, and the color of their skin. At any moment either had the ability to pull their firearm’s trigger.

“Unhand me, you despicable Kaf! May the Maker cast you into the purifying fires!”

Tony simply ignored the fact that he was facing the wrong end of a gun’s barrel and charged at the man with such great strength. The display of tenacity broke through the armchair and sent the two of them tumbling off the box’s white marble carved balcony. Jackie reached for Tony at the last second yet was not able to recover him in time. She jumped after him and managed to land safely on the ground.

“Dammit Tony!”

The colosseum adverted its attention to the three latest newcomers to the game. The once boisterously angry crowd grew silent as Tony and the executive both struggled to get back to their feet. It was hard to breathe, but the fall could not have been more than fifteen feet. Tony clutched his chest and looked around the dusty ground for his pistol. As Jackie held up Tony, the executive tried to yell for help, but the landing took some of his breath as well. Their peripheral vision got better as time passed and the pain in their chests eased up, yet no one made a motion: not Tony, not Galhead, not Jackie, not even the crowd.

Then suddenly, a small voice from the crowd cried out, “Frank!”

“Huh?”

Frank and Jeraia had successfully repelled most of the forces back. The lions did not bother, the turtle was too sluggish to turn around, and the gladiators died out in number. Frank searched the heavy sea of bodies for the origin but was not able to pick out the individual. Instead, the most miraculous gift fell from the sky and in front of the outlaw too. He took up his spellgun and observed his goods. Looking back into the crowd, the fat grin on Frank’s gaunt face caught Rhys’.

“Only two shells? Ya gotta do better next time!” Frank shouted back to the boy he considered a younger sibling. He knew that Jackie would come and rescue him from all this.

Tony limped to the middle of the arena with Jackie as a crutch as Galhead sent a whole squadron of men to retrieve the executive and bring an end to the ludicrous uprising. Unable to keep his cool any longer, he wanted three swords in the back of all that opposed him. The vendors, big name investors, and the executive’s best associates jeered at the slaves and began the chant for their death. The crowd slowly joined in, but Frank sneered and aimed his weapon for their box. He did not hesitate in the obliteration of such wicked souls. A large searing beam of red energy caused his opponents in the arena to hit the floor and even pierced the the colosseum seating. A nice gaping hole replaced what was the executive’s box.

Jeraia supported Tony and the two embraced for the longest time. Weirded out by the sudden action, Jackie stepped back from the dark men and cocked a strange brow at the scene. Jeraia cradled the back of Tony’s head and smiled.

“Good to see that you’re still alive, brother,” Tony squeezed his bigger and older brother and shed a single tear.

“That’s why dad chose to free you instead of me,” Jeraia laughed. He tried to shake the sentimental feelings out of the younger and more handsome brother. After all, the Maxwells were not out of trouble yet.

“You’re brothers?” Frank scratched his head. He had the opportunity to hang out with two of the most level-headed freedom fighters and never did he once make the connection between the two. Given that he had only met Tony once and Jeraia just recently, he stumbled on his words a bit before looking for an exit.“I shoulda seen this comin’. Not because of yer skin or nothin’, just, well fuck, nevermind.”

In mass terror, the people of the gigantic colosseum flocked away. Within minutes, the entire seating area was empty with the sole exception of Rhys Illumina happily watching from the nosebleed section. He waved with one hand while the other fed him what snacks he decided to pick up at the concession stands.

“Kill them all! The Maxwells, the pasty bastard, all of them!” Rubbing what physical and emotional pain he suffered, the executive screamed at his employees. Unable to withstand the Varsylian summer heat and wanting to survive another day, his cowardice and a few guards led out of the colosseum.

“I’m going after him.” Tony stood independent of his brother with both fists closed tightly. “We’ve come so far, we cannot let him escape and let the tyrant continue to rule.”

Placing a calloused hand over the fervorous Tony’s shoulder, Jeraia nodded. “We have a strong sense of duty to our father. Be careful.”

“You will not come?”

Jeraia looked at the remainder of the slaves-turned-convicts. They were worn out from all the strife. Throughout Varsyl, thousands of forced slaves were suffering from their cruel fate. He served the wrong people for far too long and he could only imagine worse has happened to others.

“Only one of us needs to travel down the road to vengeance. We’ve led separate lives, yet we’ve always had the same endgame in mind. Just promise me that it won’t take another fifteen years before we see each other again.”

He felt as if it was his job to a clear a path for his little brother. A sense of family snagged and energized him. Grabbing a sword and trident, Jeraia rallied his troops for one more bout. Frank stood firmly behind the leader. Galhead was the grotesque and decrepit spider on its last legs. The Maxwells waited for the day where the long-lived company would finally collapse.
  HEAD ES DOODLE PETSUCHOS / Finnigan / 5y 144d 20h 27m 34s
[size16 #Jeraia’s Revolt#]

“A few good men stand before us, and that’s all we need to be heard. Our lives have been taken from us from hollow men undeserving of the Maker’s divine right. Now is the time to reclaim what has been stolen from us. We owe our lives to nobody but ourselves and the ones we happily share it with. If we obey the orders of these men, we will die without reason. If we retaliate, there is a good chance that we will die but we will die with dignity and a reason. Let the cowards serve their masters, for we will be the stalwart, the mighty. Let us remind them all that our lives matter, that we will not simply be pushed back by rich hands and disappear into fading backgrounds. Our voices cannot be silenced, for it is the Maker who first armed us with it. My fellow people, we are brethren in our most dire need. Family begets family. Fight for each other so that we may sow the seeds to our future.”

It was a Saturday, the only day when the slavers decided not to put up their wares for sale. It had been a few days for both Jeraia and Frank to get acquainted with each other as well as the few brave souls who dared to revolt against the system in place. The two figures in chains figured that it was the most appropriate time to network and branch out to the undesirable convicts. Many Varsylians observed the holy day except for the branded heathens that came from foreign countries such as Tsukimoto and Bating. Surprise would take Galhead Trade Company. Not even their god would protect them from the rage they had tried to sweep away.

A few dozen stood amongst Jeraia. All bodies of different statures, ages, and gender gathered around in hopes that this man’s might would carry them through the afternoon. They were tired of being herded around like cattle. The few women who decided to side with Jeraia reminisced about their subpar mechant-wife lives. The men beat their chest in high hopes of getting back to their family and their herds while the few princes amongst their ranks simply asked to return to the comforts of their homes. The children, many born in slavery, fought alongside their parents wishing for their freedom as well as their own.

Any other day, the guards would come in to break up the large mobs of people in fear of rebellion, but they simply tuned out the gallant Jeraia and disregarded him as a heretic preacher. Heretic, no, but a preacher, by all means yes. The invigorated people tensed up in this presence. His followers thought he possessed the magical ability to rain fire on his foes like the fierce sea goddesses worshipped thousands of years ago. With a slight chuckle in his tone, he assured them that was not the case.

Before Frank could really settle into place, the plan unfolded before his dull eyes. A couple of men burst into a scuffle with fists flying and dirt rolling off their scarred heels. A few guards immediately reacted and crashed through the pen’s gates. The first two hastily tried prying the guys apart, but it was the last one that was taken by surprise. As Frank kept the gates open for the getaway, the mob ganged up from behind and held him down as Jeraia made the first move. With ease, the mastermind took a firm grasp on the frightened guard’s hilt and drew the blade up to the man’s neck. Without an ounce of mercy flowing through him, the leader of the rebellion slit his throat only to leave the guard to bleed out. Jeraia dispatched the oblivious ones with decisive blows into and up the gut. The men cried out in pain as the mob rushed the slavers and stripped them of their armor and weaponry.

Frank swung the gates wide open and led all the slaves from the holding area to the outside. A man with a live flame on a stick approached the panicking crowd, but Frank bravely tackled him to the dirt. His bag filled with flammable liquid burst from behind and spilled along the stone walls, bales of hay, and a few slaves. The glorified candlestick ignited the fluid as the slaves unassociated with Jeraia scattered in every direction while Jeraia gladly directed his fellow compatriots to the armory. The flames caught the man as well as the heels of the many fleeing. The trails of fire had spread quickly and engulfed the holding area in minutes.

Frank tasked a few to help him knock out the sentries littering the walls. Using the curvature of the keeps and sticking to the walls, they climbed the stairs in small groups. One by one, Frank was able to dodge the crossbow bolts and tackle the men to the stone surfaces. With each punch to the face, Frank felt reenergized. Feeling awfully week the past few days, this was his way of releasing whatever energy he had pent up. He would not allow himself to feel weak any longer, especially to men who hunt in groups and capture innocent men and women. All he wanted to do now is get back home and have a pleasant chicken dinner.

The seasoned slaves handled the crossbows better than their hunter counterparts. The laborious tasks such as pushing carts and hoisting heavy objects up by rope hardened their crackling rough hands. Once the men and women were armed with crossbows, no freed Varsylian within their range was safe. The bodies dropped one after another like flies drowning themselves in white vinegar. The bolts zipped across from one side of the walled facility to the other. Frank watched Jeraia and his group of men from the walls and elevated walkways as his group of fierce warriors tore through what little guards remained on the facility.

Thoughts raced through Frank’s mind. This was rather too easy for an escape. It was as if the administration needed to downsize on loose-end employees. Where were the guys in dark garb who easily tracked him? The outlaw hid behind a wall as several guards ran his way with bolts firing. Between each flying arrow zipping around the corner, Frank couched down and took potshots at the assailants coming his way. The crossbows were rather cruel to their opposition as they never cleaned passed through. The wooden shafts lingered in the limbs and their crying victims hesitated on whether or not they wanted to pull them out. It was rather loathsome spectacle to witness, but Frank simply saw it as war. It was either them or him, and well, he liked himself a whole bunch more than them.

One of the men whom Frank missed came around the corner with a knife plunging for his face. The two men struggle for control of the knife as Frank caught the man and the knife in action. Frank heard more people around the corner, but they were preoccupied from the oncoming volley traveling from the opposite direction. As much as they wanted to help and murder a man responsible for the deaths and invigorating pain of others, they slowly backed away as the rebels pushed forward with great zeal. One of the projectiles put an end to struggling Frank’s strife as it dug itself into the attacker’s neck. Blood spurted from the wound and a whittling groan slipped out. Frank pushed the body up and away as he rejoined the battle at hand.

Frank’s thoughts cursed him. A loud belching horn sounded for help. It roared throughout the facility and even alerted the surrounding neighborhood of an outbreak. As he sluggishly ran across the wall’s walkways, Frank jumped in place and out of his skin as men rolled up with cannons loaded with giant black spheres. His body stalled in a moment of hesitation, but then leaped into a fanatic run again. The cannoneers and their weapons engineered for utter destruction roared. Smoke and fire erupted from their mouths and the cannonballs ripped alongside and through the walled area.

The revolt was taking a turn for the worse. Airships stamped with Galhead’s seal of approval rolled through the sky. Frank could not stop to catch his breath nor could he aim at the gunners who manned the ships’ artillery. The cannonballs continued shredding the stone walls and the airships moved into position. Frank tried killing off the short lives of the sharp squeals and dared not to look back at what remained of his cohort.

From below, Jeraia’s mob geared up with shields and longswords. The majority of the slayers were women furiously screaming and banging on their shields with their blade as if they were naturally born to be on a disparaged battlefield. They sweatily tore through a crowd of charging men and ignored the sword grazes and dirt flung their way. Jeraia lead the suit with several axes swiftly carving into the filthy air, carnal flesh, and light armor alike. Picking up the throwing axes along his conquest, the invincible Jeraia flew through the barrage of cannon fire. At this point, the airships were not going to let up on their assault, and Jeraia decided that the revolt was nothing more than a race to a dead end.

The gigantic holding facility straddled at least half of the marketplace’s stretch only to wrap around a quarter of the adjacent colosseum. It seemed as if fate was leading Jeraia and Frank from one danger to another perilous situation. The thick skinned leader cleared his mind of the negativity and pushed for the exit. While Jeraia’s group squeezed through holding pens and other open areas, Frank and whoever was left on the upper level struggled against the airships. The ground beneath Frank crumbled at every step with each shell or round shot obliterating the path before him.

He was going to have to leave the top of the facility soon if he wanted to leave alive. Frank saw the opportunity to jump into a pile of straw up ahead, but the airships did not let up. It was either sheer dumb luck that every shot missed or the slavers were purposefully delaying their aim. Just as Frank began to thrust his whole body off the wall and into the air, a deafening thunder of a cannonball caught his footing like lightning striking a tree. Frank did not fly as far from the wall as anticipated and turned in the midst of his fall. Clicking the trigger to his crossbow, Frank launched his final bolt that miraculously clipped one of the gunners on the insistently pursuing airship. As Frank crashed into the lofty bed of hay, the rubble from the stone keep crumbled and landed on the convict. Unable to take the pain, the exhausted Frank groaned and fell unconscious.

Frank woke up with his hands tied behind his back and a wooden post that he shared with a bunch of captives. He was not sure where he was, but he only imagined Hel from this point. Captured again. This was not his idea of starting new in a unfamiliar place. To the pillar left of him stood Jeraia who was all bloodied up and beaten in the face. He was just as disappointed as Frank was. He failed his people, especially the few lives that perished throughout the revolt. Though they were responsible for over a hundred lives, the handful of lives on his side that he lost had hit him harder. He did not want their deaths to go in vain.

A man in a deep purple robe stepped down a flight of stairs with heavily armored soldiers following every order of his. He wore a petite and deep purple velvet hat that cupped his crown. He was no elected official of Varsylgard. No, he was too rich to be a part of the dying nation. His empire grew from the Varsylian cattle. He lived as well as the so-called princes and princesses. This man dined with gold and jewel encrusted silverware. He lived like the kings of the old era.

“Killing them will not avenge our fallen employees nor will it set an example to those who attempt to cross the Galhead brand. As the leading company in our business, we must uphold that we do not negotiate with terrorists. They will serve to their last breath as clowns humiliated in front of hundreds.” With the utmost sense of superiority ringing out of his mouth, the Galhead Trade Company owner sniggered. The robed aristocrat spoke out to all his employees angered by what has happened. A lot of them wanted to watch all the convicts bleed out like swine and wanted to kill them right there and then, but they ultimately feared the mogul. The executive then looked at the prisoners with Jeraia in mind. Even though one of Jeraia’s eyes was swollen shut, he saw the executive smirk most foul. “Killing you at this moment would only set you free from the cold harsh truth of this world: filth like you Jeraia the Beast matter not. You will die with no one remembering who you ever were and your body will run most foul when it rots. You will not be able to muscle your way out of this one like you have today. You will suffer in the colosseum by sword and claw as decreed by me! Your opponents will toy with you til the very end, like the rank piece of meat you are. Ah, but do not fear, you will not be alone. Your comrades in this failed revolt will struggle with you. Every single soul bound to a post will die without honor, you hear me? Well, as if any of you had it in the first place.”

A face so evil glinted in the darkness. Only a few torches illuminated what sinister fellow haughtily stood before Frank and Jeraia. Frank studied what he could just in case they ever meet without restraint. There was a bullet back at home waiting for the smug and boisterously loud and flamboyant devil. Just before the slaves were put into even smaller jail cells, Frank and Jeraia were brought to a private cell where the executive ordered his men to disrobe both. The contrast of the bodies fascinated the executive and he fancied the humiliation. Black, tall, and built next to white, short, and thin. His sharp as shrapnel cackle brought shivers to the soldiers and the beaten prisoners.

The fire raged on from the slave cells. The people who straddled the northeast part of Varsyl watched from every angle as the compound burned into a nefarious inferno. People talked and even feared Galhead even further. Word has it that the company did it as a publicity stunt in order to rebuild and expand into the marketplace. Even the shipyard, a couple of pairs of eyes gazed at the mere flicker and the massive plume of dense smoke. The sky suffered with all the smoke rising from the growing cloud of smoke. Alas, beefy Jackie dug her fists into her hips and just knew that magic played no part in all of it. She stood on top of the Fighter with Rhys sticking his head out of the hatch.

Gazing at the distant inferno, Rhys asked, “You don’t think that’s Frank, do you?”

The boy struggled to pull himself onto the top of the ship until he nervously crawled to the pilot’s firm legs. Jackie knew what it all meant the moment she had set eyes on the blaze. An omen from the heavens, the Maker was listening close to her prayers.

“I have no doubt that this is his work. We must leave immediately.”
  HEAD ES DOODLE PETSUCHOS / Finnigan / 5y 146d 19h 26m 27s
[size16 #Agora#]

His day all started out in a blurry haze. The shade kept parts of his chilled while the early morning began to warm up splotches of his skin. In fact, most of Frank’s clothing had been removed from his body overnight. Denuded by the hunters, the prisoner tried sleeping off the cold and placed his hands down his underwear. All of it was futile. A dark figure from afar approached the iron cage and dumped a large wooden bucket of frigid water over the dozing Frank. Frank popped up out of his skin and shouted in surprise. Today was going to be the longest day of his life. His slavers were going to make sure of that.

Throwing a gritty sponge into the cage, he same shady figure snarled something towards Frank who struggled to open his eyes. Frank took the sponge and the man snidely barked some more and commanded that the filthy and pasty white man clean himself. Unable to contain his anger, blind Frank jumped forward in an attempt to snatch a limb. Instead, the dark skinned figure crushed the skinny fingers with his boots. The man from Guten Nocht yelped in pain before he retreated back into the cage. The slaver prodded his caged property with a long stick and demanded that he listen to orders.

“Look I’m doing time for nothing!”

Frank was finally awake. He basked in the orange sun as he yelled for attention. None of this should have ever happened, yet he found himself in the worst situation possible. Frank was unfamiliar with this part of the bazaar of the Varsylian metropolitan area, but figured that he was somewhere close to the main marketplace. He wished he was back at home with Mina and even the sheriff. The sheriff would have never stripped him down to his skimpies.

“Aren’t we all?” A man with skin dark as milk chocolate but as firm as a tree commented. He sat down in a smaller cage all hunched up. The man was rather grizzly. The scars on his back ran from shoulder to shoulder and all the way down to his thick waist. The unkempt curls glistened in the sun along with his bizarre ice blue eyes.

Frank simply brushed off his attempts of making conversation; he was too relaxed to be in this situation. How could anyone accept this fate? Frank was not going to take it as easy as his fellow captive. Waving his hands outside of his cage, the brash fool called out anyone who was listening, “Eh, ya fuckin’ asshole. Let me out of this cage. Lemme challenge you to mortal combat, mano y mano, pal, no weapons! C’mon baby dick!”

One of the guards accepted Frank’s taunts and marched over to iron cage. Frank stepped back and smirked. The guard opened the cage and stepped away from the entrance in order to let the slave stretch his legs a little. The foreigner with the loud mouth and wet underpants encircled the man before he foolishly decided to take a chance at the legs. Frank dived for the legs, but the armored slave was too quick for him. Eating dirt, the wild white man moved slow enough that the guard’s boot met Frank’s stomach. It was one kick after another. The other slaves pulled in closer from their cages to watch the beatdown in progress. Frank eventually collapsed underneath himself and the wicked slaver who said not a word chained his claim.

“Pfft, let me out of these shackles so I can git rough n’ tough,” Frank weakly muttered. “I’m not done yet.”

The guard gave one more swift kick to the side and dragged the idiot mouth by the chain. The guards, presumably employees of the Galhead Trade Company, locked Frank to one of many wood posts on a large scaffold platform. He faced front and center as if he was going to be the main attraction. The other slaves from the other iron cages filed in and took their position on the now seemingly small platform being outdid by the magnificently gargantuan open space. They were in the market district, but now Frank felt just as lost as ever. The area was enclosed by columns and tiled roofing. On each of the four sides of the agora were openings where the clamorous mobs would stroll through.

“Welcome to the business.” It was the same man locked in the smaller cage. How he managed to get stuffed in the the tiny confinement was a mystery to Frank. The man stood inches taller than Frank, at least a good six inches. He also had muscles strong enough to break through both chain and bar.

Frank simply scoffed him again and waited for this terrible nightmare to cease. Hoping that Duster was not completely useless in his efforts, Frank wondered about Jackie’s state. Looking back at it all, he felt awful that he just left her. He did not blame for the mishap. If he was in the same mindset, he would have done the same exact thing, and he knew that Jackie would do the same for him. Right now, he needed her help more than ever.

As the sun soared the skies, the people of Varsyl and many other foreign lands began to show up. Aparently Frank and the few dozen of other slaves were a popular attraction to the agora. Everyone made an effort to get up and personal with the captives in hopes that it was not their family member or friend being sold for a hefty price. Men and women alike yelled at Frank and the rest of the slaves as if all of them had committed murder. Spit and garbage flung onto the scaffold. Without having any reason for such venomous tongues, the civilians vehemently despised the men and women wearing worn rags as if they were any better. If they were in the wrong places at the wrong times, they would have been the ones staring down in sorrow. Disgusted, these people craved for some sort of justice. Of course, Galhead Trade Company was some warped up idea of justice.

Amidst the boisterous and growing crowd, a woman dressed in flowy white garments made her way to the front. She tossed back her twisted braids and glared exclusively at Frank. If she was a vendor, she was making the worst possible choice. Frank was skin, bones, and the very little muscle compared to the hulking bodies set before him. The crowd saw Frank as an eyesore to the eyes; his skin scalded the loiterers’ eyes. No one but the sepia skinned woman with twist braids and equally blinding white dress paid any attention to him

“You only get one life to live. I’m sure someone has told you that enough times. I wouldn’t be so reckless to the slavers. Give them a good reason and you’ll get the licking of your lifetime and the next.” Frank expected her voice to sound youthful and booming, but her tone was slightly decrepit and raspy, perfect for scolding. She looked as if she was in her prime: there were no signs of saggy anywhere and she had well-toned arms. The woman in white painted her lips a glossy ruby red.

“Heh, you’re too late to tell me that,” he snickered. He wasn’t as peppy as he wanted to sound like. His throat ran rather dry in Varsyl’s summer heat. Frank momentarily closed his eyes as if he was succumbing to slumber, but pulled back and paid further attention to his favorite face of the day.

“You’re decent, but my husband would mind if I brought back home a slave. There’s not much I can do here, but please: stay alive until you’re free and then the real discourse can begin. We’ll meet again.”

Her last cryptic words sat with the speechless Frank. As she walked away, he begged for a name. Not once did she answer his calls. The mysterious woman vanished without hesitation as if she was an ominous spirit admonishing Frank’s impending doom.

“C’mon, c’mon! Do we have any buyers? I have on sale a magnificent worker! He’s pretty much worked every position in the game. Need someone to pick crops or perhaps work in the coal mines? A beast in a man’s skin!” The man in the bright red and white coat exclaimed with such joy to the booming crowd. He worked up his audience. His pace from one end of the scaffold to the other was impeccable. Only the most sinister souls possessed the ability to sell other lives. He worked along the line of slaves and now he passionately pointed his cane in Frank’s sweaty mug. “I know, I know! Not the best catch of the bunch, but I can guarantee those cruel masters that this one hasn’t been broken in. Not yet, of course!”

No one gave Frank the time of day. Most of the people in the crowd commented on how they could throw one punch and break through him. Distraught at the inability to sell even the most worthless one, the auctioneer raised his audience’s esteem with the next best. Frank sighed in relief and then looked at the man to his right. Being picked for last never felt so good to him. The giant of a man nodded and Frank returned the notion.

“Frank. They call me Frank Dietz from Guten Nocht.”

“Well, I’m in the presence of hood royalty.” He snickered. Despites Frank’s rebuffs, the man, who was built like several pickup trucks combined, only returned on good intent. After all, he realized that they were on equal footing despite the different origins. Varsylians thought that the remaining beings of Guten Nocht were savages, but the man was well aware that Varsylians were hypocrites of the bluest kind. “Slavers call me all kinds of names, but you can address me as Jeraia.”

“How long you’ve been here?” If Frank felt as if he was spitting out bursts of sand from his throat. The day needed to end already.

“Ha! Long enough to know that you got off easy, Frank. Plus, I’m wearing pants.”

Envious, Frank’s nose twitched. His skin fried in the sun and Frank honestly hated the way he looked. The human body naked reminded him of the chickens he sold after being plucked and properly butchered. It made him rather sick to the stomach. He always remarked to Mina that no one looked good naked and made sure to linger on the whole “except for you” clause. On the other hand, Jeraia wore pants stitched out of itchy potato sacks. Honestly, how was Frank supposed to know that pants meant something.

The slavers disappeared from the stage and left the hanging bodies to the bustling agora. The laughter, the jeering, the cries for justice: all of it meant for those in chains. Other slaves cried for the Maker to take them from this world as a few bodies disappeared from the stage. Several men and women were just bought to their dismay. Whatever fate lied before them unnerved them. The woman walked shamefully without their tops and begged the merchants and their inexperienced masters for freedom.

“I’m one of the most hated men in this marketplace. I’ve been passed around like a peace pipe. Untameable, according to my ex-masters. A beast in a man’s skin, you heard the man. My last master sold me back to the company because I would not crack under the whip. And of course killing is out of the question.” Sweat off of Jeraia’s face glistened in the harsh sun. If only the sun’s fire could engulf him this instant. It would have been heavensend, especially knowing that the slavers would make no profit off his dead body anymore. “ I wish they would have dealt with me a long time ago, to be honest, Frank. No life like this one is worth living for.”

“Are you angry about all of this?” Frank was running out of things to say. Though it was natural for him to run the conversation to the ground with his gruff attitude and often inane declarations, talking to Jeraia was going to keep his spirits up for a smidge longer. “Because I am.”

Frank did not have to ask him. Jeraia was in his moment and took advantage of his newfangled friend as well. The heat had beaten their heads and the career slave spilt his feelings.

“I’ve been raped by sixteen different women and sixteen children I have had. None of them lived to the age of five. So when people ask me if I’m angry, I tell them no. I’m sick to the gut, Frank. When did lives not matter? They killed children because they didn’t have magic. You’re just as aware as I am that magic is dying, right? It’s like we’re trying to breed magic in this world or something. It cannot be done. I don’t hate these people, I feel sorry for them. They’re sick in the head. I would have been a good father, better than any of these deadbeats who treat us like trash. Kidnappers, all for the sake of keeping the capital a better place. We’re nothing but monetary value to the Prince and his foreign queen mother.”

Jeraia held back the tears and Frank stood there in complete silence. Meanwhile, the Galhead merchants were able to sell another woman. She screamed at the world and teared at her chest with her long fingernails. The merchants and the guards tried to settle her down, but she was adamant about staying on the stage. She beat on her naked chest and voraciously chomped on her own tongue. The good chunk of her tongue fell to the scaffold, and the blood came dripping from her mouth and slobbering chin. Her cries piqued the interests of the crowd as she struggled to snatch an edge from a merchant. The merchant tried to pull away the edge, but the woman’s drive brought her to last option: suicide. She jumped onto the sharp blade of the dagger and led the man’s hands and dagger across her stomach.

Jeraia turned away as the bloodlusted crowd loudly cheered. He solemnly swore, “At least we have it better than women. If you’re a pretty woman, you’ll get raped. Then mutilated. And if your children aren’t to their satisfaction, they’ll rape you again. Then they’ll murder you without a second though. It’s better if you’re ugly. You’re one and done.”

Frank turned his eyes away from the blood scene just as the guards dragged her by the foot down the stairs. Trying to move to a different tone, Frank muttered, “Good ole’ pump n’ dump.”

“Just to think. Someone out there in this Maker-forsaken sea of morbid souls is gonna take us home.” Downtrodden, Jeraia disdainfully watched as the agora died out with the one slave woman. As the sun had set, luck had both their backs. They were not sold off yet.

“And she ain’t even gonna be cute,” chuckled Frank.

“Today seems like a good day to die.”

“Agreed.”

Jeraia picked his head up with what energy he had left and zealously asked, “Wanna fuck up their fun?”

Wanting to high five Jeraia for the good idea, Frank hopped in place and remarked, “Thought you’d never ask, man.”

“Being serious.”

“I am serious. Nothin’ but.”
  HEAD ES DOODLE PETSUCHOS / Finnigan / 5y 150d 19h 53m 59s
[size16 #Debilitate#]

Rhys entered the cargo bay from the dining area and witnessed what no man or woman has ever laid eyes upon. Jackie’s bulbous head rested on the seemingly silky body of Duster. Duster’s creepily thin hands cradled her head while he slowly vibrated a hollow tune. The Lucavi’s seamlessly flawless cloak unraveled into hundreds of individual threads that carefully wound itself around Duster and the unconscious Jackie. Interested in this bizarre phenomenon, Rhys climbed down the stairs to get a better sight. Though he had not seen much since his revitalization, it took a lot to impress the young mind.

Without any acknowledgement, Duster stated, “Rhys, I need you watch over my body while I undergo the biokinetic process. It’s extremely important that I am not disturbed at all throughout healing Jackie. If either she or I am harmed in other way, there’s a great possibility that the severing of the links could kill us both.”

Rhys stepped back. Someone on this crew was going to trust Rhys to do something for them? The boy had no idea to defend himself let alone protect others. So many things could have happened, but the “bright” child had the solution from the beginning: stand in the midst of chaos and let it all happen. Stunned at Duster’s trust and brief explanation, Rhys feebly asked with a dry voice, “Have you done this before?”

“In my entire existence, no, but we Lucavi are programmed with this function when we are born by Mad Moon. It requires utmost focus and aptitude.” Duster briefly took his attention away from Jackie’s head and looked at a rather disappointed Rhys. “Young Illumina, why do you stare at me like that?”

Though he rarely had his moments, Rhys grimly reminded his fellow crew member, “There are fates worse than death.”

It must be natural for all kids to think such profound things at such a young age. Granted, Rhys Illumina was not a kid nor was he young, but as far as Frank and Jackie were concerned, he was just another young dumb unfortunate soul to walk the wastelands of Nocht.

“I am well aware.”

Turning away, Duster focused on Jackie’s gourd shaped face. His eyes glowed the same refreshing aura of green like his palms did when he healed bodies. The light traveled from his head through what frail and remaining body left intact and finally the hairlike threads attached to Jackie. His body jerked once and then locked into place before fully zoning out on the world.

In the beginning, there was darkness. Not a single step made a sound nor did Duster vocalize. In the middle of the black void, a single vermilion torii stood behind him. He had seen the structure once in the city before, and questioned the authenticity behind it and its Maker. If Duster could imitate the human expression of laughter, he would in this instance and scoff. The only symbol that mattered to him was Mad Moon. After all, if there were such things as deities, Mad Moon was factual and living proof.

If the humans entered through the structure, then Duster so rightfully did as well. From total annihilation of the stark mind to an ornate temple covered in snow, Duster was rather impressed with the transition. Though the majority of the humans lacked magic, there was some truth to a wise saying, “magic in the mind”. Were all human minds the same or did the interior decorating materialize with the individual? This temple did not exist on Guten Nocht. Snow was rarely a thing, especially at this amount, and the steep rock formations with stairs embedded came from some other land. Guten Nocht had always existed as one giant flat plain.

Duster ascended the stairway and finally reached the top where Jackie sat before a large statue. The figure had several arms sprouting from its clavicles and a face stoic in nature. The sculptor, most likely Jackie, depicted its hair as numerous bulbs with eyes almond shaped.

“Jackie.”

“Duster.” She continued to focus on the statue without turning around to greet her friend.

“We are not on a physical plane, Jackie.”

“I don’t really understand what’s going on right now. You’re gonna have to fill me in if this is not a dream.”

“This is a dream, but I can assure you that I am very much real. The Lucavi learned from a woman a long time on how to link thoughts as a way to heal the mind, body, and soul. The process is quite simple from a Lucavi perspective. First…”

“No, no, no. There’s no need for explanation.” Jackie got up from her position and finally met up with Duster. He sure knew how to tug her strings. The banter was killing her vibe.

“Taina Del Norte, she was the one to teach the Lucavi to be prostitutes of the mind.”

His voice carried beyond the monument and into obscured mountain range. The echoes traveled for seconds before dissipating completely. Duster was right. He proved that he had linked minds with her. If Duster was a figment of her imagination, he would smile and sing obnoxiously silly songs.

“Duster, you really shouldn’t say those kind of things, especially out loud.”

This was her oasis away from the real world. Jackie had prided herself on creating it all by herself with the help of what few books Mina had lent her. The book that inspired her the most about this place was a compilation of illustrations based on the country of Sudra. Mountains and snow, grandiose architecture unfamiliar to the the Nocht eye. Jackie envisioned herself as one of those mountains beautifully depicted in that book. It was one of the few places she required the Fighter to travel to. No exceptions.

“We’re not in our physical bodies right now. No one can hear us when we are here.”

“Now what?” Jackie felt weighted to the ground more than usual. Her shoulders were pressed down by a set of heavy hands and a stinging sensation crawled along her spine. By no means was Jackie slow or sluggish either. She was foolish enough to run all the way home while poisoned. She never felt like this before, not even in her dreams.

“I begin to expunge the poison coursing through your body. Through this process, I am able to excrete the toxins through your pores safely and in an efficient manner. This process must be done before I can do any further major repairs.”

Duster glanced at Jackie who struggled to keep a straight face. The poison was slowly creeping into her mind. He had to act now before she regained consciousness. The scenery shifted like a small quake while the snow froze momentarily. Pebbles and chunks of rock tumbled, but not much else moved. The flames that lit the summit wavered in their cages..

“Do you feel anything?”

“A little lighter, but my chest is heavy.”

“Hm. It’s worse than I imagined. I...I apologize.”

“Wait, what’s going on?”

Jackie was taken back by his tone. By his tone? The entire world around them started to crumble at this idea. Duster changed his tone. Before Duster even recognized that it was all of his own doing, Jackie’s domain fell before their eyes. Every boulder, every rock, every speck of dirt, every molecule separated into its most basic form. The deity died with the rest of the world and left both of them floating aimlessly back into the black abyss.

“This...is not good. This should never happen.”

Jackie looked back at the glowing Lucavi. He was panicking. She asked herself when exactly did he learn that trick. It had to be a dream now. There was no way that Duster had that capability. He lacked humanity. Could the Lucavi learn simple things like fear, anger, happiness, even love? Fear dictated the confused and internally torn empath.

Struggling to get a firm grasp on his shoulders, Jackie stared him in the lifeless eyes and softly spoke, “Duster, breathe.”

“Lucavi don’t need to breathe.” He was trying to make the most sense out of anything right now. The further he tried to distract himself with logic, the more he fell into delirium. The darkness began to break in shards of black glass that refracted what mysterious light. The shards sluggishly flew in every direction, and only the sick Jackie was tough enough to stand through it all. Duster had collapsed into himself, mimicking a somber and sobbing Frank. The emotion was too real for him, and he began to lose touch with himself.

“Breathe, Duster. That’s all you have to do. Breathe,” Jackie continued to say. Her breaths were getting heavier but from no dream. Even she realized that her life was slowly dwindling away. “Breathe.”

Fearful Duster clutched his white cloak and looked up to his shimmering horn. The worst had happen. His antenna was slowly dissolving into the black abyss as he sat there echoing an empty tune. Duster tried piecing himself back together with his alien healing technique, but not even the miraculous green glow of his palms could salvage his horn. Familiar screams zoomed past them both in tandem with the strange black glass. They heard voices, those closest to both of them, shrieking for help. Duster could not help himself and voices got louder in volume and sheer frequency.

“The psychic connection goes both ways. What we’re experiencing right now is a nightmare. This is not real!”

Jackie clutched onto the disappearing Duster and locked arms together. Intensively, she focused her attention on his gleaming deep forest green eyes and even pressed her head against his. Jackie breathed what life she could into his face before he returned the favor. Her waft, sweet and audacious like freshly muddled mint, snapped him back to reality. His breath rang notes of subtle vanilla and even felt like feathers lightly brushing her cheek.

Duster repeatedly inhaled and exhaled until he finally eased up. He realized what had happened and so did Jackie. Jackie smirked at him and patted him on the shoulder. She did not have to say anything to him; his thoughts spoke louder than he ever could.

Suddenly, Jackie clutched her shirt and fell to her knees. The poison worsened. Even her silk hair drooped and sank into her neck. “If I’m not going to make it out of here alive, Duster, I want you take care of my boys like I would.”

“Why are you humans so insistent on doubting my ability? I will not partake in nannying for Frank and Rhys. That’s absurd.”

The world of darkness phased out as Duster regained consciousness. It was rather quick and before Jackie could even say another word, he was back in reality facing her still body. Immediately, her body cranked up its temperature and sweat plopped onto steel. The sweat drenched her clothes completely, head to toe, fingertip to fingertip. as if Jackie Simms plunged into the Blue itself. The white fibers retreated and resewed themselves back to its original composition.

Lastly, Jackie sprung up from her comatose and gasped for air. Her vision was rather blurry, probably because of the sweat. She felt miserable but a cathartic miserable. The worst was over and Jackie fell back into the comfort of Duster’s lap. She refused to move from her spot and said very little. She owed Duster her life, but Duster would happily admit that it was her who did most of the saving. Witnessing worlds crumble before them, Jackie stayed strong for the two of them.

Amazed at what had just happened, Rhys dropped the pipe wrench and knelt before Jackie. A little smile cracked from his mouth, but it was not long before a peculiar visitor ruined the moment. Rhys looked outside and saw Antonine Maxwell with one of the two chickens in hand. He rose to his feet and thought about picking up the heavy wrench. Even Rhys had a rather raw gut feeling about it all. Tony, who had traveled by foot and in the blazing heat, released the feathery steed before unzipping a little bit of his blue jumpsuit.

“Why do you have Macereau?” asked Rhys. He took the large chicken by its reins and quietly patted it into submission.

“I’m afraid I found him wandering back this way. He’d fetch a pretty price on the market, but not even the most thick skinned merchants could get around his talons. I thought you guys would appreciate me bringing him back.” Tony was playing it cool. Perhaps too cool for Team Anchovi. He did not need to assert himself much. Rhys was a frail boy, Duster was a frail Lucavi, and Jackie was just as frail too.

“Where’s Frank?” Rhys continued to pet Macereau on the beak. He regretted not picking up the wrench.

“That is something we’re gonna have to find out together,” he snidely remarked to Rhys. Tony pulled out Frank’s revolver and spun the chamber a couple of times. [b Click-lick.] He loved the sound of a readied revolver.

“If you’ve hurt him, Tony, I’m gonna knock your skull ten ways to Sunday.” Jackie was only able to get a few words out, but they were just as lethal as that revolver that Tony did not know how to use. Also, she lied. Despite Tony Maxwell being the apple to her eyes, Jackie would have killed him right there and then if she knew that he had something to do with Frank’s disappearance.

“You know how I was talking about that one company? Yeah. It’s Frank’s problem.”
  HEAD ES DOODLE PETSUCHOS / Finnigan / 5y 153d 20h 12m 48s
[size16 #Foxcatcher#]

Jackie went back on her promise to Frank and the crew. Her hair was pulled back into a ponytail and her body was decked all in black. A pilot and a fighter she was, but she moonlit as a thief. Like the vicious alleycats back on Guten Nocht, the slinky Jackie stalked her prey back to its den. She hid in the shadows and avoided the large groups, stuck to the walls like flies on sticky paper and scaled small buildings without a drop of sweat. Surely, a grimy job here and there would not harm anyone.

An apothecary by trade, the man was far from helping his fellow Varsylians. He capitalized on the pain of others for a hefty price and from what she scoped out, a most excellent haggler. Jackie had scoped out the stalking grounds days prior, observing the man and his nasty ways. A foul mouth yammered and patronized the women in worn kerchiefs, and even the apothecary’s boot lodged itself into the pauper’s frail ribcage. Perhaps it was the cruel Varsylian brand of life and perhaps she was going to perpetuate it even more, but Jackie always picked her targets accordingly.

If she was going to be honest about the outskirts of the Varsylian capital, Jackie had to admit that it was rather corrupted and had a smidge suspicion that it was the capital tainting its people wrongfully. The upper crust was slowly dying following the death of their king, and the upbringing of Prince Chelon under the regent queen Helvetia’s rule promised a diminishing future. The capital had seen better days. The marble once used on their governmental buildings were pulled from the city and replaced by ugly sand-colored stone. In fact, the capital was fortified with sand-colored stone walls. Ancient buildings now either existed as part of the walls or were buried by the newer and uglier architecture.

Munifications ran rampant along the walls with watch towers stationed every hundred meters. Not even fifty meters away from the outermost wall, ramparts and wooden stakes littered the front lawn. Apparently, Varsyl had been a constant state of paranoia for the longest time and feared that the other empires would soon capitalize on its weakness. The barbarians, as the Varsylian upper crust called them, came from all parts of the unknown Blue. People were not familiar with the infrequent sacks of the capital nor did anyone outside the walls pay any concern. Only the rich and the elite had been educated on what little past the Varsylians preserved.

Jackie was too smart to hit the capital. The thought about pilfering within those walls pained her. Even in her prime she knew that the guardsmen had a bolt or three dedicated for her broad back. [i ‘Stick to the ponds. Surely a few fish will come my way.’] Confident, she clasped her hands and rubbed them. Her target was going to be like every other job she took on. The greedy apothecary was not from big money nor did he generate enough to warrant enough bodyguards.

It was hours before Jackie decided to start the heist. No one had entered or exited the building within those times, and she found it rather odd that the lights were still on in the midst of the night. Everyone else had blown the wax candles out except for the apothecary. She slyly entered the worn wood paneling house from the only entrance, the front door adorned with broken stained glass. Inside, lit candles and the obnoxiously potent scent of sandalwood incense burned throughout the den. Shelves housed a myriad of glass jars and within those jars a plethora of exotic herbs, spices, and small animal organs. Salamander hearts, turmeric, bat brain, sage. Jackie was thinking this man was more along the lines of a witch, the kind only told to young children.

She searched high and low through the jars, examining all the weird and creepy things she found. In the few seconds that she let her guard down, a man from the dimly lit side of the shop pinched her on the shoulders. She swung her arm backwards but missed as he ducked right into her other arm’s fist. The man stumbled back and shook his face. He was drawing blood.

“Now fork over the gwap, and we won’t have any problems.” Cracking her knuckles, Jackie readied her stance for a beatdown. This was not the way she wanted to go out, but she was foolish enough to let him get the best of her.

The man, significantly older than Jackie, tilted his head back and grumbled. He was not in the best shape, even for an average man. Furious, he yelled, “You punched me! You insolent little insignificant meadow muffin tossing sore!”

“Man, what kind of insult was that?” she quipped.

The man shuffled through his robes until he found a few vials of strange colored juices.

“They should have never let your kind step on this land. Filthy jaundice squints. The Maker will purge you of your sin and cast you into the stoked coals!”

“Whoa, that’s rather harsh.”

Before she could even make a move, the sinister man smashed the glass vials at her feet. The violent stench of mustard and the radiant violet smoke engulfed Jackie’s body. Trying to break free, she accidentally inhaled a whiff of the noxious gas. Panicking and temporarily blinded, Jackie charged through the front door. Well, she took the front door with her when she stumbled through the exit. Glass shattered and Jackie peeled out without a second thought. Running the entire way back to the shipyard, all she thought about is how awful and awry the night went. A simple job went wrong. Frank was going to scold her.

The Fighter’s back hatch was surprisingly open with Frank tending to his chickens. Jackie stumbled outside, appearing worse than she thought. Her legs quivered from the running, but the poison inflamed her muscles. Everything around her started to spin, and the ship’s internal lighting made her queazy.

“I tried…”

“Jackie...Jackie!” Frank averted his attention to Jackie who suddenly fell to the floor. Rushing to her side, he rested her head on his lap and shouted in her face. She vibrated and tried to open her eyes, but she couldn’t utter any words except for “medicine”. “Hey, what’s wrong? Duster! Git over here, it’s Jackie!”

Duster looked down at the situation from the top of the stairs before he came to Frank’s side. The outlaw panicked and the Lucavi pulled in closer to Jackie. He relieved Frank of her and inspected her closer. He placed his spindly hands over her chest and glowed a soft green aura.

“She’s been in contact with a poisonous agent, Frank. Though the compound is not strong enough to outright kill her, there is a chance she’ll end up temporarily or even permanently paralyzed. I’m only able to mitigate the process at the moment.”

“Use yer white man magic!” Frank shouted.

He fumigated, but not because of Duster or even Jackie’s disastrous planning. He wished that he was there to help her out. Maybe if he was there, none of this would happen. He would be here now looking at his friend struggling for her life. Her breathing intensified and her limbs burned up. Jackie’s veins popped out as if they were screaming for attention. Frank turned teary eyed. [i ‘Not again.’]

“I’m afraid to tell you that the distance between here and Mad Moon severely handicaps my arsenal of techniques. Though this is a well put together compound, my abilities would have been able to stabilize Jackie within the first ten minutes of contact. It is with great displeasure to inform you that it will take an exponential amount of time to extract the poisoning.”

Not afraid to hold back his emotions, Frank sniffled and ordered, “I need you to try a little bit harder.”

“You speak as if my output was not at its maximum. I’m insulted.”

Duster paid no attention to Frank’s cries. Jackie was the utmost importance. Though he did not show much emotion himself, the Lucavi frowned internally. He felt a little less useful than normal. he confounded himself to the ship. Maybe he was to blame for all of this too. Maybe if he was around the outcomes would have looked a bit brighter.

“I do have one alternative, but I am afraid that I will not be any service to you in the meantime.”

“Do what you have to do, just save Jackie. I’m gonna find the fucker who did this, even if it takes me the entire night.”

“As you wish.”
[google-font http://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Indie+Flower]
[indie+flower Semald’s Apothecary and Crafts]
[indie+flower South of the marketplace,]
[indie+flower pointed wooden roof, approach from southeast side]

Before he had set off on one of his chickens, Frank quickly picked through Jackie’s pockets for any clues. He sighed. His friend was desperate in the moment to make a few coins. He felt that she doubted his ability to rake in the money with the side-ranching. Frank was hurt, but Jackie was his friend to the end. He never wanted any of this to happen, and maybe she figured him out. Frank wanted all of this to work out without resorting to thievery.

Without anymore thought, Frank hastily rode into the night to find the deadly chemist. It did not take any effort to point him out in the middle of the night. The apothecary struggled to piece the wooden door back to its frame. Frank cautiously stepped forward and called out.

“You poisoned my friend.”

The man, just as sour and pungent as his concoctions, sneered, “Ah, you’re associated with that slant-eyed gapped-toothed twat? She will meet with the Maker to atone for her filth.”

“Watch yer fuckin’ tongue before I straight blast it from yer mouf! I came to negotiate wit ya. I’ll admit, you got her good, but the fun n’ games is all over. I’m offerin’ to pay for the medicine.”

Frank pulled out his money bag, but the apothecary shook his head and refused the payment. He began to chuckle.

“I’m afraid it’s far too late to save your friend. I’ll leave you off with this: no sane apothecary would sell you the antidote, not for all the shit money you possess.” A sharp howl echoed through the air. This brought much delight to the cruel man. In fact, he rubbed his hands together and snickered even further. “Ah, you hear that? Run along, for the dogs of war have come out to play.”

A man from an adjacent roof shot a crossbow bolt right over Frank’s shoulder, barely nicking him in the process. Frank turned around and watched as more grizzly figures peered from the sharp angled roofs. Another shot at Frank’s chicken and caused it to scurry out of his owner’s reach. The chicken sped off out of the neighborhood panicking. The apothecary ghoulishly sneered once more and waved him goodbye. Frank ran.

“Shit, shit, shit, shit.”

He had lost his only rooster and with his rooster was his arsenal. Thinking that being polite and respectful of the Varsylians would work out, the world really screwed Frank. The hunters jumped from the roofs and trailed the same dirt path. Frank was dumb, but he was not dumb enough to get into a scrap with a mob. He turned tight corners and tossed crates in their way, but these hunters rarely slowed down at his poor unsatisfactory attempts.

Frank wound around a corner and clung to the walls. Who were these people? Frank was not in the best shape for running. The daunting man from Guten Nocht was going to need to pick them off slowly and use what little he had. A few seconds of hiding and the men ran around the corner not noticing the stiff body hugging the wall. They splintered off into different directions, but it was the last soul left behind who suffered the fearful wrath of Frank Dietz. Frank snuck up from behind to steal a bolt from the man’s quiver. Without hesitation, he drove the point into the stranger’s ear and punched into the back of the head. Before kicking him to the ground, fearful Frank snagged his crossbow and quiver.

The night was relatively young, yet Frank believed he had been out all night. The moon illuminated his face and the crossbow made him feel secure. Frank wanted to get home, find a way to fix the Fighter, and get the heck out of Varsyl. The people policing the streets made him feel vulnerable like a rat shoved into a tight corner. Panting excessively, he ran the other way without looking back and readied the crossbow for the first person he saw. He turned at every corner he could, not exactly knowing where it lead him. In fact, Frank ran around the block several times before tiring himself out. This city was too busy and same for him; there were no monuments to orient himself.

Frank’s heart raced as the hunters slowly closed in from every corner. They wisened up and let Frank tire himself out. Frank fired the first crossbow bolt which missed its target and instead bounced off a crate. He struggled to reload the crossbow and gave way for the hunters to pounce on their prey. One man struck Frank’s temple while another came from behind and knocked him down A third tossed a twine net over his tiresome body. Struggling only angered the fourth guy who viciously stomped on Frank’s gut. As his breath escaped his lungs and the men hidden in the dark dragged his body, Frank blacked out.
  HEAD ES DOODLE PETSUCHOS / Finnigan / 5y 154d 18h 51m 17s
[size16 #Rhysyclopedia#]

The white goddess appreared to him once more and she hummed a small tune preventing the edges of his night terror from collapsing on him. Rhys was not sure who she was but she seemed to plague his dreams as much as the awfully grim dreams. Sometimes a man years older than him would appear and nod. He had the same blond hair and brown eyes as he did, but he had scruff. Neither of the two figures in his dreams said anything to him, but they continued to pop out of nowhere throughout the nights in order to protect him. It was tonight that he decided to run away from these pains.

Rhys woke up a little before five in his quarters. He never slept underneath the blankets and one of his biggest ticks was that he never wore socks on the ship. He took pleasure in gliding his petite feet across cold steel grates and floors. Hopping out of bed, he pulled the army green jacket over his shoulders and white tee and zipped on a pair blue jeans. He opened his hatch stealthily and tip-toed all the way down to the cargo bay. The sun had not risen yet. Rhys planned nothing, yet something in his empty stomach told him that he needed to get out of here. He took the only hen Frank kept in the Fighter, Yohilde, and set off for an unexpected journey.

The wind rose through his limp straw colored hair as he sped through the reticent shipyard. This time of day was his favorite shade of blue. Cool, calm, and quiet. A slight chill ran through his body, yet the very same chill invigorated the young man’s spirit like a general’s warcry does to his soldiers. Rhys loved the speed and the air hitting his face. Blades of grass tickled the bottom of his bare feet; the boy packed his shoes in a backpack along with food and water just in case things turned for the worst on his joyride.

He reached the countryside of Varsyl and the Engergast farm in an hour, a record that Frank would never know about. The sun rose on his left side, and Rhys took awe in the radiant artistry as he flew across the grassy plains. The orange glow met the Illumina and greeted him as if they were longtime friends. The warmth enshrouded the golden child, and in return the boy continued to ride. He wiped away at his runny nose and ducked closer to the hen’s neck. He was going to need goggles if he wanted to ride more like this. Perhaps the marketplace was his best bet for the wares.

In another thirty minutes, Rhys reached an end to the exorbitant trading strip. The crowds started off small, but the barefoot lad had a good feeling that this would not last for long. Leading Yohilde by the reins, Rhys observed that the men and women of all heights, weights, colors, ages, and possibly origins came to this part of Varsyl to do their business. Their trades ranged from blacksmiths, basket weavers, and artisans to the vendors who sold poorly made trinkets made in other rundown countries. Their costumes were crafted from the most vibrant colors and their tongues ranged from sharp shrills to torrid poetry.

Yohilde was the star attraction the morning. The big bellied men rallied for Rhys to come closer and sell the feathered beast strutting behind him, but the boy was resilient with his polite silence. Instead, he observed the clothings that seemed to come from other countries. Jolly merchants sold the light and colorful scarfs for cheap. One scarf seller explained that many women adored his clothing because it reminded them of the exotic beasts that usually resided outside of Varsyl. Of course, the idea of gaudy red and yellow pygmy boars intrigued the young man and he was not far from the national zoo either. A young girl who overheard the conversation happened to pull out her picture book to show Rhys of some of the magnificent animals of the Blue. The illustrations had rather subdued colors, but she assured him that they were just as colorful as the scarfs.

Rhys bought a few scarfs for the crew and thought that a little color never hurt the Fighter. He imagined coming in contact with the strange beasts depicted in the picture that the pristine-dress girl gave him. Frank’s chickens still amazed him to this day, but the Blue offered him more than anything else that the crew could find on the ship. Rhys reached a few taverns along his journey where he quickly grabbed a few bites from the servers at the window. The ledges had bowls with food installed, and the aromas enticed both the boy and his hen. Paying for fresh bread and a pungent fish and tomato paste concoction, the salivating Rhys and Yohilde indulged themselves on the warm morsels. Nearby, a woman with a couple of giant blue plastic containers sold water. She bragged that it was the best water within the five kilometer radius. Rhys splurged on a liter before moving on. She wasn’t lying.

The marketplace burst into a giant mass of bodies as the early sun toppled over them all. The chattering from all corners and tents pushed Rhys out of his comfort zone, and the boy became rather reclusive. Before reaching the end of the strip and taking witness to the giant plaza, Rhys removed himself from the crowd and took an alleyway to a quieter setting. Though the stone architecture remained intact, green foliage and ivy crawled up the buildings and trees planted their roots on both sides of the street. Women in paper thin blue body dresses sat at tables laughing about the everyday and old men hollered across the street for peace and solitude, but other than the few banters, this street suited Rhys.

Tying Yohilde’s reins to a tree, the young man who did not tire easily sat at another table straddling the stone paved street. He breathed as he watched time pass him by. He tuned into different conversations and observed gestures of the folk who inhabited the area. The women obscured their entire bodies with their one piece dresses, yet freely expressed themselves with their lavish and well-adorned arms. Their exuberant gesticulations excited Rhys to the point where he had to stop himself from openly mimicking. Many of the younger men, tanned from the hard labor in the sun, wore deep purple pants and bared their chests in public. The women snapped and waved the men off, and Rhys scratched his head in confusion. A man who was watching Rhys approached him from behind and happily explained that the women were interested in the mens’ physiques, yet shooed them off because they were faithful to their husbands. The man who helped him out was named Akerjan Bufidi.

Akerjan Bufidi expressed that Rhys Illumina stood out like a sore thumb and the giant feathery steed was not helping him at all. Though the people on this street did not mind to make a large debacle of his presence, Rhys’ pasty complexion and bizarre light hair turned people away from him. It was also the silence or rather the lack of expression he was giving off. Though this street was usually quiet and without distraction, people took pride in their melodrama and dependency on emotions. Outside of the stone kremlin, the people played to their loud nature as if no one was listening or watching.

Akerjan was a merchant on the street over, but often left his sons to run his textile business. He made it his mission to break Rhys into outer Varsylian customs by introducing him to the rest of the street. The couple of women in blue yelled at Rhys for being quiet like the mice who scampered in the alleyways, but Akerjan Bufidi assured him that he was a foreigner who came from a rather aloof and cold continent. Still, the women continued to yell at Rhys and laugh at his costume. Stiff-panted and dry is what they described it. The women gave him fashion advice, yet Rhys quietly took it in. He was not sure if they were being rude at this point or if they wanted to aid him in his acceptance of Varsyl.

It was not until an old man and some children down the street began to harass the resting Yohilde. The sticky handed and loud mouthed children ruffled up the blazing orange feathers until Rhys raised his voice and hands. The women paid immediate attention to Rhys as he began to scold, or maybe it was inform, the younger looking kids and the older man. Once Rhys began his lecture on the Yohilde and her children, he was not able to stop. Before he knew what was happening, the crowd grew from the children and the old man to the women in the blue garb, Akerjan Bufidi, and several other older folk. It was then where a kid, Akerjan’s youngest son, gifted the storyteller a pair of goggles.

Though the crowd begged Rhys to stay, the golden hair kid excused himself and began his journey back to the shipyard. He nodded to blissful ruddy-faced Akerjan who assured that Rhys will always have a compatriate in the area. The shady trees kept him and his steed well rested and cooled while the crowds from this street and the next sluggishly died out. The day heated up, yet there was a figure slowly trailing behind Rhys and Yohilde. A young girl who was just as inaudible as Rhys clandestinely trotted behind on a white colt. It was Luzi from the farm.

Rhys dismounted at the end of the street and Luzi hopped off her horse in response. Holding the colt by his reins, taciturn Luzi nodded and awkwardly guffawed at Rhys. He was not sure what was going on, but he took a deep breath and avoided any eye contact with her. Girls were strange, especially the younger ones. The boy from desolate Guten Nocht was not confident in his thesis. Were all girls this odd and creepy? Was it just girls who glared this way? Rhys remembered Duster uncomfortably staring at him like this for long periods of time. Maybe it was a local greeting. As a response, he returned her beams with a terribly half-assed glint and wide open eyes. Unfortunately, the furrowing of her brows and biting of her lips stopped Rhys from making anymore boisterous facial expressions.

In an attempt to befriend Luzi, Rhys pulled out his picture book and shared it with the girl who was equally fascinated with animals as he was. Luzi explained that all the animals came from other countries, some of which could be seen in the capital’s colosseum. Though many Varsylians went to the zoo to take joy in the animals, other people wrestled with the blue-ridged nose bears and repelled the voracious tiger striped bats. She said that her father Elbriz thought it was an atrocity to have man fight with beast for sport, but the spectators paid large sums of money for entertainment. Many of the animals were imported by poachers from foreign countries such as Sudra, Bating, and the Ubermens Range.

They spent a large sum of time talking about animals and walking their mounts towards home until Luzi came up with the bright idea of racing. Unable to come up with the most appropriate words for the occasion, he simply jumped onto fiery Yohilde and awaited Luzi to initiate the challenge. He strapped on his goggles that managed to match his army green jacket and petted the firm hen on the hen. They had kilometers to go, but Yohilde had the stamina to run back to the Engergast farm and further. Luzi, whose horse bore no name, hopped onto the zealous creature and readied herself for the long drive home.

[b Go!] Hoof and talon imprinted the soft earth beneath them as they trailed across the vast and open space. Limb to limb, horse and chicken matched in speed with both riders gleaming at the teeth. Not quite a teenager yet, Luzi fiercely raced against Rhys with a steady hand on the leather reins while pointing at him with the other. She had experience racing through the countryside, perhaps even challenging and swindling other kids out of their lunches. Rhys stuck out his tongue in return, learning it from a kid he met earlier in the day. His spirits ran high with the fresh air filling his nostrils.

The race ended in a tie as they reached the road leading to the farm. Rhys went past the road only to slow down and wave goodbye to Luzi who could not help herself but laugh uncontrollably. She waved back before heading back home. Rhys continued the pace all the way back to the shipyard without a care in the world. He had almost forgotten the dim nightmares, but as soon as he recalled them they fleeted with the gorgeous scenery and the waning sun. He enjoyed the sun and learned more about Varsyl on his own than what he would have if he stayed cooped up in the Fighter all day.

Upon his return, Frank brashly waved his hands up and loudly wondered where Rhys disappeared to. Jackie, who was usually carefree about things, rushed over to him and checked to make sure he was intact. His riding ability shocked her. Impressed, Jackie patted him on the head and decided that maybe Rhys was not as vulnerable as she thought. Frank doubted that the boy went far, stating that Rhys was too young to go far with one his chickens. In his mind, there was no way Rhys had the guts to do something so rash. The young Illumina smiled, and as they all moved inside for dinner, he pulled out his picture book.
  HEAD ES DOODLE PETSUCHOS / Finnigan / 5y 158d 21h 55m 27s
[size16 #Are You Looking for Freedom?#]

It had been a week since Frank and Rhys routinely visited the Engergast farm. Frank taught Elbriz, his most trusted ranchers, and Rhys the fundamentals of caring for these majestic beasts. Of course, there were a few days where the chickens would take swipes at some of the unworthy men. Rhys was the best at catching on and even began riding one of the hens through the open grassy fields. The boy was a natural according to the gritty Frank and the rustic Elbriz. None of Elbriz’s men dared to hop on and take a chicken for a ride. Rhys would have put them all to shame, especially with his swift riding and unnatural confidence displayed.

It was one afternoon after a long day of training with Elbriz that Jackie broke the news to Frank. Every panel, door, and compartment was opened with wires splayed for the entire shipyard to witness. Stout Jackie, all covered in oil and dirt from all the wonderfully complex and bizarre airship parts, came from the other side of the Fighter waving a dirty rag. Rhys went ahead inside the ship for some water while Frank confronted the worrisome warrior.

“How’s it hangin’, Jackie?” Frank wiped the sweat from his face with the back of his hand and stared at the blue sky. Not a single cloud in sight. Guten Nocht was never this harsh, not even during the summer.

Thinking of helping out her friend, Jackie tried blotting Frank’s dripping face with her dirty rag but only got oil on his face. She cracked a grin but shortly fell into a grave tone. “The Fighter is gonna need a lot of work, Frank. With the budget we have, this ship is not going to be soaring the skies anytime soon. I could show you all the places that need a fixing, but that would take us all the way to dinner.”

“Well shoot Jackie, have you looked at hiring a mechanic? There has to be one in this forsaken trailer park. Next person I see, I’m gonna get some answers.”

“No use, I’ve asked around for quotes and their prices are unreasonable. Heck, they want a fifth of what the Fighter is worth, Frankie. We’ll have to sell everything inside her in order to get her fixed.” This was coming from Jackie, the thief who invested all her money on the ship and the fancy trinkets inside, but never thought of putting away money for a rainy day fund. If she was going to be honest with herself, she would have to admit that food was a large portion of the budget.

“Not a single soul in Varsyl is going to help you get your wings back.” An unfamiliar voice echoed behind Frank. Jackie and Frank turned around to meet a man in a blue jumpsuit. His dark complexion ran rare in the shipyard and as well as the Varsylian capital. His head ran with tightly wound curls of black, yet he lacked any facial hair to complement. Frank guessed that he was around in his mid twenties despite the irksome formality in the man’s step. “People don’t take too kindly to strangers. Especially when they come out of nowhere unannounced.”

“The pot calling the kettle black, ain’t we? Who’re ya?” Frank placed his hand on his revolver, but quickly decided that Jackie’s scowl was even fiercer. Of course, Jackie reverted to a radiant smile in the company of an attractive young lad.

“The name is Antonine Maxwell, but call me Tony.” He stood there with his hands in his pocket and simply nodded towards Frank and Jackie.

“What can we do for you, Tony?” Jackie’s smile grew bigger and whiter. Frank never remembered her being so boy crazy. I guess the fair share of men on Nocht weren’t that spectacular.

“I come before you today with a proposition.”

Before he listened any further, Frank headed for the Fighter’s back hatch. “Ain’t interested.”

“It would benefit us both, immensely.” All sense of his cool attitude broke down in favor of the desperation in his voice.


“Oh yeah?” Frank paused.

“Yeah.”

The man from Guten Nocht continued his stride into the Fighter and signaled for the stranger to follow. Starry-eyed Jackie escorted tall Tony and tried to make conversation.

“How do you Varsylians put up with this heat? C’mon in.”

Often, Frank thought about going back on his words and actions. Team Anchovi had only been in Varsyl for a week and now they were letting door-to-door salespeople roaming around the bowels of their ship.

“Frank, stop your mumbling up there.”

The ship intrigued Tony. None of the designs he saw would ever make it to the Varsylian public, largely because it was not in style or the engineers had no clue how all the fancy technology worked. Tony, on the other hand, indulged himself on the free sights and sounds, but not until he witnessed a white whisper slowly brushing down the hallway.

“Wh-what is that?” The cool began to run off and this brought pleasure to Frank. Tony backed up a little behind Jackie.

“That’s Duster,” Jackie nonchalantly noted.

Confused because he had not seen Duster the entire time since they initially landed, Frank asked, “How didya manage to get Dusty out of the rafters?”

“You were never good at paying attention to detail, Frankie. Duster is always looming around the corner. He’s quiet, but if you’re quick enough, you can see him.” Jackie called for Duster and Rhys as the giant table in the dining area was set for a meeting. Putting out the fine mustards and soft pretzels she so dearly loved from the bakery back home, she offered Tony a plate and munched while the last two members of the crew filed in. “Anyways, since we’re Team Anchovi, we should at least have everyone present for this. That’s Frank, I’m Jackie, that over there is Rhys, and then Duster.”

“Make it snappy, Antoine,” Frank snarled. “I got shit to shuffle.”

“Right.” Tony, who was earnestly trying to win the hearts of these strangers, paused. “For nearly three-hundred years, the continent of Varsylgard has allowed private contractors the freedom to enslave humankind. Under what circumstances has certainly changed throughout the decades, but thousands of Varsylian men and women are currently being denied their Maker-given rights. We hold certain truths to be evident, yet the hypocrite slavers turn the other way for the coin. Currently, the Galhead Trade Company holds a large monopoly in the slave trade and it continues to grow throughout the entire empire.”

“What about the governing body?” Duster creepily stared at Tony. The image of a silver man enshrouded in more silver creeped him out. The thin spindly arms reminded him of large woodland spiders.

“I see that rumor doesn’t spread as far as the heavens. Within these past five years, under the regent rule of the foreign queen Helvetia, slavery has grown exponentially. The population of Varsyl has drastically declined as the Galhead Trade Company continues to ship out lives to the other empires. Exports of human lives are growing, but the large consumer base resides in the capital and plantations.”

“Why?” Rhys squeaked out.

“Now, I’m no politician, but the Holy Varsylian Empire is on its last stretch. It’s life fibers are wearing by the day and there’s only two reasons why Varsyl is still a thing: the Episkopos Maximo, the holiest mortal in the Blue, resides in the capital and Queen Helvetia is the sister to the king of the Dalme empire. From what I hear, the Dalmesian army could conquer the capital in three years tops. In order to cut back on liveable working wages in addition to weeding out competition. In this case, competition can be from rival companies or your next door neighbor. You just have to give the GTC a reason to bag you and they will. They always catch their targets. Those wolves hide in sheep skin.”

“Why would we want to destroy the natural order of things?” Frank was not enthused by Tony’s plea.

“There’s nothing natural about this, Frank.” Duster pointed out.

“Say we do bring down slavery, what does it mean for Varsyl?”

“Varsylians are strong, we’ll manage. What we need now is to free our fellow men and women from the tyrants who incarcerate us. Please, help me, help the people of my country.”

“And what exactly do we get in return?”

“Your ship. I’ll fix it.”

“You know a mechanic, Tony?” Jackie asked, still captivated by the young man and his charisma.

“I am one.” The mechanic crossed arms and leaned back in his chair. “I work in another shipyard just northeast of the capital. Fix big name ships such as the Yang Expressway taxi ships and Lansit’s Magnuze. Search them both up if you want to, but the Magnuze is the craziest ship I’ve tinkered on. The best part about it, I know almost every component to that ship from stern to mast, starboard to port. If I can figure out that ship, I can surely fix this bird in no time.”

“Nope.” Frank looked to the ceiling. His gut wasn’t feeling it.

“What do you mean by ‘nope’, Frankie? This guy can get the Fighter back up into the air.”

Duster added on, “It would be most logical that you aid our friend, Frank. Think of all the benefits you could reap.”

The cynical Frank snidely remarked and retorted, “Yeah, death.”

Jackie, Duster, and Rhys all gave each other looks before glaring back at Frank. Though the latter two were inexperienced in anything short of crazy, Jackie desired the Fighter’s wellbeing. The job searching was futile despite her hardest efforts in wowing a crowd with her strength. Tony was correct. No one in this land trusted foreigners.

“It’s not my problem.”

“Frank, he’s our only chance,” Jackie plead. She hated stooping this low in life, but she was desperate. Though she thought it was a tough job to take on, Jackie not only thought about her ship but also the people they would be helping out. The thought of this happening in a strange and new place actually terrified her. The what-ifs started to roll through? What if they were thrown in jail for a crime they could have fled? What if one of them were captured by hunters and slavers? The thought of losing Frank or Rhys boggled her.

Balling up both hands, Frank slammed them onto the wooden table and hoarsely barked, “Jackie, you said that we had to look for honest work. Now, I ain’t sayin’ that Mr. Maxwell ain’t an honest man--surely no dirty deed dresses for the occasion--but this is borderline terrorism. We’re not terrorists. I can’t risk the lives of the crew just for some radical mechanic with a raging freedom boner.”

“Look, I can see that this situation is pretty delicate and your crew isn’t suited for the job. I understand. I didn’t know people from the “Wild” Nocht were so tame,” Tony taunted.

“Look bud, we’re on a no-trouble diet. Unless you wanna make trouble, you best turn heel now.” He pulled out his revolver and pointed down the table and straight at Tony’s face. Always reckless and looking for trouble himself, the wild card hated to be taunted by young mouths, especially in clown suits.

“Frank!” Jackie exclaimed. “Put the gun down, you’ll break the Fighter even more.”

Tony kept his cool by breathing slowly and removed himself from the dining table. He took a pocket-sized piece of paper and tossed it on the table. “I’m leaving my card on the dining table. Jackie, if Frank ever changes his mind, you’ll know where to find me. It was a pleasure meeting all of you. Take care.”

Without another word from anyone, the man in the blue jumpsuit quietly excused himself from the ship. Frank returned his gun back to its holster while Jackie fumed off into her room. Unable to make any sense of what had just happened, Duster simply focused his gleam towards Rhys. Rhys, disappointed with Frank’s decision, stared back at Duster only to feel a slight eeriness lingering in the room. Surely this meant more adventure for the young encyclopedia, yet even the brick wall Illumina had some sort idea of imminent peril. If giant mechanical spider women existed, who was to tell the young man about human nature?
  HEAD ES DOODLE PETSUCHOS / Finnigan / 5y 160d 18h 50m 19s
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