On the Queen Fury while pursuing Lenus Haschel broods as a storm brews.
Settling his weight on the creaking deck of the Queen Fury, Haschel took in a deep breath of salty air a brilliant grin cracking his tanned and weathered face.
'Smells like home,' he thought, resting his head against the gently moving hull. The martial arts master had taken the long boat ride as an excuse to relax and meditate a bit before setting back to the business of their travels.
'That Wingly must be flying damn fast to keep ahead of this demon,' he mused feeling the vibration of the massive engines through the steel wall, 'though admittedly I don't know much about Wingly top speeds.' He shook his head, still grinning, the sea air making him giddy.
'Ah, to be home again. How long's it been?' That thought was accompanied by a significant wilting of his good humor. 'Since Claire left, I guess.' A gusty sigh twitched his mustache as his features settled into irritation. 'Can't sit on my own for five minutes without ruining the mood. Bah, I'm getting old. Past is past. Sitting and moping won't help anything and it will certainly hurt moral if I seem down in the dumps. Nothing a little exercise won't cure!'
He straightened his frame to stand on the lightly swaying deck, grimacing at the stiffness of his joints. The Rouge master stretched lightly then slid into a ready stance. Keeping his movements slow and controlled he ran through his warm-up kata; shifting positioning while languidly delivering strikes that could and had killed. There a graceful curve of the arm that could stop a man breathing at normal speed, and there a gentle motion designed to deflect attack and pulverize the leading joint so that it would not come twice. Breathing deeply and regularly the weathered man attained his desired calm as he ended his routine, returning to the ready stance before relaxing completely.
Deciding he'd had enough of sitting, Haschel leaned against the ship's railing looking out at the shifting ocean and its reflection in the mutable colours of the sky. His grin resurfaced as his thoughts once again turned towards his island home.
'I wonder how they're all doing... I hope little Annie isn't being too much of a bother - what am I thinking? It's been twenty years, little Annie's all grown up by now. Maybe even with a little Annie Junior to get into heaps of trouble for her. Gods, I miss that place. In all the world that I've traveled looking for my Claire, I haven't found a single place quite like it. Though, I'm not the most unbiased judge I guess.' He chuckled softly at his musings, watching dark clouds gather and swirl on the bowl of the horizon. 'Storm's coming,' he assessed automatically, feeling the wind shift and pick up speed ever so slightly, 'hope it's not too big for this ship to handle. Looks like we got time though, might even miss us at the rate we're going.' Satisfied that there was no immediate danger, Haschel sat himself back down and reflected on the ocean's might.
'That boy...' his frown creased his forehead as he dragged a thought from the depths of his mind, 'that boy that drowned at sea, all those years ago now, what was his name? He was the son of Dervi, a foolish, daredevil of a young man and had a knack for the Art rarely seen in one so young, but what was his name?' The aged man sighed and cursed another sign of his advancing years before setting it aside as unimportant. 'He was so skillful with a staff that all around the village we joked he'd been born with it in hand. The dunce probably believed it for a while too.' His smirk grew once more, his thoughts warming to the topic. 'He was such an idiot. Reminded me of me when I was younger. Brash, headstrong, never let anyone tell him what his limits were and always hungry for a challenge.' His eyes crinkled in delight. 'A regular troublemaker he was, and a good fighter to boot! Beyond good, even.' His expression slipped somewhat, turning wistful. 'Too good, really, for his own good. He was too aware of his natural talent, it led to his overconfidence and that feeling of invulnerability that eventually got him killed. A single warrior may be mighty but the sea is mightier still, and it does not care for the mastery of your forms.' A pearl of wisdom passed through the village that had fallen on deaf ears. 'Bah! Such a waste of talent!' He clucked his tongue, seeing in his mind the faultless execution of the Art's most difficult maneuvers by the young man. 'He used that staff like it was an extension of his body, I've never seen anyone else who ...' But then, he'd be lying to himself if he finished that sentence. For there, in sharp relief against the sky in the cradle of the crow's nest stood the new focus of his thoughts. 'Rose.'
Haschel turned his attention back to the deck as his thoughts began to wander, hoping to keep his change of subject to himself. The light buzz down his spine alerted him that he had been observed forcing him to shake his head in wonder at the woman's senses. 'She's a cautious one, I'll give her that. Even in the middle of a fight she knows when she's being watched, and she watches right back. It's standard practice, of course, to know what your allies can do and watch them in action, but I think I follow her more than the others. Not that I can help it really,' he sighed, his gaze unfocused, 'she's too much of a mystery to be ignored. Her fighting style is impeccable, relying on reading, influencing and responding to an opponent's movements all in split-second intervals. I've never seen anyone so quick to respond to and redirect attacks, nor anyone so comfortable in their own skin to sidestep blades passing within a hair span's distance. Even that drowned boy, talented as he was, could not hold a candle to Rose's effortless skill. If they were set against each other,' here he smiled, the battle playing out before his mind, 'he'd lose in the first reckless charge. Against an opponent as cunning as Rose you need an equal amount of caution and a better eye for spotting openings than even she has, and hone them into weapons in their own right. To beat her, you'd need to be better at what Rose does than Rose herself, a daunting task to say the least. No, that boy would see the openings she wanted him to see, go blindly in, get caught in her trap and be sliced to ribbons before he realized his mistake. With two fighters equally talented in their weapons, the fight goes to the fleetest and smartest of the two. Or the luckiest, but I have a sneaking suspicion she has counters cooked up for luck too.'
'Her caution though,' he mused, his expression turning pensive, 'her caution is the piece that doesn't fit. If she was born into a particular talent for blades like that boy was to staves she would most likely have developed a more assertive style, probably even leaning towards overconfidence. But her movements are careful, controlled, and always with specific intent behind them - divert attack, push them back, make them step here, overbalance them there, create an opening and strike. Too thoughtful for natural talent. So, that leaves becoming that good through training. Not an impossible feat, sure, but punishing over the years and for her to have achieved what she has at her age; she's either a martial genius, on level with only a dozen or so in all of history, or she's ridiculously driven, having spent a lifetime in training in preparation for whatever had forced her to that path.' His eyes flicked back up to the shadowed form at the apex of the ship. 'Even so, it would have taken more than her lifetime worth of training to achieve her level of ability.' He snorted, his eyes flicking to the bank of storm clouds darkening the sky.
'Why do I always get the sense that she's had more than a lifetime of training?' He shook his head, his grin returning at the odd turn of his thoughts. 'Impossible.' He chuckled lightly, the sound carried away by the now gusting wind as the storm closed in.