It was early morning in the New Valuan Empire. The sun had just arisen. A small ship was sailing through the skies towards the coast. No passengers were aboard, and only a captain at the wheel.
Her name was Fina.
She was on her way to the town Comienzo for a supply trip. Had it been a quick visit only she might have opted for her own Silvite ship, but she had settled for the Dove. It was a nice little ship. Easily maneuvered, and plenty of room for goods.
"There it is," Fina said to Cupil. "Straight ahead."
"Well, we're just going to buy supplies, but we'll maybe have some fun."
Fina wouldn't mind company from Vyse and Aika, but on a whim she had decided to do this on her own. It wasn't that she was tired of them, never ever, even though they had been together almost every day since they met. Except from that time when Vyse had been marooned and when she herself had been in Valuan custody, she couldn't remember many occasions when they had been apart.
Well, nothing wrong with testing her own wings. And besides; she knew enough new words to not pull a confused face when someone was speaking.
With a fine-tuned swirl on the steering-wheel, the ship glided nicely into the harbour. Cupil morphed into a bracelet and wrapped himself around Fina's wrist. The Silvite left the ship and started mooring it. After a quick stop by the harbourmaster to pay the minimal fee which was standard in this port, she was ready.
This region had been spared somewhat from the Rain of Destruction. The town was small, though, living solely on its trading, which meant its harbour. A few ships from Nasr lay docked, and tradesmen were rushing to and fro. There were two ways up to the town. The left one was an uphill slope that led to the warehouses, the right one was the stairway to the gates. Fina trotted up the stairs, and soon stood in the town proper. Now, where would she begin?
After a long journey, the dark coloured lifeboat made it to the harbour. Their ship had to remain behind and out of sight from the town. Discretion was the key. Two rough-looking men stepped out of the boat. One with side-burns red as a Nasrean moonstone, the other one dressed in a heavily patched and worn waistcoat. They had ditched their uniforms for something more non-descriptive.
"Right," said Carlos. "Now off to the headquarters."
"Hope the boss… uh captain made the deal," answered Dávid.
"Yeah. One ship isn't too much. Even though it's the Draco."
"Hah! No one will topple her. Not even…"
"Yes, even Delphinus would, and it has. You were there! We all were."
"Yeah, but someday…"
The duo was then interrupted by the harbourmaster who had managed to drag himself out of his office. Without being able to sneak by, they paid their fee and entered the city.
Fina stood in the local sailor's guild office. While she was here, she might as well catch up on the latest news and discoveries. She had plenty of time to do her regular shopping anyway. In her mind, she went through the list.
"Just the usual stuff," Vyse had said to her. "Some crackers would be nice too. We got enough gunpowder, so don't worry about that. And we also… No, Aika, we have enough sweets here so don't push it. Well, then you have to provide your own money. No, we don't 'steal what we can buy anyway', I can't believe you said that. Look, I don't care if you're a pirate that's just… Well, wet blanket to you! Right now I can hear the mop and bucket calling your name, if you get my drift. Shoo. Now, Fina, what were we talking about?"
She decided to settle for 'the usual stuff'. It wasn't the first time she was doing this and she knew what they needed back at the base. She left the office and headed towards the stores.
All in all, Comienzo was a nice little town. Yafutoman builders had been over and helped rebuild; their architecture could clearly be seen. She knew her way around, from earlier times. Last time when they…
All out of sudden, a shout was heard. Fina stopped at once. The shout wasn't loud, but it signalled trouble. It came from the alley in between the guild and an inn. Cupil popped out from her wrist and transformed into a blade. She grabbed it, and headed into the alley. She wasn't fearless, but she knew it was something she had to do. As a Blue Rogue, it was her duty.
A young girl stood with her back against the wall. She wore a dress with a white apron and frightened face. In front of her stood a young man. His close-fitted eyes, unkept hair and big front-teeth gave him a rat-like appearance. He wielded what seemed like a baton with steel-coverings.
"I'm net ahskeng ya again," he said with a sleazy raspy voice. "jest give me ye money."
"But I don't have any," said the girl.
"Well, I bet I'll take what else ye cen offah. Whatcha got undah there?" He pointed with his weapon at her dress.
Fina's eventual fear melted away at the sight. What that man was about to do was unforgivable! As a true Blue Rogue, she would not stand for this.
"Let her go!" she said, loud and steady.
At once, the rat-eyes turned to her and enlarged in a short moment. The girl took her chance and rushed away. Too late, the robber realised his mistake. His potential victim had disappeared.
"Doesn't matter if I take her or someone else!" he snarled.
At that moment, he charged out at her. Fina had thought of following suit with the earlier victim, but now she had to stay and take a fight. She got up her blade just in time to block the heavy strikes. Earlier lessons with Vyse had sure helped, but had not Cupil clutched to her hand like that, he would've been knocked out at once.
He drove a hard assault; Fina had her hands full just defending, she took several steps back to keep away. Suddenly, after he had dealt a hard swing, his weapon-hand lay at the side, leaving himself exposed. Acting at the opportunity, Fina threw a stroke.
But before it hit, he swung his weapon back, and struck Fina straight on her hand. It hurt quite a lot, and Cupil fell off and landed at her feet.
"Okay," he said. "I think you owe me for that. And I know jus the way…"
Fina slowly backed, the man following her. Doing her best to ignore the pounding pain, Fina gathered her thoughts, trying to think out a plan. She might make her way out if only…
"You don't have to do this," she said. "Just leave."
All she got for reply was a raspy laughter. But by now, they had made it past Cupil, he lay behind her opponent. Fina stretched out her hand. Cupil flew up and hit the man hard in the back of his head, then he swirled over his head, and hit him again straight in the face, then landed in Fina's hand.
The rat-face just stared with a wide-open mouth, not believing what he had just seen. He seemed to have frozen, with his hand stretched out in front of him. With a swift, decisive move, Fina swept her blade across his knuckles, making him drop his weapon and screech in pain. A red line of blood marked the wound on his hand. He had been open for far worse spots than this, but it was enough to just disarm him.
Right then, something passed by Fina. She then saw a huge man tackle the robber. They landed in a heap, with the delinquent underneath.
"Damn bastard! I didn't do anything!"
"Don't try to talk your way out now. This time you won't get away."
More people entered the little alley, including the girl who had previously been threatened. She was in the company of a middle-aged sand-haired man. Fina walked up to her.
"Are you okay?" she asked. "Did he hurt you?"
The girl shook her head, smiling in relief. She stretched out her hands, and grabbed Fina's left hand. The right hand still ached a little.
"Awfully close, but he didn't do anything. What about you? And did you really topple him?"
"Yeah. That blade, we saw it, is it magical?"
"Well," Fina started, not sure what to say. "Without revealing too much… yes it is."
Cupil changed from sword into his bracelet form and clasped around Fina's arm. The whole alley ooooed at the sight. It was clear rumours would be spread around at once. Maybe she was becoming her own legend, but she quickly dismissed the thought.
"You have my deepest thanks for saving my daughter," said the man. "If you happen to pass by the market, look for us there."
"I will," Fina said.
"Hope to see you again," the girl said. "Thank you."
Soon, everybody left. Fina remained behind.
She leaned back against the wall, took some deep breaths. This was not the first time she had been in battle, but it was always the same feeling. One wrong move there and she might've…
Cupil popped out, and floated up to Fina's face. He cooed slightly. Fina smiled, reached out and hugged him. He chimed happily.
"Thanks, Cupil," she said low, didn't want any eventual people hear she was talking with a silverball. "We make a good team, don't we?"
The little silver creature beeped, and then floated up on Fina's head, as if he was surveying the area or taking a rest.
"I really think I should get to learn how to fight with a cutlass, on my own." Immediately, Cupil floated down and eyed Fina with a gaze which almost looked surprised. "Yes, that way we could fight with two swords, just like Vyse."
"Three? What do you… Oh, I see. Well, why not?"
In the outskirts of Comiezo stood a group of storages. Usually, these buildings tended to lie closer to the harbour. But the regular stores needed close access to their surplus without having to go all the way down the docks. Among these warehouses, there was one special. It was filled with all sorts of half- and whole-illegal things. Not that anyone had told Derreck so, but that's what he had puzzled together.
Which was why it was kept under watch. That was his job, and he was very bored with it. No one ever had business in this area anyway, apart from the other warehouses. Peeking out in between curtains was a pleasure with big limitations. It all depended on what you could see, and a grey rundown building was far from a nice view. The handgun added a nice touch, though. Its weight felt both amazing and scary in his hand.
Ah, well. Better keep his eyes out, so that he wouldn't find them at the end of his leader's dagger. Small jobs like these would be his steppingstone upwards in the underworld. The real enchilada would come later.
Markets were always interesting and varying, Fina thought, walking from one stall to another. Being on a shopping-spree, or just pleasantly wandering, it was open for everybody. And it often had something for everybody. Yafutoman silk robes, Nasrean spices, Ixa'takan handicrafts, and that were only a few of the stands.
Fina had decided to take a quick look here, before she went on with her business. But when she arrived, she found that her new rumour had preceded her. A great many people immediately recognized her as the Blue Rogue with the magical sword. People and sellers alike gazed at her with awe and admiration in their eyes. She felt under watch and thus slightly awkward. Now she understood how things used to be for Vyse. But if he could make it through, Fina wouldn't be worse. Was there anything he could not accomplish? Even when Galcian had both Zelos and the Valuan armada under his command, Vyse had never given in. That was something to learn from.
Now she had reached a stand selling ornaments. There were also armlets, necklaces, brooches and some small vases. Very delicately done. It was clear they were made by a maker who loved this work.
"Do you find anything interesting?" a familiar voice asked.
Fina looked up. Behind the stand stood the girl from the alley. Now in a calmer atmosphere, Fina got a better look at her. Her light brown hair was gathered together in a short pony-tail. Her body was slender, yet stable. It was clear she was used to working with her hands, without loosing her grace. Her face was open and friendly, the clothes were rough but practical and neat; apron over the dress.
"Oh, yes," Fina said. "Have you really done these all by yourself?"
"Yes. But of course, some things we buy elsewhere. Small pearls and such. Me and mum create and sell, but today she's at home and repairing some of our goods. I was actually on my way home to get change money when we met. Which reminds me; I never got a chance to ask for your name."
"I'm Fina," the Silvite said. "Pleased to meet you."
"You too. My name is Heidi."
At that moment, a customer made her entrance. While Heidi was busy, Fina looked through the wares on the table. Simple, yet beautiful. Heidi's father then returned. It seemed he wanted to yet again express his gratitude to Fina, but he didn't want to interrupt her.
Fina then noticed a silvercoloured binocular, around three decimetres in length, elegantly decorated. It also had some sort of switch in the front at the lenses. She reached out for it, and had a look through. The range was amazing. The mountains far away from the town now looked so close up she could almost touch them.
"Impressive spyglass, isn't it?" Heidi's father said. "We got it from a trader, and then I fixed it a bit. The lense is made of the finest crystal you can find. But the real secret is, uh can you let me have it?"
Fina handed over the binocular to the man. He opened a small lid near the lens. Inside was a small hatchet which contained…
"Stones from the silver moon," he said. "If positioned right the effect is stunning. Or it's because of something else, we're not completely sure."
The silver moon? True, Fina had felt something special about it, but because of the moon stones? Probably just a coincidence. Still, there was an attraction to it.
"It really is," Fina said. "Among the best I've seen. How much will you take for it?"
"We normally don't have any set price," he said. "But for you, it's free."
"For free? Oh, please, I can't possibly…"
"You saved my daughter, this is the least I can do."
"And if you liked it" Hedi began. "I want you to have it."
Well, Aika had said that it was both impolite and also "ginourmously stupid" to not accept a gift. And this little tool could really come in handy.
"Thank you so much," Fina said with a light bow. She received the binoculars and hooked it on her belt. "I'll put it to good use."
"You if anyone will," Heidi said. "I mean… you are a Blue Rogue, right?"
When Fina had come down to Arcadia, she had been the very definition of lost girl. Now, everybody could tell with the same certainty that she was a Blue Rogue. It had been a wild ride to get to where she was now. But no matter how overwhelming it had been, Fina felt that she was at the right spot in her life.
"I am," she said. "I'm in Vyse's group. Vyse the Legend."
Both Heidi and her father made big eyes at Fina's statement.
"Oh, my," Heidi exclaimed. "How exciting! I wonder… are you staying here for some more?"
"I got some errands and supplies to take care of. But, how about we meet again at lunch?"
"I'd love to."
After deciding time and place with each other, Fina left the market. Her new binoculars bounced slightly against her hip. A small thought arose in her head, and she put her hand to her mouth to conceal a giggle. Fina was very glad for her gift, but too bad for Aika that Heidi sold ornaments instead of fruits.
Then again, Fina didn't want to rob Heidi of her year-supply.
The two-storied house was quite nondescript. Brown plain walls, windows in all directions. The interior was Spartan and shady. Perfect for meetings and deals.
A young red-haired curvy woman came down the stairs. As she headed for the door, she was bombarded with gazes from Dávid. She had all the good looks, but she came from the boss, and he'd have their heads if they tried any tricks on her. Then again, maybe he had already paid.
As soon as she had left the house, they moved to the stairs. Sixteen steps later, they stood on the upper-floor. It consisted of a single huge room. There was a bed, cabinets, a big table for meetings and chairs. Away at the window stood…
"Nice catch, captain," said Dávid.
The former Valuan admiral turned around from the window.
"Sit down and rest your legs," Vigoro said.
They did so. Vigoro came after, and slumped down in his chair.
"So, how are things going with the Draco?"
"Very well," Carlos replied. "The last raids have turned out good."
"No one stands in our way!" Dávid burst out. "Never. Oh, did we get the new ships?"
"You can forget about them," Vigoro said. "I got something better coming up."
The two Black Pirates gazed at their leader in confusion. What could that be?
"I have done some talkin' with the mayor up at Avenzada. He's the one who got the second idol."
"The idol?" Carlos asked. "For the Ixa'tolek treasure?"
"Right. It seems like this fellow isn't too fond of Comienzo. All too many people trades here for it to be paying enough for him. If we destroy the city-harbour, the idol will be ours."
"So how do we do?" Dávid asked. "Let the cannons talk, right?"
Vigoro scoffed at the suggestion. Carlos groaned inside from having to work with idiots like Dávid. Dirt rubbed off so easily.
"Yeah, and get the whole armada up our arse. No, I have a better idea."
He seemed to enjoy holding them in the dark, while flaunting with a hidden ace. Basking in other people's admiration. Humbleness wasn't his strong point, it seemed. But he was their leader after all.
"The solution is a bomb," he said simply. "An old madman of mine had created a new type of explosives, incredibly more concentrated than the regular one. I got a sample big enough to blow up several houses. Just open the lid, and it goes off. The harbour will be a smoking pile, and the idol will be ours."
"Incredible," Carlos nodded. "When and how do we make our move?"
"As quick as possible. Set it up at a good spot, you could present it to the oaf who runs the harbour. Myself, I'm leaving the city. When the mayor hears the news, he'll gladly part with the statuette."
"But where do we go?" Dávid wondered.
"Get back to the base at Dangral. We need full crew for this excavation. Also, bring the map, and put the navigators to work on it, but make sure that they are the only ones who see it. It's at the storage, along with the bomb. I want everything to be ready to go when I got the statuette."
Fina strolled about in the town streets at the warehouses. The stores had yet to receive their wares. It would take some time before that. She would've loved to go back to the market and talk with Heidi, but she didn't want to disturb her work. They would after all meet at lunch. Fina looked forward to it.
Cupil had now found a white little pebble, which he thought looked like an "enormously enlarged cham". Fina tossed it off, and Cupil flew and caught it in the air.
"Long one," Fina said, and threw it.
Cupil darted away, and soon returned with his new toy, chirping happily. He didn't seem to have tired just yet. Perhaps he knew Fina had time to kill, and did his best to help her with that. It wouldn't amaze Fina if he did. They understood each other quite well, in a way she couldn't explain. At least not to someone else.
"Alright, let's see if you can catch this."
Fina prepared the throw, and Cupil had his eyes fixed at the estimated trajectory. But in a sly move, Fina threw the pebble to the side. Unfortunately, she had neglected to see where she had thrown the little stone. Too late she noticed that it had disappeared into an open window.
Cupil turned at the spot and flew after it.
"Cupil, no!" Fina called.
But too late. And even worse; on his way in, he hit the hatchet which kept the window open. It fell down and the large heavy window closed with a loud thud.
From inside the building, Fina could hear the sounds of thuds and bangs. She sighed, both from worries for Cupil, and her own carelessness. She walked up to the building, stood up on toe and knocked on the window. Cupil turned up at once. Fina pointed at the window, and tried to make him understand that he had to open it. Cupil shook himself.
"I'll go around and open," Fina said, both to herself and to Cupil.
Swiftly, Fina went around the corner and found a door. She tried the doorknob, and found the door being locked. She didn't have much time to feel down about that, as the door's lock suddenly clicked. She opened the door and went in. Cupil floated at the door's handle.
"There you are," Fina said, relieved. "Now let's…"
She had intended to say: let's get out of here. But the mess Cupil had accidentally created away in the back stuck out like a dhabu among koketas. She was trespassing on someone's private domain, true. But still... It wouldn't take long, she decided. Fina set her steps at the far wall.
It was a big storage. Two rows of shelves ran through the room with sacks along the walls. On the first pairs of shelves, there was some real interesting, and valuable, crafts. Jewelled bowls, flasks of intricate design. All very beautiful, but she had no time to look.
Having reached the mess, Fina quickly began to put the boxes back on the shelf. Compared to the other things she had seen previously, they looked quite dusty and worn. Still, they were sealed up just right, and even had number-notes hooked to them. Some notes had fallen off, but it was easy to put them back. The order in which she put the boxes probably wasn't right either, but at least they didn't clutter the floor.
"Alright," she said. "Now let's go."
Fina walked towards the door with Cupil after her. But halfway there, she heard the door rattle, and the handle began to move.
"Get a move on!" said a voice. "We haven't got all day!"
"I'm trying," said a second, strained voice. "The lock's... I think I got it..."
The Silvite had done nothing wrong, but this was indeed someone else's storage, and she didn't want to get caught. She threw a quick glance around, trying to find any hideout of any kind. There were none.
Fina grabbed Cupil, and then, with three steps so long they qualified as leaps, threw herself up at the door's side. At the last second. The door was opened, inwards, and Fina remained hidden behind it. Just another few centimetres, and she would've been slammed, and thus noticed.
Two men entered.
"Okay," said one of them. "The map and the gift. Now where are they?"
"Up there, in the back," said the other one. "They're marked with numbers. You got the key?"
Fina's heart pounded as the men walked pass her. She didn't know why, but all her acquired Blue Rogue senses told her to stay away from these two. If they just turned their backs, they would look straight at her.
I may not know what claustrophobic mean, but it's getting too crowded for me.
They were now halfway to the shelf. One step at the time, Fina moved towards the door, utmost quietly and carefully, always keeping her eyes at the imposing pair. Fina stretched out her hand for the handle, found it and nudged the door open just wide enough for her, and glided out. Seldom had fresh air felt so nice and welcome. Silently she closed the door.
"We'll wait at the store," Fina said to Cupil. "You'll have to change to bracelet."
"Myu," Cupil sounded.
He moved in at Fina's side and then dropped something in her pocket. Fina stuck down her hand, and realised that…
"Good fortune you found it," she smiled. "Because I'm not going in there again."
Cupil smiled widely, and then wrapped himself around Fina's wrist. She hurried away.
Away in his little house, Derreck stood with the pistol raised to half, flutterlies creating havoc in his stomach.
He knew his orders. If anyone who was not part of the group entered: shoot first and screw the questions. He had seen the girl coming, and also noticed that Carlos and Dávíd were on their way. It would be easier to let them deal with her. She had looked so scared as on her way out, they had probably let her know she should stay away from their territory. Not to mention the person who must've let her in.
But if they hadn't showed up, would Derreck have been capable of carrying out his orders? Put a bullet in the forehead of this… No, the word beautiful didn't do her justice enough. In his inner eye, he saw her once again. That silk blonde hair, pretty green eyes, lovely pale delicate skin that was probably very smooth, slim and petite without looking weak, and that smile. Love at first sight maybe wasn't an exaggeration after all.
Such a pure being as her couldn't possibly be involved in something like this. She probably had just got lost or something. And she didn't seem to have gotten anything with her from the store anyway. No harm done.
But what if she came back?
Derreck then realized that this broad road wouldn't work out for him. He wasn't as ruthless as he thought. Maybe he could sign off. But if he couldn't... Well, then there were plenty of ships around that could have use for two strong hands. It would be hard, but better than this.
With money and a respectable decent job, maybe he would find himself a girl just like her.
It was far from rush-hour at the market, so Heidi had then taken a chance to wait for Fina at the store. Fina was glad to see her, and together they went inside. The wares still hadn't come in, which the shopkeeper apologized for.
"There are more shops to try at," Heidi suggested.
"I've already done that," Fina said. "None of them will get it."
"Such a drag. But while we wait, I know of a nice café."
"Is it maybe 'The Compass'?"
"It is," Heidi smiled. "Have you been here before?"
"I have," Fina said. "Not too long ago."
"Aha, I knew it."
Fina put up a confused face. Heidi continued:
"I didn't remember when, but I knew I had seen you previously. Back then, you were with two other people."
"Vyse and Aika," Fina said.
They walked to the little café, chatting along. If Fina had ever had feelings of home longing today, they were brushed away now. She had only known Heidi for hardly a day, and it was hardly noon, but she already felt they had a bond growing.
Fina and Heidi entered, walked up to the counter and soon they had a plate with two cups of hot tea and small biscuits. Fina had paid for those, even though Heidi insisted they split the pay.
They sat down at a table near the window.
"So I've already seen him," Heidi said. "Just once, I'd like to meet him. For all he's done for our world."
"If we get back here again, you will," Fina said.
"Thank you. I'd be nervous though. I wonder what sort of person he is. I mean, I've only heard rumours and hearsay about him, and that's not very reliant."
Like many others, Heidi had a big liking and admiration of Vyse, yet she still stood with both feet on the ground. She was curious, but still clear enough to not take things at face value. Fina thought over what she should say. She liked Vyse very much and had only good things to say of him, but she didn't want it to sound like she was boasting about him.
"He is a kind and reliable person, both as friend and captain. After all he's done rumours are bound to be spread. Many of them are highly exaggerated or falsified. I mean, some of them at least. Uhm, had you heard anything strange in particular?"
"Well, when we lived on Sailor's isle, there was one person who swore that Vyse had opened up the Grand Fortress with his hands only."
"That's not true. He blew it up, from the inside, the second time we escaped from there." They smiled. "So you're not from Valua then?"
Heidi shook her head.
"We lived at Sailor's Island. With that many people coming and going, we made a good living selling ornaments on the market." She took a quick sip of her tea. "Then the Rains came. Valua needed to be rebuilt, and several people decided to help with the work. Me and my parents joined a group, and then we ended up here. This place had changed much since we came here first. It's impressive how much that has been done by everybody."
"I can imagine that," Fina said. "But don't you miss your home?"
"Occasionally," Heidi said. "But I like it here. I've been part of the rebuilding, and I can't leave it. Besides, Sailor's Island wasn't the best place for a stuck home. I feel this is now my home."
It didn't seem that Heidi needed much to be happy. She was satisfied with what she had, and took joy in hard selfless work for a noble cause. That was happiness worth being envy of.
"You have a very big heart," Fina said, aware that others might think she sounded a bit melodramatic, but that's what she thought.
"Thank you," Heidi smiled. "It feels good to carry out a good deed. Just like you, I guess?"
"Like they say: it's all in a day's work." She peered at Hedi curiously. "Would you like to sign up with us?"
"Heavens no," Heidi laughed. "Not that I wouldn't want to, but I'm just not a fighter." She turned serious. "As you saw."
"You did well back there," Fina said. "Even if he had you cornered, you acted quickly and ran when you got the chance. You never lost your calm. And to be a Rogue, you don't have to be a raider. We need all sorts of people. Mechanics, people to run the tavern, engineers and carpenters and such. Everybody has something unique. Of course, only if it's that's what you want to do."
"I can always dream, can't I?" Heidi smiled. "I've never thought about that, but it sounds intriguing."
'Always dream'. Vyse would've liked that. A dream was the first step of something grand.
"Could you tell me" Heidi began. "how did you join them? Were you born into it?"
Without revealing anything about Crescent Isle or the Great Silver Shrine, Fina told Heidi about how she had joined up with Vyse and Aika, the escapes from the Grand Fortress, the hunt for the Moon Crystals, and the battle at Soltis. It was an odd situation, but positive. Fina was now the tough and experienced Air Pirate who shared her tales of daring adventure with a captivated audience. Almost like a master and her apprentice, even. Heidi listened with great interest, especially about the first battle against Baltor.
"That really helped us out. We never got much wares from Nasrad when he was there. It was a relief when he was gone."
Their chat went on, hardly stopping for a second. They talked both of life as Blue Rogues, about the restoration of Valua and life as a peddler. Seldom had Fina enjoyed someone's company such as now, except for Vyse and Aika. If Heidi all of a sudden decided to sign up, then Fina would be the last to object.
The minutes went on. Heidi threw a glance outside the window.
"It seems I must get back soon," she said. People were moving from here to there. "If we leave now I could help you with your wares."
"Thanks, but will you get back in time?"
"Of course. I always make sure to have time to spare."
The two girls left the café and made a new attempt at the store. This time, the wares had arrived. Fina began her transactions, and soon she had all she needed: oil, cloth, several lengths of ropes, and other practical things which you could never have enough of. Best of all, she noticed that they sold flowerseeds. Since no big barrels were involved, Fina and Heidi could carry it to the harbour by the stairs. After two rounds, the ship was loaded. It was time to sail away. Fina and Heidi stood on the landing-bridge.
"Do you have all you need?" Heidi asked.
"I do," Fina said. "Thank you for your help."
"That's nothing." She smiled. "It's been nice seeing you. I hope we meet again."
They reached out and grabbed each others hands. Then Fina boarded the Dove. Entering the bridge, she started up the engines. She looked out of the window, and saw Heidi waving goodbye. Fina waved back.
Under Fina's steering, the Dove glided out from the harbour, sailing straight towards northwest. Like always, she would take a different course, all to avoid being followed, just like before...
The winds filled the sails. It was a nice day to sail. In the distance, Fina could see a special isle. There she had spent some shipwrecked days together with her friends.
Suddenly, she heard a low rumble down at the cargo. Something must have gotten loose from the battening. Fina sighed, set the special ropes around the steering-wheel to avoid going off course, and then turned down the speed of the engines to a minimum. No other ships could be seen, so it was safe.
"I'll be right back," she said to Cupil.
Fina went down to the cargo area.
Some old barrels had fallen down. The lids still sat on, so its contents were still okay. Fina turned the barrels up and began to batten them, getting it really done…
She heard a small almost inaudible creak.
Swiftly Fina leapt backwards, the glass bottle swept past the spot where her head had just been and hit the barrel. In front of her stood someone she never expected to see.
"Not so tough anymore!" the rat-face said, wielding a big empty glass bottle. Its throat was whole but the body was cracked, making it a formidable cutting weapon. "This time no one will save you."
"How did you get aboard?"
"I got away, like always. Then I figured out which tub which was yours. Whassematta? Don't have your sword anymore?"
Wasting no time on words, Fina quickly spun around and headed for the door. The sounds of steps behind showed her adversary wouldn't let her gain ground. In the flight, she grabbed an out-burnt lantern. As she threw the door open, she slung the lantern behind. Not caring whether it had hit its target or not, Fina bolted out on the deck.
"Cupil!" she cried as loud as she could. "Come here!"
The rat-face showed up instead. Being weapon less and thus defenceless Fina knew she had no other choice than to stall. She ran up to the mast and began to climb, as fast as she could.
"Soon you can't run anymore!" growled her enemy. "It's just you and me. I'm gonna rip up your face!"
Fina just climbed on. Five meters later she was almost at the top. Soon she would reach the crow's nest. There she might be able to hold her own, if Cupil arrived that is.
And he did! The door leading into the ship was nudged open, and Cupil flew out, ready to defend his mistress from that evil person.
Then Fina felt something grabbing her skirt. The belt stopped it from gliding down, yet she was caught. She shouted and kicked at the hand, but to no avail.
"Gotcha! Now, cheers!"
Slowly, as if unintended, Fina drew back her right foot. Then, aiming at the lecherous hand, she kicked as hard as she ever could. The fingers were pressed in between the solid mast and Fina's very hard toe-tip. A yell of pain confirmed it had been a direct-hit. Fina kicked again, this time she hit him on the wrist. The grip loosened. She looked down and saw him fall to the deck. He hit the ground with a huge thud. His body remained still, with closed eyes and a bent arm.
Cupil floated up to her and chirped.
"Don't worry," Fina said, panted slightly. "I'm alright. We just had a freerider."
Fina's heart still pounded hard. She was relieved that she had made it through, yet her body didn't slow down. She was ready to run, fight, do anything. Reflexes and instincts couldn't be controlled, even though she had won. The blonde Silvite climbed down while Cupil made sure to not leave her side. He had felt a little guilty, but she didn't blame him.
"I'll go and get something to tie him up with," Fina said. "Wait here."
Cupil beeped confidently and changed into a blade. Fina crossed the deck and headed for the cargo area. Ropes were necessary for any ship, so she knew there was plenty of it…
From behind her came the sounds of swishes, growls and yells, and Cupil squealing. Fina spun around, and saw a horrifying sight. The rat-face had awoke, and apparently tried to overpower Cupil. It hadn't worked, as the wound in his shoulder told. Fresh blood showed that Cupil had got at least one direct-hit. Worse was that he got a hold of the little creature in a hard grip, preventing Cupil from getting away.
"You just never learn!" he screeched. "You'll never take me down!"
"Stop this!" Fina shouted back. "This is for the last time! Surrender!"
"Shut up, wench! I'll kill you!"
With a swift motion, he threw away Cupil. The little Silvite creature flew off the ship. That was not Fina's biggest concern, he would get back soon. But here came a murderer, rushing at her at full speed.
Fina jumped to the side, her adversary smashed against the wall. Beaten up so hard, he could still move. And never did he give in. How could a person hate so much?
Being cut off from entering the ship interior's relatively safety, Fina ran to the bow's gunwale, where Cupil had fallen off.
"He'll be coming back soon!" Fina said. She raised her voice and tried to add a tone of menace. "I warn you. I will not go easy."
A jeering laugh was all she got for reply. Again he rushed towards her. His eyes were screaming with violence and anger. He hated her, he wanted her dead.
Just stalling wouldn't work out. She needed an edge. She quickly thought over what she was carrying and…
Running like a Valuan locomotive, he came at her again, screaming with rage. Inhuman. Fina dodged in time, but not before he got a hard painful grip around her left arm. Struggle as she might, she couldn't get off. With a shout of triumph, he threw his first punch.
But before that Fina hit him in his face with her binocular. The leather-band gave it a powerful swing, and a hard impact. She struck again over his head, and he staggered at the gunwale. The grip had loosened, and she was free.
In the midst of their duel, neither of the combatants had noticed that Cupil had returned. He rushed towards Fina, intending to defend her. Flying at all his speed, he crashed into his target, making him fall off. The Dove was just passing by the isle Fina had noticed earlier.
Had it only been a few meters closer, the rat-face would have landed safely. Now he fell a long, long way, screaming in pain and fear of death, which would come soon.
Fina looked down in the sky at the disappearing shape, rubbing her left arm, still aching somewhat. The adrenaline in her veins slowly began to fade away. She took a couple of deep breaths.
Cupil floated up to her. She looked sad, which in turn made him sad too. He loved Fina more than all chams in the whole world, and it had been so close that she might've been wounded by that awful human. Silently, he nuzzled against her arm. Fina turned, and looked at him. He floated up and chirped. Fina smiled back to him.
The harbourmaster sat in his office, all important paperwork he had to do was forgotten. His eyes were locked at the ragged leather piece he held in his hand. The map.
The Ixa'tolek temple, it said.
He didn't know much of the depicted surrounding land, but the name told its true meaning. It was over at the green continent Ixa'taka. The text about how two statuettes were needed spelled it out clear. A fortune could lay waiting for him.
So why had the map been sent to him? And by who?
Should he keep it? Depending on the supposed treasure, it could be enough to kill for. Should he set out for it himself? Not without the statuettes.
Maybe the Sailor Guild would be interested in it?
The Dove lay docked in Crescent Isle's harbour. As soon as Fina got out, she found that Vyse and Aika waited for her. It felt so good to see them again. Together, they began to unload the cargo.
"Ah, new seeds?" Vyse said. "What was it this time?"
"Well, these are not flower seeds," Fina said. "It's for planting strawberries."
"Awesome!" Aika said. "Berries are second only to fruit. Speaking of that, did you get any sweets?"
"Aika! We've had this conversation already."
"And! It's not like you decide what Fina buys or not."
"I didn't," Fina said. "But I'm gonna make brownies for dessert."
"Yaaaay!" Aika hollered and gave Fina a hug. "You're the best!"
After all events of the day, that was something Fina needed to hear the most. Being back together with her two wonderful friends, the relief of making it out alive from the fights, it all came back to her, and it was a bit too much.
"Fina?" Vyse said, having noticed Fina's eyes. "What's wrong?"
Fina then told them about her encounters in the town and on the way home.
"What a… bastard!" Aika said. "Did he hurt you?"
"Not a scratch," Fina said. "It's just that… I wish I could have done it differently. Yes, I know he was after me. But still..."
"It's never easy to kill," Vyse said. "But sometimes, you don't have any choice. And you gave him several chances to give up, but he didn't take them."
"Yeah," Aika nodded. "He had it coming. This is not something you shall feel responsible for. You did what you had to. Oh, and hey, you made it without weapons. You're quite a tough nut, aren't ya?"
"Not to mention a Blue Rogue," Vyse said and lightly punched Fina on her shoulder. "The only thing that matters for us is that you're unharmed. And at home."
What a beautiful word really.
Home wasn't necessarily the place you were born. It was more sensual than that. It was the place where your closest were and, like Heidi had said, the place where your happiness lay. Fina loved Crescent Isle because it was here she belonged, and it was here Vyse and Aika were.
"So am I," Fina smiled. "Thank you."
With that sorted out, they continued the unloading. It had felt good to vent her thoughts like that. She was a Blue Rogue, and she did what she had to do. It was all in a day's work, as she had told Heidi. She looked forward to meet her again.
"Okay," Vyse said, as they were done. "So what will we make for dinner?"
"Some wok, maybe?" Fina suggested.
"We'll do that," Vyse said. "But you'll just sit back, and we'll take care of it."
"Oh, please, I…"
"Fu fu fu, you've earned it," Aika said. "Starting now, Fina has the day off. Just don't forget about my brownies."
"Don't worry," Vyse whispered to Fina, loud enough so that Aika would hear. "She won't give you the chance to forget."
Cupil floated down to Fina and chirped something in her ear.
"You're right," Fina giggled. "We're home alright."
A/N: Many thanks to user Anita for proof-reading.
Happy Holidays to all of you!